The Backwards Libertarian Party

Those of you who know me are aware that I don’t pull punches when a person or group acts or willfully remains ignorant. Today I turn towards the LP itself, and the LP management that is clearly set on burying its head in the sand for the next four years.

I made a remark in Austin to George Getz on election night, and while I was completely shit-faced at the time, I think it was completely relevant to what I feel is wrong with the LP and how they refuse to embrace the Internet fully as a part of its strategy. I saw Getz in person for the first time, though it was not my first encounter with him (see: Blogging the Candidates), and sauntered over to say hello. We got into a conversation about communications and web strategy for after the election and how we could build on the momentum and eventually I had enough of his inability to see past the old-skool direct mail campaigns that have haunted the LP to oblivion. At one point I said “I know what the LNC should do after the election, they should throw away the momentum the Badnarik campaign built up in a 3 month whirlwind, duck back to D.C., and send out membership applications for another four years. I look forward to doing this the hard way again in 2008 instead of building a real party that’s not just a bunch of consultants herding Randian survivalists.” It probably came out slurred and I’m sure there was an urge to just deck him on the spot for being such a smarmy and clueless schmuck.

Well, lo and behold, looks like they are on that path. I got an email beckoning me to join the LP today, and had to reply back (here’s a test, try and figure out how to join the mailing list on the LP.org website, bet it takes you a good ten minutes). I also CCed Joe Seehusen, current chair:

Mr. Seehusen,

Perhaps if you guys hired someone competent to redesign your site, or maybe just added a blog, I would consider becoming a card-carrying Libertarian Party member. Right now, the LP is a joke and provides no service to the new generation. I would rather put my money towards filling the vacuum than by throwing it down the LNC well. I have received similar remarks from other volunteers and supporters as well.

As an example of the lack of interest in Internet marketing, I brought up the question of inviting bloggers to the LP Convention to George Getz last May and was rebuffed without explanation (a mistake, considering the ability to have led political innovation instead of playing what will clearly be catch-up next time around). Obviously there is a disconnect with the LNC about what is needed in terms of Internet direction. If you are willing to address this issue without resorting to lip-service or patronizing the blogging community, the LP may be a viable party in time for `06.

Until there is serious movement towards creating web-centric tools to build the party and continually update them, I remain small “l” libertarian.

Regards,
Stephen VanDyke
Former Badnarik `04 Web Team Coordinator

Dollars to donuts says I never hear a peep from anyone there. Personally I’d like to see Getz thrown out on his duff and Stephen Gordon put in as Communications Director, but the chances of that seem pretty slim.

15 Comments
  1. i would have to agree with you on this. i only found out about the lp via a streaming radio staion out of florida, free talk live, did all my reasearch via the web to join the party in oct. barely enough time to convert only the wife at the last minute.

  2. Agreed, I found the libertarian party solely by doing my own research to truly find the party i belonged to… had it not been for some informative websites, I would have had to flip a coin between democrat or republican… aka not voting :)

  3. ps… you’re not alone in your sentiments… keep in contact with TMA and timwest, i believe they were thinking along the lines of the same thing. The web is a powerful place, we should actually try using it one of these days :)

  4. Stephen,

    You’re going to find that any approach which isn’t directly aimed at generating $25 “membership dues” payments gets short shrift at LPHQ, and that the LNC, intentionally or unintentionally, supports that continued emphasis.

    It’s a matter of carts and horses. A real political party regards donations as a means to an end, i.e. a supporting mechanism for political activity, activism, information distribution, etc. The LP, at this time, regards political activity, activism, information distribution, etc., as a supporting mechanism for generating donations.

    The sad part is if they got the mule hitched to the right end of the wagon, they’d probably get more of those donations anyway.

    Regards,
    Tom Knapp

  5. Stephen,
    I say you do it. We all know that we will be dead before the LP acts on a good idea(just like the US Government). I like your website and your new website idea. What happened with the donation campaign?… Ill donate for your new site(and Im sure others will too) if you had an easy, secure way to give online(and you did some promoting and advertising). I think that you have many good ideas and you should act on them. Try to help more people see that libertarianism is the way to go and dont worry about building the “Libertarian Party.” Try your great, big ideas and just see how much support you will get…., “build it and they will come.”

  6. Thomas, here’s the deal. I helped prove with the Badnarik campaign that you need to put the Internet horse pulling the membership cart. I’ve seen the final report, and online donations and mailing list signups (including bumper sticker signups) went through the roof after we created an effective web strategy.

    Now, I’d rather believe that the LP is just confused and ignorant as to how to effectively raise money on the Internet and generate activity than what you seem to think is a circular activity of using membership dues simply to spur more membership drives.

    Other than forcing out the old guard, the only option seems to be making them irrelevant by filling the void.

  7. Stephen,

    You wrote:

    —–
    Now, I?Äôd rather believe that the LP is just confused and ignorant as to how to effectively raise money on the Internet and generate activity than what you seem to think is a circular activity of using membership dues simply to spur more membership drives.
    —–

    It’s not so much a “circular activity” problem as it is a quantification problem. Ask LPHQ or the LNC how they did last year, and they’ll generally quantify it, first and foremost, in “new memberships” and “renewals.” Occassionally they’ll throw in “membership inquiries.” Only after those things will they start talking about media inquiries, media mentions, web site visitors, new county or local organizations or — gasp! — people elected or appointed to office.

    The one “magic number” regarded as the criterion of “success” is “how many people sent us a $25 dues check last year?” It’s not necessarily that they’re just money-grubbers. It’s that they’re using a bad measure of success, and bending their operations toward increasing that measure.

    Tom Knapp

  8. Stephen,

    I’d like to add my two cents to this conversation. To begin, I think that the LP needs to do two things in order to become an effective political party.

    1) Establish, then engage, an effective political strategy. There is no clear-cut political direction within the LP today. As an example, looking at the LP website on any typical day provides little or no indication that we are the anti-war party. Does national effort focus on the more winnable low-level or higher profile but less winnable high-level campaigns? Should we focus on more social issues than we do today? What about ballot access? Our level of support for ballot access seems to change with each set of election of LNC members.

    To implement whatever policies we establish, we would then need an effective political director within the party, or a National Chair or Executive Director who places enough emphasis on politics to cover this void. This statement is not meant to discredit either Joe Seehusen or Mike Dixon. It is my belief they were hired/elected in order to straighten out the “business” of the LP – but not to steer it in any particular political direction.

    2) Effectively communicate whatever political message is established. Obviously, this is where an effective internet strategy is most helpful. However, most of the powers-to-be on the LNC just don’t get it. I’ve had to explain the simple concept of blogging to quite a few senior members of the LP. Even post badnarik.org, many of them do not realize that blogs are a very serious journalistic and PR tool of the future. If I state that an article was written about me in a small newspaper, they get excited, but if I state some activity of mine was covered on a major blog site, they seem disappointed. One would think the simple math of 50,000 passive readers vs. 5,000,000 active readers would excite them. However, an effective internet strategy needs to involve more than the addition of a blog. The LP website should be a portal – a gateway – to an excited internet community. Different people turn to the ‘net for a variety of reasons. Some wish to learn, some wish to debate, some wish to rant, some wish to be heard, some wish to shop, some wish to contact like-minded people, and some wish to promote issues and event and some even like to sell products. (I just like the dirty pictures.) We should enable a vast internet community who can do all of these things at lp.org.

    With respect to Knapp’s statement of the focus of the $25 dues payment, I absolutely agree. Don’t get me wrong, money is incredibly important. But the party is not selling anything worth $25 dollars at this moment. Let’s first get a product packaged so that it may then be sold.

    BTW, thanks for the support, but I would not accept a job with the national party under its present structure, as I could not accept the direction and orders under which I would be working. To be sure, I would probably have a free reign on gun control, taxation and other fiscal policy issues – but the moment I openly am supportive of gay rights, marijuana legalization, etc. I would likely be ordered to cease and desist.

    Heaven forbid that we form an effective political campaign in opposition to the war in Iraq.

    Thanks, but no thanks. Like you, I will continue my national work from afar for the cause of liberty – but I will take advantage of opportunities, as they arise, to steer the national LP in the proper direction. With respect to state politics, we don’t have such problems, so I’ll gladly continue these activities – where we actually are creating political change for the better.

    Stephen Gordon

  9. Momentum? The LP peaked and has slowly been hemorrhaging with occasional upticks since either of two events: 1972, when the LP got a real (electoral) vote or 1980 when Ed Clark came close to the 1 million vote mark. The closest since Clark was Harry Browne in ’96 and he got roughly 50% of Clark’s total.

    I’m not disagreeing with your point, but really pointing out a continuing problem with the LP which is that it is and always has been dominated by people more interested in having a debating society than winning elections. Decent resutls in 1980 were let slide. Decent results in 1988 should have been built on to capture 1/3 of the GOP when elder Bush broke his word – instead the vote totals went down. Harry Browne did a decent job in 1996 and rather than build on it in a meaningful way the LP decided that just repeating the candidate would do the trick.

    Anyway, I’m babbling. My only point is that I personally treat the LP as the alternative when the Republican candidate sucks. I’d even support a serious local candidate, but I don’t get excited by any LP federal races anymore.

  10. Stephen, I tried to do a trackback, but I see it didn’t show up here.

    So, anyways, here’s a “manual trackback” as I say excellent points Stephen, Stephen, and Knappster. I think the “old guard” will necessarily be either phased out or sent out in one fell swoop at a national convention. In the meantime, as you say, we need to fill the void by growing the libertarian netroots in the blogosphere as best we can.

  11. A real party would probably start building a name for itself by getting some local cannidates elected before sinking so much cash into the presidential election.

    I can’t for the life of me, understand why LP isn’t working as hard at local and state level posts. You can’t build a party from the top down. It’s genuinely infuriating to have to vote against the LP bozos that run for local elections in my state.

    If they would forget about the damn presidency for a minute and spend some of the energy on local elections, I might be more inclined to donate.

  12. I used to work at the LP with George Getz. Based on your comments, he probably ignored you because you’re brazenly immature and unprofessional. Only a clueless hack would approach someone in a drunken stupor with a business idea and then say he had “an urge to just deck him on the spot for being such a smarmy and clueless schmuck.”

    George Getz is a professional guy, and the LP is lucky to have him as its communications director. But it’s good you didn’t hit him anyway. He probably would have killed you.

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