Four Days in May
an insider’s look at the Party of Principle, from Atlanta
by Brian Wright
Here in spring of 2014, roughly a decade later, I’m reassembling my impressions from diaries I kept of the key event in 2004, which I was disappointed in the result of. Reviewing the text, I see that I was not all worked out spiritually—who ever is, even a man into his 50s at the time?—and may have stated harsh or overly judgmental impressions of people. I apologize for this, but like my advocating to vote for (yes, believe it or not) John Kerry in 2004, I have to own my past mistakes and personal shortcomings. (Heck, in 2004 I still pretty much accepted the Official Story of the 9/11 Attacks!) Many regrets to any and all I may have offended; chances are strong I have favorable views toward you today.
Libertarian. A word bandied about favorably by many commentators and celebrities these days: Bill Maher, Arianna Huffington, Kurt Russell, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Melanie (remember Melanie?) to name a few. Usually to the approval or sympathy of their audiences. What do they mean by the word? How deep an understanding do they have?
Answers: “kinda sorta leave people alone,” and “not yet very deep, I’m afraid,” respectively.
But we are off to a good start with many signs of hope. I say “we” referring to those of use who have been here from the beginning. Libertarian is not so much an adjective for us but a noun. The proper noun being the Libertarian Party (LP), the political confluence of three forces from the 50s and 60s: the rational individualism of Ayn Rand, the ‘64 Goldwater “happening,” and Rothbardian—Murray Rothbard, magnum opus: Man, Economy, and State—classical anarcho-liberalism.
When we say libertarian, it means something. Deep. It is an ideologically complete and consistent worldview painstakingly assembled from a solitary principle represented variously: the inviolate supremacy of individual rights (Rand), freedom from collectivist government (Goldwater), or the nonaggression principle (Rothbard). Though simple, it helps if you read a lot.
A libertarian society bans the initiation of force from human relationships.
Why is it such a simple, obvious truth cannot or will not be apprehended and embraced en masse? Because people have been blinded by state power. I see it as a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes, the Hans Christian Andersen fable in which the king parades in public without clothing, having been advised by his court sycophants his garments are so fine only the most discerning eyes can see them. Whence, a small child exclaims “the emperor is naked!”
The True Libertarians, these are my people, are the small child in the crowd who see the obvious truth and are not intimidated by social conformity. The emperor is naked. (The state is evil.) Your eyes do not deceive you. Like Neo in The Matrix, my people realize something is fundamentally wrong with the system and it’s time to free our minds and achieve the society appropriate to humankind. At this we shall succeed… it simply may take a few more years than originally conceived.
The idea behind this preamble is to address a more general audience from the readership of Liberty—in case the article sees publication in, say, Playboy, Vanity Fair, or Mother Earth News. The fact such media seldom cover or plumb the nature of the True Libertarian is pertinent to the events unfolding this Memorial Day weekend, 2004, in Atlanta. The LP is nominating its presidential candidate, and I’ve decided to go there and make sure they pick the right guy—someone the media won’t ignore.
Day 1: Blast down I-75 in Audi A4, nightcap
Yesterday, I have breakfast with Mom, and she says, “Why do you advocate such extreme things—you know, legalizing drugs, eliminating taxes, ending the government schools (of course, she uses the euphemism public schools), creating a free market in transportation, opposing mandatory government service, etc.? You scare people.”
“Mom,” I respond, “Do you think the institution of slavery could have ever been reformed?! The only way to end an evil is to end it. I advocate a free society. Government coercion, like slavery, is morally wrong. It needs to go away. Simple as that.” I also suggest my days of “libertarian macho flash” are long gone, and everything I want now I call for publicly in mild tones.
She mutters something about Hillary Clinton and the virtues of national health care; Geez, I’m never going to get through to her. Speaking of The Matrix, Mom is well past the point of being unplugged. You probably know relatives and friends like her. Wonderful people: loving, caring, hardworking, honest. And she’s my mother, for chrissake! But… dammit, where’s the brain that stands on its own two feet and keeps a judicious distance from the pod people?
Today, on to the convention, bearing in mind my people and I have been living for decades now as Mom sees me: radical, monolithic, obsessively cause-oriented oddballs, lovable but outside the warm center of life. As my enthusiastic Audi A4—can’t resist driving from Detroit to Atlanta rather than flying the frenzied skies—negotiates the opening channels of the 715-mile journey down Interstate 75, I’m thinking, “not outside by choice, Mama. Never outside by choice.”
Crank up Steve Winwood “Back in the High Life” on the Bose.
Ah, freedom of the open road… even with the construction and slow moving vehicles! Where else in the universe can an ordinary man of ordinary means enter a magnificent vehicle and independently drive several hundred miles without having to answer any stupid questions. No TSA guards, no tickets, no boarding passes, no screaming children, no drug-sniffing dogs, no Wayne County deputy dicks hassling little ol’ ladies for double parking while packing Border Patrol .357 Magnums and issuing $150 tickets.
This is why I always felt comfortable riding with the ABATE (American Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments) Harley crowd, once in Michigan running for secretary of state and extolling the assembled brethren from the capitol steps to burn their helmets and defy un-Constitutional laws in general. They thought I was “the man!” I sure got the 25 biker votes that year! My point is the open road provides such a visceral essence of freedom.
… and hopefully close to the essence of all these fine people I’m gathering with this weekend. I hand the reins to my iron steed over to the parking attendant at the Marriott Marquis, Atlanta. We have arrived, me and my digital camera and digital audio recorder. My comrade from the Libertarian Party of Michigan (LPM) founding days (late 1971) and two-wheeling journeys in the 80s, Bill Bradford of Liberty, has agreed that “… if I write it, he will publish it.”
My views and motivation are not impartially journalistic, as Mr. Bradford’s must be—ref. his story in this issue—because I have an axe to grind. I am on a mission.
As an old-guard freedom-fighter with impeccable party credentials—LPM chairman three times, newsletter editor three times, petitioner (in the winter of 1983, I gathered 5,842 volunteer LPM ballot-access signatures!), candidate for Congress, etc., attender in good standing of all presidential nominating conventions since 1979—I know Aaron Russo must be chosen as our candidate. Why? “He has the technology.”
This is Thursday arrival night, yet many of the delegates and attendees will not arrive until tomorrow or even Saturday. National Chairman Geoffrey Neale’s bright and beautiful wife, Nancy, stepped up to the plate to org the convention this year. She and her volunteers have performed what will prove to be a brilliant job. The only general agenda item tonight is the Welcome Reception, which I’ve missed along with early registration.
10:30 p.m. Whacked out from the 14-hour grind through Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, I get checked in and battened down in the room, then proceed to the hotel saloon. Sports bar format, named Champions, and the only microbrew available is something in a bottle called Old Street Ale (or is it Old Shoe?), which at least is fresh.
Looking for longtime LP-of-Michigan friend Keith Edwards, it’s been a tradition for the previous decade or so to meet in the hotel bar for a martini and to discuss plans. As veterans who became particularly active during the Ed Clark campaign, we usually agree on platform and candidates. Alas, no Keith. But at my second Old Street, someone else from the old days walks up, Greg Clark.
Greg is so seasoned—actually, I think he’s a year or two younger than I am—he was with our group of libertarian-Objectivist Wayne State University students when we attempted to radicalize the Michigan Young Republicans back in 1970. Great times. I’m charged up as if on uppers, feeling some of the same excitement I felt 25 years ago at the Peak Experience for any party regular: the 1979 Libertarian Party convention in Los Angeles.
What a magnificent, magical event that was! Every LP function I’ve been to since pales in comparison (though I keep my hopes high). Delegate count was 1,000 people, easily another 500 milling around constantly, several dozen literature and vendor booths, glitz, glamour, TV cameras, celebrities like Nathaniel Branden—don’t think Star Child was yet born—and popular authors like Robert Ringer (Restoring the American Dream).
The Ed Clark campaign was a professionally managed (headed by current Cato Institute president, Ed Crane), highly funded, moderately TV-focused campaign. Ed had to gain the nomination from Bill Hunscher, a tall Abraham Lincoln lookalike from New England. Hunscher had no money or organization to speak of, and everyone knew Hunscher would be the typical safe, eccentric LP candidate the media blissfully squashes and ignores.
It ultimately became clear Ed Clark would lead the party against Reagan and Carter (and pseudoindependent John Anderson, the bastard)—we also had leftist Barry Commoner to deal with—in 1980. I recall Branden, during his featured guest speech at the convention, observing that Libertarians are no different from others in the face of the need to grow. It feels safe to stay where you are, a bigger fish in a smaller pond.
“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are made for.” (Aphorism sounds really good in German.)
Day 2: Party Biz
Awaking on Friday, and assembling my own personal media center, I encounter the proverbial pebble in the shoe, which proves to be a missing three-foot length figure-eight charging cord for my laptop PC. Without it I don’t write very long—and I’m working on a story for my website that’s due Monday. Fortunately, hotel help encouraged by a $20, runs to a downtown computer store for the missing $9 link.
Registration and credentials proceed smoothly. My pal Emily Salvette, LPM supervolunteer extraordinaire, hall of famer for sure, is the head ramrod of this operation. Jim Burns approaches me as a Prez candidate who needs to get 50 signatures to appear with the others; I sign his petition and read his spiel: “Work the middle, tailor your message to members of the party of the candidate you want to lose, and become the margin of defeat. Then they’ll pay attention.”
Makes sense. But why become a candidate yourself to prosecute that message? Look at how proportional voting arrived in the LP by virtue of the determined obsession of Tom Jones (of Michigan). If such a communications train-wreck as Jones could effect a reasonable change in party procedure, how much easier for Burns, seemingly an kindly, knowledgeable, articulate gentleman, to convince legitimate candidates to effect his strategem.
I’m especially fond of a line from Burn’s brochure,
“Repeated failure is nature’s way of telling you to quit.”
So who are the legitimate candidates this year?
Gary Nolan—former Cleveland businessman transmogrified from Republican to Libertarian radio talk show host. His “Nolan at Night” program, broadcast nightly from Washington, DC on the Radio America Network, featured numerous high-profile guests, including an entire night each week devoted to experts from the Cato Institute. He has actively pursued the nomination since January 2003.
Michael Badnarik—systems analyst, Constitutional scholar, boy scout leader, and skydiving instructor from Austin, Texas, who was encouraged to enter the race by a friend. Michael decided running for president would be a fitting platform from which to spread his discoveries and insights on the Constitution and general libertarian awareness. He has traveled (under)doggedly over the past several months, and has a keen wit and humor.
Aaron Russo—millionaire Hollywood director and producer with an Emmy, a Tony, several Golden Globe nominations, many gold and platinum recordings, and six Academy award nominations for his films. He ran for governor in Nevada in 1998 as a first time political candidate on a libertarian platform and received 26% of the vote in a four-way race. He launched his presidential campaign comparatively late, (I only heard about it a few months before the convention.) A TV grandmaster.
Badnarik has no campaign organization to speak of; Nolan’s is the customary hardworking group of nonprofessional LP friends and volunteers; Russo’s is funded mostly by himself personally at the moment, and best-organized for publicity and promotion—Russo does not intend to begin significant fundraising and organizing until receiving the nomination. If I had to give them each a personality color: Nolan, green; Badnarik, brown; Russo, orange.
Getting ahead of myself, Friday is a business day in which the activity on the convention floor is bylaws and credentials. The quintessence of boredom, so I’m not going in. Instead I hang out in the convention literature and liberty-organization display booths—if you only go to an LP convention for the books and T-shirts, listen to the speakers, and rap with all the wonderful cause-oriented people, you’ll be richly rewarded. Truthfully, it’s information overload. Even for an experienced sponge like me.
After more than a decade, I ecstatically (well, very happily) run into longtime friends and activists Paul Jacob and his sister Kathleen (Hiserodt-Jacob-Richman). Paul is president of Citizens in Charge, an organization that promotes using the Progressive era-derived citizen tools of initiative, referendum, and recall to affect state politics at a libertarian grassroots level. Kathy’s the director of Laissez Faire Books, having moved it to Little Rock to enhance its solvency situation. Totally committed gonzo-smart, freedom-fighting Zen warriors, the best.
Friday Stream of Consciousness
In the room wrestling with hotel engineering staff on fast Internet hookup, huge mirror facing me at the desk, talk about stumbling into bad lighting, that guy looks old! Must complain to the front desk. Fountain of Youth to the rescue?: XangoÔ booth staffed by John Addiss and his daughter, make that wife, Lisa; I sign up, this stuff tastes good and will make me a handsome young stud once again. “Regime Change 2004” booth next to Xango, that’s it, just “regime change” stickers and some smiling guy. With Paul and Kathy, discuss my Constitutional amendment idea: defelonize, remove any significant penalties for nonaggressive crimes. Take it up with George Soros. Discussion of media bias, Bernard Goldberg’s book on CBS of same name, Bias. Journalism no pretense at objectivity. War Street Journal bucks trend, at least its (half-libertarian) opinions confined to editorial page. What other general source is there? Getting to the elevators is like climbing onto a merry-go-round, but they go up and down like bottle rockets. Lunch on my own, the Peachtree mall thru the skywalk, forgot about the lunch I paid for with Carl Pope of Sierra Club as speaker, still decompressing. Much writing work on nutritionals piece. Dining with Bradford at Pittypat’s Porch “Southern Dining,” bit of a faded glory I’d say. IMHO Bill’s pub (Liberty) is first-rate and objective, but some LP higherups think it’s been unduly negative, especially in demonstrating some irregularities in the Harry Browne campaign; dunno any other pub that covers LP at all, it certainly wants the LP to be successful. I ask him what he thinks prospects are for my guy (Aaron). On the street, panhandlers aplenty, one at least does a rap for his dollar. I tell Bill when they write the history of this era, Liberty Magazine will play a big part. He’s not so sure. Pistons lose big to Indianoplace in the NBA semis. Back at the hotel run into Kathy and Paul, K’s offspring voluptuous Jennifer and boyfriend Brett. Tokin’ small, feelin’ tall. Hospitalities for chair and someone else, two or three brewskis. I suggest to Kathy the country is like The Matrix except here people are on a continuum between being totally plugged in or totally unplugged. What direction is the aggregate pluggery going? Kathy says without the homeschools we’d all be planted head down in the system by now. Seeing in her eyes, and in Paul’s, the biospirit of freedom, which I share but wonder if I’ve lost some fire through the normal conventions of life: work and golf for instance. Hope not, because I ain’t leaving the side of these good people as they ward off the machinebots out there. Red Rock and Blues, event in the ballroom: aftermath palaver about OKC and Jayna Davis exposé with 20-something lead singer of Poker Face, he has battle fatigues, GI jungle boots, looks like a right-wing Che Guevara, thinks offing federales not such a revolutionary idea, suggests 911 went down by international conspiracy remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) per Donn de Grand Pré. From my seat it seems Dude wants to go to the barricades ahead of time. Hate to think it’s gonna come to that; if it does, the federales will take heavy losses, but will beat these types, who cling to no coherent life-bringing idea. You know, like the concept of universal individual rights.
Bob Murphy of Oklahoma joined me for a smoke outside. Like me, he has the Old Timer ribbon on his delegate badge. I’m sure we’ve spoken before over the past quarter decade at conventions, he looks familiar. Good ol’ boy—I went to high school in Oklahoma City—and we discussed why voting for Aaron Russo was the right thing to do.
Day 3: Platform debate, presidential debate—“what ya live for”
Today’s for work, at least a little bit on the convention floor. My delegation chair and state chair Mike Donahue knows I planned to attend the convention, but I haven’t yet formally checked in. It’s not from any mean streak, I assure you, but other priorities exist. Credentials and bylaws, which were handled yesterday, are certainly not trivial (even a little fascinating to the novice Roberts’ Rules mind), but I know from experience the party will do right without me.
Platform is a little more important. It’s been carefully constructed and written by the best minds in the country since the Founders. I remember once having a significant effect in clarifying a plank amendment during debate on the floor in Chicago in 1991; without the clarification, the assembly was imminently to vote for an anti-woman’s-choice position on abortion. The platform is the Holy Grail to Libertarians, especially to hard-case old timers like me.
Even so, the chances of any major platform boner materializing are virtually nil these days, with the committee system. Nothing makes it to the floor that hasn’t already been approved by a bunch of smart, principled people stretching back to the source.
But the proceedings can cause pain to the uninitiated. I’m sitting with some first-timers in the Michigan delegation, including Donahue and a young, earnest Mr. James Lewis. One of the planks was amended but when the amendment was written in the secretary’s notes, it failed to contain old “jury trial” wording that was in the original. After long discussion, the chair makes a ruling the uncorrected version is indeed the valid version.
The chair’s ruling is appealed. Voice vote inconclusive. Division inconclusive. Finally, voice count: everyone in favor stands then sits after voicing his/her number sequence. 97-96 to uphold the ruling of the chair! Time consumed: ~50 minutes. The chair was obviously wrong in this case, tired I’m sure, the original wording should have simply been left in as a clerical correction. I turn to Mike, who’s exasperated, smile and gently poke Bill Hall in the ribs, “This is what we live for, eh?”
But other than that, platform time was really pretty smooth, and the hallowed document was updated appropriately, no principles affected, certainly none compromised.
Some of the candidates are in evidence. Certainly my guy, Aaron, is around the floor and tables, going to be hosting a Q&A discussion with party members at 1530. I’ve seen glimpses of Badnarik, but Gary Nolan has been stealthy. In terms of literature and paraphernalia, Russo is in a different league from the others. We have balloons, signs, stickers, lotsa signs of four different sizes, and banners.
Russo puts a 30-second TV spot together, which I witnessed the night I arrived. He picks big media—ABC, Fox, NBC—at prime news times in the greater Atlanta area, one spot per day for the week, starting last Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press:
It’s unbelievable! Fantastic, actually. When the ad comes on it’s throws an immediate switch in your perceptual machinery. Your neck snaps to the uncustomary unequivocal verbiage coming from TV. Unlike any ad you’ve ever seen from a Libertarian candidate, even Clark in his prime and certainly Harry Browne’s overwrought and underplayed material. The Russo ads raise more money, more inquiries, and more polling numbers than equivalent Nader spots.
Later in my proselytization phase in the delegations I keep bringing up the ad. Seems no one who’s opposed to Russo has even seen it! People, this is a problem! A huge problem.
I do attend the Russo discussion. Very concerned. I’ve arrived late, maybe the process was more focused earlier, but has now declined to a “who I am and what I believe” discussion. This isn’t what I came to hear. I want to know how the Aaron organization plans to win this battle. I finally get recognized as the crowd is dwindling and say my piece:
“We know you’re a good guy and most of us are here to vote for you. If you don’t win tomorrow, you don’t get the chance to go on to the Finals. You have to win this ball game. What are you doing to make sure it happens? Are you talking with the LP celebs, getting endorsements from key respected members, changing some minds? Going to all the delegations one by one? We have to win this ballgame, why are we spending all this time in a California encounter group?”
I’m exasperated by the apparent lack of a sense of urgency here, and, frankly, lack of a polished, professional organization. I know Aaron hasn’t done this level of internal campaign before, and he got a very late start. Buttons and banners aren’t going to sway the opinion of the born-again booboosie grandmother from Ohio who thinks Aaron shouldn’t say “bullshit” so much. The stallions of the status quo are going to get her vote.
Some dinner on my own, this time I find a decent steakhouse, and a great local brewski, Sweetwater IPA. Steak is good. Again, this is Saturday night, and I’m wandering through the Peachtree Center then out into downtown area. Not enough people downtown to make it a going doodah. For one thing the Peachtree which has all the shops and the lunch fast-food center, whatever you call it, is closed completely on the weekends—which makes it a bitch for the hotel food services to handle all the people in their downtown hotel venues.
Big event now is the presidential debates, because this is where everyone hears the candidates speak their minds. What I want to stress though that libertarian candidate debates or discussions are only about talking to ourselves. John Doe Voter doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether we get the scholarship right about the application of the “commerce clause” in the US Constitution, or how “unconscionable” it is that that the Constitution bears no correspondence to our political system anymore, or how cleverly we deliver our lines.
In the debate, Badnarik scores a clear victory, at least in the sentimentality of swing voters who find him so damned loveable. Michael handles the “lost vote” argument adroitly likening the choice to whether you elect to stay in prison for the 45% chance of being hanged or the 50% chance of lethal injection vs. taking a 5% shot at a jailbreak. Brilliant. This and a couple of other well-placed Paul Lynde (of Hollywood Square fame) quips down the stretch earned the discussion victory.
Like Michael, Gary Nolan is the nicest guy in the world, and I certainly have to give him snaps for the campaign work ethic. But he looks scary. He’s a big man, probably 6’4” or 6’5”, 250# at least, and stolid. Big bushy eyebrows and a large mane of black hair on a dark-complected large thin face, with large bulging eyes give him a tanned, big Marty Feldman appearance. In debate he’s good, though somewhat mechanical, in keeping with most radio personalities. You can visualize the cue cards being sorted in his mind’s eye, then locating the correct one, and delivering the lines with a mellifluous deep voice. Nolan would be a viable candidate given reasonable TV exposure and help in modulating his negative perceptual image. (Hey, this isn’t personal, I’m scary looking, too, but then I’m not running for president.)
One’s first impression of Aaron is an prizefighter at the end of his career who’s lately been taking too many turns around the banquet tables. He’s about 5’9” or 5’10” definitely looks like he wants to mix it up. But he’s open, friendly, and expansive in gesture, emotional and passionate. He’s an enemy of the police state and he’s not going to take it anymore.
With Aaron, you have the notion when he’s done talking to you, there’ll be a tar-and-feather rally down at the nearest government-goon headquarters, and he will lead the parade. He gets a little over his head on an environmental question, accusing the oil companies of fascism. True enough from some perspectives, but we’re going to have to improve on argument precision. Also, he does use the word “bullshit” at one point. Heavens!
The upshot is the delegates have now got a warm fuzzy for Badnarik, who until this point has been a dark horse maybe getting a handful of votes from his Consititutionalist boy scout skydiving contingent in Texas.
Making the hospitality circuit that evening, I run into the first presidential hospitality suite, probably the first libertarian hospitality suite ever that features a dance floor and a DJ! Naturally, the beer is free, a routine selection. I hit the Russo suite early, kind of a spontaneous order develops in the placement of the beer on ice in the coolers, and the delivery of ice. I provide valuable help.
I do notice an attractive young woman standing by a standup table, then moving to the dance floor with some girthy dude and actually moving pleasingly well (by any standards, certainly Libertarian standards). She leaves another woman she’s been talking with at the table, and I go over there, and this other woman talk and decide to dance, too. This other woman (Ann?) tells me the hot one is a mainstay of the Free State Project (FSP).
FSP Lady is Dagny Taggart or Katherine Hepburn, by Libertarian standards. [Though I must say the overall babe factor is getting better and better in the Party (as I get older and less able to accomplish anything mutually fulfilling). There are the Rachel Mills (L, North Carolina) calendar girls, many of whom are in attendance. Naturally I buy the 2004 calendar. Well, as I’m awkwardly learning to line dance or some such, Amanda leaves the room with Big Guy. Maybe I shouldn’t dance in public.]
I feel the need to go out on my own, as a semirespected force in the party, to the various hospitality suites of Aaron’s opponents and to state delegations within my district, anyway, who may be sitting on the fence. I learn my longtime party pals Emily Salvette and Bill Hall are going to vote for Gary Nolan! This hurts, because I always figured them as hardasses like me. I’m trying to convince them the media is the message, and Aaron is the only man who “has the technology” and is not afraid to use it.
Gary or Michael will be obliterated in the media as usual. This sounds like the same argument I made in the 1987 convention in Seattle when I supported Russell Means (vs. Ron Paul), for much the same reasons. So did Emily and Bill, by the way, as I recall.
Day 4: High noon for the LP?
0900: Looks like we’re going to avoid that terrorist attack I was trying to worry Mom and the ex about. The floor is full of delegates for the nominations of the presidential candidates. Everyone is milling about animatedly. Let me just summarize why we need to return a result of Russo today. The best analogy I can produce is:
Three men find themselves parachuted into the countryside during a war. They’ve landed near a farmhouse that appears to be occupied by simple folk who probably wish the war were over. The team doesn’t want to kill civilians, so it must convince the farmers to provide food, shelter, perhaps even outright assistance against the evil regime. Each soldier is a fine, intelligent person, but only one speaks the native tongue of these simple folk. Who do they send to knock on the door?
Your golf club miraculously receives an invitation to send a member to appear in the Ryder Cup (an international event in which golf professionals are chosen to play for their countries). Tiger Woods, falling on hard times (this is a fairy tale), has joined your club for the express purpose of being chosen for the Ryder Cup. A club pro who hasn’t passed the playing qualification and a member who shoots double bogey but knows the rules better than anyone in Houston, Texas, are candidates. Who do we select to go to the Cup?
Case closed. Aaron Russo is the only individual who has the chance of convincing a large number, perhaps a critical mass, of Americans to vote Libertarian. He is a master of television, the media of “the emotional perceptual mentality” (vs. the conceptual mentality). Immediate political success requires reaching the emotional perceptual mentality: first, that we are even here, and second, that we will forthrightly fix the massive injustices heaped upon the average citizen by the state.
“All your freedoms, all the time!”
If we bail out and pick one of the other two, well I don’t want to use a crude formulation. Let’s just say we’ll be caving into our emotions and our fears.
The 1983 LP National Convention, New York City. As state chair of Michigan at the time, I was influential in sending Dr. Mary Ruwart to the platform committee, not because she had exceptionally solid, widely read knowledge of libertarianism, but because she was a hard worker and got a lot of signatures in our ballot drive. Mary was relatively new to the LP at the time. During the platform week of the platform meetings, some Texans convinced her she should consider putting her name in the LP presidential race.
Our delegation—Michigan is usually about the fourth or fifth highest in LP delegate total—was virtually 100% in favor of the Crane candidate Earl Ravenal, who would again have the machinery behind him and would run a professional, highly funded campaign. The other candidate was David Bergland. Going into the weekend, as my memory has it, Ravenal was favored.
Then Mary—“shall I go check out the fine museums around here today, or shall I run for president, hmmmm…”—put her hat in the ring, and got a lot of sentimental votes on the first ballot. Which changed the information dynamic supporting the frontrunning, most-qualified Ravenal. Mary, like Badnarik, had no organization, and Bergland, like Nolan, had a hodge-podge assembly of party stalwarts without a systematic plan or any significant route to real money or television. (All IMHO, which, of course, is infallible.)
The next ballot turned out to Bergland’s favor because, as I recall, he was astute enough a politician to make quick, bold overtures of an unknown nature to the Ruwart camp. The vote went several ballots, and even when it became clear Ravenal was going down in flames, the Michigan delegation continued to vote en masse for Ravenal, without a single sloppy-sentimental vote for our favorite-daughter Mary, the bright-eyed blond bombshell. Talk about being hardasses!
Hey, it’s all water under the bridge now. I love Mary dearly, she’s a libertarian icon, and deservedly so. She just made a bonehead decision in 1983 that adversely affected the course of history, leading to the effective decapitation of the conscientious, moneyed, political-professional class in the LP—there are indications the Crane machine was on the verge of walking away anyway—and may have led to the LP’s 20 years of wandering in the touchy-feely wilderness of unsystematic, abysmally funded operations.
No I’m not bitter, I’ve just haven’t seen a presidential candidate since then who’s been politically worth a bucket of warm spit. How many votes did Browne get last time, was it even 200,000? You expect me to get excited about that? Ed Clark got a million votes! And that was a disappointment. This is why we gotta go for Aaron now. He’s flawed, but who isn’t? He came into town on a white horse with a generous spirit, and he’s the only one who has a chance of getting more votes than Ed.
Remember: “Continued failure is nature’s way of telling you to quit.”
Deja vous all over again
No need to keep you in suspense, though the voting was indeed highly suspenseful, as usual. And there’s pandemonium with mostly Russo posters walking around the room shouting “Russo, Russo, Russo.” I’m one of them. What is most amazing is Nolan, the presumed frontrunner, is shocked at placing third in the first ballot. The table shows the results:
Others and NOTA
But I don’t want to forget sharing some of the clever commentary that occurs on first ballot. Each delegation chair usually gives a little spiel about the peculiarities of his state: NCAA basketball titles, Super Bowl victories, presidential residences, gubernatorial indiscretions, etc. My favorite was Utah: “The state of Utah, where separation of church and state is one block… casts its votes…”
Another reason we come to national conventions!
I make an impassioned plea in our district caucus, “…I’ve been here from the beginning and it’s imperative [can’t believe I used the word imperative!] that Russo win the nomination. He’s the only man who has a chance of not being completely ignored. We have to take this chance, it’s the future of liberty on the line. The police state is closing in, we’ll be marched off to internment camps in the morning…” Tim O’Brien said my harangue was caught on C-Span.
Naturally, there is bad blood between Nolan and Russo, because Nolan throws his people to Badnarik as opposed to having them vote in their conscience for the best candidate. But this is a Libertarian crowd, more like cats than dogs. Most of the Michiganians, including Bill Hall and I’m guessing Emily, but I could be totally wrong about Emily (and usually am) decide “the heck with that, I’m voting for Russo,” but it isn’t enough.
I noted Aaron on the right-side aisle had been elated upon the first ballot, highest totals, and the second ballot put him in good position. But then the Nolan spoiler, and Aaron’s countenance is crestfallen. Bloody but unbowed, he walks to the podium and graciously acknowledges Michael’s victory—but can’t resist a jab at the man who pulled him under out of spite. Nolan’s appeal was a low blow, by Libertarian standards.
Badnarik walks to the podium and states, “Not in my wildest dreams!” to healthy applause. Then suggests “… this was never my intention.” I want to shout back, “Then why in the royal f**k did you get in the race?!” No shouting now, though. I don’t sense the booboosie responsible for voting for Michael on a feel-good basis are feeling any warm tide of relief now. No, it has to be more like panic, well panic in the Badnarik non-organization anyway. Maybe some of the booboosie feel a sense of irresponsibility.
But we’re going to put a happy face on it and take it to the banquet. Well attended. I decide to prep with an American Spirit smoke break out on the driveway, and run into Barry Hess, who ran for the prez nomination against Harry Browne four years ago. I even remember picking up him and his lovely wife at Detroit Metro during the campaign. He’s as disappointed as I am, perhaps moreso. Refers to the “groundhog” philosophy of being afraid to move outside the comfortable colony.
At the banquet, I wander around to find an empty seat, and sit next to a lovely academically inclined couple, the van Cleeves, who have been in Arizona, but moved recently to Indiana. Refreshingly into literature, they share some fabulous discussion about Heinlein and his various works, and several others in the sci fi genre—esp. libertarian L. Neil Smith. She’s a fiction writer, and as a fellow writer (of nonfiction), we engage in some interesting shop talk. At LP conventions, this kind of stimulating conversation is really what you live for.
Typical banquet program, and mention of Ron Crickenberger, a wonderful LP leader and activist who tragically died of cancer this year. Barb Goushaw has a hard time keeping from breaking down. Party founder David Nolan addresses the throng with his Theory of 72, i.e. the number of years between major political watershed events for liberty. And 2004 the latest, backing up we have 1932 (New Deal), 1860 (Lincoln), 1788 (Whiskey Rebellion? I forget.)… you get the point. Key years for liberty or statism.
Nolan’s numerological ruminations lead him to believe 2004 is an especially critical year, that if we don’t make any inroads in world consciousness for liberty, you can envision internment camps for libertarians like those for the Japanese during WWII. Actually, I kind of agree with the criticality argument, but find it incomprehensible that he endorsed Gary Nolan and is okay with Badnarik as some kind of answer to the imminence of us being rounded up as enemies of God and state.
Well, that’s about it for LP04. I’m going to keep the party faith and definitely vote Libertarian everywhere. I’ll talk us up to my golf buddies, who will continue to laugh at me and my Lesbiterians. Who knows, maybe the American public will discover and fall in love with Mr. Excitement, the clever, lovable Mr. B, give him a million+ votes. And pigs will fly out of my butt! Sorry, my LP buds, you just had a second epic chance of success and you blew it!
Next stop, the Free State Project festival. FSPers were much in evidence at LP04, in fact you could feel a flow of strong positive energy in that direction. FSP reminds me of how I felt in the early 70s about Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: we’ll get a bunch of young (and youngminded), brilliant, goodlooking leader types over there, declare independence from the automatons in the Matrix, and “throw rocks at ‘em.”
Monday morning I feel the excitement as the valet delivers my Audi. I climb in happily, take the wheel, pop the clutch, do a four-wheel power drift out onto Peachtree Lane, jam on the gas, then crick my neck to witness the Marriott Marquis fading fast away in my mirror over the Lone Star sticker on the backlight. So long, Atlanta, there are many other houses in the kingdom of freedom heaven! The days of the state machine are numbered… and it isn’t a very big number.
 Nolan loses, comes to the podium and recommends all his supporters to vote for Badnarik.
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