What I Learned From My Political Campaign

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Two weeks ago I lost an election. I had challenged the ten-term incumbent representing the 6th District of Virginia, "Boehnorite" Bob Goodlatte in a Republican primary. We ran a serious campaign, spent nearly $100,000 and deployed thousands of volunteer manhours. In this open primary held June 12th, with 8% turnout, we garnered over 34% of the vote, and gave the incumbent the most difficult and most expensive electoral challenge of his political life. We also ran the most significant and toughest challenge faced by any Republican in Virginia this year.

By launching and running a insurgent liberty-oriented campaign against an entrenched, big spending and big borrowing establishment hack, I believed we were doing something useful. Many agreed with me. Many helped and I thank everyone who gave us time, talent, money and best wishes.

There were costs, and I want to reflect on these, because many of these costs weren't what I'd expected. Certainly, I spent my own money (and yours), wore out my transmission and my tires, and consumed a lot of time that otherwise would have been spent on work and family. That happens to every candidate.

But beyond that, my contributions to LewRockwell.com dropped off in the year I spent campaigning. Instead of writing what I loved to write, I wrote less rewarding short essays relating to liberty and paleo-conservatism aimed specifically at the 6th District audience. I missed my LRC readers. I missed their attention to detail, their deep grasp of history and economics, their insight and their ability to explore difference of opinion deftly and without alienation of affection. Writing for a generally uninformed public on the proper role of the state, on real liberty, and the true nature of the free markets and free exchange was not easy. The lack of a shared language of liberty and a shared contempt for the state was sharply evident.

The campaign connected me and likeminded people to our peers and partners; the Remnant recognized its membership, grew it, and groomed it. But the effort to go beyond liberty's enlightened minority was difficult, and I have yet to figure out the key to influencing the so-called "masses." There may be no key at all — and convincing the majority may, of course, be entirely unnecessary. But it was disheartening to learn that most people are uninformed about, unaware of, uninterested in and unconcerned by either liberty or statism. It was disheartening to find that most people are driven by feelings rather than facts, emotions over critical evaluation.

Those who actually vote often seem driven by fear, voting to allay that fear. Our campaign certainly leveraged that. We promoted fear of the unpayable federal debt, of hyperinflation, of war, of economic collapse, of gun and property rights being stripped away by overweening government. Bob Goodlatte's campaign leveraged fear as well, advocating the terror of an unknown candidate, and conducting telephone push polling and email whispering campaign throughout GOP party channels that painted me as an anti-Semite and a 9/11 truther.

Enough fear can chip away at voter apathy, but is that a reason to vote at all? We are seeing this on a national scale in the GOP campaign to defeat Obama in November. We are told the country will be destroyed by four more years of Obama, and that this is the "most important election ever." That nearly every president since Lincoln has consistently grown centralized government power and expanded executive rule is somehow ignored, as the party systems fight for supremacy and, you guessed it, more power over the people and their assets. And they all need "voters" for top cover.

My past writings ridiculing voting as a mystical state ceremony, symbolic rather than truly functional, were curiously not brought up by my opponent, perhaps because of all the things I may be correct about, I am most correct on this. On the other hand, I found myself in the curious position of valuing a voter's symbolic rite, and encouraging it as a means for real change — and this seemed inconsistent with my own beliefs. Happily, I could point out that nearly 95% of the voters in the 6th District disapprove or couldn't care less about Bob Goodlatte — 92% didn't show up at all to the open primary, and of the 8% who did, only 5% voted for his continued reign. Could we embrace that contempt and fundamental disregard of the DC political class, and somehow transform it into real liberty, and into individual and collective refusals to fund, support and obey that state? By doing that, would we be able to witness a richer and more dynamic society and more decentralized market-based solutions? And what political party would — or could — embrace the people's anti-vote?

I found that our campaign caused me to compromise my own values in an attempt to appeal to my conservative base. When asked about the drug war, I naturally blasted it for cost, counter-productivity, corruption, abject failure of the mission, the massive growth of the military police state in this country, and I called for its end. But I didn't lead with this as the first "war" or set of agencies to eliminate, and I never talked openly about my goal of seeing agricultural hemp legalized, in Virginia and across the country. Next time I run, I'll be more bold.

I've written extensively on unnecessary and unconstitutional war, yet I didn't run on an antiwar platform — but rather an anti-nation-building one. Yet nation-building is indeed war, and endless expanding war is fundamental to state power. As my campaign progressed, this country engaged in war on three continents without pause. It conducted cyber war, economic war, and direct action in foreign countries — all without any Congressional declarations of war, and all with repeated votes by my opponent to fund these unconstitutional activities. My opponent, even during our campaign, voted to expand the military, to further incorporate drones into American policing in every state, and he even refused to support the Smith-Amash Amendment to strip the NDAA of its egregious citizen military detention clause. My lack of boldness on the issue of illegal war and expansion of the national security state was a gift to status quo nationalism, and my opponent's sorry voting record continued unabated and largely unquestioned.

During our campaign, we constantly criticized the incumbent for his tendency to support the best compromise he can get, rather than opposing evil and unconstitutional legislation straight up. I have since concluded that such compromise is not only rotten, but indeed futile. Better to go with a full frontal assault, the yes or no, up or down. Better to unleash the truth, fire the kill shots, and never compromise. Yet, politicians by their very nature are appeasers and deal makers. After completing this race, I increasingly see political campaigns as battles in what must be understood as a war with the state, and certainly a war between the people and Washington, DC.

Our campaign was also a beautiful experiment in the nature of spontaneous cooperation and free exchange. Many talented people came together, often just in time, and offered their special talents and skills to create great value that blessed more than just our campaign. We grew, as Tom Woods eloquently points out, a remnant of sorts in our own district, and we planted seeds for a geography of liberty in this part of Virginia that will not be denied.

I'll stand again in opposition to the soon-to-be-eleven-term incumbent. A few years ago, I called out the neocon pack in the midst of their carcass-feeding war lust, and faced their nips and whines, their bared fangs and bad breath, with amusement and chuckling. Taking on a single lousy politician — who waivered when I shook his hand after the election, and literally quaked when I impulsively gave him a bear hug — is child's play. It's not to my credit, but it could be my area of specialization. The politics of liberty and attitudes of pure contempt for the jack-booted state will be expanded, more widely considered, and more viable as a result of my continued public resistance.

I plan to be more bold, more principled, and will shoot to kill (so to speak) without compromise. Will this approach get a majority vote among the minority who show up in primary elections? Will we dominate in a convention, or will an aggressive campaign to save the country from Washington professionals drive people to defend the status quo even more vociferously? Will the voting behavior of our targeted representative improve in the interim?

I suspect that campaign professionals will despair that I haven't learned the "right" political lessons. They would surely advise to go mild, broaden the base, and never attack directly. But that's no fun, and for me, it wouldn't be honest. I'd rather be an outlier square in the path of where political action is going, rather than where it has been. That may make me as self-serving and arrogant as the career politician I'm targeting, but knowing exactly where I want to be in a long war against DC may also be a strategic advantage. Having completed a political campaign, and lost, I've gained a new awareness of the nature and vulnerabilities of incumbent politicians in the current era of American national socialism. More importantly, I've glimpsed the unlimited possibilities and glorious impact of individual decisions to challenge the illusion of central authority and to live free, by no man's leave and as we wish.

LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, blogs occasionally at Liberty and Power and The Beacon. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here or join her Facebook page. She ran for Congress in Virginia’s 6th district in 2012.

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