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Libertarians Marching in Lock-Step Down the Rabbit Hole of Irrelevance

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I recently received the Texas Libertarian Party newsletter. It included a letter from Texas LP Chairman Pat Dixon to the membership on the issue of candidate loyalty. I won’t reprint the whole thing here, but it brings up some important issues about the Libertarian Party and how it has changed from what was once a movement dedicated to restoring liberty and has become a club for nerdish insiders whose main focus seems just to be on lemming-like party loyalty and performing a bizarre pantomime parody of a political party.

In this letter Dixon writes (comments in italics are mine):

“As we continue our growth,”

Inside sources inform me that both fundraising and membership in the Libertarian Party are down more than 50% in the last 5 years.

“our candidates become more susceptible to pleas from our opponents. The opposition wants us to drop off the ballot with promises that they will get elected and give us the policies we want.”

Several Texas Libertarian Party candidates have quit during this election and endorsed their Republican opponents on discovering that they were hoodwinked by the party into running against strongly libertarian Republicans.

“Pandering politicians have made a habit of insincere promises.”

Like the implied promise that the Libertarian Party would be a viable political party which they have failed to live up to for 40 years? Like the promises they made this year to support their candidates with money that was instead wasted by their state and national boards on pet projects which got no one elected?

“November will soon be upon us. I do not promise overnight success, but I do expect significant growth that will alarm our opponents, grow our influence, attract more support and investment, and influence policy. That will only happen if we remain on the ballot. Without candidates on the ballot, we don’t have a product to offer to the voters.”

And here’s the flawed policy of the Libertarian Party in a nutshell.  They think that ballot access gives you power, when the truth is that power comes from showing that you can influence the outcome of elections in a positive way, not from being an irritant. If your only role in an election is to undermine your potential allies, you just alienate them. If you want to influence them you need to show that you can help them win. Why would legislators give Libertarians the time of day when all they do is dogmatically oppose them? To get influence you need to have something to offer and the Libertarians offer only the threat of a paper candidate skewing election results.

“Don’t fall for the promises of pandering politicians. Let’s keep the Libertarian product on the shelf.”

By all indications that product has exceeded its shelf life by several decades.  At some point they have to realize that doing the same thing over and over and getting the same dismal results is a sign of insanity.

As Dixon’s delusional letter suggests, the Libertarian Party is deeply and fundamentally dysfunctional.  They have become afflicted with many the worst habits of the major political parties without producing winning campaigns or gaining influence for all their work.

The party has become dogmatic and insular.  They spend their time in a virtual fantasy world where getting 4% of the vote instead of 2% of the vote is heralded as a great victory and barely retaining ballot access has become their ultimate goal rather than a trivial starting point.  They are bizarrely self-congratulatory and ultterly out of touch with reality, with no idea how to run a campaign and candidates who can’t even figure out how to dress or behave in pubic, much less express themselves articulately.  They’re the high school chess club with delusions of grandeur.

Central to their failure is a terribly conceived election strategy which has been failing dramatically for more than 30 years.  For some reason they have decided that it is better to run lots of losing candidates than a few winning candidates and that everyone deserves a chance to run for office even if their efforts are utterly wasted and meaningless and they aren’t even vaguely qualified. 

Running so many candidates when you have no history of getting anyone elected to a meaningful office is just nuts.  It means that someone like Pat Dixon can pat himself on the back and send out a press release announcing hundreds of candidates on the ballot, but it does absolutely nothing else to help the party or advance libertarian ideals into a position of greater influence.  Those numbers are meaningless without victories, and what happens with so many candidates is that the party’s resources get divided up between them and none of them has the money or support to run an effective campaign.

Since their candidacies are meaningless the party then makes no effort to determine if the people they put on the ballot are qualified or in any way electable, because they aren’t expected to make a real effort to run for office.  They provide no real training or even any useful campaign advice and send their naive candidates out to face utter failure with no meanigful support.  It’s not surprising that their most competent and serious candidates soon abandon the party in disgust and look for other ways to exert influence or seek office in a more serious political party.

I’ll even offer the Libertarian Party a piece of free advice because I know they will ignore it. Unless they want to vanish into a much deserved obscurity, they need to change their entire strategy. 

They ought to be assessing their potential candidates and the races they are in very carefully.  They ought to target the worst elected officials in races where there is only one candidate from a major party running.  They should absolutely avoid challenging major party candidates who are themselves libertarians (usually libertarian Republicans) or who have laudable records of personal integrity.  They should tell inexperienced and unrealistic candidates “no” and discourage them from running, not try to recruit endless numbers of them.

There are plenty of bad politicians running unopposed in Texas and most other states.  They should target them and do it in only a few races with their best possible candidates.  They should then pool their resources and bring in money from other areas to support those candidates financially.  All those paper candidates should be recruited as campaign workers.  Let them get some exeperience in a real campaign and the best ones will eventually gain the skills they need to be viable candidates a few years down the road.

Right now the Libertarian Party is like a club for political dabblers and debaters.  If it wants to survive it needs to change completely and become an engine for advancing real campaigns in a serious way.  But that’s not going to happen because the party insiders are too set in their ways, too hobbled by bad habits and tragically unrealistic about their own shortcomings.

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About Marc Tully

  • Louis WIlliam Rose

    Organize your precincts get out the vote and stop your whining. If your voters are organized you will know days before if you are going to win.

    To be successful, you have to go door by door, block by block. You have to get people on their own blocks to get neighbors to change their party, not just their vote.

    It can be done, it has been done. When will the Libertarians decide to do it.

  • A couple of Libertarians here in Texas are campaigning very hard, but as the author of this article points out, there’s also an awful lot of wasted effort and frustration.


  • Jeremiah

    “For some reason they have decided that it is better to run lots of losing candidates than a few winning candidates …. Running so many candidates when you have no history of getting anyone elected to a meaningful office is just nuts.”

    Thanks, Gordon. I think you illustrate well the difference between the Libertarian and the Republican parties. Who is this “they?” If you want a hierarchical, sign-your-will-away-and-we’ll-manage-you organization, go with the GOP. The LP eschews the central planning by “experts” that has ruined our country. You Republicans talk about decentralization, but the hypocrisy runs right to your core. And the rot is clear for all to see.

  • I think the article puts insufficient emphasis on the fact that Libertarian Party adherents are crazy. Good thing Jeremiah came along to remind us.


  • Gordon Trenchard

    Jeremiah. Are you familiar with the grammatical concept of the pronoun? They have antecedents. In the section you quote, when viewed in context, the antecedent of “they” would be the Libertarian Party as a group. That’s why it’s a plural pronoun.

    I hope that helps you in the future. Altrnatively, most junior colleges offer freshman level remedial reading classes because so many kids like you come out of our government schools lacking basic skills needed to function as a literate member of society.

  • Morris Jameson

    Ouch Gordon…
    Anyway, regarding the ‘baked in the cake’ losing strategy of the Libertarian party; exactly what is the objective? Is the main reason for the party’s existence simply to bring issues to the forefront? Or, is the objective to really have their Candidate(s) elected? From where I sit, if they simply want to put Candidates on the ballot to say ‘look at me, I am a Libertarian on the ballot’; then they should continue to rinse and repeat… On the other hand if they really want to win an election, they will have to role of their sleeves and get to work on a strategy that is in line with that goal… Otherwise, just keep on doing what you are doing… I’m just saying…

  • Morris, I think you may have hit the nail on the head. The strategy seems narcissistic and self-indulgent. Look at me, I’m running for office…but without any real risk or commitment.

    I find it bizarre that the party has lasted this long without a radical change in that approach.


  • I interviewed Wayne Root on behalf of Wikinews when he was running for the Libertarian presidential nomination back in early 2008. He spoke of his ambitions to turn the Libertarian Party into a viable political organization, and while I thought his aims to be commendable, I figured that they would end in failure, as virtually all third party movements do.

    I have seen nothing since then which might in any way change my opinion.

  • Joe

    Good article. I realized most of these points several years ago, which is why I am now a member of the GOP and the Republican Liberty Caucus. (That’s where practical libertarians go to win friends and actually influence elections.)

  • Joseph, Root has become a virtual pariah within the LP. His attempt to promote mainstreaming the party and his support of Bob Barr in 2008, combined with his strongly anti-Islamic rhetoric have all added up to alienating the most ideologically hard core elements which have a strong voice in the control the party from him completely. There’s a Facebook hatepage for him called “Wayne Allyn Root is NOT a Libertarian.”

    The self-destructive narcissism of the LP has marginalized him. He might as well join the GOP where libertarians are valued and can put their ideas to good use.


  • The Libertarians are not narcissistic. They just like listening to themselves too much. Besides, do they have a mascot? No?

    Where is Robert Ringer [Winning Through Intimidation and Restoring the American Dream] when they need him?

  • They do have a mascot, Lady Liberty. And isn’t liking to listen to yuourself the essence of narcissism?


  • Dan

    Everything you said is right on and the reason I gave up on the LP. I think they are doing terrible damage to the Libertarian brand. Just because it’s political party does not mean elections have to be the focus of its politics. The LP with its resources could run an effect PR campaign for Liberty instead of wasting its funds on elections.