Now that Brian has put the best possible face on the Badnarik candidacy (though reader Dan notes that this year's Libertarian presidential candidate arguably did worse than 2000's), and the LP has gone down to its familiar string of electoral defeats, our comments threads are humming with the usual "Wake up, my fellow libertarians" posts laying down the law about how libertarians need to do x, get rid of y, stop emphasizing z, and so on in order to fulfill their destiny to rule the national political scene. Let me take a look at a few of the more moth-eaten nostrums:
Libertarians need to stop talking about drug legalization/decriminalization. It turns off mainstream voters.
This conflates a lifestyle question with a legal question. It's true that in recent years, there has been a move away from the bluenosed I'm-opposed-to-the-drug-war-but-I-abhor-drugs pieties of the past (and not a minute too soon, if you ask me). But the core of the argument against the drug war remains that it is an essential assault on freedom, the government's primary mechanism for abridging the rights guaranteed in the First, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eight Amendments to the Constitution. If you think decriminalization is just about your right to get high, you have a feeble understanding of what your rights are.
More to the point, Badnarik did not particularly emphasize legalization on the campaign trail. As with his opposition to the Iraq war, he didn't conceal it, but his approach was always a wonkish constitutional play. Even his kooky driver's license stance was primarily derived from the Constitution.
The LP needs to stop paying attention to national elections and focus on getting candidates into smaller, nuts-and-bolts local offices.
I don't know about you, but I can't think of anything smaller or duller than the local school board. In my own town, LP candidate Starchild got slaughtered in his school board run, finishing second from last with 18,266 votes and 3.1 percent of the total. He even got walloped in this unofficial poll, despite my own effort to game the results. Starchild runs for something every year and is energetic about publishing arguments against local ballot measures, and he may be making some headway: My acquaintances, who tend to be middle-of-the-road SF lefties, no longer giggle when they see his name, and a few have noted that his arguments are pretty intelligent. But it's still pretty slim pickings, particularly in a city that treasures its phonybaloney self-image as a place where colorful, larger-than-life wacky characters can thrive.
The LP needs to stop running goofballs with names like "Starchild."
James P. Gray is a Judge of the Superior Court in Orange County. He served as a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, as a criminal defense attorney, and as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy JAG Corps. He was running in the most predetermined race imaginable—Barbara Boxer's Senate re-confirmation—in which no individual Republican or Democrat had anything to lose by going third party. He got creamed, with 172,190 votes and 1.7 of the total. A few weeks ago, Judge Gray assured me that his campaign had Mendocino county "locked up." As it turns out he got 1,771 votes, 5.1 percent of the total, in California's pot-growing capital, despite having won the endorsements of the local sheriff and DA.
These are piss-poor results, in a variety of races with a variety of candidates, issues, and approaches. So spare me the quack remedies for libertarianism's ills. I don't know how to fix the LP, or the movement. And I suspect anybody who does is full of baloney.