National Libertarian Strategy
Advancing Local Organization
WHAT SHOULD WE DO OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS?--Advice from 1998.
This missive is addressed primarily to supporters of the local-organization approach to advancing the Libertarian Party. My general intent is to consider where we are and what we ought to be doing. You are welcome to pass my words on as you see fit. [I'm a college professor. I'm long winded. My private employer pays me to be long winded. It's almost in my job description.]
In my opinion, the current situation is that we have (at least) three schools of thought as to how the Libertarian Party may be advanced effectively.
First, we have the local-organization/grass roots approach, associated with Gene Cisewski's candidacy at the 1998 national convention, which says that we build from the precinct level upwards.
Second, we have the big-national-club approach, associated with the Unified Membership Plan, Project Archimedes, and the candidacy of David Bergland at the 1998 national convention, which says that a large national organization will supply the momentum driving all other positive results.
Third, we have the moral education, don't-vote-it-only-encourages-them school, represented for example by the Arizona State University Student group, Ayn Rand's critique of the Libertarian Party, and Claire Wolfe's "101 Things to Do..." book, which in essence says that political action will fail, but moral education and private organization to ignore the state will succeed.
In my opinion, these approaches have yet to demonstrate their validity. I'm going to emphasize the negative here:
First, we did have the interesting success in Pennsylvania, electing 38 of 74 candidates. We have started to elect Libertarians to local office on an increasing scale. However, it has not yet been clearly shown that these successes are sustainable, can be developed to a larger scale, or will allow us to build up through to the Federal level. Some years ago, the New Hampshire Libertarian Party did elect legislators. As time went on, their numbers were whittled down to zero. In order to show that, e.g., the PA successes are meaningful, we need to show escalating numbers of elected candidates, transferability to other states, and resilience in the face of counterattacks by the other major parties.
Second, we do have a variety of promises about the proposed Operation Archimedes. Our party did grow in 1998, but that growth has substantially decelerated since the national convention. The promise was that the large- scale operation would be funded by un-named libertarian billionaires and the like; clearly, internal fundraising cannot support the needed scale of operations. While there are positive indications at some level, to reach 100,000 members in 18 months we would need to grow at close to 4000 members per month, not the 2000 members in 5 months we appeared to have seen. On the other hand, at least we are growing. There are people who will argue that growth will not solve our problems, but rather few of them will argue that shrinkage is better.
Third, if one believes that one should not vote, and proceed by private non- state operations, then one must build up those non-governmental operations. The Separation of School and State programs are growing, but it is not clear that is being done by Libertarians as much as by various religious minorities.
So, what should we do, if we are supporters of local organization?
SHOULD WE RUN A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN 2000?
There are a variety of objective consequences of having a multicandidate race for President.
Positive features of running a candidate:
1. Publicity: If the LP has several candidates, they can debate. If the debate is positive in tone, with verbal shots being targeted at the other parties, there is an opportunity to earn media coverage. In 1996 in Massachusetts, the Browne-Schiff-Tompkins debate at our state convention was carried by New England Cable News; this was the debate in MA in '96 featuring Libertarians. Debates are an opportunity to advertise our party and its ideas, for free. In some states, candidates get free fliers covering their positions: no candidates means no coverage.
2. Practice: Someday, we will want to run a Presidential candidate. Once many strong local and interest group organizations have been brought into existence, a *good* Presidential campaign will serve to fill in the gaps between the thousand points of light, just as the Goldwater campaign brought out of the woodwork thousands of Republican conservatives who were already activated but thought that they were a tiny minority. We will run good candidates: People of impeccable credentials. People not necessarily the tall old white males run by the other major parties.
Before we can run that candidate, we will have to get her on the ballot as the Libertarian. That will require an organization, funding, and -- realistically speaking -- a couple of practice runs. If we want to run someone for real in 2012, 2000 is not too early to start learning how it's done.
3. Money: If we have our candidate on the Federal ballot, we can steer how that campaign is run. We can make sure that money is spent on advertising the Libertarian Party, and on activities that help local candidates, and not on expensive consulting activities. John Famularo has emphasized that having local people on the ballot runs up the vote totals for people higher on the ballot. I haven't seen a good analysis of the reverse effect. Does having, e.g., a good Congressional campaign build candidates further down the ballot? I ran a pretty decent campaign by Libertarian standards, but there were no Libertarians down-ballot of me to help.
4. Book: To their credit, Dave Bergland and Harry Browne have shown that a good candidate may well have an associated book, an idea traceable back to Barry Goldwater "The Conscience of a Conservative". In my opinion, if we are to run a candidate, she is going to need a good book that she -- nominally -- wrote. When her supporters fill in the gap in the writing process, we should do it the right way , the way Barry and Dave did: that book should be in paperback, cheap, and widely available from coast to coast. Ideally, the money goes to a party or PAC, not to the personal income of the candidate. Win or lose, writing *The Book* will put out another book supporting the Libertarian ideal.
5. Candidate familiarity: In a party like ours, one way to stake a claim on the 2004 nomination is to run an AD 2000 campaign, non-divisively, but in a way that advertises the candidate and our positions. People will prefer to vote for the familiar.
Negative Features of running a Presidential candidate:
1. Money: The Browne campaign is trying to soak up 1.5 million dollars in campaign funds for a Presidential race. Realistically speaking, that's a substantial part of the total money that will be available to all Libertarian candidates in 2000; it's something like 20 times the funds that all of our Congressional candidates spent this year. $1.5 million would have let every one of our Congressional candidates run a radio campaign, distribute press releases, issue bumper stickers,... all advancing the theme "Vote Libertarian!" The 1.5 million will instead go into a campaign to put on the ballot a Libertarian candidate for a campaign that is exceedingly unlikely to elect a Libertarian to office and that, in my opinion, probably will not be involved in debates with other major candidates.
Running a second Presidential candidate, if we all put our efforts into it, would soak up a similar amount of money. I expect that our campaign would get a far higher yield on each dollar than will its opponents, for well known reasons. Almost all of us have other jobs, and do not need to salary ourselves. Also, if successful, we get the benefits noted above. However, the second campaign will soak up the money.
2. Lack of Consistency: If you believe that local organization is the key to victory, why are you striving to control the central office? If our side wins outside the beltway, the central office will fall into our hands, just as Peking fell to Mao Tse-Tsung after Mao controlled the countryside. Our position is that Libertarian Victory will arise from local campaigns from less- than-statewide office. If we believe our own message, we will seek to create that success by building local organizations from coast to coast, not by contesting possession of the national candidate slot. Yes, possession of that candidacy would advance our position, but our creed is the primacy of local success, not the primacy of democratic centralism.
3. Distraction: The effort we put into running, say, Gail Lightfoot or Barbara Goushaw for President and Vice President is effort we do not invest in developing local organizations. There are only so many of us; the number of hours in a week defines a zero-sum game. Running someone for President, more or less successfully, means that we do not put much time into developing local candidates.
That zero-sum game was a real limit on my campaign. Worcester has a very shallow Libertarian organization. My time went into my campaign, leaving me no time to contribute to such things as developing candidates down-ballot. My intent was to develop the Party, not especially to elect me, but I didn't feel I was very successful at Party development. I think I did establish that we run candidates who can be taken seriously. My advertising did support the LP as a whole, not me; the ads said "For more of the same, Vote Democratic. For no change, vote Republican. For Real Change, Vote Libertarian!" while the bumper stickers were Phillies for Congress VOTE LIBERTARIAN. However, that's a fairly subtle effort, especially when there is no reinforcement from other candidates.
4. "You Got Your Wish": The Bergland camp wants the national nomination and the national office. Give them their wish. Let them keep their wish, and attempt to implement Operation Archimedes, and use their 100,000 Libertarians to advance the cuase of Liberty.. They absolutely must have the national office to try their approach; we can use it, but we don't need it to implement our methods. Except at the most refined purist levels, the Bergland camp does not appear to be doing things that will damage the Libertarian message for later campaigns, so any damage done is secondary. For example, they soak up a lot of money and activist time.
Let them succeed or fail, but don't forget to remind the world of their promises. The Harry Browne campaign had its 1996 promises in its massive New Hampshire advertising campaign, which they neglected to broadcast; reminders of that strike familiar chords in NH activist groups. Further promises will emplace similar chords, to our long-term advantage. It will be challenging to hide a failure of Project Archimedes through the 2000 NatCon, if by some mischance it proves not to be successful.
Failing to contest their ownership of the national office slows us, because our ideas need as much money as theirs does, but it does not stop us from advancing. (On the other hand, lack of the national office would shut down their efforts.) We don't practice Democratic Centralism. The other faction cannot keep us from developing our own resources to put our own plans into operation.
WHAT SHOULD WE DEVELOP?
*The local development/activist mobilization formula needs development and implementation.* This implementation counts twice. First, by demonstrating that our answer works, we are showing that we have the right answer. Second, by implementing our scheme, we are developing new activists who will be on our side at the next national convention. It was apparent at the 1998 NatCom that states in which Gene Cisewski had worked actively were prepared to support him, or to support someone else with his theme and blessing. These were states which had been given his "local development/local candidates" schemes, and that had success from following his formulae.
To be convincing, the formula needs to be separated from the original author, and shown to be successful regardless of which competent person is attempting to implement it. This is not a trivial problem, but it is soluble. Every college professor who has written a textbook, so that students can learn from the book rather than from listening to his lectures, has pulled it off.
I do hear some gaps in the program. I have not heard an extremely effective method of converting Libertarian registered voters into Libertarian Activists. I have been working on the idea that people will start coming out of the woodwork when they hear that we are alive and running candidates; I have developed some new contacts this way. However, it's going to be hard in Massachusetts to shows this works, because in Massachusetts our candidate density is pretty low.
*The Book*, as described above, is another potentially useful activity.
*Electronic Outreach.* The World Wide Web is becoming increasingly important in outreach. There is some evidence that the Ventura Governor's campaign was in significant part based on web-based advertising for reaching young people. Young people may not vote as much, but remember: many people only choose a party to support once or twice in their whole life. Let's try to make them choose our party, not the other one.
The "grass roots development" group needs a good set of web pages. We are not practicing centralism, and don't have the budget for a newsletter (even if we knew where to send it); the internet replaces these parts of a possible organization. When we have implemented and beta-tested a formula for local development, written a book or parts of a book, or tabulated supporting material, a good set of web pages become important as an outreach tool. (You can find my campaign pages, such as they were, at http://www.excell.net/ phillies, and my organization web pages -- I'm not a graphics expert -- at http://www.pobox.com/~cmlc.)
*Money*: Our own organization has lagged a bit. On the other side, the Operation Archimedes members aren't pouring in, yet. However, there are points at which local people developing local groups could benefit from modest cash infusions, for example for mailing postcards to local party registrants. Some of us can cover that out of pocket, but others of us are cash-limited, and could use the support. It may be as effective to have a list of people and candidates to which our potential donors could send their money.
1998 -- SUCCESS OR FAILURE?
Across the USA, we had successes and failures at the local level. We again have a State Legislator! We have various local officials, some new.
There are people complaining that once again we ran 160 people for U.S. Congress, almost all of whom got 1-2% of the vote, the same as two years ago, so that there has been no progress. Now, I looked at vote totals from some districts, and had the impression that we have in fact crept up in percentage relative to two years ago. Perhaps I'm wrong; I did not do a full analysis. (In my own district, in 1996 we had a Presidential race; in 1998 we had a Congressional race. Roughly speaking, I doubled the % of the Browne-Jorgenson ticket. I have a very weak district within Massachusetts.) However, let's be realistic here. This year, we had about 2 dozen candidates who ever filed with the Federal Elections Commission, and about six of us got close to $10,000 spending in the campaign. The rest -- and it was great you folks were out there, Standing Up for Liberty! -- did about what we did two years back, and got the same results as we did a few years back, or perhaps a bit better. For 2000, we need more candidates who are prepared to advance to the next level in their campaigning efforts, the level of raising at least some money.
By the AD 2000 National convention -- indeed, by late 1999 -- the success or failure of Project Archimedes will have become apparent. Observe that the most recent EMail statement of Steve Dasbach to the LPUS list, in discussing how many Americans will join the LPUS, suddenly includes the statement that we will have 100,000 members *if resources are available*. That qualification has not, to my recollection, been heard *prominently* before; instead, we heard promises about Libertarian billionaires who would fund all this. To my ear, we are hearing the first movement in the Bergland camp, retreating from their promises at the 1998 national convention that we will reach 100,000 members by July 2000.
Several state and local parties, such as some groups in California, have launched similar drives, one way or the other. The California party, I am told, has been doing a mail program parallel to plans for Project Archimedes. I am told that you can get people to put up their $25 or $35, but that efforts to convert the recruits into donors or activists have not I am told been remarkably successful.
On the other coast, the leadership of the Massachusetts Party has spent the last half-decade pushing the notion that we should get major party status, which makes ballot access vastly more difficult, but which puts "Libertarian" on the Motor Voter form, so that more people will Register Libertarian! The reason to want people to register Libertarian is that once we have their names we can turn them into donors and volunteers. Does this approach work? We have about 8000 registered Libertarians in the state, 1200 in my Congressional District. Our statewide and Congressional races this year had one effort to contact these people systematically for support -- mine. I can report that the effort was almost entirely unsuccessful; the return on the mailing was about 0.3%. I did a similar mailing for my Senate Campaign in 1996. That mailing was no more successful. Libertarian Registrants are not -- at the present time, using current approaches -- anything other than Registrants, at least not in Massachusetts.
A method for mobilizing registrants and low-activitiy members would be most useful.
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