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.

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