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As Rumors Swirl, Libertarians Gather to Fill a Ticket

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As Rumors Swirl, Libertarians Gather to Fill a Ticket

Election 2008

As Rumors Swirl, Libertarians Gather to Fill a Ticket

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90755441/90755399" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SMITH, host:

Denver, Colorado, is the Mile High City and home to delicious omelets if you've ever tried one.

MIKE PESCA, host:

Are there peppers involved?

SMITH: And ham.

PESCA: Ah, ham, yes.

SMITH: It's also the host city for two - count 'em - two political conventions this year, and the two conventions cannot be more different. The Democrats are going there and they've chosen the slow and painful wagon route into Denver.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Six months of bruising primaries, a slow winnowing of candidates left beside the dusty trail, hundreds of millions of dollar spent, and guess what? Still no official nominee.

PESCA: And some could argue, like the Donner Party, they eat their own.

SMITH: We're still waiting for that. The Libertarian Party? They don't bother with all this drama. They have no primaries, no caucuses, the members the care enough have taken a plane or hitched a ride with friends to Denver this weekend to hash it all out in person. The Libertarians pick their presidential candidate from the, you know, dozen or so candidates that show up. Of course, getting Libertarians to agree on anything can be messy work. That's why we've brought in David Weigel of Reason Magazine. He's been blogging about the convention and he is with us now from Denver. Hey, David.

Mr. DAVID WEIGEL (Associate Editor, Reason Magazine): Hey. Thanks for having me.

SMITH: It's great to have you here. We, of course - if there is - you could nominate a most famous Libertarian, it would probably be Ron Paul, although officially a Republican, he ran twice for president on the Libertarian Party ticket, but he's not in Denver. How come?

Mr. WEIGEL: Well, he doesn't want to leave the Republican Party, and I mean, he, at his advanced age, does not want to take a risk and lose this great gadfly job he has in Congress. He was literally begged by the Libertarian Party to run this year. They issued two statements saying that if he wanted it he could have it.

SMITH: All he has to do is just show up...

Mr. WEIGEL: Really, yeah.

SMITH: And they will fall down and they will give him the nomination.

Mr. WEIGEL: If he parachuted in now and shook some hands, I think he may even win it. And there is one candidate who is running now, who has got less of a chance than some others, but who offered to be his vice presidential candidate if only he would come. So his stature in the party is titanic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: So, the ghost of Ron Paul still hovers over this convention, right?

Mr. WEIGEL: It definitely does. There's, I mean, there are more buttons for Bob Barr than for anyone else, but I - you see a good number of Ron Paul buttons. You see - you can overhear people talking about it, and you can hear every candidate talking about how they will pick up the Ron Paul baton and, you know, run to the next hurdle, because they just had no empirical evidence that people wanted to vote for any kind of Libertarian for a very long time.

And just this year just in the primaries, Paul blew away the record for the most votes captured by a Libertarian. I mean, it was 900,000 in the 1980 presidential elections, and millions and counting for Paul. So everyone says they're going to continue the legacy, and there's, as with most legacies, some disagreement about what that means.

SMITH: Well, let's talk about the people who did show up. When I was following Ron Paul in his quest for the Republican nomination, I noticed that his fans could be anything from stockbrokers in three-piece suits to young people to radicals. Who showed up in Denver for the Libertarian Convention?

Mr. WEIGEL: Ah, that's - they're still trickling in and unless something radical changes, a large number of white men, a smaller number of white women, men who, you know, will look at home shopping for used books or possibly throwing anime in the cart when they're buying those books. I mean, just a certain type of outsider-y but brainy person is a Libertarian delegate.

SMITH: And you said some of them aren't even staying in hotels?

Mr. WEIGEL: Well, it's impossible to game this out, because there's two rumors going around the convention. One is that the - among the left-wingers, or I guess we'll call them the anarchists - radical is what they call themselves - the rumor is that the right-wing forces are trying to take over the party and there're all these people coming on a bus from Ohio who want credentials at the last minute to vote for Bob Barr. And the other rumor is that all the radicals are coming, just kind of hitchhiking, they're going to appear at the last minute without reservations to vote.

SMITH: So, Bob Barr, former congressman and former Republican - I don't know if he's officially renounced the Republican part of his name at this point - but he's mentioned as sort of the favorite there, but how are they going to choose a nominee? How does this work?

Mr. WEIGEL: Oh. It's pure open convention. I mean, it's - every single delegate is a superdelegate, basically, and they are not pledged in any way. A number have said who they support, but not - I mean, they - there will be more than 800, and you need more than half of that to clinch the nomination, and 14 candidates are going to enter this first ballot. Nobody expects the winner to come on that. After the first ballot, they knock off everyone who got less than five percent, and then they keep knocking off the loser until they get somebody.

And Barr is the favorite. Nobody would bet on him losing, but there is a lot of paranoia about what he's trying to do the party, and a lot of ill will about what he was like as a congressman. I mean, I was listening yesterday - I talked to the fellow afterward, you know, a city council official from Massachusetts elected, who is married and married to his male partner, and was confronting Barr on that and he felt Barr just gave him a very slippery answer and he would do everything it took to make sure this guy didn't get the nomination.

SMITH: Now, the people you're also talking about as the perspective nominees are among the more mainstream people, because reading some of your blog posts, I mean, there have been parties hosted at this convention by the marijuana-legalization people. You wrote last night about a 9/11 - I want to put this in air quotes - "truth event" at the convention. What happened there?

Mr. WEIGEL: Well, this group called Libertarians for Justice, which is not affiliated with the Libertarian Party - they would want everyone to know that, I'm sure - just held this multi-hour event with a documentary, an interview with the maker of the documentary, and this candidate Q&A for any candidate who wanted to sign their pledge asking for a new investigation of 9/11.

So the candidates who signed the pledge, and I - it was former Senator Mike Gravel, marijuana activist Steve Covey, this anarchist author Mary Ruark, and a couple other people showed up and just kind of got peppered with questions. And there was only about 60 people in the room, but it was a very weird atmosphere.

And it was happening at the same time as another debate between another group of Libertarians who, you know, consider these people utterly abhorrent. But it was, I think, a waste of time for the candidates, because a lot of these 9/11 truth guys just show up everywhere. I mean, they'll, you know, they'll show up to the Hello Kitty convention and put up a booth.

SMITH: But is there anything that holds this vast array of people you're talking about together? I mean, can you in one sentence say one principle they could all agree on?

Mr. WEIGEL: They all agree on the smallest - that taxation is forced and theft and we should have the smallest government possible. Mike Gravel, the former senator who made a splash in the Democratic race of some size, is the one who makes the most concessions to liberalism and to big government. You know, he thinks that you can't have a Libertarian society without big public education and healthcare, making everyone smart and healthy enough to be Libertarian. The other - but then everyone else wants their - you know, thinks that, in the state of nature, basically...

SMITH: Yeah. Well, how to get to that is the question, and we will talk with you in just a couple minutes after the break.

Mr. WEIGEL: Sure.

SMITH: We're with David Weigel. He's covering the 2008 presidential election for Reason Magazine. We'll be back with you in just a few minutes. David Weigel, stay tuned. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: You're listening to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. Forget those Democrats for this weekend. Move aside, Republicans. This weekend belongs to the Libertarians who are having their convention in Denver this weekend, and there is our correspondent on all things Libertarian, David Weigel of Reason Magazine.

We were talking earlier about what the Libertarians believe in and whether they had sort of a core philosophy, but this is actually a big part of their convention, isn't it? They have to decide on a list of principles, platforms, on what they believe. Is this going to be one of the toughest things that happen this weekend?

Mr. WEIGEL: Oh, absolutely. There's a lot of bad blood about what is the Libertarian platform. You know, there is a group that calls itself Restore '04 that wants to forget the 2006 Libertarian Convention ever happened. What happened at that convention was that a smaller-than-normal number of people showed up and were able to shrink the platform from 61 planks to 15 planks, and they shrank it from, I think, 15,000 to 5,000 words, and in their view, got rid of a lot of dross about, you know, what the party's position was on, you know, mining in the sea and on Mars and things like that.

SMITH: So, to make it more mainstream, I guess, right?

Mr. WEIGEL: Yeah. Their goal is to make it more mainstream. So the ones who restore all the specific stuff in the platform, they were OK with a shorter platform that has all that stuff in it. And there's also going to be a fight over whether Libertarians have to sign a pledge saying they are against aggression in all forms at all times, the non-aggression principle, which is a huge philosophical part of what the party believes.

But the more pragmatic types think that if they got rid of that, they'd be more saleable and they could - there's the people who want this to be a perfect 100 percent party that agrees with them and the people who think you can become like a permanent, you know, Ross Perot-sized movement if they just get a little bit more mainstream.

PESCA: David, that leads me to my question which is the Libertarians, or the party itself, are they happy to be sort of a spanner in the works? Do they really think, realistically, they can envision a day where Libertarians as Libertarians will be elected to important offices?

Mr. WEIGEL: Oh, well, if you phrase it like that, to important offices, then they definitely do. I mean, there's a little bit of pie-in-the-sky-ism from some of the people here who think they can win the presidency this year. The presidential candidates are mostly saying that and they have to, to keep the spirits up, but they definitely think the parties are so rotten in a couple of these states that they can swoop in and fill the gap. I mean, there are people elected to minor offices. There's a few mayors. They really think they could get a few congressmen down the line.

And that's the discussion, whether they can get this because their ideas are so right that they just hold fast to them and everyone will come along, or if they can get them by reforming, finessing a little bit, and just finding that sweet spot where all these, you know, people who hate the two parties and ex-conservatives and liberals will all swarm over to them and discover how they were wrong all along. Libertarians were right.

SMITH: David Weigel is covering the 2008 presidential election for Reason Magazine and is in Denver with the Libertarians this weekend. Thanks for coming on the show, David.

Mr. WEIGEL: Oh, thank you very much.

PESCA: And now let's get the latest news headlines from the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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