From an article sent to the LP-CT opinions list:
There can be no denying that our party is deeply divided. In fact, we’re so divided that the factions cannot even agree about the nature of our disagreement. One side believes that we differ, mostly along the same fault lines, on two issues. First, there is the issue of centralization vs. decentralization. According to this view of the disagreement, there is a faction that believes in bottom-up ruling, and the other top-down decision making. Second, there is the issue of radicalism vs. moderatism. On this view, the two sides differ in that one side is hardcore and devoted to libertarianism, while the other is all too willing to compromise to make ourselves more palatable.
The other faction, though, disputes this characterization. They deny being moderates, and instead characterize their belief in terms of “those who want to move the party forward vs. those who want it to be a debating society.”
I believe that both descriptions are self-serving, although the first has more than a grain of truth. Both characterizations certainly make the side making the distinction out to be on firmer ground. On the matter of top-down vs. bottom-up, I think the sides are well-established, clear, and in significant disagreement. This is probably the most meaningful of all divisions within the party, as it concerns party governance itself. I believe that, if we are to ask the world to adopt libertarian principles, we must live by them. I am firmly on the side of decentralization.
Radicalism and moderatism is a more complex division. It is not always clear what is a deviation and what is a reasonable libertarian stand. Also, I think it is problematic to characterize radical libertarianism in terms of a set of rules about policy positions – libertarianism is distinct from system-building and rules-based thinking, in fact, it is diametrically opposed to them. A person is not valuable to the party by virtue of his ability to regurgitate established positions, and it is not critical thinking to simply push further on an issue. Creativity should not be frowned upon, least of all by radical libertarians.
Yet, there is a grain of truth behind it. Those who we call moderates are not – they are conservatives, often with little libertarian thinking.
On the third characterization, I believe it is simply wrong. We radicals do not seek a debating society, but a party of principle. This way of viewing the division is based on a claim which I consider to be entirely incorrect, and perhaps even dishonest. That is the view that electability is essentially a function of wearing a suit, fitting in, and shying away from controversial positions. This is absurd – if we are not different, but we are a “minor party,” why should anyone vote for us? Our only virtue in seeking election is precisely being different, principled, and radical. Thus, moving the party forward is not a matter of centralization and moderation, but radicalism and decentralization.
The troubles at the convention showed a lot about the people involved. First, despite our deep divisions, we are united in wanting a better party, even if we disagree about what that means. Very few of us disagree with that goal. Now, some will say we need to set aside our infighting and bickering – but left unsaid is precisely which side should shut up for that to happen. We often hear that, well, no one thinks that the correct thing for the party to do is spend all our time fighting and none doing actual politics, so isn’t it better to give in to avoid that outcome? I think this is a mistaken view, and one that goes along with the “moving forward vs. debate society” mis-characterization. If success means creating a more libertarian society, that cannot be done by compromising on issues where precisely rights and decentralization are at stake. A centralized LP may be fundamentally incapable of doing what we want to do.
Now, about individuals. There were a few clear winners. First among them is Lee Wrights. Prior to the convention, he was seen as only a member of the radical side, not a party leader capable of uniting the factions. His phrase “libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party” was seen as offensive by some. He began to be seen differently during the Presidential debate, when he stood toe to toe with an accomplished politician and, in the eyes of many, won the debate outright. In any event, he showed an ability to express radical ideas in a way that are acceptable to the full party, and to all factions. He showed us an example of a truly radical libertarian expressing his views in a manner that can and will appeal to non-libertarians. Then came the crisis during the Chair’s race, and Lee’s speech declining the nomination. This stellar performance at the convention, the clear passion with which he spoke, and his passionate plea for us to work together endeared him to many. Despite his firm membership in the radical wing of the party, he showed his ability to unite and to lead the whole party. His unexpected rise to Vice Chair reflects the way he functioned at the convention. His was, fundamentally, a healing role, as Dr. Ruwart’s has so often been. Lee Wrights emerged as the true leader of the party, although not its top administrator. It was alleged by many that the confusion and NOTA voting during the chair race was a coordinated attempt to install him as chair. I have yet to hear an apology from those who made this claim, despite Wrights declining a nomination for chair, an election he likely would have won. I think this smear speaks volumes about a certain clique which claims they do nothing but speak the truth and work to further the party. To launch a personal attack on a man attempting to heal the deep divide in the party shows their true colors.
The second winner was Bill Redpath. Bill took on the seemingly routine task of running the Chair elections, since Chair and Vice Chair were both candidates in the race. When the race spun into chaos, with rampant accusations of voter fraud, disenfranchisement, complete meltdowns, and parliamentary confusion, Bill was the leader the party needed in that moment. His firm, decisive mastery of Robert’s Rules, and his unshakeable commitment to a fair election, one whose victor would be accepted by all, was a testament to his personal abilities. It was also a testament to this party. As divided as we clearly are, with half of the delegates unwilling to accept the other’s nominee, the election went on, and the rules were followed. I have no doubt that if any other party faced a similar situation, with an ally of a candidate running the election, the lights would be turned out and the election declared ended. We are different, and Bill Redpath made sure of that this weekend.
There were, unfortunately, clear losers. Rutherford’s continuing on, in the face of opposition from half of the delegates, did him no favors. When forced into a close race against NOTA, he should have taken the statesman’s path and bowed out, endorsing a compromise candidate more acceptable to the delegates, such as Bill Redpath. This would have been better for all parties involved, other than him. Yet he didn’t do so. Had he won a narrow victory against NOTA, we would have found ourselves with a chair who is unable to run the party, a chair with no mandate. The continued election threatened to tear the party apart. It could, and should, have been stopped quickly.
Kevin Knedler did tragic damage to his reputation in the party, but he can, and will, recover.
Bottom line – despite being a divided party, we showed our commitment to the rules, and we demonstrated that our work as rival factions is not personal and not out of personal greed, but out of the good of the party. The party, in my opinion, thrives from competition and fierce argument over our future and our present. I think airing our grievances and debating in public is preferable to back-room negotiations and email proxy wars. I think this convention was a positive for us, and now we need to move on and face our future.