The 2008 presidential election should serve as a good lesson for the Libertarian Party (LP). Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman (who ironically many Libertarians helped defeat in Congress), received about 0.4% of the total vote. Barr was chosen as the nominee back in May at the LP convention. There were many candidates and it took several ballots before it came down to Bob Barr vs. Mary Ruwart for the Libertarian Party's nominee.
Mary Ruwart, author of Healing Our World in an Age of Aggression, is a radical, principled, and long-time Libertarian. She was narrowly defeated by Barr for the nomination, with Ruwart receiving about 44% of the vote on the final ballot. The 2008 presidential election might have played out much differently had she been the LP's nominee. It probably would not have changed Obama winning the election, but it could have conceivably advanced liberty at a much greater pace.
There seem to be three different groups that make up most of the Libertarian Party these days. There are the principled radicals like Mary Ruwart. There are the disaffected Republicans, who are mostly pro-war, but are somewhat fiscally conservative. And there is a third group that is fairly libertarian, but not necessarily radical and perhaps looking too much for political solutions for change.
The first group understands what the liberty movement is all about. The second group is mostly hopeless and is trying to wreck the LP with its watered down Republican policies. Perhaps some individuals in this group will change, but I am not here to change their minds today. Instead, I would like to address the third group. Many in this third group saw Bob Barr as a celebrity ticket that would finally gain the necessary exposure for the Libertarian Party from the mainstream media.
Most people want to be rich. Some realize that you have to work hard, save money, come up with a creative business, or some combination of those things. It usually doesn't come easy. Others go a different route and play the lottery. Occasionally someone gets lucky and wins, but even then it doesn't always turn out so well. But most lottery players never win.
The group that supported Bob Barr as the LP nominee was playing the lottery. They were looking for an easy ticket to riches. They had hopes and dreams that the media would finally pay attention to their candidate. With someone like Barr, maybe this was the time that we could finally become a force to be reckoned with, they reasoned. Needless to say, the Barr campaign has been a huge disappointment. In fact, it was almost a large waste.
Bob Barr never fully repudiated many of the awful positions he took in the past. He certainly sounded better than McCain or Obama on the campaign trail, but he always left much to be desired. He talked about smaller government, but most of the things he said could have been said by any establishment Republican candidate. Ronald Reagan probably sounded more radical in his time than Bob Barr has this past year. Why would people get excited about a third-party candidate, who has no shot of winning, when his ideas aren't even that radical or exciting?
The Bob Barr supporters playing the lottery ticket forgot, or never learned, the key component to advancing liberty. It isn't vote total or media exposure that counts the most. It is educating others on the benefits of liberty. Perhaps Barr reached a few new people and drove them in a more libertarian direction. But it was a fraction of what Ron Paul did in his latest presidential run. And the biggest factor is that Barr did close to nothing in recruiting radical libertarians that can always be counted on to oppose the state.
Harry Browne understood well in his two presidential campaigns that education is the key to success. He knew he had no chance of winning and he would admit that. His goal was to spread the message of liberty and to teach people how much better off their lives could be without government interference. This point was completely missed by Bob Barr and his supporters.
The ironic thing is that this could have truly been a breakout year for the Libertarian Party. I don't want to put words into Ron Paul's mouth, but I have a feeling that if Mary Ruwart had been the nominee, then she would have received an endorsement from Ron Paul. Either way though, she would have been a perfect place to go for a large number of the approximately 1.2 million people that voted for Ron Paul in the primaries. She would have been a rallying point for the liberty movement, much as Ron Paul was in the primaries. But regardless of the number of supporters and voters she would have received, she would have continued to educate people and had people excited about freedom, just as Ron Paul did in his campaign.
This should all be a lesson to those in the LP. Don't get sucked in by the celebrity candidate. Don't get sucked in by someone saying that he will get more media attention than ever before. Certainly don't get sucked in by someone who says he can win. It turns out that Barr didn't receive that much more media coverage than past candidates anyway. And he received around the same percentage of votes as what had been typical for the LP.
It will be interesting to see where the party goes from here. If the disaffected Republicans, who aren't really libertarians, continue to take over the party, then the party will become completely irrelevant in a short period of time. If the radical libertarians get back in control of the party, then the LP can resume educating people, much like Harry Browne did. The libertarian movement will go on with or without the Libertarian Party, but it will certainly be better if the LP can help us instead of wasting time like it did in the 2008 presidential campaign.
November 7, 2008