A focus on the urban or rural voter?

Limit the federal government, or shut it all down?

“Joke” candidates or serious?

And, more importantly, what to do if we’re attacked by Narnia?

These are some of the questions I heard Saturday at the Libertarian presidential debate at Olean High School, but they’re not the one that keeps kicking around in my head.

Around 50 people attended, including campaign staff, friends and others who traveled to Olean. I only saw a handful of locals I recognized, however, and that made me a little sad.

I cleared my mind before I went in, wanting to be impartial and there to learn. I had imagined two hours of screaming about who could demolish government the fastest and how evil my mother was for getting a hernia surgery at the VA last week (she’s fine, thanks for asking).

I was impressed by what I saw — eight men who I believe care for their country and wanted to see their views implemented, with few raised voices outside of large personalities.

My personal favorites were Vermin Supreme, the guy with a boot on his head to get attention (it works — I came for the boot, I stayed for the well-spoken, passionate speaker) and ex-Coast Guard officer Ken Armstrong, a commanding presence who I think felt the most “presidential.”

Did I see the next president?

I’m thinking probably not.

“Any of the wonderful people here have a realistic chance,” said candidate Jedi Hill.

I wouldn’t go that far — the party is polling at around 2% nationally. It is doing a shade better locally, though.

In 2018, just over 1,000 voters in Cattaraugus County chose Libertarian Larry Sharpe for governor — about 4%. In the election last week, Libertarian candidates lost but Republican and Democrats who were cross-endorsed saw more success.

A side note: I give it to local Libertarians for getting themselves out there. It’s not easy to be in the public eye like that — and that far down on the ballot. And there is nothing more boring or un-American than an unopposed election.

Large-scale support at the polls aside, third parties can have an impact. Ask almost-Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Al Gore. And don’t forget the Republican Party was barely past third-party status in 1860.

There was one thing that bugged me, however — the my-way-or-the-highway, compromise-equals-bad attitude of many of the candidates.

I got that from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, too.

But here’s the difference: Tens of millions voted for them.

“We need to change the culture,” said former national party vice chairman Arvin Vohra, to better line up with the party’s platform, noting that, “If we knock down this government … this culture would create the same government by tomorrow.”

But does the electorate accept policies like “stop using buildings like this (OHS) and start homeschooling,” to quote Vohra? Or stripping Social Security from the 63 million people who rely on it to get by? Or allowing a strip club to be built in a residential neighborhood?

The party — which markets itself as the free market alternative — has been relatively flat for 45 years. Jokes about Ben Franklin and insanity aside, a successful capitalist changes the product to fit the market, not throw up his hands and demand the market at large change to fit the product.

Now apply that logic to the Libertarian Party: If your party isn’t successful, is it the fault of the electorate or what you are selling?

(Bob Clark is city editor of the Olean Times Herald. His email is bclark@oleantimesherald.com.)

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