Musings on the 2000 Election

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Musings on the 2000 Election

What Libertarians Can Learn

by Richard Lamping, November 13, 2000

If It's To Be, It's Up To ME!

I am excited about Bumper Hornberger's criticisms of the national Libertarian Party, and the Harry Browne for President campaign. I am excited about the prospect of fresh, aggressive blood in the national office. I am excited about "gladiator" congressional campaigns. I have been advocating this style and level of campaign since I tried to get John Buttrick of Arizona to run for U.S. House instead of AZ State House in 1998. Great candidates must be cultivated, just as great messages must be targeted. Everything else is bullshit.

All developing political movements require intellectuals, think tanks, and critics. Of course, it is no fun when the intellectuals in your movement tell you the game is rigged, the well has been salted, and you probably need to start from scratch. It's tough to hear that your champion and his team of experts have created an elaborate conflict of interest and probably ought to be removed from leadership in your movement.

It's difficult to learn that the party is failing, not because of a lack of interest from the public, but because of a breach in ethics, and a tarnished integrity. But on this point, I believe Hornberger is absolutely right.

I have read Bumper Hornberger's latest article, A Vision for the Future of the Libertarian Party, and am completely signed on to his agenda (www.jacobghornberger.com). It's about time for a change in leadership.

We have plenty of think tanks and freedom loving outlets like FFF and contrary to what Bumper says, they haven't done a thing to bring in votes or members. I don't know how much they've done to shift the thoughts of the American Public but as long as we are still getting the same type of people elected, we will always get what we always got. For all of Bumper's work, I still see my freedoms slipping away each and every day. -- Colorado State Chair BetteRose Smith

I couldn't disagree more. Without the intellectual base of the Libertarian Party, we would be nothing. Vote totals and elected officials are the product of the cultivation of public trust, and the Libertarian Party has not earned it. The massive quantities of published op-eds and books FFF and other Libertarian organizations churn out each year are the hope we have of ever getting votes, or recruiting members. The work FFF does educates candidates and activists, (many of whom need it badly), as well as the media and general public.

In my opinion, the public and the media are bored and confused by Libertarians. They aren't quite sure what a Libertarian is, and often the candidates sound kooky. There are few places a journalist or individual can look to find pure, uncompromising Libertarian ideas. The Future of Freedom Foundation is one of those places, and I am unashamed of promoting their work. People who enter the Libertarian movement through FFF or CATO are far more likely to stay than people who enter through the front door of the national Libertarian Party. They didn't just ask for literature, or end up on some conservative Republican list the LP bought. They are much more likely to have studied and understood the ideas, increasing their efficacy as candidates who could capture the long-term attention of both journalists and voters.

People who enter our movement through FFF come armed with good ideas. These are the candidates I want to see speaking to the camera. These are the people who should be representing Libertarianism on the front line.

Media Coverage

Of course, it would be nice if journalists would cover Libertarians with enthusiasm. It would be great if they had enough respect for facts to get our message right. Even so, many new candidates and activists are learning how to use, educate, and understand the media. This is what the FFF is doing in much greater quantity, and quality, than the national LP.

My favorite example of 'getting what you want' from a story is the Denver Post feature on Sheriff Bill Masters of Telluride. The full article can be viewed at http://www.geekspeak.net/lib/. I have reproduced this article and given it away to dozens of people. I have emailed it to Libertarians and journalists all over the country. The tone of the article has much to do with how it is received, and in this case the Denver Post writer created one of the best pieces of political literature I have ever seen for a candidate. Masters, a sheriff of more than 20 years, is skilled at giving the quotes he wants to see printed, and moving a story in the direction he wants to go. There is much we can learn from his experience. (Sheriff Masters is also featured in the November 2000 issue of Liberty Magazine.)

"If we just change this word, the headline makes sense"

On August 26th the Aspen Daily News ran a front-page feature article, "Libertarian Bids for Senate." It describes the candidacy and issues of Drew Sakson, who ran against Republican Scott McInnis in Congressional District 3 (just about everything west of Denver). While many readers and voters don't really know the difference between the (U.S. or State) Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, there is no excuse for a journalist, or his editor to make this error.

Nonetheless, the article is reproduced on the Sakson for Congress web site, http://www.Sakson2000.org , and this month's Colorado Liberty newsletter has a mention of it. Both sites report the headline of the article to be "Libertarian Sakson Enters Congressional Race". This is not the truth, and as Ben Franklin once said, "Half the truth is a great lie."

What could have been done instead? This headline error was an excellent opportunity to highlight the chronically irresponsible reporting of journalists regarding Libertarians and their campaigns. The headline is a glaring example of what goes wrong in a newsroom, and also a good opportunity to move our message farther by working with the journalist and editor who allowed error to occur. In this way we may build future stories that are thorough and thoughtful.

Never Say 'Win'

I think it was Michael Cloud who first told me this, and I agree. I believe it is irresponsible for Libertarians to invoke the words "I can win" as a means of raising interest or money for their campaigns. It is a recipe for disillusionment and resentment, and ultimately our desired result is a Libertarian society, not a winning campaign.

"Revolution is an art that I pursue rather than a goal I expect to achieve. Nor is this a source of dismay; a lost cause can be as spiritually satisfying as victory." -- Robert Heinlein, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

To bring into a campaign the concept of victory as a goal sets up everyone involved for a disappointment. Contributors who have given to a campaign because they were told victory was possible are in for a sour experience on Election Day, and may not wish to "throw good money after bad."

Cloud argues that Democrat and Republican voters are like Jewish or Catholic or Baptist churchgoers. What Jew is ever going to wake up Sunday morning and go to Mass, or Catholic to Synagogue. Breaking the bond a voter has with his/her registration is almost as difficult.

Always Say "Libertarian"

At least two of the candidates the national LP is focusing on this cycle have not included the word Libertarian on their street signs. I spoke with two-time Libertarian candidate and National Committee member John Buttrick about this. Buttrick's campaigns in Arizona have been some of the most effective in the country.

Buttrick said he put the word Libertarian on all his signs, large and small. He had a very strong reaction to the "stealth" strategy some candidates are using.

"I think not putting your party on your signs is a big mistake," Buttrick said. "When the voter steps into the booth and they see the 'Libertarian' next to your name it is going to be perceived as an act of betrayal, and if anything, I think it whips against you."

What Works

I met with Buttrick and his campaign advisors in December of 1997. They were talking about running him for State House. Arizona, had about 17,000 registered Libertarians (more than four times Colorado), and these activists were looking seriously at the "win" possibilities.

Buttrick's campaign was in District 25, a predominantly Democratic district in the heart of Phoenix. In Arizona there are 30 districts, each with a State Senator and two State House Representatives. So Buttrick was running for two available seats in a field that included the two Democratic incumbents, and another Republican.

Buttrick's name recognition was high. He is a respected lawyer (also a graduate of Harvard Law School) in the Phoenix area. In 1994 he ran for Governor, and garnered almost 50,000 votes when the number of registered Libertarians in the state was less than 8,000. When I met with the campaign, plans were underway for their first big fundraiser. They raised $10,000 in one night, and had reason to be very excited about the prospects of the campaign.

In the end, Buttrick got about 14 percent of the vote. When you consider that each voter got two opportunities to vote for him, he actually got almost 24 percent of the vote. While this was a good showing, it was still fourth place. The Buttrick campaign raised about $35,000. A huge sum, considering most Libertarian races. He also received the coveted endorsement of The Arizona Republic, the largest and most influential paper in the state.

"The problem with my campaign was that I was an inactive candidate, and I got in bed with the Republicans by going to their meetings and stumping there instead of far more vote rich areas such as the gay bars in my district," Buttrick said. "That's where I should have been."

Gays represent a large voting block in Arizona House District 25. Ironically, the Log Cabin Republicans (Gay Republicans) were unwilling to let Buttrick speak at one of their candidate nights.

With additional money, Buttrick said he would have done a videotape, and an auto telephone message dialed to registered voters. Of course, both of these campaigning methods would be experimental for Libertarians, who knows what the impact might be, but Buttrick would like to find out.

"We had great footage of me at the national and state conventions, and we wanted to do a souped up version of what the John Coon campaign did in Michigan in 1992," Buttrick said.

The Ten Ton Gorilla

Buttrick, and Sheriff Masters are examples of what I call the "Ten Ton Gorilla" candidate. These men are not dismissed or ignored by the media because in any field of candidates they stick out as more competent and thoughtful than their adversaries. Given proper investment, these future candidates and others like them will stir Libertarian sentiments all over the country. These men have proven their ability to move our message to the public and gain ground.

Bumper Hornberger and others at the Future of Freedom Foundation know our message needs some "Ten Ton Gorillas." We need heroes. As Doug Casey said, "Go find yourself a wrestler."

Let's go find a wrestler, a ten ton gorilla, a champion. Let's encourage him or her to learn and teach the lessons the Future of Freedom Foundation have learned and taught. In this way, we will gain the ground we want.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com