Beating Up the Republicans
by Mike Seebeck, August 15, 2003
[Note: Seebeck serves as Media Director for the Libertarian Party of El Paso County and he is a former member of the state LP board. Following Seebeck's missive, Ari Armstrong replies.]
Ari Armstrong wrote recently, "[B]ut surely Seebeck's language is unduly harsh. Especially Andrews and Rosen have also done a lot of good. There are some very libertarian Republicans (Ron Paul, Steve Gresh), and anyway I don't see the point of ticking off the Republicans (or the Democrats) without specific cause."
Harsh? Not even close. Try understated, and I won't apologize for that. Rosen is only a Republican shill and that's all he ever has been, never holding political office or even having the guts to run. He despises libertarians, simply because in his warped microcosm if you're not a conservative Republican then you're part of the problem (he's even said that on the air, on the day after Limbaugh and Hannity said the same thing!). Andrews is just an arrogant illiterate idiot, and his stupidity and misdeeds are being exposed daily (illegally altering the Senate, passing an illegal pledge bill, and many other things). Thank heavens for term limits, since he's gone next year, but beware of him running for Congress. Sure, I admit that there are times in the past I have said that not being a libertarian makes one part of the problem, but I've changed that view as well, as there is more to it than that.
There are really three general types of voters in this world: the good, the bad, and the apathetic. The political formula there is quite simple: the bad take advantage of the apathetic and steamroll the good, and the apathetic ignore the good and cave in to the bad, while occasionally the good will win a symbolic victory here and there to cover it all over. IMO, most libertarians are good, most voters that aren't politically active are apathetic, and a select few, including Andrews and Rosen, and just plain bad. Those areas do overlap, and it is a little simplistic, but the model holds in general, even if it doesn't apply to everyone. This isn't calling people apathetic, just their voting choices, so don't think I'm insulting anyone by pointing out what we already know by voter turnout and zombie-voting by most that do show up.
There is a simple purpose to this: to convert the apathetic to the good. Efforts at doing it by gentle persuasion just don't work. I've seen this at far too many Outreach events. As long as the apathetic are fat, dumb and happy, they still won't really care. Their lives are too complicated enough now to worry about politics (even though politics played a large role in making it that way!). Logical arguments just don't work very well on most of the apathetic because they don't think that way (logically) anymore. The only place left to turn is emotion, and the strongest emotion to tap into is anger. The trick is to get the apathetic angry at the bad and get the bad angry enough to do something stupid, which also undermines the classic incrementalist tricks the bad use to enslave us. The bad do something rash (like the PATRIOT Act, for example) and we point it out and get the people pissed at them. We need to stir emotions of the apathetic better than we have, and you don't do that by pussyfooting around. (See an article in the current LP News on using the language of the left to get the idea) People vote based on two things, their tempers and their wallets. That's the specific cause I'm working. We saw by 1142 that they (D's and R's) are pissed at us for even existing, so trying not to piss them off is a battle already lost. So let's make them blow a gasket and make them look foolish instead.
"If you're not pissed off you're not paying attention" is what a button on my Outreach hat reads. So let's get the apathetic and the bad pissed off at each other and let their energies flow, and when all is said and done, we'll win. It isn't a silver bullet, but it is good psychological warfare. We will win by winning over both hearts and minds and the votes will follow. We can win minds by logic, but we can win hearts by emotion. We're somewhat good at the former, but we need to do much better on the latter.
Ari Armstrong Replies
Seebeck writes, "Logical arguments just don't work very well on most of the apathetic because they don't think that way (logically) anymore. The only place left to turn is emotion, and the strongest emotion to tap into is anger... We need to stir emotions of the apathetic better than we have, and you don't do that by pussyfooting around... [W]e can win hearts by emotion."
This strategy sounds strikingly similar to that of an LP campaign last year: "And the overwhelming majority of voters do not base their decision on logic or rational analysis. They vote for a name they recognize. And they recognize the names to which they've formed a strong emotional attachment." As I recall, Seebeck was less than enthusiastic about the outcome of this campaign.
Obviously righteous anger is a virtue, and successful politicians often form an emotional connection with their supporters. However, we must be careful to distinguish righteous anger from misdirected or senseless anger. Libertarians especially must make sure their emotional attachments align with their reason. If libertarians stir up senseless anger at the expense of logical thinking, they will not be able to control the results. We can all think of plenty of historical examples in which senseless anger resulted in the persecution of innocents.
The issue is not whether libertarians should "pussyfoot around." They should state their reasoned positions with vigor and rhetorical clarity. But another alternative to "pussyfooting around" is flying off at the handle, and that's something libertarians should avoid.
Seebeck's comments about Mike Rosen and John Andrews are uncalled for. Indeed, the main reason I gave Seebeck's comments any prominence in the Colorado Freedom Report is that Seebeck is an officer of an LP affiliate. His comments therefore warrant greater attention -- and greater scrutiny.
True, Rosen frequently defends Republicans and criticizes Libertarians. The fact that he's never run for office is irrelevant -- saying he's gutless is simply mindless namecalling. Clearly it isn't true that Rosen "despises libertarians." On many occasions he has mentioned libertarians favorably in his newspaper column, and he has invited numerous libertarians onto his radio show. In fact, on numerous occasions Rosen has expressed his sympathy for libertarian positions. For the Media Director of an LP affiliate to unfairly call Rosen shrill names is ridiculously counter-productive. It's fine to debate him on the issues. It's dumb to call him names. One would think the LP would make an effort to befriend journalists and earn positive media, but too often I see LP leaders and members needlessly alienate journalists. Again, there is a vast difference between thoughtful critique and angry attacks.
And John Andrews, the President of the Colorado Senate, the founder of the Independence Institute, a former Presidential speech writer, an "arrogant illiterate idiot"? Absurd! Yes, he fudged on a trivial procedural matter -- but in a way that impacted the final outcome not in the least. Yes, he supported the ridiculous bill encouraging government school children to say the Pledge. Yes, he supported the mean-spirited minor-party bill. He also supported concealed carry, asset forfeiture reform, TABOR, and a whole host of other issues that libertarians favor. Yes, Andrews supports a number of big-government pseudo-conservative proposals, too, but on the whole he is a friend to libertarians in the state legislature. Again, why an officer of an LP affiliate would go out of his way to alienate him is beyond me. Yes, critique his silly bills, but don't call him childish names!
If libertarians (whether in the LP or not) are to capture the imagination of "apathetic" voters, it will be by encouraging statesmen and women to articulate the case for liberty with wit, passion, humor, and good grace. School-yard antics will not work.