Aaron Russo's extremism in defense of liberty
[Editor's Note: Rational Review has offered all Libertarian Party presidential and vice-presidential candidates room to make their cases. So far, not many have, although several have indicated an intent to. Some may be waiting for "the last minute" -- and the last minute is here. The deadline for submitting campaign promo pieces is midnight, May 20th; all pieces received before deadline will run, in random order. None of these pieces should be construed as an endorsement by Rational Review or its editorial board. The following is a guest column from one of Rational Review's frequent contributors and is, likewise, his own opinion.]
I've wanted to write an endorsement of my favorite LP presidential candidate for a few months now. I've had trouble publishing such an endorsement on several web pages, because many editors steer away from anything too partisan, mostly due to the oppressive campaign finance laws that make it a crime for non-profit, tax-exempt political groups to endorse political candidates.
That's right. Here in America, land of the free, it is a crime for certain groups to say who they would like to see win the presidency.
These campaign finance laws were supposedly written for the purpose of combating political corruption. While Bush and Kerry get all the mainstream press coverage they could possible want, these laws make it harder for all of us non-Republicrats even to discuss openly who we would like to see in office.
Well, since I believe so much in the sanctity of the laws, I should probably refuse to endorse a candidate.
I mean, if I open my mouth and say whom I would support for president, I would be flouting the divine legislation, drafted by our omniscient elected leaders, written to protect us from our own published opinions.
But Rational Review has said it will publish endorsements, and I don't think the campaign finance laws really apply here anyway, and so I will say whom I think the Libertarian Party should nominate as its presidential candidate to stand up on its behalf and speak out against the campaign finance laws and all the other unconstitutional laws passed over the last hundred years in an apparent conspiracy to turn America into a fascist dictatorship.
There are several considerations in choosing the best Libertarian nominee. They have to do with the overlapping criteria of issues, principles, presentation, and viability.
The three major LP presidential candidates -- Aaron Russo, Michael Badnarik, and Gary Nolan -- all come with pluses and minuses, concerning these criteria.
First, on the matter of viability, as a Hollywood producer Aaron Russo has the best media and fundraising connections, followed by radio host Gary Nolan and teacher Michael Badnarik. If this were the only way in which Russo came out ahead, I wouldn't support him, but it's not.
As far as principle is concerned, all three candidates seem basically libertarian, with various hang-ups and deviations from what I would consider pure, unadulterated, perfect, refined, 100% libertarianism.
Michael Badnarik, whom I have had the delightful pleasure to meet and talk with on the phone, disagrees with me on issues of punishment theory, and seems to believe that it is more accurate to call welfare theft than to call taxation theft. I have other tiny disagreements with him, but I have to say that he's probably, strictly speaking, the most libertarian of the three. His campaign has brought a much-needed focus on philosophy to the contest, and his wisdom and passion have inspired libertarians everywhere he has traveled.
Aaron Russo has kind of a paleo-libertarian flavor to his politics, and therefore has what my friend Michael Edelstein calls a "time-table libertarian" approach to immigration: He believes the welfare state must end before the borders can be opened. I, on the other hand, think that opening the borders would be the best possible way to bring the welfare state down. Aaron also seems to favor a small sales tax over an income tax, whereas I have some different opinions I won't get into right now.
Gary Nolan is very libertarian, except on one issue, which I consider to be the most important one. On foreign policy, Nolan makes a lot of astute observations, and yet he supported the slaughter in Afghanistan. Now, I know a lot of libertarians don't care about Afghanistan, or don't know what to think about it, but when the U.S. government lies America into unjust war after unjust war, never achieving its promised goals and always killing thousands of innocents, I see no reason to give it a free pass on Afghanistan.
It's not only Nolan's advocacy of that war -- it's the way that he affirms it that bothers me. He says such collectivist and ridiculous things as, "All's fair in love and war." He shrugs off the "collateral damage" in Afghanistan by saying that the terrorists do not observe the Geneva Convention, so we do not need to either.
Great standard. If the terrorists kill innocents, the U.S. government can too.
This brings me to issues and presentation. Aaron Russo takes the Rothbardian approach of focusing on foreign policy. His main issues are the war, the potential draft, and the Patriot Act. He also has come out strongly against gun control, the Federal Reserve, and the income tax, but he has wisely chosen to hone in on what is the crucial issue of the day, the War on Terrorism, which has been fueling the largest expansion of government since Vietnam and the Great Society.
Michael Badnarik's biggest issue is probably gun rights, and his main strategy seems to be to teach the philosophical and constitutional case for liberty. I agree with him in principle on almost everything he says, but I think Aaron probably has the edge in putting libertarian ideas into sound bytes -- without watering down the principles -- which is what we need these days, considering the average attention span we are working with.
Gary Nolan likes to talk about politics optimistically. He likes to voice the libertarian message in a way that sounds like liberty can be purchased in time-shares. I think there is a good place for this approach, and if Nolan's radio show were syndicated in my town, I'd probably listen. But America is facing its worst crises in many years, and the Libertarian Party needs a representative who recognizes this.
Libertarians have argued for a long time that other libertarians are too pessimistic and that they focus too much on the evils of government, when instead they should play up the benefits of liberty.
I see it differently. The Libertarian Party has for years had candidates who have tried to "sell" liberty, and who have tried to tell Americans why their lives would be better with deregulated energy providers and privately owned National Parks.
Libertarians need to continue presenting these arguments. But we also need to be candid to Americans about the terrible direction in which our country is heading.
My friend Joe Henchman, with whom I had the pleasure to work for several years at U.C. Berkeley in the Cal Libertarians, has endorsed Gary Nolan, saying:
"The success of the Libertarian Party in 2004 requires us to have an eloquent and professional communicator who can express the message of liberty to the American public. Important in this is reaching out to moderate and undecided voters without scaring them or leaving the impression that our party is 'extremist.' Gary Nolan knows his Libertarian principles, and can express them in a way that will win moderate votes."
I don't see it that way. There are two kinds of "moderate" or "undecided" voters. The first kind can't choose between Bush and Kerry, and has bought into the media hype that the two Republicrats have major differences between them. This kind of "moderate" may be unhappy with certain aspects of Bush's and Kerry's platforms, but does not want to throw his or her vote away, or rock the boat. In spite of what LP activists have been saying for years, libertarians do not represent some sort of middle-ground alternative, half-conservative and half-liberal. The type of voter who will be swayed by centrist arguments and rhetoric will not vote Libertarian. The Democrats and Republicans fight aggressively over the political center. That's what they do. This is why Bush has pushed through so many insane welfare programs and why Kerry brags about serving in Vietnam. The Democrats and Republicans own the center, and the moderates who inhabit it are not our best targets for recruitment, conversion, or even for votes.
The other kind of "undecided" voter is a potential Libertarian voter. These people may consider themselves disenchanted conservatives or alienated leftists. They may be inclined to vote for the lesser of evils because they hate one of the candidates more than the other, but they are not happy with the direction America is heading. In fact, most of them are downright frightened. This is the undecided pool of voters we need to attract. They are the ones who do not consider themselves halfway between Republicans and Democrats. They are the ones who vote for a major party candidate, and then have trouble looking at themselves in the mirror the next morning. Or they don't vote at all.
I believe there are way more of them than it might seem.
Most Americans are afraid. They deal with their fear by watching American Idol and by going to the mall. But they realize as much as we do that there is something fundamentally wrong with what's happening in America. They understand on a visceral, subliminal level that something is wrong when John Kerry and George Bush seem to have been manufactured in the same Skull and Bones factory. Most Americans do not like seeing the killing in the news, the Gestapo in the airport, and the Soviet-like deductions in their paychecks.
They already know there's something sick about medical marijuana facilities being shut down by armed police.
They're already convinced that the Patriot Act doesn't make them safer.
They already can feel that, as time goes by, they worker harder and their salaries increase but the value of the dollar declines.
They already agree that American police should not assault war protesters with wooden bullets and concussion grenades.
Most of them don't like seeing Martha Stewart imprisoned, Tommy Chong jailed, and Howard Stern kicked off the air by the FCC -- all while the real criminals get promotions, commendations, and cushy, tax-funded pensions.
Most voters are old enough to remember the draft, or young enough to fall victim to it, and few of them want to see it rear its ugly head again.
The American people are scared. The Libertarian Party needs to stand up with them and say its scared too. The party needs to stop talking about repealing seatbelt laws at least long enough to give proportional attention to the illegal detentions, the unprovoked wars, and the total obliteration of the Bill of Rights that we're seeing today.
The Libertarian Party needs to get Americans' attention, not simply by promising to make their lives better the way every other party in the history of the world has done, but by displaying solidarity with the millions of Americans who do think their country is becoming a police state and don't like it one bit. Once we have their attention, we can talk to them about fluoridation in water and privatizing the Post Office, after we have shown that the libertarians have been afraid all along of what most Americans are now coming around to fear.
Aaron Russo is the right man for the job to make Americans realize that libertarians have always been on their side, and that we are the only political movement concerned with the central issue facing the United States. It's not John Kerry's Vietnam war medals or George Bush's National Guard truancy or even Janet Jackson's naked breast. The main issue is the possible death of America as we know it, and the growth of an authoritarian empire in its place.
This might sound very extreme, but, as the last half-decent Republican presidential candidate said, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice."
Indeed, for libertarians, extremism in defense of liberty is our best strategy, and moderation if defense of justice our greatest vulnerability.
Now is not the time to "sell" liberty. Americans have been buying into the promises of politicians for decades. Now is not the time to tell Americans what we think they want to hear, but rather what they need to hear. These are not bright times for our country, and we shouldn't pretend they are. We need a candidate who doesn't sound like a politician, and who will come across as an average, and yet intelligent, American -- not one who tries to make libertarianism sound like an infomercial.
Aaron Russo is willing to say to the people what they absolutely need to hear. I hope the delegates in Atlanta recognize this and make the decision I endorse on this website and would on and several others, if it weren't for those campaign finance laws that have helped to make real freedom of speech as much a thing of the past as so many other liberties that Americans took for granted only a generation ago.
Maybe, just maybe, if Aaron Russo wins the nomination and has his chance to speak in front of the American people, the next generation of Americans will live in peace, and will flagrantly take their liberties for granted the way so many of us have most our lives.
Wouldn't that be beautiful?
Anthony Gregory is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor's degree in American history at U.C. Berkeley, where he was president for the Cal Libertarians for two years. He has written for numerous online publications. Visit his website -- www.AnthonyGregory.com �- for more articles and personal information.