THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 393, November 12, 2006
"Knowin' history's the KEY t'keepin' a FREE country."Lucy Kropotkin
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
Too many times in too many elections, most of us have felt forced to cast our votes for the lesser evil. It seems that all too often a candidate representing the greater good just didn't exist. Unfortunately, even when such candidates do exist, we find reasons not to vote for them. We worry that we're throwing our vote away because our preferred candidate can't win. We're convinced that voting for our preferred candidate will merely take votes away from the person we consider the lesser evil, allowing the greater evil to win. We're afraid that we might know enough about the candidates to vote wisely, but that too many others haven't even heard of "our" candidate.
During these mid-term elections, something different seems to be happening. Poll after poll shows that voters are disenchanted and disgusted with both major parties. It seems to be an ideal time for third party candidates to come into their own. But even as politics and our own impatience with the status quo seems to be opening things up to the notion of alternative parties and candidates, the mainstream media seems determined to hold the battleground to those we've come to know and loathe.
The case that brought all of this home to me involves an article published by The New York Times. In an article entitled "In Southwest, a Shifting Away from Party Ties," a longtime politically active Democrat in Arizona is quoted as saying "The independent vote is swinging everything," and "...the age of the independents is here." Singled out for special attention is Arizona's First Congressional District where a healthy percentage of voters are categorized as independents and where there is an active campaign by David Schlosser, a Libertarian candidate for Congress.
In The New York Times article, both Democrat and Republican campaign personnel are quoted. But despite the topic of the article, nowhere is there a quote fromor even a mention ofthe Libertarian candidate that has the major parties worried. With about a quarter of voters in the district calling themselves "independents," The New York Times points to a trend but neglects to mention where that trend itself could very well be pointing. This was such a glaring omission that Mr. Schlosser wrote directly to the Times reporter responsible.
In his Blog entry detailing his e-mail to the times, Schlosser wrote:
How could a bureau chief of the nation's paper of record write an entire story about independent and third-party voters in Arizona's 1st Congressional District without talking to the candidate who represents an alternative to the R and D candidates you did talk to?
Schlosser goes on to note:
I have earned more than 100 mentions in the state's broadcast and print news media in recent weeks and, on the Libertarian Party's national candidate tracker, rank in performance/success behind the party's former Presidential candidate [Michael Badnarik], who has raised more than $300,000 in TX10.
It seemed to me on reading this material that the alleged biases of the mainstream mediaor, in fact, its rumored complicity with the political status quowere no longer fuzzy or untargeted accusations. The basis for these charges was, instead, made abundantly clear. Because I consider the article by The New York Times to be just one of many with similar leanings (take a look at what Schlosser discovered when he checked into news coverage of other Arizona Congressional campaigns), I decided to ask several prominent Libertarian candidates for major public office for their take on the issue.
I spoke with David Schlosser himself about what was happening both within and without his campaign. Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian candidate for President in 2004 and currently a candidate for Congress in Texas' Tenth Congressional district offered his thoughts. And Ernest Hancock, a well known pro-freedom activist and Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State in Arizona added his own comments, including from a perspective based on a well-earned distrust of electronic voting machinery.
Lady Liberty: Everything I've been reading about the upcoming elections show that the voting public is disgusted with politicians of both parties. Has this helped your campaign? How?
David Schlosser: It helps to the extent that people are actively seeking an alternative to their incumbent. Unfortunately, a substantial percentage of the disgust you mention grows from the fact that most people think their only alternative is the "other" party. When people learn that there is a non-R/non-D alternative, most of them get very excited, and some of them get very confused. Some get angry because they believe a third party makes it harder to defeat the incumbent they dislike. A small percentage get frightened because the concept is so foreign.
Michael Badnarik: Public disgust with their elected representatives has helped considerably. When I ran for state representative in 2000 and 2002, I would hand people a campaign flyer, and they would eventually ask if was a Democrat or a Republican. When I told them I was a Libertarian, they would look at me with disgust, and hand back the flyer as if I had just tried to steal their retirement savings. Now, in 2006, when I hand people a flyer, they still ask the Democrat/Republican question. However, when I tell them I'm a Libertarian, their eyes light up with excitement, and they often ask for additional flyers so they can distribute them to friends and family members. They seem to be thrilled that they're not required to vote for "the lesser of two evils." Libertarians are no longer viewed as extremist wackos. Now we are frequently viewed as the consistent answer to a very serious problem. The question of how much it has helped my campaign can only be answered on November 7th.
Ernest Hancock: The libertarian message is understood far better now than before. But voting as a method to achieve freedom is seen as a waste of time by most that I talk to. The evolution of voting in my lifetime seems to have started with voting for ideas. Then voting became increasingly defensive as people began voting against "the other guy." Voting against the bad guy quickly evolved into voting for the lesser of evils, and now the voter's choices are so bad that they have no faith in the system. The media takes great pains in not mentioning the freedom alternatives, not because they are not popular, but because they are. Libertarians represent a very clear challenge to the idea supported by the powerful that "if people are not in control, then they are out of control." The lack of participation in the voting process is a representation of a population "out of control." There are those that simply wish to be left alone and there are those that just won't leave them alone. And when those with the power are full of fear of those insisting to simply be left alone we can see the full circle (that's why it is called "Revolution").
Lady Liberty: Twelve years ago, voters were unhappy with the Democrats and a Democrat Congress. They proceeded to elect a Republican majority. Now they appear about to vote back in to office those same folks they were so determined to vote out of office not so very long ago. Why do you believe voters swing back and forth between the major partiesboth of which obviously have serious problemsrather than looking for more palatable and pro-freedom alternatives?
Ernest Hancock: A constant flow of mind altering media has left individuals numb. If the store you are shopping in has nothing that interests you, then you leave. The same thing applies to the election process. Should there be a quality product available, it is definitely kept in the store room by those that operate the store. This is why we are far more effective on the street where the rules that are created to keep Liberty's Torch hidden don't apply.
Michael Badnarik: Primarily because they don't know that there are other options, or because blatant misconceptions about the Libertarian party prevents people from finding out more about our candidates. Fortunately, I think this is changing. Many people are stunned to discover that I ran for President of the United States in 2004. Most are horrified to learn that I was arrested trying to attend the presidential debates. People from every political stripe are upset with the obvious media bias, which was reinforced in Texas when Libertarian candidate, James Werner, was denied participation in the recent televised debate for Governor. The word is getting out, but again... we'll have to wait and see if the world of politics has reached the tipping point, yet.
David Schlosser: I believe that the American public is groomed and conditioned to accept a two-party system. Sadly, the mainstream news media and public schools perpetuate and more deeply ingrain this zero-sum game in the minds of voters. One of the most embarrassing manifestations of this mindset are the media and special-interest questionnaires that candidates receivethe questions and answers are invariably framed in the Republican/Democratic universe of solutions, which tragically limits the choices available to Americans. I believe voters choose from one or the other of the major parties because they do not have any real sense that there is an alternative, but that third parties have an excellent opportunity to pose a profound question to voters accustomed to consumerism: "When you go to the grocery store, the magazine rack, the car lot, the audio/video outlet, and the computer seller, you refuse to accept only two choices. Why do you accept it when you vote?"
Lady Liberty: The mainstream media (obviously) remains an obstacle to third party candidates of virtually any stripe. Do you have any conjecture as to why that might be? How has your campaign fought that bias?
Michael Badnarik: Coercion. I certainly can't prove it, but it wouldn't surprise me if the major media has been told that they will lose access to the "big candidates" if they give any serious time to third party candidates. Although, to be fair, all of the small, local stations were very good to me during my presidential campaign. The chances of George Bush or John Kerry walking in to do a face to face interview was close to zero. I wasn't a major party candidate, but I was a presidential candidate, and that is news in anyone's book. Similarly, I think the local media is starting to open up more to third party candidates. I'm proud to announce that I was endorsed by The Daily Texan, which is the student newspaper at the University of Texas.
We have been fighting this bias in Travis County for several years, actively working to create events that are considered newsworthy, and also doing our best to keep the media informed about our events with frequent press releases. If we organize and advertise one hundred events during the year, the media may give us coverage of five to ten. Certainly not as much as we'd like, but more than we've had in the past. Keep in mind that success breeds success. The more they report on this year, the more likely they will report on next year's events.
David Schlosser: Most reporters and their editors are conditioned to think only in two-party terms. They are busy and overworked, and unlikely to look for any information that isn't served to them. I've been fighting this bias by making sure every reporter and editor covering my race hears from me at least once a week, if not more often, and by aggressively confronting the deliberate ignorance of the Libertarian alternative to the major parties.
Since the media justifies its willful exclusion of third-party candidates by saying that third party candidates never win, I think it's important to pose this question: "If likelihood of victory is your qualification for media coverage, why do you bother to report on any race other than the small handful that are actually competitive?" In more than 95% of US Congress races, there is virtually no chance that any challenger will winand yet the media covers the two major-party candidates all of those races. The media has an obligation to report fairly on any candidate that has a statistical chance of winning (for example, a third-party Presidential candidate that earns ballot access in only a few states has no statistical chance of winning; however, a third-party Presidential candidate that earns ballot access in 45 states does have a statistical chance of winning and deserves coverage). Otherwise, the media chooses which candidates win before voters every go to the ballot box.
Ernest Hancock: I learned back in 1989 that the American media is nothing more than the public relations department for governments at every level. Taking a clear and controversial message straight to the people, via signage and the Internet as an example, has been by far the most effective method to challenge their unpopular positions.
Lady Liberty: Is there any closing statement you'd care to make as we approach election day?
Michael Badnarik: I want to thank my staff for working so hard, and continuing to support me for over a year. Campaigning is hard, grueling work and I'm honored that they think I'm worth the time and effort they have contributed. I would also like to thank all of my contributors from all fifty states. It's an awesome responsibility to know that people are contributing hard-earned money to a candidate that many of them won't be able to vote for. This is what motivates me to continue, even though the odds are not in our favor.
The other thing that keeps me going is reading about the hardships our Founding Fathers faced during the American Revolution. George Washington's army was never expected to survive, much less win against the most powerful army in the world. Fortunately for us, they kept struggling and won a surprising victory. No one expected me to win the presidential nomination, but hard work and persistence gave me an unexpected opportunity to lead the party.
My staff and I have been working hard and continue to struggle in the face of "unbeatable odds." We won't be the ones surprised on election day. The Democrats and Republicans will.
David Schlosser: No vote is wasted, and every vote matters. It is a sad statement on American democracy that the only way to demonstrate your withholding of consent to be governed by candidates you do not support is by not voting. Instead, seize the opportunity to withhold consent by writing in candidates you do support. Only when the candidates see a threat to their re-election will they begin to respond to the demands of their constituents.
Ernest Hancock: I have been far more satisfied with the progress here in Arizona than other activists have been with their states that I know around the country. I am of the opinion that Arizona sees vote totals as a side effect of our goal to reach as many individual minds as possible about the benefits of freedom. Support for libertarian campaigns and causes are a side effect of freedom education that continues to increase in Arizona. A freed mind is very difficult to enslave again.
Lady Liberty: Yes, every vote matters. Or does it? Electronic voting machines have now been added into the mix. With irregularities reported in crucial swing states like Ohio in 2004, and with demonstrated weaknesses in machine programming in Maryland, there's clearly an issue that must be addressed before winnersof any ideologycan be viewed as legitimate. Since you've been involved in the attempt to ensure vote counts from electronic machines are accurate, Mr. Hancock, what can you tell us about the current state of doubt where such machines are concerned?
Ernest Hancock: In 1994, I ran for Secretary of State on the very same rhetoric that I am using now 12 years later. The proof that there is computer vote fraud is all of the legislation passed to make finding it impossible. Here in Arizona it is illegal to ever compare any ballots after an election with what the computer reported. How much proof do you need?
On June 28, 2006, emergency legislation was passed 87 to 3 in the Arizona legislature and sign by the Governor that required 2% of randomly selected ballots to be counted by hand to be compared with the computer results. After a month passed with no effort to enact the legislation, I filed a Supreme Court Action to force the issue. The day before the Primary Election in mid-September (the last of the nation), it was "decided" that the manual count would not be performed. I'll bet the law will be ignored for the General Election as well. Oh, and none of this was covered by any of the media while they had full knowledge! Still voting?
In an article published in The Western Libertarian Alliance newsletter [click here to download a pdf file of the issue in question], Ernest Hancock says "Voting Never Brought Freedom to Anyone." He has a pretty solid basis for suggesting that such is the case. But it's utterly certain that even the most accurate of counts or the most secure of ballot methods won't make a real difference for anybody anywhere if we continue to vote for the lesser evil, or for the "other side" and what's really just a mirror image of the status quo. The key, of course, is that we have to know that we have other choices.
In Idaho, solidly Republican voting districts are now said to be "in doubt." Independent voters, who are a real factor in many parts of the country this election cycle, are said to favor Democrats over Republicans (there's no mention made as to why these independent voters might not favor a more independent kind of candidate). Political experts say that views on the war and the economy will have a real impact on upcoming elections, but all that voters are getting is the Democrat or Republican party line. If those issues are really so important, shouldn't they hearing about other viewpoints as well? Judging from poll results and alternative platform planks, there are more than a few third party candidates who would actually win their elections if more people were apprised of how those candidates stood on those and other crucial issues!
Meanwhile, a Libertarian candidate for Senate in Washington state has made some surprising inroads including media exposure (after being repeatedly rebuffed by the same media representatives, the candidate worked to meet a specific criteria used by one TV station to determine its coverage of candidates). But most third party candidates are languishing not in inactivity but incognito thanks to an apparently organized effort to limit their exposure. The press is the first to cry for freedom when it feels it's being suppressed, and rightfully so. Shouldn't we demand it adhere to its own standards and offer at the very least some freedom of choice to the rest of us?
But until the mainstream media itself undergoes some reform, you may have to dig a little deeper for the information. Search for campaign web sites on the Internet (is it any wonder, by the way, that there are those around the world working to censor the 'net?). Talk to friends and acquaintances and, whenever you can, to the candidates themselves. Ask questions. Educate yourself! And then make your choices based on the most complete information you can assemble. If voters in Arizona and Texas do that, I don't doubt that David Schlosser and Michael Badnarik will be headed to Washington in January, and that Ernest Hancock will have the chance to clean up some of Arizona's political machinery as the Secretary of State. It's surprising how many people will make the right choicethe pro-freedom choicewhen they actually know that's an option!