Growing Pains

I wanted to pen my thoughts on my recent experience with the Smither Campaign. I was reluctant to do so at any point until this time as I still am suffering from burnout. With the debate raging as to whether the LP can be successful at running candidate, I have decided once more to enter the fray and voice my opinion. I hope this will lead to a more educated discussion with regard to success versus failure in future endeavors.

I find it troubling that one of the founders of the party, Mr. Nolan, felt obliged to denigrate those in the party who work towards making the LP a relevant faction of the American Body Politic. I dislike the notion of being at odds with one of the founders of the political party which I belong, yet felt compelled to refute the position which he is promoting. We all know that there are elements within the libertarian movement who would relegate activities based solely upon spreading philosophy. Likewise, another faction would have us work solely on electoral success. I contend that it will take both in order to gain any success whatsoever.

What I find very puzzling about Mr. Nolan’s position is his apparent contradiction. Mr. Nolan proposed at the Ohio Libertarian Convention in June 2006 that the mission statement should read as such:

“The mission of the Libertarian Party is to move public policy in a libertarian direction by building a network of pro-freedom activists who can effectively support positive policy changes and oppose negative changes by working within the political process on an issue-by-issue basis.” 1

How then, may I inquire, would Mr. Nolan propose to “move public policy…. within the political process?” I have often posed this same question to members of the anarcho-purist sect of the LP and have yet to receive a satisfactory answer. The solutions I have received were generally based upon “educating the people” on libertarian philosophy. Yet, the Libertarian Party has done exactly that for the past 35 years with scant success.

Mr. Nolan opines that:

“I noted that while the LP grew steadily, and at an accelerating pace, up through the year 2000, membership and revenues have declined markedly since then. If our prior growth pattern had continued, our membership today would be at least double what it was six years ago. In reality, it is barely half as large. Clearly, some of the fall-off was caused by the events of 9/11/2001, but we can’t use that excuse forever!” 2

I would contend that this is a direct result of “preaching” to the masses as opposed to running qualified candidates and strategic campaigns. Additionally, Mr. Nolan provides specious statistics. His figures are based upon individuals who paid dues to the LNC over that same period of time. True, the number of dues paying members peaked in 1999 at 33495. It has contracted since that time especially in consideration that “dues” are no longer imposed on members of the party. I suppose if we utilized this methodology today, we could state that the LP has NO members, but we all know that a statement to that effect would not be accurate.

Mr. Nolan continues:

“I next noted that from the very beginning, the LP was intended primarily as a vehicle for building a network of activists and spreading libertarian ideas to the American public. Back in 1971 I listed seven reasons to form a libertarian political party, and electing people to office was the last item on the list – almost an afterthought.”3

While this position is correct within the framework of a fledgling organization, I would hope that everyone agrees that the Libertarian Party has grown since 1971. Again, I would simply ask, how do we move “public policy” into a libertarian direction without actually electing people to office?

This apparent conflict in ideals I will pen the term “The Nolan Paradox.” It reminds me of my daughter expressing her desire to be treated as an adult. However, upon reaching the age where responsibilities begin, she now longs for the days when she could simply spend her days in carefree distractions. I will come back to this mindset in due course.

In a recent article at rationalreview.com Mr. Nolan continues promoting his theory. He pontificates that:

“This is a success rate of about 1.3%. It is fairly typical of how we do, year after year. And yet a vociferous faction within the LP continues to say that our "primary mission" is to elect people to ffice.”4

I will agree that this is typical. However, I will not agree on the cause of the results. I would state that it is typical in that the same tactic of “preaching philosophy” has been employed with little to no success. Additionally, when we do see viable campaigns emerge, we often find the candidate under attack by the anarcho-purist element within the LP itself. I have a whole list of people that sent me hate mail throughout the campaign, demanding that the candidate make a statement on this position or that. Failure to comply meant that you were not libertarian enough and the libelous attacks across the net would begin shortly thereafter.

Expanding on this train of thought, Mr. Nolan continues:

“This, I will submit, is stupid. When you define your mission as something you're not good at, people stop taking you seriously after awhile. They conclude that you are either delusional or dishonest”5

I would agree with Mr. Nolan that many libertarians are “not good at” running campaigns. They are neophytes in that sense. However, there are others that do quite well. To refute this presumption, one need only look at the resent LP results in Texas. The “signature” candidate raised and spent around $50,000 and received 6.1% of the vote in what can only be considered a three-way race. Though the “official” GOP candidate was a write-in, the electronic voting machines made it very simple to execute that choice. The same candidate received 18.9% in the special election.

These types of candidates are those that “boost” the party’s election totals. Compare that with the 2% that Mr. Nolan received and you may understand my angst when I read opinion such as his. Mr. Nolan comes to the conclusion that:

“It is time for us to recognize, as we once did, that for the foreseeable future the primary mission of the Libertarian Party is NOT electing people to office.6

I will whole-heartedly disagree with this statement. I am not interested in being in a philosophy club or a debating society. I am here to attempt to move public policy towards libertarian philosophy. However, unlike Mr. Nolan, I understand that unless you have the ability to change the policy by having libertarians in office, then the steady march towards despotism will continue to be the result. The belief that the masses will convert upon hearing libertarian philosophy has a tried and true track record of failure.

If you recall, I mentioned my daughter’s desire to revert to the age of play and no responsibility? I observe her make mistakes and become frustrated when she is not proficient at certain tasks. With time, she masters an activity and moves on to more difficult items. I would like to think that the LP is exhibiting signs of maturity in the past few years. Sure, there are those who will view years gone by with nostalgia. I can even appreciate their opinions and points of view, at least on a philosophical basis. I am relieved, however, that the “dead hand of the past” is no longer steering the rudder.

1. Nolan's speech
2. ibid
3. ibid
4. RationalReview.com
5. ibid
6. ibid