The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Monday, October 20, 2003
CYNICAL PUNDIT CONFESSES: I WAS A CANDIDATE FOR THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY!: The Libertarian Party backed itself into a corner almost immediately after it was founded, and it's never been able to wriggle itself out. If it is an instrument for spreading a radically anti-statist message, as embodied in its uncompromising
platform, then it doesn't have much to say to voters, who tend to be interested in issues more immediate and mundane than the abolition of central banking and the privatization of outer space. But if it is an instrument for nudging the government in a less authoritarian direction, then it has saddled itself not just with an unpopular platform but with an unlikely strategy for victory, given how hard it is for a third party to win in America. It would make more sense to form caucuses within the major parties, push for candidates there, and endorse a slate of nominees from both parties in November.

Put another way: Third parties have their uses, but they are neither the best path to radical change nor the best path to moderate change. And they're especially ill-suited for a coalition of radicals and moderates.

I do not write entirely as an outsider. I was briefly a member of the Libertarian Party in college, following a friendly argument with a party activist about whether the LP was good for anything. "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it," he told me, and in just a few minutes he had persuaded me to let the party list me as a candidate for Ann Arbor city council. I got to give a couple of funny speeches and I made a silly ad for public access TV, a Mister Rogers parody whose highlight came when my chair unexpectedly fell over backwards. (I refused to recut it without the pratfall, on the grounds that if I couldn't get votes I could at least get some laughs.) When The Ann Arbor News ran a story about me, its lead quote had me declaring "I'm too young for this job."

Actually, the article was kind of flattering. Here's an excerpt:
The young man, wearing a T-shirt whose graphic designs were half obscured by an unbuttoned long sleeve shirt, had a serious message to deliver to 50 business-suited men and women, but decided to have fun while doing it.

His audience was a candidates' forum last Thursday at Sheraton University Inn -- jointly sponsored by the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors, Ann Arbor Apartment Association and Washtenaw County Homebuilders Association -- and they laughed and applauded when he announced he was "pandering" to them.

They applauded his poise behind the microphone and his agile tongue when -- taking liberty with Sen. Barry Goldwater's famous dictum on extremism -- he said that "insanity in defense of liberty is no vice."
I'm pretty sure the insanity line made more sense in context.

I beat the Republican in my home precinct, mostly because the precinct consisted almost exclusively of my dorm. And while my total tally -- I got 2.5% -- wasn't particularly impressive, it might have made the difference in the race. The margin of victory, after all, was less than 10 votes.

But that's wishful thinking. I ran into the Democratic candidate after the election, and I asked him if there was any chance his party would push itself in a more libertarian direction to pick up those vital swing voters. He laughed and said that they'd talked about my campaign after the results were announced; their conclusion was that "Jesse Walker's supporters consisted mostly of people who do not ordinarily vote." I conceded that this was my take as well.

In retrospect, the fact that the Libertarian Party was willing to nominate an inexperienced 18-year-old who'd lived in town for only a few months may be the best argument yet against it. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best argument for it. But I'm biased.

posted by Jesse 1:51 PM
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