By Shaun Kenney September 14, 2022
Virginia Republicans are struggling with the same disease.
Has anyone else noticed how utterly boring the news is nowadays?
Maybe it’s just me.
Either way, I think I’ve stumbled on the secret as to why the news is so boring nowadays, and it has very little to do with the volume of the news. More accurately, it is because there are two types of information in the world — news and public relations — and the latter simply has nothing to say.
Once upon a time there was a grand unifying theory of information. Stories turn into themes; themes turn into narratives; narratives turn into brands.
This is typically how most of your news and information today is force fed into the brains of your average consumer, to the point where one’s own personal identity becomes wedded to a brand. Fox News, CNN, MSNBC. The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post. Youngkin supporters vs. DeSantis supporters (and we all know that fight is coming). Offend any of these brands and you target the identity of those who invest in such brands, ergo it is a personal attack.
And we wonder why politics today is so utterly broken.
Of course, brands can be co-opted. Consider the big box retailer Target, whose foray into transgender bathrooms and woke everything cost them dearly. Yet what they lost in quantity they made up for in the intensity of their shopping base. Democrats shop at Target; Republicans shop at Wal-Mart. Regional and local restaurants play up to this branding style as well. How many rainbow stickers do you see in downtown districts? How many American flags and “proudly veteran owned” reminders do you see in suburbia?
So when a brand is co-opted — and in this instance, it is the Libertarian Party of Virginia — you have to sit up and take notice.
Of course, the LPVA has seen its glory days.
Rick Sincere — a past friend to this publication and a longstanding pillar of the community in Charlottesville — played a tremendous role in mainstreaming the LPVA among the Virginia blogerati. At the high water mark, Robert Sarvis was able to make his mark amongst a dissatisfied Virginia electorate by raking in 145,000 votes in the 2013 gubernatorial contest, a tally which harmed McAuliffe more than Cuccinelli (though this is disputed).
Fast forward to 2022, where the LPVA voted to dissolve itself in a 7-6-1 vote of its board. Though doubtlessly the State Corporation Commission will be the final measure of any dissolution of such a board, the LPVA’s website and most of its social media presence has been unceremoniously removed.
The controversy is over the influence of the Mises Caucus — a free market and ostensibly right-leaning form of libertarianism — against the older and more traditionally pure confederation of liberaltarians, left-leaning libertarians, anarchists, and Bohemian free thinkers.
Critics claim that the Mises Caucus is more alt-right than libertarian and offer examples. Responses point towards a rather public platform of what the Mises Caucus actually believes, point out that such accusations are designed to slander a libertarian tradition built around thinkers such as Bastiat, Hayek, and Mises — things that Reaganesque defenders of conservative thought used to believe before it was replaced with the nationalism of post-liberal “Gramscians of the right”.
Like most movements and affiliates, the Mises Caucus isn’t without its bad apples among the mostly good ones. Yet the problem is that these “bad apples” are there purposefully with one objective in mind — to destroy everything around them so that they alone can rule what remains of the ashes.
Now if that sounds particularly conspiratorial, then we haven’t paid much attention to internal Virginia Republican politics since 2005 at least and 2014 in the active sense of the term.
Of course, the Republican Party and its affiliates have been targeted by these “Gramscians of the right” for some time. Need examples? I can think of particularly two prominent (and relatively new) members of the Young Republicans known for sharing and disseminating alt-right content who — when pressured — accuse others of being even further to the right without knowing the players.
Yet the disease is the same. Honest opinions get clouded out by clowns, and a genuine effort by libertarians to actually define what they stand for in the face of National Conservatism (sic) on the right and Progressivism (sic) on the left gets drowned out.
This isn’t to say that the Mises Caucus doesn’t have problems with these same co-opting forces. Nor is it to accuse either side of the LPVA spat of ill-intention. Yet it is to say that few people are more intimately aware of the problem with the bad apples than those who are attempting to protect the integrity of the Mises Caucus.
But it is to say that a once-great third-party movement which habitually seems to find itself just on the cusp of achieving things only to be hamstrung by outside actors pretending to act from within is a phenomenon Republicans need to detect in our own ranks — and especially among our affiliate groups.
As for the LPVA, I do wish them well and not solely for the fact that I do share some of their lowercase-L inclinations.
With liberals effectively conceding the definition and conservatives slouching towards cultural Hegelianism in the face of cultural Marxism, the old classical liberalism — what former Governor George Allen used to coin as “Jeffersonian conservatism” — could surely use a voice in the public square.
I wish them well because they are a reminder that Republicans do have a liberty contingent that requires feeding which taps into the old Jeffersonian Republicanism that wishes nothing more than to be left alone.
In the meantime, I find this ridiculously hard to believe:
Ward, the party’s former chair, said she didn’t think any notification to state election officials was necessary, because Virginia only treats Democrats and Republicans as officially recognized political parties. A party must have received at least 10% of the vote in one of the last two statewide elections to be recognized to qualify as a political party.
If a different group wants to try to reincorporate a new Libertarian Party of Virginia, Ward said, they’re welcome to do so. But she questioned what the point would be since the party doesn’t have candidates to support.
“We couldn’t run anybody,” Ward said. “No one’s even willing to put their names behind this.”
I could think of at least 10 people right off the cuff who would love to carry the nomination of a liberty-minded party. Democrats and Republicans both have discovered the value of running in every seat regardless of their chances, if for no other reason than to provide an outlet for widespread dissatisfaction with national brands holding boring broken narratives.
That would be news indeed.
Of course, this isn’t to say that I don’t have my minor disagreements with libertarianism writ large, particularly among those who twist the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) into pure hedonism vs. a true personalism whose freedom is rooted in truth. But it is to say that I deeply respected the integrity and position of men such as Rick Sincere et al. who kept the intellectual lights burning for so many years among Virginia’s Libertarians.
Here’s hoping the LPVA figures it out. Or if not, then rediscovers the Virginia Liberty Caucus and helps remind Virginia Republicans about what we are effectively trying to conserve.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.