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By Kitty Testa
In recent months it seems the Libertarian Party has had even more squabbling than usual. It all seemed to start with the 2018 convention theme controversy that featured “Pro Choice on Everything.” The inclusion of the slogan in the contest inflamed the pro-lifers in the party, which, in turn, enraged the social liberals in the party. Then we saw some pretty poor missteps by the LNC leadership, including a Facebook hat-tip to The Church of Satan during Easter/Passover week, and Arvin Vohra’s infamous accusation that anyone who signs up for the military is a murderer (which, in fairness, he followed up on with this open letter). Things seemed to settle down a little while Libertarians awaited former LP presidential candidate Austin Petersen’s Independence Day announcement. When Petersen declared his candidacy for US Senate as a Republican in 2018, drama ensued. Some saw it as a betrayal, some never wanted Petersen and the Freedom Ninjas in the party in the first place and were quick to bid them farewell, while others scoffed at his reasons. In any case, it was hard to have a day without drama in the LP.
There were many times throughout these months of serial fracases that I said to myself, “I am so done with this party. I’ll take my time, my effort and my money elsewhere.” But every time that thought consumed me, one LP official stepped to the fore as a voice of reason in the cacophony of quarreling voices and convinced me to stay: Larry Sharpe.
Sharpe was a candidate for Vice President at the 2016 LP convention, and he lost to Bill Weld by only 32 votes on the second ballot. I wonder to this day how many of those delegates who, persuaded by Gary Johnson and Alicia Dearn, voted for the Establishment-Republican-in-Libertarian-Clothing would like to go back in time and take back that vote and support Sharpe. No matter now, Johnson and Weld are history in the Libertarian Party, and Larry Sharpe is the future. Here are five reasons why.
1. Larry Sharpe Understands the Purpose of Political Parties is to Win Elections
Sounds kind of crazy, right? Now, I’m not familiar with the organizational structure of the LP in every state, and I’m sure that some of them are pretty good. But last election, when Gary Johnson made a campaign appearance in Chicago, he didn’t even reach out to the statewide candidates that were running in Illinois, Claire Ball for Comptroller and Kent McMillen for US Senate. No coordination. No encouragement to vote for down-ballot candidates. What kind of organization is that? In an interview with Nick Gillespie for Reason Magazine, one of the reasons Austin Petersen cited for running as a Republican versus a Libertarian in Missouri was a lack of organizational prowess on the part of the LP:
We seriously considered running in the Libertarian Party here. We very seriously considered it. Well, what our options would be, and the Missouri Libertarian Party explicitly stated they had no resources, not get out the vote resources, no capability to offer us to have any sort of a structural campaign in order for us to bring anything resembling a Libertarian victory here in the State of Missouri. I think the best case scenario would have been 11%, which would have been a monster blowout in Libertarian terms but still a major loss.
Sharpe is well aware of this deficiency in the LP, and aims to develop a replicable model of election-driven infrastructure that can result in Libertarians garnering office at all levels of government. Sharpe’s plan is a 7-year plan, which includes electing LP candidates to Congress. This will strengthen the coalition of liberty-minded legislators in Washington DC. His plan includes coordination between top-ballot and down-ballot candidates and elected officials. Sharpe announced yesterday that he will run for governor of New York with the ambitious goal of creating a template for statewide Libertarian parties across the country.
2. Larry Sharpe Isn’t Threatened by Ideological Diversity in the Libertarian Party
In an interview with Dori Love, Sharpe noted that the LP is the only party that actually has an ideology. Yes, despite the incessant bickering between anarchists and minarchists, between liberaltarians and conservatarians, and among all manner of libertarians, the LP’s platform amounts to a coherent ideology based on personal freedom, personal responsibility, private property, free markets, and non-aggression.
Sharpe notes that neither the Democrat Party nor the Republican Party has an ideology. He is correct. Both of the major parties are coalitions of factions, patronizing their voters with promises, and then acting on their true corporatist agenda.
When scuffles have ensued on social media between various libertarian factions, Sharpe has always maintained a steady, calm, respectful attitude and encouraged the kind of unity the party needs. As I’ve read through these threads I’ve often thought that arguing about Libertarian purity is not only counter-productive, but also sort of silly when the LP has barely made a dent into the political machinery of the country. (And I’m sure that comment will make some Libertarian somewhere invite me to leave the LP.)
The fact is that Libertarians hold a great variety of cultural views, while most are pretty solid on the tenets of libertarian ideology.
3. Larry Sharpe Could Be the LP’s “Great Communicator”
When most Libertarians think of the party’s great communicator, they tend to think of Harry Browne. Browne did produce a great many thought-provoking quotes, but 21st century messaging is quite a bit different than the pre-Internet era. There are few opportunities for a captive audience. Most messaging occurs on the Internet, and it needs to be entertaining, informative and succinct. Since the message is competing for clicks and shares with so many other messages, some try to add shocking. Not everybody gets this right.
In the 2016 LP presidential race, Peterson was criticized for speaking in “bumper stickers.” For those who prefer loquacious, intellectual libertarian analysis, that might have been frustrating, but employing an economy of words is more effective. Every day voters aren’t going to respond well if they ask about the LP and you tell them they have to read Rothbard, Hayek, Mises and Bastiat. When Larry Sharpe calls the Department of Defense The Department of Empire, they get what he’s saying.
In his own consulting business, Sharpe trains executives in communications. He also understands the long-term effects of poor communication choices. He notes that the Democrats lost the military vote for decades by calling Vietnam veterans baby killers – a slur which proved to be counter-productive. Sharpe is as anti-war as any Libertarian, but leverages his own experience as a Marine to lead military members to libertarian principles.
Great communicators are great listeners. If you’ve visited his Facebook page, you know that Larry reads and responds to comments, and is not intimidated by challenges. We will see how his campaign for governor of New York proceeds, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a few years from now, Libertarians will have a cache of Larry Sharpe quotes to throw around, like this one:
“Look, if we are libertarians, we have to start running. We just can’t wait every four years for a savior.” – Sharpe to LibertyBuzz
4. Larry Sharpe Likes to Raise Money
When Sharpe lost his vice presidential bid in 2016, he turned around and raised over six figures in donations for the LP that very night. He likes to raise money. A lot of people don’t like to ask for contributions, but he does. Money is—right or wrong—essential in bringing the LP into the political limelight.
If there is truly a sustainable future for the LP, fundraising needs to be a priority. Libertarians are rather non-coercive by nature, but we need to become more comfortable with the kind of persuasion that is needed to get people to pitch in a few dollars. Sharpe, with his broad professional experience and connections will likely show plenty of success with persuading large donors to help fund his campaign. Since Sharpe’s plan includes making his gubernatorial campaign a template for LP campaigns across the country, I would expect that other LP activists will receive training in fundraising from Sharpe’s crew, and then be confident in approaching grass roots voters as well as groups and foundations that can help support the party financially.
5. Larry Sharpe Wants Libertarians to Win Everywhere
Sharpe is not focused simply on his own desire to win in New York; he is urging Libertarians to run for offices all across the country, at all levels of government. He is asking for Libertarians to use their time and talents to help state and local candidates get in front of voters and to spread their messages.
This is a departure from the think tank mentality that many LP members have. An actual working party with organizational structure that facilitates the election of Libertarians into government is not what most people think of when the LP comes to mind. It will take a tremendous amount of effort on the part of LP members to make this a reality, but it will show whether the LP is a force to take seriously or merely a footnote in resistance to the every-growing scope of corporatist American government.
I recall years ago hearing Michael Medved on the radio. A Libertarian called into his show and was massacred by Medved, who kept reiterating the same question: What have Libertarians actually done?
Larry Sharpe may be the one to change all that. The future will tell.