Beat them

Rick Giles's picture
Submitted by Rick Giles on Fri, 2007-08-31 17:23


"I don't know what gave you the impression that I had to be convinced, but I want to win. You want to beat him, and that's a problem for me, because I want to win." -Josh to Toby, The West Wing; 20 Hours in America

One of my very favorite West Wing episodes has White House executive staffers, Josh and Toby, stranded "in America" when the Presidential motorcade abandons the two stragglers.

It isn't that they're "in the jungle" or "swept out to sea," but they may as well be. Because, the intrepid political operators are just as much out of their element (Capitol Hill, or The West Wing) in back-country Indiana (that's where I am now, btw) as if they were in any other wilderness. Highly specialised, they lack the basic survival skills the rest of us take for granted. They throw tantrums and make fun of the locals trying to help them back to Washington. Along the way, thanks to their assistant, Donna, they see the true coal-face and consequences of political policies they themselves set down.

The above quote is part of what comes out of their realisations. Toby is the radical reformer, the romantic, the great speechwriter and he wants to beat the other candidates. He wants to have the strongest arguments and do the right thing. Josh, however, is the more pragmatic polster-courting, wheeler and dealer, strategos of the West Wing. He wants to win.

Whatever you’ve got to fight with and whatever you’re running for, from primary school chalk monitor to the Office of President of The United States of America: be in to win. Always mean to win, always make your plans in the service of victory. There is no ‘try’, there is no ‘practise getting voted for.’ There is winning or there is loosing. Loosing is not supposed to be fun, you’re not supposed to enjoy it. It is a shame, not a joke, and not a laugh. You’re not supposed to like it or excuse it, you’re not supposed to repeat it.

Start with the ambition for victory to bloody well get elected. Start by swearing on the local ANZAC cenotaph that you are not going to be one of the candidates playing to loose. Smash your opponents, expose their statist policies, champion your message of a free New Zealand, humiliate or assimilate your political enemies, defeat your competition and make them eat shit!

Aaron Bhatnagar always has been a 'Josh.' Winning: Right or wrong. His quote on my blog is pure Bhatnager...

In order to serve, first you must win.

This is why the Libz tend to be spectacularly unsuccessful, unlike ACT who have managed to win representation from 1996 onwards, because they understand that voters are not motivated by esoteric concepts like libertarianism, but policies like reducing red tape and cutting tax. Of course, now that ACT have lapsed into promoting esoteric concepts like “Freedom” (which could mean anything and/or nothing) to most people its vote has collapsed and not rebounded. - Aaron

Election issues are, as he says, what matter in elections. And serving up the esoteric to exoterics is ostensibly senseless, of course. Maybe Aaron is right that this is why New Zealand's libertarian parties are suffering- for making these trivial mistakes. However, what I don't see him championing here is the premise that it must be so.


I believe in advocacy. That, though peaceful, reasoned persuasion, men will find an accord. No political philosophy lends itself more perfectly, and persuasively, to peace and reason than libertarianism. It is nothing more than common sense, nothing more than what our grandfathers taught us, the difference between good and bad, but applied without exception with and without contradiction. Nothing about liberty is esoteric that we don't make esoteric. Any time we wanted to talk right down to earth, in a language that everybody could understand, about free speech and free press and free markets we could do so without confusion. The best of our historic political writers have already paved the way for this long ago.

So much for being esoteric. But is liberty ever an election issue? Aaron doesn't argue that it cannot be. I take him to be saying it is not one now, however much the libertarians act as though it were. To whatever proportion that Aaron is right the task for we liberty-lovers is defined. However much the public debate overlooks the liberty agenda is the proportion to which we must cultivate the discourse so that, as in reality, liberty is the disputed issue.

Before our words have a mark we need to cultivate the space where we seek to plant them. The first task of the sower of seed is to prepare his ground; The first task of a speaker is securing the audience's attention. I think the sense in what Aaron is saying is that we assume where we should secure. We assume others' are lending us their ears. We assume issues of liberty strike an instant chord in others, forgetting it is an allure we aquired through much intelligent searching. Also, we assume, like Josh and Toby, that our ideas come ready-prepaired for this untried element, that our ranks are self-organised, our campaigning ability will come naturally. In short, we bring a knife to a gun fight. We "get shot" and wonder why others "just don't get it."


After we have learned this lesson, we libertarians will have learned to combine twin lightning bolts where our statist opponents wield only one. Not only will we beat them, as we have been all along, but we'll do the other thing as well: win.

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