FREEDOMNov 8, 2018Rob Loggia
Most people have heard, at some point in their lives, the definition of insanity which states simply that doing the exact same thing repeatedly and expecting different results each time is the essence of the thing. Using that definition, one could only conclude that the Libertarian Party, collectively, is stark raving mad. After yet another disappointing election cycle, many Libertarians are asking: what are we doing wrong?
This is actually a problem I've been studying for awhile, and have written about before. I was on the Core Team for John McAfee's bid for the Libertarian nomination for President in 2016. And I am his Campaign Manager for the upcoming 2020 run. And while people are certainly free to disagree with me and try to poke holes in my arguments, it would take a fool to suggest that I have not thought about it, and considered the problem thoroughly.
It is in this light that I state my opinion that the "problems" causing the outcomes the Libertarian Party keeps achieving are both deceptively simple and extraordinarily complex. And while volumes could literally be written and lectures given on the subject, the fundamental bug can be stated fairly easily. In fact, the whole thing reminds me of a story.
One of the games that was popular when I was younger was Mortal Kombat 3. All different people I knew would want to play it with me and it could get pretty competitive, especially in group settings. Not being much of a gamer to begin with, I was already at a disadvantage. Add to this the fact that I did not own the game, and therefore could never practice, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that I would lose, every time, to the other players. And at first, this was the case. I'd sit down, get a refresher course on the buttons, and get my ass kicked.
This may have been fun for the people playing with me, but it wasn't much fun for me. Not being able to win with the skills and resources I had, I did what I always do and looked for patterns. The game mechanics are, like everything else, simply representations of math. It did not take me long to discover the now infamous "leg sweep" maneuver, with which one could defeat an opponent provided they could get next to them and put them on the ground one time. Once they were down, if you timed it right, you could simply leg sweep them to death and they could not get up.
Discovering this, I focused my attention in the limited amount of play time I had to getting the timing down for this move. It wasn't long before I could beat just about anybody, using only this maneuver. And despite all of the protestations – and there were plenty – the bottom line was that it was my guy standing there on the screen, victorious for once, and not theirs.
The ensuing contempt, rage and churlishness were fun. "That's not fair" was a common one. "You didn't really win" was another. All of them had the same gist: that wasn't the way the game was meant to be played. I was violating the "spirit" of the game and exploiting a loophole. As the British would say: it wasn't quite cricket.
My answer was always the same. I am at such a disadvantage that there is no other way I can win. You want to play this game with me all afternoon, you want me in this competition, whatever the case was. So I can either lose each time, lose the competition, or I can turn it on its head using the skills I've managed to accumulate. The first option isn't much fun, and neither is the second but so be it. I don't like losing, and definitely not over and over.
The point I was making is that it was indeed unfair, but the unfairness originated from the expectation that everyone behave as if we were on even ground. We were not, and I am far from the first person to recognize this kind of disparity. The game of golf goes so far as to codify an answer, providing the mechanism of a handicap to level the field between players. In the absense of such a mechanism, the only remaining avenue is extreme behavior.
The situation for the Libertarian Party is eerily similar.
Voters are trained to vote R or D, and invariably most follow their training. Evey possible bit of leverage that could be stacked in favor of these two parties, to the detriment of all others, has been carefully constructed over decades to ensure that it is impossible for others to participate on even ground. Every dirty trick will be employed to discourage true participation, up to and including enacting legislation to make it so. Libertarians know all of this – they complain about these things every time they lose.
Consider also that people that are likely to vote are also likely to favor state solutions to begin with. The two go hand in hand, meaning that defection to the Libertarian Party is unlikely even in an atmosphere where they are fed up with their own party. They may disagree with each other, but the majority of people that take the time to vote do so because ultimately they believe in the system. It is control over the power of this system they fight about, not its existence and pervasiveness. The bread and butter, so to speak, for the Libertarian Party will never be found here, trying to scrape numbers off the margins.
It is reasonable to conclude, supported by nearly 60 years of real world outcomes, that the Libertarian Party cannot win anything but minor, unimportant races if they play the game the way those already in power mean it to be played. Never, not in 100 years or 1000. The people that are arguing such may sound convincing in a bubble, but when you look at the body of evidence against their case it is staggering. They do not have a single example of success at the national level to draw upon in counterargument. Not one, yet some people still listen to them because they are good at sounding reasonable.
The rest of us should understand that the only way it will ever prove possible to compete with the major parties in terms of numbers is to "activate" a significant portion of the population that is eligible to vote but do not. The figure hovers from election to election, but it is roughly half of the population. Here's the rub. They have not and will never be activated by a "better candidate" as defined by the rules of the game. They are not interested in political campaigns, at least not to the point of getting out to vote. History has shown that these people won't show up, no matter how "impressive" the candidate may be.
So what is left? I would suggest that the answer lies in the story told above.
Those that desire a metaphor of greater substance should consider that the Revolutionary War was won against great odds, in part because the outnumbered and under-equipped colonials refused to stupidly line up on the field, as was customary at the time. They did not "play the game." Neither did the Confederate general Magruder who held off McClellan's massive army using painted tree logs and fake marches of troops back and forth.
The only viable option the Libertarian Party has, aside from continuing to tread water while accomplishing little to nothing of substance, is to turn the game on its head. Throw out the rulebooks of expectation and decorum and obey only the absolute math – the letter of election law. Use the big races as attention getting devices, and focus massive shoe leather and resources on races that could be won given the added momentum. Then build on that.
No one is saying it will be easy, or painless. And there is no doubt that a lot of people don't like that answer. It doesn't fit with their idea of how things ought to be. But it should be abundantly clear to anyone by now that marching up, in regular formation, to kick Lucy's football year after year isn't working, and will never work. But maybe, just maybe, by taking bold action and changing those rules, the party as a whole can gain the necessary relevance to translate into better outcomes in future elections.