While Hillary Clinton continues to prolong the Democratic party’s primary process, and John McCain awaits his coronation as the Republican nominee in September, another American political party has taken this Memorial Day weekend to choose its own candidates for the fall election. The Libertarian Party held its bi-annual national convention in Denver. It was televised on C-Span, where I watched it yesterday. Michael Medved likes to call them the “Losertarians,” but he’s an outspoken apologist for the two-party system, and he said that Plan 9 From Outer Space was the worst film of all time so what the fuck does he know anyway? It was the first Libertarian Party convention I’ve ever watched, and I picked up on one or two subtle differences between it and the conventions held every four years by the two major parties.
For one, the Democratic and Republican conventions are held in sports arenas, which is a necessity given that they each have several thousand delegates. There are huge stages, video monitors bigger than movie screens, and a few tons of ticker tape and balloons held in the rafters, waiting for the end of the nominee’s speech. It looks like the set of RAW, without the ring. The Libertarians had their convention at the Sheraton Hotel, plenty roomy for their few hundred delegates, including one from Hawaii and none from North Dakota. The Democratic and Republican conventions look like stops on a Rolling Stones’ arena tour; the Libertarian convention looked like an actual convention — of salesmen, for instance, like the episode of The Office where Dwight won a regional award and had to give a speech.
No, actually, I think there were more people there to see Dwight’s speech. And that convention had a stage and a video screen, and the lectern wasn’t decorated with plastic vines.
Another difference is the actual purpose for the convention. The major parties have had their nominees decided by assigning delegates based on primary elections the last thirty years or so, making the conventions little more than overhyped formalities, meant not to choose a nominee, but to sell the pre-selected nominee to the media. The Libertarians don’t hold primaries, so they actually have some work to do at their convention. This year, it took the Libertarian delegates six ballots to pick their presidential candidate. They wound up choosing Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman who was defeated in his 2002 re-election bid in the primaries, for Christ’s sake — that’s how popular he was — and who has been a member of the Libertarian party since way back in 2006.
Since Barr wasn’t the only choice available to the party, I’m curious as to why exactly they decided to nominate him. The convention considered about a half-dozen serious candidates other than Barr, who only announced his candidacy a few weeks ago, and whose delegates were roundly booed by everyone else when they entered the convention carrying “Vote Barr” signs just before the start of voting on the first ballot.
Finishing second to Barr on the last ballot was author and professional libertarian Dr. Mary Ruwart, who seemed reasonable and intelligent, and who probably would have nabbed the nomination had Barr not crashed the party. She wasn’t the only female candidate; there was also Christine Smith. I caught her speech after her nomination; she sounded like she was running for president of the PTA more than President of the United States. She was eliminated after finishing last on the first ballot. Also knocked out in the first round was Michael Jingozian, who had bragged about being a “turnaround CEO” of a slew of companies I’ve never heard of, and prefaced his nomination speech with a PowerPoint presentation that wowed the delegates and would have been the envy of any high school senior class assembly.
After his elimination, Jingozian threw his support to fellow candidate Mike Gravel, who, like Barr, had recently jumped ship from a major party. Gravel repurposed his hopeless run for the Democratic party’s nomination into an equally futile bid for a spot on the Libertarian party’s ticket. Carried by his popular series of unsettling YouTube videos, Gravel lasted to the fourth ballot before falling to the superior forces of Barr, Ruwart, and a guy named Wayne Allyn Root. Root is a guy from Las Vegas who made himself a fortune by gambling — I beg your pardon, by sports handicapping. He wound up finishing third on the last ballot, but was then nominated to be Barr’s running mate.
The only candidate who had any kind of a chance at getting the nomination I haven’t mentioned is George Phillies. He’s a college professor from Massachusetts who looks and sounds like the fey, quasi-sinister guidance counselor Hollywood screenwriters think we all had when we were in high school. His main selling point was essentially “Nominate me, because I’ve been campaigning the longest.” I think he wound up just being too fucking creepy, even for the Libertarian Party.
I make fun, but I actually have a good deal more respect for these guys than I do for most people involved in either the Democratic or the Republican parties. One thing they’ve got 100% right: the two-party system is not doing us any favors. I have some libertarian leanings, but that capital “L” wouldn’t sit quite right after my name. I think it’s not so much the government that’s the problem as the people who are running it. Hey, I’m all for cutting spending and lowering taxes (referred to several times during the convention as “strangling the beast”), and I have to say that I have never, ever heard a more vigorous and emphatic pronouncement of gay rights from either major party as I heard from the Libertarians yesterday, and I want the government to be as unobtrusive as possible. But I do think government, wielded properly, has an important role to play in a free society. It’s that “wielded properly” part that’s the bitch.
Plus, isn’t it a little disingenuous to be running to lead a government, when your party’s entire mission is to totally do away with governments? If you’re a true libertarian, I mean, and not a filthy, equivocating minarchist.
El Bicho over at the Blogcritics Politics page watched the C-Span coverage of the convention, too. Here’s what he had to say about it.