By Tim Peck
Special to The Asheville Daily Planet
FLAT ROCK, N.C — “Maybe it’s time for the Republican Party to go.” So says Libertarian author and speaker Michael Cloud, who delivered the keynote address at this year’s 3-day North Carolina Libertarian Party Convention in Flat Rock on Saturday, June 9.
As the sixty or so attendees dined on the catered buffet in the Sandburg Room at the Mountain Lodge, Cloud spoke to the audience in passionate tones about the arc of Libertarian electoral disappointment. “What seems to be the problem?,” Cloud asks. “We have the right ideas. Still, at best, we are only getting about twenty-three percent of the vote in state legislature campaigns.
Cloud then goes on to outline what he sees as the causes and the cures of party woes in an engaging walking-and-talking style, pacing the front of the room and calling on people by name to answer pointed questions. Cloud has distilled his observations down to a few cogent points and lays out a strategy for moving forward.
First, Libertarians are being virtually brainwashed into believing the critics who reflexively claim that Libertarian candidates simply can’t win. “It’s a disease,” he says, that perpetuates a self-fulfilling prophecy that defeats candidates and their supporters before they get started. It’s a psychological problem, not a problem of ideas. The ideas are winning, says Cloud. It’s only our candidates that are struggling. In his hypothesis, The Impossibility Trap, as Cloud coins it, is often expressed in defeatist terms when supporters are called on to take action: “I like your candidate but I don’t want to waste my vote.” “You candidate will be a spoiler.” “The courts will just strike down any real changes.” “And the voting machines are rigged anyway.”
Cloud’s retort? “Don’t you buy into it!” These perennial bromides only serve to do one thing: to convince sympathetic voters to take a pass, to turn their attention elsewhere, or to simply do nothing. “We are quitting on the five yard line after a long drive to the goal zone,” says Cloud. “We are believing that it’s impossible. It’s a case of ‘learned helplessness,’ as some psychologists put it. It’s a debilitating condition that can be taught to people and animals alike. If we believe that it’s impossible, we’re not going to make that extra phone call, we’re not going to walk that extra block to knock on doors. We become conditioned to aim lower. And it’s a weakness that we must overcome if we are to ever make any advances in the political arena.”
Second, Cloud talks about the right ways to think about their underdog political party, about how to go from being a Spoiler to being a Dark Horse to being a Contender. “One, don’t faint when someone says, ‘hey, that makes sense.’ Also, recognize that when we get a fair hearing, we win. It’s our job to get a fair hearing. Next, start modelling possibility behaviors.”
Cloud then offers an inspirational analogy to the movie “Rocky” where the themes of humiliation, courage and hard work are played out in dramatic form. When boxer Rocky Balboa quietly agonizes over his poor chances in the ring against his betters, his clear-eyed wife advises him to pick another goal and win that one. His goal of winning is replaced with the goal of ‘going the distance.’ As Rocky pursues his new reachable goal, his supporters are taken with enthusiasm and excitement and eventually cheer him on to his own right-sized victory in the ring. It’s a tale work emulating, says Cloud.
Third, Cloud implores his audience to recognize actual incremental success. Election to political office is not necessarily the measure of success. “When we move the ball forward, we are succeeding.”
“Instead of asking people if Gary Johnson can win, ask them, ‘if he could win, would he make a good president? Would he be good for the country?’ If their answer is ‘Yes,’ then ask them, ‘Why?’ You’ll be pleasantly surprised. Ask them, ‘if you and you alone could push a button and elect a candidate, would you push it for Gary Johnson?’”
Here’s a little secret I learned from Mary Kay Ashe. She said, ‘you don’t have to win to win. I failed my way to success, but I kept failing forward.’ If we fail at 4%, then next time we’ll fail at 6%. Recognize that we can make progress and progress is victory.”
In concluding his vigorous pep talk, Cloud makes one final impassioned and definitive plea to his audience:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you: step aside from your impossibility beliefs. Drop your impossibility behavior. Be willing to move forward. Be willing to open new minds. And we will open ourselves to the possibility of liberty in our lifetimes.”