L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 77, June 19, 2000
The LP And The Lie
by George L. O'Brien
Special to TLE
I recently received an e-mail message from Perry Willis announcing that Harry Browne's campaign had was close to ceasing operation and then blamed their fund raising problems on a series of scathing attacks by Bumper Hornberger. Bumper's primary concern was the diversion of LP funds and resources to the Browne Campaign and the possible misuse of funds by people within the Browne campaign. Willis and LP Chair David Bergland have attacked Hornberger's motives and have made indignant statements to their effect of the integrity of the people involved in the LP National Office/Browne Campaign.
In practical terms, it does not matter who you believe. What is important is that the basic premise of the Browne campaign is a lie. I will go so far as to it The Lie. The Lie is the claim that it is possible for a Libertarian Presidential candidate to raise enough money net of fund raising expenses, overhead, and ballot access to finance a campaign capable of having a statistically significant impact on the elections as measured by number of votes, number of new libertarian registrants, number of new LP members, number of lines of newspaper copy, minutes of broadcast coverage, etc.
When I say "significant", I mean significantly more than was received by the minimalist campaign that Bergland ran in 1984. When I call this a Lie, I mean that the people running the campaign KNOW in advance that what they are saying (or leading people to believe) in their speeches, fund raising letters, newsletter articles, and e-mail posts are simply NOT TRUE. Perhaps they could plead ignorance in 1988, but there is no possible basis to pretend that the substance of The Lie is true.
The problem with the national campaign has always been the same (since David Koch left the LP). The Libertarian Party cannot offer contributors handouts from the government or even protection from extortion by the government. This means that the primary motivation for political contributions do not exist. The Lie suggests that money given to the campaign will lead to high visibility campaign that will reach a vast number of people. But the promise cannot be fulfilled without a huge amount of money (after fund raising and overhead).
If the goal is to get the libertarian message out -- money contributed to low overhead groups such as ISIL and the Future of Freedom Foundation is far better spent. In fact, even high overhead groups such CATO and the Reason Foundation are vastly more efficient at using money to get the message out than the LP. Yet proponents of "The Lie " keep insisting that they know how to defeat the "political law of gravity" and make a big political splash. All it takes is a positive mental attitude.
I can almost hear Mr. Cloud, "What the mind can conceive, the hands can achieve." My answer is "bullshit." Some things are possible (even if hard to do) and other things are effectively impossible. This is not a Peter Pan world, where clapping three times if you believe in fairies, will change anything. Unfortunately, the people running the Browne campaign have spent most of their time trying to get everyone to believe in the "fund raising fairy."
So where's the harm? The biggest harm is that the LP has ended up a crop of people recruited through a Lie. Once they discover it is a Lie, they become disillusioned and quit. Perhaps even worse, during their brief association with the LP, they learned nothing about libertarian ideas and come away with the notion that libertarians are just a bunch of fools.
Another problem with The Lie is that it leads to the "dumbing down" of libertarian ideas. Issues are selected based on their popularity rather than whether they are ideas that need to introduced into public debated. All too often, the result is error on the side of conservative biases even though this alienates many people who need to be reached.
Part of The Lie is the claim that "nearly everyone is a libertarian, they just don't know it yet." The reality is that very very few people are libertarians and they need to be convinced. Unfortunately, as one proponent of The Lie put it, "I don't want to convince people, I want to win votes." The result is a campaign that is mostly pabulum, avoiding key ideas such as "inalienable rights", "taxation is slavery", or that " the government is hurting people." Implementing The Lie means avoiding having people think about ideas.
Every Cloud/Willis fund raising letter sounds the same. The formula involves distorting the progress being made so far while making wild promises. During the 1996 campaign they raised money on the claim that Browne would campaign full time in New Hampshire for six weeks plus produce and air a 30 minute infomercial. They would then finish with "imagine this" stuff to get people to believe some things were actually going to happen. Very few of the promises came true. They were not just being overly optimistic. They were either knowingly and consciously lying -- or else totally delusional.
None of Browne's campaign letters ever have substance. Substance provides something someone might disagree with. As it was, the whole 1996 campaign rarely rose above the level of platitudes.
It was characteristic of Browne's 1996 campaign that there were no references to "rights" in his campaign book until after page 200 -- when he quoted from the LP "Statement of Principles." There was almost nothing about personal liberties, censorship, illegal search and seizure, and other issues that might alienate conservative contributors.
In the 1996 campaign, their most important issue was that Harry Browne should be in the debates. They repeated this over and over again. What was never mentioned was what he wanted to say in the debates.
It gets worse. During Harry's 1996 nomination campaign, he once called for replacing the Federal income tax with a national sales tax. After getting beaten up about this subject during the nomination campaign, he eventually dropped it (along with his plans to take matching funds he did not qualify for anyway). None the less, he continued support for tariffs and excise taxes in his campaign platform. He repeatedly refused to consider debt repudiation as a response to dealing with paying for the "national debt" with the claim that everyone could be paid off with proceeds from the sale of Federal property. (Economist Jeff Hummel estimates the total debt including unfunded liabilities to be $22 trillion). But debt repudiation is not a "popular" issue with campaign contributors.
It was campaign wagged by the fund raising dog Ultimately, the real problem is that it is boring. At one time, reporters found Libertarian candidates interesting even if they did not agree with them. Now, they are given the same sort of evasive, slogan spouting "politician types" they have learned to despise.
In 1996, those of us who worked in the Rick Tompkins campaign tried to address these issues. The result was a vicious smear campaign aided and abetted by a National Office that was supposed to be neutral. However, even without the relentless personal attacks, it is likely that the delegates to the National Convention would have nominated Harry. They wanted the promises of The Lie. They stated in very loud terms that they believed The Lie.
Rick offered a very different kind of campaign. Rick bought a motorcoach and planned to tour the country staying with local libertarians and working to help them build their local organizations. Rick explained that most interviews can be done over the telephone and that we would get no more publicity flying around than in making one stop visits to the major cities. The costs would be relatively nominal compared to the high overhead campaign offered by the Browne Campaign.
In 1996, the delegates chose The Lie. After it was over, even the strongest defenders of the Browne camp admitted the campaign was "disappointing." The rest of us considered the who effort worse than a waste of time. But of course, those people who were part of the campaign "overhead" thought it was just fine.
But faith runs eternal. Since 1996, the Browne campaign has raised another $1.2 million dollars and have SPENT IT ALL. The Lie has be shown for what it is.-- a full employment program for Libertarian Party hacks. Bumper Hornberger did not destroy the Browne campaign. The Lie destroyed the Browne campaign.
Unfortunately, the damage done to the Libertarian Party is probably terminal. The cabal that has control of the LP have successfully driven most of the effective activists from the LP who refused to believe in The Lie. They are unlikely to ever return.
This is the legacy of the Browne campaign. Don't anyone claim they weren't warned about the dangers of The Lie.