Over at Kn@ppster, Tom disabuses Steve Gordon of the notion – still popular in some Libertoid corners, despite more than a decade’s accrued evidence of its demonstrable falsity – that Web-based activism represents the Yellow Brick Road that will lead the Libertarian Party inexorably to Emerald City’s more “even” political playing field:
The danger in thinking that the Internet has "changed things" politically is that it's easy to assume proficiency in its use will automatically change the overall equation of political power. It won't…most Internet phenomena are just cheaper, easier-to-use, more accessible versions of long-existing tools…The cost reduction and time/effort savings represented by the Internet have made it possible for more people to become activists and organizers, but they haven't changed the essential nature of activism and organization…. libertarians beat others to the punch in inventing and making use of Internet tools for political purposes ... but…the punch never landed. Yes, the Libertarian Party was the first party on the web. And there it sat. Waiting.
Well said, and I couldn’t agree more on this count. However, about the LP’s potential to exploit other forms of guerilla marketing, Knapp is considerably more optimistic, pointing to 2004 presidential candidate Michael Badnarik’s success in “stealing a march” by focusing early and often on military conscription. And, yes, I suppose if one’s definition of success includes being first to oppose a policy that neither of the major parties is stupid enough to actually propose, then the LP really set the rules of engagement on that one.
As to whether
this is a harbinger of future glories for the Ole LP, color me a bit more
skeptical. For one thing, I think it important to at least consider the
possibility that the Internet
Obviously, the party has never been a dynamo at the polls, but it
was, for a good number of years, one of the most important – if not THE most
important -- providers of information ABOUT libertarianism.
Some of those pieces might open his
eyes to approaches he hadn’t considered before, but mostly, they served the function of providing him with
just enough intellectual firepower to hold his own in cocktail party debates.
And in exchange for just a low, low introductory price and a pledge not to get
all “coercive,” he, too, could join the freaks and be
It was a nice little prospecting scam while it lasted, but
as Georgie H. reminded us, all things must pass. Today, that same would-be
party member can just type the word “libertarian” into Google and immediately
return 11.4 million hits, many (most?) of which are a hell of a lot more informative
and detailed than anything on offer from the LP.
Unfortunately, this relegates the party largely to rely on its other ostensible strategy of counting on elections to “educate” the public about libertarianism. Never mind that most members of the public couldn’t even tell you the NAME of their congressman, much less expound intelligently on the theories held by the third party candidate who drew a whopping 1% of the vote against him.
Of course, even 1% may be stretching it. The truth of the matter is that the Dot-Com Era – which most trace to Netscape's initial public offering in 1995 – has not simply been a period of stagnation for the LP. It’s been one of marked decline.
Over the last three election cycles, the party's presidential tickets have slipped from 0.5% of the electorate in 1996, to 0.4% in 2000 and 0.3% in 2004. A quarter century after Ed Clark polled 980,000 votes and 1.1% of the electorate, the party has yet to match even half of that (objectively unimpressive) tally in any subsequent race.
To demonstrate how Badnarik's campaign amounted to what you call an irrelevancy "cool down" when you're doing irrelevancy aerobics, consider this nugget, courtesy of the recently departed Bill Bradford:
What about the Badnarik campaign's much touted strategy of concentrating its resources in four "battleground" states? Did the substantial expenditures for television advertising in these states pay off?...In sum, LP vote share dropped 17% in the states where the 2004 campaign focused its money and energy, while dropping only 8.4% in other states. Think about it: the Badnarik campaign did twice as well in states that it ignored than in states where it concentrated its resources. Needless to say, this does not support the idea that heavy spending on television advertising had a positive impact. Indeed, it suggests that perhaps the more voters know about the Libertarian candidate, the less likely they are to vote for him.
Can there be any doubt left? The “Party,” as it were, is over -- long over. The bong is kicked, the munchies have all been scarfed down, and the keg is pumping nothing but foam. The record is stuck repeating the most toe-curlingly shrill bit of noise before hitting that same scratch over and over again. Anyone actually worth talking to has long since departed, and the only folks still milling about are the truly pathetic – who have nowhere else to go – and a few old drunken louts who just want to continue fighting yesterday's battles just sos they can get in some scrappin’ for scrappin’s sake. All that’s left to do is drop an anonymous dime to the pigs to break the damned thing up, turn out the lights and call it an evening.
Brad DeLong’s gotten a lot of mileage out of his “impeachment” series, so perhaps I’ll steal that meme for my own mantra:
Disband the Libertarian Party. Disband it now.