Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Reform School for Girls

Never mind the post title. I was at a loss, and it seemed like good search engine bait.

The topic -- for the third post -- is the Libertarian Reform Caucus and the comments made on the most recent one.

We still seem to be talking past each other, and I'm fast reaching the point where the game doesn't really look like it's worth the candle. I agree to an extent with Brad Spangler's latest, but not so much that I don't want to get a few last licks in before giving it up. So:

"Technically, the platform IS the product," writes Dr. Milsted. "The candidates are the salespeople -- along with the other promoters in the party."

Bill Woolsey -- who has experience as a Libertarian actually elected to office -- says "I would think about how the party platform influences the recruitment of candidates."

And Tim West is more blunt: "Until the LP's most self damaging crap is gone, you CANT have the best candidates for LP races becuase they will look at the turd that is our current platform and correctly assess that the Party's own document will be used against them. This simplay canno[t] continue if the LP is going to be effective politically."

Each of them had more to say than that, of course. That's why I included a link. I'm just summarizing.

More to the point, though, I'd like to quote Tim again: "In other words, it's not a all-or nothing process." By which he means, there's more than just the platform. There's a set of interrelated issues at stake. I can agree with that.

Instead of taking it from the top and re-hashing the whole argument, I'm going to just throw out some assertions and see what rings true:

1) One problem with the platform is that it's the platform of an ideological party rather than a political party. In a European-style parliamentary democracy, that would not be an insuperable barrier to success, since the party would get some influence via proportional representation. Call it 1-2% in the legislatures. Not enough to simply pass the platform plank, but enough to wield some influence in coalition with other parties on various issues, and to extract policy compromises for throwing in with coalitions to fill the executive branch ministries. Of course, we don't have, and aren't likely to get, a European-style parliamentary system here in the US any time soon, so the LRC folks may have a point. Why not a platform more fitted to a party that has to compete in "first past the post" races?

2) On the other hand, the whole thing strikes me as similar to putting a whole lot of money into trying to rebuild a 1971 Dodge Dart and make it into a 2004 Lexus. Why not just go out and buy a Lexus, or build one from a kit or something instead of trying to retrofit an obviously unsuitable vehicle?

3) On the third hand, let's be honest with ourselves. Even if the LP's entire platform was trashed and built anew tomorrow, and even if that platform incorporated every change that you felt was desirable, it would be at least another 35 years before anyone noticed. For better or for worse, the LP has had more than three decades to become identified (and often mis-identified) in the public mind with certain things. The platform could be changed to mandate the death penalty for marijuana possession tomorrow and in 2016 most Americans would still hear the words "Libertarian Party" and think "drug legalization." Or, just as likely, "Lyndon LaRouche."

4) On the fourth hand (I'm starting to feel like Shiva here), the fact is that Libertarian candidates can and do win elections, the existing platform notwithstanding. Not enough elections, but it's worth considering that a more productive approach than quibbling over the platform might be to study and emulate what those candidates are doing to get elected (and, often, re-elected). Because, to be honest, if the GOP and Democratic platforms were trotted out as attack pieces in campaigns, they'd be devastating too. The LP platform is not especially inferior (they say "Moon Treaty," I say "Human Cloning," and that guy in the corner says "Single-Payer Healthcare") -- it's just an easy target because candidates allow themselves to be identified with it instead of creating their own public images.

But you know, all of the stuff above will sort itself out, or it won't. I don't think y'all at LRC are seeing the big picture, but I could be wrong. The important thing is that you're questioning the orthodoxy, and that's the first step to arriving at answers.

During my brief tenure as an alternate on the Libertarian National Committee, I undertook to be "champion" of one of the Strategic Plan items. I think it was #19, and it was the dictum "there are no silver bullets." There weren't any then, and there aren't any now. Whether or not the LP can be reformed and made into a viable political party is an open question, but if there are any correct answers to that question, rest assured that there are several correct answers, and all of them necessary to your proposed reform. Good luck. A major reason for my decision to leave the LP was my personal conclusion that it wasn't ready to get serious about finding those answers yet. If you're able to inspire it to get serious, you'll have my everlasting support, my personal gratitude and, just possibly, my participation. Good luck.

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