Leading From Behind – The Libertarian Party’s Kick of the Can

Originally posted at Rhinehold's Blog.

“If you want to lead them, you must place yourself behind them.” – Lao Tzu

The above quote is a thought provoking view of one of the original libertarians in world history concerning the idea of effective leadership.  It has been repurposed through history in different cultures using different wording and is still a revered insight into strong leadership by raising up followers to greater heights by getting out of their way and inspiring them instead of ordering people around and not letting their abilities shine.  It is also how in a political organization that isn’t in power can still use its position to effect change and direct the flow of politics from a less than advantageous position.

Unfortunately, that sentiment is not what this article is about.  Instead, it is about the failure of trying to convince the world to embrace your ideas while consistently showing them a side of your organization that is hopelessly lost in the past, with no forward thinking and foresight that people are looking for in these times.

Covid-19 has gripped the nation and regardless of your views on its severity or the political ramifications of society’s response, the fact remains that it has disrupted how the citizens and organizations of the country interact with one another.  Technology that isn’t exactly new is now being embraced by people to continue functioning and moving forward.  And while this should probably have happened sooner, a crisis like this has always been the catalyst for driving technology adoption throughout history.  One could go back to the 1918 influenza pandemic to track the changes in our technology at the time that it helped push forward, including vaccines and the discovery of DNA.

However, one of the aspects of the country’s re-examination of how it functions has left the Libertarian Party in a situation that its own reticence to embrace that technology before has placed it.  On May 2nd, 2020 the Libertarian National Committee voted to postpone the 2020 National Convention, originally scheduled for Austin, TX the weekend of Memorial Day.  It had become apparent that continuing on with the convention would be untenable and a change should be made to accommodate the uncertainty of the times.  The vote was nearly unanimous with only one person voting against the postponement.

Unfortunately, instead of having a new date or a plan in place to deal with the postponement, the LNC heard from Daniel Hayes of the Convention Committee who provided a report that did little to sway the LNC into action.  After some deliberations, the LNC voted to recess and give themselves 10 days to provide a gameplan for what will happen with the convention, scheduling to meet again on May 9, 2020.  Apparently in the next week they will be able to come to a conclusion for a problem that has been apparent for the past previous two months.  It is not exactly certain what the extra 10 days will provide that couldn’t be accomplished in the preceding 60, but that is where we are now.

There are many issues that come from this which include:

  • Thousands of people are now having to cancel reservations for travel and  housing without any information on when or where a rescheduled convention will take place.

  • How will the delegate allocation be affected without any clear plan in place.  Some delegates will likely not be able to change their plans to accommodate a different date or location so states are now waiting to hear on the new plans and then get in touch with existing delegates as well as alternates that were chosen to see if they can even fill their allotments for the new convention time and place, which has yet to be decided.

  • Some states are closing in on deadline dates in their ballot access requirements.  If the new date is too far into the year the LP may be missing out on getting a candidate on these ballots.  Without knowing what the date will be, it is anyone’s guess on whether this will be an issue or not.  Are contingency plans going to be put into motion?

  • What is the financial impact of the cancellation going to do to party finances. There are reports that there is not enough money currently in accounts to refund all convention packages. While many will be carried over to the rescheduled convention, a large number will not and may cause an impact to the party’s ability to fight ballot access issues in the upcoming election.

These and many other issues provide problems that leaves many to wonder if anyone is considering or working to mitigate them.  However, there is one issue that came out of the meeting today that has been a problem for years that has always been pushed to another time and is now making the Libertarian Party look like it is stuck in the 20th century.

The resolution that was adopted states that the postponement will be to a PHYSICAL location on a new date to be determine.  An online or hybrid convention will not be considered because it would most likely violate the bylaws of the party.  For years it has been apparent that the party is not willing to move forward with technology advances that could streamline the voting both at convention and in running the convention itself.  In 2018, the convention was plagued with delays caused by archaic voting techniques of writing names on a piece of paper and handing them in to be counted manually, rechecked, challenged, etc.  This caused so many delays that the convention came to a hard end with an altered LNC membership vote procedure and an even more altered vote for the Judicial Committee that many considered to be out of order.

The Libertarian Party bylaws prevent the use of electronic voting equipment or methods and as a result, in a time of current events, shows a lack of foresight into dealing with situations that could cause a convention to take place that will be considered by many to be, at best, less than representative.  At worst, it could lead to calls of the convention being illegitimate.  By not doing something about this situation in the past the party has no one to blame but itself.

Yes, there are similar problems in the US Senate and House of Representatives where electronic voting was considered after 9/11 but being government entities they showed their incompetence in delivering real solutions and they are now having to deal with this lack of forward thought with haphazard methods.  But they are the government.  The Libertarian Party is trying to convince the people of the United States to embrace them and when it came time to deliver a huge knock it out of the park moment, the party merely whiffed at the plate.  An opportunity to show that we have thought about how to best handle was completely missed.

To be clear, an online or hybrid convention could solve a lot of issues for the party if it were to be considered.  Those who would make good delegates that represented their state parties well but cannot attend the convention because of funds, work obligations, family obligations or personal health issues could attend electronically.  Electronic voting, either on site or through an online convention could speed up the process and allow for more time for debate of important issues instead of standing around for hours waiting for the results of manual voting procedures to take place. 

Many organizations are moving to online conventions this year.  Red Hat just had their annual showcase fully online, Microsoft will be doing the same for Build.  Stockholder meetings are held online and have been for years.  The Constitution Party this weekend held their convention online.  Some state libertarian parties have held theirs through zoom meetings.  There are companies and systems in place that can easily handle a thousand delegate convention with voting verification and attendance by non-delegates as well AND be cheaper than an in person convention.

Make no mistake, this will be the way of the future as companies have been showing for several years now.  To not even have considered this as a contingency after all this time is an embarrassment.  Instead of being the party of the future we appear to everyone looking from the outside in as a relic of the past and far less organized than the other political parties that exist. 

I doubt that much will change in the next week.  Some offer letters will be put together for alternate days and locations for some time in early July most likely and the LNC will vote on those limited options that will be presented and completely miss out on actually leading from behind in the political environment that we exist.  A footnote relegated to nothing new, nothing original, just philosophy that doesn’t prove that it is better by actually being better.

How do we expect to inspire others to achieve more and look to the future when we can’t get out of our own way long enough to even see the problems that need to be worked out?  We spend so much time and energy arguing about which brand of libertarianism is the best that there is nothing left when it comes to adequately preparing to perform the job of leading that we are trying to tell the country that we are ready to embrace.

The time for solving this was years ago.  How we respond now to these issues that will affect the party may not be able to correct those mistakes of the past.  But when we look back in a few years, will we see the stepping up of the best of us to achieve something better?  Or just more of the same that has left us scratching our heads for a solution that has evaded us.

The meeting is recorded and available to watch on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybEl3_DHETY

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