A Columnist’s Take on Libertarian Party Candidates

free pressMatthew Tully took on the Libertarian Party over at IndyStar. He begins:

But for me, nothing says election season like a complaining Libertarian. If Election Day is approaching, Libertarians are griping and moaning and whining about being ignored, mistreated, forgotten and generally shunned by the media.

The Libertarian Whine is one of the true campaign constants. It is to elections what potholes are to spring, or what mosquitoes are to summer.

That is, an annoying and guaranteed event.

Even as a Libertarian, I can sympathize with him. Rarely a day goes by where I don’t get some poorly written or overly hyped Libertarian press release in my inbox. Words like “you’ve got to cover this” generally fall on deaf ears because I don’t “have” to do anything I don’t want — and I don’t generally consider some Tax Day protest (with 5 whole protesters) at some Post Office very newsworthy.

Tully’s article was precipitated by an e-mail from LP candidate Mike Kole.

Kole, who has held various top posts in the Libertarian Party, wrote to tell me what Libertarians strive for most.

No, not a more limited government. But, rather, more press for their campaigns.

“I try not to be too critical of reporters,” Kole wrote in his e-mail. “But I have to say, I am rather frustrated with the lack of inclusion Libertarians get, and that I get, in The Star.”

You see, every election year Libertarians run with huge dreams for offices big and small. Generally, they grab somewhere around 2 or 3 percent of the vote.

“I’m relegated to the sidelines,” Kole complained.

That’s what happens, Mike, when you get only 2 or 3 percent of the vote.

I’ve got to agree with both Kole and Tully on this one. From a writer’s perspective, two to three percent of the vote isn’t worth the same coverage as the Rs and Ds get. However, less than 1 percent (as Tom Knapp and I once calculated) of the mainstream media mentions us. Many major media outlets have Libertarians on blackout status. A reasonable amount of campaign coverage would be roughly consistent with election results. In this case, two to three percent would be fair — but less than one percent wouldn’t be.

“If I earn 10 percent,” Kole wrote, “the Libertarian Party will become a major party, on par with the Democrats and Republicans.”

This was when I started wondering just what they spike the water with down on Libertarian Avenue. Major parties don’t earn 10 percent. They win elections — with, say, 51 percent — every so often. With the exception of a rare head-scratcher, Libertarians don’t win elections. [snip]

I’ll believe that when a Libertarian candidate actually wins a statewide office in Indiana.

Or, at least when one hits that elusive goal of 10 percent.

Hey guys, you got it straight from the horse’s mouth. We’ll start getting coverage when we actually start winning. While I’d argue that we’ve earned slightly more coverage than we receive, it’s time for us to start creating some real world results for them to cover.

Stephen Gordon

I like tasteful cigars, private property, American whiskey, fast cars, hot women, pre-bailout Jeeps, fine dining, worthwhile literature, low taxes, original music, personal privacy and self-defense rights -- but not necessarily in this order.

  1. The Gallup poll in January said 20% of Americans say they are libertarian in philosophy.

    How much news coverage is that worth?

    Another key to earning news coverage is positioning your state party or campaign in the center, with a balance of “left wing” and “right wing” issues.

    If you are Libertarian perceived as a conservative republican, the right won’t cover you because they fear you’ll “steal” republican votes, and the left won’t cover you because they won’t like you.

    In Wisconsin, most of our candidates and affiliates are libertarian centrists.

  2. Very good analysis Stephen. The major media does not cover all D and R presidential aspirants in the primaries…only those who are producing a buzz and/or showing decently in the polls.

  3. Rolf,

    The media will cover what helps them to sell advertising. When their audience is interested in Libertarians, Libertarians will be covered. So, we’ve got to get interesting.

  4. Rolf – I’d argue that that Gallup Poll is worthy of the coverage it got — a few articles.

    People mostly write about what people do, not on their philosphy.

    When 20% percent of Americans do something libertarian, that will be a major story — probably even larger than it normally would have because of the novelty factor.

  5. John,

    I agree that you must be interesting.

    Even your typical republicrat elected to the state legislature doesn’t really get that much news coverage.

    I’m a strong proponent of publicity stunts, as long as they are not too wacky.

    I think the public everywhere is interested in reading some articles about Libertarians.

    Poll Results from the Russo/Rasmussen Poll, May, 2004:

    8* Do you think Libertarian candidates for President get enough media coverage?

    35% Yes
    48% No
    17% Not sure

  6. The Libertarian Party of Indiana has elected partisan officeholders in local elections and many are actively serving in their office today. In many partisan local elections we lost, but our vote total was 40% or over.

    The last Secretary of State’s race, we had many counties in which we were getting 8% or more of the vote, which leads us to believe that after four years of growth, 10% and major party status in Indiana is attainable.

    When you fight the establishment, first they ignore you, then they attack you, then you win. The Libertarian Party of Indiana is proud of being enmeshed in the attack phase, and expects to soon start winning at the state level.

    Of course, when this happens we expect Mr. Tully of the Indianapolis Star to write a column saying he knew this would happen all along.

    Mark W. Rutherford, Chairman, Libertarian Party of Indiana

  7. Mark,

    I hope to see that article some day. I dont even care if he takes the credit for LP wins, as long as there are wins to take credit for.

    Good luck!

  8. Maybe we should throw those media folks for a loop and run as Democrats and republicans.

    Wouldn’t that be a hoot. Libertarians running in other parties primaries as a way of getting attention for our issues.


  9. Tully isn’t exactly a sterling example of anything that a rational person would call a journalist. Here’s a writer who whines when he gets letters pointing out that Indiana is a 3 party state, despite his consistant denials to the contrary.
    Mike Kole addressed the matter pretty well.


    Tully’s just bent because better papers in Mr Koles area actually cover Libertarians, their issues and their candidates.

  10. Frank,

    In Wisconsin, we have a Libertarian running as a republican for U.S. Senate, Dave Redick;


    Redick was a Libertarian candidate in California a few years ago.

    And we also have a Libertarian running as a democrat for U.S. Senate, Ben Masel. Masel ran for U.S Congress in 1996 on the Libertarian ticket.

    Masel is the organizer of Weedstock and is a well known pro-marijuana activist.

    He will getting a speaking slot at the Wisconsin democratic party state convention!

  11. What the media says about “coverage follows electoral results” is nonsense. Ralph Nader’s campaign in 2004 received far, far, far more coverage than the Libertarians or Greens, but received only a few more votes than Badnarik.

    And look at how the media ignored Howard Dean’s primary campaign, even as it collected tens of millions of dollars, until the number was actually published. They were FAR from on top of that story.

    We shouldn’t rely on mainstream media for coverage or “spreading the message.” Bypass them and focus on the web and grassroots campaigning. Send out regular press releases, and after we succeed, they’ll follow, just like they always do.

    Remember, traditional media are lazy. They don’t like to analyze, project, or do any sort of work other than print out warmed-over press releases from “big and successful” candidates. They don’t like to talk about new ideas, or even compare them to existing ideas. And they fancy themselves as kingmakers, not as reporters.

  12. do you know what I remember from the 2004 election? (was living in England at the time so my info was heavily filtered).

    I remember Badnarik polling in the 7 to 8% range early in the 2004 election season…higher than the Greens or Nader. I remember the press giving plenty of mention to Greens and Nader, but none to Libertarian Party. I remember that 7 to 8% steadily falling as he continued not to be mentioned by the press.

    We remain a fringe group that shouldn’t be a fringe group, because the most effective way of spreading the word (media) continues to throttle us everytime we get a decent showing.

  13. That’s why I volunteered for a campaign – John B. Hawley for Congress, Texas District 10. We need to get our word out there so people even know we exist.

  14. During the Q&A with one of our speakers at our convention on Saturday a prior candidate had mentioned the lack of press he received. The speaker’s answer was it’s Vermont the solution is simple for state house races — just bypass the media and knock on doors to meet voters directly. Which is exactly our plan for this session. Face-to-face voter contact and direct mailings.

  15. Carl,

    There is a dichotomy between a libertarian ideal and practical policies.

    There is no reason why Libertarian candidates can’t hold a philosophical ideal, while at the same time, advocating practical policies in the Libertarian direction.

    Signing the oath states your philosophical ideals. Your campaign platform states your practical policy.


    Thomas Jefferson opposed slavery. But he acted in a practical manner and was not able to end slavery by himself, but helped move policy so that in the future, slavery could be abolished.

  16. Rolf,

    The word in the Pledge is “advocate” not hold. If you advocate incremental measures, you are in violation with the Pledge.

    This is the mentality that has produced are sure-lose platform, one of the worse marketing documents ever produced.

  17. Carl,

    If you advocate reducing income taxes to 10% are you in violation of the pledge?

    I think not.

    If you advocate reducing income taxes, you have not initiated force; someone else already initiated force by installing the income tax.

    The pledge was written to protect Libertarians from the Nixon administration, during a time of violent protest against the Vietnam War.

  18. Luke 14:23

    “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”

    St. Augustine twisted this verse to justify the INITIATION OF FORCE when converting people to Christianity.

    Augustine is a long way from libertarian philosophy.

  19. It’s a Catch-22: The press would cover more libertarians, IF they were more well-known… and they’d be higher-profile if the press covered them, which they won’t until they’re more popular. A vicious cycle.

    Similar, in fact, to the way the Commission on Presidential Debates treats third-party candidates: “We’d let you in, if you had higher poll numbers – which you might get if you were in the debates”.

    IMO, much of the media is anti-third party because they WANT a two-party duopoly. Greens and Libertarians threaten the Good Ol’ Boy Network. Third parties “steal” votes – the message the Brand X guys sell gullible people, their votes are the property of the RepubliCrats. Utter bullshit.

  20. Funny enough, I agree that we haven’t earned coverage commensurate with Ds & Rs. I wasn’t asking for that, though. I was asking for inclusion commensurate with our real-life results.

    Tully went out of his way to cite the numbers for our 2004 gubernatorial returns, because it suited him. Citing our wins and our near-misses wouldn’t have suited him, so he treats them like they don’t exist.

    For comparison’s sake, then, today’s Sunday Star had an article on the Greens that read like paid advertising. The Greens aren’t even on the ballot, and they merit that. We’re on the ballot, and we merit a hatchet job.

    But, quite right: the thing to do is to reach the voters, which we are doing right now, on important issues like eminent domain abuse and forced annexations. We are getting serious support from significant groups of new supporters. We will have a good showing in November, and the Star will have missed the trend.

    After we win, we won’t need them, which is the best revenge.

  21. Stephen’s post in #7 above is exactly correct. Again, Mr. Tully cited his figure, now it’s up to LPers to meet that figure. Call him a crook or whatever when he doesn’t deliver what is obvious. Anyone, anyone who thinks the media is controlled is a complete moron. It isn’t. The Lp is moronically obsessed with doing next to nothing, AND nothing, and expecting others to take note. Of what?

  22. In reference to the statements made previously about the initiation of force and its advocacy; the NIFP “principle” has been cited time and again against any measure of reduction of taxes being supported by any regional LP, for the reason that “since it permits taxes to continue to exist, it violates the NIFP”.

    Mechanically speaking, this is utter bullshit. I apologize in advance to those whom will be offended by that statement, but at least I *CAN* back it.

    It is not a question of the initiation of force at this point, but the continuation of force. “*THE*” oath doesn’t state a damned thing about the application of continued unjust force… just that unjust force cannot be initiated.

    And *THAT* should be the guiding light for any LP-style political maneuver. Never, EVER permit new forcible taxes on people… once that procedure is set, *THEN* see about reducing the current levels to at least “acceptable” ones.


  23. (cont’d)

    I have seen more than once the argument that “incrementalism in theory is perpetuity in practice.” This is by no means an original or new thought.

    I have referenced in this forum more than once the name Xeno. Xeno was an individual whom continues to be somewhat renowned as an ancient greek philosopher, and is accredited with the following paradoxical statement (called “Xeno’s Paradox.” Go figure.)

    A rabbit and a tortoise (sound familiar?) each start one hundred feet from a goal. Each second, the rabbit moves one half the remaining distance. The tortoise moves but one foot.

    Which gets there faster?

    The point this makes with regards to the incremental approach is that so long as no new measures are permitted, as each old measure is either sunset or reduced, eventually it will reach a level wherein it will either A) be nigh unto impossible to notice (like the $5 annual per capita tax in PA — you get taxed for existing. Roughly 5.00/year.)


  24. (cont’d)

    (If you miss it, and that’s all you owe, there’s no enforcement procedures in place.)

    Or.. B) would be so minimal in effort to remove completely that it would be a common sense-approach that wouldn’t even require public concern, and could be added into other measures.

    So, by advocating the absolute removal of taxes, for example, it is perfectly permissible to in the immediate sense advocate the reduction of current levels, as this aids and abets the state of events in which it might be possible to realistically remove said tax altogether.

    Again — the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. That’s supposed to be the point of the LP. But… I digress; not one single jot of what I just said is news to anyone reading this, in context.

    To whit — I expect disagreements to these statements.


  25. IanC: Your principle demands the continued existence of the income tax.

    We could get rid of the income tax much sooner if we were to advocate something less hideous as a replacement for the interim. With an 8 trillion debt to deal with, that interim is going to be a while.

    We ought to advocate less net intrusion in our lives.

    I find an amusing paradox going on: defenders of the current Pledge and Platform say they don’t matter to general voters. But then they have a cow when people on my side of the debate call for changing them.

    These things matter.

  26. The column can be read another way than ‘We need to win elections to get our point across.’ I think we all can agree that if society becomes more free because of the actions of Libertarians, we have accomplished at least part of our goal. If we can realise that America is pretty irretreivably a two-party political system (one party, really, but Let’s Not Go There just now…) then we can reasonably speculate that the LP’s chances of effecting change are (1) knock out one of the entrenched parties, or (2) functioning as a loud and effective ‘outside voice’ in politics. I don’t see (1) happening anytime soon. I think we should continue to run candidates – for both major and minor seats. Work at the local level on making changes from within local government AND our communities. But also work at the state and national level to push push push democrats and republicans to take their OWN parties to task for their weakening of freedoms.

  27. Hardy – Good job in Vermont – I’m hearing you are doing what you’re preaching and are going out to reach the voters. I predict success from your efforts this November!

    Mark W. Rutherford, Chairman, Libertarian Party of Indiana

  28. Carl — respectfully, my point was other than what you stated. My principle demands only that people be more free and less impacted than they now are. And that something mechanically be done towards that goal. I am not a ‘pragmatist’ or a ‘purist’. I am a *functionalist.* I hold to functional idealism. You can espouse whatever idyl you want. If it’s got no shot in hell of happening, all you are doing is blowing hot air. (Not you specifically, Carl).

    Susan — I continue to find it amusing that people still fail to realize the syncresis possible between attempting to elect lower-level candidates, run higher-level candidates for office, and educate the public. All three are accomplished via the same actions.


  29. (cont’d)

    Right now, Michael Badnarik is running an absolutely phenomenal campaign in LP terms, for the US Congress.

    There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever within my mind that this would not have been possible were it not for the publicity he earned in his Presedential bid.

    I continue to cross my fingers for his win. Having an elected and (mostly, granted) respected LP icon in the Congress would be a major victory for the party. Might even inspire a few incumbents to change their party affiliation?


  30. Ian:

    Your intent may have been other than what you stated, but many people in the LP DO take said point in the way that I described. I have been shot down many times for pointing out that we should replace the income tax for now. After we have trimmed about $600B/year from the budget, we can talk actual tax cuts.

    Regarding Badnarik: he is running on an extremely incremental platform! He is running more moderately than I would! (At least, based on his web site.) I see no tax cuts mentioned other than a credit for medical savings accounts.

    I do not suggest that the LP platfor be as moderate as Badnarik’s is currently. But why settle for one successful congressional campaign when we could have a successful party?

  31. Carl — where exactly does a successful party come from, if not from “one successful congressional campaign”?

    We’ve been doing it “the old way” — which it seems to me you are endorsing — for literally longer than I’ve been alive. It’s hardly working.

    And because you still seem not to be getting my point, I will state the following; there is not a damned thing whatsoever the LP in its current state can do to eliminate the personal income tax, *in actuality*.

    That being said, any measures which have a chance of causing the dependance upon the income tax to be reduced, mitigated, or eliminated, are altogether useful.

    That is to say — put your energies into things that produce results. If all you have to say is continued ranting about why that’s wrong, I tell you that you are ineffectual and pointless. (Sorry if that’s harsh, but there it is.)

    That is to say — we have a job to do. Doesn’t matter how dirty our hands get; what matters is where we go.

  32. Carl,

    You ask “why settle for one successful congressional campaign when we could have a successful party?”

    Badnarik’s is an example of what can happen when one actually runs, intelligently.

    He wasn’t my cup of tea, but he won the nomination for the presidential. Alone among past nominees, he’s taken that national support more local. Good!

    Voters choose based on comfort with the candidate. It’s not about platform. You can tinker with the platform, throw it out and start fresh, I don’t care. Don’t read it. Like almost every single voter who ever has cast a ballot.

    You invert your own argument, I think, when you say that Badnarik is running more moderate than you. What he IS doing is meeting and greeting voters. You don’t do that with a platform and it makes no difference what party you are when you do it.

    Not for us; not for the guys who run on principles. What makes a difference is meeting and greeting, asking for the votes and hopefully getting them.

  33. Whenever I read a Carl Milstead rant about the LP with all the imaginary statistics, assertions that he knows what people want to hear, and accusations of anarchy, I understand how Democrats must feel when Zell Miller shows up.

    Maybe Carl and Boortz can get together and form the “What The People Want To Hear Party”. Since they have a monopoly on that knowledge they should achieve electoral success – even if their new party is mentioned by only 1% of the media.

    Back to the actual topic of media and the LP:

    Things like LTEs and buying advertising encourage media coverage. Of course, it helps to have something to cover.

  34. As the Indiana Libertarian nominee for the US Senate to face Lugar in November, I take very seriously the challenge to win a state race. This will be a tough one, but as someone pointed out, it is time for us to become ‘interesting’ to the voters.

    Though not at all connected to my campaign, I filed an as-yet (generally to the public as I haven’t offered any news releases on it) unknown 3rd lawsuit on the ‘lease’ of our Indiana Toll Road (before my nomination). I found some procedural matters in the deal that are not being followed. Similar to a contingency to a house contract, there was a clause in the winning bid that automatically invalidated the bid if a certain event happened. Well, the event happened and both sides are ignoring the clause; I’m trying to help ‘remind’ them of it and kill the existing contract. Polls have ranged from 60 to 90% public opposition to the ‘lease.’ If the judge agrees, being a $3.85B deal, that might generate a little ‘interest’ in the state.

  35. Steve — personally speaking, that right there is a winner on surface. I wish you luck, either way.

  36. Mr. Slevin: I have knocked on hundreds of doors, distributed thousands of pieces of literature, etc. It doesn’t work if people dislike the message. The Caucus was founded AFTER we controlled for the other variables: greeting voters, press coverage, advertising etc.

    Furthermore, you get covered more if you have a credible message. Call for defaulting on the national debt, selling sex toys to children, or ignoring environmental problems and you get ignored. Call for significant incremental changes that make things better, and people listen. You get published. You get invited to speak. At least, it works for me.

    Mr. Blanton: my stats are not imaginary. I have been gathering stats at www. quiz2d.com for about a half-dozen years. Go to http://www.quiz2d.com/stats and see the results from the latest version of the quiz (over 30,000 data points).