When are we going to learn? In Tuesday’s elections, a grand total of eight Libertarians, out of more than 600 running, were elected to office — all at the state legislature level or lower. [www.lp.org/index_2006.html]

This is a success rate of about 1.3%. It is fairly typical of how we do, year after year. And yet a vociferous faction within the LP continues to say that our “primary mission” is to elect people to office.

This, I will submit, is stupid. When you define your mission as something you’re not good at, people stop taking you seriously after awhile. They conclude that you are either delusional or dishonest.

It is time for us to recognize, as we once did, that for the foreseeable future the primary mission of the Libertarian Party is NOT electing people to office.

In my 1971 article “The Case for a Libertarian Political Party,” I made this point very clear. [elfsoft.home.mindspring.com/politics/nolan.htm]

I reiterated this point in a speech I made to the 2006 convention of the Ohio Libertarian Party. You can read a summary of that speech (and listen to it in its entirety, if you are so inclined) at www.ernesthancock.com/archive/?2006-06-18-Bonus

I believe it is time for a wide-open, no-holds-barred debate on the role of the LP within the U.S. political system. We can continue pretending that we are going to teach the horse to fly (see Ohio speech), and watch our membership dwindle as people get frustrated and burn out, or we can redefine our mission as building a strong network of libertarians.

The choice is ours — but we can’t have it both ways.

Please relay this message to every libertarian you know. Post it on blogs and chat boards. Until this question is settled, the future of the LP will remain cloudy at best.

Yours for Liberty,
David F. Nolan

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These comments are currently on Rational Review (the source for this article), you are welcome to leave comments here, but I’d prefer if comments were left on the RR site (makes the conversation simpler). Click:

Once Again, The Horse Did Not Fly

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smithmn Says:
November 13th, 2006 at 7:16 pm

I’m in complete agreement with Mr. Nolan. About 4 years ago, at my lengthy urgings, the LP of Minnesota began discouraging candidates at the state or federal levels, and instead trying to get individuals to run for local office. When we were running full candidate slates, we worked hard at it, and were able to get about 2.5%, about 45,000 votes. Those totals, while high enough to stroke the egos of those who got to see their names on ballots, did nothing to improve our chances in future elections.

Worse, I think such results, election after election, are NEGATIVE in the eyes of others. Anyone noticing repetition of such weak results is likely to come to the conclusion that there must be something basically wrong with the positions of Libertarians.

There are much better ways to spend our resources than continuing to bounce off brick walls, but first we have to make the decision to STOP flooding ballots with candidates who have no chance to win. In the attempt to run large numbers of candidates, we have also pushed many who really shouldn’t be running. I recall a non-libertarian friend referring me to an out-of-state article about a group of our candidates. They had gotten press coverage, but their photos in the newspaper were actually scary, even to me. That gives the impression that we’ll endorse anyone… that we have no standards, and that we’re desperate. None of those impressions are likely to encourage anyone to join us, which is exactly why our results never improve.

Thomas L. Knapp Says:
November 14th, 2006 at 3:36 pm


I think that Nolan might disagree with one part of your argument: “we have to make the decision to STOP flooding ballots with candidates who have no chance to win.”

I could be wrong, but I think that he favors “paper candidate” strategies — not because he thinks that they’ll lead to electoral victory somehow, but because he wants people to a) see the word “Libertarian” on their ballot, b) Realize from that that there’s something besides the big guys, and c) Possibly investigate and become libertarians. I don’t have a fully-formed opinion on that notion, but I do agree with you that it does sometimes lead to having candidates on the ballot who do more harm than good.

Being an electoral politics kind of guy, I like to see serious candidates who are personable, articulate and willing to raise a little money and put up a fight. I think our future may lie in the “balance of power” races — if we can “spoil” consistently, we may be able to force the Republicans and Democrats to start competing to see who can be “more libertarian.” Or maybe not.

MamaLiberty Says:
November 14th, 2006 at 5:16 pm

I spent more than 20 years as a VERY active member of the Libertarian Party in California. I worked hard at ballot status and a lot of state and local campaigns. I helped train activist volunteers and was Central Committee chair for the largest county in Calif.

The end result? Nada. NOTHING of any lasting value, as far as I could see. The LP was a political laughing stock… and still is for all intents and purposes outside the daydreams of the faithful few. I watched two potentially viable candidates lose as Libertarians, then run the next time as Republicans and repudiate pretty much everything they had said they stood for the first time!! 

And then… one day I realized that I didn’t want a “libertarian” government to run my life any more than I did one filled with Repugs or Dims. Power tends to corrupt… and there is nothing to prevent corruption in Libertarians, any more than in anyone else. The trick is not to give anyone that power over you to start with. Yes, they can take it at the point of a gun, but you don’t have to give it to them willingly.

So, I’ve turned my efforts into many other avenues, working to help people understand that they don’t have to allow their lives to be run by others. They will live free, here and now, in direct proportion to how well they practice non-aggression and personal responsibility, which includes accepting the consequences for their choices and actions. 

It’s a tough sell.


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