Political news consumers in March 2007 were interested in the Libertarian Party’s prospects for . . . well, anything, really. When the Libertarians have nerds like George Phillies, stoners like Steve Kubby and fanatical purists like Mary Ruwart seeking the presidential nomination, and when the party’s 2008 convention requires six ballots to decide Barr is the better candidate, you can’t be blamed for wondering if they’re really serious about politics. However remote the chance that the LP could influence the outcome of the 2008 election, serious political news consumers were interested in that stuff.
Tom Knapp responds in Thoughts on being the GOP’s bitch,
I have to agree … sort of. The fact that Barr wasn’t eliminated by the second or third ballot reflected poorly on the Libertarian Party and indicated that maybe we weren’t really serious.
Let me break this down for you:
Bob Barr was retired from Congress as a Republican in 2002. And not just any kind of Republican, but a mossback social conservative with a righteous hard-on against anything and everything remotely libertarian — a hardcore drug warrior who moved to stop the votes from being counted on a DC medical marijuana initiative; author of the Defense [sic] of Marriage Act; Hammer of Heresy Among Military Personnel; supporter of the USA PATRIOT Act and the invasion of Iraq.
But by 2008, after a magical transformation that included a gig with the ACLU, he was running for President of the United States as a Libertarian.
Let’s paste that math on another political name or two and see how it works:
Like Barr, Texas Republican Tom DeLay left Congress in an off-year (2006). Like Barr, DeLay was not just a Republican, but an uber-Republican, loved by his party (Barr’s 2002 defeat was due to redistricting which put him up against another popular incumbent in the primary — unless you want to ascribe it to the anti-Barr ads run by, you guessed it, the Libertarian Party) and loathed by all others. If he reports for duty at MoveOn tomorrow and runs for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2012, or even 2016, the question is not whether he’ll make it to the sixth ballot, it’s whether he’ll make it six feet into the convention hall before getting bounced out on his ass. And I guaran-goddamn-tee that Robert Stacy McCain won’t accuse the Democrats of not being “really serious about politics” over it.
How about Hillary Clinton? She left the US Senate in 2009. Maybe she’ll quit her current gig tomorrow and go to work as a receptionist at Gun Owners of America, while volunteering on the side at the America Conservative Union. Think she can pull down the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2012 or 2016? Or, to put the question a different way, are you high?
Better yet, what about the Libertarian Party’s nomination? Would McCain suggest that the LP was not “serious” if it rejected, or at least took its time mulling over, a hypothetical Hillary Clinton candidacy on the LP ticket? Even if she spent a couple of years as a Cato fellow first?
Non-LPers are always bellyaching that the LP isn’t “serious” if it doesn’t act like the “major” parties — but I’ve yet to see a “major” party nominate one of its most vociferous recent opponents for election to the presidency on its ticket, or a pundit seriously suggest that it do so. The closest thing I can think of was the speculation that John McCain might choose Joe Lieberman as his running mate — a notion which The Other McCain called “probably farfetched” at the time.
And what, pray tell, did we get out of the Barr nomination? Dixiecrat vaudeville — a campaign which McCain himself trumpeted as the resurrection of George Wallace, and which turned in the fourth-best results (as a percentage of the vote total) of the Libertarian Party’s ten presidential outings. Our reward for taking a flier and running a conservative instead of a libertarian was middle-of-the-pack performance at the polls and incalculable damage to our reputation as a party with principles we weren’t willing to sell for a mess of … well, let’s just note that it was a mess and leave it at that.
We got used as an overflow area for disgruntled Republicans who didn’t think John McCain was “conservative” enough, in an election which every Republican with two or more neurons firing knew was a lost cause. Which, when push came to shove, didn’t amount to enough people to fill a phone booth.
The Libertarian Party has a tougher row to hoe than the major parties do in the first place. Allowing ourselves to be made into the GOP’s bitch at the presidential level for an entire election cycle was a detour from, not a shortcut to, where we want to go.
One of the reasons that the Barr campaign got so much national media attention in Spring 2008 was the widespread belief that, given the strength of the Ron Paul GOP campaign — especially in terms of online fundraising — and furthermore considering an established personal friendship between Barr and Paul, if the LP nominated Barr, he would bring much of Paul’s financial and grassroots support with him.
While this envisioned scenario did not actually develop after the “Dogfight in Denver” (in which Barr fought for six ballots to gain the LP nomination) this does not mean the original hope of Team Barr was misguided.
There has been a good deal of behind-the-scenes finger-pointing among Libertarians as to what went wrong after the LP convention in May, but a falling-out between Paul and Barr (which seems to have happened in June) could not have been anticipated when Team Barr organized its nomination campaign.
Tom represents a sizeable faction in the Libertarian Party who hate and despise anything “conservative” or Republican. And, of course, there are any number of Republican conservatives who use “libertarian” as an epithet.
This is unfortunate, especially since most Republicans I know are, to some degree, libertarians (with a small “l”). And most Libertarians I know have been involved in primary campaigns for libertarian-leaning Republicans like Ron Paul.
Eric Dondero attempts to bridge this chasm by styling himself a Libertarian Republican. My friend Stephen Gordon has been an operative in both the GOP and LP. Personally, I have attempted to describe “Libertarian Populism” as a potential locus for opposition to both Democratic Party progressive statism and the Progressive Lite go-along-to-get-along approach of GOP “moderates,” by offering freedom as the basic answer to populist grievances.
What is at stake in all this is something much more important than divergent estimates of individual candidates or disagreements about campaign strategy. What is at stake is nothing less than liberty itself.
If our nation’s future is to be entrusted to Nancy Pelosi and her ilk, then the disagreements between Tom Knapp and myself are moot, no more relevant to contemporary politics than an historical discussion of how the Whigs self-destructed after 1844.
The latest reply from Knapp, with a still-active comment thread as of this writing, is here.