Document:LPNY 1994 Convention Report (Wills)

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by Chuck Wills

I was at the convention this weekend, and even though a lot of disturbing things happened, I concur with M. Simkin in supporting Stern. (FYI, I've been a paid-up member of the national LP for three years, the LPNY for two years, and a Libertarian in spirit and in the voting booth since 1987. This was my second LPNY convention. The opinions and reportage that follow are purely my own.)

All of the news coverage played up the "invasion of the barbarians" aspect of the convention, i.e. hordes of unwashed Stern fans rape and pillage tiny, staid fringe political party. In one story, Howard's assistant, Gary Dell'Abate (AKA "Bababooie") was quoted as saying, "We disrupted their chess-club meeting." When I read that, I felt annoyed. On reflection, though, there's a lot of truth even in this snide statement.

Let's face it, most of us committed Libertarians spend too much time debating the finer points of Von Mises and relentlessly holding ourselves and our candidates to inflexible standards of ideological purity. I believe that if we're serious about advancing our cause and halting the erosion of freedom of this country, we've got to (1) actually elect candidates, or at least rack up vote totals that will force the press, public, and RepoCrat regulars to pay some attention to us and our ideas; (2) focus on specific issues and real-world solutions to the problems ordinary voters care about, instead of just repeating the same old cliches to the same old clique of LP loyalists; and (3) start acting like a real political party and not a little gang of fellow-travelers.

Furthermore, I'm enough of an optimist to believe that most Americans (or at least those not totally brainwashed by the left-centrist media) are fundamentally Libertarian-they just don't realize it. We have to get our ideas and policies out in the open and spread them to the widest possible audience. If we can reach these people and explain what we stand for, we might just get the groundswell of public support we need to become a viable third party. The Stern candidacy, flawed as it is, could be a decisive step-maybe even the decisive step-in this direction.

I say "could be" because, based on what I saw and heard in Albany, a lot depends on Stern's sincerity. I have to admit that Howard went out of his way to reassure the LP loyalists that he wasn't just hijacking the party to get the nod. While he was far from specific, he repeatedly said that he was not just serious about running for governor, but that he was serious about running as a Libertarian; that in his administration "the Libertarian viewpoint would be heard"; and that he would appoint Libertarians to office when elected. (I have to say that Howard actually appears to believe he can win!) He also told the LP regulars that he was depending on their support. Finally, Stern called for the regulars to work with the newly-minted Sternite Libertarians, because, in his words, "these people are disenfranchised, too."

Again, this is a statement that appears gratuitous at first but contains a lot of truth. Most of the Sternites spent Saturday swilling beer, heckling the LP regulars when they spoke, and ogling the "bikini babes" Howard brought with him. But why are these people so obnoxious and nihilistic? Because, I think, they realize in their guts that the present system in this state and in this country is set up to screw them. They ARE disenfranchised; they know the current political duopoly exists only to preserve and dispense power and patronage. But they worship Stern and will follow where he leads. They would support Howard if was running on the Socialist Workers Party ticket, but at least Stern has brought these people into the political process even in a peripheral way.

That said, I have no illusions that the vast majority of the Sternites couldn't care less about the LP now that Stern has the nod. During the convention, I heard the Sternites around me scoffing (to put it mildly) at our support for second-amendment rights and even our anti-tax stance. (There was a more positive response, as you might expect, when drug re-legalization was mentioned.) But the fact is that Stern got around 400 people to plunk down $15 and join the party-a rise in LPNY membership of between 50% and 100%, depending on whose figures you go by. We're fools if we don't at least try to exploit this new resource. We probably can't hope to bring more than a tiny percentage of the Sternites into the LP for the long haul, but for a party as small as ours, that's still a significant gain-and they say there's no fanatic like the convert.

If I was the new state chair, I would get the membership list, analyze it to separate the members who joined before March 31 (i.e. the Sternites) from the LP loyalists, and "assign" ten of the former to each of the latter, with a request that the loyalists call the new members, explain Libertarianism to them, send them literature, and do whatever they can to get them on board for real. Let's stop preaching to the choir and go out in streets among the sinners.

Still, Howard's actions over the next seven months will do the most to determine how the LPNY weathers this publicity hurricane. I heard party loyalists voice the suspicion that Howard really is just exploiting the LP as a vehicle to get publicity for himself and his show. Now that he's got the nomination, the argument goes, he sees us as nothing more than useful dweebs who will do the paperwork and legwork of the campaign. After all, he wasted no time bundling himself and his entourage onto the bus after the nominating process ended. "If he's so serious," said a prominent LP loyalist at the Sunday business meeting "then why isn't here now?" Another pointed out that Howard could at least have let real Libertarians put his name in nomination, instead of two "wack pack" members, one of whom capped his incoherent nominating speech by waving a plastic dildo from the dais.

These are valid points. Stern may come out on his radio show tomorrow and slam the LP to his 20 million viewers. Or he may do the opposite. We'll just have to see. Howard certainly gave a good impression of sincerity on Saturday. But we all know how volatile and egocentric he is (and I say this as longtime fan).

Of course, most of the LP regulars were at least resigned to Stern's nomination. That was a foregone conclusion the minute Howard instructed his radio audience to join up and come to Albany. The real drama of the convention centered on the lieutenant-governor nomination.

The loyalists would have felt a lot better about Stern if he had allowed a "real" major-league Libertarian (i.e., Segal, Brennan, Ostrowski, Brokaw) to get the number 2 spot-especially as Howard is stating he'll resign as soon as he gets his three-issue agenda through the legislature. But from the minute he got on the dais, Howard relentlessly pushed his "hand-picked" running mate, Stan Dworkin. And who is this guy? An obscure former Rockland County legislator (a Democrat, I believe) who only joined the party on the day of the convention.

From what I understand, Stern latched onto Dworkin (or vice-versa) because the LP just couldn't shake Stern's belief that he had to have a "real" politician on the ticket for his candidacy to be taken seriously. Dworkin certainly doesn't know anything about us or what we stand for. Some hardcore LP'ers demanded he speak a couple of times so we could at least get a sense of where he stands. He talked about cutting waste and fraud, getting government and "private industry" to work together, and so on-the standard stump speech given by every politician from Clinton on down to your local candidate for dog catcher.

Most of the loyalists were steady through the balloting for Stern, but when Stern asked the convention to nominate Dworkin by acclamation so he could leave the convention "in triumph" (his phrase), things got tense and ugly. The word "putsch" was spoken. But in the end, Stern had more than enough followers in the hall to get Dworkin onto the ticket in a voice vote.

In an obvious attempt at damage control-I think several hard-core LP'ers were on the point of walking out-Dottie-Lou Brokaw said that Dworkin had agreed to meet with her and learn more about Libertarianism. Unfortunately, this was just before he made some particularly lame statements to the floor. At the banquet that night, addressing and audience of (mostly) LP loyalists, she expressed some regrets over throwing her support to Dworkin.

As with Stern, we'll just have to adopt a wait-and-see, benefit-of-the-doubt attitude with regard to Dworkin. In a conversation with me, one LP'er noted that Dworkin must have something motivating him to leave his party and throw in with Stern and the LP. Maybe it's a dissatisfaction with mainstream politics that will translate into real Libertarianism. Or he could simply be hoping for a ride past the press on Howard's coattails.

Finally, I think we NY LP'ers ought to remember Jefferson's comment on the necessity of a little rebellion now and then. This is the biggest thing ever to hit our poky little party. We may come out of it discredited publicly, we run the risk of being torn apart internally, but the Sternite "rebellion" has put the L-word in the public's eye, and I believe that in the long term this will be to our benefit.

And at least things are interesting! It's as if the LPNY has been struck by a bolt of lightning. I was at the 1993 convention, when all the delegates fit into a conference room at the White Plains Hotel with room to spare. If anyone had said to me then that a thousand people would show up the next convention, and that I'd see Lu Vogel and Joe Brennan sharing a dais with Robin Quivers and Stuttering John Melendez, and that Howard Stern would be nominated for governor, I would have said they were nuts. But it happened.

"I had a blast," said an LP regular to me on Saturday night. "I've been to a lot of conventions, and this is the first time I've been to an LP convention that felt like a real political convention." Amen.