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2020 Presidential Race Front Page Opinions

Politics Is A Joke- But What If The Libertarian Party Was In On It?

 

The Libertarian Party is choosing its nominee for President and Vice President of the United States this weekend.

As a longtime party member and activist, and a California delegate to our National Convention, I’ve had the pleasure of receiving many emails, texts, messages and phone calls from individuals running for the nomination. Most of the people running, I know personally, and many I would consider friends. I’ve been asked for support, for donations, and for an endorsement.

I haven’t given one.

I sometimes cite the fact that I have a dream candidate, who I spoke about during a speech to the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire in 2019. No, it’s not Justin Amash, though he has his areas of appeal.

My dream candidate is Edward Snowden.

He’s not running. He hasn’t responded to a Tweet asking if he’d consider the nomination, and I’m not pursuing him—though don’t put it past me to try asking him all the way to 2024. 

My reasoning is the important part of the equation: because Edward Snowden is a statement.

Edward Snowden is quite literally world famous, with an Academy Award winning documentary about him, a Hollywood movie about him, a #1 bestselling book, and he’s been publicly charged under the Espionage Act of 1917 for “unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person”.

Who was the unauthorized person? Well, frankly, it was the entire world, whose communications have been spied on by the American government for years, and the disclosure of this information was heard around the world. According to a report in The Washington Post in July 2014, relying on information furnished by Snowden, 90% of those placed under surveillance in the U.S. are ordinary Americans, and are not the intended targets.

The point?

Edward Snowden is currently in exile in a foreign country for telling the American people that the government has been spying on them, without a warrant, without their knowledge. To some, this makes Snowden a traitor. But to many, this makes Snowden a hero. I would suggest that the more libertarian you are, the more likely he is to be on the hero side of that spectrum.

So why? Why would it be in the best interest of the Libertarian Party to nominate a man like Snowden? A man who probably isn’t even a current member of the Party (but he could become one!) and probably isn’t in full alignment with our platform — though I have a feeling he’d have a lot of areas of agreement, having been a Ron Paul supporter in the past, and having made various appearances at libertarian conferences including NH Liberty Forum and the International Students for Liberty Conference.

Edward Snowden is a statement. He’s a statement that the Libertarian Party stands with a whistleblower against the abuses of the state. He’s a statement of current and continuous political relevance -- a man exiled from his home country because the government couldn’t tolerate the American people knowing the truth.

We could celebrate him. We could put that man on a banner and amplify the Libertarian messages his personal sacrifice represents. 

My thoughts on this developed before the global pandemic limiting travel and assembly, but I even figured we’d save money in campaigning because he wouldn’t be able to travel, so local activists would host big gatherings for people to see him speak on Skype town-halls and interviews and meetings. That local state and county parties would benefit from association with his message, and could bring in attention and donors on all levels.

I’d go all in for an Edward Snowden campaign. I’d quit everything else I was doing to share that message. To watch every American associate the Libertarian Party with a smart, capable, intelligent and well-spoken man whose controversies would not be grabbing “pussy” or sniffing children, but controversies every American should be talking about: the willingness of the government to impede your rights and spy on you.

It’d be epic. It’d be amazing.

And we’d still lose.

Because the Libertarian Party is playing a game that is rigged by our political opponents. The only thing they hate more than each other is third parties. The duopoly works hard together to stop us from achieving electoral success, from hard-to-achieve ballot access and petitioning rules in various states, to refusal to include us in national debates. 

Speaking of that, and the fact that national debates require qualifying polls: could you imagine a poll that included Snowden against Trump and Biden? Name recognition would interest some people alone, and the number of people who might shrug and say “oh, hey, I’ve heard of him, I wonder what he has to say” would easily blow past numbers garnered by other candidates we’ve had in the past.

But again, we’d still lose.

And that’s something we need to acknowledge. We’re going to lose again. 

I know we want to fantasize about winning. We want to believe that one of our candidates is going to somehow inspire the people to reject the Democrats and the Republicans. We want to believe they’ll override the millions of people who are only voting for one because they hate the other, we want to believe we can succeed on merit, and by putting up someone who is simply reasonable, and respectable and makes sense: We can do it!

No, we can’t. 

Forgive me, other LP candidates, for excluding those who didn’t qualify for Thursday’s final debate, but I’m narrowing this down: we are not going to see President Hornberger, President Gray, President Jorgensen, President Monds, or President Supreme (feel free to mentally fill in any of the other LP candidates here).

It’s not going to happen. We’re not going to win. So declarations about which federal agencies we’d dismantle, or how we’d bring all the troops home -- they’re lovely sentiments about what life could look like under a Libertarian presidency, but not only are they wishful thinking, they are lacking sufficient attention. We don’t have the eyes nor ears on what we talk about. Being the nominee will give someone a little attention -- but we have no former governors or congressmen to give us that little bit of “take us seriously!” that the media can consider. 

So what we have to decide: is who of these candidates can interest people, can engage people, can command media attention, or inspire sheer morbid curiosity so we have a chance to deliver our message?

And here’s what I’ll be honest about -- I’m *fine* with any of these people. I don’t love some of them. I wish they were all much better speakers than they are. I wish Jacob Hornberger was less aggressive so he didn’t come off as a smart jerk who has no sense of pragmatism -- he’s the stereotype of a Libertarian. I wish Judge Jim Gray and Dr. Jo Jorgensen were more interesting -- though I’ll admit Jorgensen easily came off as the most reasonable choice in the final debate. I wish John Monds had more energy and more quotable lines because I think he could have a lot to offer. I wish Vermin Supreme were better at shaping Libertarian talking points into clever soundbites when being interviewed live.

They all need work. 

To whomever gets the nomination, I promise to help you articulate a compelling message to the American people. Soundbite training, practicing answers to common questions, writing up short and long answers to questions (and follow-ups). Because I want my party represented well, and you need the help. I encourage all my fellow Libertarians to help whoever gets the nomination. I think they need it, badly. To steal a phrase from celebrities during sheltering-in-place: we are all in this together.

So let’s talk about who should get the nomination. 

My first thought is frankly that the Vice Presidential candidates (Larry Sharpe, Spike Cohen and Ken Armstrong) were all more articulate and more engaging in their final debate than any of the POTUS candidates. For those who don’t know, Sharpe is running with Gray, Cohen with Supreme, and I believe any of them would willingly run with whomever got the nomination, even if it wasn’t their first choice.

My second thought harkens back to Edward Snowden.

Who can make people pay attention? And how? 

Can any of these candidates really claim they’ll actually interest a late night television show, a cable news interview, or even achieve any internet virality among people who aren’t already Libertarians?

Maybe not. 

But I think of what the Libertarian Party presidential nominee actually truly has the responsibility to do: to bring attention to Libertarian ideas, to make people think about Libertarianism in a way that compels them, interests them, gets them out to vote, or gets them talking. Of the five options in the final debate, I realize, with a certain amount of personal incredulity, that I actually think Vermin Supreme would be the best choice.

I know. I swear I’m not high when I write this.

I’ve known of Vermin Supreme in the political scene since he was trolling politicians in the New Hampshire primaries in 2008. I got to know him better over the past few years, as he became increasingly connected to my New England Libertarian friends.

In a speech at the LPNH convention in 2019 (which he gave right before mine), he explained his prior belief that Libertarians didn’t care about other people, and how it had shifted as he got to know members of the Free State Project (in NH) and Libertarians who had helped a member of their community when a terrible accident lost her the use of her legs permanently. It so happens that of the people preaching mutual aid and community support, and rushing to make a meal or find her disability-compatible housing -- my mother (a party founder) was one of those leading the charge. Vermin and my mother ended up having a great conversation about the importance of community in helping each other, because the state fails to help people constantly.

Libertarians are often seen as people who would simply “drop everyone” from various state-sponsored services. That may, to some degree, be a true indictment of our philosophy. But far too often we fail to respond by talking about how those state-run services constantly drop so many people through the cracks. The government thinks everything can be solved by raising taxes and throwing money at problems, but we know why that doesn’t work -- both on a moral level and utilitarian one.

Vermin Supreme knows that intimately and he leads with it. His empathy for those who cannot help themselves, and those who’ve been harmed by the government, is the reason he eventually made his way to our party. He can speak to that journey in a way that’s interesting, compelling, and even funny. Libertarians are selfish? Vermin Supreme donated a kidney to his mother. We can show people that you don’t need to steal and spend other people’s money to be kind, to be giving, and to help your fellow American.

He has some strange virality among young people -- I’ve watched countless people interrupt him at events, wanting a selfie, wanting to meet him. Yes, because he’s wearing a ridiculous boot on his head, but he can pivot that attention to the things that matter. 

His campaign began releasing videos over the past few weeks that definitely have some inspiration from 2016’s McAfee/Weiss campaign. Full disclosure: I was part of that campaign and Weiss is my long-time partner, and several people from McAfee/Weiss have gone to work for Supreme’s campaign. But numbers don’t lie.

His “We Are The Power” video has roughly 125,000 views between Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and it was released just one week ago. His “In On The Joke” video has over 14,000 views in less than a week on Facebook. Released even more recently, his “Now Is The Time” has roughly 75,000 views featuring the voice-over messaging of his Vice Presidential candidate, Spike Cohen.

I wish these videos had come out earlier in the campaign. They’re very good. 

I’ve watched hard-left friends of mine share these videos unironically, with messages like “I live in a safely blue state, I’m considering voting for Vermin Supreme instead of Biden”. I’ve seen friends who are internet trolls who usually share Trump’s stuff (simply because it infuriates the left) suddenly interested in Vermin Supreme. I’ve watched moderates give a thoughtful nod to him. He’s somebody people stop to look at, and some of those people stop to listen.

His silliness with “ponynomics” and “time travel” is a statement about the pipe-dreams that government promises and never delivers. For the record, you could buy every American 2.5 ponies with the money we’ve spend on the War in Afghanistan. Nobody wants that half a pony, but nobody wants drones murdering children in the Middle East either. 

When the Libertarian Party ran a recruitment drive to have candidates bring new members into the party, Vermin’s campaign link brought in nearly 100 new members and over $4000. He focuses his messaging on the disenfranchised, the disaffected, the disillusioned, and, as he says, the “disgusted” Americans who want a better option. It’s a great message, and some people are listening.

Which is why he has my vote. 

His Vice Presidential candidate Spike Cohen is one of the most articulate voices for principled libertarianism in the party, and I have no doubt he will be further assisting Vermin in better communication of the Libertarian ideals he stands for.

The two of them will bring in attention we haven’t had before, they will draw unexpected and unlikely voters and they will lose the election just like every other LP Presidential candidate before, and every other candidate who is running this year.

We can’t win this battle.

But as I said in a speech in 2016, which John McAfee referenced during one of his campaign speeches: this isn’t about electing the president of the United States. It’s about electing liberty in the hearts and minds of the people.

I’ll support any candidate my party chooses as the nominee, but my vote this weekend absolutely goes to Vermin Supreme and Spike Cohen. Their campaign has impressed me tremendously, in its ability to spout Libertarian ideals in a new way, to new audiences, with kindness but without apology.

I understand some of my fellow delegates may choose someone less controversial. Someone a bit more “normal” or “respectable”. I will honor that choice, if they make it. I hope they can honor mine. I do get the appeal of someone “safe” like Jorgensen or “aggressive” like Hornberger. We as a party seem to be very focused on trying to play a rigged game by other people’s rules and refusing to admit we’re being set up to lose.

But some of us understand that politics, as a real choice between truly different options: that’s a joke. And Vermin Supreme has helped many recognize that it’s time to be smart and savvy and tell those in power that we’re in on the joke.

 

Image (modifed): Wikipedia

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