On March 21 I wrote to Ernest Hancock and Wayne Root:
As a contributor for Independent Political Report, I’m writing to the two of you because in Austin you emerged as the front-runners in the race for Libertarian National Committee Chair. I’ve prepared for each of you a separate set of ten tough but fair questions that should give each of you an opportunity to address some of the issues raised by your respective candidacies for Chair.
Here are my questions for Root and his answers:
1. Un-GOP. You once wrote a book called “Millionaire Republican”. Why should libertarian-leaning Republicans follow your example of giving up on the GOP?
I believe I describe it best in my book Conscience of a Libertarian.
[p.41] Today’s Republican leaders have moved away from the limited-government ideals of my heroes Thomas Jefferson, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan. When it comes to issues like abortion, gay rights, stem cell funding, right to die, online poker, medical marijuana, and censorship of television, the GOP is actually in favor of Big Brother moving into our bedrooms, taking over our televisions and computers, and taking control of our lives.
And when it comes to economic issues, the GOP often talks a good libertarian game, but rarely if ever delivers. Once in power they spend and increase the size of government just like Democrats- only perhaps a little slower. But either way, we are going off a cliff. How soon we get there is not relevant. We need to stop the car and turnaround.
[p.58] Only one party allows voters to be both conservative on economic issues and tolerant on personal issues. Only one party allows voters to rebel against Big Brother in all areas of our lives. Only one party stands for both economic and personal freedom. Only one party stands for personal responsibility and individuality. Only one party believes, as the Constitution clearly demands, that power belongs to the people, not to the politicians and career bureaucrats. That party is the Libertarian Party.
2. Re-GOP. Under what circumstances, if any, would you ever run for public office with a Republican nomination but without an LP nomination?
Sure, it might be interesting to attempt a Ron-Paul-style campaign within the Republican Party to advance liberty nationally. Afterall didn’t Ron Paul do more for freedom in his 2008 presidential campaign than with all his votes in Congress? But in the end, I don’t believe the Citizen Revolution can happen from within either of the two Big Brother parties. Libertarians need to replace the GOP, not reform it. The latest polls prove the time is ripe- a majority of Americans give more credibility to the Tea Party than to either the GOP or Democrats. And anywhere from 35% to 60% of voters in various polls want a third party Presidential choice in 2012. The window of opportunity is here and now for the LP.
3. Metrics. You’ve said that your latest plan is to not seek the LP presidential nomination for 2012 because the LP isn’t ready. Are there any concrete metrics that you would use to decide when the LP is ready?
If the Citizen Revolution really catches fire in the 2012 cycle, and the LP is unified and organized enough to lead it and leverage it, then we could see LP voter registration and sustaining membership increase dramatically, and 50-state ballot access would be within reach. That would be one way to know that the LP is ready for the kind of presidential race I want the LP to run. More likely is that I can lead this party to minor victories on the local and state level, and major improvements in a variety of metrics: fundraising, candidate training, media appearances, brand recognition, ballot access, excitement from college students, etc. If I can help to achieve this kind of slow but steady success for the next 4 to 6 years, this might just provide the perfect window of opportunity for me to run as President in 2016. Until then, I’m thrilled and focused on being the CEO.
4. 2012. If you are elected Chair and the LP makes more progress than you anticipated, do you promise to resign as Chair as soon as you decide to seek the 2012 nomination?
I’d IMMEDIATELY announce that I’m taking a leave of absence. Obviously it is a conflict of interest to do both.
5. Reagan. You have occasionally described yourself as a “Reagan Libertarian” and praise Reagan for cutting marginal tax rates from 70% to 28%. Libertarians know that a tax cut without an equal spending cut is not so much a tax cut as a shift of the tax burden to other people. Can you cite anything (else) libertarian about Reagan’s record (as opposed to his rhetoric)?
I disagree with the premise that a tax cut is merely a shift of the tax burden to other people. The government uses additional tax revenues to support larger bond issues. If the government increases revenues by raising marginal tax rates, they would run an even bigger deficit because prospective bondholders would be more willing to extend credit to the federal government. See the financial disaster in Greece as Exhibit A.
There are many things about Reagan that we as Libertarians should celebrate.
First, Reagan proved that a Presidential candidate can talk like a Libertarian…campaign like a Libertarian…present Libertarian ideas to American voters…and win the White House (in 2 landslides) over big government proponents. I think that bodes well for the right Libertarian Presidential candidate someday.
Second, Reagan said he was going to dramatically cut marginal tax rates and he did. We should give politicians credit when they do what they said they were going to do. More importantly, since Libertarians believe that our money is our property, how can we not celebrate Reagan for dramatically lowering tax rates for every level of taxpayer? Reagan’s cuts were especially beneficial to small businessmen (like me)- the result was this tax cut unleashed the greatest period of job growth and prosperity in the history of civilization. Why would any Libertarian not celebrate that?
Whenever you allow someone to keep more of his or her own money, you give them more than just money. You give them opportunity and freedom. You give them the opportunity to invest and take risks with that money…which can lead to wealth and financial freedom. When the government raises taxes it takes away freedom. It robs us of opportunity. Higher taxes destroy our quality of life and damage opportunities to pursue happiness and enjoy the American Dream. Higher taxes not only punishes the rich, it kills motivation, destroys jobs, and limits opportunity for the poor and middle class to improve their lives. I therefore believe that raising taxes is immoral.
Other major accomplishments: Reagan cut Carter’s 14% inflation to under 4%. Again, by the definition of libertarianism, Reagan therefore protected the assets and property of citizens. He indexed tax brackets to inflation to eliminate bracket creep. He simplified the tax code and eliminated many tax shelters that were distorting investment decisions. In addition to eliminating the income tax for millions of low-income Americans, he cut the marginal corporate income tax from 48% to 34%. He fired unionized government employees when they violated their contract and went on strike. He solved Carter’s so-called energy crisis by ending oil price and allocation controls after just one week in office. He was the only president to ever successfully resist all increases in the federal minimum wage. He was the only president to ever make a benefit cut in the Social Security pyramid scheme, by extending the retirement age from 65 to 67. He appointed many constitutionalists to the federal judiciary. He deregulated ownership rules in the broadcasting industry and ended the Fairness Doctrine. He signed the INF treaty to eliminate destabilizing intermediate-range nuclear weapons from Europe. Perhaps most importantly, the Cold War was won without firing a shot.
Of course, Ronald Reagan was not perfect. No human being can be. Reagan campaigned as a libertarian. I wish he had governed more like one. I wish he had ended the IRS and the Department of Education. I wish he had dramatically cut the size of the federal government. I wish he had cut federal spending dollar for dollar (or more) with his dramatic tax cuts. But we should at least applaud a good start.
A recent nationwide poll demonstrates “Reagan” to be not only the most popular name in politics…but also the only positive brand name in all of American politics. In a cynical world, the name Reagan still brings a tear to the eyes and a smile to the lips of a majority of American voters. Polls prove that the American people love Ronald Reagan- the same voters we need to win over if we are to start winning elections and making a difference.
Are there differences between Reagan and libertarianism? Absolutely, but you can’t convince someone of our ideas until you are first able to start a conversation. Everyone in business knows it pays to associate with a popular brand. By embracing the term “Reagan Libertarian” we open the door to conversations with people who like the man. Polls prove that’s a majority of voters. Once the door is open, we are able to build a bridge that brings people from Reaganism to libertarianism.
The art of politics is finding ways to agree with people and work with them. It is to our disadvantage to ignore the good things that Reagan did. It’s our job to remind people that Reagan only started the battle. And we Libertarians are here to complete the job of reducing government, dramatically lowering taxes, and restoring freedom and opportunity in America.
6. Iran. On your blog you’ve described Israel as “our ally” and wrote that Iran is “threatening to join the nuclear club and wipe Israel off the world map”. In Conscience of a Libertarian (p.136) you mention Iran only to say a war with that nation is “brewing”. Other than an attack by the Iranian government against U.S. soil or citizens, under what specific circumstances, if any, would you not oppose an LNC press release endorsing U.S. military action against Iran?
If Iran sheltered or assisted terrorists who attacked U.S. soil or systematically targeted U.S. citizens, then I would support an LNC press release like the one of Oct. 2001. It expressed “cautious” support for a constitutionally-declared war on the Taliban that would “target the guilty, spare the innocent, and end as quickly as possible”, but “must not be allowed to turn into an endless, global war against numberless, shadowy targets”.
In the end, I’ve come to understand that wars, foreign aid, and military bases all over the globe are a big mistake. They are costly and eventually lead to the bankruptcy of a hopelessly over-stretched superpower. Wars are to be fought only as a last resort, and then only when we are directly threatened (and only with the approval of Congress and the American people). I am NOT a fan of “nation building” or “spreading Democracy.” I think both the wars we are currently fighting have proven those ideas to be failures and more importantly, unaffordable. Unlike most politicians, I listen to opposing viewpoints and I learn from mistakes. Making a mistake is a part of life, but not learning from it is a sin.
7. Drugs. In the 2008 campaign you said that the Drug War should be “reformed”, and that marijuana should be “decriminalized”. Your running mate Bob Barr said he “would not vote to legalize heroin and crack.” If you become LNC Chair, will the LPUS continue to issue press releases calling for the general “repeal of laws that criminalize the medicinal or recreational use of drugs”?
Yes, the LNC would continue to call for an end to the war on drugs. Once again, quoting Conscience of a Libertarian:
[p.225] Let’s admit that the war on drugs is a failure. If we can’t stop the flow of drugs into our prisons, how can we stop it on our streets?
[p.45] I’d prefer that no government (local, state or federal) limited the personal freedoms of consenting adults, but I am a realist. Incremental success on the state level, which can lead to full-fledged success on the national level, is preferable to no success at all. And even if the freedoms that are achieved at the state level are never implemented on the national level, it gives citizens a chance to live in the states that allow the most personal freedom that fits their lifestyle.
8. Marriage. In your book (p. 83) you say you “don’t want government defining marriage”, but you also say (p. 18) “we can solve [the gay marriage issue] on the state and local level without federal interference”. Do you agree with Ron Paul and Bob Barr that the federal government should, through the Defense of Marriage Act, exempt same-sex marriages from the default constitutional requirement that “full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state”? Or do you instead agree with the LP Platform that “sexual orientation and preference should have no discriminatory impact on the rights of individuals by government, such as in current marriage laws”, and so would have the LPUS issue more press releases demanding repeal of DOMA?
I think the answer is simple: Government should not even be in the business of “licensing marriage.” It is none of the government’s darn business in the first place. Marriage is between you, your religious institution and God. Government has no right to determine who can or cannot be married. That’s the answer. However that is not the case right now. Until it is the case, I’d support a States’ Rights resolution. Once again, I’d argue strongly that incremental success on the state level, which can lead to full-fledged success on the national level, is preferable to no success at all.
9. God. In your book (p. 74) you say that “electing public officials who are religious God-fearing and loving men and women is generally good for the United States because moral people are less likely to bring about a corrupt government”. Did you mean to suggest that people who don’t believe in any gods are more likely to be immoral or corrupt?
The paragraph you quote began: “Like most people, I am comforted by the idea of our electing public officials who are religious God-fearing …” As Ernest Hancock likes to say, I’m a libertarian because I’m a Christian. However, I of course understand that people can come to the core live-and-let-live principle of libertarian morality by a path other than belief in God. As long as the overwhelming majority of Americans are Christians, I don’t think that Christian libertarians should hide the torch of their morality under a basket, and not encourage other Christians to seek the same path. Studies prove that 95% or so of Americans believe in God. And a large majority of them are Christians. No election can be won by the LP without winning over these voters. I speak as a Jew turned evangelical Christian in a voice that reassures the large majority of voters that they can and should be comfortable with the LP. Once again, I would argue until we actually win elections and affect the political process, we are doing no favors for Libertarianism. My goal is to build coalitions with groups that can TOGETHER win us not only elections, but a seat at the table.
10. Change party’s name. Have you ever advocated changing the name of the Libertarian Party, such as to the “Tea Party”?
I’ve never advocated any such thing. There are major problems that arise with any name change. There would be huge ballot access challenges, if we were to ever attempt something like this. In California, for example, there is no legal mechanism for changing a party’s name, so we would have to start from scratch and register close to a 100,000 new voters with the new name just to qualify it for the ballot. Each state has its own ballot access laws and I don’t know what problems each would present, but I suspect there would be many. Upon initial thought, it’s not something I would want to even spend the time investigating. We need to change our image, not our name.