Monday, October 27, 2008

Some thoughts on the Boston Tea Party


As the founder and 2008 national vice-presidential nominee of the Boston Tea Party, that party is naturally on my mind a lot, especially as it wraps up its second biennial national convention and nears its first presidential election. And, also naturally, I find myself saying various things about it to various people (including, as of a few minutes ago, a reporter for the Associated Press).

Some of the points I'm trying to make keep coming up, so they seem worth writing down in one place ... like maybe here.

When I founded the BTP, I held out hope that it would, sooner or later, merge back into the Libertarian Party as an internal caucus. That's obviously not going to happen. With the nomination of its own presidential slate and the placement of that slate on several state ballots, our split from the LP at the national organizational level is complete. The split also proceeds apace at the state level as we recognize new affiliates which are likely to seek their own ballot access in 2010 and beyond.

Where that split is concerned, I once viewed it with trepidation, but that view has now changed to one of hope. The LP had a 36-year virtual monopoly and head start on cornering the libertarian political niche in America -- yet the BTP appears to be doing better coming into that competitive niche for the first time than the LP did when the niche was effectively uncontested.

We have more members than the LP did as of its first presidential election. We're on the ballot in more states than the LP was as of its first presidential election. I expect that our presidential slate will outpoll the LP's first presidential slate.

The LP appears to be unable to expand the American libertarian political niche against its major party opposition, or to defend its monopoly on that niche versus newcomers.

Enter Darwin. Personally, I expect that the next major stage of the Boston Tea Party's growth will include several state Libertarian Parties disaffiliating from the Libertarian National Committee and re-affiliating under the BTP umbrella.

The obvious cause to point to for the current situation -- up-and-coming BTP, LP teetering on the edge of the dustbin of history -- is the descent of the LP as a national organization into cargo-cultism. The nomination of the 2008 Libertarian Party Barr-Root ticket represented a final triumph of image over substance, and now we're watching that image crumble to dust under the wind of apathy. Image can't survive or thrive on its own. Without substance, it is dead.

Beyond the obvious, however, the BTP has its own reasons for optimism. We are a "principled populist" party, not just in rhetoric but in action. Just as we oppose the rule of "power elites" (in libertarian class theory, the political class) in the world at large, we deny those elites the ability to run our own party.

We are an activist-powered party -- our national committee is constrained by our bylaws from becoming a money sink, and therefore from becoming a central planning board. If something gets done, it's because our members want it to be done and go out and do it. Ernie Hancock, your new party is calling -- your approach failed in the LP because the Politburo/Commissar structure had already taken firm root before you tried so valiantly to shatter it.

We are a genuine mass-participation party. If you want to be involved, you don't have to travel hundreds of miles, shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars, and miss a week of work every time there's a convention. You don't have to send a representative and hope that representative actually represents you. If you're a member of our party, you can take part in its business activities via any Internet connection.

Finally, we're a consistently "smaller-government" party. Our platform isn't going to be cut by 3/4th at one convention and completely re-built at the next like the LP's has. It's perpetual and unmodifiable:

"The Boston Tea Party supports reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope and power of government at any level, for any purpose."

Until and unless the state is completely eliminated, we will always be the party agitating to make it smaller tomorrow than it is today. That's the standard the national LP is going to have to meet if it wants to recapture its place of primacy in the freedom movement ... and I no longer believe that it can, or will, or even wants to, meet that standard.

I realize that many fellow libertarians whom I know and respect will continue to cling to the LP for some time ... and that's okay. I continue to work in my state LP and plan to do so for at least awhile longer. Breaking up is hard to do. I urge those libertarians remaining in the LP to think of the BTP as an ally, not an enemy. Our existence is an incentive to the LP to become better at what it does, and to think harder about what it wants to do. If it responds negatively to that incentive (as I believe it will continue to do), at least it no longer holds the claim over your head that "you have no place else to go." Because now you do.

[Cross-posted at the Boston Tea Party web site and Last Free Voice]

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