Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The 3rd Party Paradox

I’ve cycled through a number of party affiliations over the course of my political life. When I was poor and ignorant, I registered Democrat. When I was still ignorant, but no longer poor, I re-registered Republican. When I finally gained some more detailed understanding of both my own views, and the positions of the two major parties, I re-registered Libertarian. And, at various times for short periods, I was registered as non-partisan.

While I’m currently a registered Republican, I’m really best described as a recovering Libertarian.

I had been very active in the movement to build space colonies for many years, but I finally concluded that the cost was just prohibitive with current technology. I lost my faith in that path, but I still wanted to make a difference in the world. If I couldn’t build a new, free world, I could at least try to make this one freer.

I was living in California at the time, and decided that I would run for State Assembly in District 20, centered in the Milpitas/Fremont area near San Jose. When I asked the “old hands” why Libertarians never win, I was told that:

1) We never raise enough money
2) We never get enough publicity

So, I focused the campaign on raising money and getting publicity, which we did at record levels. I raised as much money as the Republican candidate. I got an outstanding level of publicity, fully competitive with both the other candidates. And, at the end of the day, I got 7% of the vote. That’s in the very high percentiles of what Libertarians get in 3-way races, but the bottom line is, I lost. I did, however, gain some wonderful friends, and some insightful experience.

Money and publicity are not enough. The main paper in the district said I was the best 3rd party candidate they had ever seen, but they didn’t think the voters were ready for the level of reduction in government that I was proposing. And they were right. That’s not going to change, ever, with anything like the current electorate.

So, what’s the value of third parties? Paradoxically, it seems that the more “successful” a third party is, the more it drives the results farther from their objective! If they really want to be effective, people who believe in the Green philosophy should work hard for the Libertarian Party, and people who believe in freedom should work hard for the Green Party. Probably give them money, too.

People need to start looking at the results of their efforts, instead of the process. And, as a hint, philosophical pontification is almost invariably about the process, and not about the results.

There are many examples of the 3rd Party Paradox, perhaps the most visible being the defeat of Bush 41 by Bill Clinton. Ross Perot professed a desire to increase the level of accountability and responsibility in government. So, he gets Clinton elected. Smooth move, Ex Lax! More recently, the same scenario is playing out in Minnesota as I type. The third party candidate was never going to win, but seems poised on the edge of electing the candidate least sympathetic to his views.

Third party adherents try to suggest that “there’s no difference between the two major parties”, but this is, of course, patent nonsense. Both major parties have evil qualities, to be sure, but they are very different. One of the few good things that President Obama is doing is bringing this fallacy into stark relief. Even when I was an active, ardent Libertarian, I never bought in to the equivalence myth. From the standpoint of freedom, Republicans are vastly superior to Democrats, pathetic though they most certainly are in that regard.

In addition to the more public examples of the paradox, I have two painful personal examples as well. When I ran for State Assembly in 1994, and got 7% of the vote, the Democrat won with just barely over 50%. The Republicans immediately and ongoingly blamed me for costing them that election. The numbers didn’t quite add up, if you just added my total to his. But, if instead of running against him, I had actively worked for him? Dunno. It could easily have turned out differently.

And, there was an interesting Chaotic effect in that case. The State Assembly was split literally 50/50 that year, and as a result, Willy Brown retained his position as Speaker. There’s a real blow for freedom on my part! If the Republican had won in my race, that wouldn’t have happened, and I was blamed for that result. I don’t think the numbers would have quite worked, even if I had worked for the Republican---but they very easily might have, if things had been only slightly different.

The more troubling case for me was the election of 1998, where the numbers very strongly support the contention that I re-elected Harry Reid to the US Senate. I was Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Nevada for that election, and I recruited a full slate of candidates, including a strong candidate to run against Reid. The party was largely in disarray when I took over, and if I hadn’t recruited that candidate, there most likely wouldn’t have been one at all. Exit polls clearly show that, absent a Libertarian candidate, Libertarians will fairly reliably vote 2:1 in favor of the Republican in the race (a wise choice). Reid won by a few hundred votes. The Libertarian candidate got a few thousand votes.

If I hadn’t recruited a strong Libertarian candidate? Do the math. If you like Harry Reid, you should thank me. Another major blow on my part for the cause of freedom!


So, what did I do? I was the Libertarian candidate for Governor of Nevada in the year 1998, and after I lost to him decisively, the victorious Republican, Governor Kenny Guinn, appointed me to his cabinet, where I served as Chief Information Officer for 7 years. During that time, I saved the taxpayers millions of dollars, shrinking my Department staff by over 20%, while simultaneously increasing production by a like amount.

Frequently, in politics in the real world, you will face an iron clad choice between making a statement, and making a difference. Occasionally, rarely, you can do both, but the vast majority of the time, you’ll need to decide which of the two is more important to you.

Think results, not process.

So, what’s a freedom lover to do? We’ll discuss that in future installments!




  1. Terry,
    Found your site via Rand, thanks for writing this post. There's a lot of frustrated conservatives out there, I'm one of them. Good to see your experiences.

  2. So, long story short, you gave up on libertarian politics because of anti-Mormonism! You . . . you . . . you magnificent bastard.


    -a devout Mormon who has little love lost for Sen. Reid

  3. The guy who checked me out in the Challenger aircraft, which is the model I eventually bought, is a Mormon.

    He delivered mine to me in Carson City, my home field, and I had volunteered to drive him home to Lodi, California. We talked a lot.

    By the end of the drive, he said that I was an "unbaptized Mormon".

    I took that as a SERIOUS compliment!



  4. When I decided to get religious, in 1994, LDS was one of the COTS religions I considered, along with Judaism and Buddhism. In the end, I wasn't entirely satisfied with any of the COTS offerings, so I wrote my own code.

    More on that tomorrow!