Monday, December 11, 2006

Libertarians for President: Why, Then Who?

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.

9 comments:

KMacK said...

Sorry to say, Forget the Presidency! First, build a constituency locally. Find someone who is a Pragmatist, not an Idealogue; someone who is willing to work locally and get the idea of Libertarianism out of the "Trail-Mix Party" position it is in now. IF someone is running for office, that person isn't going to run on with a bunch of loosely wrapped types who not only don't have a clue, but don't have a quarter to buy one.
The Libertarian Party has to change its image as a Party of "Fruits, Nuts, and Flakes" and appear as a realistic party, not a woo-woo convention. That gets started by people taking the little, local jobs, and showing Libertarianism is more than a collection of political oddballs.
The people look (when they bother) to see what somebody has done, not what they plan to do. We've all been scammed too often to trust promises made in a Political Campaign--ever! Let one's actions speak; and that means going for the local stuff and building a reputation for honesty and hard work; they will work miracles for the currently dis-interested electorate who see only voting for the lesser of two evils as their only option.
I'm talking about a national commitment by Libertarians to prove their mettle as county board members, and local political office holders who live by what they say, not by party Hype. IF the Libertarian Party can do that, they have a chance a the Presidency in perhaps twenty years, after proving themselves.
That will take some doing.

Gau said...

Well...let me put it this way. I've been reading your livejournal for almost a year now. In addition, I've read this blog, and many links you've posted to. I still have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what the Libertarian Party stands for. (For the record, I'm somewhere in the moderately far-left range, and officially a Democrat, though I'm disappointed with current right-leanings in the Democratic party.)...so...perhaps you could explain what a Libertarian is? What the party stands for, if anything? (The U.S. Democratic Party suffers from a definite lack of obvious mission as well.) How IS the Libertarian Party more than a collection of political oddballs?

Anonymous said...

Kubby was never convicted of a felony and he has never been convicted of marijuana possession.

Phillies has run for congress and senate in the past, so the statement that the only thing he's ever done is run for LNC chair is incorrect.

Stanhope actually spent two seasons as the co-host of The Man Show, so he has made more than "a few" appearances.

You sure are loose with the facts.

Kris Overstreet said...

Well, oh courageous Anonymous- let's look at the facts.

First, I admit forgetting about Stanhope's run on the post-Kimmel Man Show. From what I understand, there are a lot of people who only wish they could forget.

Second, Steve Kubby was indeed convicted of possession of a controlled substance for peyote- mushrooms, not marijuana, so you're technically correct there. One juror held fast to hang all the marijuana counts at trial. He was further convicted of violating probation for fleeing to Canada rather than serve his time. The combined jail term for the two crimes was 180 days, of which he served less than half.

So yes, you're right in that he wasn't convicted on weed, but he is still a convicted felon.

Also, you've pointed out another issue I'd forgotten: Kubby has inoperable, potentially fatal cancer. Although said cancer is held in check by his use of marijuana, the fact remains that he is in questionable health at best- and health is a major concern for voters.

Finally, I stand corrected regarding Phillies as well; his runs were before my time in the LP. That said, I really wish he'd run for something local, instead of for Congress.

Anonymous said...

Gene Chapman isn't just Corn Flake material - he's a full-fledged nutcase who has even been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital for, of all things, trying to set himself on fire. See:

www.chapmanforpresident.blogspot.com

Thomas said...

Kris,

I seem to recall that the peyote charge was pressed as a misdemeanor, not a felony. As you say yourself, the total time of the sentence was 180 days. In most states, that sentence time is the dividing line between "misdemeanor" and "felony" definitions.

Beyond that, while Kubby is obviously not the most qualified possible candidate -- a former US president, vice president, governor, US Senator, US representative or victorious general could conceivably throw hat in ring -- he's by far the most qualified candidate who's so far declared or who seems likely to.

If you want a more qualified candidate, you'd probably be better off finding one and talking him or her into declaring and campaigning, than in jumping right on the "knock down the best man standing, and then piss and moan that everyone's lying down on the job" bandwagon.

Regards,
Tom Knapp

Kris Overstreet said...

Two points:

First, I was under the distinct impression that there is no such thing as misdemeanor controlled substance possession under federal law.

Second, to my view the experience and qualifications for office of Steve Kubby are not significantly greater than those of Doug Stanhope or George Phillies. I prefer Stanhope's chances of getting broad media attention, and I prefer Phillies' platform. I'm not ready to endorse or campaign for any of them yet, though- they all have significant liabilities, and thus far I've seen no sign any of them are able to deal with them.

Nigel Watt said...

I think George Phillies is just about the best candidate we can get. He's got experience running for office (and won his debates, even according to the mainstream media), he has credentials that could impress anyone (MIT-educated physics professor), and he seems to be very popular among his students. (As an Ivy League engineering student, for an introductory physics professor to be popular with his students takes a lot of real-world connection.)

Furthermore, calling James Werner a "paper candidate" is straight-up libel. The man got a lot of press, even in the very Libertarian-unfriendly Dallas Morning News.

Kris Overstreet said...

Nigel- I went by the LP Candidate Tracker, which lists James' campaign expenditures at $0. Texas Ethics Commission, on the other hand, says $4,000. In light of that, I'll edit the essay.