Restoring the Libertarian Brand Name

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In 1985, the
Board of Directors of Coca-Cola committed one of the biggest marketing
gaffes in history. After decades of establishing their product as
"The Real Thing," they accepted the findings of their
research team that discovered a taste people preferred in blind
tests, and proudly announced that they had improved the formula.

The New Coke
was an absolute disaster. The anger of the consuming public was
so great that they had to eventually accept hundreds of millions
in losses and figure out a way of reversing their course. They announced
the return of "Coke Classic," to give people a choice,
and then quietly shelved the New Coke once they had gotten rid of
as much of the stuff as possible.

Now, far be
it from me to describe the Libertarian Party of 1971 to 2000 as
a best-seller like Coke. Anyone who measures success by the election
of LP members to office should have long ago given up and gone somewhere
else (the Republican or Democratic parties, if they have any common
sense). Still, it was a far more effective brand than people think
it was: it served as a feeder organization for the entire movement,
and many non-political libertarians of today can trace their first
contact with libertarianism to the Libertarian Party. It had and
has an intellectual respectability within the field of academia
and the blogosphere, and some within the field of journalism.

Well, we blew
it. In a year that screamed for an alternative, we were virtually
ignored, and in a year that had thousands of young, idealistic people
energized, we failed to convince them that we are the only logical
home for the Ron Paul Revolution. I think it is because we failed
to defend our brand.

We don't all
want exactly the same thing, but we're reasonably close. What I
want is a society with as little aggression as the real (not a fantasy)
world can provide. In my view, the most practical society will be
based on private property anarchism, but if you put me in a room
with Libertarian Party Founder David Nolan, who is explicitly a
limited government libertarian, you'll probably find that there
isn't a dime's worth of difference in our actual positions (with
the possible exception of immigration), and our differences are
mainly in how we predict societies with libertarian sensibilities
will address security, dispute resolution, and collective defense.
In my view, a society of people committed to mutual respect will
find a way to resolve these issues peacefully, and one reason I'm
an anarchist is that I don't believe we can come to a single agreement:
limited government is the theory that free market capitalism is
best protected by a socialist monopoly. As an admirer of Friedrich
Hayek, I don't think any of us CAN know how a free society will
solve all the serious problems facing a free society, and I don't
trust anyone who claims to know. Even me.

What all members
of the Libertarian Party want is an appealing and DISTINCT brand
that will attract people to libertarianism. Now, I happen to think
that anyone who works within the LP has already made a decision
to forego electoral success, but I wouldn't mind being proved wrong
and, in any event, neither an educational nor an electoral strategy
has a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding unless libertarianism
is an inspiring and unique brand, incapable of being confused with
either Republican conservatism or Democratic progressivism. I don't
think we've ever tried hard enough to brand it properly.

Our radical
past is a myth. The LP before 2006 was NOT the product of decades
of explicitly radical campaigns based on the Rothbardian platform
of the LP. To this day, there has never been a presidential campaign
that promoted anarcho-capitalism, and LP candidates who internally
identified as radicals have, with rare exceptions, pretty much been
as loathe to campaign on their ideal society as non-radicals (I
blame the misinterpreted and now-dead
Dallas Accord
for some of this, but not all). Similarly, the
2008 presidential campaign is NOT an example of the strategy recommended
by the "reform" wing of the LP, as I understand it: they
are every bit as eager as radical members to have libertarianism
stand out, and not be viewed as merely a principled version of conservativism.

My view is
that we must renew and strengthen our brand as the only consistent
advocate of liberty, and that we must remain absolutely vigilant
that we not appear to be a form of conservativism (or progressivism).
To my fellow radicals, I think it is time we accepted the less comprehensive
platform on a permanent basis, working only to improve it where
it strays from plumb-line libertarianism (as I believe it does implicitly
in the tax plank and explicitly in the immigration plank). To my
friends in the reform wing, I think it is time you accepted the
pledge and the Statement of Principles as keys to our brand, the
Party of Principle.

Applied to
issues, let me sketch out what I see the implications on a national
level of a libertarian who wants a brand that is neither conservative
nor progressive.

Foreign Policy
— An end to military intervention in other countries AND an absolute
stand in favor of global free trade.

Health — The
abolition of restrictions on drugs and treatments AND the abolition
of government subsidies for health care expenditures.

Economics —
An end to coercively financed poverty welfare AND an end to corporate
welfare.

I do think
reformers should acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences.
I have enough respect for many of you to know that you didn't want
the absurd
platform that came out of Portland in 2006
but, absent your
strategy, it wouldn't have happened. Many of you didn't want Barr
to be our nominee but, absent your strategy, he wouldn't have been
the nominee. Acknowledge that.

Let me also
caution my fellow radicals about People Who Live in Glass Houses.
You talk a good game about other people not being open about the
full implications of libertarianism, and you were eager to fight
for a comprehensive platform in Denver, but I spent a lot of time
browsing candidate web sites and reading newspaper clippings, and
with rare exceptions, I couldn't tell you which candidates were
the radicals if my life depended on it. When it comes to radicalism,
either put up or shut up (for the record, you are all hereby invited
to hold my feet to the fire on this issue as I expand my site, Anarchy
Without Bombs, over the next several months: I'm human, and sometimes
I'm weak, so if you catch me waffling at www.anarchywithoutbombs.com,
I will be ever-so-grateful for your correction of my heresy).

I think the
Ron Paul Youth are still up for grabs: their idealism will not be
given a chance in the Republican Party, and they are largely pro-choice
and pro-immigrant, inspired by Ron Paul primarily because of his
courageous advocacy of a non-interventionist foreign policy. They
are not conservatives. We still have the opportunity to inspire
them to our side (especially once the Obama Presidency gets going
and starts disappointing). We'll only do it if we restore the libertarian
brand.

November
13, 2008

Less
Antman [send him mail] has
been a member of the Libertarian Party since 1979, was the leading
LP vote-recipient in the nation in 1982, and received the Karl Bray
award for libertarian activism.

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