First of all, before I get into this, it’s worth pointing out that the LP isn’t really losing. In fact, we just won a number of local and state elections. The LP has no national Congressional officials and has never won the White House, but Libertarians of all people should understand the power of local governments. Yet we seem to have the same fascination with the Federal Government that the Big Government Party has–it’s all that matters to us. “Meh” we say to LP victories in local elections. Anyway.
I’ve noticed that libertarian types lose perspective on popularity almost as badly as anime fans. There isn’t an anime fan out there who doesn’t think their favorite show is extremely popular, even though there may only be 23 people who watch it. Anime fans, of course, tend to obsess over their favorite show, steep themselves in its forums and discussion boards, surround themselves with merchandise and other fans. Just like libertarians do with our political obsession. And with our cryptocurrency fascination. It’s hard to keep in mind that, though a few people know what I’m referring to, when I say something like “lol, S2X just got rekt” on Facebook, less than 1% of my friends have any idea what in the world I’m talking about. Seeing people regularly blame Arvin Vohra for the party’s relative unpopularity reinforces this notion: libertarians generally have no perspective on our reach.
The Libertarian Party is a minor political force in the United States. Running against the two most controversial and despised candidates in living memory, the Libertarian Party’s candidates failed to secure a single electoral college vote, not even from New Mexico, which was the presidential candidate’s home state. When this happens to someone in one of the major two parties, it spells the effective end for their political career (see Marco Rubio losing Florida during the GOP Primary). Absolutely nothing was accomplished by the total selling-out of the party to Bill Freaking Weld and Republican Lites, during the most divisive election in my lifetime.
Many people are looking for reasons to blame for this failure. It’s all rather simple, really. We ran two milquetoast, unlibertarian candidates in an election that a foul-mouthed, uncouth shock jock reality show star celebrity won via social media and jarring tweets. Despite this, people continue to insist that foul-mouthed, uncouth shock jocks saying jarring things on social media are causing election losses. This is quite clearly bullshit, though. Those things caused Donald Trump to win the presidency. It’s for this reason that John McAfee almost certainly would have outperformed Gary Johnson, and likely would have brought in the mythical 15% to secure a spot on the debate stage. Arvin doesn’t need to be toned down. He needs to be shared and given a larger reach, because this is the Golden Age of Grotesque.
“Why didn’t people see this coming?” is a pretty good question, but “Why are people acting like this isn’t the case?” is a much better one. Did these “Arvin is destroying the LP” people not notice that Donald Trump just won the White House? Did they miss that development?
But even if all that wasn’t true, the idea that the vice chair’s Facebook posts are the reason people aren’t Libertarians is horrendously stupid. They’ve lost perspective on the kind of reach the Libertarian Party has. Quick, who is the Republican Party vice chair? Who is the vice chair of the Democratic Party? What is the vice chair of the Democratic Party talking about on Twitter? The only people who know the answers to these questions are politics-obsessed Republicans and Democrats. Even Libertarians, who are notoriously obsessed with politics, by and large can’t name the chair and vice chair of any of the other parties. And those are major parties that regularly bring in more than 40% of the votes.
The Libertarian Party’s reach is a tiny, tiny fraction of what the GOP and Democratic Party’s reaches are. And the vice chairs in these parties have tiny fractions of their parties’ reaches. The only people who pay any attention to what the vice chair of the party says are members of that party. John Q. Public has no fucking idea who Arvin Vohra is, nor does he give a shit what Arvin Vohra is saying on Facebook during a non-election year. We need to step back and get over ourselves. The core idea here is that the LP has a tremendous reach, and that Arvin Vohra, being the vice chair, has a nearly equal reach. This is stupid and incorrect. The only people who know who Arvin is are members of the party.
If we are so overestimating our reach and the reach of the vice chair that we blame him for our party’s failures, then we’re going to overlook and not address the actual problem. The problem isn’t Arvin, Gary Johnson, Bill Weld, or Nick Sarwark. The problem is obvious: a strong aversion to third parties, brought about by the fallacious myths that a vote only matters if the candidate its cast for wins, and that third party candidates can’t win. The latter is quite obviously a self-fulfilling prophecy–“Third party candidates can’t win, so I’m not going to vote for third party candidates.”
The former, of course, is equally stupid. A vote doesn’t gain value relative to the outcome, but relative to its effect on the outcome. If Donald Trump won by ten million votes and you voted for him, then your vote has much less value than if Donald Trump won by one vote and you voted for him. People understand this when you explain it to them. “The only vote that is wasted is the one that isn’t cast,” I said to a person once who said that she liked the LP but wouldn’t vote third party because it was wasting her vote. She agreed with the statement, said that she had never thought of it that way, and went on to vote for the LP.
If you voted for Donald Trump and he won by ten million votes, then your vote* was almost completely without value.
If you voted for Hillary Clinton and she lost by ten million votes, then your vote was almost completely without value.
If you voted for Donald Trump and he won by one vote, then your vote had extremely high value.
If you voted for Hillary Clinton and she lost by one vote, then your vote had extremely high value–you forced every single Trump supporter who voted to get out and vote. If even two of those had decided not to, your vote would have been the reason your candidate won. So while your candidate didn’t win, that doesn’t really matter.
LP Federal Fascination
As stated in the intro, Libertarians seem to focus almost exclusively on federal elections, seemingly forgetting that we’re a party that advocates that government, if it must exist, should be local and small, and this focus is so intense that many Libertarians continue to call the party a failure that doesn’t win elections despite having just won elections this very month. This is our Achilles’ Heel. We’ve let ourselves buy into the Federal Government Obsession.
We expect the Big Government Party to focus on federal elections–and they do. The Republicans and Democrats out there in the mainstream have no idea that an election just passed. I accidentally texted someone a few years ago telling her to vote in the election, and she replied, “What election?” I’d bet that most of the country has no idea that there was an election this month. But they’ll turn out in 2020, and they turned out in 2016. Why aren’t we taking advantage of this?
We know that they don’t pay much attention to local and state governments. Odd years should see Libertarians swept into offices in enormous numbers. Instead, I don’t know of many Libertarians who voted this month at all. If we play their Only Federal Elections Matter game, we will lose. We have been losing, and we will continue to lose, because they have an enormous aversion to voting third party. But they also don’t matter when it comes to state and local elections, not nearly as much. If everyone who voted for Gary Johnson had actually bothered to go and vote for Libertarians this month, we’d have won thousands of elections. Voter turnout during odd years is so low that it’s hard to even find stats on it.
Republicans and Democrats do not care about odd year elections. And they only partially care about non-presidential even year elections. Those are our times to shine, because we’re supposed to be the party that doesn’t care about the Federal Government, and that cares about local elections. Combine all of these things together, and the reasons for the LP’s failures become obvious:
- Mainstream voters have an extreme aversion to third parties.
- This is because they think their vote’s value is derived from the recipient’s victory,
- And because they think that third party candidates cannot achieve victory.
- Mainstream voters don’t care about odd-year elections, and only kinda care about non-presidential even years.
- Libertarians have almost fully adopted the same mentality, caring only about the Federal Government and outright ignoring local and state elections during odd years and non-presidential even years.
It’s got nothing to do with Nicholas Sarwark, Arvin Vohra, Gary Johnson, Bill Weld, John McAfee, moderates, centrists, anarchists, socialists, or anyone else. It’s the fixation on the Federal Government, where competition is extremely tight, and almost total ignoring of state and local elections. We shouldn’t need to win Federal Elections, because we should have taken control of local and state governments to such an extent that we could resist all efforts by the federal government to tyrannize the states and localities.
Want to achieve liberty in our lifetime? That’s how. Ignore the presidential elections entirely. We probably have to run a candidate, sure, but it should be a quarter-hearted effort at best. Instead, save our energy, money, and resources for odd years and non-presidential election even years.
* Ignoring the intricacies of the electoral college and the fact that the mythical popular vote doesn’t strictly determine the election outcome, but the electoral college does nothing but give your vote more value by creating the possibility of you being the one vote that flips your state from Red to Yellow, or from Blue to Red, or from Red to Blue, or from Blue to Yellow.