Libertarian Party 1972 - 2008: Rest in Peace.
It is with a heavy heart that I report the death of the Libertarian Party. It was only 36 years old—far too young to die. And while there is some dispute over whether the death was self-inflicted or murder, the death itself was tragic and sad.
Once billed as “The Party of Principle” those principles were sold down the river. On Sunday, May 25, 2008 the principles were abandoned, and the party was last seen gasping for air
This author watched 30 years of his life pass before his eyes -- wasted. Having been a candidate and supporter of the party since 1978 what I saw ended any respect I had left for the LP.
Far Right Republican congressman Bob Barr was nominated for president and the loudmouthed, huckster, Wayne Root, an “odds maker” from Las Vegas, traded with Barr in order to become his running mate. They brought to the LP the sort of backroom deal-making once only seen in the larger, corrupt parties.
It is true that the principles did not die easily, however. On the first ballot conservative Barr was leading Mary Ruwart by just one vote. On the second ballot it was dead even. On the third vote Ruwart was in the lead. And then the “behind-the-scenes” deal of the two neocon infiltrators was announced.
Root, who had sworn he would never take the vice presidential made clear that he doesn’t necessarily mean what he says at all. He got up and announced that he was endorsing Bob Barr. In return Root said that he would be Barr’s vice presidential candidate and in four years time he was promised the top slot by Barr—as if Barr had any authority to make such a promise.
Realize that neither man is a libertarian, both are conservatives. Both endorse foreign interventionism. Root gave $1,000 to the campaign of Joe Leiberman and Barr gave around $100,000 to Republican Right-wing candidates. Almost all of those candidates were on the far Right of the party and advocates of war. The people Barr has supported, for the most part, were the absolute worst among the Republicans—those least likely to respect libertarian principles.
The antiwar Libertarians were duped by both men who had convenient conversions to new positions more satisfying to the delegates. Root entered the campaign a war-mongering hawk. When he ran into trouble with party members he suddenly saw the light and announced a new position.
Barr seemed to hold to his conservative principles. Only two weeks ago he adamantly said he was opposed to ending the war on drugs. Nothing he said this weekend actually changed that but Barr answered questions in ways that made it appear he had. He talked about the failure of the war on drugs for a long time and then said the federal government should get out of the drug war. Of course, he merely wanted the individual states to wage the drug war instead. That part was barely mentioned, making it appear he was more opposed to the drug war than he is.
When Barr arrived in Denver he found a large percentage of delegates sporting anti-Barr buttons —something never before seen at an LP convention. And he had to make some concessions. So he had one of those last second, dramatic conversions. Previously Barr was openly and viciously antigay and he authored one of the most discriminatory pieces of antigay legislation around, the Defense of Marriage Act.
Barr had tried to placate the delegates by pretending that his law was magically libertarian in reality. No one believed him.
Just a few hours before the big vote Barr suddenly announced that he had seen the light and changed his mind on gay marriage. He now said his legislation was bad and he realized he was hurting gay people needlessly and he was sorry. Personally I found him as sincere as a horny teenage boy telling his date that he really loves her and, “of course, I’ll still respect you in the morning.” Often the girl concedes because she wants to believe the promise. And many delegates in Denver wanted to believe the promise as well. I suspect what they will find is that Barr doesn’t actually love them, he used them, and as soon as he can replace them with his fellow conservatives they will find out exactly how screwed they were.
Barr had brought in his own people to Denver, people previously not affiliated with the Libertarian Party. Like him they were conservative Republicans looking for a vehicle to use. And the LP, with its ballot status in numerous states is a prime target for plundering. We have to remember that these dogmatic Rightists have one goal in mind and it isn’t the promotion of libertarianism.
They want to defeat John McCain. While there is little to say in favor of McCain the Far Right doesn’t perceive him as one of their own. He is not theocratic enough, authoritarian enough, or vicious enough to satisfy them. They want to take votes from McCain. And how will they do that? By arguing that McCain is not a “true conservative” and that Barr is. And exactly how will that be sold to the public? Barr will have to campaign, not as a libertarian, but as a Far Right conservative.
How did this revolting coup take place? There are three reasons.
First, over the years the party has recruited from the Right. While the party should have recruited from the Left as well, it didn’t. The party drifted further and further away from libertarian principles as time went by. As more and more conservatives joined the party it attracted more conservatives and turned off those on the moderate Left. To placate these Right-wingers some dubious characters raped the party platform. Many planks were removed or watered down.
Second, some party members just felt that “winning” recognition was more important than seeing the values of liberty spread. The party was started by people wanting to use it to push for liberty. The party was the means to an end. But these desperate individuals reversed things. The party was the end in itself. The goal wasn’t promoting liberty but holding power. They thought that losing an election was worse than losing their principles. Bob Barr took them to the mountaintop and showed them the baubles that politics can offer and they were seduced.
Third, and worse, the party was intentionally betrayed by a cabal of individuals who were mainly associated with the LP National Committee and the LP office staff.
Barr was brought into the party by a bevy of Right-wing, often religiously-motivated, individuals. They first had to raise Barr’s status in the party. They arranged for the national committee member from Georgia to step down from his seat and then had Barr appointed to replace him. So this “new libertarian” suddenly became a national officer almost the same day he joined.
During this time Barr used Right-wing mailing lists to raise $4 million for his political action committee. Very little of that went to candidates, most of it was eaten up by “expenses.” Of the money that was given to candidates, the vast majority went to Far Right Republicans, many of whom used it to campaign against Libertarian candidates. But a tiny percentage of that money, well under one percent, or $12,000, went to the Libertarian Party National Committee. It didn’t go to candidates but to the national committee on which Barr was serving. Apparently that tiny amount was all that was necessary.
Some national committee members started working to stage a conservative coup and they wanted Barr as their candidate. This was done in cahoots with party staff, none of whom had any business engaging in such matters.
One cigar-chomping Right-winger, Stephen Gordon, started a web site, Third Party Watch, which was regularly promoting Barr. Gordon ended up being a paid staff member of the Barr campaign. Before that, he was a staff member at the LP national office.
And it was at this site that the first inklings of a Barr-Root secret agreement, to purge the party , began. When Mary Ruwar announced she was running, both campaigns knew they were in trouble and started to attack Ruwart. They found it quite easy to make it sound as if she was promoting pedophilia. Ruwart has written that children "who willing participate in sexual acts have the right to make that decision as well..." which implies precisely what her opponents say it means. Ruwart contends she was being taken out of context but the context didn't help her case that much.
The man who appears to be the most likely suspect for the attack campaign is Aaron Starr, a Root campaign supporter and a member of the national committee. Starr certainly worked with Root’s campaign manager to get this smear out. It was first spread through the Barr-affiliated Third Party Watch site. Then Root’s managers used material supplied by Starr at the Indiana LP convention to attack Ruwart directly.
After Third Party Watch pushed the attack for a couple of days, the executive director of the party, Shane Corey, without any authorization to do so, put out a press release which was meant to pour gasoline on the fire. Corey misused his office to announce a new party position -- a joint federal-state task force to go after pedophilia. That such activity is already against the law was ignored. That it is entirely a state matter, constitutionally speaking, was also ignored. Corey was basically calling for the federal government to take on a new, unconstitutional power for itself. But the purpose of the press release was to make it appear that the national Libertarian Party was distancing itself from Ruwart. [Nothing said here should be construed as an endorsement for Ruwart, who has proven herself, to this blogger at least, to be vicious and dishonest.]
Many libertarians were upset, especially since Corey had ignored all the proper channels and unilaterally announced a policy decision without an authority to do so. He resigned his position. But don’t feel sorry for him either. He had another position already in the waiting. This reporter has to clarify the exact position but let us say that he was either working directly for Mr. Barr or working for someone very close to Barr, Richard Viguerie. Mr. Viguerie, is a Far Right conservative who was looking to take control of a third party for some time now. And this time it seems he got what he wanted.
In addition, Viguerie suddenly turned up as a last minute speaker at the Denver convention. When I asked around as to why someone who is as unlibertarian as Viguerie was a last minute speaker I was told it was done at Barr’s request. Why only Barr was allowed to appoint speakers at the convention was never answered.
That was not the end either. Remember Stephen Gordon of Third Party Watch. Gordon used his contacts from his time in the LP office to start a libertarian e-mail list company which was then used to promote Barr directly to Libertarians. In addition he started his web site, Third Party Watch for almost nothing. That was the site used to promote Barr and attack Ruwart. And what I’ve now heard is that Gordon “sold” this web site. The man handing Gordon the money supposedly is Richard Viguerie. I wonder if the going price for such betrayal is still 20 pieces of silver. Either way I’d like to know how much money Mr. Gordon got out of Barr and Viguerie. Add that to the $12,000 “contribution” to the LP Nat-Com and we’d have some idea of what it costs to buy a political party.
In addition it seems the national convention was practically run by Barr people. A Republican was brought in to moderate the candidate’s debate—apparently a Libertarian wasn’t good enough. And individuals who were given prominent roles in the convention just happened to be individuals who were also picked to nominate Barr for the office. So after they were given added “importance” by being paraded before the delegates, they ended up giving nominating speeches on behalf of Barr. I am sure they will say it was a coincidence.
Various committees were packed with the “reformers”, all of whom had been working to strip the party platform of measures offensive to conservatives. They not only ended up raping the platform but then making up the Fifth Column supporting Barr at the convention. It seems that being a Barr supporter was enough to give one a prominent role at the cone deck in favor of Barr of course. Perhaps it was all a coincidence?
But, of course, the joint Barr-Root attack of Mary Ruwart, was also a coincidence. No doubt the Root endorsement of Barr was a coincidence as well—perhaps a fluke.
Many in the party were shocked and horrified at what happened. These reformed “libertarians”, many of whom were just recently in the Republican Party, were taking over. Long-time party activists were angry and felt that a coup had been purposely staged. Unity in the party was threatened and some suggested that the vice presidential slot should go to a principled libertarian.
Ruwart did not want to share a ticket with a non-libertarian. Steve Kubby, a previous presidential candidate, who had endorsed Ruwart, said he would accept the VP slot. Ruwart’s delegates were in favor. The delegates who had worked for Senator Mike Gravel also came on board. And the first vote was close. Even many Barr voters thought it would be a good gesture and a way of keeping some actual libertarians in the Libertarian Party.
Barr would have none of it. He got up and made a speech, making it clear that he would not accept anyone but his fellow neocon, Wayne Allen Root. Barr was not interested in a unified party. He was interested in a total coup. That is what his Nat-Com allies wanted, that is what his friends in the national office wanted, and that is what they got. Barr had enough trouble from real libertarians and wanted them gone. One “reformer” had announced on his blog that the goal was to drive out of the party all “anarchists”. Of course by anarchist he meant anyone with a consistent libertarian view -- as opposed to conservatives.
The reality is that Libertarian Party had one thing of value to the Far Right. It likely will hold ballot status in about 48 states. It has little in actual assets, but ballot status in that many states can cost millions of dollars. Barr, Viguiere and the Benedict Arnolds in the Nat-Com, like Starr, wanted that asset for themselves. And they got it -- at least they have it for the moment.
Many of the state affiliates have a large amount of discretion over candidates they will list. It is possible that the many states which supported neither Barr nor Root could refuse them local ballot status. Some are discussing complete disaffiliation.
Some states didn’t give either Root or Barr any support at all. For instance, Root’s home state, Nevada, shut him out completely. Not only wouldn’t they vote for Root but they didn’t even want him as a delegate. Even though he doesn’t live there Root was voting with the California delegation, a delegation where Starr had a lot of influence. Perhaps he arranged for Root to vote as a California delegate. However Root got there, it didn’t seem anyone was interested in finding out why Root’s own state wanted nothing to do with him.
A lot of angry libertarians are looking for ways to take the party back from this interlopers and traitors. I don’t know how successful they will be. Barr’s campaign will attract more intolerant, interventionist, conservatives like himself to the party. The more of them that join the party the more unlikely it will be that libertarians will have any influence in their own party.
Over the next couple of years the real indicator will be the party platform. To prepare for the coup the so-called Reform Caucus had been working to denude the platform of anything that conservatives would find offensive. In other words they wanted a Republican platform. The previous position of support for freedom of choice in abortion was watered down to say almost nothing. One sign of the Right-wing coup will be when that plank becomes explicitly anti-choice.
A second plank that I suspect will be targeted by the Barr-Root cabal will be that of immigration. Both men will start sounding like the Minutemen and other xenophobic Republicans.
Third, expect to see more planks referring to “state’s rights”. Issues like drugs and gay equality will get replaced with calls for allowing the states to have whatever policy they want on this -- regardless of how oppressive. Libertarians previously favored ending the war on drugs and favored full equality for gays before the law. Both those issues will go down the drain. Instead, the planks won’t call for either, but will merely say these are state matters -- and the libertarian position will be replaced by this conservative interpretation.
The best indication that the LP deserves its death is that it was incapable of having a decent candidate. Root and Barr were both disgusting and Ruwart, who would have secured the nomination if Barr hadn't, is flaky and untrustworthy, in spite of her well-acted saccharin tone of voice. This lack of any decent candidate for the nomination indicates the party has fallen a long way since Ed Clark was the LP presidential candidate.