The Case for None of The Above

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It’s a Liberty tradition: before a presidential election we invite our authors to make the best case they can for the Democratic candidate, the Libertarian candidate, the Republican candidate, and no candidate at all. In some instances, the best case isn’t one that the authors themselves find the most convincing. C’est la guerre.

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It seems almost unfair that my fellow contributors should get such difficult assignments, while I get such an easy one. Not only do I get to write up the clear and obvious choice for liberty lovers, I also get the last word in our forum. So be it! But look back on them fondly, and remember that they did their best to scratch out a case from the most meager materials in anyone’s living memory.

On with it then: if you care in any way about freedom or a little-l libertarian society, you will not cast a vote for president. Spend your November 8 working, or mowing the lawn, or reading poems, or just lazing about generally. If you are one of those with the pathological need to waste half of an otherwise enjoyable and productive day on a fool’s errand, then educate yourself on your state and local elections and vote in them, as your conscience leads. But when it comes to the top slot, you should vote None of the Above, or write in the fictional character of your choice.

The reason for this is simple. In our electoral system, a vote is a binary state. It’s either a 1 or a 0, a yes or a no. You may think you’re casting your vote for the lesser of two evils, but all the parties will see is that you approved of their candidate enough to bother voting for him or her. In this election, of all elections, to cast a vote for president — whether you opt for D, or R, or even L — is to assist in the euthanasia of contemporary libertarianism.

If you care in any way about freedom or a little-l libertarian society, you will not cast a vote for president.

Judging from our reader feedback, people here don’t need much convincing that Hillary Clinton should not be president. The great tragedy of her life was being born into a society with a few barriers still in place against naked political ambition; under more amenable circumstances, she’d have made a superb tinpot dictator. Her core characteristic is an absolute certainty that she is, at all times, both right and good; her preeminent political skill is surrounding herself with others who attest, at all times, to her rightness and goodness.

The defining mark of her political career to date is incompetence. In her first big assignment, she not only failed to sell single-payer health care to a Congress controlled by her own party, she also (perhaps more so than any other single person) set in motion the 1994 Republican takeover. As the junior senator from New York, Clinton voted for the military action in Afghanistan that continues to this day, for the Patriot Act and its reauthorization, and for what is so far the single greatest blunder of the 21st-century, the Iraq War Resolution. Though she claims this last, at least, was a mistake, her time as Secretary of State showed she has learned precisely no lessons about the follies of nation-building and regime change in the Middle East: she continued to advocate ever greater Afghan commitments; she spearheaded the disastrous intervention in Libya; she strengthened ties with the monstrous regime in Saudi Arabia, likely selling them the weapons they are using now to massacre Yemeni dissidents; and still today she pushes for entanglements in Syria that could well lead to outright war with Vladimir Putin’s Russia — all in the name of humanitarian intervention.

Clinton’s plans for this country are no less enlightened and benevolent. She is the candidate of the entrenched, of the moneyed, of the would-be oligarchs and autocrats, and if you are not one of them, then you are already reprobate. In any normal election, she would have been kneecapped in the primary (and could well have, if not for an outrageous campaign of slander by the DNC against Bernie Sanders), or massacred in the general — but she has the immense good fortune of facing a bumptious, bigoted buffoon. Still, while a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote against Donald Trump, it is also a vote for the status quo, for every condescension and indignity visited upon the demos by its appointed betters. It’s a vote for a system of bailouts, handouts, drones, and wars — a system hermetically sealed against outside thought.

Clinton spearheaded the disastrous intervention in Libya, strengthened ties with the monstrous regime in Saudi Arabia, and still today she pushes for entanglements in Syria that could well lead to outright war with Russia.

As for that buffoon: Donald Trump is a lifelong conman with a history of false dealing and shoddy investments. When individuals have stood in the way of his gaudy real estate projects, he has always turned to the power of the state to get his way. He is the callow oaf-king of a shabby empire, a man who blusters constantly about others’ perceived weaknesses but then bitches to anyone in earshot whenever someone gets the best of him — something which happens alarmingly often for someone with designs on becoming Commander-in-Chief. Though it was fun to watch him rip into the puffy nobodies on the Republican primary stage, he embarrassed himself rising to Clinton’s bait every time out: one can only imagine how an actually capable world leader — Angela Merkel, for sure, but also Xi Jinping, or Putin himself, for that matter — would twist President Trump around their fingers.

It’s hard to know how Trump would govern domestically because, like his opponent, it appears his only constant belief is in his own abilities. Were he not the GOP standard bearer, he would likely be a Clinton donor — as he has been in the past. But in order to present himself as opposed to the milquetoast Northeast liberalism that enables failed sons like himself to play around with their parents’ money, Trump adopted the pose of a revanchist crusader, someone who could, by sheer dint of personality, restore the country to a greatness that never existed in anything like the visions he conjures.

You don’t have to take the word of Trump’s opponents to see how dangerous this is — just look at the list of those who have endorsed him: the head of the American Nazi Party; the publisher of the Daily Stormer, the central neo-Nazi newspaper; the founder of Stormfront, the largest white supremacist web community; the national organizer of the Klan-affiliated Knights Party; the founders of white nationalist websites American Renaissance, VDARE, and Occidental Dissent . . . the list goes on, and that’s before getting to more mainstream groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police, whose national board has enthusiastically backed the man promising to ramp up police militarization and institute a nationwide stop-and-frisk policy. A vote for Trump is a vote against Hillary Clinton, yes, but it is also a vote for the sort of stupid, swaggering, strongman authority that is inimical to liberty — and for the conman exploiting that attitude to funnel money toward his personal brand. Trump has never in his life dealt in good faith; he isn’t doing so now, and he will not at any time in the future.

Trump is the callow oaf-king of a shabby empire, a man who blusters constantly about others’ perceived weaknesses but then bitches to anyone in earshot whenever someone gets the best of him.

Gary Johnson is a different matter. Unlike the aforementioned, he doesn’t seem to be a horrible person. Certainly he is forthcoming about his own limitations, likely to a fault. He comes off as, and may well be, a bit of a dolt; the compensation for that should involve meticulous preparation and drilling, but all too often Johnson seems taken by surprise when the spotlight’s on him — this election has exposed a particular weakness in foreign policy, especially when he could not identify Aleppo, the city at the center of the Syrian civil war, and when he could not name a single foreign head of state, let alone one he admired.

Still, he would be manifestly the best president out of the three. I made the case for Johnson in 2012, believing that his nomination represented a rare chance for the Libertarian Party to make headway in an election between two fairly unpopular candidates. So what has changed to make me retract, in a year of greater opportunity? The short answer is “Bill Weld.” The longer answer is also “Bill Weld,” but with a complete loss of confidence in Johnson’s judgment.

I have no particular beef with Weld; he doesn’t seem to have been any worse a governor than most others, and his experience and cachet should have meant instant legitimacy for a party that has struggled for it in the past. Johnson, in fact, insisted on Weld’s importance to the ticket, pleading with the crowd at the party convention, “Please, please give me Weld. Please. Please!” Whatever success the LP gained, he said, would hinge on Weld’s connections and fundraising prowess. All fine and good — until Weld started using his media appearances to, essentially, endorse Clinton.

Libertarianism is a hard sell. For it to succeed, it has to be propounded by those who are both articulate and committed — or at least those who can name a single foreign leader under the mildest of pressure.

By that point, the campaign had already missed its stretch goal — to poll at 15% or higher, and thus get a space in the televised debates. But since late September, the polls have dipped from a consistent 7–9% to less than 5%; if those numbers hold, then the LP will miss out on perhaps its only chance at federal matching funds for a future cycle — in which case they might as well have stuck with a vice-presidential candidate who wouldn’t sell out the party or its message. Johnson didn’t lack for choices, several of which could have shored up support with a potential future voter base. Instead it’s Weld, who would surprise nobody by returning to the Republicans (or turning Democrat) by the time 2017 rolls around. How can you expect people to cast a protest vote for a ticket whose own VP doesn’t support it?

In isolation, it seems like yet another exploitation and betrayal of LP goodwill. But it also shines a harsher light on Johnson's campaign missteps. Take his “Aleppo moment” — never mind that the press members crowing over the gaffe would themselves have had no clue about the place even a month earlier: it was an obsession of the press that week, and someone connected to the campaign should have been aware of that. If there’s no one doing that job, all the Welds in the world aren’t going to make the LP succeed on center stage. Make no mistake: in today’s US, libertarianism is a hard sell. For it to succeed, it has to be propounded by those who are both articulate and committed — or at least those who can name a single foreign leader under the mildest of pressure. The American political system is hardwired for two parties, and this wiring is reinforced by the reflexive dismissal of anything outside that central, ersatz rivalry; just look at how Trump and Clinton surrogates try to convince third-party voters that they’re actually voting for the hated enemy. A vote for Johnson/Weld endorses a libertarianism that accepts the validity of this system, and its own perpetually subordinate place within.

In this world we are surrounded and constantly manipulated by those who want to press-gang us into their schemes, as well as those who enable the press-gangers. Election Day offers one of the very rare chances to show our disgust with the entire charade. Tell them to go to hell! And make November 8 something truly worth celebrating: an average Tuesday, to do with as you like.



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The Case for Gary Johnson

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It’s a Liberty tradition: before a presidential election we invite our authors to make the best case they can for the Democratic candidate, the Libertarian candidate, the Republican candidate, and no candidate at all. In some instances, the best case isn’t one that the authors themselves find the most convincing. C’est la guerre.

* * *

I’ve always associated the name Gary with a regular guy. Perhaps that’s because one of my favorite old-time movie stars is Gary Cooper — the epitome of a regular guy. My favorite among his many roles was Howard Roark in The Fountainhead. Even as an extraordinary guy, Gary Cooper still managed to be regular.

Gary Johnson also manages — with breezy ease — to be both regular and extraordinary. Any man who contends for the presidency must be extraordinary in some sense. Yet Governor Johnson has always remained one of the common folks. He isn’t the type who inspires the Beatlemania that still possesses fans of John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan. He has a way of quietly inspiring trust.

If we still control who gets elected, then the power still resides with us. The potentates behind the scenes have not yet succeeded in stealing our country.

Young people’s devotion to Ron Paul did reach the level of Beatlemania. But Governor Johnson is certainly catching on with millennials. They’re young enough, and fresh enough, to recognize the mentality of “I can’t vote for somebody who can’t win” for the brain fungus that it really is. All — and I mean literally all — it would take for Gary Johnson to be elected would be for that delusion to end and the many millions it has infected to come to their senses and recognize that absolutely nothing stops them from voting for him, and that if they do vote for him, he will win.

We know that government can’t really change much — at least not for the better — no matter who holds office. But if we still control who gets elected, then the power still resides with us. The potentates behind the scenes have not yet succeeded in stealing our country. Gary keeps telling us that we can vote for whomever we want — and that if enough of us do that, we can foil the plans of our would-be rulers. In 21st-century America, that in itself is a revolutionary message.

The growing support for Gary Johnson’s candidacy is a sign that we’re flexing our muscles. That we recognize — however flabby we’ve gotten — that we haven’t lost them. And that if we fail to use those muscles, we will lose everything that matters to us.

In an unprecedentedly blatant way, our self-appointed betters are telling us simply to like it or lump it. We are coming to the realization that we want to do neither, that a choice between them is no real choice at all.

Johnson is helping us to see that running the country is our job — and his job is to get out of our way so that we can do it.

The American Revolution led not only to a change in who would run our lives but to a shift in our perspective. However unpleasant this election year may be, it gives us that same potential. It has existed all along, but we needed to recognize it anew. Like Rip Van Winkle, or the characters in some episode of The Twilight Zone, we are awakening to the reality of what surrounds us.

Gary Johnson’s candidacy reminds us that we do have a real choice, even in an election year as distasteful as this one. He isn’t going to lead us out of all our troubles, but he alone, of all the candidates, doesn’t claim that he will. He’s telling us, in fact, that no candidate for public office can do for us what we need to do for ourselves. He understands his role as helping us to see that running the country is our job — and as getting out of our way so that we can do it.

Some of the stuff he’s been saying doesn’t sound very libertarian. He wants the US to remain in the UN (and I think it’s imperative to our survival as a sovereign nation that we leave it). Far from making it more likely that I’ll vote for him because he thinks anti-gay bakers should be required by law to make my wedding cake, such pandering actually insults me. I vehemently disagree with him that Planned Parenthood should receive any taxpayer-funding. And disarming people with mental health issues — people who are far more likely to be the victims of violence than its perpetrators — is a notion I find not only bigoted but disgusting.

Can I live with a president who says such things? As long as he is just a president, and not an emperor or a king, then the answer is yes. He alone, of all the candidates, doesn’t aspire to reign over us like medieval royalty. We don’t need to worry that every dumb notion that pops into his head will automatically be forced upon the rest of us. Given the other candidates’ statist ambitions, their stupid ideas would almost certainly end up being not only their problem, but ours.

Even libertarians can get fooled into looking at an election through a statist lens. It’s not about power: about who gets elected, or even about what he or she promises to do. It’s about us. We get fixated, along with everyone else, on how much money a candidate has in the “war chest” — as if that is what determines the outcome — but nothing has changed the fact that we are still the ones who mark our ballots for the candidate of our choice. The power is still vested in us.

Gary Johnson alone, of all the candidates, doesn’t aspire to reign over us like medieval royalty.

“Yes sir,” declared Gary Cooper in another of his movies, Meet John Doe, “we’ve been in there dodging left hooks since before History began to walk. In our struggle for freedom, we’ve hit the canvas many a time, but we always bounced back because we’re the people — and we’re tough.”

Gary Johnson is beckoning us up from the canvas once again. I, for one, fully intend to rise, take my stand, and fight.




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Education or Fantasy?

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When asked, “Why a third party, when it has no chance of winning?”, supporters of the Libertarian Party and other Thirds usually say, “We’re running an educational campaign.” That makes sense. It would be several steps beyond sense to spend your time figuring out ways in which you might actually win. But that’s what Gary Johnson, presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, seems to be doing, with some help from the media.

Interviewed on August 28 by Chris Wallace of Fox News, Johnson said that, given the “polarization” of the two major-party candidates, his party “might actually run the table” — this year’s cliché for “winning big.”

This logic defies analysis: how would Democrat vs. Republican polarization induce voters to go for a polarization of Libertarians vs. Democrats and Republicans?

I don’t know whether it’s more likely for Johnson to win outright than to win in a House election, since there is no chance of either.

Wallace, who should know better, tried to save the situation by projecting a future in which Johnson could get a majority in enough states to throw the election into the House of Representatives, where he could emerge victorious. Johnson has encouraged that idea in the past. But this time he said, “The object is to win outright.”

I don’t know whether it’s more likely for him to win outright than to win in a House election, since there is no chance of either. If you think it would be more of a feat to gain a majority in the Electoral College than to be elected after throwing the election into the House, consider the fact that voting in the House would take place by state, and the Republicans have a majority in most state delegations.

What these fantasies have to do with an educational campaign, besides discrediting it, I don’t know. Maybe, in some way, they Keep Hope Alive. But that wasn’t Johnson’s concern when he agreed that, if he doesn’t get into the presidential candidates’ debate, “It’s game over.”

I would like to see Johnson in the debate. His presence would make it possible for me to watch the affair without having a physician at my side, ready to administer emergency aid. But if he doesn’t get in, is he just going to sit out the rest of the campaign?




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Countdown and Aftermath

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The bylaws of the Libertarian Party stipulate that, prior to the vice presidential election, the presidential nominee be granted five minutes prior to voting “for the purpose of endorsing or objecting to” any of the candidates. Gary Johnson only used four of those minutes, and he used them entirely to plead with the assembly to elect William Weld — even closing his speech on a note of desperation: “Please, please give me Weld. Please. Please!”

If any of the attendees didn’t realize by then that the Weld candidacy was in trouble . . . well, then they hadn’t been paying any attention whatsoever. But this was the first crack in Johnson’s generally laidback (and, yes, boring) demeanor; his own second-ballot saga hadn’t inspired anything like this.

Let’s back up a little bit to the VP nominating speeches, the first business after the assembly returned to order. The caprice of the 20-sided die determined that Weld would be the first candidate to speak, which meant all the others after him — in order, Judd Weiss, Derrick Grayson, Alicia Dearn, Larry Sharpe, and Will Coley — could take their shots after. The last two, in particular, had impressed in the debates a few nights previous for their passion and personal narratives; their alliance would determine whether the NeverWeld movement could deny Johnson the “running mate of his wildest dreams.”

This was the first crack in Johnson’s generally laidback demeanor; his own second-ballot saga hadn’t inspired anything like this.

Why would anyone’s wildest dreams include the former Massachusetts governor? Johnson drew justified scorn for referring to Weld as “the original libertarian,” but the sentiment behind his infelicitous phrasing is apt: Weld was one of the few figures with a national profile who spoke in favor of gay marriage — about the same time Bob Barr was drafting, and Bill Clinton was signing (with Hillary’s outspoken support), the Defense of Marriage Act. Weld also called for a drawdown in the War on Drugs, and the legalization of medical marijuana in particular. Prior to his gubernatorial days, he went tough on white-collar crime, an increasingly popular position among Libertarians who see Wall Street and Washington DC locked in loving embrace.

The opposite case is easier to enumerate. First, whatever his previous inclinations, Weld had hardly even looked at the LP before (in 2006, he briefly considered seeking the Party’s nomination for governor in New York; another black mark in the minds of many). He backed Romney in 2012, and Kasich this year, before Johnson came calling; even when he could have backed a fellow Republican-turned-Libertarian in 2008, he endorsed Barack Obama instead (not that Barr was long for the LP . . .). Second, in 1990 he supported various restrictions on gun ownership, something which plays particularly badly in a group where Second Amendment rights may be more of a third rail than abortion or anything else. Third, Weld’s Massachusetts was hardly a model of fiscal prudence; admittedly, there was a great deal of bleeding to staunch after Michael Dukakis’ tenure, but like so many politicians Weld lost his nerve once actually in office. There’s more numbers to be had, but I’ll skip ahead: lastly, even now, he believes that Hillary Clinton, who has overseen a disastrous war in Libya, and who would gladly have added another in Syria (and probably still will), has been a “good Secretary of State.”

In his speech, Johnson emphasized what Weld would bring to the ticket: fundraising knowhow, and media access. The latter had already been proven on day one at the media credentials table, and underlined every day since with the numbers of reporters on the ground, many of whom acknowledged that they would never have been dispatched to Orlando if the dual-governor ticket weren’t a strong likelihood (and, of course, if the major-party candidates weren’t both so dreadful). Give me William Weld, he said, and anything is possible. Anyone else, and a once-in-a-generation opportunity would be lost.

Why would anyone’s wildest dreams include former Massachusetts governor William Weld?

It was a hard sell. Weld’s first nominating speaker, former Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray, rang his endorsement of Weld, despite his disappointment at being eclipsed in the role. For that, he drew calls of “Statist!” from the crowd — something which is less true of Gray than possibly of any other single jurist in this country’s history. Things got tougher still with Marc Allan Feldman spoke as Weld’s second nominator — a speech which several of the anti-Weld radicals received as betrayal, though “backhanded” would be a mild way of describing the endorsement. Feldman felt that, with Johnson taking the top of the ticket, he should be given the running mate he pled for, and he agreed that a Johnson-Weld ticket would get far more media play than any alternative. That was it for the positives; the rest was taken up with every reason Weld shouldn’t get the post.

After some befuddled applause, and a few more boos, Weld rose and gave an animated, almost fiery speech, his best statement of the convention. While admitting his lack of familiarity with the LP and its workings, he nonetheless pledged to be “Libertarian for life,” and to work not only for his own campaign The party platform, meanwhile, which he had read two weeks before when considering Johnson’s proposal, he found elegant, “like the Declaration of Independence.” He noted that the whirlwind process had been “a learning experience,” that he would continue improving, and that he was “open to suggestion” as to how.

As Weld went to take media questions, Judd Weiss stepped up, not to make his case for vice president, but to pull out of the race. Weiss had been McAfee’s right-hand man, and with his boss out of the picture, he used his time to promote their video series and speak to the importance of supporting the grassroots and downballot candidates — noting that what he saw in the LP was a marketing problem; specifically, that the Party is “too many engineers, all dominating the sales department.”

Interestingly, he endorsed radical favorite Will Coley rather than McAfee’s preferred backup candidate, Derrick Grayson, who was an odd presence in several ways. First, he seemed to take issue with the speech McAfee gave before the VP nominations, in which the ex-candidate took the LP to task for the overwhelming (and visually verifiable) white-maleness of its ranks, even to the point of saying, “Shame on you, and shame on me,” for allowing the outreach effort to become so ossified. Grayson, a physically striking, smartly-dressed black Georgian with preacherly cadence, instead drew attention to the few people of color at the convention, before pivoting to say that, “When I enter this building, I don’t see race, I see people who love liberty” — which is great rhetoric for the mid-’90s, perhaps, but not ultimately convincing in an assembly that is whiter than Maine.

What Weiss saw in the LP was a marketing problem: the Party is “too many engineers, all dominating the sales department.”

Grayson had some memorable lines, though, including that the idea of nominating someone like Weld for media coverage and then fixing principle, rather than nominating someone for principle and then seeking media coverage was “butt-backwards.” It was almost enough for some to forget that this exact thing had been tried multiple times throughout party history — or, on an entirely different track, to forget Grayson’s campaign as a Republican, including having his primary challenge to US Sen. Johnny Isakson shut down by the FEC for failing to file campaign finance reports. Not everyone forgot, though: there were calls from the floor demanding to see Grayson’s party membership receipt, dated and timed, to ensure that he was eligible to run; unfortunately, the vehemence of these calls came off less as principled and more as unhinged, Birther-level conspiracy-mongering (especially when accompanied by calls to see the same for Weld, who was verified as a Life member).

After this, things got odd. Alicia Dearn, a St. Louis attorney who had done work for LP ballot access and the 2012 Johnson campaign (the fees for which she had later written off), had nonetheless been one of the major hopes of the Never Weld campaigners; Austin Peterson endorsed her in his own concession, and wore her sticker on his lapel. While other contingents didn’t mobilize around her, they did agree on a strategy to use the first ballot to establish the strongest competitor to Weld, and the second to band together and bring him down. But Dearn herself wasn’t convinced of the plan. After speaking on the importance of party unity, she posed a question to Weld: will you swear not to “betray” the LP?

It became clear she expected Weld to actually come up to the podium, which she relinquished to him when he did so. Weld wanted clarification, understandably: we’d already seen the very different definitions of what people in this audience counted as “betrayal.” But he said that he would never (unlike the specter in the background, Bob Barr) return to the GOP. “Is that sufficient?” he asked. “Yes!” cried some in the crowd, who may already have been supporters. “No!” shouted others, who never would be, no matter what he said. Still, the net result was Weld getting three extra minutes to stump, and a seeming endorsement from Dearn — except then she pulled back from that edge; she declined to withdraw, encouraging everyone to “vote their own heart,” even though she did not know hers yet.

That strange half-kneecapping left the other two Never Weld candidates, Larry Sharpe and Will Coley, scrambling to try and shore up enough of a voting bloc to survive even the first ballot. The two were a study in contrast: the former Tea Partier Coley relatively well-known from his radio show and his work with Muslims for Liberty, a forceful speaker with experience crafting talks for the liberty-curious; Sharpe an outsider not known for much of anything (certainly not his day job, a sales training course about as culty as others of its ilk), but with a genuinely inspiring life story and a winning manner. This life story was the interminable focus of his nominating speech, which included no speeches for the first ten minutes while a video played detailing Sharpe’s family history, the challenges he’d overcome, his leadership in the Marines and in Ivy League teaching gigs, etc. It was all fine enough, but a lot to ask of a crowd many of whose members had brought beers back with them from lunch. Coley was more traditional: several speakers from the Radical Caucus spoke for him, underlining the need to “balance” the ticket as well as the candidate’s ability to challenge Trump and Clinton on their biases against Muslims; then Coley himself spoke, promising to “inspire and electrify” voters, even though this speech was perhaps his most subdued on record. Then Johnson made his plea for Weld, and the ballots were distributed.

That strange half-kneecapping left the other two Never Weld candidates, Larry Sharpe and Will Coley, scrambling to try and shore up enough of a voting bloc.

As ever, it takes a while to hand out and recollect ballots, especially from the larger delegations like California and Texas. This left quite some time for the mood of the room to turn rowdy, and a little ugly. In the normal course of voting, there are speeches, there are parliamentary points, there are supporters of various candidates walking the aisles with the signs of their chosen. But now was added loud chanting, especially by a small Never Weld group, often making it impossible to hear points from the podium or floor microphone. Now was also the confrontation between several of these — including radical candidate for party chair, James Weeks II — and Feldman, as he defended his Weld endorsement as a chance to speak to the negatives, as well as to demonstrate the virtues of compromise, of “learning to live with people you hate.” But nothing spilled over into physical confrontation; the worst I saw was a visibly drunk 20-something guy yelling at a woman of similar age holding a Weld sign: “You hate Ron Paul! Hey, she hates Ron Paul!” He withered under her glare and, finding no support among those around him, bumbled on.

The vote count didn’t make anybody any happier. Weld couldn’t take the first ballot, bringing an initial cheer from the Never Welders that lasted about as long as it took to see the tally: the ex-gov took 426 votes; 49% of the total and single digits away from what he needed. The only hope would be to swing everyone behind Sharpe, who had gotten 264 — not just the Coley and Grayson totals, but also Dearn’s, and the NOTAs, and maybe even the spoiled ballots and write-ins.

As lowest votegetter, Dearn was granted time to concede, but could not be found — she’d left the event, and would have to rush back. In the meantime Coley went ahead and dropped, endorsing Sharpe as per their pre-vote agreement, but also reminding the delegates of Weld’s role in the past helping to shoot down Libertarian legitimacy. Dearn arrived in the meantime, and noted that she hadn’t even voted for herself; she and her husband both abstained from the first ballot. Now she completed the endorsement of Weld she had considered before, and earned lusty boos from pockets of the crowd for her perfidy.

Only after the second-round ballots had been printed did Grayson decide to withdraw. He also endorsed Sharpe, claiming those going Weld were “Kool-Aid drinkers.” This particular pedant must intrude here to note that the Jonestown massacre-suicide was through Flavor-Aid, not its better-known competitor, and besides that casting a vote in an LP VP contest is some distance away from killing yourself and your family. But the comment got under some delegates’ skins for other reasons, with one even trying with some vehemence to object to the point from the floor mic.

When Weeks kicked off his shoes, things were still ambiguous, but when the tie came off, it was pretty clear where this was headed.

Counting continued. With time running low on weekend and the use of the ballroom, the body moved as usual to allow candidates for party chair to speak during the ballot count. This meant incumbent chair Nicholas Sarwark handing off the gavel to prepare for his own speech — a fateful move. Sarwark had drawn the admiration of every other reporter I spoke with that weekend, many marveling at his ability not just to keep things moving, but to do so with grace and good humor. (An example: during a lull, one delegate asked for a point of information, which granted, said: “Mr. Chairman, is taxation theft?” Without missing a beat, Sarwark: “Yes, taxation is theft,” before acknowledging the next speaker.)

With Sarwark off the podium, podium duty fell to former LP chairman Jim Lark, a distinguished, almost august figure in the Party, but one not at all prepared to marshal a rambunctious group riding emotional and, in some cases, chemical highs. Lark could not effectively quiet the chanters, or get the aisles cleared, but what he was about to face may have been beyond the ability of any parliamentary chair to wrangle.

The candidates for chair were four: Sarwark, Brett Pojunis (Nevada state chair), Mark Rutherford (former chair in Indiana), and James Weeks II (former congressional candidate and county chair in Michigan). The debate between the former three a few nights earlier had been one of the most civil and well-mannered I’ve ever seen, even if the trio all substantially agreed with one another on most things. When the 20-sided die was cast, it was newcomer Weeks who would speak first, followed by the other three.

Weeks came to the stage with a nearly empty pint glass, which he deposited at the podium. Then he signaled for music to play, and started clapping in time, getting the delegates to do the same. He even did a little dance — nothing too odd, just getting the audience moving and on his side. And that was when he started removing his clothes. When he kicked off the shoes, things were still ambiguous, but when the tie came off, it was pretty clear where this was headed. Shirt and pants followed, leaving only black bikini briefs between the audience and full knowledge of what Weeks had to offer. After a brief dance, during which a couple friends of his (one hopes) rushed on stage to tuck dollar bills into his waistband, Weeks said he was withdrawing from the race, and the whole thing was on a dare; then gathering his clothes, he withdrew.

During all of this, I was about five feet away, right in front of the podium, probably closer than any other person in the room, and I could not stop laughing. It’s an odd thing, knowing with absolute certainty that what you are seeing is about to blow up online — the C-SPAN cameras and the internet’s appetite for novelty would ensure that. What I didn’t expect was the outrage from so many delegates about what was obviously a little bit of surrealist theater — and even that more Monty Python than Monster Raving Loony Party. But one should never underestimate the desire of people to impose discipline, even when it’s freedom-lovers at a gathering to celebrate the principles of liberty.

Delegates queued up to denounce Weeks, competing with each other on how best to punish him; one even suggested permanent expulsion from the Party. Another joked that Weeks’ presentation of his zaftig form constituted a “violation of the non-aggression principle”; at least a couple of observers took him seriously. Lark couldn’t handle the commotion; it took Sarwark, speaking from the floor this time, to calm everyone and get them to move on. (What didn’t get mentioned much, even in his local press, was Weeks’ Iron Cross tattoo, increasingly used by white supremacist groups in the US and elsewhere — though as often used by metalheads, bikers, or provocateurs of various stripes; conclusions are difficult to draw.) A later proposal to officially denounce Weeks failed, and the assembly returned to its business; though the striptease was widely reported (and how could it fail to be?), somehow it did not end up defining the LP’s weekend.

Never underestimate the desire of people to impose discipline, even when it’s freedom-lovers at a gathering to celebrate the principles of liberty.

Instead the focus remained on the LP’s ticket, and after the aisles were cleared of the indignant, the results of the second ballot were announced. Though Sharpe picked up nearly all the votes in play, “nearly all” wasn’t enough; by gaining only 15 more votes, William Weld was confirmed as the Party’s VP nominee. In his concession, Sharpe noted his admiration for Gary Johnson, saying the 2012 campaign was what brought him to the LP to begin with. Judging by his performance over the weekend, it’s not the last we’ll see from Sharpe within Party politics.

What struck me most, following the VP election, was what didn’t happen. The radicals may not have been represented on the ticket, but unlike in 2008 there was no immediate call to splinter off from the Party, or to abandon it to its new Republican masters. Instead of a mass gathering in the exhibition hall outside the convention ballroom, there was instead a small, only slightly downcast postmortem in the Petersen hospitality suite, with the door open to the adjoining McAfee suite. The candidates congratulated their operatives for good work against steep odds, and encouraged them to push on for the sake of the Party.

There’s not much chance Gary Johnson and Austin Petersen will ever be friends, but the latter will work for the former and wait for his chance down the line. John McAfee, who had planned to walk out if Johnson was nominated, said, “Nothing was lost today — this is just the beginning.” While some of the radical caucusers I spoke with were unsure about whether or not they could cast a vote for Johnson-Weld, they nonetheless were eager to dive into local downballots and grassroot-growing. (In the days after the election, Will Coley seemed encouraged by Johnson, if still wary of him, following personal phone calls in which Johnson sought guidance on how best to speak about ISIS, Iran, and Middle East politics generally.) And, to judge from the results of the officer elections, with Sarwark and vice-chair Arvin Vohra reelected handily, the Party as a whole seems content with its present leadership.

In the days after the convention, the media coverage was impressive: not only because there was media coverage, but also because it was generally sympathetic, or at least without the overt misrepresentation, scorn, or dismissal standard to accounts of American third parties. Even my driver to the airport had heard of the convention, and — as a self-described entrepreneur trying to "build his personal brand" so he can provide for his family — he's a natural for the LP's message, if only they can convey it to him and the millions of others who just want to be left alone to work hard and live as well as they're able.

It's on that basis that Johnson made his plea, and it worked: the Weld gambit is underway. With both major parties and especially their nominees deeply unpopular, everything is set for the LP to achieve historic highs in the election to come. What remains to be seen, as ever, is if they can keep from screwing it up.



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Presidential Prelude

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If you got a bunch of people together and asked them, in an average week, what day and time would be the best for picking a presidential nominee, chances are they wouldn’t say “Sunday morning.” Yet here we were, 9:30 ante meridiem, waiting in a hotel ballroom in Orlando resortland, waiting for the assembly to come to order and select a champion.

The candidates milled about shaking hands, checking in with allies, killing time without actually doing much — least of all Gary Johnson, refusing to get beyond generalities other than a specific, strong denunciation of the debate questions the night before. To be fair, the media questions weren’t much more inspiring; many of the outside reporters started coming to me and a couple of others who had been through the event previously to fill in details about what, exactly, was going on.

While the primary system in theory allows broader input from across the country, its actual effect is to concentrate power in the hands of an imperial figure.

The Libertarian convention is a wholly different manner of thing from the Republican and Democratic versions. Because the nominee has almost always been established weeks beforehand, the entire convention gets bent to their caprice; backstage drama is not about who will or won’t head the ticket, but rather who will or won’t be allowed a speaking slot to address the convention — a must for anyone with present or especially future designs on party power. Thus while the primary system in theory allows broader input from across the country, its actual effect is to concentrate power in the hands of an imperial figure. In large part, political beat reporters long for a contested convention for the sheer sake of having something to report on other than mid-level position jockeying and embarrassing ego stroking.

The beauty, and the danger, of the Libertarian model is that every convention is contested. Whatever your advantages going in, nothing can be taken for granted (as Bob Barr learned in 2008) and almost anything can happen (as the entire Party learned with Michael Badnarik in 2004). From an outsider’s view, there was no way that Johnson, with his higher profile, past political experience, and infinitely greater access to media outlets, could do anything but cruise to victory. I wasn’t so sure: while none of the competitors seemed likely to steal away the nomination, they might be strong enough together to make things difficult — if their coalition held. With Johnson straw-polling at about 35–40%, and the next three pulling between 13–15% each, we looked set for at least two or three rounds.

There was a motion to make Dobby the House Elf from the Harry Potter series into the party’s mascot, because “Dobby has no master.”

With the ballots distributed, we hurried up and waited. The interim between voting and counting was filled, as usual, by a variety of speakers, most of them candidates for Congress or even state office. These are not the operators of the major-party scene; these are people who have entire lives outside of politics: hobbyists and dilettantes, certainly, but ones who care enough to devote their own time and money to a losing cause — whether that be standing up to an incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed, or calling out the tyrannies of opponents on either side. They’re also an incredibly mixed bag: among the convention speakers were Lily Tang Williams, a Senate candidate from Colorado who “grew up eating trapped rat meat in Mao’s China”; Kimberly Schjang, a black lesbian running for the Nevada state senate; Rick Perkins, a Texas candidate about as white as one man can be, who then called up to the stage a black teenager from Georgia who planned to start a “freedom club” at her high school upon returning home. “This is the future!” he said, lifting her hand with his — a great message for whatever TV audience was looking on, though unfortunately far from the defining image it should have been. (And it wasn’t all highlights: choice among the opposite number was Ernest Hancock of the Arizona delegation lambasting the “lame-stream media” for not “getting it,” in front of the largest mainstream media contingent the Party has ever drawn to anything.)

The remainder of the time was taken up with an incessant stream of questions from the delegates, in the parliamentary forms of points of order, information, inquiry and personal privilege. Though often just a guise to promote the Party’s website, phone number, and social media info, these moments can also serve as funny or surreal irruptions amid the more orderly business. Two stood out: one motion to make Dobby the House Elf from the Harry Potter series into the party’s mascot, because “Dobby has no master” (and by the end of the series, one might note, no life either); and another lamenting the lack of an official song for the convention, which the speaker remedied for himself, at least, by playing a jaunty tune on his harmonica.

At last the tally was complete, and the chairs of each state delegation commenced the finest part of any convention: stepping up to announce vote totals and brag about their state. In the LP, this usually means highlighting defeats of overbearing legislation, or historical points of relevance; for instance: “The great state of Illinois, where we send our governors to prison, casts its votes as follows . . .” Others took a different tack: “Those of us from the state of New Jersey would like to say, We’re sorry . . .” New Hampshire’s chair claimed the state’s high Libertarian percentage would help Granite Staters “survive the zombie apocalypse.”

Witty or otherwise, all the states took a turn; as each was announced, it became clear that Johnson could take the ballot, but it would be very, very tight. Johnson was polling better than 40%, but Petersen and McAfee scored in most states as well, and there was a small but surprising tally for Feldman off the back of his energetic debate performance. All of these appear to have drained a bit of support from Perry, who kept only the hardest core of the Radical Caucus, but still cleared the 5% necessary to carry on. Kevin McClintock came in last with nine votes, less than 1% of the total — which normally would have made him a non-factor, except that in the final count, Johnson lacked only five votes to win outright.

New Hampshire’s chair claimed the state’s high Libertarian percentage would help NHers “survive the zombie apocalypse.”

By the time McClintock finished his two-minute concession, the campaign crews were hard at work. The McAfee and Petersen crews each expected to get the other’s support when they dropped out, and Perry’s as well (though Perry would personally have gone None Of The Above before Petersen) — but the three of them together would also have to pull votes from Johnson’s haul. Part of Petersen’s strategy was to stage a confrontation with Johnson outside the ballroom, breaking through the media scrum to accuse him of refusing to “unify the party” with a more conciliatory VP pick. But Johnson saw through theatrics and stepped away, leaving Petersen to get caught up in arguments with ungracious hecklers. Really the governor was just serving as decoy; as Brian Doherty details, instead of waiting for the McClintock faction to drift in, the Johnson campaign was busy whipping Feldman voters, reminding them that it was the governor’s support that got him in the debate, and making the case that one tribute vote was enough.

The strategy bore immediate dividends: Johnson took the second ballot with almost 56% of votes cast; out of the 60 he picked up, 40 came from Feldman. McAfee held onto his count, and Petersen picked up a handful, but not close to enough; Gary Johnson would be the party’s presidential nominee for the second election running.

Johnson saw through theatrics and stepped away, leaving Petersen to get caught up in arguments with ungracious hecklers

And yet, strange as it may seem, all the foregoing served merely as prelude for the real fight of the day, over whether or not former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld serve as the Party’s vice-presidential nominee. As soon as the victory was announced, everyone switched gears: Johnson, with Weld at his side, went to meet the press as nominee; Petersen quickly declared his endorsement of Johnson at the top of the ticket, but threw his own support behind Alicia Dearn’s campaign. McAfee left the floor entirely; given past statements that he would be LP for life except if Johnson was the nominee, some wondered if he was gone for good. Perry attempted to round up any outstanding VP tokens to see if he could get into the race — not actually to run, but to withdraw and urge support for either Larry Sharpe or Will Coley.

Over the lunch break, the “Anyone But Gary” coalition morphed into a “Never Weld” one. And, unlike with Johnson — who for all his drawbacks remained reasonably well respected, even liked, among the rank and file — this time, they would be going after a much more vulnerable target.



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Staging and Blocking

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Back in (comparative) reality — even in the main ballroom, the night’s event was ticket-only, reserved for top-tier donors, or those who had $20 to spend on being there. Despite that, people lined up early and eventually filled the room past seated capacity, with Johnson and Petersen supporters chanting out the names of their candidate — a mindset which I know I will never, ever be able to fathom: why invest so much in a person who, through the process of politics, will inevitably disappoint you in principle, performance, or both?

Moderating would be radio personality and self-styled “Sage of Southern California” Larry Elder, the same question in different wordings. Thankfully the debate format — 30 seconds to respond to any question, 30 seconds rebuttal to any rival mentioned by name — kept things mostly on track. But the questions disappointed. Afterward, nobody would own up to having written them, and it’s easy to see why, between barrel-fish such as “What should we do about the Fed?” for the candidates to dutifully shotgun, and spring-load traps such as “Should driver’s licenses be required to operate a car?” for the candidates to either produce extreme responses, or get booed for their lack of extremity. And that’s not even to mention simply bizarre questions such as, “Do you think American intervention in World War I and World War II was justified?”, as if anyone could answer such a question in 30 seconds.

In the main ballroom there was introductory music from a man playing gently looping ambient guitar, with occasional lyrics urging hearers to "arm yourselves to the teeth."

Johnson had, in many ways, the hardest task, forced to play not only to the more radical crowd on the floor, but also the TV audience and the bumper crop of media. So he concentrated mostly on process: noting not the utopian ideals he would instill as president, but which bills he would or would not be prepared to sign should Congress put them on his desk. His economic plans were a buffet of conservative thinktank ideas: flat tax, vouchers for schools, states as labs for entitlement plans, higher retirement age and means testing for Social Security (huge boos here), privatized infrastructure, etc. Asked about Trump, he said he “didn’t want to talk about him,” before rattling off a long list of ways the Republican candidate is wrong, a rapid-fire preview of what a 2016 Johnson campaign could be.

He often returned to his experience as governor, but it got him in trouble once: when asked how or who he would appoint to the Supreme Court, Johnson brought up a bizarre hypothetical he used to vet candidates in New Mexico: if a law passed making graffiti punishable by the death penalty, would the candidate uphold an indisputable conviction under that law? It’s a strange thought experiment at best, but one that was never going to land in a roomful of people who earlier that day had committed the party to a platform plank against the death penalty, whatever the offense. More generally, Johnson has a strange catch to his voice when he talks off the cuff, so not only is it very clear which responses are practiced, it also makes the spontaneous ones less confident, or in the sharper words of a fellow reporter, “more pulled from his ass.” If he somehow manages to get a debate with the major-party candidates, Trump will pick him to pieces for that if it’s not dealt with. However, he showed that he’s not afraid to stick to his guns on answers he knows will draw disapproval, in particular in reaffirming that he would sign off on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, banning racial discrimination in both public and private establishments.

The questions disappointed. Afterward, nobody would own up to having written them, and it’s easy to see why.

Johnson was on his strongest ground in asserting that he is the only candidate with even a narrow chance of getting to a national stage; several of his opponents were rhetorically smoother, if perhaps not more practiced, but their lack of name recognition or record of political accomplishments would make sure they never saw any media time, period. The only exception among the debaters was John McAfee, who can command media attention, but at the cost of no one having any idea exactly what he’s going to say at any given moment. He left open more room for government involvement (by Libertarian Party standards) than anyone besides Johnson; e.g., in transitioning Social Security and entitlement programs rather than just ending them outright, allowing a minimum role in repairing and maintaining interstate highways, and possibly in discouraging lawsuits, both because of the costs added to health insurance by malpractice suits, and similar; and because of personal experience — “I’ve been sued more than 200 times; lawyers are the hand of Satan.”

On other issues, though, he went out the farthest on the limb, such as being the only candidate to explicitly acknowledge climate change as a manmade phenomenon, even as he noted (as did Johnson) that government, and especially the military, is the biggest polluter, and it will take free markets to provide the necessary solutions. Despite this, he didn’t get booed as Johnson did — possibly because he wasn’t a Republican governor in the past, but possibly also because his magnetism in one-on-one conversations doesn’t really carry through to a debate format. McAfee was perhaps constitutionally unable to play a crowd; one can see why he’s out of step with the Silicon Valley hordes in the era of huckster-pattered TED Talks.

On the opposite spectrum was Darryl W. Perry, a New Hampshire-based anarchist with no problems filling the room with his voice. Perry’s extensive catalog of applause lines, honed on his radio show Free Talk Live, demonstrated both his greatest strength and weakness: the former his ability to riff on almost any question that could be put to him; the latter the sheer predictability of his answers — not even in content so much as in rhythm: start with a seeming tangent or even non sequitur, then bring it back to the subject by the end. Thus, asked about Social Security, Perry starts by asking the crowd “Do you love grandmas?” and how people will support grandmas through voluntary contributions if the program is eliminated. Asked about transgender rights and the North Carolina bathroom law, Perry introduces the question of where Buck Angel — a musclebound trans male porn star — would “go potty” in an NC government building.

I had heard these same anecdotes from Perry in an interview the day before, almost down to the exact pitch and modulation (and, a bit unfortunately, nearly the exact volume as well, in a smaller space). Perry’s voice is a strength — “radio quality” as several media onlookers noted — though as he gets excited, he can lose command of it, with a tendency also toward destructive gestures such as podium-pounding. He has a sense of theater; he was the only candidate to liven up his obligatory “end the Fed” answer by ripping apart a dollar, noting that act was “probably a felony”; he also may have been the only candidate to quote literature or classical liberal philosophy, dropping in references to both Mark Twain and Frédéric Bastiat. None of which was likely to earn him a single vote outside the radical faction: many in the LP would applaud lines about conducting all government business via charitable contribution, making all drugs “as legal as tomatoes,” and eliminating the entire presidential cabinet in alphabetical order, but they weren’t going to make their speaker the face of the party.

Perry introduced the question of where Buck Angel — a musclebound trans male porn star — would “go potty” in an NC government building.

Petersen put great faith in his face, and in polished image and presentation generally; it was only when the debate (or events off the convention floor) went off-plan that the cracks began to show. In the debate, he had the great advantage of being at Johnson’s right, meaning that for four out of every five questions, he responded immediately after the ex-governor. Whenever Johnson suggested an incrementalist approach to reducing the size of a government program or agency, Petersen was right there to suggest ending it immediately. If Johnson said the free market had bankrupted coal, Petersen retorted that it was government regulation and crony capitalism instead. If Johnson suggested user fees for the road system, Petersen broke out his best Back to the Future: “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

Amid all this needling, Petersen’s best moment was a reminder of the racist origins of the minimum wage, passed by union-backed white legislatures as a means of keeping black labor from entering the market. But Petersen lost some support elsewhere: in particular by responding to the question of when life begins (which Perry rightly called out as a trap meant to divide the audience), by asserting it’s at conception — though he wouldn’t be drawn on when, if ever, terminating a pregnancy would become a criminal act. Asked about the appropriate size of the military, he trotted out a favorite phrase of recently retired Gen. James “Mad Dog” Maddis: “Be professional, be polite, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” Petersen even got booed from some corners for suggesting that it would be reasonable to have laws preventing children from buying heroin or other hard drugs.

If Petersen profited by having Johnson at his left, he got himself into the red by having Marc Allan Feldman to his right. Feldman wasn’t exactly the breakout star of the event — as he reminded everyone, he was nobody before he began his campaign, and he encouraged them to vote for nobody in the ballots to come. He began by noting that he was passing up part of his son’s wedding weekend to be in Orlando; to judge from his performance, it was the correct decision. Here was a man having the absolute time of his life: with no need to attack anyone or defend any particular position, Feldman spoke with honesty and humor, handling even the thornier questions with grace as well as lines that meandered less than some others’. He sidestepped the religious question by noting that, for religious reasons, he didn’t believe in mixing milk and meat — yet he wouldn’t argue that cheeseburgers should be illegal. On the question of withdrawing from or ending NATO, the IMF, or the UN, he quipped that maybe the UN was fine, since it didn’t ever seem to do anything.

Asked about the appropriate size of the military, Petersen trotted out a favorite phrase of recently retired Gen. James “Mad Dog” Maddis.

I don’t mean to suggest that these lines were the height of wit, but rather to credit Feldman for selling them with his warmth and obvious sincerity. On every question where the candidates were largely in agreement — cutting government spending, opening up trade, easing or eliminating immigration controls (there was scarcely a word to be heard here for tight borders, all those voters evidently having gone to Trump) — Feldman offered at least a little joviality through his responses. For his final statement, the candidate who had run a video of himself rapping during his nomination speech went back to the well, running through a sort of slam poem with an intensity that brought the house down; he very nearly got carried out on the crowd’s shoulders.

After the debate, the candidates pressed the flesh while operatives scurried about trying to get rough counts for the next morning’s election. While Feldman was soaking up the well-wishes of debate attendees, he was also already getting pressured by both Johnson and Petersen campaigns to drop out after the first ballot and endorse the respective candidacies. McAfee and Perry had earlier worked out an agreement of reciprocal support, but now Petersen (whose campaign suite shared an interior door with McAfee’s) sought the same — though it would be uphill going, to judge by the several radicals I spoke with on the night who would vote McAfee, but preferred that old Libertarian standby, None Of The Above, to either Johnson or Petersen. Nonetheless, via various channels, the three campaigns began work in earnest on an “Anyone But Gary” coalition. As the candidate machine hustled, convention attendees moved in knots and bunches out to the pool, into the bars, and up to the various room parties. With the nominations and debate done, the true business of the convention could begin.



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One-Ring Circus

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And on the third day, the Libertarian Party rose again, and ascended to the stage, to sit at the right hand of the party chair. From there they shall judge whose campaign is living, and whose is dead.

OK, maybe not. But it was a day of judgment. And Jesus did appear to the masses. But all that in good time.

The morning session saw leftover platform material from the night before; in particular, a motion failed to delete the party’s longstanding, 10th-Amendment-inspired “Omissions” clause: “Our silence about any other particular government law, regulation, ordinance, directive, edict, control, regulatory agency, activity, or machination should not be construed to imply approval.” Additionally, the LP passed, for the first time in Party history, a platform plank calling for the abolition of the death penalty. The other morning diversion was a William Weld meet-and-greet that turned into a grill session, with Gary Johnson wading in to help out his floundering partner. (Sample of said flounder: asked what sort of threat the CIA might pose, Weld tried to joke about how his wife’s great-uncle Kermit Roosevelt helped orchestrate the 1953 coup against Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran, thus making him “probably the wrong person to answer that question.”)

One outside media onlooker said that McAfee’s speech was “the most apocalyptic thing I’ve ever heard at a political event” — proving his total lack of familiarity with LP events.

Now, to Johnson’s credit, this was already far more engagement than was shown by 2008 candidate Bob Barr. But by the afternoon session, the LP Radicals, energized by their successes in the bylaw and platform portions, were even more eager to rattle sabres (or whatever the equivalent is for anarchist anti-warriors) against Johnson/Weld. As of the afternoon session, the delegate count stood at 907: half again as many as in 2012. Each delegate could cast a vote, or “token,” for one presidential candidate: 30 tokens would suffice for nomination, but it would take 86 to enter the evening’s televised debate. In the end, that meant six candidates out of the 16 potentials moved forward: the high-coverage trio Gary Johnson, Austin Petersen, and John McAfee; anarchist Darryl W. Perry; and rank outsiders Marc Allan Feldman and Kevin McCormick, with only the first four (at least initially) qualifying to debate.

The order of nominating speeches was determined by a favorite of both libertarians and the next-door MegaConners: a 20-sided die, which dictated that McAfee would go first. He was nominated by Derrick Grayson, a Ron Paul supporter and failed VP candidate from the night before; McAfee then went without a seconder in order to talk on the importance of supporting the grassroots and creating “a different definition of victory” within the party — something that would involve “derailing the train” that we are currently on. One outside media onlooker said that McAfee’s speech was “the most apocalyptic thing I’ve ever heard at a political event” — proving his total lack of familiarity with LP events.

Next was Gary Johnson, whose bona fides were established by Bill Redpath and seconded by one-time prez candidate Steve Kerbel, before the ex-NM gov. took the stage with the less-than-inspiring message that he was “not an old white guy” nor “a Republican-lite.” Afterward, though, everything was red meat for the libertarian soul, with even a Gandhi quote landing. I found myself confused, however, by his statement that, though he “doesn’t understand or articulate LP principles as well as some here,” nonetheless behind his lead “we can get this thing done.”

After a too-long rap video, the candidate urged attendees to “Vote for Marc Allan Feldman, nobody for president.”

Johnson then did double duty by speaking as a second for Feldman, as a means of encouraging delegates to get him the few more tokens it would take for debating privileges; all would end the night grateful for the maneuver. Despite a too-long rap video start (no, really, he rapped), he charmed by noting that he was running for president “because I can,” and urging attendees to “vote for Marc Allan Feldman, nobody for president.”

Austin Petersen’s nominator, Sean Haugh of North Carolina, said he used a “call my mom” test to decide which candidate to support — as in, which candidate most inspired him to call his aged mother and tell her to turn on the TV. (It’s a little Norman Bates, sure, but only a little.) The candidate urged everyone to gather together and counter “the armies of darkness [that] are on the march,” something that would involve ending the Fed, for a start. Petersen was also the only candidate to put down a clear anti-abortion platform (though, as he would clarify in the debate, not favoring criminal charges against women seeking such), earning him some boos from the crowd.

Darryl W. Perry was the first candidate not to speak on his own behalf, though whether this is because his nominating speaker went overlong — rattling on about Orwell and Ruby Ridge, before using the Platonic cave as an allegory for libertarian epiphany (unaware, one hopes, of Plato’s more explicitly political works praising tyranny and repression) — or because he made a strategic choice to save it all for the debate. Either way, Perry received a second from Starchild who, wearing a Wilma Flintstone number with matching leopard-print parasol, set off a cascade of press photographers getting social media snaps.

Last, in every way, was McCormick, who didn’t seem to have much reason to be there — he admittedly entered the race late; he didn’t have a nominator; he didn’t even speak in favor of his own campaign — his message instead was to encourage party unity come November. (He also asserted that this gathering was “the most diverse group of people ever at a political convention,” which just — no, dude. No.) Following this speech, LP chair Nick Sarwark announced that Feldman had indeed made the debate via late tokens; McCormick remained nowhere close to debating, but would still be in the mix as designated Round 1 casualty the next day. And after that, they adjourned (early!) to set up for the debate.

Austin Petersen's nominator said he used a "call my mom" test to decide whom to support — a little Norman Bates, sure, but only a little.

Let me preface this next statement by noting that I am comfortable with both the bizarre and the avant-garde. And I relish particularly the sort of oddity that pops up in gatherings of individualists, such as the LP. That said, John McAfee’s campaign reception was the weirdest scene I’ve come across while covering this beat. It’s not that it was that out there, more that there was just enough of the sheer mundanity of the convention reception — standing tables, too-large room, cash bar, people standing about awkwardly — to underline the strangeness of the rest of it and turn the whole thing into a screeching car-crash. The room was semi-dark, with strobing lights and projected visuals like butterfly wings, with tech-company Euro-trance playing over the PA. There were two women standing on chairs dressed as architecture swaying gently to the tunes. The MC, a man in a tuxedo T-shirt, came in to play live, amplified violin over top of the recorded music while a woman in a cat costume cavorted onstage behind him. Later an acrobat draped herself across a large ring in the midst of the room, while gossamer-winged women on stilts stalked through the crowd and the aforementioned Jesus spun round slowly, parading himself on stage. All this happened, and we hadn’t even yet hit the debate.

Part two of this report to follow Sunday, with election report and convention wrap after. For up-to-the-minute coverage, follow @libertyunbound on Twitter.



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Defying Convention

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This year’s Libertarian National Convention is indisputably the most widely covered in Party history. Walking the halls of the Rosen Centre today, you would have seen CNN reporters making video diaries with Austin Petersen; a Spike TV team filming a documentary on John McAfee; MSNBC interviewing Gary Johnson and his handpicked veep candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld; a gaggle of onlookers from ABC, CBS, and regular NBC; and an extremely bored-looking crew from Vice News that probably expected rather more sex and drugs, and rather less parliamentary procedure. And that’s just the TV folks: there’s also reporters on the ground from the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Politico, Huffington Post, FiveThirtyEight, et very much alium. All seem to agree that the event matters this year in a way it previously hasn’t, though the exact matter of that mattering is up for debate. And all those without prior experience of the LP seem a bit unsure exactly what to cover, or how.

Some, like the Vice crew, clearly came to confirm some stereotype that doesn’t reflect the actual makeup of a crowd much more inclined to policy wonkery than debauchery. (If you wanted coke-fueled rentboy orgies, guys, you should have tried the Republican Convention.) Some came to document grotesques, only to find that the most outré LP members—like Starchild, resplendent today in a translucent polyvinyl poncho over a black Speedo; part of his quest to encourage “transparency” in Party dealings—are also often their most erudite and well-spoken.

If you wanted coke-fueled rentboy orgies, you should have tried the Republican Convention.

Many of the reporters resorted to hanging around the back of the main ballroom, trying to wend their way through the Byzantinia of LP procedure; others wandered in a daze around the exhibit area, latching onto T-shirts with Ayn Rand’s face on them, or booths advertising some sort of holistic healing, as proof at last of the dogmatism or crackpotdom of the attendees. (Not knowing any better, they already missed the story there evident only through absence: the lack of booths devoted to the 9/11 Truth movement or other conspiracies—all those types having already jumped ship to Trump.) Most, though, bounced around campaign events for the three high-profile candidates, trying to get some sort of comment. And this is odd, because in the three conventions I’ve now covered, I can’t imagine a convention where it is less necessary to get vox spots from the mainliners, given what’s already on the public record.

Start with Petersen. He’s a fresh-faced Seth Macfarlane-looking guy, barely old enough to fulfill the constitutional requirements to serve as president. He has a stable of press-ready statements about how he is the “outsider candidate in the outsider party”—though he has worked within the LP apparatus for years now. He presents himself, especially via his personal pro-life beliefs, as the option for outreach to conservative #NeverTrump-ers—but his main method of limiting abortion would be through expanded access to contraceptives: a sensible approach, but not one likely to seduce those Catholics left unhoused by events in the GOP. In the past, he’s been goaded into boastful, callow statements by people he should handle easily; though he claims to have “grown” since then, one wonders just how much difference a year can make—and likewise, how much difference it will make to the national press, who can and will harry him with that comment should he ever become relevant.

McAfee, on the other hand, seems to be carrying out some sort of publicity stunt. I actually don’t doubt the sincerity of his beliefs—few people have seen firsthand the dangers of government like he has—but whether under his own steam or others’, he’s involved in this quest to rehabilitate his image through what must be one of the last outlets open to him. He’s a striking figure, to be sure, and even a brief talk with him provides glimpses of a rogue and roguish intellect, but given his past troubles and present unpredictability, few I’ve talked with can actually envision him as anyone’s standard bearer; even his threat to leave the Party if the “boring” Gary Johnson gets nominated is met with a resounding, “So?”

Given McAfee's past troubles and present unpredictability, few I've talked with can actually envision him as anyone's standard bearer.

Johnson is boring, don’t get me wrong, as boring as an Everest-climbing pot baron can possibly be. Firebranding doesn’t come naturally to him, and his stump speeches labor, as if he has to remind himself continually what emotions are, and which one he should be showing at any particular point. There are legitimate concerns about his campaign expenditures, and the percentage of funds going to consultant services or servicing past debt. (And here I note the sad lack of an R.W. Bradford to scour spreadsheets and turn up the story behind the story.) And there is an argument to be had about whether the LP can claim to be the “party of principle” when it serves as landing pad for career Republicans on the outs. But it’s evident also that Johnson must be the choice if the party wishes to take advantage of an election whose likes, God willing, we will never see again. And whatever happens here, it seems unlikely to produce the sort of recrimination or schismatic bluster of the 2008 convention.

All the media I’ve talked to without prior LP familiarity are confused by the idea that Johnson wouldn’t be the nominee—after all, why wouldn’t you want the person clearly best positioned to maximize your returns in this cycle? But they underestimate another libertarian stereotype, one more deeply grounded: that inherent anti-authority stance, the perversely impish bird-flipping to anyone or anything telling them what to do, even (or especially) if it’s in their best interest. In Orlando, you can see this most clearly in the response to Weld, whose VP candidacy is under fire from Petersen and others wondering why the Libertarian newcomer didn’t endorse Johnson this time or last. Johnson’s reply, that Weld was “the original libertarian,” was met with the scorn it deserved; even if the ex-New Mexico Gov. gets nominated, it may be without his fellow gubernatorial alumnus. Catchphrases like “taxation is theft” clunk off Weld’s tongue, and he was vastly outperformed in the evening’s VP debate, by black veteran Larry Sharpe in particular—though Weld did still take the straw poll after; much of the drama of this convention could well cohere in the vice-presidential election.

Johnson is as boring as an Everest-climbing pot baron can possibly be.

Enough about them, though. In Party news of actual note, if there were any GOP takeover on the cards, it proved abortive on the day. The Radical Caucus was in full force at the bylaws and platform meetings, with several members patrolling the ballroom aisles with neon lightsabers and signs emblazoned with thumbs—if the caucus supported a motion, the sabers glowed green and the thumbs turned up; if not, then a red gleam and thumbs down. Their biggest success on the day was defeating an effort to delete the “personal conscience” abortion plank in the LP platform—led, many suspected, by Republican refugees, although there was also a group seeking to delete that plank in order to replace it with one more explicitly supporting a pro-choice position. The assembly also rejected the addition of “Parental Responsibilities” to the “Parental Rights” plank. While one would hope that very few attendees would speak for the rights of parents to abuse or neglect their children (or as one speaker put it, to prostitute their 2-year-olds and give them heroin), the plank itself was considered too vague, with even such words as “child” lacking a clearly delineated, legally valid meaning.

Platforming and electioneering, and Liberty’s coverage of it all both here and on Twitter will continue on the morrow.



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Opening Day

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Seen from the air, Orlando looks like a candidate for utopia: lush and expansive, with lakefront views for all. But down at street level, it’s mostly sprawling, congested, and full of the same suburbanite ideas repeated over and over again. And sure, there’s a metaphor there for Libertarian politics, but I’ll try not to run it too far into the ground.

I’m in Orlando to report on the 2016 Libertarian Party National Convention. Why Orlando? It’s a fair question. Four years ago, it was in America’s playground, Las Vegas. Four years before that, Denver, not so much a playground but still a beautiful place with things to do and see. Orlando has little on offer, just those lakes and the boggy expanses between them, some of which are occupied by mega-parks and highly-strung families.

Most people’s first experience of the city will be Orlando International Airport, with all those families are coming and going at all hours of the day. It is not for the faint of heart; however straightforward the flight may be, when you arrive you’ll step off the terminal shuttle into a space that J.G. Ballard might have envisioned on a particularly grumpy day, a combination TSA staging area and hotel atrium, with guests free to surveil all the goings-on from their concrete escarpments. Just like Dealey Plaza in Dallas, everything in MCO looms; add in the chaos of several hundred planeloads of children (not to mention the guarantees of choice product placement), and it likewise would make a great site for an historic assassination.

When you arrive, you’ll step off the terminal shuttle into a space that J.G. Ballard might have envisioned on a particularly grumpy day.

Furthermore, thanks to the sprawl, getting to the convention site is harder than you might think. It’s about 13 miles, give or take, from MCO to the convention-center corridor known as International Drive. Without traffic—which will never happen—that’s at least a $45 cab fare. In many cities, Uber and its clones help even out such costs; Orlando cab drivers, however, with the enthusiastic support of Mayor Buddy Dyer and the city transit board, have managed to keep UberX and other official, above-board providers away from the MCO pickup line. (Uber’s upscale service, Uber BLACK, cut a compromise: in exchange for agreeing to all the extra taxes, licenses, background checks, lane fees, etc., they can now serve the airport. Unsurprisingly, their prices are little better than the taxi cartels’.)

Readers of Liberty, or anyone with any economic sense whatsoever, will not be surprised to learn that there a vigorous black-market has developed over Craigslist and similar sites, where drivers sell services directly to riders, without the transparency or oversight that Uber, Lyft, et al. provide. One enterprising Libertarian ran a “civil disobedience” shuttle, ferrying over any convention attendee willing to donate $40 to the Party—a good deal for a round trip. For my own part, I chose the last available option: the public bus. I can only imagine how ludicrously oversubsidized and inefficient it must be, because for $2, I was taken from the airport right past the convention center, and it only took an extra half an hour. I’d recommend it to anyone willing to capitalize on the city’s civic largesse.

The Rosen Centre itself, host of this year’s convention, is surprisingly not terrible, though it’s also not Orlando’s main convention center—that would be across the street, and host this week to MegaCon, a pop-culture and comics convention. So while libertarians are a pretty diverse group in terms of personal style and accoutrements, they were put to shame by the costuming and pageantry on display from the MegaCon attendees—will be interesting to see if anyone from the LP raises their game to compensate. (Looking your way, Starchild.)

Today was mostly for meeting old friends, renewing acquaintances, and squabbles over credentials and delegate seating. The latter had wrapped up by the time I was able to join the fun, so I headed instead for an event hosted by our friends at FreedomFest, nearby the convention. As future presidents go, the crowd was pretty strongly against Gary Johnson, and for Austin Petersen—which made sense, as he was the only candidate who bothered to make the short walk over. Petersen is an engaging enough figure, and I’ll hope to bring you more about him the next couple days, but the short stump speech he gave here was little different than any of the others he has up on social media.

Better soundbites awaited me at the convention’s opening reception, where they had arranged for speakers to alternately harangue or sing at the crowd. One of the speakers, Jim Rogers, went on at some length about the government’s “war on cash,” stipulating in particular that they would start soon by seizing everyone’s 401(k)s, and only later move to nationalize all bank accounts; an extrapolation, it seemed from recent Greek experiences. Shakier, perhaps, was his assertion that “California is more Communist than China”; I was tempted to ask just which particular sort of communism he had in mind, but the LPNC didn’t seem the ideal place for discussions of the finer points of neo-Marxist and Maoist theory.

One enterprising Libertarian ran a “civil disobedience” airport shuttle, ferrying over any convention attendee willing to donate $40 to the Party.

At some point, improbable presidential candidate John McAfee appeared at a table by poolside, his manifestation completed by a TV crew from Spike filming footage for some sort of upcoming show. While the candidate talked with hoi polloi, I heard interesting if necessarily vague anecdotes from McAfee’s bodyguard about his (the bodyguard’s) past in bodyguarding, starting with work for private Italian family concerns in Chicago, as well as his (again the bodyguard’s) theories about what actually happened that day in Belize where McAfee’s neighbor got shot in the head.

Gary Johnson, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen, and would not be until a later unofficial debate with McAfee, anarchist candidate Daryl W. Perry, and campaign-reform candidate Marc Allan Feldman—see the videos here posted by Petersen, who filmed but did not participate. Johnson’s aloofness added to the vibe I picked up earlier, a perception that he’s already taking the nomination as fait accompli, or as a formality to be dealt with before moving on to the general. And in fairness, that’s probably true—but that sort of aerial view can miss a lot of what’s happening far below. Over the next two days, we’ll see what surprises, if any, this convention has in store.
 



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New Hope for the LP?

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In advance of Election Day, Liberty managing editor Andrew Ferguson spoke with new Libertarian Party chair Nicholas Sarwark about the state of the party, the prospects for 2014, and what can be done to fight for a future more free.

Liberty: How did you come to the Libertarian Party?

Nicholas Sarwark: I came to the LP, my father was actually an active libertarian in Phoenix when I was growing up, so I've been around libertarians and LP meetings since I was 10 or 12 in Maricopa County, and then I got active in the organized party in ’99 or 2000 in Maryland, was state chair there for a while. Started going to national conventions in 2000, moved out to Colorado in ’08, and fairly quickly ended up vice chair of the Colorado Party.

Liberty: And you all were pretty active there in the pot legalization campaign.

Sarwark: We were right in the thick of it. The proponents of the amendment came and talked to our executive board, we formally endorsed Amendment 64 — no other state political party did that — and then it won overwhelmingly. It got more votes than Obama did in Colorado.

That’s sort of the model for where I’d like to position the party going forward into 2016, where there are these issues that the voters have moved to a certain position, and the LP is at the position or has been at that position since the founding, and the older parties just won’t go there. They’re ignoring their base. Neither the Republicans or Democrats would come out in favor of marijuana legalization; up until Joe Biden’s conversion, even the Democrats wouldn’t come out in favor of marriage equality, even though the LP has been there since 1971. So we need to more aggressively position ourselves on these issues where you have us and the voters on one side, and the old party politicians who are stuck with failed policy positions on the other side.

The Drug War is a perfect issue where, while the old parties may have different tones, they both have a lot of sunk cost with the prison-industrial complex and the police unions and the whole infrastructure built around punishing people for what they put in their own bodies. And it’s just nuts. For too long the LP has played defense on issues like the Drug War, had internal movements that said, “Hey, let’s back off of this, it’s too extreme.” We need to tell people we hate extremism — we hate the extreme position that it’s OK to kick down somebody’s door and shoot their dog and burn their baby in the crib to try and stop them from putting something in their own body. That’s extreme.

I want to take a bit more pugnacious position for the party and make sure that going into the next election cycle, with Rand Paul gaining some traction, that it’s the LP who’s defining what libertarian means, not the Washington Post and Sen. Paul.

Liberty: Looking back at your acceptance statement after the party chair election, you said, If you were a member of the party and left in frustration at something we did or didn’t do, this is your home — sort of a homecoming announcement. What sort of that frustration have you seen or heard about in talking with people?

Sarwark: The biggest frustration that I received and ended up having was I was calling around to state chairs and delegates and people I knew and saying, “I’m going to run for chair, will you support me,” and a disconcertingly large number of them would say, “I think it’s great you’re running, but national hasn’t really done anything to speak of, and I don’t see any reason for me to engage with the national party.” That’s something I’ve heard, that a lot of state parties don’t feel that national provides any kind of added value. National exists to have a biannual convention, nominate presidential candidates, and help those states where the laws are draconian to get ballot access for president; they publish a newsletter, send membership cards, have a website, that’s all they do.

We need to tell people we hate extremism — we hate the extreme position that it’s OK to kick down somebody’s door and shoot their dog and burn their baby in the crib to stop them from putting something in their own body.

A lot of people have been very frustrated that the national party has been, not quite shrinking, but stagnant. And when you contrast that with states like Ohio or Indiana or Georgia or Texas or Colorado, states where there’s a lot of dynamism, and more and more candidates running, and a higher caliber of candidates running, earning more votes each time out, they look at that kind of activity and it’s been kind of a no-brainer to ignore national — it’s there, but who cares?

Liberty: How are you looking at the role of the chair — what are you hoping to do with it, and how might that be different from what your predecessors have done with the role?

Sarwark: The chair, in years past, has not really set a direction or had much vision. If you go back over the last 10 years, there haven’t been that many big initiatives, with the exception of establishing a permanent headquarters — five or six years ago Mark Hinkle started scouting out buildings and raising a building fund, and Geoff Neale picked up that torch, and we had our grand opening back in September, so now we’re one of only three parties who own their own headquarters. And if you go back to the founding, to David Nolan in the living room in Colorado Springs, he would talk about, we’ll never really elect anybody but what we can do is send a message, and maybe push public policy in our direction. We’re past that. We’re not going anywhere, we’re here to stay, we’ve got a mortgage, we’ve got an office, and generally speaking, within the state affiliates, the enthusiasm is in our favor.

But while the states are growing and active, the national party has had flat revenues, and flat membership numbers for about ten years. And it’s during a time when the next generation of voters is, according to polling, pretty much explicitly libertarian, and the state parties are moving forward. So for national to stay flat in that environment is actually a decline.

Liberty: I get the sense of a more libertarian sensibility in the generation that’s coming up now, but that to a lot of them the actual word “libertarian” carries some sort of a taint, or it’s been caricatured so successfully that many wouldn’t identify themselves as libertarian even if it matches their own conscience.

Sarwark: Right. And that’s one of the reasons why we have to rebuild. The idea that we’re either fringe or just some sort of weird branch of the Republican Party who votes along with them, we have to break that. And the only way to do it is to have strong messaging that differentiates us, that relentlessly focuses on what we will do and what we care bout and how it is different.

I draw a lot of my inspiration from the abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, and the idea that human freedom is the overarching principle that is above all others. Our cause is not only just, but of sufficient import that we need to be passionate, we need to be aggressive, we need to be respectful, but also make it clear that we’re not comfortable with leftovers, or only being an option if there’s no one else on the ballot. We’re definitely not comfortable allowing Republicans or non-libertarians to define what “libertarian” means, which happens on the right and the left: you have Rand Paul being referred to as a libertarian while he’s still supporting foreign intervention and a number of other things, but you also have the New York Times or Washington Post writing about this liberal-libertarian cooperation in Congress, but all the supposed cooperation are on completely anti-libertarian policies.

For the national party to stay flat when the next generation of voters is pretty explicitly libertarian is actually a decline.

So it’s a word that we don’t own anymore and we need to show people that we’re serious about showing up for elections and presenting options and a message that is both distinctive and, frankly, sensible. We’ve bought into the bullshit that the major parites have hit us with for so long that we’re somehow the extremists. Anyone who wants to control your life is the extremist. We’re the ones who want you to control your own life. And we need to hit them with that.

Liberty: So in terms of actually reaching out to generations of college students or other young voters who have affinities with libertarian ideals, what sort of outreach will reach them?

Sarwark: We have to lead by example. We are a party for a newer generation — I’m not quite 35 yet, and I’m the national chair. If you look at our candidates, we skew younger. So we show them that if you want a party that is not mean or bigoted, but also isn’t going to try and take your money and give it to old people, then the LP is for you.

That’s what the Pew study and the Reason study have shown about millennials: they’re definitely liberal with regard to social issues like marriage equality or marijuana legalization or racial issues, but when they are polled and asked about government and welfare programs, they turn into super fiscal conservatives. They’re behind the Democrats on being nice to people, but not on redistributing wealth or any of the Great Society programs. And they’re behind the Republicans on a relatively free market and lower taxation, but they just think they’re mean, and so they won’t associate with them. We’re going into a generation where, no matter how good your policy prescriptions are, if you don’t come across as caring and sensitive, you will not win. We can seize on that and — not to take anything away from 2014 and 2016 as elections we will contest, and contest more strongly than we have before — but we can look at ten years out, where we become the second party in a number of states where things are lopsided and one of the old parties has become moribund, and we’re on the ballot in all 50 states and people want our presidential nomination, instead of us having to hunt for people.

Liberty: It’s been fun watching Hillary Clinton try to reposition herself as a real human being who actually cares and is sensitive to anything whatsoever.

Sarwark: Right.

Liberty: So you’re recruiting candidates then, not only for the executive role but also for the downticket elections, who can come off as contribute some media savvy to their candidacy?

Sarwark: We can set the tone from the top, what our priorities are and what kind of message we send, about what libertarians are and what they do. I’m not trying to do any kind of purity purge, or kick candidates out because they’re heterodox on certain issues, but it will be clear over the next couple of years what the libertarian position is on issues. And if there are candidates who deviate, then they will explain how they are different from the rest of the party. The party will not compromise our positions in order to make the candidates more comfortable.

It’s going to be easier and better for candidates who are able to present that kind, caring, compassionate yet completely devoted to freedom message than in the past, we had libertarians who had taken extreme positions for philosophy’s stake, without being able to communicate the human element to those policies. And that’s not what we’re going to do.

The fiscal issues are not winners for us as a party. The Republicans will lie about cutting taxes all day long, and the people who are going to believe those lies are going to pull the lever for Republicans.

We’ve been coming up into this term focused on the idea that human progress comes from cooperation and the free exchange of ideas, and it’s government that holds us back. So our candidates are focused on making concrete proposals where they can say, “If elected, I will cut these programs and thereby increase your freedom.” Whether it’s reducing military spending by 60% or sponsoring legislation to eliminate the Department of Education, we’ll be making testable campaign promises. This flips on its head the approach of old-party candidates who are always afraid there’ll be a hot mic at a fundraiser, and they’ll get caught out saying they’ll do something and then not do it. We’re very purposefully going out and publicly saying, “If elected I will do this thing,” and then going to the old-party candidates and saying, what’s he promising you? Nothing, just empty platitudes. And that’s where we show the voters that if they want something done to actually make their life better, then they need to vote Libertarian.

Liberty: I’ve seen this sort of playbook for dismissing libertarians, there comes a point where — we had the election in Virginia last year, where Robert Sarvis actually made some inroads against the most loathsome pair of candidates you’re likely to run across . . .

Sarwark: Are you’re saying there’s negatives to Cuccinelli and McAuliffe? To an election between a party hack and a bigot?

Liberty: There was this weird moment where all of a sudden, there was this campaign to somehow debunk Sarvis by showing him up as inadequately schooled in Austrian economic theory or other relative obscurities, and all these people came out of the woodwork to say, actually Cuccinelli is the better candidate for libertarians. They respected libertarianism for the amount of time it took to steal it back again.

Sarwark: There’s nothing new under the sun. This is straight out of Rothbard — the whole idea that you can get in bed with the social conservatives because if you have enough money, it doesn’t matter what kind of laws they try to have about what you can do in your social life. And the idea that somehow libertarians are going to turn into such savvy political players that we’ll be able to cut deals right and left in order to hold the Republicans hostage and get something from them.

If you think that yelling at children to make a political point is effective, there’s a really cool picture I have for you from the civil rights era. You’re just an asshole.

That’s been tried and it hasn’t worked. It wouldn’t have worked in Virginia, even with a very bright, photogenic traditional nuclear family candidate who is able to talk to people as people, be smart on policy, and be articulate about those areas in which he deviated from orthodox libertarianism. At the end of the day, he did very well, and he put the lie to this idea that we only steal from Republicans. It was 2-to-1 McAuliffe voters who were voting for Sarvis versus ones for Cuccinelli. No one wants to believe that data because it goes against the notions that they’ve had for decades, but the truth is that where we are positioned in this political climate, we will probably end up taking more voters who would have leaned Democrat because of our support for social issues.

And frankly, the fiscal issues are not winners for us as a party. The Republicans will lie about cutting taxes all day long, and the people who are going to believe those lies are going to pull the lever for Republicans. While we are in fact more committed to fiscal conservatism than any Republican I’ve seen in my lifetime, we don’t need to lead with that. We need to lead with stuff that distinguishes us and creates that unique selling proposition for who libertarians are, and how we are different. We really support freedom, all the time; all your freedoms, all the time, and we don’t make you pick what is important to you. One of the things that has worked well for activists in Massachusetts is marching in the Pride Parade with a big banner that says “Freedom to Marry and Freedom to Carry Since 1971” — we don’t make you pick between your guns and who you love, or between keeping more of your paycheck and whether or not you want to smoke weed at the end of the day. These are not choices you have to make. And the old parties have been saying you have to pick which ones are more important to you? They’re lying.

Liberty: In terms of reaching out to groups with some affinities to the libertarian platform, and then some obvious very strong opposition as well, is it possible to reach out to them? To build issue-based partnerships with, for instance, the Tea Party people in border states, or socialist-leaning Drug War abolitionists in other states?

Sarwark: Drug war abolitionists, yes. Tea Party people in border states, probably not, because frankly they have been infected with this nativist mentality: shut ’em all down, deport ’em, let’s go yell at little kids on school buses. I’m not trying to recruit people like that. If you think that yelling at children to make a political point is effective, there’s a really cool picture I have for you from the civil rights era. You’re just an asshole.

So those are not my voters. But organizations like Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, privacy orgs to stop NSA surveillance — we were the only political party to sign onto the coalition letter calling on President Obama to veto the FISA Amendments Act. No other political party has the stones to say it’s not OK for your government to spy on you, because they’re all tied up into the status quo. That’s who lobbies them, that’s who pays their bills. It’ll be a lot easier to move forward on the personal liberties.

The fiscal side gets real tricky, because probably the biggest piece of corporate welfare to come down the pike, the Export-Import Bank, Republicans are all over that. They don’t care to be the party of capitalism, they care to be the party of doling out favors and sweetheart deals, and having a revolving door whereby the regulators become the lobbyists and you can’t tell your players without a program. The places that we’re going to have difficulty making inroads are Chambers of Commerce, and any sort of lefty-leaning group that depends on wealth transfer programs or high taxation for its continued existence.

What I’m looking at is — not to use the term in its historical sense, but in the root definition — a more populist libertarianism. We’re focused on people, normal people, letting them pursue happiness in whatever way they want to, getting the government out of the way.

Demographically, the Republicans are dead. They’re like a gutshot guy just walking around, thinking they’ll be OK, but they’re going to bleed out, and it won’t be that long.

I think there are opportunities to build up more bridges, produce more cooperation, and over these next two years I’ll seek those out, up to and including repairing that bridge that got burnt down between the LP and Cato in 1984. I was 5 years old at the time, so whatever problem they had at that point, that’s done. I have some optimism for that endeavor, given that Ed Crane’s PAC helped out Sarvis’ campaign. So it’s not like they’re philosophically opposed to supporting Libertarians, it’s just that the national Libertarian Party had a trust deficit with its members and supporters, whereby they don’t believe that we do anything or that we have any use. There are a lot of people who are not going to send me any checks unless or until I can show them results, and that’s what I aim to do.

Liberty: We talked about Sarvis — are there any other up-and-comers to keep an eye on in other states?

Sarwark: There’s a lot of really good people running right now. John Buckley’s running for Senate in West Virginia, formerly elected to state house as a Republican, openly gay, very articulate. Our candidate for governor in Iowa, Dr. Lee Hieb, she’s an orthopedic surgeon running a very professional campaign. There’s some really good candidates coming out of Ohio. Julie Fox is running for comptroller in Illinois against some pretty bad odds.

Liberty: They could use some auditing there, not sure if they’re willing to follow through on it though.

Sarwark: She does have to drum on that in her campaign — you could elect an auditor who’s actually a CPA — but clearly their government runs so well without having actual financial people at the helm.

We’ve got a really strong candidate here at the congressional level in my district in Colorado, Jess Loban: a wounded Air Force vet, four kids, salt-of-the-earth guy, frightened the Republicans sufficiently that they sent former gubernatorial candidates to try to convince him to drop out of the race in exchange for a Republican nomination in 2016 — which has just energized him. We are at that tipping point as a party where we’re past ridicule, and we’re moving into fear and fighting. The Republicans in Ohio are passing laws specifically to prevent us from being on the ballot, Republicans in Colorado are either surreptitiously asking over lunch for our candidates to drop out, or in the case of one state house race, a sitting state house member came to ask us not to run a Libertarian candidate in his district and convince us of how libertarian he was, really. They’re reaching out to us now. And they’re desperate. Because the truth is, demographically, the Republicans are dead. They’re like a gutshot guy just walking around, thinking they’ll be OK, but they’re going to bleed out, and it won’t be that long. And they’re desperately afraid of us showing just how bankrupt their policy positions have been when they’re given the keys of government.

What I’m looking at is — not to use the term in its historical sense, but in the root definition — a more populist libertarianism.

The other candidate I should mention — Florida is running an incredibly strong ticket, the gubernatorial candidate Adrian Wyllie went and dared people to arrest him at debates, driving around without a license to fight REAL ID laws, and taking stuff to court. Then over in Pinellas County, Lucas Overby is running a very strong campaign in a two-way race against a sitting Republican, David Jolly, who became just the eighth sitting Republican congressman to come out in favor of marriage equality, a flip-flop that happened less than 90 days into the race. The frustration is then that the media doesn’t acknowledge that the only reason he came out in favor of marriage equality is because he was running against a strong libertarian, who’s another photogenic, kind, compassionate, blue-collar guy who is just going out and showing people that we care more about them than the old parties do, and we want them to live their lives. That’s a message that’s resonating sufficiently that they’re fighting us now.

So I don’t know where the next up-and-comer will emerge, but we’re getting a much better crop of candidates — and with guys like Dan Feliciano in the governor’s race in Vermont, we’re seeing more diversity as well. The states are where the action is, and that’s what I said when I was seeking the nomination for chair: “I want you to elect me to be the least important member of the Libertarian Party.” Because all the action is the candidates running in the local elections, and the state officials who are building up the grassroots. National should set a tone and direction, but without strong state affiliates then there’s nothing.

Liberty: Looking to 2016, do you think we’ll see Gary Johnson or another candidate like him running again, or would you look more to someone who would be a purer LP flag-carrier?

Sarwark: From what I saw of the delegates in 2012 in Vegas, I don’t think the appetite is there for a pure flag-carrier so long as there’s someone with more traditional candidate qualities in the field. Now, a lot can change between now and Orlando in 2016, so I hate to predict. I see Gary Johnson potentially running for the nomination — [note: Johnson has since confirmed that he will seek the LP nomination in 2016] — but I’m heartened by the fact that we’re beginning to see something we’ve never seen in the Party, ever: candidates capable of rising up from inside the Libertarian farm team to seek that nomination. We had Harry Browne before who came out of publishing, we’ve had local elected officials seek the nomination, we’ve had famous activists seek the nomination, we’ve had former Republicans seek it (and maybe forget they had changed party). But we haven’t had a traditional homegrown candidate, with the advantages of being both a hardcore libertarian and having the experience of running a large-scale national campaign.

Liberty: Orlando is an interesting site for 2016. Is it possible to go into a bulwark red state, at least in recent years, and into a city that is one of the more Republican in America, and dig into that base there?

Sarwark: It’s not as hard as it could be, because they’re terrible. So I think Florida is going to be a great place. The party is energized there, and I think the Republicans have taken it for granted for so long that locally I think we’ll do well. Floridians are just tired of that state control.

Liberty: Where would you like to see things as of that 2016 Convention? What would be a really solid couple years of work heading into that?

Sarwark: Where we’re getting frequent media mentions, where they’re coming to us for comment, when they’re not studiously avoiding mentioning our candidates’ names, where millennials with fiscally conservative and socially liberal ideals identify as libertarian. When it becomes the brand, and we position ourselves as clearly different from Sen. Paul — we show people this is where we’re the same, this is where we’re different; he’s a very good Republican, but he is still a Republican, and that carries baggage. And positioning ourselves to get those voters if and when Sen. Paul is beaten back by the Republican machine, much like his father was. The idea that you can fix the GOP from the inside is akin to suggesting that a few good cashiers and line cooks could, with enough motivation, turn McDonald’s into a vegan restaurant. Not going to happen. So if we have significant more name recognition and strong state affiliates who are running good candidates then we’re kind of actively engaged in politics in a way we haven’t been, and that will set us up for 2016 and a well-attended convention launching into a better campaign than we’ve run in the past.

Liberty: Thanks very much for your time, and good luck in the coming elections!



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