Monday, April 11, 2005

Reform school, redux

I don't know whether to ascribe it to a failure of animadversion on my part, or to tunnel vision on theirs, or perhaps to something completely different, but the guys at the Libertarian Reform Caucus seem to have badly misunderstood my point in this post.

"Tom Knapp," writes Carl Milsted, "... seems to think that the main thing we need to do is improve our sales pitch."

Well, no. As Dr. Milsted points out, there's no dearth of pitch assistance in the movement -- Advocates for Self-Government and other groups, both in and out of the Libertarian Party, have been honing presentation styles for years.

I agree with the LRC that the problem isn't the pitch, except in the narrow sense that libertarians need to learn to sell benefits instead of features. What I disagree with the LRC on is what the product line should be.

The LRC is, to my mind, still trapped in an unsupportable proposition: that the products to be sold are the party's ideology and the party itself -- that the key to success is selling "membership" in an organization based on personal identification with that organization's ideology.

I disagree. To me, a party is the store and the platform planks are its aisles. While I don't have a problem with putting a more welcoming sign out front, widening the aisles a bit and sprucing the place up so that it's a more congenial place to shop -- all of those things are good ideas -- I believe that the product line, rightly understood, is a party's candidates. The widest aisles and the nicest sign won't do the LP a bit of good until it learns to recruit, promote and support candidates who can consistently win election and re-election to, and promotion in, public office. Such candidates will bring people into the store, and some of those people will be glad to help widen the aisles and sweep the floors as "members." But dragging them into a store with nothing saleable on the shelves is pointless. They have one look around, and then they're off down the street to stores which offer them electable candidates.

That's the nut of my disagreement with LRC's approach. I think that a reform program focusing on platform and membership recruitment is doomed to fail. I do, however, wish LRC well.

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