Third parties galore in The New Yorker

In the most recent issue of The New Yorker magazine, Ralph Nader, Bob Barr, Michael Bloomberg, and even Chuck Baldwin get mentions. And they are all mentioned in a somewhat lamentable manner.

Nader and New York’s independent mayor Michael Bloomberg are discussed in a short article in the “Talk of the Town” section. It begins with Nader’s much-publicized rally on Wall Street. Nader’s rally is tied into Bloomberg’s musings of a presidential run and his effort at getting rid of voter-approved mayorial term limits. And all of this is tied together through the corrupting influence of terms limits, which leads author Ben McGrath to conclude,

Back at Cooper Union, the theme of the week was reinforced when one of Nader’s deputies took the stage and offered a signed, fortieth-anniversary edition of “Unsafe at Any Speed” to the first audience member willing to pledge the maximum amount of twenty-three hundred dollars, on the spot, to the campaign. “You can put it on a credit card and pay it off over time,” he said, eliciting laughter. “Is there one person able and willing to be a hero tonight?” Finally, a hand went up near the front, to great applause. Then the would-be donor, a man in a beige sports coat, stood and morphed into a meddling tycoon. “One caveat,” he said. “I would like to be able to speak with Mr. Nader for a moment or two and ask him a couple of questions.”

“We can do that,” came the reply, and money married influence.

Barr, however, gets a feature article, all of seven pages long, entitled “The Third Man.” It looks at Barr’s career as a Republican, his childhood spent around the world, his conversion to libertarianism, and his effort at winning the presidency. It is a great insight into the man, and there a lot of things mentioned in the article familiar to the libertarian grassroots, but rarely talked about outside of them, such as the Free State Project, the petition to kick Barr off of the Libertarian Party’s ticket, the scandal caused after the Ron Paul press conference, and Paul’s subsequent endorsement of Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin. A few interesting excerpts:

For many people, including skeptical libertarians, Barr still has the reputation of a partisan, but his self-imposed exile from the Republican Party is representative of a broader disaffection among conservatives who did not immediately rally behind McCain. Republicans in the mold of Barry Goldwater, who believe in small government, minimal constraints on the free market, and expansive civil liberties, have become profoundly uneasy about the direction of the country under President Bush, who has presided over the largest increase in federal spending since the Great Society, raised the national debt to more than ten trillion dollars, suspended habeas corpus for enemy combatants, and recently proposed the seven-hundred-billion-dollar bailout of Wall Street. David Boaz, the executive vice-president of the Cato Institute, and David Kirby, the executive director of America’s Future Foundation, have argued that, because of such policies, the libertarian vote, which for decades has been solidly Republican, “may be the next great swing vote.” According to surveys, as much as a fifth of American voters hold libertarian values, and in recent years more than seventy per cent of them have voted as Republicans. But Boaz and Kirby noticed that in the 2004 Presidential election only fifty-nine per cent of them voted for Bush, and between the midterm elections of 2002 and 2006 three million of them drifted away from the Republican Party—a shift that Boaz and Kirby argue “may well have cost Republicans control of Congress.” In this year’s Republican primaries, Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas and a longtime libertarian, earned more than twenty per cent of the vote in Idaho, Washington, Montana, and North Dakota. “His supporters are the equivalent of crabgrass,” Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist, told Time. “It’s not the grass you want, and it spreads faster than the real stuff.” In August, Newt Gingrich warned that if McCain chose as his running mate Senator Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, Barr would win fifteen per cent of the vote.

For Barr, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent expansion of executive power under President Bush, were a political turning point. “I went through Reagan National after 9/11, and saw guardsmen with automatic weapons,” he told me. “It dawned on me that we’ve entered a whole new world. It may have made other passengers feel more secure, but it made me feel dramatically less free. Freedom is a lot more important than security. You can never buy freedom through security.” Barr reluctantly voted for the Patriot Act; he says it’s among his greatest regrets, and privacy issues are central to his campaign. “When the government can invade the information in your bank account, when the government can listen in to your telephone and e-mail conversations, simply because they think it is necessary to protect us from terrorists, or whoever, they are undercutting the very basis of our free civilization,” he says….

Barr has been pursuing a different course. “What I have been trying to do in recent years is to get the Libertarian Party to think of itself as a political party that operates in the real world,” he told me. “If you present to the American people a program that says, ‘Elect us and we will radically change everything you know about the political system as soon as we get into office,’ then people aren’t going to vote for you.” In 2006, Nolan told me, the Party had a “civil war” over its platform, most of which was subsequently dropped. The following year, the Party’s dues-paying membership grew by twenty-eight per cent…

The family’s experience in Iraq established a pattern. As an expatriate, Barr enjoyed unusual personal freedom, but often against a backdrop of tyranny or political upheaval. He was detached from American society as well as from the culture around him. In Panama, where his father briefly took a job, the family one night attempted to have dinner in the American-controlled Canal Zone, but were turned away because their car had a Panama license plate. (“Even though we were U.S. citizens, and this was considered U.S. territory, we were second-class citizens,” Barr told me.) Before Panama, Barr’s family lived in Peru, where, as a teen-ager, he learned Spanish. He went to parties, drank, and smoked. A friend of his recalled, “Really, there were no rules, and we didn’t like rules, and the few rules that there were we really didn’t follow.” On expeditions into the Amazon, Barr fished for piranhas, and hunted alligators at night. “You would take a .22 rifle and creep along the riverbank with a flashlight,” he told me. “The light would catch their eyes, and you would see these two glowing points of red, and you would shoot for that.” Barr learned to adapt. “You make friends quickly,” he told me. “But you don’t become too attached, because you know you’re not going to be with them for that long.” His hobby was astronomy—the single geographic constant in his life at the time was the sky.

And, perhaps most significantly, David Sedaris admits to writing in Jerry Brown in the 1976 election.

24 thoughts on “Third parties galore in The New Yorker

  1. AnthonyD

    I thought it was a pretty even-handed piece on Barr. Lamentable ? Perhaps. But such is the existence of 3rd party politics.

    It almost goes without saying that the only other candidate for the L.P. nomination that could have conceivable gotten the same coverage would have been Gravel, who certainly was less libertarian than Barr, no matter where you put Barr on the Nolan Chart.

  2. Ross Levin Post author

    Even though I still wish Gravel had gotten the nomination, he probably wasn’t a good fit for the LP. I still think he should have run for a more local office, but that’s just not what the man wanted. When I asked him about it, he said he had had enough of the Congress for one lifetime.

  3. Andy Craig

    Say what you want about Barr’s libertarianism, at least he *understands* the libertarian argument against several of his positions. Gravel was completely flabbergasted (and angry and defensive) when any one questioned how exactly his belief in gov’t-provided healthcare, or explicit advocacy of majority rule as the proper governing principle, meshed with the LP. It’s not just that he disagreed with libertarian critics, he honestly didn’t seem to understand where they were coming from. He at best had only a passing familiarity with what “libertarianism” as a coherent philosophy actually consists of. Someone just pointed out to him how his (commendable) left-liberal civil libertarianism overlapped with Ron Paul, and near as I can tell from anything he said that’s all the thought he put into it.

    Sometimes people get treated like kooks because the media doesn’t like what they have to say, and sometimes people get treated like kooks because they simply are. Gravel is the latter- an angry, bitter, argumentative old kook.

  4. darolew

    Gravel, a kook? Nonsense. The man is a hero, especially for how he put an end to the draft in the 1970s.

    He might be old, angry, and bitter; he might be too closed-minded to really get libertarianism;–still, he’s no kook.

  5. Ted

    The Free State Project is a pretty cool idea. I’d like to see it seriously discussed more often in libertarian circles. Seems to have a lot of potential.

  6. Ross Levin Post author

    Again, myth? And popular? Please elaborate, Spence.

    I think Gravel does understand a lot of what libertarianism is all about, but just doesn’t fall in lock-step with the LP. But that’s not a reason to call him a kook (actually, it might be a reason NOT to call him a kook).

    As I understand it, an important tenet of libertarianism is the right to self-determination of the people. Since Gravel is not an anarchist, he believes the best way to do that is through citizen participation in government. And also, he is very liberal when it comes to civil rights. That would give you the “freedom to be who you are,” (his words) or the freedom to do what you want. That is, self-determination.

    And regardless of whether he conforms to your personal orthodoxy or not, he has done more to further libertarian causes in his lifetime than most, if not all, members of the LP. He (did) filibuster the draft, he released the Pentagon Papers, he stopped nuclear testing in the North Pacific, and he helped significantly in stopping the government from building nuclear plants, among other things.

  7. Spence

    Yes, Paulie and Ross. A myth.

    “myth – noun – a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, esp. one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.”

    example: The attribution that Gravel was some super-powered statesman that singlehandedly killed the Draft, something largely spread by Gravel himself, is not true.

    Gravel did make the effort, for which I give him credit, but both times he tried to filibuster an end, the senate Armed Services committee voted cloture to shut him up.

    If you have any official government source that cites him as ending the draft in your possession, or any at least secondary source (a person in Congress at the time), I’ll gladly see your evidence. I’ll give you the Pentagon papers and nuclear tests cause those are true, however.

    Secondly: While there is no doubt that Gravel is more leftist than many of us “libertarians” would like, he’s also not a clear statist or euro-socialist like Kucinich, which many perceive him to be. I think he could be a tremendous asset to the LP in the future.

  8. Andy Craig

    I’m not talking about my “personal orthodoxy”, I’m talking about his apparent total inability to even provide a coherent answer to any libertarian (or other) criticisms of his many big-government positions except to get angry and start accusing people.

    For example:

    “Well, what if the minority doesn’t want to pay for someone else’s health care?”

    “Go to another country”

    His answers in interviews showed more than just a disagreement with some aspects of libertarianism, they seemed to strongly imply that he was actually outright ignorant of what those aspects were. Not once did I see him actually try to explain *why* libertarians, coming at the issue from a libertarian perspective, should support government-provided healthcare or national direct democracy.

  9. Ross Levin Post author

    Only if he wants to be an asset to the LP, which I highly doubt.

    Gravel was the only Senator to filibuster it, and his 5 month filibuster was a significant factor in ending it, even if it wasn’t the only reason it ended.

    That’s just being nit-picky.

  10. Andy Craig

    Spence:”I think he could be a tremendous asset to the LP in the future.”

    His interest in the LP died the second he didn’t win the nomination. He’s been floating around in some GP circles since then handing out a few endorsements, getting his attention wherever he can find it, but I don’t recall any involvement he’s had since his campaign ended in any LP- or even small-l libertarian- event.

  11. Andy Craig

    And Milton Friedman did a lot more than Mike Gravel to end the draft, and was much more of a libertarian to boot. Yet if he showed up on the floor of the LNC he’d likely get stoned for heresy.

  12. Spence

    I have no problem with “Gravel’s efforts helped momentum in ending the draft.”

    I do have a problem with the blind, idolizing: “Gravel ended the draft. He did, he did!!!!!!!!!!”

    Not being nitpicky at all. However, I could start, if you would like. 😉

  13. paulie cannoli

    I’ve always read that his efforts to filibuster the draft did play an important role.

    I don’t think anyone ever claimed he ended it single handedly.

  14. Andy Craig

    Ross Levin- fair enough, he’s endorsed one NI4D-supporting Libertarian candidate. As for John Murphy, someone who opposes free trade, opposes lower taxes, and advocates a “universal single-payer healthcare” system, and government-provided college for everyone is not really the kind of candidate I’d be citing to boost any one’s libertarian credentials. I could kinda see how local LPers might support him given the lack of an LP candidate, but he’s still no libertarian unless you only count the “socially liberal” part. Also, he has a bizzare obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which is “by far the most detailed and exhaustive page on [his] website”.

  15. Ross Levin Post author

    He’s still endorsed by the local LP, though. That’s why I mentioned him.

    And how many other Libertarians have asked for his endorsement? How many LPers have worked to make him party of the party? I doubt that many have.

  16. Andy Craig


    I imagine LPers haven’t asked for his endorsement because they know it’s not really worthy anything.

    I don’t want to come off as saying Gravel should be ostracized or anything. Even as a die-hard radical Rothbardian myself, I agree the LP should be the vehicle for a broad libertarian coalition. At the same time, though, I think the LP proper should only support candidates who- however moderate/gradualist they may be- advocate a broadly libertarian platform, rooted in a belief in all-around (i.e., “personal/social” and “economic”) freedom. I don’t think Gravel fits in that category- he comes at the issues from a totally different perspective and just happens to overlap with libertarianism on some issues. He’s also diametrically opposed to libertarianism on many issues. The key point, I think, is that Gravel is incapable of pushing a libertarian message in such a way that any one attracted by his message would also be interested in the broader libertarian movement, given that on numerous issues important to Gravel he takes an explicitly anti-libertarian stance. He wants to push his own message, which is fine, but it’s not educating any one about libertarianism.

  17. Ross Levin Post author

    I actually agree with most of what you said. Like I said earlier, Gravel understands the goal of putting the fate of the people into their own hands, he just thinks that citizen involvement in government would be a more effective way to go about that than radically reducing the size of government. And that’s fine, really. He doesn’t conform to any one ideology, and libertarianism is no exception.

    That’s why I said I didn’t think he was a good fit for the LP.

  18. Trent Hill

    LPers should make the neccesary effort to recruit Gravel and keep him around–even if just for rhetorical skills.

    Skeptic: Why would I join the LP? They have had no success ever!

    LPer: Well, actually we’ve elected a number of state legislators in the past, and amongst our current members are Rep. Bob Barr, Sen. Mike Gravel, and …etc etc.

    It makes for a pretty powerful statement, trust me. I used to use the same thing for the CP using various people like Gov. Evan Meachem, Sen. Bob Smith, and Rep. Bob Dornan (Not that I endorsed those men’s views totally, but that allowed me to make another point–we were a broad coalition of conservative).

  19. Trent Hill

    And for those who are curious, those aren’t the only men who are registered CP or who have consider themselves members. Which is why it is surprising that the CP has never fielded a high level candidate–likely because of poor fundraising,which translates to poor vote totals.

  20. paulie cannoli

    Good point.

    I also favor keeping Gravel and those who think like him, Murphy, etc., in the LP as a counterbalance to those coming in from the right who are not solid on peace and civil liberties issues.

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