Why Lois Kaneshiki Fails

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Why Lois Kaneshiki Fails

by Ari Armstrong, March 2, 2002

In a previous article (http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/01/libpolitics.html), I argued that Lois Kaneshiki was incorrect in her belief that Libertarians should never run educational campaigns. I also argued that Libertarians should not run for office solely to win the election, but to advance the libertarian agenda. After all, if a "Libertarian" is going to act just like a Republican or a Democrat once elected, there's little point in running as a Libertarian in the first place.

However, I also recognized that "Kaneshiki's message contains a lot of good sense and it serves as a wake-up call for those who sometimes treat the LP as an end-in-itself."

In a new essay, Why Libertarians Fail (http://www.lppa.org/chair/ChairFeb2002.htm), Kaneshiki again offers some good advice in addition to some really bad advice.

Kaneshiki's good advice contains the following points.

  • Run to win.
  • Make sure you're qualified to serve in the office prepared to serve.
  • Build a strong local, grass-roots activist base that includes people who don't necessarily think of themselves as Libertarians.
  • Work the media.
  • Meet the voters personally.
  • Address the issues voters in the area find interesting.

Of course these are good ideas. Of course Libertarians should get serious about winning local elections. These are all obvious, common-sense strategies that LPers have nevertheless often failed to adopt. Kaneshiki deserves credit for emphasizing these points.

Fortunately, this time around Kaneshiki argues that advancing libertarian policy goals is indeed appropriate for Libertarian candidates. She discusses these issues in reference to her own campaign in 1999 for county commissioner of Blair County, Pennsylvania. She writes, "I needed to know what [the voters] cared about, and what I could do about it as county commissioner. By this I don't mean do what many politicians are known for, that is, to just 'say what they want to hear'. But it means that you have to come up with proposals that will solve their problems, real or perceived, not yours."

Kaneshiki adds,

The general libertarian movement has many "educational" organizations promoting the general and specific libertarian philosophy as their primary function. As the only political party within the libertarian movement, the LP's primary function should be to get Libertarians elected to office that will implement libertarian reforms and gain political credibility with the general public.

Kaneshiki is exactly right on this point. Unfortunately, she is quick to retreat from core Libertarian values in a false belief that doing so will help the LP gain political success.

She titles one of the sections of her essays, "Another Problem: The LP Platform." She writes,

The in-your-face national LP Platform is a detriment to local candidates. Here in rural central Pennsylvania, where people still go to church and expect any respectable person to do the same, a campaign that made legalizing drugs and prostitution a priority would not be received well and would divert attention from other libertarian proposals and reforms I could propose and have a chance to implement.

But why does Kaneshiki let anti-Libertarians define the issues? She writes as if there is some sort of hostility between going to church and advocating the repeal of various prohibition measures. Given the fact that the prohibition of prostitution leads to more murder and beatings of women, and given that drug prohibition increases the U.S. homicide rate between 25% and 75%, the question Kaneshiki should ask is how any church-going person could advocate these programs.

Indeed, Sheriff Bill Masters is today perhaps the best-known sheriff in the nation, precisely because of his vocal stand against drug prohibition. Masters, who has actually served in public office for most of his life, should serve as our model. His brilliance is that he explains the violence and corruption of drug prohibition in simple terms people can understand and relate to, and he does it in a context of creating a system that will help drug addicts get the help they need. (Masters' book, Drug War Addiction, is available from Accurate Press at 1.800.374.4049.) Masters won his last election, running as an independent on an explicitly Libertarian platform, with 80% of the vote. (Masters registered as a Libertarian, but not in time to run under that label in 1998.)

Kaneshiki doesn't seem to understand the prime political strategy: define or be defined. Any candidate who says he or she wants to "legalize drugs" is an idiot. The correct language is that we want to "repeal drug prohibition," for all the reasons Masters outlines in his book.

The repeal of drug prohibition is one of the most fundamental planks in the Libertarian platform. As is made obvious in my interview with David Nolan (http://www.lpcolorado.org/cl/2001/11nolan.html), the LP was founded as a response to national politics, specifically to Nixon's big-government policies which included a stepped-up drug war. If we're going to eliminate the anti-drug prohibition plank of the national party, then we might as well disband the entire LP and join one of the more established parties.

But, claims Kaneshiki, the national plank against drug prohibition hurt her in her local race.

This was an important re-election for one of the [Republican] candidates... He didn't want some other candidate taking votes from him and possibly gaining some political ground. What better ammunition than using the candidate's Party's platform against her? ...The Republicans took out color quarter page ads in the county newspapers advertising the drugs, prostitution, and racketeering planks in the LP platform. They didn't even have to mention my name. The ad spoke for itself... When that ad came out I realized that the perception of the LP was a political liability to any serious local candidate. While I was trying to build credibility, the party label was working against me... Let me tell you what media coverage the LP label earned for my campaign, despite my efforts to focus on local issues and my qualifications. The local paper promised me a story and sent a photographer to take pictures of me campaigning door-to-door. The photos never made the paper. What did make the paper shocked me. The story appeared on the front page. The first sentence said I was a candidate for commissioner. After that, the rest of the story was about a well-known local Libertarian professor who had gained a lot of negative attention for the LP in the county next to mine. The most news worthy thing about my campaign was that a Libertarian north of me had been arrested for smoking pot on the university steps.

Ironically, the latter part of this story is included under a section Kaneshiki titled, "Libertarians Don't Understand the Media." As a critique of her own campaign, that point is abundantly obvious.

The political reality that we must "define or be defined" entails that we also proudly stand by our core beliefs. One example of a group that has failed to do that is the NRA. For instance, the NRA actively supported Brady gun registration checks. In a recent Colorado initiative, the anti-gunners openly quoted the NRA to support their expansion of the Brady system. Thus, when the NRA came out against the Brady expansion, it looked like an unprincipled, shifty, cowardly organization. And that perception was correct. Voters can smell hypocrisy.

If Kaneshiki doesn't believe drug prohibition should be repealed, she should come out and say so. If she believes prohibition should be repealed, then trying to hide or disguise her beliefs won't help her.

Of course, county commissioners, as Kaneshiki notes, can't do anything about drug policy, which is set at the state and national levels. Obviously, nobody should run for county commissioner on the issue of repealing drug prohibition, simply because the issue is irrelevant to the office. (And I know of no example where a Libertarian tried to run for county commission on that issue, which leads me to believe Kaneshiki is attacking a straw man.)

What really disturbs Kaneshiki is that the national LP's platform against drug prohibition earned her free publicity. Any serious candidate, any candidate who knew the first thing about the media, would be jumping up and down with glee that a Republican opponent was buying her free advertising.

Kaneshiki relates, "I received 13% of the vote on Election Day. Due to the fact that each voter could cast two votes for the office (three were elected), that means that about one quarter of the voters pulled my lever in Blair County that November." The simple truth is that the Republican advertisements probably increased her vote total simply by raising awareness of her campaign. But she was too busy feeling sorry for herself and blaming the national LP to take full advantage of the free publicity.

Here in Colorado, a medical marijuana initiative passed by popular vote. According to a recent poll, 83% of the voting population believes we are losing the war on drugs. I don't know what the figures are for Pennsylvania, but I don't suspect they are much different.

Obviously, candidates must prioritize and they must run on issues relevant to the office. So Kaneshiki was correct that she should have done something to "redefine" the debate. One possibility would be to blast the Republican as unqualified to hold the office -- because he doesn't know the difference between national/state issues and local issues.

In terms of press, obviously some reporters and some papers are biased, and sometimes a candidate won't be able to overcome these biases. If the publisher, editor, or reporter loves the Republican and hates the Libertarian, the story is going to come out with a Republican slant. But here too Kaneshiki should have rushed out to do battle, rather than cower in the corner, wringing her hands and blaming somebody else for her problems. Specifically, she should have directly called into question the integrity of the newspaper and/or reporter. Through direct mail, letters to the editor, advertisements, and/or alternate media outlets, she should have blasted the hostile story on the grounds that it was biased and it neglected local issues in favor of sensationalism. Of course, this can be overdone: candidates should actively seek friends in the media and reserve their outrage for truly outrageous treatment. In general, though, many voters are sympathetic with candidates who are getting unfairly attacked.

Ironically, if Kaneshiki had gone on the offensive and painted herself as the target of unfair treatment, she would have earned some sympathy as the victim of the unfairness. Unfortunately, she chose to be a victim and let others define her for the voters.

Kaneshiki blames her poor vote total on the national LP. However, her vote total would probably have been even lower in absence of an "embarrassing" national LP platform. It certainly would not have been much higher. In our winner-takes-all political system, most voters have been trained to vote D or R. But this tendency will not be overcome by Libertarians who feel embarrassed to be Libertarians and who run away from their professed beliefs. To abandon the moral high ground is not to find the path to electoral success.

Yes, the ideal Libertarian candidate is savvy and he or she knows when to fight specific battles. But in order to achieve success a Libertarian must first be proud to be a libertarian.

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