2016 was supposed to be the year of the Libertarian Party. The Republicans and Democrats had put up the two most unlikeable candidates in American history for President and many voters were looking toward third-party options while watching the circus that outlasted Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth. With every waffle, every lie, every controversial or offensive statement it looked like 2016s election cycle would finally be the one that opened the door to third party candidates in the future. Add in every person who identifies as a libertarian, whether they were a member of the party or not, looking forward to finally having a candidate they could agree with making strides in a national election. This was going to be the Libertarians’ year, and the only thing that could mess that up would be the party itself.
As we all know, that didn’t happen. Instead the Libertarians put up a candidate who refused to throw punches, much like John McCain in 2008, who personally begged the Libertarian base to select a Vice Presidential candidate who later would go on to defend Hillary Clinton’s possibly treasonous actions. During the Libertarian National Convention, when all eyes were on them to see if they could be considered a real contender in the election a local chair performed a strip tease on stage, making more headlines than the nomination of their presidential ticket. Add in a mixture of a Senatorial candidate who was a self-described pagan who drank goat’s blood, and was accused of being a Nazi by many. Then throw in Gary Johnson’s campaign missteps, such as not knowing what Aleppo was, or literally biting his tongue in an interview, the Libertarians’ took in a resounding 3.27% of the popular vote. A poor showing for an election that seemed to be scripted to be their big year. The Libertarians once again proved they were the annoying little step-brother in the political system.
Any serious political party in this nation, especially one who espouses the importance of self-ownership and taking responsibility for one’s mistakes, would have taken a look at themselves, and corrected their missteps, figuring out the proper way to continue party growth and outreach. Babyfaced Nicholas Sarwark, the chair of the LP, and Vice Chair Arvin Vohra, along with everyone working on public relations within the party, have decided that instead of attempting to become more inclusive they are going to become more divisive, creating unnecessary controversy bringing them all of the negative attention that comes along with these actions.
Beginning Easter week, the Libertarian Party quickly began making a series of public relations missteps. In the same week that Pepsi released the Kendall Jenner ad that many said delegitimized the current societal anxiety many in this country were feeling, and United Airlines forcibly removed a passenger from a flight due to over booking, the LP released a series of quotes from different religious texts in what can only have been thought as an attempt to show the desire for liberty across all religions. This move would have potentially been met with fervor by many if the LP hadn’t decided to act like the annoying little brother holding his finger an inch away from your face repeating the phrase, “I’m not touching you.” Instead of quoting from the Quran, or Buddhist Scripture, or even opening with a quote or two from the Bible (being that it was Easter week), they lead with this quote, “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone,” from the 3rd Fundamental Tenet of the Satanic Temple.
While this move could be seen as a poor attempt at showing acceptance of all faiths, it was instead seen as a political party poking fun at the faiths of many Christians. Had they started out with a different doctrine this one may have gone under the radar, buried by the other PR missteps happening across corporate America that week, but it was just enough of a slap in the face to believers of Christ to anger them with many pointing to the fact that the LP has not yet won a major election.
Those who are working members in the Libertarian Party scrambled to make excuses for this step, hoping that all of the outreach they had been doing over the past few years hadn’t been for naught with a simple mistake that could potentially be explained away as a poor attempt to show unity among faiths in the party. It seemed as though it was a minor bump in the road to gain traction, and one the hard working volunteers would be able to overcome. Then Vice Chair Vohra released a novel length Facebook status that could be summed up simply as “All Veterans Are Murderers.”
Arvin, in a classic case of foot in mouth disease, compared American veterans to paid hitmen, saying they joined for college money, and to acquire such funds they were happily agreeing to kill innocent people. He said this even though active duty troops supported Gary Johnson in 2016 by outstanding numbers. A statement so obtuse can only be seen as a slap in the face to many people who were looking for another option in our political spectrum, but instead were insulted and told they were no better than hired guns.
Once again the local members of the Libertarian Party were once again trying to do damage control for their candidates who are working tirelessly to win the elections that matter most to a growing party; city council elections, mayoral elections, and state legislative elections. Time was being taken away from the important voter outreach that is necessary to spread the philosophy of libertarianism to explain away the idiotic statements from a party leader. Time that could not be given back to those who work, usually for free, promoting an ideal in which they truly believe.
The only party leader more petulant than Debbie Wasserman-Shultz not wanting to be outdone by his immediate subordinate then engaged in an interview with the always fair and balanced Salon. In this interview Nicholas Sarwark stated that “The Libertarian Party is in the same place where African-Americans were prior to the 60s. We’re in the same place where women were prior to getting the right to vote.”
If he was attempting to say that we aren’t being heard in the same way other movements haven’t been heard in the past, he chose a very inappropriate metaphor to make such a comparison. While I agree the Libertarians do have an issue getting media coverage, and that many times the good work they do in their communities are overshadowed by the interest in international mistakes by the current administration, comparing the plight of a third party to the struggles of being black in America before the Civil Rights Act, or women in America before garnering the right to vote in 1920 is not the same thing. It’s a statement that is grounded in narcissism, which coming from Nicholas Sarwark doesn’t come as much as a surprise.
What Nicholas Sarwark and Arvin Vohra, along with Larry Sharpe and any other member of the party defending or lambasting these actions, are doing is stealing precious time from the members of Libertarian Party. With every controversial, ill-thought out statement, or social media post, and every argument in support of, or disagreeing with, time is being taken from working on campaigns, working on voter outreach, and attempting to spread the libertarian philosophy to people who are looking for a political ideology they can agree with.
Time cannot be given back once taken away. With every PR misstep the Libertarian Party has committed those who are working hardest for the party lose more time than they truly have to give for a movement that appears to not want to step into the forefront of the national political scene. Maybe Sarwark and Vohra don’t want the Libertarians to succeed because then they would have to put their money where their mouths are and run a party built on principle instead of lobbyists, and that is a chore too big for them to want to take on.
No matter the reasoning behind their poor decisions, they need to understand that many people are working hard to promote an ideology that the ones in power are seemingly inadvertently attempting to destroy. Nicholas Sarwark, and Arvin Vohra need to stop stealing time from their members, and likewise their members need to tell them to stop, and if they refuse to stop with their immature antics the base of the party needs to elect new leadership in 2018 when their convention meets in New Orleans.
Matt Wright is an author, a member of the Libertarian Party, an activist and a co-host of the podcast The Muddied Waters of Freedom. He currently resides on the Gulf Coast of Florida. You can follow him on twitter @mrwright79