So, today Third Party Watch decided to discuss the three "serious" candidates for the Libertarian nomination for President in 2008.
Well, first off, there are more than three announced candidates for the LP nod. Politics1.com has a list of the announced and probable candidates from every political party. Granted, it's a little behind the times- Michael Badnarik, for one, has announced his retirement from political candidacy- but it shows a much longer list than three people.
The three "serious" candidates were named only by last name: Kubby, Phillies, Smith. My reaction was, "Smith who? And where's Stanhope?" That says a lot both about the kind of people who seek the LP nod and the LP that will do the nodding.
More on that later, though. The focus of the replies to the topic wasn't on specific candidates; it was on whether or not the LP should run a Presidential campaign at all.
I've been on both sides of that discussion over the past few years. After my 2006 run for the legislature, I've settled on the "pro" side. Not only should the Libertarian Party nominate a candidate for President, but that person should be the most active, most electable, and best supported person in our entire party.
In 2006 in Texas the Libertarian Party had a much better than average year, Michael Badnarik notwithstanding. Several candidates broke the 25% mark in two-way races, including a candidate for Brazos County Commissioner Pct. 9 who got over 37% of the vote. We did similarly well in three-way races, doubling the average from past years. Unfortunately, the person on top of our ballot- James Werner, the candidate for governor, got 0.6% of the vote, third worst in Texas LP history.
The key point here is that the one race voters paid attention to was the gubernatorial race- the race with two Republicans (Rick Perry with the nomination, Carole Keeton Rylander as an independent), a Democrat (Chris Bell) and a Jewish rockstar and mystery author (Kinky Friedman). The US Senate race got attention an order of magnitude less, especially since it was regarded as Kay Bailey Hutchinson's re-coronation. (Our active candidate in that race got 2.6% of the vote, a Texas record.) All the other races got little or no media or voter attention by comparison.
The Libertarian Party has very limited resources to work with and a large number of candidates, active and paper alike, for office. I oppose the viewpoint that the LP is supposed to be an educational organization- our purpose is to ELECT people, not to spout dogma at them that they'll disregard anyway- but every political movement needs to advertise. The office at the top of the ballot is the one office where media attention is almost guaranteed- and the one place where we can, and must, concentrate our efforts to promote the party's candidates as a whole.
And every four years one office is on top of the ballot in all fifty states.
That said, I still believe the LP's main push should be to get people elected to local partisan offices- county/parish/township office, state legislatures, things like that. The lower the office, the better our chances are- indeed, all our elected party members are in lower offices for just that reason. The only federal or statewide office the Libertarian Party should put any serious money or effort into should be the Presidential race- because it represents our best chance at publicity, publicity which will carry over to every other candidate in the party.
The key, however, is to select the right Libertarian candidate. First and foremost, the candidate should be someone that the media will pay attention to despite itself- if we can get a celebrity, we should and must. Second, the candidate must be acceptable to the vast united majority of Libertarians- he or she should be neither a purist/anarchist nor a carpetbagger seeking the LP's ballot access while rejecting its principles. Third, the candidate should not be a Corn Flake- read Friday's post for an explanation there. Finally- and this mistake I made myself in running for office- the candidate must give voters some reason OTHER than internal party activism to support him. The candidate must have some applicable real-world experience.
In 2004 we passed over two minor celebrities, one of whom was moderate but sound on the issues, in favor of the most ideologically pure candidate... who turned out to be a Corn Flake upon closer examination. (Granted, the other minor celebrity was also a Corn Flake, as he has since demonstrated with his income-tax-conspiracy-theory documentary Freedom to Fascism.) By making this choice, we all but guaranteed ourselves the same lackluster results from years previous, where the closest thing we could get to a celebrity was an investment banking author.
So, what do we have to choose from this year? Let's look at the Politics1 list:
LANCE BROWN (California) - Well, it's early in the campaign season, but it's difficult to call a candidate whose political blog hasn't been updated in months, and which has little or no mention of his own campaign activities, a serious candidate. His biography touts his web site creation (danger!), his party activism (warning!), and his regular appearances on a public access TV show (RED ALERT! RED ALERT!) Brown may be a serious candidate, but as things stand he's not a viable one.
JIM BURNS (Nevada) - Web site parked. Former Nevada state LP chair. "Frequent candidate." Definitely not viable as things stand, especially since he doesn't seem to have done much to promote his candidacy.
GENE CHAPMAN (Texas) - Chapman seeks to be a fusion candidate- Libertarian, Constitution, Reform, and many other parties. That probably isn't why Politics1 doesn't list him as a candidate. No, the reason why is more likely this class-action lawsuit claiming that the federal government has established communist atheism as the national religion. Furthermore, although Chapman refuses to pay income or property taxes on the grounds that both constitute slavery, he's proud of his efforts to increase regulation on interstate trucking to lower the number of hours truckers are on the road. I'll keep an eye on this lunatic- he's on the fast track to Corn Flakery.
DAVE HOLLIST (California) - You again, Dave? Speak of the Corn Flake. Be seeing you Friday, I suspect...
STEVE KUBBY (California) - Steve won't be the first convicted felon to run for the Presidency, nor even for the LP Presidential nomination. (Income tax evasion how-to author Irwin Schiff ran in 1996.) Kubby was convicted on marijuana possession- he's a medical marijuana user, and any campaign he runs will end up focused on that issue whatever his wishes. Kubby's entirely unknown outside the marijuana-legalization movement. That said, he's got a website up and current with a diverse set of positions... all of which are just barely moderated away from the most extreme purist/anarchist Libertarian positions. He's set to get out his base, and I'd call him the frontrunner at this stage, but after the nomination he'd be next to useless.
ROBERT MILNES (New Jersey) - Another fusion candidate, Milnes seeks a merger of the Libertarian and Green Parties. Considering that on economic issues the two parties are wholly incompatible, I suspect this will be an uphill climb, put mildly. Milnes refers to himself as a "progressive," which certainly won't endear himself to Libertarian voters. Positions calling for what amounts to apartheid for native Americans, a 50% hiring quota for women, and an apparent allergy to paragraphing demonstrate he's got even bigger problems than bringing Libertarians and Greens together.
GEORGE PHILLIES (Massachusetts) - Like a certain other person from Massachusetts, Phillies is obnoxious and disliked- at least according to a substantial number of Libertarians. He's made multiple failed runs for national LP party leadership, has run twice for Congress and US Senate with the usual results, but hasn't been elected to anything before. Furthermore, he's a college professor with zero real world political experience and zero name recognition outside the Libertarian movement. That said, he has a platform that is both moderate and principled- one which, if held by a better candidate, could actually make inroads among the electorate. On platform alone Phillies would be my choice, but a platform is much less important than sheer public visibility- and Phillies is Mr. Cellophane.
CHRISTINE SMITH (Colorado) - "Who?" Author of a book about John Denver, operator of a couple of charities, and public activist. Very much not a celebrity. Her platform is mainly anarchist, with only a token concession to incrementalism- she acknowledges that her changes will take time, but pledges to keep fighting for them. She's also a goldbug- she calls for the abolition of the Federal Reserve, repeal of all taxes on gold and silver, and competing currencies. Of the three frontrunners listed by Third Party Watch, she's beyond all doubt the worst of the lot- no visibility, unelectable platform, and definite Corn Flake potential.
DOUG STANHOPE (Arizona) - The closest thing the Libertarian field has to a celebrity. Stanhope is a professional comedian who has made a few appearances on Comedy Central. Unfortunately, his most famous gig is as a co-host for a couple Girls Gone Wild videoes. Furthermore, his website doesn't really take running for office very seriously at all. It's hard to blame him for that- a lot of what goes into politics is absurd- but it doesn't make him look good as a prospective nominee. This may change once he begins an active campaign, though. His minor celebrity will at least get him through the media's door, but whether or not the media will let him talk about anything other than his comedy career is an open question.
In conclusion, as yet we really don't have a viable candidate even seeking the LP nomination. I have no firm choice as yet, but I favor (in this order) Stanhope, then Phillies, then Kubby, then maybe Smith, and None of the Above beyond that.
Yes, we need a strong Libertarian Prez candidate. Pity we don't have one yet.