Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mae West moment: Liberty For Sale


Judge -- Miss West, are you trying to show contempt for this court?
Mae West -- On the contrary, your Honor, I was doin' my best to conceal it.

Tim West writes at Liberty For Sale: "We [e.g. Libertarians] can't win elective office when we as a party, our candidates, or our writers and thinkers in the LP have a attitude of contempt for the very people -- the voters and the press -- that determine the fate of our candidates."

Pretty good point -- no argument from me. I do, however, want to point out that the whole discussion there (and it's carried over to Hammer of Truth as well) is getting tangled up with the subject of Michael Badnarik's 2004 presidential campaign ... and he doesn't deserve that.

I've watched Michael Badnarik in face-to-face contact with both Libertarian Party members and voters -- a lot more of the latter, as on the day he spent several hours "meeting and greeting" hundreds, if not thousands, of Rural Electrical Cooperative members at a regional event in Columbia, Missouri -- and I've never seen a politician treat people as courteously and respectfully as he does. Ditto for his interviews with newspapers, his radio appearances and so forth. I know that none of the writers I just quoted intended any such inference, but the point should be driven home ... if there's a "contempt problem," it's not with Michael Badnarik.

The proximate issue giving rise to the whole "contempt" debate was some Libertarians' reaction to the notion that his ... unusual ... beliefs on taxes and drivers' licenses might raise eyebrows. That means I should also point something else out in terms of "before" and "after."

Before he received the LP's presidential nomination, Michael Badnarik was more straight, up-front and promotionally oriented about his views than anyone could reasonably expect. He traveled 20,000 miles and spoke at numerous LP conventions and events about those views. He taught classes on those views. He wrote a book, and sold it at LP gatherings, in which he expounded those views. At least one Texas newspaper editorial, written by a former acquaintance, called attention to and made fun of those views (it was indexed on Google News and was in the top ten results for searches on "Badnarik" for several weeks).

After he received the LP's presidential nomination -- as a matter of fact, within hours, maybe even minutes, after he received it -- I ran into a number of the same delegates who had just nominated him, whining that they hadn't known about those views and that the apocalypse was at hand for the LP. At the time, I experienced severe ... well, there's no other way to put it ... contempt for people who were running around admitting they'd nominated someone they'd not bothered to investigate the publicly proclaimed views of, and blaming anyone but themselves for the fact that they'd done so.

But there's some more after:

During the post-nomination period, I recall not a single major media story on Badnarik which in any way alluded to his "tax problem" or his "driver's license problem" (yes, he did get some major media coverage -- not enough, but some; and yes, as his campaign media coordinator, I believe that I can claim a reasonably comprehensive knowledge of that media coverage).

During the post-nomination period, when questioned about these "problems" by movement publications, Badnarik handled the questions with aplomb, gave answers that wouldn't be considered too unreasonable even by non-libertarian standards, for the most part stuck resolutely to the issues that voters seem to care about, and always came off as being "the man who is on your side." That's important.

Perhaps if Badnarik's campaign had gained more traction, these issues would have reared up to bite him in the ass. But it didn't, and they didn't (and the former was not due to any lack of personal work ethic on Badnarik's part -- that guy wore me out!). I hope that those addressing the issues of a) "voter contempt" and b) "candidate weirdness" will be careful to hold separate two very general, and very real, problems, from the name of someone who is representative of neither.

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