Politics Without Holding Office

May 1993, from Bryan Griffin:

I would like people to consider what will happen if for example we do elect one congressperson. What will this person spend their time doing? They will come up with libertarian legislation, and need to spend time trying to lobby all the other congresspeople to vote for it since one person can not pass a law. Even if we got several libertarians into office, they would still need to go through the same process. My question is, how different really is the 0 people in office case from the 1 person in office case? In Congress, and in state legislatures, one vote doesn't mean much. It's possible to draft bills and lobby legislators without being in office. The same sort of research and lobbying support that would be required with a person in office can be useful even without an officeholder.

It is true that a congressperson (or state legislator) can actually propose a bill. However one legislator can only introduce so many bills, and most of the work in getting something passed is done after the bill is introduced anyway. Most of what will be done once one legislator is elected to office, proposing concrete solutions to problems and lobbying other lawmakers, can be done with zero legislators in office. If it isn't possible to find a non-libertarian legislator to introduce a particular piece of legislation, then it probably wouldn't have been possible to get it passed even if we had one person in office.

The national party may not be involved in local politics, but it needs to support and encourage local activities to help build the national party. In much of the country the LP does not act much like a true political party in that it doesn't attempt any direct influence on the political process other than an attempt at election time. People don't go and speak up at city council meetings, or other public government events. One of the reasons for this is that much of what goes on is boring, especially to people who don't really wish the government to do much, and it's hard to find people to commit the time required. One solution may be to get signup sheets and get people to share the work, each person volunteering to cover a council meeting once in a while. If individual issues are chosen then the work on those issues can be distributed and shared, instead of requiring one person to devote enough time to serve as a candidate and officeholder.

If you give people some concrete active task, which requires only a small, well defined commitment of time (even just outreach stuff like manning booths, or stuffing envelopes, if not front line political lobbying) they may be willing to get involved. Open-ended commitments to being responsible for a particular area aren't as easy for people to make. Anyone who has tried asking for contributions in a meeting will know that it is much easier to get people to contribute money for a concrete purpose than just the group in general. The point is that people are also more likely to contribute time to concrete well defined tasks than taking an ill-defined task such as being an officer or leading some sub-group.