Many Libertarian Party activists have been involved for only a few years. Some have come on board our "freedom train" only since Harry Browne began his quest for the Party's presidential nomination. All are welcome. And Harry is to be congratulated for being the source of motivation for so many recent arrivals.
Of course, LP presidential campaigns are only part of what the thousands of activists and supporters do to advance the cause of liberty using electoral politics as the mechanism. But, there is no doubt that the presidential campaign every four years is the most visible activity, providing the greatest opportunity to spread the libertarian message and for growth and influence.
As we come to the end of what has been the best LP presidential campaign ever, I thought it would be valuable to share some history of the prior campaigns. I, for one, think that an awareness of how far we have come, past all the obstacles thrown in our way, is damned important. Fortunately, I've been close to things since 1973, so it's possible for me to draw on my personal experience. For those who don't know my history with the LP, I was the 1976 Vice-Presidential candidate, National Chair from 1977 to 1981, and the 1984 Presidential candidate. I am currently Co-Chair of the Harry Browne for President Campaign.
Let's go back to the beginning when Dave Nolan called the meeting in December 1971 to organize the Libertarian Party. Those people were blessed with intelligence, knowledge, naivete and hubris. Any sensible person would have told them that the game was so completely rigged that the prospects for creating a new political party and having it succeed were so dismal as to be virtually impossible. If anyone did tell them that, we must be thankful that their youthful enthusiasm and commitment to a world of liberty and opportunity overcame such mundane pragmatism. I am reminded of those great scenes from the Monty Python film, "Life of Brian," in which the Judean People's Front (all six of them) and the People's Front of Judea (another half dozen) plot the overthrow of the Roman Empire. Such silly boys, to take up that quixotic, doomed quest. But, wait a minute -- the Roman Empire is gone and Christianity is followed by billions of people. New social/political movements always start with a small group of committed radicals. Jesus and the twelve disciples were not exactly a mass movement in 25 A.D.
Other than their enthusiasm, Dave Nolan and his Party co-founders had little going for them except that they were right. Libertarianism is the philosophy that best fits the human spirit and, where it has flourished, it produces the most productive, humane society. A powerful set of ideas whose time has come. Indeed, it has come again, the first occasion being the original American Revolution. Just read the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence to see what I mean.
Fittingly, the LP's first presidential candidate (1972) was John Hospers, Ph.D., head of the philosophy department at the University of Southern California. After all, the LP is the party of principle, a party of philosophical ideas applied to every social, political and economic issue.
Dr. Hospers was on the ballot in two states. The campaign had almost no money and the Libertarian activists were a few hundred at the most.
That was an interesting strategic choice. To start a party and run a candidate for president as the first project. This certainly demonstrates how ambitious the founders were. But what were the political realities? The party had an odd name, the media paid no attention, there was no money to run advertising -- so what was the point?
I cannot read the minds of those pioneers, but I know how things were at the time. In the late 1960s, many young people, particularly college students, were active in opposing the Vietnam war. For many, their motivation was personal lifestyle liberty. Others were greatly influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand. There were older "libertarians" as well, notably economists like Murray Rothbard and Leonard Read, the head of the Foundation for Economic Education. In all, the libertarians were a tiny handful and their views were far out of the mainstream. Nobody taught this stuff at the universities. The formation of the Libertarian Party created a home for the hundreds who were otherwise out in the cold. The typical reaction upon discovering the LP was: "I thought I was the only one who thought like this. I'm not alone any more."
In the early days, the LP had national conventions every year. There was a demand for them at that frequency because that was the one time libertarians could socialize for several days with others who shared their values. It was only later, when the state parties and local parties grew, that the need for frequent national conventions, as a social event, subsided. (Even so, our national conventions continue to be great times for socializing with libertarians from throughout the country.)
One of the highlights of the 1972 presidential campaign was the selection of Tonie Nathan as the Vice Presidential candidate and what followed. You can win bets on the question of who was the first woman to receive a vote in the Electoral College. The predictable answer would be Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic VP candidate in 1984. The right answer is Tonie Nathan, the Libertarian VP candidate in 1972. The heroic Republican elector who cast that vote for John Hospers and Tonie Nathan -- instead of for Nixon/Agnew -- was the late Roger MacBride, who later became the LP's presidential candidate in 1976.
LP activists learned in 1972 that our election laws are far from fair and democratic. In almost every state, new parties or independent candidates must file petitions with thousands of signatures to place their names on the ballot. Democrats and Republicans write those laws to protect themselves from competition. It became apparent that the LP's presidential nominating convention would have to be scheduled more than a year before the election to provide the time for ballot access petitioning in all the states. So, beginning in 1975 and continuing until it was changed in 1996, that's how it was done.
We also saw that the LP's success caused many state legislatures to tighten up their laws, raising the obstacles to the ballot. Over the years the LP has filed scores of lawsuits, challenging unconstitutional ballot access laws. We won many; we lost many. But, the LP can be proud of its record as the leading champion of fair and open elections.
Roger MacBride received the 1976 presidential nomination at the 1975 convention in New York. Formerly a Republican state legislator, Roger brought political savvy, but a somewhat limited understanding of the radical libertarian personality of the delegates. This came to a head with the Vice Presidential nomination. Two candidates for the position were not what Roger wanted. One, the late (and great, in my view) John Vernon, was gay. The other, Jim Trotter, was a gold smuggler. Well, that's all the delegates needed to go into an uproar (rejecting MacBride's preference) and deadlock the convention because no one of several candidates could get a majority. I was not then at the convention, but was telephoned by friends, flew red-eye from L.A. to New York and was nominated. Perhaps my most important qualification was being over 35. Not many delegates attending were that old in 1975.
Roger MacBride was fairly wealthy so the campaign had more funding, out of his pocket, than the 1972 campaign. Roger bought a DC-3 (World War II vintage two engine prop plane for you youngsters) and had it outfitted to fly to campaign stops. It was dubbed "No Force One" by Ed Crane, the campaign manager.
My role as VP candidate was quite limited. I probably went on half a dozen campaign trips, and covered most of my own expenses. Talk radio was in its infancy then, but I did do a number of programs and learned a lot about what journalists and the people thought, from radio and also print interviews. No one had ever heard of the Libertarian Party or libertarianism. The most telling observation, made by quite a few radio callers, was that we must be communists. (The Cold War was still a major reality.) They would declare that there are only three parties, the Democrats, the Republicans and the Communists. And if you weren't a Democrat or Republican you were a Communist no matter what you called yourself.
What were we trying to accomplish in 1976? Most obviously, it was to keep building the Party, gain name recognition, be accepted as a legitimate part of the political landscape. We also learned, by doing, the ballot access obstacles and how to overcome them. The 1976 ticket was on the ballot in 35 states. MacBride finished fourth, behind independent candidate Eugene McCarthy. The party grew, with increasing numbers of state and local organizations.
In the middle and late 1970s, the LP was blessed with the financial support of the billionaire Koch family. This led to David Koch becoming the Vice Presidential candidate in 1980, joining our Presidential candidate, Ed Clark. After the Watergate fiasco in 1972, the Federal Election Campaign Act was passed, limiting individual contributions to $1,000 for any federal office. The Supreme Court later held that a candidate could spend as much of his own money as he wanted. That put a premium on selecting candidates with deep pockets. The LP and the 1980 Ed Clark presidential campaign had the benefit of a Vice Presidential candidate who contributed over $2 million to the campaign. Money like that made it possible to put the LP ticket on the ballot in all 50 states for the first time. It also made television advertising possible. Here again, the timing was perfect. At that time it was possible to purchase five-minute spots on network TV for $30,000!! And at a very effective time, at 10:55 p.m. just before the 11:00 o'clock news. Americans were treated to five-minute spots of a very telegenic and articulate Ed Clark giving the libertarian view on the important issues in the campaign. A great many of today's LP activists learned about the Party from those spots or some other aspect of the Ed Clark campaign. After that LP campaign advertising coup, those spots were no longer available on the networks. Hmmm.
But one other element in the 1980 campaign worked to our disadvantage, Big Time. This was the candidacy of John Anderson, a moderate Republican who was defeated by Ronald Reagan for the nomination. So, Anderson ran as an independent. The liberal media lapped that up because they were so anti-Reagan. Anderson received lavish attention from the media and took about 6% of the vote. Ed Clark received about one percent.
Big lesson for us. Too many things are out of our control to be able to predict the vote total outcome of any election. Many libertarians were disappointed to the point of burnout after 1980 because they had seen the great TV spots, thought being right would influence voters, and made the mistake of thinking of success only in terms of vote totals. Far more important was the establishment of the LP as the clear leader of alternative parties, the legacy of many more state and local party organizations, increased membership, the ballot access experience, greatly increased name recognition, and the experience of conducting a high quality, full time, nationwide presidential campaign.
After the 1980 presidential campaign, the Koch family stopped supporting the LP and moved their support to think tanks such as CATO. The efforts of CATO and other libertarian oriented think tanks have had great results for the cause of liberty. But, the lack of that source of funds was, in the short term, not good for the LP. Murray Rothbard analogized the situation to government inflation of the money supply. While the Koch family money was flowing in, LP members were duped into thinking it would always be that way. It was a "boom." True grass roots organizing and fundraising programs were not developed. When that funding dried up, we went into a "bust." It was not until after the 1984 campaign that the party buckled down in the realization that we would have to do it all on our own.
I had the honor of being the 1984 LP presidential candidate. My running mate was Jim Lewis, a tax protestor and true hero of our libertarian revolution. How my nomination happened is another interesting story. The scene was the 1983 nominating convention in New York. For months before the convention, it appeared that our nominee would be Gene Burns, a well-known and respected radio talk show host. We were all planning on that. But, about a week before the convention, Gene withdrew because it had become evident to him that the party didn't yet have the resources to conduct the kind of campaign that he wanted. (I hasten to add that Gene Burns has since that time been a consistent and effective supporter of the LP and its candidates and we appreciate all he has done to help.) So it was truly an "open convention." I find it fascinating that I was then viewed as the candidate of the radical wing, a hard-liner. (Moi? With my grey hair and three piece suits?) The other leading candidate was Earl Ravenal, a respected university professor and foreign policy specialist who was offered by the group centered around CATO and its president, Ed Crane. After I received the nomination, many of them quit the Party on the spot.
Here we were, with a candidate who had not planned on being in that position and with the prospects of little money, and having lost a number of experienced activists who had walked out after their candidate lost. Further, it was the 1984 election and Ronald Reagan was at the height of his popularity. We did not plan on getting elected. But we knew damn well that Walter Mondale was not going to the White House either.
So what could we hope to do with that presidential campaign with our extremely limited resources? First, we set out to do as much as possible with ballot access, realizing that some of the most difficult states would have to slide. Our major asset was my time and my developing ability to communicate libertarian ideas. So, the primary goal of the campaign was to educate journalists. I set out to do as many intensive interviews as possible with journalists and I was interviewed by over 2,000, some in press conference settings. I found that, in most cases, I was the first libertarian they had ever talked to, up close. My objective was to leave them with information and a positive attitude about the LP and its candidates that would serve as leverage for future candidates and local party organizations. Knowing the way the media works (they tend to be lazy), I am sure that information I left in 1984 is still in files and will be referred to when an LP question arises.
The question I got more often than any other was: "You know you don't have a chance to win, so why are you running?" (I wondered why they never asked Walter Mondale that question.) My response was along the following lines. "Winning" doesn't necessarily mean getting elected. Every advance we make toward liberty is a win. We win with every person who learns about the LP. We win when they join our party. We win with every editorial that mentions us favorably. We win with every person who becomes an LP candidate the first time. We win when our positions on the issues are publicized and become part of the debate. We win for every person who realizes that he or she no longer needs to waste a vote on the lesser of two evils. We win every time a voter casts his or her first Libertarian vote, because they will probably never go back. Etc.
It was true then. It is true now.
People ask: how did you do in that election? Well, it was the first time the LP presidential candidate came in third. I only took one less state than the Democratic candidate. This is what we now call "spin." True, I came in third. Walter Mondale only took one state.
1988. The LP tried something new. Dr. Ron Paul (a physician) was a former Republican Congressman with a strong libertarian philosophy who had retired after years of trying to persuade his fellow Congresspersons to move toward liberty. He joined the Party at the 1987 nominating convention. With his mainstream credentials and active background in the hard money movement, many felt that he would command media attention and bring into the Party many new members and contributors. These considerations brought him the nomination over Russell Means, the well-known American Indian Movement activist.
Unfortunately, the Ron Paul campaign fell far short of expectations both as to his reception by the media and hopes for increased contributions or party growth from his contacts in the financial field. The media simply were not willing to make a big deal about a former Texas Congressman. We must also learn from the choices Dr. Paul made as to people to run his campaign. Although libertarian in philosophy, they had not been active in the Party, did not know how to deal with party people, and ran the campaign as if the LP had no interest in or connection with it. Consequently, as a party building, party promoting vehicle, the 1988 campaign did not accomplish much.
1992. The Andre Marrou campaign. Andre Marrou had been a Libertarian state legislator in Alaska and he was Ron Paul's Vice Presidential candidate in 1988. He was a capable communicator and popular among Libertarians for his prior campaign experience and willingness to share his learning with other LP candidates. Many interesting things had happened since 1988, most notably the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Empire. Foreign Policy was no longer dominated by the Cold War. Over the years, what were radical libertarian positions had become worthy of discussion or even accepted as at least OK. Privatization is perhaps the best example, but there were many others. Government as the cause of problems rather than the solution. The destructiveness of the War on Drugs. Private schooling and home schooling as superior to the public schools. Welfare as a debilitating plantation. The Social Security bankruptcy. Journalists and people in the streets had become able to discuss libertarian approaches to these issues rather than just rolling their eyes in shock or disgust.
Perhaps the most significant achievment of the Party in 1992 was to put the presidential ticket on the ballot in all 50 states, the first time since 1980. The LP had become expert and had the resources to do it. Undertaking ballot access efforts is hard work, and we shouldn't have to do it, but it does help in party building and gives the troops at the grass roots a sense of accomplishment. And isn't it interesting that Andre Marrou and Nancy Lord, our VP candidate, were on all 50 state ballots before Perot, but the media thought nothing of it. As with John Anderson in 1980, Perot, who is a big government parasite personified, received all the "third party" attention from the media. Andre Marrou and Nancy Lord campaigned hard and introduced libertarian ideas to millions. The Party was larger, better organized and experienced at the end of the campaign. That's what's important. Keeping those types of goals in mind, accomplishing what we can of value, helps us avoid being frustrated by things like Perot over which we have no control.
Harry Browne began seeking the 1996 LP presidential nomination two years before, in 1994. Even though a lifelong philosophical libertarian, until that point he had thought the prospect for increasing liberty in America through electoral politics was hopeless. But his observations of the positive changes in the last decade (much attributable to LP activism) caused him to believe that he could make a substantial contribution if he were to become active. It was his wife Pamela who issued the challenge. "Harry, if you think it ought to be done, you should run for President, as a Libertarian." So, we should all congratulate ourselves on making the ground more congenial to liberty so that a Harry Browne could spring up. And thanks to Pamela for challenging him to take up the banner.
As I am sure you know, Harry is optimistic, enthusiastic and motivated about his campaign and what it has already accomplished for the Party. He wants to win, but he is realistic enough to know that "winning" this year must mean accomplishments other than getting elected or getting this, that or some other percentage of the vote.
It was no minor accomplishment for the LP ticket to make the ballot in all 50 states. (Again before Perot.) It is the first time, ever, that a third party has done that twice in a row. It demonstrates that we are here to stay, and that we will be operating at increasingly higher levels. There are hundreds of thousands of libertarians in the U.S., but only a small fraction of them are dues paying members of the national LP organization. In the past two years, that national membership has doubled and is now over 20,000. Harry Browne is a highly respected financial author and newsletter editor. Thousands of the new party members were his readers and supporters. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to the campaign and the Party came from people who had never contributed before, but are doing so now because Harry Browne is the candidate.
Harry's access to the media has been a substantial multiple of all the preceding campaigns combined. Just ponder on the fact that he has been doing about six to eight radio talk shows or interviews every day for many months. Millions have heard the LP's 800 number on those shows, and thousands have called. On top of that are appearances on C-SPAN debates, CNN and others.
So we are winning. Regardless of vote totals (the more the better, of course), we have already won. The LP is widely recognized as the leading legitimate alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. People know that government doesn't work, and that it's OK to acknowledge that and discuss what to do about it. Mainstream politicians have to face up to the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid bankruptcy. People applaud when Harry Browne and Jo Jorgensen call the War on Drugs "insane." Our membership numbers and contribution base grow every day. That means there will be more talented people to be candidates and to run future campaigns. More money to support those campaigns. More talented, motivated people to do ballot access work, to recruit new members, write letters to the editor, call radio talk shows, to do everything that a smooth running grass roots organization does to keep growing and become more effective and influential.
We still have much more to do. Vote, for instance. But 1996 has been the best ever, and has already given us much to celebrate. I hope all of you will be somewhere with other libertarians to hoist a cool one (if that's your preference) in celebration on election night.
And let me say in closing that I am proud as Hell and profoundly honored to have been part of Harry Browne's campaign. Being up close to it, I can tell you that the people running the campaign day to day (16 hour days) are talented, competent, committed and just plain heroic. Especially the National Campaign Director, my wife Sharon Ayres, whom I love more than life itself.