Saturday, May 12, 2007

Striking the Root, part one

As I've previously disclosed, I recently resigned my position as campaign manager for Steve Kubby. My resignation was primarily a result of fallout from my comments about another candidate for the Libertarian Party's 2008 presidential nomination, Wayne Allyn Root.

In case I didn't make it clear enough the first time, I don't have a problem with this, and I don't think anyone else should, either. The correctness or incorrectness of my evaluation of Root wasn't and isn't the issue. The issue was that I acted unprofessionally. Kubby, the candidate I work for, wants to run a positive campaign -- a campaign based on how his issues positions, campaign approach, name recognition, etc., stack up against those of his opponents. What he doesn't want to do is get in a personality-oriented shit-slinging match with those opponents. To the extent that I'm thought of as speaking "for" Kubby, I did him a disservice and a clear dissociation of Kubby from that disservice was 100% the right thing to do.

Now, however, I'd like to get back to the subject of Wayne Root himself. I'm going to say some things that are not nearly as negative about him, but some prep is required for that. If you just can't bring yourself to wade through this whole post to get there, then at least go to the bottom and get to the reasonably positive part. But first:

I'm not going to apologize for "shooting first and asking questions later." For one thing, that's not what I did. I put a reasonable amount of research into the factual claims I made. For another, for better or worse, we need to realize that 99% of voters perceive candidates on the basis of the worst, rather than the best things that can be said about them if those things are even facially accurate.

Really. Play some word association or "first thing that comes to mind" games:

If I say the name "Joe Biden," the first word that comes to your mind is likely to be "plagiarism." It's unlikely that you (probably a reasonably informed American if you're reading a political blog), let alone the "average voter," are going to tell me how many terms Biden has served in the Senate (he's on his sixth), what important legislation he's been responsible for creating or sponsoring (the Violence Against Women Act, the creation of the office of "drug czar," the RAVE Act, etc.), or possibly even what state he represents (Delaware). Hell, I had to look up all of those things except the last one myself.

If I say the name "Bill Clinton," you're probably going to think about Monica Lewinsky before you think about welfare reform.

If I say the name "Newt Gingrich," you're probably going to remember that he filed for divorce from his wife while she was in the hospital with cancer, not that he led the charge for the "Contract With America."

Nixon went to China. Nixon ended the war in Vietnam. Say his name, and 99% of the people you say it to will remember Watergate first.

It's just natural, folks.

As Libertarians, we're in an even worse position than those guys. They have some negatives to get past, but they're much more likely than "third party" candidates to get exposure above and beyond those negatives so that they can pitch their resumes to the voters and try to get over the wall and into contention. "Third party" candidates are lucky to get noticed at all, and if their first exposure is negative, they're going to be dismissed, not kept in hand for further consideration.

My operating theory, at this point, is that the immediate perception Wayne Root creates among voters is going to be more negative than positive ... but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

It's not that I think gambling is bad (I've written a book on roulette myself). I don't even believe that most Americans think that gambling is bad. But I'd be willing to (ahem) bet that most Americans would immediately discount a gambling business figure as a political candidate. Why? Because even (maybe especially) those Americans who gamble regard "the house," the bookies, the touts and such as shady guys who make their living from rooking the gullible.

It's not that I object to infomercials or telemarketing, either. Not all infomercials are scams, and not all telemarketers are scammers. But, once again, I'd bet that "scam" is one of the first words that the average American would blurt out if asked to play word association and then given the word "infomercial" or "telemarketing."

As Libertarians, we concern ourselves a lot with what's right and wrong, and with what's factual or incorrect. Those things are important. But another thing that we don't concern ourselves with as much, and that's just as important, is what voters BELIEVE to be right, wrong, factual or incorrect. We have a very limited window of opportunity to convince voters that our positions, which go against everything they've been taught, are correct. If we start with a negative "knee-jerk first impression" factor, we're slamming that window down on our own fingers.

If I hadn't said the things I've said about Wayne Root, someone else would have. As a matter of fact, some others did. And we have to ask ourselves what will be said about Wayne Root if his campaign gains any momentum and starts attracting attention outside of the small circle of LP activists who are concerned with it right now. Will "the public" react positively or negatively to a Root campaign? Will the public's reaction be good, or bad, for the Libertarian Party and for the cause of freedom in America?

BUT ... here's the thing. I've heard from Wayne Root personally. We've emailed back and forth a couple of times. I'm more than willing to stipulate to a few things about him:

- That he's a "good guy" with lots of friends who like and trust him;

- That he's a family man who genuinely loves his wife and children;

- That he does have some important media credentials above and beyond the infomercial arena ...

... and I'm asking YOU to help ME take a harder look at Wayne Root and make sure that I'm not giving him an undeserved bad shake with respect to the respectability of his business dealings and the impression that those dealings might create with the voting public.

Harry Browne once said "it's easier for you to accuse my sister of being a hooker than for me to prove that I don't even have a sister." Harry was right, although I trust I've made the case above that perception is an important thing aside from the accuracy or inaccuracy of the in-depth factual basis for the perception ... something we need to take into account when evaluating candidates.

If I'm wrong about Wayne Root, I want to know. And if I'm convinced that I'm wrong about Wayne Root, I'll make my admission of error just as publicly as I made the error itself. I don't have any personal investment in slagging the guy. For me, this is all about what's good for the party and the movement.

Don't take this as an offer of future endorsement -- I disagree with Root on a number of key political issues, and also see many of his prior political associations and statements as negatives -- but I'll cover those in another post, and they're also "fair game" for his opponents. If I've been wrong about Root in the narrow area I've so far hit on, I owe it to him, and to you, to correct myself and to apologize.

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