Some thoughts about the Mission Statement
by Sean Haugh
I’m currently serving on the Bylaws Committee of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina, and proposed that we adopt a Mission Statement copied from that adopted by the national party in convention in 1993. This is something I sent to the committee in support of the notion.
Proposal: “MISSION: The Mission of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina is to move public policy in a libertarian direction by electing candidates of the Libertarian Party to public office.”
Folks, we are not the libertarian movement. We are the Libertarian Party. The libertarian movement is broad and glorious and vital, and we are all full participants in it. Yet our mission is unique within the movement. We are the only organization in the movement that contests elections.
Education is good, and it is certainly useful to our purposes. But you don’t need a political party to educate anyone. If you believe in libertarian education, the Advocates for Self-Government, to cite just one example, is far better positioned to pursue this particular mission.
There are many ways to change public policy, and absolutely we need to avail ourselves of all of them. But if you think developing and disseminating public policy proposals is the thing to do, well there are quite a few organizations ranging from Heartland and Cato to the von Mises Center that are doing a far better job of that than we ever could.
They don’t run candidates for election. They don’t get on the ballot. They don’t get into campaign debates, they don’t get media coverage for the candidates they don’t run, and they don’t even try to change public policy by getting elected officials seated at the table.
Only the Libertarian Party does those things. Only the Libertarian Party *can* do those things. And that’s exactly what we need to concentrate on doing. We owe to the movement to handle our part of it.
Regardless of how moderate or radical a Libertarian one might be, the vast majority of people join the Libertarian Party for one reason – they want to contest elections and support Libertarian candidates. When we run a lot of candidates, when we run strong candidates, when we get our Libertarian candidates in the news, our membership grows, our donations increase, our activists become more numerous and more energized. Don’t listen to me, judge the results. We grow when we vigorously contest elections, and we decline when we do not.
It was suggested that the wording of the mission statement confuses means and ends. I see just the opposite. What we have now is a collection of means labeled “purposes.” We also have a strong statement of foundational principles. What we are lacking is a goal, an end. The mission statement provides the end, “electing Libertarians to public office.”
My experience as the Candidate Tracker guy has changed my views on how and why we run candidates. I still believe in running as many candidates as possible, even more strongly than ever. It is important to have a presence in as many races as possible regardless of the chances of victory. And of course I will never budge from my view that our candidates are our Champions of Liberty who deserve all praise and thanks from us, even the ones who simply lend their names to the ballot.
What’s changed for me is the recognition that our progress to date is still very far removed from changing public policy through the electoral process. We actually have to start winning some races in order to gain the first bit of leverage. In order to do that, we need candidates who actually run complete campaigns.
I tracked over 600 campaigns for the LP last year. Only one ran what I would call a full campaign in a contested higher profile race and she won. Yes, many campaigns did a bang up job in one or two areas and we made a lot of advancements because of their great efforts. But I saw far too little recognition out there that you have to do a great job in all areas of the campaign to even begin to compete.
In a way I feel a lot of empathy for those who have watched us do this for years and want to throw up their hands and give up on the strategy. But I have to say, it would be quite inaccurate to keep doing an incomplete job of it and then conclude the job can’t be done.
We don’t win elections because we have the best ideas. Elections are won by candidates who work hard in all aspects of campaigning and gain the most trust of the voters. People won’t pay much attention to your ideology if you ask them to, but if they decide they like you then they will become interested in your ideology. If we are going to be a real political party, then we have to get it through our skulls that politics is not an ideology business, it’s a people business.
I know I’m starting to sound harsh here, but frankly we need to be harder on ourselves. We need to hold ourselves to higher standards to succeed. We can’t allow ourselves to be satisfied with failure. We need to no longer be afraid to measure ourselves against our ultimate goal.
This is in no way a criticism of all the wonderful work we already do. It’s all very necessary. It’s what’s gotten us to where we are now and I feel nothing but love and gratitude for it. We just need a lot more of it and we need to start a lot of new activities too. We need to attract the people to the Libertarian Party who will perform more and more of all this great stuff. We get those new people interested in joining the party by contesting elections and gaining their trust that we should be the ones in office.
We have to be in it to win it. I can tell you from personal experience how much media you lose when you admit that you won’t win. It should also be obvious how little respect the average voter would give to a candidate who’s just happy to be here. We aren’t doing this just to run our mouths, as fun and as necessary as that may be. We contest elections because we want to serve in those offices.
We can disseminate all the information we want, we can develop plenty of new public policy proposals, we can lead protests, we can organize outreach booths and local affiliates on every campus and in every county, we can even recruit a candidate for every single race on every ballot. In fact, as a political party, we must do all those things, or at least try our best.
But we need to recognize that all these things alone are insufficient to reach our goal. We don’t do them just to do them and say we did something. We do them to help us change public policy by electing Libertarians to office. That’s what political parties do. That’s why we have a Libertarian Party.
Sean Haugh is assistant editor for Liberty For All. Sean is married to longtime Libertarian Pam Adams, and they have a family of three dogs and five cats. Besides them, Sean loves God, Liberty, and Oklahoma Sooners football. Write to Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org.