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Avens O’Brien: Politics Is A Joke- But What If The Libertarian Party Was In On It?

Avens O’Brien at Libertarian Republic:

The Libertarian Party is choosing its nominee for President and Vice President of the United States this weekend.

As a longtime party member and activist, and a California delegate to our National Convention, I’ve had the pleasure of receiving many emails, texts, messages and phone calls from individuals running for the nomination. Most of the people running, I know personally, and many I would consider friends. I’ve been asked for support, for donations, and for an endorsement.

I haven’t given one.

She goes on to write:

I know we want to fantasize about winning. We want to believe that one of our candidates is going to somehow inspire the people to reject the Democrats and the Republicans. We want to believe they’ll override the millions of people who are only voting for one because they hate the other, we want to believe we can succeed on merit, and by putting up someone who is simply reasonable, and respectable and makes sense: We can do it!

No, we can’t.

Forgive me, other LP candidates, for excluding those who didn’t qualify for Thursday’s final debate, but I’m narrowing this down: we are not going to see President Hornberger, President Gray, President Jorgensen, President Monds, or President Supreme (feel free to mentally fill in any of the other LP candidates here).

It’s not going to happen. We’re not going to win. So declarations about which federal agencies we’d dismantle, or how we’d bring all the troops home — they’re lovely sentiments about what life could look like under a Libertarian presidency, but not only are they wishful thinking, they are lacking sufficient attention. We don’t have the eyes nor ears on what we talk about. Being the nominee will give someone a little attention — but we have no former governors or congressmen to give us that little bit of “take us seriously!” that the media can consider.

So what we have to decide: is who of these candidates can interest people, can engage people, can command media attention, or inspire sheer morbid curiosity so we have a chance to deliver our message?

And here’s what I’ll be honest about — I’m *fine* with any of these people. I don’t love some of them. I wish they were all much better speakers than they are. I wish Jacob Hornberger was less aggressive so he didn’t come off as a smart jerk who has no sense of pragmatism — he’s the stereotype of a Libertarian. I wish Judge Jim Gray and Dr. Jo Jorgensen were more interesting — though I’ll admit Jorgensen easily came off as the most reasonable choice in the final debate. I wish John Monds had more energy and more quotable lines because I think he could have a lot to offer. I wish Vermin Supreme were better at shaping Libertarian talking points into clever soundbites when being interviewed live.

They all need work.

To whomever gets the nomination, I promise to help you articulate a compelling message to the American people. Soundbite training, practicing answers to common questions, writing up short and long answers to questions (and follow-ups). Because I want my party represented well, and you need the help. I encourage all my fellow Libertarians to help whoever gets the nomination. I think they need it, badly. To steal a phrase from celebrities during sheltering-in-place: we are all in this together.

So let’s talk about who should get the nomination.

My first thought is frankly that the Vice Presidential candidates (Larry Sharpe, Spike Cohen and Ken Armstrong) were all more articulate and more engaging in their final debate than any of the POTUS candidates. For those who don’t know, Sharpe is running with Gray, Cohen with Supreme, and I believe any of them would willingly run with whomever got the nomination, even if it wasn’t their first choice.

My second thought harkens back to Edward Snowden.

Who can make people pay attention? And how?

Can any of these candidates really claim they’ll actually interest a late night television show, a cable news interview, or even achieve any internet virality among people who aren’t already Libertarians?

Maybe not.

But I think of what the Libertarian Party presidential nominee actually truly has the responsibility to do: to bring attention to Libertarian ideas, to make people think about Libertarianism in a way that compels them, interests them, gets them out to vote, or gets them talking. Of the five options in the final debate, I realize, with a certain amount of personal incredulity, that I actually think Vermin Supreme would be the best choice.

I know. I swear I’m not high when I write this.

I’ve known of Vermin Supreme in the political scene since he was trolling politicians in the New Hampshire primaries in 2008. I got to know him better over the past few years, as he became increasingly connected to my New England Libertarian friends.

In a speech at the LPNH convention in 2019 (which he gave right before mine), he explained his prior belief that Libertarians didn’t care about other people, and how it had shifted as he got to know members of the Free State Project (in NH) and Libertarians who had helped a member of their community when a terrible accident lost her the use of her legs permanently. It so happens that of the people preaching mutual aid and community support, and rushing to make a meal or find her disability-compatible housing — my mother (a party founder) was one of those leading the charge. Vermin and my mother ended up having a great conversation about the importance of community in helping each other, because the state fails to help people constantly.

Libertarians are often seen as people who would simply “drop everyone” from various state-sponsored services. That may, to some degree, be a true indictment of our philosophy. But far too often we fail to respond by talking about how those state-run services constantly drop so many people through the cracks. The government thinks everything can be solved by raising taxes and throwing money at problems, but we know why that doesn’t work — both on a moral level and utilitarian one.

Vermin Supreme knows that intimately and he leads with it. His empathy for those who cannot help themselves, and those who’ve been harmed by the government, is the reason he eventually made his way to our party. He can speak to that journey in a way that’s interesting, compelling, and even funny. Libertarians are selfish? Vermin Supreme donated a kidney to his mother. We can show people that you don’t need to steal and spend other people’s money to be kind, to be giving, and to help your fellow American.

He has some strange virality among young people — I’ve watched countless people interrupt him at events, wanting a selfie, wanting to meet him. Yes, because he’s wearing a ridiculous boot on his head, but he can pivot that attention to the things that matter.

His campaign began releasing videos over the past few weeks that definitely have some inspiration from 2016’s McAfee/Weiss campaign. Full disclosure: I was part of that campaign and Weiss is my long-time partner, and several people from McAfee/Weiss have gone to work for Supreme’s campaign. But numbers don’t lie.

His “We Are The Power” video has roughly 125,000 views between Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and it was released just one week ago. His “In On The Joke” video has over 14,000 views in less than a week on Facebook. Released even more recently, his “Now Is The Time” has roughly 75,000 views featuring the voice-over messaging of his Vice Presidential candidate, Spike Cohen.

I wish these videos had come out earlier in the campaign. They’re very good.

I’ve watched hard-left friends of mine share these videos unironically, with messages like “I live in a safely blue state, I’m considering voting for Vermin Supreme instead of Biden”. I’ve seen friends who are internet trolls who usually share Trump’s stuff (simply because it infuriates the left) suddenly interested in Vermin Supreme. I’ve watched moderates give a thoughtful nod to him. He’s somebody people stop to look at, and some of those people stop to listen.

His silliness with “ponynomics” and “time travel” is a statement about the pipe-dreams that government promises and never delivers. For the record, you could buy every American 2.5 ponies with the money we’ve spend on the War in Afghanistan. Nobody wants that half a pony, but nobody wants drones murdering children in the Middle East either.

When the Libertarian Party ran a recruitment drive to have candidates bring new members into the party, Vermin’s campaign link brought in nearly 100 new members and over $4000. He focuses his messaging on the disenfranchised, the disaffected, the disillusioned, and, as he says, the “disgusted” Americans who want a better option. It’s a great message, and some people are listening.

Which is why he has my vote.

His Vice Presidential candidate Spike Cohen is one of the most articulate voices for principled libertarianism in the party, and I have no doubt he will be further assisting Vermin in better communication of the Libertarian ideals he stands for.

The two of them will bring in attention we haven’t had before, they will draw unexpected and unlikely voters and they will lose the election just like every other LP Presidential candidate before, and every other candidate who is running this year.

We can’t win this battle.

But as I said in a speech in 2016, which John McAfee referenced during one of his campaign speeches: this isn’t about electing the president of the United States. It’s about electing liberty in the hearts and minds of the people.

I’ll support any candidate my party chooses as the nominee, but my vote this weekend absolutely goes to Vermin Supreme and Spike Cohen. Their campaign has impressed me tremendously, in its ability to spout Libertarian ideals in a new way, to new audiences, with kindness but without apology.

I understand some of my fellow delegates may choose someone less controversial. Someone a bit more “normal” or “respectable”. I will honor that choice, if they make it. I hope they can honor mine. I do get the appeal of someone “safe” like Jorgensen or “aggressive” like Hornberger. We as a party seem to be very focused on trying to play a rigged game by other people’s rules and refusing to admit we’re being set up to lose.

But some of us understand that politics, as a real choice between truly different options: that’s a joke. And Vermin Supreme has helped many recognize that it’s time to be smart and savvy and tell those in power that we’re in on the joke.

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  1. Anthony Dlugos Anthony Dlugos May 22, 2020

    One of Vermin’s CURRENT platform positions is “funcentration camps.”

    Anyone want to try and field a response to the lively questions our candidate would get regarding a portmanteau of revelry and a reference to the Holocaust?

    During a pandemic?

    By a guy with a boot on his head?

    Somehow, I don’t think tone deaf even begins to describe that.

  2. paulie paulie May 22, 2020

    That’s part of the satirical platform, not the serious one.

  3. Anthony Dlugos Anthony Dlugos May 22, 2020


    Okay, then its justified? 🙂

  4. Bondurant Bondurant May 22, 2020

    Libertarians have left point A. We need to get to point Z. I think Vermin gets things rolling further down that path than the other candidates.

  5. Jonathan Jaech Jonathan Jaech May 22, 2020

    Right on Avens!

    Although all the candidates leave something to be desired, Vermin is the best medicine for 2020. But he needs better support and is falling short of expectations. Pity that the LPC officers (here in California) spent the last year smearing and driving out the activists who most welcomed him and shone brightest for Johnson/Weld in 2016!

    The LP will not grow in 2020, nor will it ever until its members and their chosen officers learn how to govern the libertarian way, build a sense of community in the party, and encourage diversity. I.e., live the N.A.P. instead of just talking about it.

  6. dL dL May 22, 2020

    I wish these videos had come out earlier in the campaign. They’re very good.

    The difference between 2016 and 2020 is that Connected-TV(CTV) and OTT digital advertising are now more mature platforms. Team Vermin’s media production is good enough for the ad exchanges. You can get some decent (targeted) penetration on a (relatively) modest budget.

  7. Gene Berkman Gene Berkman May 22, 2020

    The Libertarian Party already has credibility problems. Putting up a candidate like Vermin Supreme will set the party back years in terms of being considered an alternative by the type of people that we need to recruit – people who actually care about the facts of reality, who understand that a serious alternative is needed, and people who actually lead productive lives and can provide the assets needed for a new party.

    That said, clearly Vermin Supreme is more serious than any of the “Libertarians” who are supporting his campaign. He has his schtick – Libertarians should know better.

  8. Anthony Dlugos Anthony Dlugos May 22, 2020

    +1 Gene

  9. Richard Winger Richard Winger May 22, 2020

    There are 436 US House seats up every year, 33 or 34 US Senate seats, and thousands of state partisan offices. There is room for every philosophical variety of Libertarian to run for these important offices. There seems to be an unspoken feeling that the only nomination that counts is president. In 2020, there are sixteen states where the LP will go off the ballot, or fail to become a qualified party, unless the presidential nominee gets in the range of 1% to 5%. It is rational for the LP to nominate a presidential candidate who will get the best vote possible, just to save our ballot access. Saving our ballot access means it is far, far easier for us to then run for congressional and state offices, and expand the public viewpoint of the party. Don’t forget, in the entire history of the Libertarian Party only in 1980 and 2016 did the LP even get as much as 1% of the vote. Many times we have polled less than one-half of 1%.

  10. paulie paulie May 22, 2020

    Great argument for nominating Vermin. He’s the only one in the field likely to get over 1%.

  11. dL dL May 22, 2020

    The Libertarian Party already has credibility problems.

    This after nominating 3 straight tickets comprised of formerly elected GOP politicos!

  12. paulie paulie May 22, 2020

    That would actually be our real credibility problem.

  13. dL dL May 22, 2020

    That said, clearly Vermin Supreme is more serious than any of the “Libertarians” who are supporting his campaign. He has his schtick – Libertarians should know better.

    Well, some libertarians don’t depend on the libertarian ecosphere for their livelihood

  14. dL dL May 23, 2020

    Great argument for nominating Vermin. He’s the only one in the field likely to get over 1%.

    I don’t know if VS can break 1% or not, but the so-called in-joke’s media production professionalism/quality blows away the efforts of previous LP POTUS campaigns. Part of what I do is CTV, OTT digital media, and Team VS media quality is certainly good enough for ad exchange inventory. If Team VS could catch just a bit of fire w/ online money bombing fundraising, they could actually run a serious CTV,OTT digital media campaign on a modest budget. A Jorgensen or a Hornberger will just disappear into anonymous black hole, and libertarians will whine about the duopoly. But the year is 2020 and streaming has arrived…and Demand-side platforming is starting to mature in the CTV/OTT space. The joke is that if Team VS has algo people as good as the art direction people, they could potentially put together an effective digital media agitprop campaign.

  15. paulie paulie May 23, 2020

    Ok, I should amend that. Most likely one in the field to get above 1%.

  16. Anthony Dlugos Anthony Dlugos May 23, 2020

    “He’s the only one in the field likely to get over 1%.“

    He’s the only one with a shot, yes. Unlikely, however, because achieving 1% on what will be depicted as a novelty act and a farce would be extremely difficult because voters especially value their vote.

    In fact, the value it so much that the LP’s biggest problem might be the Wasted Vote Syndrome. It’s a real phenomenon. Our candidates lose votes as the election draws near because of it.

    The idea that we’d hang onto those voters with a candidate who essentially leans into that fear strains credulity. It flies in the face of everything we know about electoral politics.

    It’s not unlike the argument we frequently from the radical set that we need to present a radical candidate to grab voter attention. Frequently, that’s attached to the idea of appealing to current non-voters.

    But that argument implies that we don’t know anything about non-voters…which we do…or it conjures up a faction of the electorate that we know for a fact does not exist: supporters of a radical libertarian message.

    We’ll see what happens. But if D.Perry wound up with just 6% of the delegates in 2016 in a room full of the most dedicated Libertarians, the idea that there is a segment of the larger electorate amenable to the radical message can be pretty much dispensed with.

    Ditto for Vermin and his satirical platform.

    We CAN. however, continue to defend the eminently defendable idea that voters ARE looking for an alternative. There’s no doubt about that.

    Vermin just ain’t that message.

    So, whatever support he gets would be the electoral equivalent of empty calories. It’s got no legs, because I we have overwhelming evidence that voters find elections important and government NECESSARY, as much as it pains me to tell that to the radicals. They want qualified and accomplished people doing important work in office.

    How many satirists hold public office in this country?

    How many lawyers?

    Of course, I could suggest candidates that could get above 1%…in fact I supported one who did so twice. And such candidates would actually fit in with what voters typically support, so such success would have legs.

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