Squabbles and Sorcerors

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As the official business of the 2012 Libertarian Party National Presidential Nominating Convention got underway, there was but one question on everyone’s mind: which group of people will be credentialed and seated as the official delegation from Oregon?

Actually, no, very few people cared about that, especially if you count out those with either a direct stake in the matter, or a fetish for obscurities of parliamentiary procedure. But the LP cannot do without drama, so lacking any at the top of the ballot it was left to the individual delegations to come up with some. Oregon came through in spades.

It’s never a good sign when there’s more than one “central committee” of anything, and Oregon brought two, the Reeves group and the Wagner group. The latter is the one recognized by the Oregon Secretary of State; the former is suing to contest this recognition. It’s of those thoroughly Byzantine LP procedural matters that simmers for months before exploding into floor debate that even Robert’s Rules is hard pressed to contain.

So once the proverbial gavel fell (only proverbial because the actual gavel failed to make it to the convention — the TSA, no joke, would not permit it to be taken on a plane), things got ugly real quick. Between conflicts of interest, backroom (even bedroom) deals, and worst of all violations of parliamentary procedure, there were accusations aplenty. As one of the speakers, himself an involved party, noted when addressing the floor: there are “unclean hands on both sides of the dispute.”

Others settled for the fatal passive — “Mistakes have been made, things could have been handled better.” — before appealing to the LP’s “brand distinction” as the soc-called “party of principle.” “If we can’t follow our own rules,” one asked, “then how can we ask the American people for their votes?” Because of course the fight over who is seated as the Oregon delegation is going to be a campaign killer with the American people in the coming election cycle.

The actual gavel failed to make it to the convention — the TSAwould not permit it to be taken on a plane

Hilariously low stakes aside, this dispute is not one that’s going away. The delegates’ decision to approve the credentials report and seat the Reeves faction, though pragmatically ending a fight that was already holding up the keynote address, leaves the status of the Oregon LP uncertain. Even party insiders cannot yet say which side will win out, or even whether the party’s nominee will be able to appear on the Oregon ballot. But it leaves a bad taste in the mouth — as one Oregon delegate, new to the party and unknowingly swept up in this pissing match, said when addressing the floor: “It seems like the Libertarian Party is more concerned with preserving their own personal power than with promoting liberty in the United States.”

With that kerfuffle momentarily sorted, it was back to the same old, same old with Michael Cloud’s keynote speech. If there’s any libertarian idea you care particularly about, chances are he brought it up — but because he spent his time speaking to every possible issue, there was little focus on any single one of them. “Big government is the disease, and libertarians have the cure” is bumper-sticker stuff, practically defining boilerplate.

The list of the day’s speeches proved hardly more inspirational, showing, if nothing else, that the party is in urgent need of fresh blood. And to be fair, two of the speakers late in the day addressed that in particular: Alexander McCobin, president of Students for Liberty, which gathers college students to talk about liberty; and Andy McKean, founder of Liberty Day, a group that tries to raise constitutional literacy, especially in elementary schools. While neither speech exactly concealed its fundraising aim, it’s encouraging nonetheless to see a block of speech aimed at reaching a generation that, by my own admittedly anecdotal experience, they’re doing none too well with to date.

All of this, though, is a sideshow to the real business of the convention: nominating a presidential candidate. But unlike the higgledy-piggledy 2008, this year’s race is more like a coronation march: Gary Johnson announced his intent early and entered the convention as overwhelming favorite to take the nomination; the only real drama in the process by now is whether the vote will go to a second ballot.

But there are other candidates: enough of them, in fact, that the LP itself isn’t actually sure how many of those who have filed to run for president will actually bother to show up and do so. But what is clear is that the field is nowhere near as packed as in 2008, where nine candidates made the debate stage. Reaching that point requires 30 delegate “tokens” (actually slips of paper); but it’s uncertain whether anyone other than Johnson and Wrights will reach even that total.

So why even bother? I asked Jim Libertarian Burns, a perennial candidate (and yes, that is his legal middle name). For him, it’s about making contacts — even friends — and getting the message out that the Libertarian Party is the best hope that the American people (and by proxy people worldwide) have for true political change. At the same time, the LP as presently constructed is “a pile of crap.” Burns has the hope of at least making the debate stage, which — if it did happen — would be far more as a reward to him for decades within the party, than for any particular strength of his campaign. But rest assured: if by some fluke he were to take the party nomination, he would not accept it, but would instead turn it over to Gary Johnson.

Unlike the higgledy-piggledy 2008, this year’s race is more like a coronation march.

The same would certainly not be true of Lee Wrights, Johnson’s main competitor. Another longtime presence in the LP, Wrights has held a number of roles in past years, including vice chair; without Johnson around, Wrights’ campaign would be something like Andre Marrou’s: essentially, a lifetime service award, and one for which Wrights’ slogan “End All War” (e.g., foreign, Drug, On Poverty) would be adequate

With Johnson, however, Wrights has to focus much more on the issues where he and the ex-governor differ — difficult since they’re both anti-war, anti-drug prohibition, anti-entitlements, etc. So what does he have to offer? First and foremost, many more years of experience in libertarian politics, specifically — indisputable since Johnson just joined six months ago, albeit as a life member. Second, an economic plan that isn’t the Flat Tax. Third, a foreign policy farther in the direction of isolationism than Johnson’s non-interventionism. What would a Wrights campaign look like? A grassroots affair, reaching out to local libertarian candidates in a bid to make use of preestablished media relationships — relationships I’m not sure actually exist, or at least haven’t proven terrifically useful in the past. But the talking points are in place for the debate, and Wrights will at least be on the stage with a chance to make them.

But at this point it would take getting caught in flagrante delicto with half a dozen hookers, several farmyard animals, and a choir of castrati for Gary Johnson to lose the nomination. And while some of the above might be on the menu for other libertarian operatives once they get over to the Strip, there’s precious little vice (other than the obvious one) at the resort itself, even in the room parties that fill the convention’s nighttime hours.

The peculiar pleasure to be found in these hospitality suites is instead that of truly bizarre conversation — something like a perpetual Philip K. Dick story, where one comes to realize, again and again, that there is no firm ground to stand on, no intersection between a particular person’s mind and whatever passes for objective reality in the world around us. For instance, last night I spoke with a younger attendee who was absolutely convinced that the greatest problem facing American politics — nay, politics worldwide — was the workings of sorcerers wielding unimaginable arcane power. He supported a blanket ban on all sorcery, speaking approvingly of nations where such laws were already on the books, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. More specifically, any presidential candidate worth his salt must be willing to take on the leading nest of sorcerers in America, Yale’s Skull & Bones society, which has been responsible for many assassinations over the past half-century or so, most recently Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.

After a few drinks and a swing across the dancefloor at Gary Johnson’s bumping election party (LMFAO soundtrack included), I called it a night. Tomorrow: candidates court delegate tokens and try to get on the stage for the C-SPAN televised debate. More anon.



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Comments

Visitor

If you go to the Rep. and Dem. conventions this year you will find your share of kooks. Don't try to portray this as a Libertarian phenomena. At least the LP won't have it's kooks running for President.

Robert K. Stock

I quit the Libertarian Party several years ago. I realized that the the majority of the people running the show care more about being big fishes in small ponds than actually moving America in a libertarian direction.

The deck is stacked against 3rd parties and that will not change. The Libertarian Party should accept how real politics is done in this country and change tactics. The Libertarian Party would be much more effective if it disbanded as a political party and reconstituted itself as an interest group working inside one of the two major parties.

The Libertarian Party and all third parties in America are a waste of time and money. There are plenty of other organizations that have the ability to "educate" the public about libertarian thought. The Libertarian Party does more harm than good on the political landscape.

Visitor

Exactly how is the LP going to "do more good" as a part of the (d)/(r) parties? They will be even more ignored then. Much like African-american Democratic voters. Democrats could care less about them. They know they won't vote elsewhere. Republicans know they will never get their vote, so they go after them with all government can give 'em.

Robert K. Stock

African-Americans hold leadership positions in the Democratic Party, many seats in Congress, and are defintely NOT ignored. If the Libertarian Party reconstituted itself as an interest group working inside the two party system more libertarians would hold leadership positions in the Democratic and Republican parties,and scores of libertarians would be elected to Congress. That is how the LP can "do more good" as an interest group instead of a political party.

But you go right ahead and beat your head against the wall wasting your time and money while pretending that .05-2% of the vote on election day is a victory for liberty.

Visitor

Why would a libertarian be elected, when only 2-5% of the populace hold libertarian beliefs? Just because they run in the Republican primaries every 2-4 years?

There are plenty of psuedo-libertarians. Who want smaller gov't....except the DoD, or except Social security, except ICE or except, except, except....That's not libertarianism. That's who wins every election already.

A great receipe for more of the same old, same old.

Robert K. Stock

It is closer to 25% of the general public that hold libertarian ideas. Not just Republicans, but Democrats too.

It has always been an organized minority that comes to hold the reins of power in any political party. A handfull of libertarians in either Republican or Democratic parties can easily take over local, county, and eventually state parties. Libertarians in leadership positions in the local Republican or Democratic parties will be able to select "correct" candidates who will be elected by the rank and file voters, because the vast majority of voters in a general election are uninformed, mindless drones that only care about the R or D label on the ballot.

Failure to recognize the true nature of the average voter is the mistake that all 3rd parties make. It is not compromising your principles to engage in political theater or manipulate voters. The voters are too dumb to care.

Visitor

Where in the world do you get that 25% of the general public is libertarian?

Maybe that's libertarian on a very few issues, Authoritarian on all others?

If 25% of the general public were libertarian, we wouldn't be discussing this.

Barry Klein

Party politics will always prove frustrating. But focusing on policy shaping at the local level can be very rewarding.

Ninety nine percent of all 33,000 units of government in the US whose leadership is elected are small population jurisdictions. In those settings a mere handful of liberty activists can quickly have a very real impact using techniques of coalition building and one-day petition drives held on election days. The goals would be charter changes and voting blocs.

I have cooked up several strategies to fight overactive government at the city and county levels. Interested parties are welcome to contact me.

Barry Klein
Pres./Houston Property Rights Association
bjklein@swbell.net
713-224-4144

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