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.