By Mark West
All Libertarian Party candidates have experienced it at one point or another. Laying an enormous weight on every chance post and idle utterance, this grueling beast can eviscerate a campaign in a matter of moments. Yet, battling for balance with this monstrosity wearies every candidate and stalls campaigns in the malicious mire of friendly fire.
“You’re not libertarian enough or may not even be libertarian at all!”
Usually, this raucous refrain is sung by purists who tend to be more invested in spreading libertarian ideals than in helping campaigns win races. At the same time, those who magnify the importance of winning an election over spreading pure ideals would attack from the other side saying:
“You can’t win elections with purist ideals!”
Unfortunately, neither statement actually helps candidates. Yet, both statements serve the self-destruction purpose of deflating campaigns and diminishing returns.
At the heart of these conversations is the growing divide on the purpose for the existence of the Libertarian Party. Do we exist to spread the libertarian ideal, or do we exist to win elections? The implication seems to be that we can’t do both.
Sharing My Painful Experiences
Admittedly, our candidates struggle to express the nuances of policies aimed at transforming government. How can we best explain our plans to transition governance from authoritarian structures into libertarian ones? On this note, I’m interested in seeing the process that Adam Kokesh promises is going to become clear in his upcoming book. Aptly named, American Freedom, this book is going to detail Kokesh’ process for the dissolution of the Federal Government.
I’ve run two campaigns for office as a Libertarian. In 2016, I was the Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. House District 1 in Arkansas. I received 23.7% of the vote (57,181 votes) in a two-way race. In 2018, I was the Libertarian Party candidate for Arkansas Governor. I received 2.9% of the vote (25,885 votes) which was 0.1% shy of securing ballot access for 2020. I missed it by 860 votes!
As different as the two races were from a policy standpoint, one similarity was striking. In both, I felt like Thanos trying to balance his knife as an allegory for balancing the universe. My biggest struggle was balancing the libertarian ideal in proposals dealing with authoritarian structures and problems.
If my solutions leaned too far libertarian, I was labelled a purist and told that my ideas wouldn’t win elections. If my solutions leaned too far authoritarian, I was told I wasn’t libertarian enough and that I wouldn’t get libertarian support or votes. Both sides treated me as an enemy to the libertarian ideal.
Death By A Thousand Distractions
I found it rewarding to take the opportunity for publicly sharing libertarian-leaning solutions through my campaigns. In reality, my audiences had been force-fed authoritarianism which left many shocked and confused. They struggled to grasp a candidate offering solutions that didn’t include government interference or intervention. When I needed time and opportunity to engage and explain, I was often drug into battles with other libertarians over how bad I was at representing our philosophy.
Essentially, my campaigns were cursed to death by a thousand distractions. I’m still emotionally spent. I’ve lost the desire to run for office. I’m deliberately avoiding the ballot in 2020. Why?
In one example, I received the most visceral responses from my libertarian brethren when I proclaimed myself pro-life. I believe libertarians desperately need a salient solution on this issue. Caryn Ann Harlos’ column about the issue serves such purpose for my own philosophy.
In Arkansas, the Libertarian Party platform plank on abortion is a death sentence for libertarian candidates. I would have been better served with more time to explain the nuances of the issue with non-libertarians. But instead I had to play defense against being labelled fake and unworthy libertarian.
I am a libertarian because of the influence of Rodger Paxton, host of The Lava Flow and owner Pax Libertas Productions. My political philosophy almost mirrors his and I have been a member of the Libertarian Party Radical Caucus. Therefore, being labelled a fake for suggesting transitional proposals to authoritarian problems was disheartening. My proposals always maintain an eye to a more voluntaryist society, even if it must come in stages.
No Good Answers
I don’t claim to know the right answer in this debate. So I will not push one. However, I do want to use the insight from my campaign experiences to end our self-destructive habits toward libertarian candidates.
So, when you see a libertarian candidate, give them the benefit of the doubt. Unless the candidate is blatantly non-libertarian and violating the Statement of Principles and Platform on issue after issue, give them a break, they need one.
Can we ask candidates to be honest about stances that diverge from our Platform and Statement of Principles? Should we let our convention decisions be the last word on nominations so that only rallying and support follows the candidates afterward?
I’m not certain we really have good answers for those questions. But, I am certain that our candidates deserve better than our most self-destructive habits. I mean, they are willingly fighting for our place on the political stage on the local, state, and national levels.