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Gary Johnson’s Big Sin? ‘Poaching’ Votes from Hillary Clinton (and Sucky Media Savvy).

“Gary Johnson’s poll collapse is happening, as predicted,” trumpets the Washington Post‘s Philip Bump. “Gary Johnson flames out,” smirks Steven Shepard at Politico. “Right on Schedule, Gary Johnson’s Poll Numbers Are Crashing,” adds Ed Kilgore at New York magazine. It’s the most coverage the Libertarian presidential candidate has received since he couldn’t come up with the name of an international political leader he really digs, or since he stumbled on the name of the Syrian city of Aleppo during an abrupt topic change during an interview.

Which, come to think of it, may have something to do with those dropping poll numbers.

To be honest, Johnson makes some of his own trouble. As is frequently and correctly pointed out, he’s not quick on his feet in interviews, he’s awkward before a camera, and he comes off as a bit eccentric. When he stumbles, he doesn’t easily recover. But these qualities were treated as largely positive qualities early on, when it looked like he would provide an alternative for Republican voters disgusted with Trump. “Johnson is a bit of an oddball. But he’s an endearing one, which is more than we can say about Trump and Clinton, two very strange people in different ways,” CBS News’s Will Rahn pointed out in June. Rahn also noted that the Libertarians had “a lot of executive experience for any ticket, let alone a third-party one.”

I think a more serious problem is that Johnson often comes off as if he wants everybody to like him. That might be a good quality in your neighbor, but it’s a dangerous vulnerability in a political candidate sparring with those journalists who are just doing their jobs–let alone hostile interviewers. If you view the people with microphones as the adversaries they are rather than buddies, you’re going to be better prepared for gotcha questions and out-of-context presentation of your comments.

Well, if you’re quick on your feet you will.

But Gary Johnson ran into another very serious “problem” not of his making: He started gathering up voters that Democrats and political forecasters expected to go to Hillary Clinton. “Democrats thought he would take from Trump,” Politico explained last month, “but polls show he’s attracting voters who like neither candidate.” The Hill added, “Democrats panicked by third-party candidates drawing support away from Hillary Clinton are ramping up their attacks against Gary Johnson.” In particular, he began pulling in up to a quarter of millennial voters–younger participants in the political process who might not only break away from the Democratic candidate, but establish long-term voting habits favoring another political party.

Since then, Johnson’s portrayal in the national media has been almost exclusively as a dummy, rather than an “endearing” former two-term governor with very different policy proposals from his Republican and Democratic rivals. You’ve heard an awful lot about his failure to name an international political leader he respects (that’s a gaffe? Why should he be a fan boy for Angela Merkel?), and almost nothing about him, say, polling higher than Hillary Clinton among military voters (the Christian Science Monitor did run a hand-wringing piece that managed to ask “why?” without talking to any actual troops).

But is this really a media pile-on? Maybe it’s journalists in a feeding frenzy, or being lazy, rather than series of a partisan attacks on a candidate who threatens their preferred contender.

But that’s not what some journalists who have held their own shit together see happening with their colleagues.

“The number of mainstream media reporters who are out there expressing their explicit opinions, that tend to be decisively pro-Hillary and anti-Trump, to me is scary,” commented Jim VandeHei, who co-founded Politico and is no longer with the publication.

The media is “not even trying to hide it anymore” in terms of political leanings noted an op-ed in The Hill by Joe Concha, one of the publication’s own media reporters.

“Journalists shower Hillary Clinton with campaign cash,” the Center for Public Integrity reported just last week.

And indeed, among the more interesting revelations (in a series of them) to come out of the Podesta emails published by Wikileaks has been the “Clinton campaign’s cozy press relationship,” as noted by The Intercept (there is a very good reason why so many journalists have fallen out of love with the transparency site). Clinton staffers discussed “friendly journalists” with whom they could place stories, wined and dined them at off-the-record parties, and signed off on articles about the campaign.

And that coziness does seem to have an impact. You’ll find plenty of discussion of the Aleppo gaffe. But just try to find media mentions of the British Parliament’s report last month condemning American-British-French military intervention in Libya in 2011, which it held responsible for “political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.” Clinton, you’ll remember, was Secretary of State at the time with responsibility for U.S. foreign policy, including our part in that Libyan catastrophe.

And try to dig up a story or two outside the ideological or foreign press about the Clinton Foundation accepting donations from the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar after her State Department identified them as funders of ISIS.

Yes, Trump has (a few) media supporters too. Many of them are at Fox News which has several overt cheerleaders for the populist-nationalist candidate on its schedule. And yes, most journalists target the blustery Republican candidate while favoring Clinton. While he makes much of his own trouble, there’s no doubt who the majority of news people want to see in the White House.

And that leaves little room for anything but hostile coverage of a presidential candidate who challenges the overtly preferred candidate of the majority of journalists, and the favorite of a small minority, and who, frankly, kind of sucks at publicly fencing with interlocutors who are out for blood. Johnson is being skewered on camera and in print by reporters who are essentially operatives for his opponents in the election, and he’s pretty terrible at turning the tables on them.

Would any candidate be better in this position?

Any Libertarian nominee who started eating into Hillary Clinton’s presumed voting base would certainly have faced media hostility. But we can imagine candidates who would be faster on their feet in fielding surprise questions, more realistic about the inclinations on the journalists facing them, and more combative and energetic in responding to spin.

The problem comes in turning that imagination into an actual human being who wants to run for office. Johnson’s main opponents in seeking the Libertarian nomination this year were John McAfee, of tech and venture capital fame, and Austin Petersen, a libertarian activist and media entrepreneur.

McAfee is media savvy and cultivates his own image; the “crazy” persona he presents is at least partially intentional. I’m told by those who have interviewed him that he’s rather more serious and balanced in person. He might well have pursued some version of the down-the-middle strategy favored by Johnson-Weld, drawing votes from those who would otherwise have favored both Clinton and Trump. But charismatic and savvy as he is, his edgy image is only partially cultivated–he really is a “person of interest” in a murder in Belize, and he faced drunk-driving and firearms charges just last year. McAfee’s explanations may be perfectly truthful, but there’s no way that a hostile press would have passed up a chance to fill headlines about a strongly polling McAfee candidacy with the words “murder,” “drugs,” and “guns.”

Petersen doesn’t have the government or business credentials of Johnson or McAfee, but he does have media experience and polish. He would have likely run a different campaign, leaning toward the right with an eye to scooping up “never Trump” voters. To the extent that they’re sincere, the pro-life, conservatarian Petersen is what disappointed Republicans mean when they say they wish the LP would run a “real libertarian.” (That some of them then go and support a hawkish, authoritarian, ex-CIA, former Goldman Sachs mini-candidate–something of a larval Hillary Clinton–demonstrates the limits of that sincerity). It’s unlikely that he would have faced the same media hostility if he was gathering mostly never-Trump Republican voters, but it’s also unlikely that he would have made anything like Johnson’s headway among millennials and Sanders supporters.

The other contenders for the nomination were relative unknowns outside of the Libertarian Party. They came off as perfectly sincere activists devoted to the cause, but without much to grab the attention of people not already committed to the movement. Could one of them have risen to the occasion and molded a credible campaign that ventured into double-digit polling support–and then fended off a full assault by a hostile media? It’s possible, but none demonstrated that potential during the campaign for the nomination.

So yes, we can imagine a candidate for president better prepared than Gary Johnson to not only mount a serious run for the presidency but also to duel with hostile pundits. That candidate may well exist as a real person or multiple people. But it’s not apparent from the evidence that such a candidate actually sought to run in 2016.

But the Libertarian Party is going to need that sort of a candidate in the future as it seeks to build on this year’s high profile and make bigger waves in 2020 and beyond. If Johnson ultimately wins 5 percent or better of ballots, the LP qualifies for public funding from voluntary taxpayer checkoffs for the next general election. Given that the money is freely given, not coerced, the LP should seriously consider accepting what could be millions of dollars–and an enhanced opportunity to disrupt what will probably, again, be a contentious presidential campaign.

And given that the media has demonstrated its overwhelming pro-Democratic partisanship, and is highly unlikely to become more diverse in its views or less enthusiastic in its activism over the next four years, Libertarians (or any serious third-party candidates who threaten to “poach” donkey party votes) will need to be not just credible contenders for office, but accomplished sparring partners for their media opponents.

I appear on RT to discuss matters of military corruption and intoxication

After a disturbing video turned up of military contractors in Afghanistan blotto on booze and ketamine (and what good is a war zone if there’s no party?), I was invited on RT to discuss that matter and the tangentially related issue of corruption in the awarding of military contracts. If the discussion seems a little disjointed, it’s likely because anchor Liz Wahl was having technical difficulties. I suspect she couldn’t hear me at all, so I think she carried it off pretty well.

I’m a Reason-able Guy

Horrible pun, I know, but I couldn’t resist. Anyway, I’ve been actively writing for Reason.com, starting almost as soon as I figuratively punched my time card. I have a couple of small pieces turned in for an upcoming issue of the print magazine, and the big project for which I was hired is … coming soon! Really, it’s coming along nicely and I think it will be well-appreciated.

I wrote an online column this past week on the TSA — an especially wise move, since I’m flying next weekend. If you see me limping around, it’s because I rated special attention at the airport security checkpoint. If you’re as big a fan of the airborne (and, increasingly, bus-borne, train-borne and even road-borne) security state, you’ll want to take a peek.

The Terrible Truth About the TSA: It’s a failure at everything it does
We don’t all all agree on whether the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has any business groping toddlers and destroying expensive medical equipment in the pursuit of its appointed mission of keeping travelers safe from scary terrorists. Quotable security expert Bruce Schneier calls it all pointless and oppressive “security theater” intended to make the government look responsive, while Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) describes intrusive measures as “very important” and pushes for even stronger stuff. But necessary evil or not, it’s increasingly apparent that the TSA is spectacularly inefficient and inept at everything it tries to do. (see more)

Of course, I’ve also been blogging for Reason. I covered Tombstone’s battle with the feds over permission to rebuild its waterlines yesterday, and the growing regulatory burden that’s choking innovation out of charter schools the day before. The full list of my contributions to Reason can be found on my staff page here.

For those who are curious … It’s a great place to work.

The now-inescapable Tooch

Oh sure, you thought you could keep your doses of disloyal opposition down to a tolerable level — no OD for you! But no such luck. You see, I’m now employed by Reason.com, the online incarnation of Reason magazine. That’s right, that’s me right there. Try to avoid me, now!

The project for which I’ve been hired will, I believe be much appreciated by you all as a further enhancement to an already excellent pro-liberty publication, and a useful service to the freedom movement. It’s not exactly hush-hush, but we’re not advertising yet, either. So I’ll keep my lips sealed until the appropriate moment, when I have something very interesting to show.

The reviews are coming in

I’m happy to say that not only are the reviews starting to roll in for High Desert Barbecue, but they’ve all concluded, so far, that the book is worth reading. That’s not to say that I’m getting unalloyed praise, Two of the reviews, in particular, have pointed out what the authors perceive as flaws in the story, analyzed the pluses and minuses, and ultimately concluded that High Desert Barbecue is still worth buying and reading.

The reviews so far:

“[B]reezy tone and brisk pacing carry the reader along a novel that combines action and satire the whole way through.”
–Scott Stein, author of Mean Martin Manning, in When Falls the Coliseum

“[A] very polished novel. The plot rolls smoothly forward, propelled by multiple shifts of perspective, and by a careful balance between narrative and libertarian preaching.”
— Sean Gabb, author of The Churchill Memorandum and (as Richard Blake) the excellent Aelric historical-novel series, at the UK Libertarian Alliance blog

“I found the way his protagonists dealt with their dilemma quite easy to follow, and the story delightful.”
Joel Simon, author of Walt’s Gulch and Songs of Bad Men and Good

“This is a fun read. It’s lively. It’s funny. The protagonists are likeable, believable characters.”
— Claire Wolfe, author of Hardyville Tales, in Backwoods Home Magazine

I like praise as much as the next guy. Well, I probably like it more, actually. So my thanks to all of the reviewers for taking the time to read High Desert Barbecue, and then putting aside even more time to think about what they read and to write down their reactions. Extra special thanks because they all liked the book and recommended its purchase.

Sean Gabb raised an interesting point in his review when he wrote “the state socialists have had popular culture as their transmission mechanism, and our movement is filled with people who think that novel writing is somehow letting the side down. Of course, if we are to get anywhere at all, we need our Hoppes and we need our L. Neil Smiths. And we need Jerome Tuccille.” Needless to say, I agree with Dr. Gabb on this point (you need me, people!). Libertarians and conservatives often complain about the saturation of popular media with anti-freedom ideas, including hostility to private enterprise and excessive deference to the state. I think those complaints are often justified. But since the control freaks of the world show no inclination to give up movie-making or writing songs and novels, the burden falls to us to counter ideas we dislike with work of our own that (this is important) stands on its own artistic merits while incorporating an appreciation for freedom, small government, individual initiative and the like. And the DIY revolution has made the creation and marketing of music and books, in particular, easier than ever before.

Those contributions to the culture have to be good, though, not just “correct.”

Claire Wolfe and Joel Simon (who wrote his review based on a book he bought, may I add!) were tougher on Higher Desert Barbecue than were Stein or Gabb, but I think their reviews are very thoughtful and fair. In both cases, their criticisms may come from the style to which I aspired, and which I, perhaps, did not execute with complete success.

Wolfe wrote, “Tuccille stuffed this book with such a huge crew of villains I only began to be able to tell them apart halfway through the story, and some remained vague blurs all the way to the end.” Simon similarly criticized my bad guys as “almost uniformly one-dimensional and whose actions often descend into slapstick.”

Well … I admit it. I had fun with the villains in the book, but I liked the protagonists. Rollo, Scott and Lani are constructed as real people (yes, I knew a guy like Rollo, and he lived for a while in a tent I loaned him after he was cut off from his campsite by a wildfire), while Jason, Van Kamp, Greenfield and company are types, drawn from people I have met, but pushed to extremes. Although, to be honest, some people can seem awfully cartoonish even in real life — because, I think, they themselves aspire to be more types than to be fully developed people. That’s especially true of “followers” who … Never mind; this takes me in a more psychological direction than I ever intended with High Desert Barbecue.

Wolfe also wrote, “it mostly lacks a feeling of peril (until near the end) … [a]nd the ending is just too pat; no way would things have come together so neatly.” This squares with Simon’s point that “[t]he ending is rather pat, and smacks of deus ex machina in a way I wish Tuccille had been able to find a way around but honestly I can’t think of a way to improve it …”

Simon also wrote, “Because HDB treats its subject matter lightly but it is really not a light subject, the book sometimes veers rather unevenly between drama and comedy.”

As I said above, I think the criticisms of both Claire Wolfe and Joel Simon stem from my effort to write a farce that’s both absurd and a bit dark. Tom Sharpe handled that balancing act well, I think, in The Throwback and, especially in his South Africa novels, such as Riotous Assembly. There’s quite a bit of that to Harry Crews’s writing as well.  I’m thinking “grenade” in the book Body.

But I don’t want to argue “they didn’t get what I was doing” because it’s up to the author to clearly transmit what he’s doing. Intending to write dark comedy isn’t the same thing as doing it well. I don’t think I blew it, but I think it’s quite likely, on this first outing into fiction, that I didn’t handle the story and the style quite as deftly as I would have liked. It is very likely true that, as Claire Wolfe says, High Desert Barbecue is “very much a first novel, with all the imperfections of that breed.”

In the end, I’m very pleased that, even after dissecting the flaws in the novel both Claire Wolfe and Joel Simon agreed with Gabb and Stein that High Desert Barbecue is worth buying, reading and keeping in your library. Wolfe writes, “Its very unseriousness, its wackiness, its ‘gang that couldn’t shoot straight’ bad guys, even its over-simplification, would make it a terrific movie,” while Simon says, simply, “[y]ou should buy it.”

I’m quite proud of what I accomplished with the book, and I’m pleased that the people reading it seem to be enjoying it so far.

And, of course, I’m going to take Claire Wolfe’s and Joel Simon’s criticisms into account — along with others to come — so that my future work is that much better.

But, remember, folks. You can’t know if the critics are on the mark unless you buy the book (only $2.99 for the Kindle and Nook ebooks and $11.99 for the trade paperback) and read it for yourselves!

Free-range publishing

Well, the creative and technical aspects of writing and self-publishing my first novel are now nearly at an end, and I’ve now entered the marketing phase during which I alienate family members, friends, acquaintances and people I run into at restaurants. While I’m bombarding bloggers, magazine editors and the denizens of media email lists in which I’ve barely participated for years with PR material, I’ve begun assessing my experience with self-publishing. By and large, I like what I’ve seen.

I put off self-publishing for several years because of the stigma I’ve long associated with the practice. I was taught long ago that “vanity” or “subsidy” publishing was a route for self-indulgent scribblers who didn’t want to admit their work was second-rate. “Serious” writers approached agents, hats-in-hand, convinced those agents to represent their books for a share of the proceeds, signed deals (if lucky) with publishing houses who got to keep the lion’s share of cover price, and waited, often years, for royalties — if any ever materialized. Because that’s what “real” authors did.

Meanwhile, of course, musicians won high praise for bypassing the industry and starting their own music labels to put out DIY albums — and for eventually selling their music in digitized form on the Web and uploading videos to YouTube. Movie-makers got kudos for financing independent movies on credit cards or with checks from rich friends and relatives.

But serious authors were expected to continue courting the attention of publishing houses if they wanted to remain respectable.

Well … the dichotomy between the treatment of musicians and movie-makers on the one hand, and writers on the other, has become increasingly silly. And it really no longer makes any sense, if it ever did.

Honestly, publishing houses no longer have much to offer, unless you’re one of the rare authors approached with a truly mind-boggling advance. Marketing? They really only put sales effort behind anticipated blockbusters. Other authors are expected to push their own books. Distribution to bookstores? There are really only two bookstore chains left: Barnes and Noble, and Books-a-Million. There are still, thankfully, a few independent bookstores left, but with ebooks outselling paper books as of this past summer, the real action is obviously in making books available online.

And that’s now very easy.

So, what, exactly, is the remaining attraction of begging for the attention of agents and editors, so you can share the proceeds of book sales with them? Assuming they’re not tempting you with a huge advance, that is.

Forget vanity publishing. If self-made and self-marketed music is “DIY” and the equivalent films are “independent,” then I’m welcoming myself to the world of free-range publishing.

I like the ring of that.

Buy High Desert Barbecue

High Desert Barbecue paperback now on Amazon

This is all happening rather faster than I anticipated …

The paperback version of High Desert Barbecue is now available on Amazon, with free super saver shipping (you’ll have too add another purchase to your basket to reach the $25 minimum for free shipping since my novel is sold at the low, low price of $11.99!

Oh, and Claire Wolfe of Backwoods Home Magazine (and The Freedom Outlaw’s Handbook) has come in with an early rave for High Desert Barbecue:

“[A] rowdy, rollicking adventure in the best tradition of Edward Abbey (think The Monkey Wrench Gang but … well, turned on its head).”

High Desert Barbecue now in paperback

I spoke too soon when I said you’d have to wait for a paperback! Amazon may still be working the book into its listings, but High Desert Barbecue is now available at the CreateSpace bookstore.

High Desert Barbecue is now available!

The trade paperback version is still a few days away, but with ebook sales now outstripping dead-tree editions, I don’t feel premature in announcing that High Desert Barbecue is now available for sale. If you have a Kindle or a Nook, or have downloaded the free readers for those formats to the portable device of your choice, you can now have a copy of the novel for a screaming deal: $2.99. The trade paperback will be $11.99.

I’m extremely happy with the final story, though you will have to judge for yourselves, of course. Whatever your reaction, don’t be afraid to review the book at Amazon, B&N or the forum of your choice — hey, if I’m going to put myself out there, I have to be able to take the bad reviews with the good ones, right?

A tale of suspense, pyromania and sexual tension, coming to an Amazon near you!

For those of you wondering just what I’ve been up to (let’s count hands! That’s one, two, three of you!), the fact is … I’ve been writing a novel. Final revisions to the manuscript are pending, and the book will be published in paperback and Kindle (and probably Nook) format in November.

High Desert Barbecue

High Desert BarbecueLiving as a squatter on public land, Rollo has long waged a personal war against the Forest Service, so it’s little surprise when rangers burn him out of his latest shack. But when Rollo is subsequently blamed for a disastrous wildfire, he seeks help from his close friend, Scott, an anarchically minded outdoors enthusiast, and Scott’s girlfriend Lani, who dislikes Rollo but shares his distaste for authority. While investigating a suspicious new forest fire, the trio interrupts a bizarre but vicious gang of environmental terrorists. Chased through the canyon country of northern Arizona, Rollo, Scott and Lani must rely on their wit and skills to survive. Just steps behind, their pursuers compensate for incompetence and sexual eccentricity with fanaticism and official connections. Hanging in the balance is the fate of human habitation throughout the West — or maybe just peace and quiet in downtown Flagstaff.

This book is a bit of an experiment for me — and not just since it’s a venture into fiction for a writer established as a columnist and blogger. I was raised in an era when self-publishing — known as “vanity publishing” back then — was a sure sign of crappy writing by a self-indulgent author. That was sort of still the case a few years ago when I bounced early chapters of the book off of New York literary agents — only to receive enthusiastic responses for the writing, along with heartfelt assurances that the story was too regional to be picked up by publishers.

So I put the manuscript aside.

But recently — over the past year in particular — the do-it-yourself ethos has revolutionized the publishing industry. E-readers and print-on-demand have made it very attractive to bypass the traditional publishing houses. In fact, I no longer see a reason to go the traditional route at all. So, out of the drawer (well, an old folder on my laptop) the manuscript came, and I set to work revising and finishing the story. The biggest surprise may have been the extent to which technology has changed in just a few years, necessitating an important plot revision.

Then an old friend who works as an editor and knows my fiction from long-ago days in a Boston-based writers group offered to review the manuscript. And here we go. The Kindle version will be priced at $2.99. Paperback pricing has yet to be set.

I’ll post news of the novel, links for purchasing, and reactions thereto, here and on High Desert Barbecue‘s Facebook page.

If the upcoming book piques your interest at all, please feel free to pass along the information.