Putting the Elephant to Sleep — a 1998 Column That is Still Relevant
With slightly different numbers and a need to put the donkey to sleep, the column refers equally to Alabama, Mississippi, Wyoming, Idaho, and other states. Other third parties can usefully apply the same approach.
[For reactions to this proposal, see the end of the column.]
I propose a fundamental strategic approach for pro-liberty candidates over the next several election cycles. My basic theme is that the American electoral system tends to favor the political outcome that there exists at most two major parties. Here in Massachusetts, those rules are equally happy to give the current outcome, namely that in Massachusetts, we have one major party. In other states, the one major party has a different name, though rather similar policies.
I propose to use these rules to give us a political situation in which the Commonwealth again has two major parties, us and the Democrats. In order to do this, we must prune some deadwood, electorally speaking, so that there is enough room for two parties to flourish.
What of the Republicans? It is not that we hate the elephant. In Massachusetts, the elephant is a family pet, old, tired, and sick, no longer able to perform its family responsibilities. It lies by the fire, too weak to rise, needing a family member to feed and clean it while it suffers. While there are a range of opinions on how to treat a family pet in its dying days, the Republican elephant deserves to be put mercifully to sleep and its pro-liberty members brought into a pro-liberty party.
The time has come to put the elephant out of its misery. The Republican Party controls but 6 (now 3) of 40 Senate seats, fewer than two dozen State Representative seats, not a single seat on the Executive Council, and not a single Federal office. It controls two (now zero) statewide constitutional offices, and has been above that only because the Democratic Party ran extremely weak candidates. It has fallen from 14% of the registered voters to 9% of the registered voters. To allow the great beast to slumber a little deeper, it is as a first step necessary to run plausible candidates in those 6 (now 3) State Senate and two dozen State Representative districts, as well as in those other legislative seats in which are Republican Party might plausibly challenge. (That’s a replacement for the worthless approach of only running candidates for statewide office.) Our candidates then need to emphasize issues that divide the Republican Party internally. With their vote split, the Republicans can be reduced to a half-dozen seats in the Great and General Court, at which point their last traces of credibility will vanish.
At the Federal level, life is even simpler. The Massachusetts Congressional delegation is composed entirely of Democrats. At the Federal level, the Massachusetts Libertarian Party is, therefore, ready to proceed to the next phase by running serious candidates for Federal office: Senate and House. There is no need to displace congressional Republicans because such persons do not exist. Instead, the Massachusetts Libertarian party only needs to find plausible candidates for Federal office and sell them to the electorate.
Any Republican attempt to re-enter the state’s Federal delegation runs into the fundamental difficulty that core Republicans stands: criminalization of abortion, defense welfare, Internet censorship, farm and industrial welfare, labor- and gay-bashing, and green-bashing are not very salable to the people on Massachusetts. Curiously, it just so happens that these are issues on which Republicans and Libertarians do not agree. The other hand, Libertarian stands in favor of low taxes, small government, the whole Bill of Rights, the Right to Keep and Bear arms, and free-trade, and against government regulation, affirmative action, the war on drugs, and government intrusion into private lives make it very easy for Libertarian candidate to distinguish herself or himself from any Democratic or Reform candidate in the race.
Some will argue that the Republican Party restrains the Democrats from unwise deeds. However, when Bill Weld appeared to have a veto-sustaining majority in one house of the state legislature, he did nothing with it, preferring to cut deals with the other party. Now the Republicans can’t sustain a Governor’s veto in either house of the state legislature. Can you tell the difference? In fact, in 1996 the Republicans scarcely ran candidates for more than a third of the 200 seats in the state legislature. (They are now down to a quarter.) There are six (now 3) Republicans in the State Senate, and those 6 (now 3) Republicans are less useful than the tits on a male bulldog. They’re purely decorative. Even on as fundamental an issue as gun control,in 1998 it was the Democratic Party that provided the votes and legislators needed to save the Second Amendment.
The question is simple. Are there enough pro-liberty candidates in Massachusetts who are willing to Stand Up for Liberty! and run in the necessary seats? In 1998 I ran for Congress. What you do is up to you.
I remind you, though, of one basic principle. Libertarians and many others piously profess not to believe in a free lunch. When it comes to the ballot box, though, these pious professions sink to inaudibility. All too many Libertarians believe that there is a free lunch at the ballot box. All too many Libertarians believe that they need to do nothing but show up and vote on election day, and that magically there will be Libertarian candidates on the ballot, awaiting their votes.
Well, there are no truly free lunches. In particular, there are no free lunches at the ballot box! If you want candidates for whom you can vote, you have the responsibility of going out and doing the work needed to put them in place, so that come November you can vote for them.
Public Reaction to this column back in 1998:
One of the Western Massachusetts Republican Webpage keepers found this article, and wrote his members, “I suggest everyone read this [the above] page and see what the Libertarians are planning to do in Mass in 98…” He supplied the URL. A second Republican wrote, ” ‘RIGHT,’ and it is so important we should read it here, so you don’t have to “Link” anywhere.” He then reposted the entire column.
1998 is perhaps a trifle optimistic for successfully effectuating the full proposal, in my humble opinion. (written early 1998 and confirmed by events since, the LP has few candidates running for partisan office in Massachusetts.)
The article predates the current LAMA split by a quarter of a century.
Having said that, in defense of the LNC-recognized group, something I generally do not do, they were not organized until the petitioning period for state legislature was almost over, and were aware of the issues with running candidates for statewide office, so there was not a lot they could do this year. They did elect one person to a Selectboard (not exactly a town council). He beat a Republican, I gather by 85%-15%. The test is next year, when there are many elections for town and city offices (most of Massachusetts got rid of county government many years ago), many of which are non-partisan. For large numbers of offices, the signature requirements are very small, for example in some places five signatures to run for town meeting member. The LAMA-LNC group gets to show if it is serious about being a political party, in which case it encourages people to run for these offices, or if it is there to be rather than to do.*
The group running the non-LNC LAMA does two things well. Unfortunately for Massachusetts Libertarians, the two things are ‘run candidates for statewide office’ and ‘run grandiose and extremely expensive state conventions’. This year one of their candidates for statewide office got 23% of the vote, not 2.3%, because the Republican Party wasn’t even up to running a candidate for statewide office in that race. It was a two-way race, Democrat versus Libertarian.
That 23% did get Massachusetts Libertarians major party status, but that status is of negative value for Massachusetts Libertarians. In Massachusetts, it is much harder to get a major party candidate on the ballot (unless you are a Democrat) than it is to get a minor party candidate on the ballot (that’s the opposite of some other states.) In addition, the statewide races being over, the statewide race left nothing behind it — no town committees, no candidate support organizations, nothing… (Indeed, the non-LNC LAMA group did almost nothing to support its statewide candidates. The very expensive petition drive was paid for, for the most part, by the Committee that was supporting Peter Everett for Lieutenant Governor. There was no visible effort to recruit candidates for state legislature , even though candidates for lower and higher office give each other synergistic support. There was certainly money to support those legislative candidates, namely the tens of thousands that were spent on state conventions.)
*People run for office. Some of them want the title, to be the office. Others want to get the job done … to do the office.
The LNC affiliate (which is not LAMA, as much as they pretend to be) chose to not endorse Libertarian candidates and worked to undermine those candidates. A political party that wanted to win elections would support any Libertarian candidate instead of working against them, or at least remain silent.
Much has been said about the LAMA candidates paying a lot on the petition drive, yet this has never been an issue in the past when LAMA was affiliated with the LNC and this got presidential ballot access without the LNC having to spend the money or effort.
Regarding the comment about nothing coming out of this victory, that is not true. Besides giving voters the opportunity to register as a Libertarian, LAMA is forming regional affiliates and organizing for local elections and outreach. It is unfortunate that there are distractions that make these challenging tasks even more difficult.
The “expensive conventions” trope is misleading – these conventions are funded by a few members who sometimes want such a convention and have no impact on general operations or candidates.
LAMA looks forward to a rebuilding year in 2023 and welcomes anyone who wishes to see liberty advance in the Commonwealth.
Let us consider Don’s claims.
“Regarding the comment about nothing coming out of this victory, that is not true. Besides giving voters the opportunity to register as a Libertarian, LAMA is forming regional affiliates and organizing for local elections and outreach.”
First, the victory had no effect on whether or not voters could “register” (the actual word is “enroll”) as a Libertarian. That has been always been possible. Major party status did not change this.
Second, with respect to “is forming regional affiliates”, that train has left the station. The opportunity to form regional affiliates was during the election season, when the candidates can reach out, look for volunteers to put up lawn signs, form local clubs, make social media posts, and do other things to support candidates while they were running for office.
“The “expensive conventions” trope is misleading – these conventions are funded by a few members who sometimes want such a convention and have no impact on general operations or candidates”
If you are going to make financial claims, you should at least look up your FEC and OCPF filings to see where the money came from and went.
For the 2021-2022 period to date, the LAMA Federal PAC had
Beginning cash on hand $17,357.28
Ending cash on hand $2,639.71
You burned through all of your income and most of your starting cash on hand. Indeed, LAMA burned through most of the money it had raised in the last four years. Other than routine operations (EVO, NationBuilder), the substantial expense was mailings, speaker fees, and the hotel, all convention expenses. The only candidate support was $1,500 to Mark Tashjian’s Congressional campaign.
The money spent on the fancy convention could have been spent on doing politics. That money could have been spent on ‘vote libertarian’ advertising that did not advocate for the election of a particular candidate. It was not. That’s surely an impact on political operations.
Now, you claim that the convention was funded by a few members. Let’s look at income for the past four years.
Total individual contributions $16,592.00
Itemized individual contributions $4,600.00
Unitemized individual contributions $11,992.00
Total individual contributions $23,880.00
Itemized individual contributions $7,215.00
Unitemized individual contributions $16,665.00
The itemized contributions are the large donors, who over four years came up with $11,815 in total. That’s a modest part of what was spent in the current election cycle.
The OCPF (state) account had no income in the last two years, and in September gave $500 to three of the statewide candidates’ committees.
Let’s review George’s responses.
“First, the victory had no effect on whether or not voters could “register” (the actual word is “enroll”) as a Libertarian. That has been always been possible.” – nitpicking on the word “enroll” but OK. The distinction post election is that you can now “enroll” as a Libertarian and vote in a Libertarian primary, whereas previously you “enrolled” as “unenrolled” with an option to choose “Libertarian” as a political designation. For reference, the Sec of State web site which still hasn’t been updated: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elepar/paridx.htm
Second, “Second, with respect to “is forming regional affiliates”, that train has left the station. ” Sure thing, George. While your suggestion to do those things during election season is probably the best time to do so, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done after elections. The important consideration is not when but whether it should be done. Allow me to quote something you yourself suggested: “Grass Roots Organizing is an Important Activity.”
Third, “If you are going to make financial claims, you should at least look up your FEC and OCPF filings to see where the money came from and went.” – I have, and I’m not going to debate or defend on what the previous state committee did (2020-2021) in regard to what they spent on a convention, as I was not part of that state committee. I would be happy to discuss what I would or would not do on the current committee that I chair, which likely aligns with many of your suggestions as my priorities are to minimize operating costs and maximize funding candidates and outreach. The fact that LAMA didn’t spend much on candidates in this election cycle has more to do with not having enough candidates to spend it on – I want to change that and it starts with organizing locally.
I wonder why the Libertarian Party in Massachusetts did not step up and take advantage of the situation you expertly described?
Which Libertarian Party? The one recognized by the LNC which seems to have the goal of not running any candidates, or the former one who ran state-wide candidates and got 23% of the vote in the Treasurer race, thus gaining major party status?
The problem with the Libertarian Party in Massachusetts has always been a lack of candidates to run. The focus has always been the big races and finding people who can raise money and have campaign experience is a challenge.
What the major parties do well is have town committees who have supporters and volunteers who run in local elections and often are recruited to run for higher level office. The Libertarian Party needs a similar “farm system” where candidates can gain experience running campaigns and serve in an elected position.
And when the Libertarian Party does develop candidates for higher level office, it is not the Republicans that they need to compete with but the Democrats. As the recent Treasurer race showed, even with getting the Libertarian and Republican vote, it was still not enough to defeat the Democratic candidate.
I wish Libertarians would focus on this kind of thinking – looking for races where a candidate can establish credibility. It seems as if MA is really well situated for this kind of approach. When you described the ailing elephant, I had a memory of the ailing and dying elephant king in the old Babar books.
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