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My Election Analysis
The American revolution was a direct result of the culmination of the age of reason. From Aristotle, to Thomas Aquinas to John Locke, the founding fathers lived in a culture of reason that naturally led to a desire for individual freedom anchored with an insistence for individual responsibility.
Today, our society has devolved into an age of feelings. At the time of the American revolution, the US had a 98% literacy rate. Today functional illiterates amount to nearly 50%. Only 5% of the population either has the ability or chooses to use the ability to think abstractly. So when most US citizens go to vote, they vote for what they feel is right for them.
The philosophy of the Libertarian Party quite rightly appeals to reason. So in an era of the age of feelings, we shouldn’t be surprised at our dismal election results. However, it is only during an election cycle that most people think or feel at all concerning public policy in any general way, outside their spheres of interest. Therefore, I think it still makes sense to run candidates for office in order to educate the best we can the people who feel their way through life.
Because feelings are predominant to thinking, we need to link our reasonable philosophy to a needing feeling. How do we do that? I think quite rightly twenty years ago, some libertarian leaders determined that there was a need to establish think tanks and develop libertarian college professors in order to win the intellectual battle for freedom. Over the years I believe that the libertarians have virtually won (or at least are on the verge of winning) that battle. But then, mistakenly, many libertarians believe that we can translate that into political action and win if we only come up with the right successful method of political action. We have been spinning our wheels in the single digits of political failure ever since. No matter of political-action tinkering is going to change this, in my opinion.
There is a missing link, one that might short cut what would be a century long needed movement towards another age of reason.
People feel what they feel in their culture. Books, music, movies, newspapers, televised news, sports, entertainment, the churches, coffee houses, bars–these are some of the areas where people acquire their feelings of comfort. Before libertarians can convert an intellectual battle-win into successful political action, we must inundate the culture with libertarian flavor.
That is why in my opinion the L. Neil Smiths, Penn and Tellers, and Tim Slagles of the libertarian world have done more to move us to a successful libertarian society than any libertarian politician with the possible exception of the extraordinary Ron Paul.
There are signs that the American culture is moving in a libertarian direction. It is starting to become somewhat chic to say that one is "socially liberal and fiscally conservative." The cable/satellite networks are filled with a libertarian flavor–whether it is the Comedy Channel and "South Park" or the many offerings on HBO which includes our modern Mark Twain, George Carlin, whose philosophical viewpoint although not always pure libertarian, nonetheless is always filled with reason, and usually with a libertarian flavor. The Internet–we boast that we own it, much of contemporary music–that of which that has a philosophical message, is many times libertarian. We have our share of influence in the talk radio industry, too.
The main constant of most of these cultural influences is that they appeal to a younger crowd. Yet the Libertarian Party continues its efforts trying to convince older conservative Republicans that they should vote Libertarian. Every time this has been tried, to my perception, it has failed.
Two years ago, I campaign managed for Jim Young, who ran for IL State Representative. He ran against a very weak Republican opponent and a Democrat who didn’t run an active campaign. My recollection is that we spent no more than $5000 on the campaign. Jim worked his butt off going door to door, talking to thousands of potential voters. Jim decided to try to appeal to conservative Republicans. He ended up getting around 7.5% of the vote in the three-way race.
This year, most of the effort by activists in the Libertarian Party of Illinois devoted their time and money to Scott Bludorn’s campaign for IL State Representative against a vulnerable Republican incumbent and a Democrat who didn’t actively campaign too much. Scott ran the most active, best campaign I have ever seen in Illinois Libertarian politics. (Elizabeth Quaintence has also run a great campaign in a two-way state rep. race, but my understanding is that she did much of the work herself–with some help from her local affiliate–but it wasn’t the more state-wide effort of Bludorn.) Scott spent at least five times as much money as Jim Young did two years ago. He was a very articulate candidate. Scott chose to appeal to conservative Republicans. He received a little more than a percent of the vote more than Jim.
Probably the biggest fallacious assumption made by Libertarians is to take the money figures of what someone raised in a certain race, divide that amount from how many votes were received, and then erroneously extrapolate that race, which got 5% of the vote at $5 dollars a vote, if only next time 5 or 6 times as much money is spent then the candidate will get 30 to 35% of the vote and have a chance to win. But it has been my observation, and the Young/Bludorn campaigns bear this out, that for each subsequent vote for a Libertarian candidate, one would have to raise a geometrically increasing amount per vote to even get in the double digits, let alone win. To win, the amount raised would have to be astronomical, way beyond what we can honestly ever hope for.
And the biggest reason for this problem, in my opinion, is because of the locked in "two-party" system and syndrome-- the system with the extremely unfair rules towards "third" parties and the cultural mind set that has the typical voter thinking in only a two-party framework. Even if we were, unbelievably, able to get the ballot access laws and all election related laws changed to equalize things, we would still be set up against the latter huge hurdle, that of the two-party mindset.
While continuing to do the most necessary work to inundate the culture with libertarian ideas, mindsets, feelings, musings, tendancies, flavors, when we do participate in elections, it occurs to me that we should appeal to those who have been most associated with the libertarian culture, that of younger people usually with a predisposition to the left philosophically. They are the people more likely to see "South Park," the HBO Comedy Channel, listen to Mancow in the Morning, Howard Stern, those to be turned on by the concept of the "Matrix", those who read Sci Fi, those who enjoy Penn and Teller. They are more open minded than the conservative Republicans that the LP has pursued all these years. The conservative Republicans for the most part will always balk at becoming libertarian as soon as they find out about our position on drugs, homosexuals, pornography and prostitution. On the other hand, the young on the Left many times just don’t have a good understanding of free market economics, usually being erroneously taught equating corporate fascism with free market capitalism. (Some of this misconception is the fault of the Libertarian Party and Libertarians for too many times associating with corporations as a friend of free markets and corporate power to fund their think tanks.) In general their open minds can be changed where the conservative evangelical Republican’s mind will not.
My belief in this has been borne out by my outreach for the Fully Informed Jury Association. When I would go to pot legalization rallies and convey the idea that disparate groups akin to freedom must support each other on juries, such as pot smokers supporting gun rights activists on juries, I would get cheers. When I would go to conservative, "patriot" organizations and suggest that gun rights activists should support pot smokers on juries, I would get jeers.
Now, with the emergence of the Middle East War and the inception of the Patriot Act, those young on the Left should be even more allegiant with us.
So what to do? All politics is local and we need to do a lot of it, doing it with the right people. Instead of getting voter lists, and politicking to those registered to vote, we should do the opposite and politic to those who are not registered. There are as many of them as there are registered voters. Many of those people are not apathetic; they just don’t believe in the system any more as they know it–the two-party political system. Some are natural libertarians, others are disgruntled populists, many are disenfranchised, dis-spirited, screwed by the system, skeptical, pissed off. If they could believe any new political movement was for real, they would be ready for radical change. How do I know this? Well I don’t. But I do have a good impression of this primarily from my many years of obtaining more ballot access signatures for the Libertarian Party of Illinois than any other activist–I have had many conversations with those people not registered to vote.
We need to outreach to those people now, not six months before an election. We need to go in to the bars, the coffee houses, the rock concerts, the pot rallies, the college campuses, and canvass our own individual neighborhoods passing out flyers to those unregistered while presenting a cogent, radical libertarian agenda which includes our Statement of Principles. And build organizations by associating with these people from the ground up. Meanwhile an educational arm should be established so these new people fully understand our message. We need to become voting registrars because many of the people we are appealing to are not registered to vote. When it comes time, run as a local candidate not compromising our radical message. We will never build a true libertarian movement by sounding like our Republican or Democratic counterparts. People who are open to that appeal will naturally go to one of those parties with which rhetoric they are comfortable.
On the state or national level, in my opinion, not one penny should be spent on ballot access. That is not to say we shouldn’t run candidates for educational purposes. Libertarian candidates on the top of the ticket will help buttress the local Libertarian candidates. But it is a waste of valuable Libertarian resources to spend it on ballot access. We need to quit whining about the ballot access laws and just go out and do the political work necessary to get signatures to get on the ballot. If we are a serious political party we should be able to get those signatures through a volunteer effort. If we can’t do it voluntarily, then we don’t deserve to be considered seriously anyway.
Those who would concentrate on increasing Libertarian membership have their goals misplaced in my opinion. The LP has had no more success electing Libertarians when membership has been relatively higher. The amount of activists available has stayed relatively constant regardless of membership. Seeking membership has the cart before the horse. We need to seek out more activists; that will bring more success. Obtaining more activists will naturally bring higher membership totals. One doesn’t attract, for the most part, activists, by soft pedaling our philosophy. It is a radical life-changing philosophy that is more likely to bring hard working activists to the fold.
Some soft-pedaling Libertarians will read this and criticize my critique as lacking any scientific evidence, any research to back up my position–that my critique amounts to a whim of one person.
First, let me say that the soft-pedaling Libertarians have had their day–no, their ten years or so to try their MBA- styled, measured approach in trying to imitate the major political parties. Write fund raising letters to raise money to send out more letters to raise more money to send out more letters to increase membership so to raise more money to send out more letters to different groups to increase membership to send out more letters to hire an Executive Director to spend more time and money trying to raise more money to send out more letters. One-on-one ground-up activism always gets a back seat to the Plan of raising more money to send out more letters. And when the Plan included the Unified Membership Plan of the National Libertarian Party, it sets up a welfare mentality amongst Libertarian activists that is totally devastating to true Libertarian ground-up activism. Libertarians, if they are serious in being successful, have to get out to real people and press the flesh–now–in the neighborhoods, in the bars–in all organizations they can affiliate with. Yes, it takes a certain amount of money to run an organization, but the biggest libertarian deficit has been the lack of one-on-one action.
Second: I am basing my critique on my experience of 25 or so years of activism–twice as a candidate, three times as a campaign manager (one time as a campaign manager getting over 20% of the vote for Congress against Rostenkowski), two years as an at-large Libertarian National Committee rep., countless years as a newsletter editor, fund-raiser, protest organizer, editor of a digest of free market think tank literature, speaker, 5 years as a radio talk show host, and Fully Informed Jury Association state coordinator. Whether or not that experience gives me the credentials to present my case without jimmied statistical figures–well, that is for the reader to decide.
The Libertarian Party started as a radically different viewpoint of philosophy and politics. It’s initial explosive start was buoyed by that radicalism. Time wore down that radicalism as Libertarians tried to become more "respectable." The gradual approach of watered-down, respectable " libertarianism" culminated with the "Republican revolution" of 1994. It died a quick death when the Republican Congress couldn’t even stand up to the Democrats on slowing the increase of spending on school lunches. It is now 10 years later and most of the Libertarian power structure still believes we can present watered-down policy to Republican conservatives and grow the libertarian movement. That approach has failed miserably. It is time for a change.
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