Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On Testicular Fortitude

Voter: Really, I’m a Libertarian at heart.
David Bergland: Well, when it reaches your balls, give me a call.

That's from a post at Positive Liberty by Jim Babka of Downsize DC. Best. LP. Quote. Ever.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking: Knapp's gonna give Babka what for over his treatment of the Boston Tea Party and Charles Jay's excoriation of Barr.

Nope. I want to talk about that, but not in precisely the way you might think.

It's true that I've sworn off my support for the Barr campaign, and that I've described Barr's candidacy as Dixiecrat 2008, and I stand by that characterization. Having already rhetorically positioned Barr alongside Strom Thurmond, George Wallace and Lester Maddox, I didn't feel any great need to weigh in on his Jesse Helms eulogy. Coals to Newcastle and all that.

And I do want to respond briefly to Babka on two points, so let's get that out of the way:

I don't know if this party will have their candidate on a single ballot. They appear to exist entirely for unherdable cats, hell-bent on criticizing the LP.

As it happens, the Boston Tea Party's presidential ticket is on the ballot in Colorado, will be on the ballot in Florida and Guam, and will likely manage several other states (we're looking at possibles in Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and New Jersey). We've got nine state affiliates with more organizing right now. We got started too late this year to run down-ticket slates of our own, but we're endorsing and aiding a number of independents and candidates of other parties who in turn endorse our platform. One prospective endorsee, an LP candidate, just emailed me to mention that she had received a campaign contribution just from asking for our endorsement.

Ultimately, we're not anti-Libertarian Party ... we're pro-libertarian. Conditions are such that that may be less than perfectly clear to all right now, but we'll get there.

I'm not going to apologize for Charles Jay's critique. He said some things that needed to be said -- not just because they're true, but because at this point in its existence, the Boston Tea Party very much needs to explain itself to the rest of the freedom movement. We need our fellow libertarians to understand why we're doing what we're doing.

Nonetheless, I don't think that Jim's criticism is entirely unjustified. So far, the BTP's existence and career as a party has been closely tied to various critiques of the LP. That's just a fact. There's no disputing it and I'm not going to try.

Babka refers to the BTP as a "spin-off" -- but I think maybe he's giving us too much credit. We haven't really spun off yet. Rather, we've remained, to a large degree, in the LP's orbit. Our criticisms have so far largely been leveled at the LP and its presidential candidate rather than at the status quo parties and their candidates. On the positive side, we've been happy to endorse LP candidates who meet our standards.

This election cycle is the adolescence of the Boston Tea Party.

In our infancy (from 2006 to earlier this year) we were half-in, half-out of the LP. I offered a resolution at the BTP's organizational convention which would have constituted it as an internal caucus of the LP. That resolution was rejected by the members, but we didn't go in the opposite direction that year, either.

This year, we've decided to start doing the things a "real" political party does. We've nominated candidates for office and we're working to put those candidates on the ballot. We're chartering state affiliates so that we can hit the ground running in 2010 with congressional and state legislative slates. We're establishing recruitment efforts that stand on their own and don't rely on the internal LP "dissatisfaction grapevine."

Between now and 2012, I expect that the BTP will grow into young adulthood, establish itself as a proven, permanent third party ... and of course make its best attempt to do better than other third parties have done and break into "the big leagues."

The reality is that there are now two libertarian political parties on America's electoral landscape, and that (in certain respects at least) the newer one is coming up fast in the older one's rearview mirror.

Breaking up is hard to do ... but perhaps it needn't be as painful as we're making it. Can we just be friends? OK, well, maybe not, at least for the three months and change while the LP conducts its "great experiment" and the BTP embarks on its "maiden voyage." But ...

Odds are that there will always be cross-traffic between the LP and the BTP as angry or discontented libertarians of one seek expression in the other (or, as is now the case, participate in both). It's a safe bet that the two parties will bring different approaches to the longstanding and vexing problem of electing candidates to office. Hopefully as time goes on, the two parties will learn to, well, learn, from each others' mistakes and from each others' successes instead of just going at each other.

I'm not going to promise to go easy on Bob Barr. The LP made that bed, and now it (we -- I'm still an LP member and candidate) gets to lie in it. But I can, and do, promise you that I'll do my best as a member of the Boston Tea Party to make that party about more than internecine freedom movement conflicts. We have bigger game to hunt, and we're just now getting our boots on.

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