L. Neil Smith's
Number 296, November 7, 2004

"Please, sir, may I have another?"

Bush Saved My Marriage
Some musings from a non-apathetic non-voter
by Scott Bieser

Exclusive to TLE

I hear that many of my friends were up late on Tuesday night, anxiously awaiting the final election returns.

Not me. I retired early, rather to the annoyance of my wife, who was left with the duty of getting the kids to bed and the house shut down on her own.

When I awoke, the suspense was still not quite over. Ohio was looking very close, and there was some buzz over whether the provisional and absentee ballots would be counted; and New Mexico was still an unknown quantity as well.

By the time my wife left for work, Kerry had not yet conceded but it seemed very likely that Bush had won re-election. And of course a few hours later, I could hear him giving his concession speech on CNN, which I had playing in another room.

I couldn't actually listen to Kerry's speech because, well, I couldn't listen to it. I've developed such a low tolerance for empty platitudes and drivel that I just couldn't keep my mind focused on what the man was saying. So instead I went on the Web to see how Michael Badnarik did.

The MSNBC site didn't have national totals for minor party candidates other than Nader, the Politically Correct Minor Candidate, but it did have results for all candidates by state, so I clicked through the states and entered totals for Badnarik and Nader (for comparison purposes) in a spreadsheet, so I could total them up. After I spent about 20 minutes or so at this, I checked out a link offered by Tom Knapp's Rational Review News Digest, which gave the nationwide totals for all Presidential candidates.

At any rate, my tally shows 374,664 for Badnarik, and 391,653 for Nader, versus the Associated Press' tallies of 373,005 for Badnarik and 390,303 for Nader. I can't explain the discrepancies but they're not significant.

According to California officials, some 39,793 people I'm sharing this state with voted for Badnarik.

If I had not given up electoral politics, including voting, after the 2000 calamity, then Badnarik's total for California might have been 39,794. But he still didn't win California, and even if California apportioned electors according to the popular vote, which it doesn't, Badnarik would not have won a single elector here. But then, neither would have Nader, because the Democrats successfully kept him off the ballot here.

I must say that these past few months it has not been easy to maintain my non-voting resolve. The Goddess has a perverse sense of humor, and she saw to it that the first LP Presidential candidate nominated after I left the Party would be the one I liked more than all the others, Michael Badnarik. (This is not counting, of course, my good friend L. Neil Smith, who was nominated for President of Arizona in 2000.) I happened to meet him while we were both passing through Fort Collins, Colorado, and I was so favorably impressed with him and the message he was making that I donated some money to his campaign.

But I still didn't vote for him, or for anyone else.

As I scan the results in the various Congressional and state races, I see LP totals that are pretty much the same as they've been for the last 24 years. The presidential candidate gets less than one percent, the gubernatorial and senatorial candidates get from half a percent to three percent, congressional and state legislative candidates get from two to twelve percent, and so on.

And I am reminded of a prediction I made to a newspaper reporter way back in 1983.

It was a somewhat hurried conversation, occurring during the close of the Texas LP convention during which we hosted the National LP Platform Committee meeting, held separately before the National Convention to take place a few months later in New York.

I was the point-man for this whole production, and was very excited to be hosting the NLP Platform Committee, and somewhat stressed by all the hundreds of details that I had to contend with, not being very well-organized myself. And so as the event was drawing to a close I received a phone call from a rather bored reporter with the Austin-American Statesman, the major local fish-wrap. He'd heard something was going on and rather than drive the mile and a half from his office to our convention hotel and actually see what was happening, decided to call me up for some quick quotes so he could scribble out a few paragraphs and call it a day.

I talked about the luminaries from the Platform Committee and the Presidential candidate who was visiting us (anyone remember Gene Burns?) and how we had more than 200 Texas Libertarian activists getting charged up and ready to go out and change the world and ...

The reporter asked, "Do you expect your candidates to get elected next year?"

I stumbled, "Ah, well, aside from some local races, probably not, but ..."

"So you don't expect to win."

"Not right away, after all Rome wasn't built in a day. Each election year we build our party a bit more until we're ready to win major offices."

"So when do you expect to win?"

I took a deep breath and revealed the secrets of my soul: "I expect to start electing Libertarians to the State Legislature in the next 10 years, and by 2000 we should have several Members of Congress and who knows, we might even elect a President, or at least come in second place."

This is pretty much what I optimistically, and not unreasonably, believed at the time.

The conversation concluded shortly after that, and I went back to managing the convention and didn't think about that reporter until a couple of days later when one of my co-conspirators showed me an article appearing at the top of page B-18 (or something like that), with the headline "Libertarian Party Predicts Wins by 2000."

I took some criticism from some who had not had their own bad-reporter experience yet, and condolences from some who had, and I put the episode behind me, except that I didn't forget what my expectations for the LP were.

As we all know, 2000 has come and gone, except for a brief flurry of state legislators in two low-population states, the LP has had none of the successes I—and I suspect, most other LP activists as well—had hoped for.

Party spokespersons will tout whatever tiny incremental gains might be found in the local results, but the record fairly clearly indicates that the LP has already reached its peak of popularity. Somewhere around 400,000 Americans will fairly consistently cast their votes for a Libertarian Presidential candidate; about twice that number will vote for LP Congressional candidates, and maybe 2-10 million voters will vote Libertarian for their state legislator, or county supervisor, or such like, if circumstances are just right.

It doesn't seem to matter so much what sort of candidate the LP runs, at least at the higher levels. Whether it's a buttoned-down corporate attorney such as David Bergland, a loaner from the GOP such as Ron Paul, a "pragmatist" such as Andre Marrou or a "purist" such as Badnarik, the results are pretty much the same in every cycle.

We have seen a few charismatic individuals, usually their own networks of financial and activist support, win and hold strictly local offices, but nothing above county supervisor. For the most part they could have done just as well without having a Libertarian Party around. And a few of them have recognized this and left the Party.

Libertarians can no longer plausibly imagine that, if only more people could know about LP candidates and hear their message, people would flock to the Party by the millions. A sizeable portion of the masses, at least, has seen us, and heard our message, and they are not favorably impressed.

The Libertarian Party has always been a very small tail trying to wag a very large dog. Many millions of dollars and hours have been spent by libertarians in this attempt to change the country via the ballot.

When the party was founded in 1971-72, a few dissenting voices warned that this was a bad idea, that it would be a fruitless waste of time and wealth. Whether they were famous, like Ayn Rand, highly learned and lettered, like Murray Rothbard (who was anti-party before he decided to join the bandwagon, for a while), or as obscure and un-credentialed as Samuel Edward Konkin III, or Wendy McElroy and Carl Watner, they all made the same point, pretty much.

And that is, that if you want to change a nation's politics, what you really have to do is change its culture. Change the culture, and politics will follow along naturally.

This is what I set out to do in 2000. There have been some missteps and distractions, and I haven't completely disassociated myself from those who remain in the Party fold. But I have now completed two graphic novels—the first one explains why the War on Drugs is a major cause of human suffering, the second explains why the right to keep and bear arms is vitally important—and I'm now working on a third, concerning the life and ideas of the French free-market economist and proto-libertarian jurist Frederic Bastiat.

I don't expect these three works to change the culture all by themselves, but they will circulate through society and do their quiet work, changing minds one by one, for years after I've labored to create them. Compare this with a typical electoral campaign, which consumes thousands of dollars and hours over several months, gets embarrassing results which discredit the ideas behind them more than supporting them, and is thereafter forgotten.

I think I've chosen the correct path, and this recent election has increased my resolve. Up until now I was "agnostic" about the Libertarian Party. Now I'm convinced the Party is a distraction and a money-sink which has become a significant obstacle to our goals. And I will tell any libertarian who will listen, that to continue doing the same thing, while expecting a different result next time from all the results which came before, is a clear indication of either indifference or insanity.

And in the coming years I will strive to help build and support alternatives to the Party and electioneering, with which any libertarian can get involved and which will actually realize our goals.

In the meantime, of course, we have to contend with another four years of the Spud Monkey and his sidekick, Godzilla. I'm not looking forward to seeing further war-mongering or the death of the Bill of Rights, but at least this cloud has a silver lining.

You see, I'm in what some might call a mixed marriage. I'm an anarchist and my wife's a Democrat. We met and married during the Clinton years, and had several rather heated arguments concerning the President and her husband. We managed to keep things together, though it wasn't easy, and we spent many an evening not speaking to one another.

But when Dubya got (s)elected, everything changed. Now we can curse the President together, in stereo. Politics is now a happy topic at La Casa del Bieser, and our marriage is more solid than ever. As a bonus, my wife seems more receptive to libertarian ideas than she was before—I might make an anarchist out of her yet. And thus, I can honestly say that whatever else Bush has done, he helped save my marriage.

Scott Bieser runs Liberty Artworks, providing Professional Graphics and Personal Opinions at http://www.scottbieser.com. Buy stuff with his art on it at http://www.cafepress.com/libartworx. His illustrated version of L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach is comming out soon (stay tuned for an announcement on TLE!).


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