Libertarians: Whispering from the Rafters
(WatchBlog Exclusive - Atlanta, GA) - If libertarian strategists have their way, come November 2nd, George W. Bush will be returning to Crawford, Texas in defeat and fiscal conservatives will have sent a resounding message to both Republican-controlled Houses: “cease and desist.” And they won’t even have to win a majority of the vote in order to do it.
The Media and Libertarians
Unless you were actually looking for it, you probably missed the announcement that Michael Badnarik (blog) – a computer consultant from Texas – won the nomination from the Libertarian Party over Memorial Day weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. And unless you've been following the presidential races closely, you may have missed any mention of third party candidates save for Ralph Nader.
I was curious about how a party that is nearly ubiquitous in state and local politics could get so few mentions in the largest national election. I decided to investigate the relation between media and libertarians and find out just how the problem was being addressed by the candidates. I began by interviewing the three prominent libertarians – Michael Badnarik (pronounced Bad-NOR-ik), Gary Nolan and Aaron Russo – and Jerome Tuccille, who had authored the incisive article shortly after the convention "It Usually Begins With… Michael Badnarik?"
IMPRESSIONS OF THE MEDIA COVERAGE
Aaron Russo – former candidate and Hollywood Producer of movies such as "Trading Spaces" – was deadpan in his assessment: "What media coverage?" He said that garnering press attention was a difficult proposition for third party candidates and had been what prompted him to run. "Unless you hit them over the head they're not going to write about you. The coverage of the Libertarian Party and all third parties is nil. You have to work very hard for coverage and they don't want to write about you."
Another former candidate and radio talk-show host Gary Nolan considered the arrangement to be quid pro quo and that libertarians had to work harder to gain media exposure: "They're a business just like anything else. If you're not selling, or a hot item in the media, they're naturally going to ignore you." Nolan said they should exert more effort in getting the message out in universities and high schools. "We need as much activism and outreach we can get. During the off years: working and building the message ahead of season."
Russo was focused on getting media results in the immediate election, endorsing protests at the national debates if libertarians were barred from entry. "I think it takes a certain amount of civil disobedience today to get any press." He said that using measures such as those employed by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. would help raise the political profile. "The Libertarian party is segregated against, just like the blacks were segregated against." He said "it's time to stand up and say we're not going to be ignored. We're a party that's on the ballot on almost all fifty states, if not all fifty. We've been here for 30 years and we're a legitimate party. How can you ignore us?"
Jeremy Tuccille – a former libertarian candidate himself, for governor of New York in 1974 – laid out the desideratum for getting media attention: "It all comes down to money, stardom, and focus." He said that a candidate who could bankroll their own campaign and have star power would be ideal, but the drawback was that "if one of them deviated from the standard LP line on key issues, charges of 'sell-out' would be launched from all quarters." Tuccille suggested libertarians find talking-points instead of trying to express ideology. "For Greens it's the environment, for libertarians it might be ending the war on drugs and a massive rollback on government spending through privatization. The average voter can understand pocketbook issues but has little tolerance for philosophizing."
BLOGGING THE CANDIDATES
But for all the media attention libertarians clamor for, there's been little progress in growing it's base through bloggers and the blogosphere. While every candidate has established their own blog, with varying degrees of feedback to entries, it seems that only the Democrats have fully embraced the blogosphere as a tool for propagating the campaign message and creating virtual echo chambers. All three libertarian candidates had blogs on their site and considered them to be useful for keeping their supporters informed.
The Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts has even gone so far as to invite bloggers to their convention and give them press credentials; Nearly fifty made the deadline. While the bloggers at the DNC will not enjoy full press credentials like those working for newspapers and magazines, it marks a shift in the definition of press.
In contrast to the DNC, the Libertarian Convention declined to give out credentials. George Getz, the Communications Director, said that the issue had been raised during a committee meeting and the result was that blogging did not constitute "legitimate media," but that exceptions could be made for large Internet-only publications. The criteria was based on popularity by Alexa scoring, and when asked to give an example of a legitimate site, Drudge Report was given. The press credential requirements seemed overly restrictive for a party which is in such need of coverage.
When informed of the requirements, Nolan and Russo were critical of such a policy. "You take whatever coverage that you can get," Nolan said, adding that the view was "myopic." For Russo the reason the LPC didn't invite bloggers was that "there are a lot of people in the party who are more concerned about image than they are about being genuine. That needs to change." Badnarik's response was glib, that he was "sure it was not an intentional slighting," but that blogs "have not come of age yet."
DEVELOPING A MEDIA STRATEGY
However, if the libertarians manage to gain their media attention, they have made it clear that the strategy is to attack Bush from the right. Wooing fiscal conservatives away would send a clear sign to both Republican-dominated Houses that things would have to change, regardless if John Kerry snagged the overall prize.
Tuccille noted that the strategy had it's risks but was the obvious course. "The only hope for Badnarik is that the media might decide to cast a spotlight on him to pull votes from Bush in swing states, but they've never done that before, so it's not something he can count on." Nolan also suggested targeted advertising in swing states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania and "do as much radio and television and earned media as he can get."
Nolan said the decision to target Bush from the right was obvious because "the so-called fiscal conservative Republicans finally have control of the House, Senate and the White House, and they're not financially conservative at all. They're worse than the Democrats in terms of spending."
Badnarik also supported the strategy in an effort to garner fiscal conservative Republicans upset over Bush's spending. "All people have to do to change the status quo is to send a message by voting libertarian...Even if I only get 10% of the vote in November, whoever does go to the White House will have a clear message that the people are watching."
But they aren't giving Kerry any free passes either and certainly want voters to choose them first. Badnarik was bothered by the media's portrayal of third party candidates as traditional spoilers. "The biggest problem I face is the wasted vote syndrome. If you vote for the lesser of two evils – and your candidate wins – you still have evil."
Badnarik will need to embrace the blogosphere in spreading that message. The media will pick up on it in due time.Posted by Stephen VanDyke at June 21, 2004 8:17 AM