Your email to me on March 30, 2011 expressed concern that in a speech I gave a few days ago, I criticized the Libertarian Party for becoming associated with pro-war rhetoric, and not sticking to libertarian principles. You asked, “…why level a critique against the Libertarian Party for the pro-war support of a minority within the Party?” and wanted me to name names.
Because the LP has taken a very public stand that it is a party founded and based on principle, not popularity, it makes itself vulnerable to criticism for appearing unprincipled. The 2008 LP presidential nomination of well-known conservative Bob Barr, and the promotion to Chair of the LP National Congressional Committee of the rabidly pro-war Wayne Allyn Root caused people of all political stripes to look at the LP and wonder whether the principle of the party was peaceful libertarianism, or just political experimentation and number-crunching.
These less principled Libertarian figures may have represented the minority view of the party, but their names are strongly associated with the LP, hence my criticism. In fact, even before the Barr and Root elevations within the party, in 2005, the LP published an “Iraq Exit Strategy” which called for troops leaving gradually, not coming home but instead being redistributed throughout the Middle East, and pouring in direct aid to Iraq’s nascent state-building efforts. This proposal was not at all libertarian. Shockingly, it was as interventionist and imperial as anything put forth by either a Left-Progressive or Right-Conservative think tank.
Wayne Root, in particular, is allowed by the LP to speak for the party, and honest libertarians throughout the American population and within the LP are turned off. You suggest that my criticism of these anti-liberty, pro-state LP voices are the same as criticizing the GOP for being pro-life because some minority members of the GOP are pro-life. But when the GOP fields candidates and spokespersons, particularly at the national level, they toe the party line, and they don’t suggest that there is “room” at the philosophical table. Our own LP table is already small. Embracing statists and nationalists quietly within the party is one thing; making them front and center as a leading voice of recruitment and policy means that these types of unprincipled non-libertarian perspectives become the LP in the minds of everyone.
Why haven’t we, as a party, asked Wayne to simply join one of the war parties?
I have a suggestion for the LP HQ strategists. The focus on vote-getting at the national level has led the LP into precisely the situation that you are noting today (a criticism of the party within liberty circles). I would love to see the party concentrate on supporting local elections of libertarians (which it does nicely), and in DC, to serve primarily as a rating and clearance site for Congressmen and Senators. Take your issues (http://www.lp.org/issues) and create a liberty friendliness rating on each issue for each congressman, much like the John Birch Society does on conservatism. (See http://www.votesmart.org/issue_rating_detail.php?r_id=2151 ) or as the Heritage Foundation does for economic freedom in countries around the world. This type of approach would make our positions politically applicable and measurable, and a “Liberty “rating will be something many Congressmen will welcome and seek (or angrily react to). It would also allow many of us in the field to jump on it, further making the LP relevant. This way we remain a “party of principle,” with the added benefit of being a party that is listened to, and donated to, because it is loud, proud, and principled.
I also think, that beyond the fleas the LP gets from lying down with characters like Root, and promoting him, we should be careful about our other bedfellows in DC. The Cato Institute does fine work, but it is not as effective in gaining Libertarian friendly legislation and votes as is Jim Babka’s interactive and aggressive DownsizeDC, and nothing Cato has produced on constitutional foreign or domestic policy comes even close to what is done daily over at the Bumper Hornberger’s Future of Freedom Foundation in Reston, VA.
Mark, my fundamental sense of betrayal and anger at the LP for its 2008 shenanigans and for its lack of creativity in the fight for freedom at home is far deeper than anyone would imagine from my limited criticism of the party, mentioned briefly in a long talk. May I take your note as an opening for real change within the LP National Committee and a real commitment to win the battle for hearts and minds across the country?