L. Neil Smith's
Number 105, January 15, 2001
Happy Jackson-Lee Day!

A New Strategy

by William Stone, III

Special to TLE

You ever notice how the national Libertarian Party likes to talk and yell and rant, but never actually seems to accomplish anything tangible?

I don't mean to belittle the efforts of the dedicated people in the field who ensure donations and ballot access. Indeed, most of them work tirelessly, and their ultimate reward is to see their candidate lose, year after year.

From one perspective, the fact that we can't get even an endorsement from the National Rifle Association is perplexing. Almost any Libertarian candidate would be a better enforcer of the Second Amendment than a Democrat or Republican.

Similarly, why are we unable to get massive campaign contributions from a company like Microsoft? Microsoft has every reason to want to halt unconstitutional harassment by Federal officials. A Libertarian President would do that, while the best they can hope from a Republicrat is to pay "insurance money" for four years.

There's actually a very simple reason we can't get anything meaningful from non-libertarian sources: they will only bet on proven winners. So far, we're proven losers.

Think about it: the NRA only has so much money to contribute. Their endorsement will trigger additional contributions from individuals who also have limited funds. Why should the NRA waste its money on a party with a track record of zero wins? Why should they ask their membership to waste their money on such a party?

And a waste is what it would be. I'm no fan of the NRA's stance on the Second Amendment, mind you: too little, too late, from my perspective. From their perspective, however, they're backing candidates who have the most chance of having the impact that they want. Libertarians can have no impact if they can't even get elected—and they've never been elected. Giving Libertarians money simply because they HOPE they'll get elected SOMEDAY is a gamble the NRA isn't going to take.

Yes, I know the argument: "But, Bill, if we got more money, we wouldn't keep losing! We have to start somewhere!"

It's a valid argument. It's just not the way the universe operates. The NRA and Microsoft are going to put their money with proven winners, PERIOD. It is an unfortunate fact of life that Libertarians simply must accept: we are in a catch-22. We need money to win, but we can't get that money without winning FIRST.

You don't have to LIKE this fact, but as Robert Heinlein noted, "The universe is what it is, not what we want it to be."

The National LP has chosen to want the universe to be something other than it is, with predictable results. It's time to look at the universe clearly. We must understand what we CAN'T change about it, and then set about to do what we CAN.

This is not to say that we should compromise our principles. We must NEVER compromise our principles. We must change our tactics to fit reality.

We cannot change our ability to field a winning Presidential candidate.

We CAN change how we use what money and endorsements we have.

We must focus on a smaller goal, something that's attainable with the limited funds and support available to Libertarians.

We must focus on a Congressional seat from a low-population state with a libertarian culture.

Specifically, we must get a Congressman elected from South Dakota.

I'll even volunteer to run, if the LP will actually back the plan I'm proposing.

South Dakota is a good candidate for a number of reasons:

  • South Dakota is low population, with a single Congressman-at-large.
  • There are two population centers, on the Eastern and Western sides of the state. The larger of these is less than half a million people.
  • There are only a handful of TV stations in the state, perhaps fifty radio stations, and two major newspapers.
  • The culture is largely agricultural, with a strong tradition of hunting and firearms ownership. It would be rare to find an adult male who does not own a shotgun, a deer rifle and a hand gun. Indeed, it would probably be unusual to find a male child over twelve who does not own a .22 rifle.
  • County Sheriffs will issue concealed-carry permits to virtually anyone, with a minimum of administrative hassle.
  • There is no state income tax.
  • Casino gambling is legal.

Clearly, South Dakota is a very libertarian place, particularly when compared to the megalopoli of the East and West. What's hampered Libertarian candidates in the past is lack of necessary support.

Freed from the necessity of actively campaigning for a Presidential candidate in 2004, the National Party would have the means to generate more campaign money than a Democrat or Republican candidate would ordinarily need to get elected in South Dakota.

A couple of million bucks is alll it should take. The current South Dakota Congressman, John Thune (R), spent less than $1 million in 2000.

The necessary funds would be used to hire political hacks, PR flacks, marketers, professional advertisements, prime-time advertising on every TV and radio station, and full-page ads in every newspaper. This is an attainable goal in a small population state.

If the National LP will face reality, we can elect at least one Congressman in 2002. If not, we will continue to be the party of principled LOSERS.

This isn't to suggest that the LP not run a candidate for President. Far from it! A Presidential candidate MUST be run, if for no other reason than to maintain our ballot access.

However, we must not run a human being, and must spend no more time and money than is necessary.

We must run "None of the Above" for President in 2004.

Remember, no matter what candidate is run in 2004, they are going to lose—and probably lose HUGE. We do not "lose" anything by not fielding a human candidate.

On the contrary, running "None of the Above," will garner more votes than in any previous election.

The 2000 election—like virtually every election in my lifetime—was a clear case of apathy. Bush and Gore were such utter socialists that most people couldn't tell them apart. As Bill Mahr noted in a recent stand-up routine on HBO: "This country doesn't have two political parties. It has identical cousins played by Patty Duke."

The voters know this. The 2000 election clearly showed that they were well aware that it didn't matter which candidate won. Consequently, few people turned out to vote, and those that did were evenly split between the two candidates.

Imagine if they'd had "None of the Above" as a choice.

Also imagine the PR value of the LP running "None of the Above." The current Party Chair could spend half of every day just explaining to news agencies why the LP chose to do it. The sheer novelty would be worth more than all our national advertising in the last decade.

Sure, we'd have an empty podium at the third party debates, but so what? Aside from a few intellectuals and party faithfuls watching C-SPAN, who ever sees it? Compared to, say, the Party Chair on Good Morning America explaining what the LP has done and why.

Now imagine that this occurs in the context of a Libertarian Congressman elected in 2002.

By 2008, the LP might not look like such losers any more. We'd have at least one Congressman from South Dakota in office—and probably others from states like Wyoming, Arizona, Montana, North Dakota, and Nebraska. We'd have garnered significant votes in 2004 by running "None of the Above."

The NRA might be FORCED to endorse the South Dakota Congressmen because he actually has a track record of winning. Major contributors might actually give us money because we have a track record of winning. News organizations would be forced to cover us as the best political story since the Reform Party.

It could turn the tide.

But—and listen carefully—the tide won't turn as long as we collectively ignore reality.

The first step every recovering drug addict makes is to admit that he's a drug addict. The first step that each of us needs to make is to admit that we cannot run a winning Presidential race—yet.

I believe in this notion so much that if the LP will back me, I will be the next Congressman from South Dakota—the first Libertarian ever elected to national office. But I'll only do it if they back me. If it's done with the same blind ignorance of reality that's marked the last Presidential races, I don't want any part of it. Like Manny in Heinlein's THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, I want good odds that I'll win before I even start.

It's a simple choice: choose reality and win, or continue to choose fantasy and lose.

Next to advance to the next article, or
Previous to return to the previous article, or
Table of Contents to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 105, January 15, 2001.