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PART ONE OF FOUR ...

LIBERTARIAN CONVENTION ENDS IN UNITY DESPITE CONTROVERSIES

by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor.  [June 24, 2004]

 

 

[HollywoodInvestigator.com]. Libertarian Party delegates chose Constitutional scholar Michael Badnarik for their 2004 presidential candidate over Memorial Day weekend (May 27 - 31) at Atlanta's Mariotte Marquis hotel -- and the Hollywood Investigator was there!

So were over 800 delegates from around the U.S., plus celebrity speakers (both on and off the convention floor), merchandisers, activists -- and controversy!


* The Next President ...

Delegates chose Badnarik to be their presidential candidate on Sunday, May 30, live on C-SPAN. As the three "major" presidential contenders were nearly identical on issues (despite minor individual tweaks, all supported legalizing guns and drugs, peace, foreign non-interventionism, abortion rights, gay marriage, and abolishing almost all taxes and government programs), the decisive factor was style. Delegates were left to chose between Nolan's polish, Russo's energy, and Badnarik's intellect.

Radio talk show host Gary Nolan was the front runner as the convention opened. Seen as the "libertarian establishment" candidate, Nolan had won the endorsement of former LP presidential candidate Harry Browne -- and all state primary elections! The LP does not recognize primary election results, preferring to nominate its national candidates by convention (as the GOP and Democrats had done 60 years earlier), but even so, many delegates praised Nolan as a "smooth talker" who could promote the LP with polish and aplomb.

Asked in an exclusive interview by the Hollywood Investigator why he was the best candidate, Nolan said that it was because he phrased the libertarian message in a way that was "optimistic, compassionate, and promoted the benefits of liberty." This message (part Reaganesque "morning in America," part "compassionate libertarianism") seemed intended to counter the tax-cutting LP's image among some voters as a scary "party of greed" that cared nothing for the poor.

Hollywood producer Aaron Russo promised a rough & tumble campaign were he chosen. During Saturday's debate among the three leading candidates, Russo vowed that if he were barred from the Bush/Kerry debates, he'd lead a thousand supporters to the debate in a massive display of "civil disobedience."

Less cautious with words than Nolan, Russo said, "America has become a fascist country. ... What's happened in Iraq is part of that fascist government."

Russo bucked the LP's laissez-faire environmental policy by opposing oil drilling offshore and in Alaska, saying that oil companies were "part of fascist government." Instead, Russo advocated seeking alternative sources of energy. He also hailed alternative medicine, claiming to have used it himself. (Russo has been reported to have had bladder cancer, and to have beaten it!)

While Russo supporters hailed his energy, other delegates worried that he was a "loose canon" whose outrageous remarks would embarrass the LP. D.C. delegate Carol Moore (a Nolan supporter), circulated a sheet listing Russo's past antics, including these complaints:


 

*  Russo "jokes" about Gary Nolan being Arab: "Let's kill him." If Nolan had joked about Russo being Jewish, he would have been out of the race.

*  Russo "jokes" to a delegate wearing Nolan sticker: "Nolan? Take that sticker off, I ought to beat your ass."

*  When a beautiful blond raises her hand to ask a question he acknowledged her by saying, "No, I can't sleep with you."

*  "Jokes" to a man asking about gay marriage, "Are you the woman in the relationship?"

*  "Joked" that we should repeal women's right to vote.

*  Loosens belt and lunges at woman (me!) asking a tough question saying, "Fix my belt buckle, I can't get it in the hole."

 


Despite such allegations, libertarian bisexual activist Starchild supported Russo, and Russo's campaign literature cited praise from actors Jack Nicholson and Bette Midler, and radio talk show host Howard Stern. And though Russo lost California's primary election to Nolan, Russo won a straw poll of delegates at the California LP state convention in March. However, a source who was at the state convention told the Hollywood Investigator that Russo's win was due to the state convention being held up in San Jose, resulting in a lopsidedly large turnout of San Francisco delegates. Presumably, Russo is less popular among his hometown Los Angeles delegates.

But many delegates at the national convention were unimpressed with Russo's claim that his "Hollywood contacts" would promote his campaign. Russo has not produced anything since 1991, making him a former producer in some delegates' eyes.

Also in doubt was Russo's longterm commitment to the Libertarian Party. Russo had previously founded a now-defunct Constitution Party (not to be confused with the current Constitution Party), had run for governor of Nevada in 1998 as a Republican, and planned to run as an independent in 2004 before pursuing the LP nomination. Thus it was no surprise that the "party establishment" favored Nolan.

A Russo staffer told the Investigator that Russo was the choice of "young, grassroots activists" whereas Nolan was the pick of "country club libertarians." But other self-described activists disputed that characterization and endorsed Nolan. [The Investigator tried to arrange a pre-convention interview with Russo in Los Angeles via the staffer, but no interview was granted.]

Nevertheless, the pre-convention buzz was Nolan or Russo. Few people paid any serious attention to the tortoise in the race, Texas-based Constitutional scholar Michael Badnarik, who was seen as intellectual but colorless.

Apparently, Badnarik listened to his critics, unveiling a feistier, livelier candidate during Saturday's debate with Nolan and Russo. Badnarik's surprise performance was a key factor in winning over delegates.

Badnarik also remained Constitutionally correct. Asked how he'd deal with terrorists, he said that instead of going to war against nations that hadn't attacked us, he'd issue a letter of marque and reprisal to target the individual terrorists responsible. (Browne had made the same suggestion post-9/11.)

Speaking exclusively to the Investigator, Badnarik said, "I am opposed to [the Iraq war]. I'm opposed to foreign intervention. I am not an isolationist. I understand the Constitution allows us the responsibility of national defense. It does not give us the authority to do international offense. And the best way to eliminate terrorism for the United States is to bring our soldiers home from 135 countries around the world. Stop influencing other governments. Stop influencing other economies. And stop poking other countries in the eye politically, and just mind our own business the way we would like other people to leave us alone."

Asked before his nomination why he was the best candidate, he said, "I've been teaching since I was five years old. I've been an advanced First Aid instructor, a CPR instructor, a skydiving instructor. I have an ability to communicate the libertarian message to non-libertarians so they understand it and join the party. I'm an effective communicator."

On Sunday, May 30, Russo won the surprisingly close first ballot (Russo 258, Badnarik 256, Nolan 246). Then the LP's "minor candidates" were dropped, and Russo won the second ballot (Russo 285, Badnarik 249, Nolan 244). At that point, anyone with "a sense of the floor" knew that Badnarik would win the nomination, as the delegates had coalesced into two camps: the "respectable" Nolan or Badnarik vs. the "controversial" Russo.

Thus, few were surprised when, after placing third on the second ballot, Nolan endorsed Badnarik.  LP national chair Geoffrey Neale refused Russo a chance to rebut, perhaps because, since Nolan was no longer a candidate, equal time rules did not apply. Yet few thought it would have made a difference, and Badnarik handily won a majority of delegates on the third ballot (Badnarik 423, Russo 344).

Nevertheless, Russo "rebutted" during his concession speech. After praising Badnarik, Russo said that he was happy to have achieved one important goal: denying the nomination to Nolan. Booing erupted, one delegate shouting: "Low blow!"

Badnarik's victory surprised even Badnarik, pre-convention wisdom holding that Nolan would likely win, with a possible Russo upset. One woman who'd been on Badnarik's staff "since the beginning," confessed to the Investigator that even the small Texas group who'd initially convinced Badnarik to seek the nomination had never seriously expected him to win.

 

 

* Abortion Controversy

 

Boos and hisses also marred the speech of presidential candidate Jeffrey Diket, the most controversial of the LP's "minor candidates," running directly opposed to the LP's pro-choice plank.  Diket was introduced on stage to delegates as having lost his sight in the struggle against racial prejudice. He began speaking, striking nerves when he called abortion "baby murder," whereupon the Investigator spotted California delegate Mark Selzer begin booing.

A couple dozen delegates followed Selzer's lead, booing and hissing loud enough to be heard over C-SPAN.-- which was televising Diket's speech -- although most delegates listened in respectful silence.

Asked by the Investigator why he initiated booing, Selzer replied, "My actions are that of an individual and I did not 'initiate' booing because Libertarians are not a group to be led. I have opinions that are my own. If others agree or disagree that is up to them."

As to why he booed at all, Selzer explained, "I booed the accusation that the Libertarian Party advocates 'baby murder.' This is a slanderous and ugly allegation and I always defend the Libertarian Party whenever I see it attacked. No one in the Libertarian party has ever said it is OK to murder a baby. [Diket] is not a Libertarian but a conservative wanting to change the Libertarian Party into a 'conservative' organization. The Libertarian Party needs to be able to include conservatives but should resist efforts from those outside the party to 'Republicanize' the party."

LP rules require that a candidate gather signatures from at least 30 delegates to have their name placed on the ballot and be permitted to address the delegation.

After Diket's speech, California delegate Jim Gray moved to change the rules, increasing the number of required signatures from 30 to 100 to make it harder for "minor candidates with little support" to address the convention. His motion was voted down.

But despite the LP remaining solidly in the pro-choice camp, Libertarians for Life kept a visible presence throughout the convention.

Although opposition to abortion is usually associated with religious conservatives, speaking to the Investigator, Diket critisized abortion without mentioning religion, saying, "Abortion is an affront to the Declaration of Independence, it's an affront to Objectivism, of which I'm an adherent, and it's an affront to libertarianism because the Libertarian Party says you do not initiate force against another human being. Yet the abortion choicers say we initiate force against a baby because a baby is not a human being. They won't even call it a baby, which is absurd since man, as a rational animal, has babies like everybody else."

Explaining his loss of sight, Diket said that he'd been born premature in 1945, placed in an incubator, and given too much oxygen. This damaged his right eye, leading to its extraction at age 7.

At age 15, Diket was living in Greenville, NC, when several Klansmen tried to recruit him. "What they didn't know," said Diket, "was that I'd lived in New Orleans, where I'd marched in Mardis Gras parades behind black jazz bands -- so I knew that blacks were not genetically inferior to whites."

On March 15, 1961, angered at Diket's refusal to join the Klan, some Klansmen shoved Diket into a door post. His injuries led to his left eye's retina detaching two years later, leaving him permanently blind.

 

END OF PART ONE.  GO TO PART TWO, PART THREE, PART FOUR.

Copyright 2004 by HollywoodInvestigator.com

 

 

 

 

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