21 October 2006

Who to pick for 2008?

Doug Stanhope, Steve Kubby and George Phillies are currently the three primary contenders for the Libertarian Party's 2008 presidential nomination. I must admit up front I am not entirely thrilled with the choices. Let me explain why:

Under any other condition, I would probably prefer Stanhope, given that he is a good speaker and has relative celebrity status. Many have pointed out that he would also reach to the left. I'm a bit of a liberal feminist, and my firm objection to him is based the fact that his comedy career has been made by acting like a misogynistic pig, and that by running him, the LP will basically not only turn off the Left even more, but I worry it will make it even more of a joke by only catering to the Howard Stern niche. As the "Girls Gone Wild" guy, Stanhope made his name by getting drunk college girls to flash their breasts on camera for pathetic guys who must not have Internet connections or something. I just don't think that's presidential material, and I doubt the average voter does, as well. He's also an admitted current drug user - another point of political suicide. Finally, he kind of disappeared after the initial announcement. So, no.

Kubby, a medical marijuana patient and advocate who successfully helped pass a ballot initiative in California on this topic and ran for governor of California, has his share of problems too. First of all, like it or not, he comes off as a one issue candidate. Secondly, he fled to Canada because he was going to be arrested for possession of peyote, something a little more difficult to explain from a purely medical standpoint. It's just another way to enable the powers that be and the average voter to corner the LP as the "druggie party." Also, the fact that he is a medical patient may make his current use more acceptable, but at the same time, is it a good idea to run a person who already runs a high risk of dying from cancer? Finally, he's not known outside of the party and California. So, sorry, no.

Phillies, a physics professor and ACLU leader, is the least known and, apparently, the least charismatic of the lot. That's too bad, because he is the most well rounded candidate, issues-wise. But he could not even get close to winning the party's pick for Chair at the last National Convention. Furthermore, it would probably be Badnarik redux, although at least he has some inner party name recognition, which is more than can be said for Badnarik before he began his campaign from nothing. Well, no.

There's other candidates, but none have made serious inroads.

So, now to the point. If the LP could draft a person from the movement to run, who should it be?

My vote is either for Nick Gillespie of the Reason Foundation or John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods Market and Flow Project co-founder. Both are pragmatic, principled, have outside name recognition, have proven to be good speakers, can attract media attention, won't embarass the Party and will attract both moderates and the Left. But then again, they both have dayjobs. I'm all for organizing a formal draft campaign for either of these people if others are.

Welcome manifesto

First of all, welcome to Free New World. This blog will be dedicated primarily to politics in the American libertarian movement. I'm Nick Wilson. How do you do?

I have been active in this movement as a founder of the Libertarian Reform Caucus (which is making significant progress at turning the Libertarian Party into an effective political party) and as the founder of the State of World Liberty Project and it's accompanying index (which recieved coverage in the New York Times, the BBC and newspapers all across eastern Europe). I am currently living in Japan for a few months, but I am still very in touch with American politics. You may often find me electronically on Hammer of Truth and Third Party Watch.

My goal is for a successful libertarian party to emerge. I don't personally care much whether this is a reformed LP, a brand new party, a reformed different third party (like the Reform Party) or even, by some fluke, if the Republicans or Democrats happened to turn libertarian. In fact, I support trying all of these things at once and seeing what sticks - by building a thriving spectrum, the chances of success are increased. Libertarians shouldn't be forced to choose between an irrelevant party and the fairly partisan caucuses in the major parties.

The Libertarian Party MIGHT be able to become centrist enough to succeed. However, the LP's history of anarchocapitalism and radicalism has already burned so many bridges with the few moderates who know anything about us. These barriers may be too difficult to overcome.

Five suggestions to help:
1.) Change the name of the party. We have to re-petition for ballot access every election anyway, and the Libertarian Party name is a stale face on a party that is beginning to become vital with pragmatic reforms and better candidates. To the average American, it is associated with political failure, irrelevance, kookdom, conspiracy theories and all sorts of other things not good for a political party trying to succeed. Historically, a candidate is more likely to succeed as an independent than as an LP candidate. A name change will be a reintroduction to the world with a more viable message/without the anarchocapitalist associations, and with the same grassroots organization that makes the party promising to begin with. Coupled with the below changes, we can build an effective third party. However, keeping the Libertarian Party name alone risks making the following reforms meaningless.

2.) Fix the platform. The LRC already forced the hand at the 2006 Convention, but the platform is currently incomplete. The signs of reform are awesome - now the party must follow through and decide whether it wants to be a real political party or a debate society that runs candidates. If it chooses the former, maybe the LP can overcome it's history. If it chooses the latter, I'm personally not going to waste my time in a party basically asking not to be voted for or taken seriously. It's dishonest to call yourself a political party and then criticize candidates and members who are trying to address political reality with real solutions.

3.) Draft candidates with name recognition, political skills and common sense policies. Don't get me wrong, I like Badnarik. But running people whom nobody has ever heard of before (even in the movement) - and who is advocating dynamiting the UN building as one of his primary political policies - for President of the USA is a recipe for political suicide. The difficulty at attracting candidates is partially the party's own fault, because, sadly, running for the LP is a good way to get not taken seriously. If the party changes in a pragmatic way AND does so very publicly, the candidate base will obviously grow. The party itself must be actively recruiting candidates.

4.) Learn the balance between pragmatism and principle. They are not mutually exclusive. Principles are things individuals hold as guiding values. Pragmatism is having candidates and a party that does things that are both morally principled and politically relevant. A third party must be both a promising, principled and corruption-free alternative to the current status quo AND address issues that are relevant to the average American. That is why the Reform Party was so successful. That is how the Republican Party turned from a third party into a major party. Once the LP learns from history, maybe we will stand a fighting chance.

5.) Look towards both moderates and the Left. Historically, the LP has pigeonholed itself as a part of the Right. While the LP has managed to get small government conservatives to join us in times of big government "conservatism" (like right now), we have utterly failed to present ourselves as something unique from the Left-Right divide. I'll highlight this because it is very, very important. To succeed, we must position ourselves as the true small government, free market party to the Right, the reformist and moderate (social liberal, economic conservative) party to the middle, and the progressive, localist, anti-corporate party to the Left. Doing all three of these at once requires political skills that the LP has never honed in it's crude adherence to anarcho-capitalism.

If the LP fails to do these things, there are alternatives.
A.) Several promising new parties, like the Moderate Party and the Freedom Party, are catering to the libertarian center. Even the "radical" breakoff Boston Tea Party is acting more pragmatically than the LP ever has.

B.) Start something completely new. High barriers, but also a clean page.

C.) Bring the Reform Party back into the spotlight, this time with a healthy dose of libertarian ideology, as seen in the Ventura campaign. Libertarianism should ALWAYS be attached to government reform. But reform alone is not really ideological, which is why the original Reform Party splintered. The RP has the name recognition and lingers in the wistful memory of people wishing government was cleaner and less corrupt. It's a great way to go straight to moderates with a message of liberty.

D.) Build a coalition of people who agree to vote for one of the major parties (preferably Democrat) for President and the other (preferably Republican) for both houses of Congress. During Clinton, not only did this cut spending, balance the budget and bring about much needed reform, but this has been the only historically proven way to make politicians try to out-libertarian each other. Libertarianism or populism are the two basic compromises between the Left and the Right. But libertarianism take the more historically successful issues of each side and combines them.

These are my ideas. I want to know what others think.

Thanks for visiting and I look forward to working together. I want this blog to be a productive forum for pragmatic libertarianism, not another mudfest or screaming match. People must feel free to express differences of opinion, but can we please cut the name calling. Oh wait...it's coming to me:

6.) Start acting like adults. If there is one thing that scares away new recruits to the LP, it's the fact that we all seem to hate each others' guts. And whenever they open their mouths, they get the impression we all hate their guts, too. Shut your trap when you feel the urge to blurt out ad hominems, listen to each other for once, quit using middle school putdowns towards each other when someone isn't as pure or as pragmatic as you, and try to create an open forum for debate that focuses on issues and solutions, not trying to win at the king of the LP hill. And learn to admit when you're wrong. Someone should create some forum somewhere for the sheer purpose of libertarians beating the crap out of each other - get your personal ya-yas out there and then come back to the rest of the blogosphere (especially the LP blog, HoT, ThirdParty.com, and any other popular sites) and start treating each other as if the enemy is not in this room. Because I don't think he is.