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Political Animal

Falling on the Spear

By Brian Morton | Posted 10/9/2002

Like we've said before, Maryland is probably one of America's greatest examples of a one-and-one-third party state. But don't let that fool you into thinking that there are only two candidates running for governor.

For dog years, the Libertarian Party has had to fight to get onto the ballot in the state of Maryland. Every two years, it's the same thing: hustle up signatures and beg the powers that be, "Could you let us onto your ballot, please?" Which is rather ridiculous.

Let it be said, here and now, we here at Animal Control aren't really big on Libertarian issues--but there are a few where they've been in the right place and the right time all along. The Libs are big on privacy rights, which any smart American in this technological day and age should be. And although they are just as bad as drug legalizers on using that annoying and useless "War on Drugs" metaphor (I think we've said all we need to say on the subject of Wars on Abstract Nouns), mandatory-minimum drug sentencing for small possession amounts and crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparities do nothing but give politicians a chance to preen, reduce judges' discretion in cases with mitigating circumstances, and send a disproportionate amount of minorities to prison. So, let it not be said that Libertarians are completely out of step with Maryland in the early 2000s.

That said, Spear Lancaster, the gent falling on the sword--oops, we mean "carrying the torch"--for the Libs in this year's gubernatorial race, is another guy who either is intentionally short on specifics or campaigns on attacking the status quo as a way to avoid campaigning on standard Libertarian themes. Which, given the way the party's near ideological cousin, the GOP, has fared in the Free State in the last, say, 32 years, might make some sense.

Here's ol' Spear's Web site on budget issues: "As governor, a key goal of mine will be absolute clarity about the costs to the citizens of each state program. I will also be clear about which citizens are benefiting from an individual program, because I am completely convinced that a vast majority of Maryland citizens can make reasonable decisions if given the facts.

"I will tell the voters what a program costs, and let them decide through their elected representatives whether or not they are willing to pay for it.

"My objective is to cut waste and fraud, and thereby lower taxes. If I am elected governor, the citizens will have their sovereignty restored, and they will be the real 'bosses' of the state. Anyone on the state payroll, from the governor on down, will never forget who is paying the bill."

Thank you, Spear, for that great live report. Now, dear readers, do you see what's going on here? Part of being an elected leader is being, uh, a leader. Waiting for the great masses to herd together and tell the big boss what they want is either leading by polling (something with which we're already too familiar at the national level) or just plain chicken.

And every politician running for an executive job since Ronald Reagan has campaigned on eliminating fraud, waste, and abuse. Except there isn't enough there to balance a budget on, and it just reduces people's belief that government can do anything. And before you conservatives start yelling "Well, it can't!", recall that giant system of roadways across the United States that is the envy of nearly every Third World country and many of the Second: the interstate highway system. That surely didn't get built under a Reagan/Bush/Bush II tax structure.

So specifics do matter. And remember, one of the biggest battleground counties in the state, both for governor and for the Eighth District congressional seat, is filled with policy wonks who work in the corridors of the federal government. Know the laws? Hell, they write the laws.

Specifics may not necessarily help a candidate: Geek-in-Charge Parris Glendening thought he was as charismatic as Bill Clinton in '94 with his five-E policy plan, and nearly got his clock cleaned by Ellen Sauerbrey, who campaigned on a five-word platform: "Twenty. Four. Percent. Tax. Cut." But then Parris was even less charismatic than, uh, say, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Now The Sun reported last Friday that "Bobby Smooth" Ehrlich has been touting all these plans, policies, and memos for months that never see the light of day. Health care, education, memos he alleges about juvenile-justice failures--they're as solid as smoke. But they allow him to attack and talk about "leadership" and "character," which, of course, are great nonspecifics to run on, and look great when you say them on television.

And Spear--good, ol' Spear--is back there hoping to get into the limelight. But if you take a look at the state or national Libertarian platforms, they're big on issues that have never gone over well in this state and in this electoral climate: deregulating private industry, letting the free market decide, eliminating the income tax altogether (that will certainly help pay for any wars we get into!), abolishing regulation of energy utilities. Does the word "Enron" ring a bell, Mr. Pavlov?

Let's keep the Libertarians on the ballot. They deserve it. But, Spear, remember, sometimes when your ideas fail in the marketplace, maybe it's because nobody's buying your product.

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