Some LP History

Steve Perkins put together a pretty decent history of the LP on his site. I think it’s a good refresher to help all sides in the LP understand where the others are coming from. To boot, he had it fact-checked by some major figures in both the reform/purity bases and it’s solid. There is quite a bit of good information there to be had, so by all means check it out-especially if you’re new to the Libertarian Party.

Stuart Richards

Stuart Richards is a 26-year-old land surveyor based out of Portland, OR. He is a left-leaning geolibertarian and (theologically) liberal Christian, and has been blogging on and other libertarian sites since 2004.

  1. A pretty good summation, with one quibble: it should be noted that the Clark campaign benefitted from a multi-billionaire running mate (David Koch) and the ability to buy 30 minute network tv prime time slots for a song. Those millions and those cheap ad buys were not available by 1984. Ed was an effective and attractive candidate but
    the vote spike in 1980 can mostly be attributed to special factors.

  2. I’m hoping we can all try to learn here instead of just flaming some more.

    Anyway, Koch was attracted to the party because it was a place for his moderate libertarianism. It ceased to be such a place for him after the Rothbard takeover and he and his millions left.

    If Rothbard could have just welcomed all libertarians to the LP, we would probably still have access to that money today.

  3. Actually, R.E. Lee, I personally view Koch and his financing as another important lesson. There is invaluable benefit to candidates with resources for self-finacing… so long as you avoid the Reform Party’s mistakes of choosing viability over principle altogether. I don’t mean to tear open old wounds, but I thought this was a point that too many people overlooked in ’04… when we had a multi-millionaire candidate with ties to the entertainment and media industries, who I felt passed muster just fine on the principle-front.

  4. I’ll be really upset if this does start a flamewar, Stephen… my intentions were the exact opposite. That’s why I reached out to people on both sides of the discussion, so that my personal opinions (which are only thinly hidden) wouldn’t overshadow the thing.

  5. You are, of course, right that Koch and his millions left when brother Charles backed Ed Crane and Cato rather than
    Rothbard. I guess my real point is that Clark’s campaign had access to cheap 30 minute network spots that did not exist later, even if Koch had stayed around. To buy similar impact spots today, Koch, or another rich running mate, would have to kick in tens of millions. At some point, how much is it worth to even a billionaire to keep winning Clark’s percentage of votes. In any case, I think the 1980 vote total deserves an asterisk, that it wasn’t totally due to a moderate libertarian campaign in contrast to the more radical ones that followed.

  6. Steve Perkins: Don’t you see by now that there’s people on both sides who’s sole aspiration is to piss off the opposition instead of accepting olive branches?

    I’m all for debating the platform ad nauseum if that’s what it takes to get the LP running right and on a solid growth footing. But from here until November 7th, we really need to form some firing lines at our opposition instead of the circular one we’ve got right now.

    I let everyone go nuts debating Portland’s fallout here for a week, but that’s about all I have patience for. Let’s get back to campaigning and newsmongering.

  7. There are a few factual errors in the summary, which I addressed in a comment at Steve’s site. Here’s a brief summary:

    1. In addition to David Bergland, 1980 Presidential candidate Ed Clark has remained an active “Big L” Libertarian.

    2. Perot’s campaign had no effect on LP ballot access in 1992. As I recall, we made the ballot in virtually every state ahead of Perot. If anything, he benefited from our ballot access efforts.

    3. The censure of the former National Director occurred in 2001, not 2000, and thus occurred after the 2000 election.

    One other interesting piece of data. If you correct for inflation, total spending by the presidential campaign (pre & post nomination) plus election-year spending by the LNC, divided by the number of presidential votes received is virtually constant for every LP presidential campaign from 1976-1996. In other words, you can explain virtually all the variation from one election to another by the amount of money raised and spent.

  8. Thanks to Steve Perkins for so quickly correcting the few factual errors I pointed out in his history.

  9. More factual errors:

    Fewer than 100 members attended the first National Convention in 1972 but the membership was many times that number. I joined in March 1972 and the headline on that month’s LP News was “Membership breaks 300.”

    No mention of the LP’s first serious campaign in the NYC municipal elections of 1973. Most of the LP candidates were anarchists.

    No mention of the 1974 National Convention in Dallas where the Statement of Principles was amended and the Platform rewritten in a major compromise between the anarchist and minarchist factions. Ed Crane elected National Chair with Rothbard’s support defeating Eric Scott Royce of Sam Konkin’s anti-political “Radical Caucus.”

    Roger MacBride was nominated in 1975 for the 1976 election. The Platform underwent further rewriting mostly by Murray Rothbard and Roy Childs. Ed Crane re-elected National Chair without opposition.


  10. 1986 was a watershed in LP history in which the first Libertarian dogcatcher was elected. D.C. (dogcatcher) Joe Smith ran on the successful platform of private nukes and crack cocaine legalization. Some called it a fluke, but it was definitely a sign of future election victories, including multiple Soil and Water District positions. Purists quickly declared Smith’s election proof that voters were ready for candidates that are more radical.

  11. Thanks Greg, I’ve already update the 1972 information. Do you remember what the original Statement of Princples was that got amended? I would be great if there were some online resource talking about changes to the Platform over the years. I guess I’m young and naive (joined in the late ’80’s)… I was always under the assumption that the pledge and platform have more or less been the same since Nolan and Rothbard wrote it out in the ’70’s. It’s really awesome to get all this info and hear from the longtime folks.

    Brian, I spit coffee on my keyboard reading your comment. I’m 99% sure you’re joking, but the beautiful thing about the LP is that I have that 1% of doubt that makes me have to ask…

  12. Cont. from #10

    Dave Bergland was elected National Chair without serious opposition in 1977.

    Ed Clark was nominated in 1979 for the 1980 election.

    Alicia Clark was elected National Chair in 1981 defeating John Mason of Colorado who was backed by Rothbard and Kent Guida of Maryland who was backed by Crane.

    The Republican Libertarian Alliance were libertarians who didn’t want to give up their control of the Brooklyn (NY)Young Republicans and were never at all significant.

    Days before the 1983 National Convention, consensus candidate Gene Burns withdraws and a serious faction fight breaks out with Rothbard supporting Dave Bergland and Crane backing Earl Ravanal for President. This was NOT an ideological fight but rather a power struggle with anarchists and minarchists on both sides.

    There’s more, but this gives you some idea that the LP’s history is being somewhat distorted, by whom I’m not entirely sure.

  13. Steve-

    Please understand that I was not accusing you of distortion but there is a lot of misinformation going around.

    The LP website used to have archives with the previous Platforms, National Convention minutes, and LNC minutes but the new staff apparently thought it was all irrelevant. I don’t know if they backed it all up or simply erased it.

    The pledge was written by Dave Nolan in 1971, Rothbard had nothing to do with it as he didn’t join until 1973.

  14. While the history of the LP is very interesting to libertarians of all stripes, I am left wondering how instructive it all is to the situation the LP faces and the present political situation in America.

    That John Hospers supported Bush in 2004 proves what?

    I just read that Ron Paul thinks Bush should be impeached. Has Dr. Paul now become a raging anarchist?

    Did moderates & radicals leave the party over the libertarian pledge or platform planks, or were they frustrated by other things?

    I think the real question is what strategy will energize libertarians and voters alike. What will be more effective: a moderate presentation of radical ideas or a radical presentation of moderate ideas?

    Should our rallying cry be: liberty in our lifetime or liberty in our grandchildren’s lifetime?

    Rothbard is dead and Hospers has lost his mind. Should we fight over past history or move forward?

  15. Yeah Brian. I was chewing butterscotch and I got it up my nose, dammit.

    Stephen V, I will concede. I really think that whatever your stance on what happened in Portland, I think we should all make the best of the situation. “LP tries a new direction” and the like. I sent a letter to the Dallas Morning News last week and it was published on Friday. Despite the fact that the newspaper didn’t cover the LP convention, in a paragraph and a half I was able to convey that the LP dropped its most radical planks, that it is trying to reach out to moderates and that voters should give the LP a chance. I feel like if everyone were to send similar messages to the newspaper, we can plant the seeds in people’s minds that the LP is trying to take politics seriously. I can practically hear the “finally”s from thousands and thousands of readers.

  16. Well, I think VanDyke’s got the right idea. But this is a good resource, Steve. Go see what you can add to the LP wiki… because you clearly have a head for this kinda researchy stuff.

  17. Portland seems to have dropped planks that many people thought were poorly written, not necessarily the ‘most radical’.

    It seems the ‘religious freedom’ plank has been retained, and it contains an offhand reference to the LP opposing ‘all taxes’.

    The RKBA plank was retained. That’s the one many people interpret as supporting a right to private ownership of nuclear weapons.

    Also, ‘the LP dropped its most radical planks’ is very misleading if it’s taken to imply that only the most radical planks were dropped. Many of the dropped planks were less radical than some of those retained.

  18. Tom B., I’m wasn’t trying to prove a unified “thesis statement” with each little bit of historical information. I think there’s just bit there that speak to people across multiple perspectives. I wanted to correct the perception I’ve been hearinig that the LP has continuously chased off moderates through its history. The reality is that high-profile people from ALL sides have drifted off the over the years. It’s important to know that infighting and disagreements have existed since the beginning, and it has only hurt us when one side or the other decides to completely “take their ball and go home” so to speak. I also think that the Reform Party’s abandonment of principle altogether is a good counterpoint that should be remembered.

    All in all, my purpose **IS** to “move forward”, or at least contribute to that. Based on the tone and content of feedback… it looks like this at a minimum hasn’t hurt, and may have helped a little.


  19. … and all due respect to VanDyke, but you guys REALLY fed the divisions for a solid week with non-stop posts designed to stir the pot and draw in eyeballs/revenue to the site. Then something I write gets mentioned, and that’s the afternoon that HoT is suddenly high-road and above-it-all. I hear what you’re trying to say, but kindly go f**k yourself all the same (in a friendly way!). :)

    Stuart, what/where’s the “LP wiki”?

  20. I wanted to correct the perception I’ve been hearing that the LP has continuously chased off moderates through its history.

    thats certainly been my personal experience over the years, though it hasnt been constant. In 2000 I was welcomed as a LP candidate with open arms, the only thing I had to do was show my card. In 2002, when I wanted to get active again, I was told that I would never be a LP candidate in this state again by no less than the State Chair at the time becuase I was a statist and a nazi. My ‘crime’ was in not agreeing with her about childhood immunizations, which was her pet issue.

    So, she lost me as a candididate, she lost me as a active state party member, and I wound up blogging about the LP.

    So it hasnt been the same treatment all the time. Some “purists” have treated me very well, and others are personally threatened by any action that does not conform. Of those people, the near universal reaction is to invite same out of the LP.

  21. Tim West: how did “she” get to be State Chair with all that power to veto candidates? My perception is that the LP has suffered all kinds of crappy State Chairs because neither the LNC nor State members demand competance.
    Almost anyone can join some state parties, volunteer for a year or two and become State Chair without the foggiest
    experience, leadership qualities, or management skills.
    This is something that must be corrected for State LPs to
    grow instead of being periodically ruined by such characters as you describe.

  22. At the California state conventions I’ve attended, all I’ve known about many of the candidates for state office was what I could glean from their nominating speeches. Perhaps requiring candidates to declare well ahead of time and publishing their names in the state newsletter would help.

    Perhaps letting all members vote for officers by Internet would bring in more moderate leaders since conventions tend to be dominated by more hardcore Libertarians.

  23. In the May 1955 issue of Ideas on Liberty, FEE senior staff member Dean Russell wrote, “Who is a Libertarian?,” advocating the use of the word libertarian:

    Who is a Libertarian?

    by Dean Russell

    Those of us who favor individual freedom with personal responsibility have been unable to agree upon a generally acceptable name for ourselves and our philosophy of liberty. This would be relatively unimportant except for the fact that the opposition will call us by some name, even though we might not desire to be identified by any name at all. Since this is so, we might better select a name with some logic instead of permitting the opposition to saddle us with an epithet.

    Some of us call ourselves “individualists,” but others point out that the opposition often uses that word to describe a heartless person who doesn’t care about the problems and aspirations of other people.

    Some of us call ourselves “conservatives,” but that term describes many persons who base their approval of an institution more on its age than on its inherent worth.

    Many of us call ourselves “liberals,” And it is true that the word “liberal” once described persons who respected the individual and feared the use of mass compulsions. But the leftists have now corrupted that once-proud term to identify themselves and their program of more government ownership of property and more controls over persons. As a result, those of use who believe in freedom must explain that when we call ourselves liberals, we mean liberals in the uncorrupted classical sense. At best, this is awkard, subject to misunderstanding.

    Here is a suggestion: Let those of us who love liberty trademark and reserve for our own use the good and honorable word “libertarian.”

    Webster’s New International Dictionary defines a libertarian as “One who holds to the doctrine of free will; also, one who upholds the principles of liberty, esp. individual liberty of thought and action.”

    In popular terminology, a libertarian is the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence — legal or illegal — to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person. Generally speaking, a libertarian is one who wants to be governed far less than he is today.

  24. Steve Perkis writes: All in all, my purpose **IS** to “move forward”, or at least contribute to that. Based on the tone and content of feedback”¦ it looks like this at a minimum hasn’t hurt, and may have helped a little.

    Steve – I agree and I thank you for your efforts in providing some perspective. I also appreciate Steve Dasbach and Greg Clark weighing in. I find all this stuff pretty interesting.

    I was trying to make the point, perhaps not effectively, that since a large part of the divide between idealists and pragmatists is related to strategy, and since strategy depends on the current political landscape, the past history of LP squabbles may not be so instructive in the current debate, however it can serve as a guide to what can happen when things get out of hand.

    In addition to the Reform Party example, there is the Green Party example of being torn apart by the “safe state strategy” which threw principles out the window.