Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I’ve finally figured it out. It’s taken me close to 35 years to find the answer. If you stick with me here, it will only take you about 10 minutes.
I first heard of the Libertarian Party shortly after my graduation from high school. It was 1976 and I was on my way home from work. Someone handed me a pamphlet in the subway. I looked at it and fell in love. There was no doubt in my mind; this was the political organization for me.
(Aside: I almost always take pamphlets, tracts, fliers, and anything else someone tries to hand me. I figure I'm doing a tiny service for the poor suckers doing the handouts. People who give out such things are always being sworn at, spat upon, passed by with a sneer, and otherwise treated as though they were stricken with a hideous and loathsome contagious disease. They’re God’s creatures, same as me, so I do what I can. And, when I actually smile at them and ask for whatever information they’re trying to impart, it totally makes their day.
If you're a really mean bastard, however, and you want to have some fun, ask them to give you their fliers MORE THAN ONCE, at one-minute intervals. It may take them three or four times to figure out that it’s the same person asking, so be patient. Once they do figure it out, the looks you’ll receive will be well worth the time invested. Keep on doing it until the world turns upside down and they refuse to give you the tract they were so desperately trying to give away only moments ago. Great fun, if you have no conscience.)
Anyway, a reasonably bright-eyed hippie handed me a pamphlet, and the pamphlet told me that somebody named Roger MacBride was running for President.
There was a photo of this character MacBride. He looked no more radical than your average shoe salesman, but the words inside the pamphlet contradicted his looks. He was in favor of completely abolishing all sorts of federal programs, the first politician I had ever encountered who seemed to be promising less than his predecessors. That was certainly intriguing. Better still, he wanted to legalize marijuana.
I‘ve gone on, at length, concerning my drug usage, drug dealing, and other things that have helped to form my political views on drugs. I have no desire to rehash (Hash! Hah!) those things again. Short version: I knew marijuana was relatively harmless. Putting people in jail for smoking it was (and is) one of the most idiotic things happening in a fairly idiotic world. MacBride was the first politician I had ever encountered with guts enough to say so.
I devoured every word of the pamphlet. And, while finding someone for whom I actually wanted to cast a vote was nice, a further revelation awaited me. It turned out he was neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He was some sort of previously unheard of animal called a Libertarian.
Well, I was so taken with MacBride’s pamphlet that I wrote to the address on the back and requested more different pamphlets. I told them to send me everything they had. And so they did. About a week later, I received six or seven other pamphlets in the mail, all of them detailing some aspect of political philosophy that I had never before considered but with which I immediately agreed. I was hooked. I was a Libertarian for life.
And, since that was the first Presidential election I was eligible to vote in, I have never voted for a winning Presidential candidate to this day, nor have I ever supported a winner in a senatorial race. My gubernatorial record is spotty, at best, and my success rate concerning representatives, mayors, councilors, aldermen, library trustees, and dogcatchers ain’t so hot, either. I have cast hundreds of principled votes. I have elected very few principled people.
Libertarianism, while as logical a political philosophy as one is ever likely to encounter, has had little success in gaining votes in the real world. For the longest time, I assumed – as most within the party have – that the problem was one of getting our message out to the voters. More money would solve the problem. Or maybe money isn’t the answer, but free exposure via TV, radio, or perhaps this newfangled thing called the Internet. Oh, wait! Newspapers ignore us, so that must be the problem. Or maybe it’s the unfair election laws, or campaign finance regulations, or... or...
Or maybe it’s none of those things.
I’ve been a Libertarian for over three decades, and I've also had some 10 or 12 years of official involvement within the party hierarchy. I was, for a short while, State Chair of the Massachusetts branch of the party. I’ve run for office as a Libertarian, and I’ve managed Libertarian political campaigns for other candidates. I served a few terms on state and local committees. During those times, I’ve met a wide variety of Libertarian Party members and activists. And I can tell you, truthfully, that I have never – not even once – encountered a stupid Libertarian.
And that, my friends, is the problem.
Until the Libertarian Party appeals to as many stupid people as the Democrats and Republicans appeal to, they will never win as many political contests, nor will they win any of true importance. Intelligence does not a successful political party make – or, at least, appeals that are aimed to connect with intelligent voters won’t put you over the top. It’s only when you can connect with the hoi polloi that you stand more than a snowball’s chance in hell.
(By the way, if you know what ‘hoi polloi’ means, you’re part of the problem, not the solution. Congratulations! If you further know that my use of the word ‘the’ in front of it was grammatically incorrect, and you felt an overwhelming need to tell me so, then you will never win an election and shouldn’t even consider running.)
I don’t mean to brag, but I may well be the only Libertarian in the country whose highest educational achievement is graduating high school with a C+ average. I haven’t made it a habit to ask every party member I meet, but those who come readily to mind are, so far as I know, all college graduates. And many of those people not only graduated college, but also graduated from some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning imaginable. The list of Libertarians with degrees from M.I.T., Cal Tech, and the like, is formidable; far higher in percentage than the national average. Party leadership is festooned with well-meaning and likable professors who have as little real-world political knowledge as a Catholic priest has concerning sex.
(MY WIFE, who is politically astute but not a Libertarian, just arrived home from work. She asked me what I was writing about. I gave her a truncated version of what I had written thus far. She said that the real problem – although she didn’t call it a problem – was that most people have a desire to be stripped of responsibility. The majority of people, she says, are quite comfortable believing that the government will take care of them. I agreed with her on that, but then opined that this meant that they were stupid. She disagreed with that assessment, but I suspect she did so because she feels comfortable being stripped of responsibility herself and she probably felt I was calling her stupid by extension. I wasn’t. I was just... well, I didn't mean to call her stupid, but I suppose I was, unintentionally, and that’s part of the problem. We Libertarians are very bad at explaining what we believe in without inadvertently insulting those we love and need. And that’s my entire point in a nutshell, I think, so I’ll end this digression and get back to beating on that dead horse.)
I was reading my World Almanac...
(Well, that’s a problem right there, of course.)
I was reading my World Almanac and there’s a section on education. Less than 28% of the American populace has a bachelor’s degree or higher. Well, it doesn’t take a degree in mathematics to understand that, in order to garner a majority of the votes, you have to appeal to at least some of the people who haven’t graduated college. You can’t get to above 50% without them.
If the Libertarian Party is ever going to be a successful player in American politics, it needs to stop being so damned smart. I mean, look at this thing, which is the sort of stuff Libertarians come up with all the time:
Is it intelligent? Sure. Will it appeal to more than a few hundred people across the entire continent? Not a chance. Supersedure? What in the fuck is that?
We don't need to appeal to the intelligentsia. We need to appeal to the majority of American voters. We need to reach out to the imbeciles, nincompoops, dolts, featherheads, skilletbrains, idiots, and morons. Until we dumb down, we're as dead as a dodo and only slightly more relevant.
It’s all well and good to point out the problem – and one hell of a lot of fun, too – but do I have a ready solution? Nope. I’m working on it, though. For the next two months, I’m going to do nothing but eat fast food, watch reality TV and cop shows, read nothing more challenging than People, make it a point to see at least one Will Ferrell movie a week, listen only to gangsta rap, and otherwise attempt to lower my IQ. If I come up with the answer, I’ll be back – if I’ve retained the ability to articulate it.
Soon, with less political stuff.