Lee Wrights: The Messenger Is Also The Message

by R. Lee Wrights

BURNET, Texas (April 7) – In the 1960s Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian educator and philosopher, coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” He meant that the method used to convey a message, the medium, becomes part of the message itself and affects the way the message is perceived. His ideas about technology and human communication were revolutionary. He predicted the advent of the World Wide Web, even though he was writing 30 years before the web and social media like Facebook and Twitter blossomed.

Anyone trying to explain libertarian ideas should remember that “the medium is the message.” They should also keep in mind that the messenger is a medium, so you could say “the messenger is the message.” In many situations the libertarian messenger may be even more important than the message.

People won’t listen to you if they don’t like you, or if you don’t present yourself well. They won’t listen to you if you project an attitude of superiority, if you sound like you think you’re smarter than they are. They won’t listen to you if you call them stupid, or ignorant, or summarily dismiss whatever they say. They won’t listen to you if you argue instead of trying to persuade, or if you are loud or abusive, if you rant and rave.

As I’ve said many times, libertarianism is more than a political philosophy; it is a way of life. We must be it and live it. The libertarian promise of peace and prosperity is one Americans are longing to hear. We don’t need to soften, refine, modify or craft our message to appeal to conservatives or liberals in order to win votes. Instead, we must embrace our beliefs and wear them proudly. Our messengers must be as radical as our message, but in a nice way.

Our messengers must realize that how people receive and understand libertarian ideas depends on their background and upbringing. As any good libertarian communicator will tell you, not everyone gets the libertarian message right away. For many, it takes time. Even for some of the great libertarians I know, it took years for them to fully embrace the philosophy.

Just because someone doesn’t immediately see the light doesn’t make them evil, doesn’t mean they’re the enemy. It’s natural for people to cling to the ideas and ways of doing things they’ve known and believed all their lives. That doesn’t make them sheeple, or Statists, just human. There’s a difference between being ignorant and stupid, but we don’t win any converts by calling people either.

Libertarianism is about tolerance. How can we claim to be principled libertarians when we don’t tolerate those who disagree with us? Who was it that said a libertarian society would tolerate a socialist community within it, but not the other way around? Surely it is a true statement.

Everything we libertarians believe, we believe because we honestly think it’s best for all people. If it truly is the right thing, most people already know it in their hearts. Everything we libertarians believe can be packaged and sold to the voters in a way that invites them to agree with us and join us.

“Don’t teach, sell.” That’s the key to good communication for libertarian candidates. My good friend Sean Haugh once wrote, “You just have to find that sentiment of Liberty already within people’s hearts and connect with it. You can take the most hardcore Libertarian position on any issue and get the majority of people to agree with you, because you make them feel they always agreed with you.”

But sell gently, with calm and compassion. Politics is the art of the possible, as Sean reminds us. That means we must listen to people and present ideas and public policy proposals that make sense to them, in language they understand. We must identify and connect with their goals, their wants, their needs and their aspirations, claim them as our own, and then present to them reasonable, rational — and libertarian — alternatives that will achieve those goals, and meet those wants, needs and aspirations.

Libertarians can make a difference, but only by being different. One of the most important ways we’re different is that our core value is the belief in the individual human being. We dishonor that value by treating any person as less than ourselves in any way, including by demeaning them with our words or dismissing their concerns and ideas.


R. Lee Wrights, 53, a libertarian writer and political activist, is seeking the presidential nomination because he believes the Libertarian message in 2012 must be a loud, clear and unequivocal call to stop all war. To that end he has pledged that 10 percent of all donations to his campaign will be spent for ballot access so that the stop all war message can be heard in all 50 states. Wrights is a lifetime member of the
Libertarian Party and co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Born in Winston-Salem, N.C., he now lives and works in Texas.

Lee Wrights for President
Contact: Brian Irving, press secretary
press@wrights2012.com
919.538.4548

18 thoughts on “Lee Wrights: The Messenger Is Also The Message

  1. Jeff Sexton

    Lee,

    I completely agree that the messenger is the message. So why then should we allow as our messenger someone who shows up to major political events for their own Party looking like he just came from the local Hells’ Angel bar?

    When such a person walks around proclaiming themselves a candidate for POTUS, every person in hearing distance automatically rules them out as a nutcase without ever hearing anything about their positions.

    Contrast that with a man who shows up more appropriately dressed for the event at hand, or at least more professionally dressed in general. If this second man proclaims that he is running for POTUS, people will at least not automatically dismiss him, and may even give him the opportunity to at least state his name and website and maybe even 30 seconds to a minute of his most important positions.

    Lee, you are that first man. Gary is the second. Do all of us a favor and stop acting like there is even an intelligent choice here. If Gary is not our nominee, we prove ourselves to be a pathetic imitation of a joke.

  2. Robert Capozzi

    Wonderful essay, or as Obama likes to mock Romney for, “marvelous.” Walking this tightrope is no easy task, to be chill and yet passionate, resolute and yet tolerant.

    This: “The libertarian promise of peace and prosperity is one Americans are longing to hear. We don’t need to soften, refine, modify or craft our message to appeal to conservatives or liberals in order to win votes. Instead, we must embrace our beliefs and wear them proudly. Our messengers must be as radical as our message, but in a nice way.”

    I’d like to hear more of LW’s thinking here. I sense he’s dismissing the notion of offering specific practical, near term ideas as mere pandering, but I’m not sure.

    If we accept the notion that the medium is the message (at least in part), then there is something to be said for using bridging language to attract voters rather than theoretical language that is easily misunderstood. As a general proposition, “radical” messages will come off as “extremist,” even if they are put “nicely.”

    I suspect McCluhan might’ve agreed that in an appropriate medium, a communicator needs to be mindful of the general and the specific. I seek a world of peace and prosperity is the general idea. If the specific proposal is too bracing in the context of the medium, the message is damaged.

  3. B4Liberty

    Well said Lee! Excellent and timely message that so very many of us needed to hear.

  4. Darryl W. Perry

    @1 – I’ve never gotten the impression that Lee “shows up to major political events for their own Party looking like he just came from the local Hells’ Angel bar”

  5. RedPhillips

    Jeff, I agree with you about the clothing part. A candidate should in general dress the part, and I say this about major party candidates who don a pair of jeans when they go to the local factory as well.

    But I fail to see the logic of the “pragmatic” thrid party advocate. I’ve got news for you. If you are supporting a third party candidate, then you are not being pragmatic by definition. So what is the point of picking the more pragmatic candidate that is significantly flawed by libertarian standards?

    Third party people are marks for candidates like Johnson. But I can’t talk much because my party, the CP, looks poised to nominate a very flawed Goode as well. It really kinda pathetic. If you’re gonna be third party then be third party. If you’re gonna be pragmatic then join one of the big two.

  6. Robert Capozzi

    8 rp: So what is the point of picking the more pragmatic candidate that is significantly flawed by libertarian standards?

    me: To maximize the medium in order to maximize the message.

    There really are no codified L standards, so therefore there can be no “flaws.” Or one could say that we are all “flawed” in some way, but we’re doing the best we can.

  7. Darryl W. Perry

    @RC “There really are no codified L standards, so therefore there can be no “flaws.””

    Interesting… so in your opinion could someone who supports all 10 planks of communism also be a libertarian?
    If not all 10, maybe 7? 6? 3? 2?

    At what point is communism (as laid out by Marx) compatible with libertarianism?

  8. Robert Capozzi

    10 dwp, personally, if someone supported Marx’s 10 planks AND claimed to be a L, I would suggest they reconsider their label. Frankly the idea of a Marxist L seems so incongruous that I might wonder about the lucidity of a person who took such a stance.

    In the short term, I don’t advocate undoing #10.

    The other manifesto, For a New Liberty, claimed that fetuses are parasites, and I don’t buy that, either.

    And, yet, I am a L. Are you claiming I’m not? If so, who appointed you judge and jury?! 😉

  9. zapper

    @11 You know RC, one could agree with the position that fetuses are parasites and still be either pro-choice or pro-life.

    Likewise, one could be on either side while insisting that fetuses are not parasites.

    This seems a rather weak point of objection to For a New Liberty, other than the fact that Rothbard’s message could have been better by just leaving that unnecessary opinion out altogether since it is offputting to some readers.

    Perhaps that’s what you were trying to imply.

    In any case, Marx was elevated to the status of God by the marxists.

    Rothbard only made it to the level of Moses.

  10. Robert Capozzi

    12 z, the point is that “manifestos” are unreliable and simplistic measuring devices. People have a wide range of ideas and tend to coalesce into “tents” of reasonably like-minded folk. Sophomoric check lists don’t begin to capture the broad tapestry of political views…for me, at least.

  11. Jill Pyeatt

    # 1: The experience you’re describing was just the opposite at the CA convention. Mr. Wrights and his campaign manager were dressed well and conducted themselves quite professionally, even during the surprise margarita event in their room. Maybe you just caught Lee on a bad day.

  12. Darryl W. Perry

    @RC – I was not saying that you aren’t libertarian; I just wanted your opinion of whether or not someone could be a Marxist and libertarian at the same time, since you said “There really are no codified L standards, so therefore there can be no “flaws.””

    It seems that you are suggesting that Gary Johnson, Wayne Root, Lee Wrights & anyone else claiming to be a libertarian are equally libertarian and that no one can claim one or more of the named people have flaws in their ideology.

  13. Robert Capozzi

    15 dwp, yes and no. In a sense, they are all “equally” L. In another sense, there is no pecking order of L-ness.

    I would say ALL of them have flaws in their views, areas where their ideas seem weaker to me. My views are also weak in the eyes of others. In some cases, I simply don’t have a position, e.g., a more workable legal system than common law torts.

    We’re all works in progress, as are conservatives, liberals and Marxists. Since I’m biased and believe all people could use a whole lot more liberty, I’m supportive of ALL those you name in their efforts to communicate the idea that liberty should be maximized and coercion minimized.

  14. Robert Capozzi

    more…

    IOW, there are “flaws” in the sense that someone falls short of an absolute metric and there are “flaws” in the sense that I personally may not support or may disagree with another L’s position on an issue.

    Those are qualitatively different things.

    Clearer?

  15. Steven Berson

    @1 Jeff Sexton – While I have been told of events that Lee Wrights did attend casually dressed as you’ve described – all of the videos I have seen of him in actively campaigning – i.e. his announcement of his candidacy, all of the LP Presidential debates and forums he has participated in, other appearances at LP State Conventions, the promotional videos created by his campaign – he was in fact dressed in suit and tie.

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