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Intramural complaints about how the campaign did spend the small amount it raised also abound—Susan Hogarth, outreach director for the North Carolina state LP, for one, wondered why a libertarian campaign needed to spend over $100,000 on political consultants (and also complained how, as an early critic of the campaign, she was initially locked out of being able to volunteer for phone banking, though she was later permitted to participate). Barr staffer Gordon wondered if allowing donors to specifically give to help broadcast one of a selection of potential ads they chose themselves might have helped raise money for TV ads; and George Phillies, one of Barr's nomination foes, is annoyed with the campaign for spending $18,000 on limos.
What legacy did Barr leave for the LP? He has been OK, but not fabulous, in bringing in new members—netting the Party slightly less than 2,000 new members during his campaign.
While ballot access for the LP is mostly a responsibility of the national and state parties rather than the presidential campaign, the Barr camp did, according to ballot access maven Richard Winger, take responsibility for getting on three ballots—West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Washington, D.C.—and failed in all three. Winger thinks one of Barr’s potential great legacies for the party will come from easing ballot access rules via a lawsuit in Massachusetts that, after the appeals process plays out, may end up establishing valuable precedent for the entire First Federal judicial circuit, easing ballot access in many states for the future.
The LP's problems with electoral traction predate Bob Barr’s campaign. A realistic and fair critique of Barr should not stress that, oh, somehow he uniquely blew it; he earned, after all, within a margin of error, as many votes as most LP candidates have tended to receive during the past 20 years.
And I don’t think that the raw vote number should be totally pooh-poohed. Getting the second highest total is encouraging, even if not so impressive in national percentage terms, once you realize that actually winning a national election isn’t the realistic goal.
I’ve always had a soft spot for libertarian movement OG Leonard Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, and his “each one teach one” mentality toward libertarian education. I can look at that 510,000 raw vote number and see 510,000 people who, probably, understand the libertarian message about government—which is more people who understood and acted on such a belief than in any election since 1980.
But it would also be fair to conclude that Barr’s failures prove that merely bringing in a serious politician, with past successes and no stress on the more eccentric aspects of libertarianism (Barr loved to call libertarianism an American “mainstream” idea and the LP a “mainstream” party), was not the way to bring the LP to any kind of national next level, even in a year when small government devotees really had nowhere else viable to turn. Which means the libertarian movement, and the Libertarian Party, are out of quick fixes, and still face the long, slow, possibly eternal work of changing minds in a libertarian direction, one citizen or voter at a time.
Senior Editor Brian Doherty is author of This is Burning Man and Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.