Friday, August 15, 2008

Barring Barr in Boston

Jim Antle chronicles how Massachusetts Libertarian Party chairman George Phillies -- who placed fifth in the "Dogfight in Denver" -- appears to be conniving to keep LP presidential nominee Bob Barr off the ballot in the Bay State:
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit last week to help get Barr a place on the ballot. Unfortunately, the intransigence of state election officials has been compounded by mixed messaging by some supporters of the ACLU lawsuit - especially Phillies himself.
Almost immediately after Barr secured the nomination, Phillies told Reason magazine that the Massachusetts Libertarians might hold a state convention to nominate a separate candidate. "Nominating this man," he is quoted as saying of Barr, "is the equivalent of nominating an Imperial Wizard of the KKK to lead a party of African-Americans." He repeated a variation of this statement on the state party's website shortly afterward.
Phillies and certain other hard-core LP activists basically resent the effort of Barr's supporters to expand the Libertarian Party beyond its current status as a philosophical debating society and make it a party of major political significance.

This has been an internal tension within the LP almost from the outset, as Brian Doherty explained in Radicals for Capitalism. The "libertarian" label has, unfortunately, attracted a number of fringe flakes who don't seem much interested in mainstream free-market ideology -- deregulation, low taxes, reduction of government bureaucracy -- but who are passionate about, inter alia, gay rights and drug legalization.

This drift has resulted in the party becoming a sort of Geek Club whose members take turns nominating each other for state and local offices they don't stand a chance of winning, and then staging quadrennial "More Libertarian Than Thou" contests for their national conventions.

At a time when the Republican Party appears to have forsaken its Goldwater/Reagan message of limited government, one might expect the LP to be scooping up huge contributions and winning over voters disgusted by the GOP's abandonment of principle. Yet as the situation with Barr illustrates, when disillusioned Republicans approach the LP, they inevitably find themselves confronted by the Geek Club contingent, whose worst fear is that their private debating society will be taken over by people who aim to actually win elections.

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