LP Chair Berntson Offers Parting Remarks
[John Berntson, the chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, wrote the following commentary.]
As there will not be a March issue of the Liberty [the state LP newsletter], I thought I would send to you the column I wrote for it. Also, as an added feature, I am sending you my January column as well, since few got to see it.
Notes from the Chair (March): Notebook
I have decided not to run for chair again (statewide sigh of relief); two years is enough for anybody. That is not to say that I won't come back later, in some capacity, state or county (statewide trepidation), but for right now, I would like to step back and recharge. It is time to let somebody else have a go.
Instead of writing some emotional sort of farewell address that might make me cry and short out my keyboard, I will instead just jot down some of the little bric-a-brac I have picked up over the last five years. Some are borrowed, most are mine.
It is not the Republicans, the Democrats, the RINO's, the unions, the lawyers, the media, the bureaucrats, or the politicians that are the problem. It is the belief by the American people that it is okay to use the force of government to solve problems that has led to the demise of freedom in our country.
Do not get yourself into such a state that you cannot enjoy life, simply because of the current state of our society. Do not impoverish yourself or work for the cause to the exclusion of your own dreams. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you will most likely have to pay taxes.
Let me clarify that: there are some in the freedom movement who use the current state of society as an excuse for not getting involved in life, for not having a career or raising a family. Not only is this a stupid waste of life, but it is also a deep-seated, unconscious motive for them to not want the movement to succeed.
Use caution when using the word "patriotic" in your campaigns, especially in describing individual acts. Conservatives and labor have one definition of patriotism, while liberals have one that is quite different. If you define your worldview as patriotic, you automatically label everyone else's as unpatriotic. This will probably make them angry.
Sam Kinnesson used to say to - well, shout at - the people of Ethiopia, "YOU LIVE IN A DESERT! - GO WHERE THE FOOD IS!" We seem to keep pursuing a strategy - and I am as guilty as anyone - of trying to ingratiate ourselves with little interest groups who agree with us in a couple of particulars. Yet these groups have little influence and seem to be waning. We should never forget that politics is numbers; we need to be focused on the mainstream, unaffiliated voter - and non-voter - trying to make our views appeal to them. Shopping malls and flea markets, not gun shows.
Newcomers to the movement see all of the horrible things that are happening in our country and assume that it all just happened while they were in the restroom. This leads them to assume that our world is going to Hell in a hand basket very quickly, but that is not the case. Statism and collectivism have been growing through evolution, not revolution, for many, many decades. Don't panic! Honestly, there is still plenty of time to turn it around, and you can still engage in life while you help us do the deed.
We are asking them to give up beliefs and assumptions that they have held their whole lives, so they will not come over easily or quickly. When someone tells you that he can convert anybody to our perspective in ten minutes, he is either lying or mistaken.
Stop talking about your rights. It is unclear whether the public really cares about their own rights; they certainly don't care about yours. Appeal to their self-interest instead.
"You're not serious!" When you hear this in response to your attempts at persuasion, it means that you have not laid the proper groundwork. All seduction requires foreplay. It is no good convincing her that the quickie was for her benefit.
Libertarian vote totals seem to have little to do with our own efforts, but instead reflect the caliber of our opponents. For the near future, our campaigns need to be judged in terms of outreach, how many people we are reaching and how many join. This is much harder to measure.
An exhaustive review of old records and newsletters show that the party was having much the same strategy debates twenty years ago as we are having today. This might seem to indicate that we never learn, but that is not the deal. The usual activist lifecycle is four to five years and the new people have to convince themselves how things work by their own experience.
Newcomers are convinced that they know how to make it happen, despite their total lack of experience. Old-timers have had enough experience to know that it will never work. Newcomers would be well advised to ask old-timers not whether it will work, but precisely why it did not work last time.
One of you once told me that you did not believe the American people would ever accept a free society, that it would have to be forced on them. How's that again?
Sure, you might get somebody on your side briefly by frightening them, but when they lose the fear, as they will, they will lose you as well.
That is not to say that emotion plays no part. Indeed, emotional arguments are the only ones that will ever win, in the end. Many of you seem to think that if you write the perfect position paper, answer every concern with a well-reasoned, logical argument, that the reader must fall at your feet and freedom will be the victor. What, in any of your experience, makes you think that would happen?
It is not the media, it is not those damn voters, and it is not some grand conspiracy, it is us: we do not persuade. Most people are worried about paying bills, raising kids, and putting food on the table. We have to give them our answers to their problems, not our answers to our problems. Sell a better life.
Any registered member gets a voice in selecting candidates. Beyond that, all decisions should be made by those doing the work. Those who write long emails and dominate discussion groups with their grand plans, but never actually lift a finger, can be safely ignored.
Speaking of grand plans, don't bother. It does not matter what your grand strategy is, because we do not have the money or the manpower to carry it out. We must first build the party, by at least one order of magnitude, before any grand plans will start to bear fruit. Get out there and build!
You can consult everybody, gather consensus, make meticulous plans, and line up all your ducks, but by that time the battle is over and you have lost. Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way!
Many of you think that a free people need no leaders. Bunk! Of course we will always need leaders, but they must sell their ideas to us, not point guns at us.
If you ever convinced the people that politicians must be forced to follow the Constitution, all that would happen is that the Constitution would be amended to make all that happens today legal. If you convince the people that they want to live in a free society, the Constitution will take care of itself.
Sure the game is rigged, but if you don't play, you can't win.
Notes from the Chair (January): The Numbers Game
How many of you understand what it is we are trying to do?
I ask this, because we have just gone through another election cycle and many of you, especially those who are new and have not been through it before, are disappointed in what you saw happen. You saw us get three to five percent in three-way races and, usually, around fifteen to eighteen percent in two-way races. Our statewide candidates got around one-and-a-half percent, except David Aitken, who somehow doubled that.
Did you say something like, "We did all that work and those were all the votes we got? What's the point?" I quite understand. I have asked the same questions. Still, the work you did was well worth it. Let me 'splain.
First off, we had our victories, both in Colorado and around the nation. I am sure Mr. Vance is detailing that elsewhere in these pages. We also had a few races where we did surprisingly well. Yet it seems hard to equate strong campaigning with results; the races where we did best seemed to have less to do with our own efforts and more to do with the quality of our opponents. Margaret Denny did quite well against a proverbial snake in the grass, while Jeff McQueen did well in a race that was, perhaps, the dirtiest in the state.
So why work so hard for five percent? We could coast and get almost as much, could we not?
We do it so that more and more people hear our name and our message. We do it to gain influence for our platform. Influence? You bet! How many races are decided by just a couple of points? The so-called spoiler role we are in can be quite beneficial for liberty, because a major party opponent in a tight race may campaign on some of our issues in order to attract some of our voters. The more votes we get, the more tempting a target our supporters become in future races. Do not assume that winning is the only goal.
In the end, politics is all a numbers game. We want to reach more people through our campaigns and outreach, because the more people we reach, the more who come to our website or call for information. The more contacts we have, the more who come to our door. The more who come, the more who stay. The more who stay, the more who work. The more who work, the more new people we can reach. You see, it is all numbers.
Likewise, the more candidates we run, the more likely we are to have a candidate in a race where one or more opponents self-destruct. The more of our candidates who do well, the more people who will see us as serious contenders, and the more who will vote for us in the future. The more who think we are serious, the more contributions we get, allowing us to reach still more people.
Simply put, the higher we can get our numbers - supporters, contributors, registered voters, members, media contacts, website hits, letters to the editor, yard signs, and votes - the better the job we do for liberty. This is what we are trying to do. The more of it we do, the more victories we will have.
And please don't think that we cannot win races. We have and we will. Usually, it happens when we can outspend our opponents by a large margin, but it can be done. Yes, it is hard to get people to stop voting D and R, but it has been done and it will be done. Whether we do it with grass roots campaigns or with modern money campaigns, it will require us to grow our numbers first.
So, take a breath, get your energy back, and enjoy the holidays; you deserve the break. Then, in the New Year, let us get going again. We need more members, more affiliates, more contributors, more media contacts, and all the rest. We need to get our numbers up.
It is all a game, really. It is a game we can win. Want to play?
John K. Berntson