Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand.”     Milton Friedman

March 11, 2009

Picking at Festering Libertarian Scabs

by Stephen Gordon

I honestly believe that Ron Paul is a decent guy and one of the most unique spokesmen for the libertarian movement out there.  However, I’m going to write something that one year ago would have filled the comment section below with hate messages from Dr. Paul’s supporters: Ron Paul does not walk on water and he puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.  Additionally, many of his supporters were among the rudest of people I’ve run into in my lifetime. I’ve also made some close and probably lifelong friends because of Paul’s presidential bid.

Countless times, I’ve been accused of attempting to destroy Ron Paul for pointing out some minor area where I disagree with him or his campaign.   When doing so, I was generally accused by his supporters either of being a neocon or of trying to sabotage his campaign.  Nothing could be further from the truth on either account.  It got so bad that I nearly quit supporting Paul — and I know quite a few other people who did drop out of the Ron Paul movement because of the crude behavior of some of his fans.

As a matter of fact, I was even heavily criticized by Paul’s supporters for paying, out of my own pocket, for a limousine to take Paul to the memorial service of Hollywood-producer-turned-politican Aaron Russo.  They thought it looked bad for a presidential candidate to appear to be living a jet-setting life of luxury.  I didn’t want a presidential candidate to show up at a Hollywood gig with both reporters and movie stars looking like a homeless man.  It was a plain, black limo.

There are differences between each of us in the freedom movement.  Some are pro-life, others are pro-choice.  Some are open borders and some are closed borders.  Some think talk of dismantling the Federal Reserve sounds bat-shit crazy.  Some think we should focus on the War on Drugs, others feel it is a losing issue. Some are 9/11 Truthers, or Obama Birthers, McCain Birthers, UFO Truthers, etc. — while others try to avoid these topics.  We have differences on both issues and approaches.

Like the rest of us, Ron Paul has some political warts.  He ran a campaign which many felt was poorly managed.  He didn’t handle the newsletter issue well.  Many people felt defrauded because they thought he was running to win and later found out it was an “educational” campaign.  Others feel that while Paul is an excellent congressman, he doesn’t have the executive skills to be commander-and-chief.  Paul has also managed to put a general libertarian message on national television like nothing I’ve seen in my lifetime.

He’s not the only libertarian-leaning Republican to have some political warts, though.  Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 presidential election because of them — and the Daisy ad.  I could run through a long list of faults of libertarian-leaning Congressmen, but won’t for the sake of brevity.  And political warts aren’t reserved solely for GOP candidates, either.

When Aaron Russo attempted to win the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, he said he didn’t wish to push for a radical drug legalization platform, preferring to focus on medical marijuana.   Then he went just as radical as Paul with respect to the Federal Reserve during his campaign and followed this up with America: Freedom to Fascism.

Bob Barr certainly didn’t appeal to the more radical elements of the libertarian movement and the cynical among them still thinks he’s a “neocon” who favors the Iraq War and Patriot Act, despite all that he’s done since leaving Congress to oppose these issues. However, Barr did handle racial allegations much more quickly and thoroughly than Paul did. Michael Badnarik was actually good on most of the issues from a constitutional perspective, but he seemed a bit kooky with respect to his refusal to obtain a driver’s license and for a few things he wrote in an pre-campaign publication.

The definition of neoconservative, for some libertarians, seems to be “anyone with whom I disagree.”

I’ve worked plenty of campaigns and disagreed with aspects of all of them.  Even the ones which won.  Especially the ones I managed.  Reasonable disagreement does not equate with being some sort of traitor.

Face it, folks, we are a bunch of individualists who are going to disagree — and disagree a lot. We will disagree on the issues and we will disagree on the candidates. However, the 2008 campaigns are over and perhaps it’s time to point our guns outwards, as opposed to aiming them at our closest allies.  By working together where we can and working apart where we must, we will accomplish a whole lot more than if we waste our time beating each other over the head about minor nuances.

It’s one thing to respectfully disagree or provide advice.  It’s another thing to reserve our most powerful weapons for our allies.  So long as we continue to fight each other, the oppressive power of the state will continue to increase.

UPDATE: By e-mail request, I’m linking to something I wrote some time ago dealing with the same general topic.

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24 Comments

  1. Stephen,

    Thank you for writing this. I couldn’t agree more.

    I was berated by my fellow Ron Paul supporters for writing pro-Barr articles on my site and continuing to support Barr through election day. Although I suppose I did have some quite critical words for his campaign in the end.

    Perhaps, I’m a fair-weathered liberty fan. I will latch on to whomever I see with the best ability to spread the message of freedom far and wide. (all the while trying to do the same myself.)

    Enjoy,
    Marc

    Comment by Marc Gallagher — March 11, 2009 @ 8:34 pm
  2. Marc,

    Call me a fair-weathered fan, too. I’d prefer to see our country actually become more free than to waste resources in the battle between the freedom-absolutists and the freedom-incrementalists.

    Comment by Stephen Gordon — March 11, 2009 @ 8:49 pm
  3. Marc,

    Perhaps, I’m a fair-weathered liberty fan. I will latch on to whomever I see with the best ability to spread the message of freedom far and wide.

    That makes you a consistent fan of liberty, just not a consistent fan of particular politicians.

    It’s a point that I tried to remind people of when I would criticize Ron Paul as a Presidential candidate, who would then accuse me of being a fascist, or a neocon, etc — when in reality, I’m a far more hardcore libertarian than Dr Paul.

    The Republican Party would be well served to have a few more Ron Pauls in Congress.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 11, 2009 @ 8:54 pm
  4. “He’s not the only libertarian-leaning Republican to have some political warts, though. Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 presidential election because of them — and the Daisy ad.”

    Barry Goldwater lost the November 1964 election in November of 1963. LBJ didn’t beat him, Lee Harvey Oswald did. The heir of a martyred popular president benefits immensely in the subsequent election.

    Comment by Thomas L. Knapp — March 11, 2009 @ 9:47 pm
  5. Wow! now here’s a story folks. You mean we all in the liberty movement have different ideas or degree’s of Liberty? wow! Maybe we could all agree that the rule of law is the Constitution? So yes Ron Paul is a god. Next time make sure Barr show’s up at his press conferences!

    Comment by joe — March 11, 2009 @ 9:54 pm
  6. Tom,

    That’s a fair fact I overlooked. I’ve been looking at the timeline of serial killers for so many hours that I forgot about something which occurred after I was born.

    Comment by Stephen Gordon — March 11, 2009 @ 9:55 pm
  7. Joe,

    I find the Constitution a great document — but as imperfect as Bob Barr, Ron Paul, Mary Ruwart, Ronald Reagan, Mike Badnarik, and even myself.

    Do you think that an African-American person is only worthy of a fraction of a count and zero vote?

    Perhaps the best thing the Barr campaign ever did was how it dealt with the race issue early on.

    Comment by Stephen Gordon — March 11, 2009 @ 10:01 pm
  8. i cant point guns outward with libertarians who need to please the beltway oligarchy. i can loosely identify with the philosophy itself, as a classic liberal would.

    but as for the average “libertarian,” the very name “libertarian” has now (at least since 2007) left a bile aroma with me. permanently. i lend no credence or respect to the label, whether l or L, and furthermore i reject a ” libertarian’s ” claim to the righteous philosophy of classic liberalism.

    i’m surprised you bothered to jab the needle yet again into the ron paul wound here. not sure what the point is other than to generate a lot of responses.

    Comment by standown — March 11, 2009 @ 10:43 pm
  9. Standown,

    There are many people residing and working with public policy within the beltway who are just as libertarian as folks presumably like you outside the beltway. I’m working with one of them on a new radical project here.

    I waited a year to bring up this issue because I think it is important, but didn’t wish to jeopardize any particular political campaign. When would be a better time to raise the issue?

    Comment by Stephen Gordon — March 11, 2009 @ 10:53 pm
  10. standown (aka oilnwater),

    Haven’t we discussed you sticking to one alias while you’re here? After all, it’s not hard to pick out your writing style and main points — I read the post and figured it was you before I even checked the IP address to confirm it.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 11, 2009 @ 10:59 pm
  11. So, dude. It seems like you choosing to call Badnarik “kooky” for a personal choice about getting a driver license is “beating each other over the head about minor nuances.” Or is deference to the state in all things a major nuance?

    You mention Bob Barr on the race issue while neglecting to mention his eulogy for Jesse Helms extolling the entire career of a segregationist politician. I find that amusing. Barr does get a plus, for a conservative Republican, for noticing the constitution during the aftermath of 9/11, at least to the satisfaction of Nat Hentoff.

    I understand this might be a reach, but one could look for an actually libertarian candidate to run for office rather than a conservative Republican who happens to be good on one or two issues related to individual liberty. Probably not your way, though. It’s much more fun to throw mud on a hard working candidate like Badnarik for daring to doubt the omnipotent state on something as basic as whether the law in Texas actually requires a driver license.

    Goodness knows you’d never challenge the state.

    Comment by Jim Davidson — March 11, 2009 @ 11:00 pm
  12. i just think the word libertarian is dead. but i dont think people who respect the originating freedom philosophy of classic liberalism are extinct, in fact they are growing.

    Comment by standown — March 11, 2009 @ 11:23 pm
  13. Jim,

    In a world where the Republicans are suddenly opposing federal spending and the Democrats have forgotten Iraq, I’ll state that Badnarik’s driver’s license is a relatively minor issue today.

    I seem to recall being lambasted for supporting a radical “left” libertarian named Russo at one time. My feelings on politics haven’t changed significantly since then.

    Sometimes the best solution is to choose the issue, the time, and the place to make it an issue. Otherwise, the effort is wasted on folks who simply ain’t paying attention.

    Comment by Stephen Gordon — March 11, 2009 @ 11:31 pm
  14. Standown,

    On your latter point, I agree with you. On the former, I see the word libertarian appearing with greater frequency as each day passes.

    Some days, the description is even somewhat accurate.

    Comment by Stephen Gordon — March 11, 2009 @ 11:35 pm
  15. Excellent post Steve. Infighting poisons the well. It’s one thing to call people out on inconsistency, but to nitpick, harangue and even take pleasure in a purer-than-thou stance has no place in a movement where we supposedly respect individual differences and agree to disagree. Such squabbling and backbiting only serves to undermine our efforts toward liberty.

    Comment by Tom — March 11, 2009 @ 11:45 pm
  16. Amen, Stephen.
    We’ve made some minor gains locally in Indiana, and the other two parties are doing their best to marginalize the LP. We don’t need to give them help or encouragement, or allow perfect to stand in the way of better.

    Comment by Rex Bell — March 12, 2009 @ 4:09 am
  17. “Bob Barr certainly didn’t appeal to the more radical elements of the libertarian movement and the cynical among them still thinks he’s a “neocon” who favors the Iraq War and Patriot Act, despite all that he’s done since leaving Congress to oppose these issues.”

    Barr had one fatal and unforgivable flaw amongst the libertarian wing of the LP. He never said the two most important words that people wanted and needed to hear about his past political transgressions, including and especially DOMA, Fort Hood, and his drug warrior days:

    “I’m sorry.”

    Humbleness and apologies for mistakes go a long way in the LP.

    Had he done that prior to or even at Denver, then perhaps he might have gotten more support. Had he shown more humility and not exercised the hubris of a major party politician, he would have done better. Instead, he’s gone down as 2008′s Libertarian Mistake.

    Yes, Dr. Paul (use the title, he earned it!) isn’t perfect. Nobody is. But remember Matthew 7:1-6 as well when dealing with your man Barr.

    Comment by Tannim — March 12, 2009 @ 7:41 am
  18. I must concur with another, that I cannot stand alongside LINOs in the beltway. “Beltway Libertarian” is probably a bad term, as there are definitely libertarians who live there who are just as committed to liberty as the rest of us. But that term is really meant to refer to people who claim to be libertarians, but are willing to sacrifice pretty much everything they believe if it’ll give them a little more access to the state table.

    And frankly, that’s who is running the LP these days, both inside and outside the party. Bob Barr has repeatedly shown the lie of his claim to being anything even approaching a libertarian. Even since the election – as he openly supported the confirmation of Eric Holder of all people.

    Comment by Shamgar — March 12, 2009 @ 8:29 am
  19. Sorry “both inside and outside the beltway” not the party.

    Comment by Shamgar — March 12, 2009 @ 8:30 am
  20. The problem is your only allowed to vote for one. When that is true you are made to narrow your view and become myopic. Until we change our election system to a ranked or yes/no on each candidate we will continue to close ranks about our narrow interests and fractionalize.

    As hard as it is to get into the presidential debates that is only 1/10th the impediment of getting past the spoiler effect of one vote for one candidate.

    Why shouldn’t we be allowed to vote yes for each candidate we could get behind and no for the other Son’s or Bitches. That way we would eliminate the Barr vs Paul bull shit.

    Comment by Norm — March 12, 2009 @ 9:05 am
  21. Stephen,

    Happened to stumble upon this in my pokings around the libertarian blogosphere, and I couldn’t agree more. There are a couple other sites that have expressed the same sentiment recently; you should try to get in touch with them and start a “Liberty Over Dogma” group or something. I’d be all about that. Here are the ones I remember off the top of my head:

    http://fr33agents.com/toward-a-non-crazy-libertarianism/
    http://www.meltingpotproject.com/mpp/youre-a-libertarian-youve-just-never-been-told.html

    Think I’ll continue my poking around here a bit more….

    Comment by Kyle — March 12, 2009 @ 1:03 pm
  22. …annnnnnd now I just saw that you actually WRITE at Fr33 Agents (I don’t pay too much attention to the individual writers on the sites I visit).

    If you feel like frying an egg on my face anytime over the next few minutes, feel free.

    Comment by Kyle — March 12, 2009 @ 1:12 pm
  23. I think you have to agree with Ron’s two main positions in order to say you are a Ron Paul supporter. The first is noninterventionist foreign policy and the other is eventual elimination of the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve position derives from Ron’s study of the Austrian economists, Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek who blame central banks for causing instability in market economies. Also see “The Case Against the Fed” by Murray Rothbard. Currently Ron feels that elimination of the Fed would be too disruptive at this time, but is calling for an audit of the Fed. Anyone who is paying attention would have to acknowlege that the Feds behavior has been problematic. The Fed’s balace sheet has expanded by about 1.5 trillion dollars in the past year. Many economists believe thaat Alan Greespan’s Fed was one of the main causes of the currrent crisis by allowing excessive credit expansion over the past decade.

    Comment by James Hill — March 12, 2009 @ 5:33 pm
  24. I was, and still am, a Ron Paul supporter. I became a state delegate to run for a national delegate seat simply to lodge my “protest” vote.

    While I support and respect Dr. Paul, I can also agree with you (and Dr. Paul himself, actually) that Ron Paul is not perfect. The message of libertarianism, however, is closer to perfection than any system I’ve ever read about. And Ron Paul was the most noteworthy spokesman for libertarianism I’ve seen in my lifetime. He even managed to be somewhat newsworthy, despite ridicule from the press and his colleagues.

    Of course, Congressman Paul also attracted a fringe element. Fringe elements tend to support champions of the freedom to live on the fringe. No surprise there. Some of these folks were pretty strident, but I figure freedom of speech means nothing if I only apply it to people whose speech I like and agree with.

    I agree that the campaign was not run at the same level as the Demopublican campaigns. Part of that was money, part was electoral and media bias, part was simply who each candidate hired for the job.

    I would still rather have taken my chances with Ron Paul’s potential executive shortcomings than the economic legacy President Obama is digging. I prefer imperfect libertarian capitalism to imperfect nannyist socialism; especially as we free-fall into what may be the biggest depression the United States has ever seen. But the world is as it is, and guessing at alternate future forecasts is as unprovable as guessing at alternate histories.

    Also, calling for control of, and even dismantling the Federal Reserve System is not nearly as radical as it might sound. Past presidents have overseen the abolition of central banks more than once in the past, with pretty positive results.

    In the end, I had to support an even-less-perfect presidential candidate in Barr, and support local libertarians with a hope to eventually see more in Congress.

    I’ll continue to support the kind of liberty the American founders attempted to codify in the U. S. Constitution and the rule of law they attempted to establish. The same liberty that is routinely trampled by politicians who break the oath they first utter upon taking office when they opt for the rule of man instead.

    At this point, I bear little ill will towards any libertarians who didn’t find Ron Paul sufficient to garner their votes, and even those who decided to dispassionately report on his flaws. I did not always feel this way, so I’d agree about the timing of this post.

    I will still never visit the website that has the word Red followed by the word State ever again. While I’m sure many regular posters there were only responding to the most confrontational Paul supporters, several chose to lower themselves to the level of their opponents, thus becoming indistinguishable from them.

    I still read and respond at The Liberty Papers because liberty (no matter what its proponents choose to call themselves) is still very important to me, and I enjoy literate, articulate views on current events which are informed by that perspective of liberty.

    Comment by Akston — March 12, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

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