Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Major-Party Status

Local Libertarians gathered at Mystic Lake Casino to fine-tune their message, play the slots, and practice the Ransberger Pivot

Fuhol takes the required deep breath, but then stammers, a deer caught in the rhetorical headlights. "My concerns are your concerns," he ventures hesitantly.

Steve Dasbach, observing from the back of the room, chuckles. "That's the Clinton pivot, Larry," he jokes.

"In order to pull this off, you really have to believe people will be better off," Harris emphasizes. She encourages the candidate to talk about the failure of Prohibition, the smuggling and violence that results from any black market. "We're not pro-drugs," she enthuses. "We're anti-drug war."

Wilkinson tries to fire up his candidate: "Start with the good, Larry. Start with the honey."

Michael Henderson, a businessman from Minneapolis and a newcomer to the party, cringes at the spectacle from his seat at the back of the room. "He's not very quick on his feet," Henderson whispers. "The poor guy's suffering. He's not going to make a very good candidate."

More than anything, especially in the shadow of Jesse Ventura's celebrity, the Libertarians need a "good candidate," a contestant who can break from the pack like Ventura or Jesse Jackson or Pat Buchanan. They don't have to win, but they need to create a stir.

"I'm surprised my friends in the Libertarian party haven't learned that sooner," observes Jack Gargan, the Reform Party's chairman-elect. "I would've joined the Libertarians years ago if they wouldn't have been so strident about their message. They've done a marvelous job at grassroots organizing on the local level, but now they need a high-profile candidacy."

St. Paul political consultant Sarah Janecek agrees. "The only way for them to succeed is to get lucky and have a candidate like Jesse [Ventura]. That's the only way to raise a decent amount of money."

Fuhol probably isn't the guy.

During a break in the proceedings, Forrest Wilkinson and Robert Smith--the latter a longtime party activist who designed the Libertarians' local Web site (www.lpmn.org) and who came to the weekend retreat wearing a tricorner hat--discuss Fuhol's pivot over an ashtray in the hallway. Wilkinson believes it would be much easier to manage Fuhol on paper, keep him out of the public eye. "Duct tape," Smith jokingly suggests.

"Minnesota is a little behind the curve," Dasbach admits later, when asked how long it might be before Fuhol or someone else in the state breaks through. "They have a stable state organization, and now they need to develop locally. They're just starting to get into serious campaigns, and it will take some time."

 

Judging by audience response, Success '99 will be remembered for two high points: a joke Richard Wheeler credits to Abe Lincoln involving a king, a farmer, and a jackass (not necessarily in that order); and Sharon Harris's Saturday-morning lecture on the "Temperament Card System."

To become a "master communicator," Harris lectures her charges, you must first understand the mood of your audience. You can then adapt your presentation to fit that audience's "needs." To do this, Libertarians can use a set of four color-coded cards designed with an eye to Hippocrates, Carl Jung, and the minds behind the ubiquitous Myers-Briggs personality test.

Blue cards are idealists--people who are into causes, harmony, and community. Orange cards are risk-takers, entrepreneurs, people who like to move and shake. Gold cards are reliable, punctual, and helpful people; they value security, structure, family, and tradition (Harris claims 70 percent of the American populace fall into this category). Green cards are scientific, ingenious, logical, and visionary. They seek knowledge to excel in all things.

When Harris asks those gathered to hold up the card that best describes themselves, nearly everyone produces a green card. No surprise, Harris observes: Logical visionaries are the lifeblood of the Libertarian Party.

Then someone in the back of the room guesses that Bill Clinton's color is plaid. Feeling liberated from dry lectures on party organization, everyone begins to pipe up. Golds vote. Oranges don't. Blues tend to be liberal. Greens are usually conservative. But hey, freedom is colorblind.

Harris is delighted. "What's so neat about this is that basically Libertarianism is for everyone," she gushes. "That is what's so beautiful about our philosophy!"

"It's all about political cross-dressing," Dasbach chimes in. "When you talk to conservatives, talk about things in conservative terms. Talk about the free market, talk about how the drug war is an excuse to outlaw guns. When you talk to liberals, talk about liberty."

"Democrats want to control my wallet, Republicans want to control my life," says 34-year-old Minneapolis Libertarian party activist Kevin Houston. "I say, 'Convince me, don't coerce me.' Sure, people are going to make wrong decisions in a truly free market. But if you don't allow them to make wrong decisions, they'll never make the right ones."

The 45-minute psychology session is a hit, perhaps because it appeals to the green cards' need to quantify everything, right down to human emotion. Or because to be a Libertarian is to believe in the universal appeal and truth of a philosophy. Or because, in short, everyone in the room believes the issue is simple: Let freedom ring.

Of course, Dasbach can't resist pointing out that the mood cards also have a practical application. Blue cards make good volunteer coordinators. Golds should be in charge of the details. The orange should fundraise. Greens make great candidates, if they're managed properly by another color. "Match the task to temperament," the party director urges.

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