Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Anti-Pot Scaremongers Are Wrong About Legalization in Colorado (Again)

Opponents of marijuana legalization in Colorado pulled no punches in scaring the hell out of people when the citizens of the Rocky Mountain State decided to take back the right to grow, sell, and consume the Herb That Shall Not Be Named.

We were all told that there would be more intoxicated drivers on the road, and that someone must think of the children. But it turns out that highway fatalities are down in Colorado since Legalization. 

We were told that marijuana was a gateway drug, and would lead to increased drug use. But it turns out that's wrong too. All drug-related criminal offenses dropped by an average of 23%

We were told that there was a serious danger of kids receiving marijuana edibles with their Halloween candy, but that never happened. Not even once

And now we've learned a new fact about teenagers that is rather interesting. Teens would be using it like crazy if it were legal, we were told. And all of this concern for the children might be one of the strongest arguments against allowing this substance to be legal. If it were true.

But this isn't true either. 

According to a recent survey from the Marijuana Policy Project, marijuana use among teens is actually down, and is now officially below the national average. 

"The biannual Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) found that 21.2% of high school students in Colorado reported using marijuana within the past 30 days in 2015, down slightly from 22% in 2011, the year before Amendment 64 was approved and enacted, and 24.8% in 2009, the year hundreds of medical marijuana stores began opening throughout the state." 
A spokesperson had this to say: 
"These statistics clearly debunk the theory that making marijuana legal for adults will result in more teen use. Levels of teen use in Colorado have not increased since it ended marijuana prohibition, and they are lower than the national average. Elected officials and voters in states that are considering similar proposals should be wary of claims that it will hurt teens."
Marijuana use among teens is not increasing in Colorado. The experiment in Colorado is showing that marijuana is not the boogeyman that many had feared. 

There is certainly still a debate remaining over the most effective ways of regulating this new industry, but we can certainly do without scare tactics. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Ron Paul's Unwillingness To Endorse Johnson Is A Teachable Moment For Libertarians

Photo: TheBlaze
The ideological purists in the party were no doubt thrilled when Ron Paul stuck tenaciously to his principles and refused to endorse our candidate. He said that lovers of Liberty should look to our party this year, but as far as endorsing our candidate, he is not prepared to do so. 

This turn of events is disappointing, but not shocking. He didn’t endorse Gary in 2012, and wouldn't have been expected to do so this time. In his (conspicuously pre-recorded) speech to us delegates at the convention was a thinly-veiled admonition against nominating Gary again. He warned us not to go with a moderate that would “water down” our message. 

We all knew what he meant, but we chose Gary anyway. We effectively said, “With all due respect, Dr. Paul, you do not speak for us.” Ron Paul kept saying during both of his campaigns, "I've been a Republican all my life." So why would we even expect him to endorse one of our own?

I believe Ron Paul played a vital role in rolling out the carpet for our ideology, and he did so at a time when so many people were eager to hear it. The people that supported him didn’t really care about his chances of actually winning. They just liked what he had to say. 

I liked what he had to say. 

I am one of the many people to join this movement as a direct result of Ron Paul. Seeing an anti-war, socially liberal Republican debating several establishment types really stood out to me, and I wanted more of that. 

I willingly overlooked many of his missteps, because I thought he represented something bigger. I was aware that he had a messaging problem early on, but chose not to see it. 

During the first debates, he made a lot of good points about the role our foreign policy played in the events leading up to 9/11, and he had the 9/11 Commission Report to back him up. He eventually named this report in a press conference after being confronted by Guiliani during a debate, but this would come far too late. The exchange did not make Paul look good at all. 

Many of my Republican friends and family concluded from the exchange that Ron Paul is a loon, even though he had all of his facts correct. It didn't matter, because Guiliani was able to reframe everything he said in a simple way, and simplicity always wins. 

Ron Paul figured out later that there are better ways to respond, and he began using them. Things like appeal to authority ("That's not me saying that, that's the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission Report..."), and analogy ("If you're investigating a murder, you have to think like a murderer. But that doesn't mean we condone killing..."). 

Gary Johnson will probably have similar missteps, so the point is not to hold this against Ron Paul, but to point out that his messaging has never been perfect either. 

Actually, a clearer example came when Ron Paul was asked about whether the 5 year old child of an immigrant parent should receive emergency care in a hospital. He could have said, “Of course, but…” and then describe a Libertarian solution that would be better. Instead, his answer went on and on, and it made him look uncaring and too ideological. It was the basis of ridicule by the media, Jon Stewart included. It’s the reason people think Libertarians are vampires.

I’m sure many Libertarians cheered when he said these things, because on the grounds of ideology alone, they are great. But from a messaging standpoint, it just bombs. 

This is why I am so perplexed to see him refuse to endorse Gary Johnson on the grounds that his messaging is unclear. Even when Ron Paul was explaining every detail of Libertarianism correctly and clearly, it still looked confusing to a lot of people. I would find myself nodding along, thinking he’s saying everything perfectly, only to find my friend sitting next to me scratching his head and asking a ton of questions.

For this reason, I argue that Gary Johnson’s messaging is probably better than Ron Paul. 

Case in point: Me.

Back in 2008, I listened to a lot of talk radio. One of my favorites was Jerry Doyle, and one day he was playing some clips from the debates, and they featured Ron Paul. At the time, I was just ecstatic to hear someone playing Ron Paul clips and speaking favorably about them. 

Someone on his show (guest, co-host, I can’t remember which) said, “He sounds like a liberal.” To which Jerry responded, “No, he’s a Libertarian. That’s what I am.”

He was asked to explain what Libertarianism is, and he said, “Generally, they are fiscally conservative and socially liberal on the issues.” His guest was sold on it based on that description, and so was I.

That’s the moment I started calling myself a Libertarian. 

Granted, I’m just one guy and this story is anecdotal, but there are facts to back it up. According to a Reason-Rupe poll, Libertarians overwhelmingly identify as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Millennials were asked if they would support a candidate that said he was fiscally conservative and socially liberal, and 80% of those that identified as Libertarians said yes — way higher than any other label.

I’m technically a Millennial, so I guess that explains why Jerry Doyle’s generalized characterization of Libertarianism appealed to me. 

So when Gary Johnson says, “Painting with a broad brush stroke, Libertarians tend to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” he’s making a mostly true statement.

I get that this oversimplifies what we believe, and I get that it doesn’t have any principles behind it. I get all the issues with this phrase, but we are not talking about ideological consistency, we’re talking about messaging.

Furthermore, I don’t think this phrase is that far off from our ideology either. You might say that you are a socially-conservative-leaning Libertarian because you personally think prostitution is wrong or you think drugs are bad. But as long as you recognize that the state has no authority to say you can’t do these things and that they should be legal, then your position most closely lines up with what is considered the modern liberal position on those issues. 

That’s not how we would like it to be, but that’s how it is. People are used to thinking about things in terms of liberal and conservative, and this orients them in a helpful way. We would not choose these words if it were up to us, but it is not up to us. 

Once people sign up to learn more about Libertarianism, we can explain the nuances. We can say that, not only do we support marriage equality, but we support getting the government out of marriage altogether. This is an entirely new position to most people, neither liberal nor conservative, and technically falls outside that paradigm. But as long as we are forced to use the words of the day to tell people about us, it is ok, as long as it is prefaced with words like “generally speaking” and “speaking with a broad brushstroke.” 

This is why Gary Johnson can reach more people than Ron Paul ever could have. 

Anyone who doubts this should look no further than the concession speech of Larry Sharpe at the convention. All of the anti-Weld people coalesced around a candidate that ended up telling all the delegates that, had it not been for Gary Johnson waking him up, Larry never would have realized he was a Libertarian and end up joining our party. 

Imagine that: the man who is so allegedly terrible at messaging is the one that woke up the guy everyone chose to represent the Libertarian wing of the Libertarian ticket. That is what’s known as irony. 

Believe me, while many Libertarians may not like simplifying their message, that is what has to happen. Not only that, but the issues need to be talked about not just in terms of what ought to happen, but what CAN happen. The latter is what matters more to the average joe that’s been laid off and can’t find a job. 

It’s all well and good to be a perfect spokesperson for our ideology, getting every sentence just right. But we’ve been doing that for decades, and how far has it gotten us? 

Perhaps we need something different. Gary Johnson gave us our best result ever, and our paltry draw had little to do with messaging. It was pure logistics: we are not in the polls, and we are not discussed in the media. Because neither of those things happened in 2012 or in any year before, we struggled. 

But things are already different. People are listening, and taking us seriously. 

Nobody but the most ardent supporters ever took Ron Paul seriously. Part of his problem was an infamously low success rate in Congress, having only ever succeeding in making one bill become law. Just one. It’s a success rate of 0.2%

That’s not taking anything away from Ron Paul, because he did develop a reputation for being one of the lone men of principle in Washington. But it also means that he wasn’t very effective at doing what we’ve all been fighting so hard for: reducing the size of government. 

People would come to expect Ron Paul’s rejection, so much that he would be seen as a contrarian. This is not good, because if someone sees you as either a contrarian or a fanatic, you will no longer be heard. Perhaps that is why he was so unable to build coalitions to get small government reforms to actually pass. 

Perhaps the time for ideological fatalism is over. Maybe we need someone that is willing to meet people halfway, and focus not so much on all the things we believe as much as the things we already agree on. It’s hard to talk about common ground when we are so unwaveringly dogmatic in our principles. 

You can also think about it this way: If everyone questions Weld because he endorsed Kasich, then it’s axiomatic that we question Ron Paul because he endorsed Ted Cruz

Endorsements are always a good thing, but you have to take them with a grain of salt. Nobody’s perfect, and I would never act like Ron Paul is an enemy of freedom the way some detractors are treating Weld. 

I hate to see Ron Paul be so ideological, especially when he has proven to be more open-minded and compromising here and there in the past. I would very much hope that Ron Paul will come around and choose pragmatism over principles, at least this once, and see that there is nothing to lose by endorsing Johnson. 

He could use the same reasoning that Justin Amash used when he endorsed Ted Cruz. That being, to paraphrase, “He’s not a Libertarian, but he’s an ally of freedom, and is the only thing standing in the way of utter tyranny.” You and I may disagree with his assessment of Cruz, but he was able to endorse him without compromising his principles.

How Ron Paul can endorse Ted Cruz but not Gary Johnson is a mystery to many people. I don’t intend to waste anymore time figuring out the answer, and I do hope that Ron Paul will come around. 

Maybe he will. A lot of people are already coming around to Johnson, because he’s taking a different approach. At the very least, we should try it his way and see what happens. If he fails to get heard, we will learn from it. If he succeeds, we will learn from that as well. 

His message will be less Hayek and Rand, and more Penn Jillette and Kurt Russell, and I think that’s a good thing. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Why Johnson Is Our Nominee, And Why We Gave Him The VP He Wanted

Photo: WSJ
Libertarians sure know how to have a convention. Our candidates are amazing, our delegates are passionate, and now the whole world is watching. We could have done without the striptease, but what are you gonna do? We’re Libertarians. We’re an unruly bunch. 

I have so much to say about what we accomplished and will continue to write about it in the coming days. But for now, I have to address the elephant in the room: Bill Weld.

The split in our party is probably over-stated regarding our ticket, but it’s definitely there. Most will either remain silent and turn there attention to down-ballot candidates, or encourage more unity. 

I am now firm in my belief that this convention was an historic moment, and yes, Bill Weld is a big part of that. 

I know, I know. He’s not the most Libertarian. Some say he’s not Libertarian at all. I’ll get to that.

First, let’s get something straight. What his detractors don’t seem to understand is that the other candidates had their say, and were rejected. Everyone was heard, and all of the pitches were amazing. But they still lost. 

Here’s why.

To put it simply, the other candidates lacked vision. Gary Johnson was the only candidate with a fully developed vision, and that vision happened to include Bill Weld. 

The other candidates did have an “image” of what they wanted to achieve, but I learned in film school that image and vision are two totally different things. 

A filmmaker with an image is more like a cinematographer working from a storyboard. He’s very specific. This shot needs to look exactly this way, and not that way, and there are mechanics involved in figuring that out. It’s technical, and to a degree, objective. You can speak more easily about what it is NOT, and that’s important, too. 

Vision, on the other hand, involves two things: an ambitious but clear goal, and flexibility regarding the details. 

When I make a film, it’s less important to me that the film be executed exactly as I planned it. In fact, it’s better if I just assume it won’t. Some of the best moments in the stuff I’ve made were unplanned. Sometimes you have to play with it, and get lots of feedback. If the people around you know what your goals are, and why you are passionate about telling this story, they will help you hone it until it works. You will get people to follow you, whereas someone that simply wants the picture to look a certain way will only be as successful as his resources allow. 

It's also important to stick to your guns when it counts, too. If you take too much feedback, you will end up making someone else's film, and it will probably wind up being a muddled mess. 

All the other candidates had fewer resources, and compounded this problem by emphasizing the picture without giving us what we really wanted. They lacked vision.


So that was the nice way of saying it. But if you think that the other candidates DID have vision, let me prove to you that they did not.

Let’s start with Petersen. 

I sincerely believe that he would have won this nomination, had he not chosen to be an arrogant jerk. I’m far from the only person to point this out. 

As far as his lack of vision? He reminds me of George Lucas making the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Unlike the original series, in which he welcomed the feedback of everyone involved while he was making it (thus enhancing their quality by every observable metric you could think of), instead, he became something of an artistic tyrant, and the films suffered as a result. This change in Lucas has been well-documented. 

Petersen’s image puts Petersen at the center. If anyone objects, they are enemies of freedom, and he will sick his freedom ninjas on them. He rarely apologized for any of this, although he has apologized privately to some of my friends for comments he knows were out of line. He chose to behave like an ideological tyrant, not because his positions were anti-Libertarian, but because his methods were anti-Libertarian. 

He did not have the resources that someone like Gary has, but even though he proved that he could acquire them (courting Glenn Beck and Napolitano fans, for example), he used the Trump approach. He would have won the nomination, but decided to be a dick instead.

Petersen was rejected by the Body because his image was the image of a bully.

McAfee’s defeat was even more revealing. He did not just lose, he crashed and burned. In the first round of balloting, his total was disappointing, to put it nicely. It was not pretty. 

Generally speaking, I believe this is because his ethos is incompatible with politics, yet he was trying to do both. His failure doesn't mean he's a bad guy or that his message was rejected outright. LP members want to change politics, not burn it to the ground. 

There were many good things about McAfee. He was funny, and he was different. He was exciting. He could energize a crowd, and he had support from serious heavy-hitting media personalities like the good folks at Reason. He could have capitalized on anti-establishment sentiments in America in a way that none of the other candidates probably could. 

He also had a good story. He was terrorized by the Belize government, and fled for his life. He made millions in the private sector, and saved a young woman from prostitution by marrying her. These are really compelling plot points in a story that could have captured everyone’s imagination, if it was presented with a vision.

Instead, his whole pitch amounted to nothing more than a destructive attack on everything we’re trying to do. There are a lot of people that believe the political process is a sham, and McAfee represents that. I understand the sentiment, but at the end of the day, we are a political party. We are here to get candidates elected. If you don’t want that, then become a principled non-voter like many others have done. 

It’s safe to say the delegates wholly rejected this scorched-earth proposition. When you start your nominating speech by telling us that we're kidding ourselves if we think we're gonna win, then shame us all for being white when you lose, you alienate the very people that you'll need to eventually support you. I heard comments afterwards, along the lines of, "I guess it's a good thing we didn't pick him." At least Petersen bowed out gracefully. 

McAfee was rejected by the Body because his image was an image of reckless self-destruction.

It is not until we get to Darryl Perry that we find someone that, at the very least, kept the negativity to a minimum. He stuck to the issues, and spoke very well about them. He cared more about principles than anyone else up there, and he was funny at times. 

I would not have supported Darryl Perry, but would have accepted him as the nominee and campaigned for him if that’s what our delegates chose. The problem is that his message was too radical, and in the end the delegates did not want a radical. He might have had more support if he had more name recognition, and could be expected to pull in some donors. 

To get back to the filmmaking analogy, Darryl Perry would be akin to Ron Fricke, who made Baraka and Samsara. His films are of a genre known as “pure cinema,” and films of this type are breathtaking and beautiful

But most people would never watch them. Either because they wouldn’t be able to stand not having a relatable story, or because chances are you don't know someone who has seen one of them, let alone someone that will endorse them. 

Hearing Darryl describe his image is like watching a Tibetan monk finish a sandpainting, only to see them brush the whole thing away at the end. To the monk, the result is not important. The painting is a spiritual exercise, which is why the finished product doesn’t matter. And that is not vision. Visions are meant to be realized.

Darryl Perry was rejected by the Body because his image means nothing so long as it is not connected to the tangible world around them. It will never be realized, and that’s the point. When principles are all that matters (and things like compromise and pragmatism do not), you may as well brush it all away. 

I actually don’t think that Feldman was rejected, per se. 

He made a big splash with his nomination speech, but that was not the notable thing. What everyone needs to remember is that Feldman was basically the poster boy for inclusiveness. 

Inclusiveness is a very good seed from which to form a vision. Perhaps if he runs again for this race or another, he will focus on that seed, and wind up with a very good vision. 

I do not get the sense that inclusiveness is merely a talking point for Feldman. He uses comedy to bring people together. Comedy is a great equalizer, and is extremely effective at winning people over. It’s hard to disagree with someone when they make you laugh, because the involuntary act of laughter is very close to the idea of acceptance. 

Many of the people who voted for Feldman in the first round (like myself) were Johnson supporters. If Feldman suffered a loss to Johnson, it is probably because Johnson also has these qualities. Johnson preaches inclusiveness all the time, which is why Feldman was willing to vouch for his VP, despite his own misgivings of Weld. 

And Johnson is also funnier than people give him credit for. His $75 minimum wage joke was not delivered as smoothly at the convention, but I’ve heard him make this joke in interviews (like his interview with Penn Gilette), and it went over very well. I suspect comedy, like many of the other candidates’ strategies, will be honed over time. 

So Feldman has vision, but his vision is underdeveloped. 

And that brings me at last to the main split that has some people very upset and disappointed: 


One thing I will say is absolutely clear: everyone knew what they were voting for. The folks who chose Weld did so for several reasons, but they all come down to trust. 

Do we trust Weld? Not really. But do we trust Johnson? According to our delegation, the answer is tentatively yes.

Try to understand why this is important. 

What we basically said to Gary is “we trust you.” And what would it mean if we trust him with our nomination, but we don’t trust him to pick the right people to be by his side to help him? 

Think about it. If he wins, he’s going to need to pick his cabinet members. It’s implicit in the job we’re nominating him for that he be trusted to select his own advisors. Had we rejected Weld, we would have effectively micro-managed a campaign that already has a leader, and treated him like he needs a babysitter. It’s belittling, and makes no sense. 

I understand that we do things differently, and we reserve the right to nominate whomever we choose to be the VP. I like the fact that we do it that way. In fact, what transpired in the end was really quite beautiful. Johnson was forced to convince us that Weld was the right choice, rather than just accept it as a given. You’ll never see the D’s and R’s be this passionate about defending principles and forcing their candidate to do this. 

Even though I’m happy with the result, nothing made me more proud of my party than to see so many people coalesce around Larry Sharpe. It was exciting, because it means that everyone in our party cares very deeply. 

But people also coalesced around Johnson and Weld, and that was pretty amazing to see, too. 

Alicia Dearne’s incredibly emotional plea for party unity almost made me cry. It took guts, for one thing, and it showed everyone what compromise looks like. It’s clear that she would have preferred someone else (like herself), but was willing to put her own wishes aside for the sake of bringing much-needed unity to the party, and making Gary Johnson as strong as he can be. 

Granted, some will remain doggedly opposed to the result, but I believe most will come around. If anyone is prepared to leave the party just because it’s delegation picked the wrong guy, they were probably never serious about our cause in the first place. 

After all, the presidential race is not the only race we run candidates for. In fact, local races are way more important. 

In the end, people supported Gary’s pick because they trust Gary. Even some of the ones that supported him were nervous that he might betray us — a legitimate fear, to be sure — but took a chance. Better to go for broke. 

Weld won because Gary had a vision, and his vision included Weld. Period. 

He was never playing at the idea of winning, and isn’t settling for even 10%. The other candidates were only playing at the idea of winning, and some stated outright that it was not their main objective. 

But our delegates want to win. We’ve earned it, and we believe it’s our time. We care about principles, but we also care about being taken seriously and, hopefully, putting some tick marks in the "win" column for a change.