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Political Party or Protest Organization? By Carl Milsted, Jr.

Written by Subject: Politics: Libertarian Campaigns
Political Party or Protest Organization?

By Carl Milsted, Jr.

Welcome to Bubba's Auto Parts and Day Spa, the one-stop source for your car, truck, and personal beautification needs. We got yer rubbing compounds and exfoliating facial scrubs, motor oils and scented oils, paste wax and bikini wax. Relax in our steam room while we steam clean your engine. Soak in beauty mud while we install new mud flaps on your four-wheeler. And check out our specials on aisle seven: buy one Fram oil filter and get a free loofah sponge.

Bubba has an unusual business plan  one that is not very appealing. Both auto parts stores and day spas are viable businesses, but put the two together and the results arenot pretty. The Libertarian Party suffers from the same fundamental problem; it has two conflicting business models operating under the same roof.

To some, the Libertarian Party is a true political party, an organization dedicated to electing libertarians to public office. This is the model codified in our mission statement.

To others the Libertarian Party is a protest organization. Its purpose is to take a stand on the hard issues and to promote a radical long-term vision. This model is codified in the membership pledge and, until recently, in the platform.

Either model would work independently. However, trying to be both a political party and a protest organization has been a disaster.

A political party needs to build a large coalition. It needs to shy away from the more unpopular positions, focusing instead on those libertarian positions that the voters are ready for today. A political party needs to behave with a certain degree of decorum in order to maintain credibility.

A protest organization, on the other hand, can thrive on controversy. Outrageous positions, statements, and street theater can attract attention and get people to think in new ways.

Put the two together in the same organization and both efforts are hampered. A big tent dilutes the message. Radical positions and outrageous street theater hurt the chances of the serious candidates.

The Libertarian Party needs to decide which role it should take. If we are to be a protest organization, let's do it up! Let us stop wasting money on 50 state ballot access requirements and paper candidates. Let us put forth far out confrontational press releases and have a blast doing street theater. Who needs credibility? PETA doesn't. Greenpeace doesn't.

On the other hand, if the LP is to be a true political party, then the membership pledge needs to go, and the platform needs to focus on winnable near term goals.

Whichever way the LP goes, the libertarian movement needs another organization to take on the dropped role. If the LP is to be a political party, then we need radical protest organizations to turn today's far-out positions into tomorrow's winning issues. On the other hand, if the LP is to be a protest organization, then we need a new, more moderate, pro-freedom political party to cash in on the successes of the libertarian protest organizations and think tanks. These days, the Democratic and Republican politicians tend to be more authoritarian than the general public, so voter education alone is insufficient.

Whichever way the LP goes, some will walk out. But a greater number will walk in. A coherent business plan would make participation in the LP more fun and more effective.

I think the LP should be a political party. Why have the overhead of a political party in order to be a protest organization? Why bother with petitioning and FEC compliance? Setting up a new protest organization is much easier than setting up a new political party. And members of the new radical protest organization(s) can continue being members of the more moderate LP at the same time, just as many members of PETA and Greenpeace are also members of the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, the LP has done much of its best work historically as a protest organization. More importantly, there are quite a few libertarians who grow quite hysterical at the thought of the word libertarian being associated with an organization that is moderate enough and compromising enough to win elections. Perhaps those of us who want to do elect pro-liberty politicians should start a new party under a different name just to avoid the acrimony.

So, which shall it be?

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