by Mike A. Bozarth
While public attention has been focused on the Obama-Clinton marathon run in the Democratic primaries, another storm has been brewing in the background.
The Libertarian Party’s national presidential nominating convention opens in Denver today and lasts through Memorial Day.
The Libertarian primaries and caucuses were relatively obscure with sports television personality Wayne Allyn Root winning the Missouri primary over party stalwart Prof. George Phillies (a rocket science instructor) and Steve Kubby, a terminal cancer patient advocate of medical marijuana. Rounding out the Libertarian field are businessmen Michael Jingozian, Daniel Imperato, and Alden Link; and authors Mary Ruwart and Christine Smith.
In March the race started livening up. Former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel (AK) had been overshadowed in the Democratic primaries with the struggel between Obama and Clinton. Unlike Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and Dennis Kucinich, Gravel refused to drop out and was the “third contestant” in the later primaries.
Sen. Gravel suspended his Democratic candidacy on March 26th, joined the Libertarian party and then entered that party’s presidential race.
Gravel’s entry into the Libertarian race created a few political tremors. First, no one higher than a former U.S. Representative has sought the party’s nomination before. Gravel served two terms in the U.S. Senate representing Alaska in the 1970s and 1980s. He gained notoriety in the Senate by waging a one-man fillibuster for five months that effectively forced President Nixon to end the draft. Gravel also released the “Pentagon Papers,” the secret official study that revealed the lies and minipulations of successive U.S. administrations that misled the country into the Vietnam War. In later years he has been actively promoting a National Initiative, that would give citizens the power to make laws on the federal level, much like we have here in Missouri.
Second, few Democratic leaders have joined the Libertarian party. The party was formed mostly by former Republicans who wanted not only economic freedom from government like Goldwater conservatives, but also wanted personal freedom. The Libertarian Party has attracted many Democrats who were unhappy with that party’s lackluster support of individual choice on many social issues.
At the 1988 Libertarian national convention, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas (coming from the libertarian right) outgunned actor and American Indian activist Russell Means (coming from the libertarian left) and won the party’s nomination that year. (Ron Paul, who has been elected 10 times to Congress is running in the Republican primaries this year and gained some attention with strong grassroots support and fundraising).
Many Libertarians were disappointed that Paul didn’t drop out of the GOP race and run as a Libertarian in November. That opened the door for former Congressman Bob Barr (R- Georgia). Barr had introduced Ron Paul at the national Conservative Politicial Action conference in Washington a couple of months ago. Barr formed an exploratory committee just after Gravel entered the fray and announced his candidacy for the nomination just last week.
Barr, who presided over President Clinton’s impeachment hearings in the House, wants to capitalize on the “Ron Paul Revolution” and hopes to attract Paul’s supporters to his campaign.
This sets the stage for another left-right struggle in the Libertarian Party. Barr’s hard-line conservative voting record make some Libertarians suspicious. But then Gravel’s support of a social safety net and a national health care plan also does.
George Phillies was quick to see this and sent out a letter last week claiming to be the “moderate Libertarian in the race.”
Wayne Allyn Root is still campaigning hard and winning support. Both Mary Ruwart and Steve Kubby are long-time party members and are well-known and liked in the party.
From my humble perspective, this year’s presidential race is going to be like a game of roulette.
I earlier endorsed Ron Paul for the Republican nomination and Mike Gravel for the Democratic nomination. Paul’s race is all but over, but he will be going to the Republican convention to fight for platform changes.
And with Sen. Gravel dropping out of the Democratic race and joining the Libertarian, I am going to stick with him. I’ve followed his campaign closely for over a year. I met him and got to spend a couple hours with him in Kansas City last month.
Mike Gravel’s intellect, eloquence and charm give him a real shot at the Libertarian nomination. His campaign has released a number of interesting videos, my favorite being “power to the people, give peace a chance” done “hip hop” style. If you check out this video on my personal websites, you will see how this older guy can attract legions of young supporters like Obama and Paul have. The question is whether he can overcome the right-libertarian dominance of the party.
You will be able to watch the Denver convention on C-Span and read about it in the “Telegraph.” Don’t be surprised if the national news media ignores this convention like they normally have done in the past.
–Mr. Bozarth is Buchanan Co. Chair and member of the State Executive Committee of the Missouri Libertarian Party.