Monday, March 07, 2016

Nil Sine Troglodytarum?

Every four years, the Libertarian Party chooses a presidential candidate. And every four years a boatload of candidates show up looking for the party's presidential nomination. Some of those candidates are "serious" candidates, and some of them are, well, somewhat less "serious."

The $64 question for the people and organizations whose actions and events feed into the nomination process is: Which candidate is which kind of candidate? Which candidates should we pay attention to, invite to state party conventions and candidate debates, and otherwise offer a little bit of limelight (such as it is in LP circles) to?

Answers to that question range from "invite anyone who has declared his or her candidacy -- it's only fair to give everyone a look" to "invite only the candidates who meet some arbitrary set of standards we set" to "don't actually INVITE any of them, but if any do show up, give them a few minutes of speaking time and let whoever's interested set up candidate-centered events that don't get any kind of official recognition from our organization."

This year, at least one candidate has not been invited to the Colorado Libertarian Party's state convention (scheduled for this coming weekend). The non-invitation was not an oversight. It was an explicit decision by the Colorado LP's executive committee. Not only did they agree not to invite Austin Petersen, they agreed to, insofar as their official capacities are concerned, ignore him.

Here's a story on the non-invitation. Here's another.

I'm skeptical of the claim in the first story that "[t]his is the first time that a state Libertarian Party has refused to invite a Presidential candidate who has been recognized by the national party."

Why am I skeptical? Three reasons:

  1. "Recognized by the national party" isn't a very well-defined term. Every four years the Libertarian National Committee argues over which candidates will be listed on the web site and why. The criteria change over time, and there's almost always a minority of dissenters from those criteria.
  2. State parties have their own criteria for "recognition." For example, John McAfee was not invited to participate in last weekend's candidate debate at the North Carolina Libertarian Party's convention. Why? Because only the candidates listed on the ballot for tomorrow's presidential primary were invited, and McAfee declared too late to be on that ballot.
  3. This is the Libertarian Party's 12th presidential election cycle. Given 50 state parties, that would mean 600 state conventions over the years. The total is not actually that high because there haven't always been Libertarian Parties in all 50 states, but "several hundred" is a reasonable, if vague, estimate. While I haven't dug through archives to prove it, I'm reasonably certain that some state LPs did not invite Daniel Imperato to their state conventions in 2008, or Jeffrey Diket in 2004, or Charles Collins in 1996. And so on and so forth. I picked those three because I remember their names and recall that they did attend the national conventions in the years they ran; Collins made the debate stage, Diket received speaking time (and yelled at the delegates, live on C-SPAN, that they were baby-killers and didn't deserve to win), and I am pretty sure Imperato at least got the minimal nominating speech time in Denver. All of those would seem to me to constitute some reasonable minimum of "recognition by the national party."

The situation with Petersen is somewhat different.

To the extent that there's any real polling in this LP cycle -- e.g. the post-debate straw poll at the Alabama/Mississippi convention -- Petersen is currently in third place behind Gary Johnson and John McAfee, from a fairly large field (12 candidates now? Something like that).

Petersen has a background with the Libertarian Party (he worked at LPHQ circa 2008).

Petersen's campaign is registered with the Federal Elections Commission and, as of end-of-year 2015 reporting, claimed to have raised and spent more money than the other campaigns.

And Petersen's explicit published platform is, in my opinion, the second "most libertarian" after Darryl W. Perry's.

So, why doesn't Colorado want him?

Well, apparently the other Colorado LP board members agree with Caryn Ann Harlos that Petersen is not a legitimate candidate for the nomination because he openly repudiates the Non-Aggression Principle as codified in the LP's statement of principles.

Harlos believes that nominating Petersen would violate the statement of principles and would therefore, as an action of the national convention, be valid for appeal to the party's Judicial Committee. And she further believes that the LPCO treating Petersen as a legitimate candidate would be a violation of both the national bylaws and the state party's bylaws.

I agree with Harlos on the import and meaning of the Non-Aggression Principle and the statement of principles. I disagree with her legalistic interpretation of the national bylaws and believe that the delegates have the rightful power to allow Petersen's name to be placed into nomination, to listen to what he has to say, and to nominate or not nominate him.

But where the invitation is concerned, hey -- who the Colorado LP invites to its convention is the Colorado LP's business and no one else's.

And I think there's a good case that Petersen falls into the same category as Imperato, Diket, Collins et. al, even though he's so far proven more persuasive and successful than any of them.

The category in question is: Troll. Per Wikipedia:

In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.

Does the definition fit the candidates I'm describing? Not perfectly. But better than that glove fit OJ Simpson's hand by a damn sight.

Until Austin Petersen decided to run for president as a Libertarian, he was an adamant "I Stand With Rand" Republican.

His campaign so far has been  a smirky, smarmy, patronizing, one-liner-laden troll stroll.

For example, last month, over the course of less than a week, he went from 1) claiming that unless contributions came in NOW NOW NOW, he might not be able to make it to several state conventions, to 2) claiming that he had offered to charter a private jet to take himself and two other candidates (McAfee and Johnson) to Washington for a debate (Johnson declined in favor of existing commmitments). Does anyone really believe he went from too broke for Greyhound to so flush he could charter a G-4 in a week?

So far as I can tell, Petersen's entire angle is using the LP's presidential nomination contest to build his name recognition and personal brand. He's not the first person to do that (we've had actual nominees do it), but his motivations and public statements make his motivations clear enough that it's at least understandable that one or more state LPs might decide "we're here for the real candidates, not the publicity-seeking also-rans."

Still, I do have to say that if I sat on a state LP's executive committee and the question came up, I'd vote to invite him to participate. To the extent that this campaign has "tiers" of "seriousness," while he may not be a former governor or an eccentric multi-millionaire, he's also not just some weirdo running around in an 1870s cavalry uniform and babbling about how children should be made to attend public hangings to l'arn them somethin'.

I doubt that Colorado's executive committee will reconsider its decision at this late date, but I hope they do. And if they don't, I kind of expect (and kind of hope) that Petersen will show up anyway and, if denied time on a stage with other candidates, just spend time talking one-on-one with likely national convention delegates.

And I guess that's my two cents on the subject.

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