In the state of Arizona, political parties outside of the Republican-Democrat two-party stranglehold, like ours, have to periodically “prove” themselves to the Secretary of States by showing they have a certain number of registered voters. Consequently, the Libertarian Party is currently engaged in a comprehensive, aggressive push to increase our numbers. Although, since November, we’ve experienced an 11.3% increase in voters, that’s still not enough. Thus, volunteers within our party, such as the indomitable Debra De La Rocha, and MCLP Treasurer, Joe Cobb, spend their free time chatting with the locals at various events, sharing with them what it means to be a Libertarian, and providing them with an alternative that combines the best of both parties – ‘free minds and free markets’ as the Reason magazine slogan goes – without all the nasty baggage that makes politics in America so aggravating.
Having started volunteering with the Libertarian Party (I started attending MCLP meetings two months ago and have been tasked with putting together the 2009 AZLP Newsletter), I recently had the privilege of working with both Debra and Joe two weekends in a row. The first weekend, April 18 – 19, we rented a booth at Phoenix’s Pride Festival. The second, April 25 – 26, we staked out a spot at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show. As you can imagine, both events catered to specific, polar opposite demographics. The Pride Festival was geared towards the GLBTQ community, which is liberal-leaning and historically, Democrat. The Gun Show, on the other hand, catered to the gun-owning crowd, which is conservative-leaning and historically, Republican.
Different demographics mean different persuasive tactics. Of the two events, I was more worried about working the Pride Festival. Despite having been a writer for a local GLBTQ Entertainment magazine for the past five years and being very close friends with several influential members of the community, I was concerned about actively bringing up politics with a predominately liberal crowd. In my political science courses at ASU, I have consistently gotten into some very uncomfortable disagreements with Democrats who prefer to use emotional appeals and distributive tactics to make their case, which doesn’t jive with my own preference for logic, reason, and dialogue. Conversely, I figured the Gun Show would be a veritable cake walk for me. Coming from a Conservative background with Republican parents, a father that own a small business and an admirable cache of guns, and a fiancé enlisted in the Armed Forces, I figured I would be able to successfully bridge the gap between Republicanism and Libertarianism. In classes and conversations with Republicans, I’m usually seen as their adopted sister; similar enough to be family, but not quite the same.
Armed with these preconceived notions, I was completely agog when my experiences were exposed as counterintuitive.
The Pride Festival was, hands down, a great, cause-affirming experience. Both days, our booth was consistently crowded with open, excited people who were genuinely curious about the Libertarian Party and who openly and unabashedly supported our causes. Using several petitions as ice-breakers, both the young and old came up in good spirits and eager for conversation. Debra, saleswoman extraordinaire, explained who we were, what we were trying to accomplish, and that we needed their help. By the end of Sunday, we had registered 100 people to vote Libertarian, made some invaluable connections with members of the community who were genuinely interested in helping us out, and went home feeling the thrill of grassroots political activism. Interestingly, that Sunday afternoon, one of the fellows who manned the Democrat Party booth swung by to see how we were doing. Debra said, “great! How about you?” He shrugged and said, “alright.” We felt so good. Here, at a Festival that caters to a community that is typically very left-wing and we were churning and burning while the Democrats were just doing, “alright.” This is what it’s all about!
The Gun Show, on the other hand, was the precise opposite of the Pride Festival. Standing at a make-shift table in the parking lot, we tried to solicit people as they walked to and from the Gun Show. “Would you help me out with some signatures to ban photo radar?” I asked, the words so often said without any response that it became an automatic, unenthused script. Surely, people who guard their guns jealously would be against other measures of government surveillance and intrusion, but no…those who actually spoke to us usually said, “I like photo radar. It keeps people like you off my ass!” I didn’t have the stones to tell him the only time I tailgate is when there’s a party…
In addition to the disinterested and periodic shouts of irrational approval for government intrusion, we had a few very real, very uncomfortable arguments. The most notable of which was when a gentleman stopped by to sign our petition and Debra asked him if he was interested in joining the Libertarian Party. He sighed heavily and said, “third parties like yours steal elections from Republicans”. Standing over us, a rifle slung over his shoulder, he proceeded to lecture Debra and I on how Perot prevented Bush, Sr. from being reelected.
For those of you unfamiliar, allow me to explain. In 1992, when George Bush was running for reelection, the Texas Tycoon, Ross Perot, ran for President under the Reform Party ticket. Surfacing towards the beginning of the election cycle, Perot dropped out midway. By the time the general election came around, Perot reappeared to capture 19,000+ popular votes, with Bush capturing 39,000+, and Clinton securing victory with 44,000+. If we are to assume that every vote that went to Perot would have gone to Bush, then yes, Perot did hinder Bush from winning the popular vote. Yet as the 2000 election has shown, popular vote does not necessarily translate into the electoral college vote, which is what is actually looked at when determining who wins the Presidential election. Perot did not earn 1 electoral college vote. Part of this is due to the fact that several states, including ours, have what’s known as the “Winner Take All” system for electoral college votes. What this means is that, rather than breaking electoral college votes down according to the proportion of popular votes a candidate earns in an election or by district as some states do, all the electoral college votes a state has are simply given to whoever has a majority of the popular votes. For example, in Arizona, even if you win by a slim margin (such as McCain’s 200,000 votes in 2008), you get all 10 of Arizona’s electoral college votes.
This policy, while easier on tabulation, is a big roadblock to political parties outside the two-party system. For Perot to earn even 1 electoral college vote, he would somehow have to secure more votes than Clinton or Bush did in one district in one state that does not have a “Winner Take All” system. Yet, as is evident by the results, he did not. If we were to assume Perot’s votes would have gone to Bush and look at the results again, there are still not enough electoral college votes in influential swing states to sway the election enough to actually secure Bush’s victory against Clinton. The fact of the matter is that Perot rather evenly siphoned votes off of both candidates and that Bush’s loss and Clinton’s win had little to do with Perot’s presence. Big Perot victories were in his hometown of Texas, which still went to Bush, and Maine, which still went to Clinton.
When that gentleman made his ignorant assertion, I told him he was wrong.
He said, “No, I’m right.”
“Sir, I just spent the past four years getting a degree in political science; I think I know what I’m talking about.”
“You’ve a right to your opinion,” he said, which is the slightly more civilized way of saying, “shut up.” Rather than getting into a philosophical debate about the dual properties of rights and duties, I took my cue and zipped my lip.
After he concluded his lecture on why the Libertarian Party, along with every other “fringe” political party should be abolished so the Republicans can experience unencumbered power, he took his leave and we breathed a sigh of relief.
Just then, in the distance, someone shouted, “Commies!” at us. If laissez-faire and free choice in, well, everything, makes me a pinko, then I guess he’s right.
I’ve learned a valuable lesson in the past week and a half. Never judge a Democrat or a Republican by their political affiliation because a prick is still a prick, regardless of who he votes for.