Over at H&R, Brian Doherty just linked to Thomas Knapp’s assessment of Michael Badnarik’s potential as a presidential candidate in 2008 — which we also covered here at HoT. Like Knapp, Doherty covered Badnarik’s negatives as well as potential:
…given some of his particularly eccentric views on income taxes and drivers licenses, in the aftermath of what just might be a very impressive showing in Badnarik’s run for Congress this year.
Doherty also linked to an older article I hadn’t read since it was fresh off the presses. While the primary purpose of the article was to cover the 2004 LP convention, he also spent some time trying to illustrate the differences between the perceptions and movitations of Libertarians and those of the general voting public.
I’ve been asked to speak at several events lately (for my next one), either about my insider’s perception of the 2004 LP convention or about my views on more practical politics. Because I’m generally lazy, I combined both topics into one speech — which covers an awful lot of the same ground Doherty did. My old client asked the general question I do early in my speech:
“We fight for freedom, which everyone wants, so why are we nowhere?” asked Libertarian Party (LP) presidential nomination hopeful Aaron Russo…
…On Sunday, he won the first and second ballot for the nomination, only to lose the third.
LP members often get offended when I say we’ve gotten nowhere. My response is that of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, only one is a party member — and he had to run as a Republican to get elected. Even this bit of logic doesn’t click on the lightbulb for some party members. Doherty’s view (which is very similar to a portion of my speech) begins to explain the distance between the LP and real voters. He describes what most people I know would consider to be the beginnings of real world politics:
Russo was abrasive and occasionally outrageous, but to me, charming. At least he exhibited a style no previous LP candidate had really tried. And if there’s one thing the LP seems to need after 30 years of failures and on a downhill trajectory, it’s something it hasn’t tried. Russo already had TV ads running on big networks in the Atlanta area — he was the first LP candidate ever to get a TV campaign rolling pre-nomination. He vowed that short commercials pushing an anti-war and anti-draft message would be where most of his campaign cash would go. He had already paid for some professional polling from Rasmussen that showed 19 percent support if people knew he was the only candidate who would end the war.
Then Doherty asked what I had been asking for a while:
As one longtime LP watcher told me after the stunning result, on one level it was clearly for the best. Nolan and Russo were both selling the proposition that they would run the most aggressive and professional campaigns. If they were such great campaigners, how is it that Badnarik, unable to afford even a bed, much less hospitality suites or strategy rooms at the Marriott, beat them?
Doherty came close to answering his question several times in the article. Here’s what I suggest in the speech (to close the circle, Knapp wrote most of this portion):
First, we followed a time-honored sales rule that didn’t apply: We sold benefits instead of features. When you’re campaigning to the electorate, the focus is on benefits — why things will be better if they elect you. When you’re campaigning to Libertarians; however, you’re speaking to an audience which is very much interested in features … not just on what the product can do for them, but on its specifications. For better or worse — and there’s a case to be made for both — we’re an ideological party. Russo went long on delivering the product, and short on waving the blueprint around. And Libertarians wanted to see the blueprint…
…Here’s one key lesson to remember: What works with the public may not work within the party. This is a lesson learned from the Russo race. Alternately, what works within the party may not work with the general public. This is a lesson learned from the Badnarik race.
I’ve engaged in national level LP politics for a few years and I’m not encouraged by what I see. Doherty has dropped electoral politics, Knapp’s resigned (and subsequently rejoined) the LP before, and I’m pondering the same issues they have. I’d prefer to help implement some reasonable political change in a libertarian direction than be part of another 35 years with no significant Libertarian Party outcome. I’m looking at three indicators to make my decision: the outcome of the 2006 convention, the outcome of the 2008 convention, and the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. If the LP doesn’t get serious about winning elections (as opposed to preaching to the choir) by then, I’ll be spending my libertarian efforts and dollars elsewhere.