Eye on the Empire
by Alan Bock
Antiwar.com

September 13, 2000

A Libertarian Alternative for Voters

Given Justin Raimondoís enthusiasm for Pitchfork Pat, perhaps it is mildly out of line on this site. Still, this Web site has always been open to antiwar views from all sides of the spectrum, wheel or whatever metaphor one chooses to represent the variety of political inclinations.

So it might not be out of line to suggest that for those seeking a radical realignment in American foreign policy and inclined to participate in the quadrennial circus, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne is a viable choice.

Further, if one is impressed by choices organized around a reasonably cohesive set of principles embraced by almost all members of a party rather than the personal views of a single person – although admittedly an experienced and even modestly mediagenic person with a not inconsequential personal following – a vote for Harry or for whatever Libertarian is running for office in your own bailiwick might do more to signal discontent with current policies than a vote for any other minor-party candidates.

STRANGE COVERAGE CHOICES

To be sure, Harry Browne did not get an impressive number of votes when he was the LPís candidate in 1996, nor does he show impressively in the polls today. In part, however, that is because most of the polls donít offer Browne as a choice (the Rassmussen folks provide an honorable exception and news accounts seldom mention Browne.

This is understandable at one level. Ralph Nader on the Green side and Pat Buchanan of the now-apparently-government-subsidized Reform Party are figures of more national stature (or notoriety) than Harry Browne.

On the other hand, the Libertarian Party will almost certainly be on the ballot in all 50 states (though the rebellious Arizona LP seems to have made science fiction writer L. Neil Smith the presidential candidate who will be on the ballot rather than Harry Browne) and will run significant numbers of candidates for Congress and for local offices. As a party with not only a certain ideological coherence but a degree of in-depth local organization, the Libertarians are well ahead of both the Green Party and the Reform Party let alone the Natural Law levitators.

Furthermore, in the Rassmussen polls, Harry Browne has been holding his own with Pat Buchanan – mostly a few tenths of a percentage point behind but actually pulling a tad ahead during the week of the July 4 LP national convention.

A THEORETICAL CONGRESSIONAL MAJORITY

As a September 11 story in the Washington Times noted, this year the Libertarian Party will be running enough candidates for Congress at least 218 as of today, maybe one or two more by November to have at least a theoretical chance of taking a majority in Congress. Itís not going to happen, of course Libertarian candidates are typically thrilled to get 5 percent of the vote. But LP candidates are on the ballot in 60 of the 80 congressional races considered closest by establishment political experts.

The LP candidates just might be the deciding factor in a few of these races.

As Sean Scully of the Washington Times put it, this achievement is literally historic. "The last time a third party fielded so many candidates," he writes, "was 1920, when the Socialist Party was a presence in more than half the races. Ö Although the Socialists never gained national power, they managed to inject some important ideas – welfare programs and union rights, Mr. Crickenberger [Ron Crickenberger, LP candidate in Virginiaís 8th CD] said. Those ideas have since become mainstream."

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Mr. Scully also notes that "there are cases in which Libertarians have clearly made a difference. Perhaps most famously, Libertarian Michael Cloud denied Republican John Ensign a seat in the U.S. Senate, guaranteeing re-election of Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, in one of the most closely watched races of 1998.

"Mr. Cloud managed to get a dismal 8,044 votes, or about 1.8 percent of the vote. But the race between Mr. Reid and Mr. Ensign was decided by an astounding 428 votes, or less than a tenth of 1 percent." Mr. Ensign is running again for an open Senate seat in Nevada this year, and according to Scully he is stressing his affinity with libertarian ideas and his independent spirit. So maybe a major-party candidate is being affected by a libertarian showing.

DISAPPOINTING SO FAR

Considering all this, then, it is at least passing strange that Harry Browne and the Libertarian Party are not getting as much ink – let alone electronic media coverage – as other minor-party candidates. By any reasonably objective criteria – ballot status, lower-office candidates, even polling data -- Browne should be mentioned every time the newsies discuss minor-party candidates. Yet the typical approach, on the few occasions the major and even the minor media can pull themselves away from the earth-shattering question of whether Dubya is sending subliminal RATS messages or Gore pre-planned the clinch with Tipper, is to mention Nader and Buchanan as alternatives.

As mentioned, most of the polls donít give respondents a chance to answer "Browne" when they pose presidential-preference questions. Years ago, political analyst Dave Nolan, now a California resident who founded the LP in his Colorado living room back in 1971, opined that the LP would start to be taken seriously when it polls vote totals in excess of the margin of error in typical national polls usually 3 to 5 percent. So in some senses the lack of attention is understandable.

And the Libertarian Party, like most minor parties, especially those organized around a set of principles rather than a charismatic individual, has hardly been averse to shooting itself in the foot. For various reasons, numerous LP members are less than happy with Harry Browne, for reasons ranging from concern about ideological purity to minor financial scandals, and wonít be working diligently for him this year.

THE PATH NOT TAKEN

In addition, Harry has not chosen a course many LP activists had urged on him: making the War on Drugs – and as an ancillary but hardly minor issue the disastrous incursion into the Colombian civil war – the centerpiece of his campaign. A considerable constituency supports some form of drug-law reform. Medical marijuana initiatives in states typically get more than 60 percent majorities and about a third of Americans favor repealing marijuana prohibition. Thatís a potential base of a lot more than 0.5 percent, who will not be hearing any dissent from the major-party candidates, from which to try to pull votes.

Now Ralph Nader has not only endorsed allowing American farmers to grow hemp (the marijuana plant grown for food, fiber, oil and building materials rather than for psychoactive buds) and gotten coverage on C-SPAN. He recently said that, like Republican Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, heís for legalizing marijuana and undertaking a serious reconsideration of national policy on other illicit drugs.

Those are positions Harry Browne could endorse – heís been forthrightly in favor of ending the War on Drugs entirely for years – but Nader may have stolen a march on him. Because of Naderís prominence and coverage pretty pathetic compared to Bore and Gush but oceanic compared to Browne Browne might look like a johnny-come-lately on the drug issue if he ever pushes into something like national prominence. That would be unjust, but in politics perceptions are usually more important than reality.

INTO THE DEBATES?

The likelihood that the powers that be will allow any of the minor-party candidates into the national presidential debates that receive widespread coverage and huge viewership is still pathetically low. Even though the addition of a Buchanan, a Nader and a Browne would spice up what could be a terminally boring presentation and possibly attract additional viewers, the establishment prefers to see these already marginal candidates even more thoroughly marginalized.

If a forum can be found where minor-party candidates appear on the same stage with the Demopublicans, however, there would be no excuse for not including Harry Browne. The party organization behind him is clearly more cohesive and organized than either the Green or the Reform organizations.

Unfortunately, most discussions of more inclusive debates still ignore Harry Browne and the Libertarian Party.

Whether this is because the establishment recognizes that the Libertarians pose a fundamental threat to the overly politicized way of life in America or whether it is simply laziness and neglect I do not know. But I do know that if Harry Browne is included he will appear to many to be the only adult on camera and his vote total will increase more than any other candidateís.

A CLOSE ONE

All this discussion may be academic. The pollsters are now forecasting a very close Democrat-Republican contest, and in presidential contests perceived to be nip-and-tuck minor parties typically pull fewer votes than in races where one candidate seems to be the clear winner early on.

Iíll leave it to others whether voting for a minor-party candidate of sticking to the Tweedle-Dumb and Tweedle-Dumber two-party choice constitutes "wasting your vote." Whatever the truth, the vast majority of Americans consider voting for a third-party candidate a wasted or ineffectual vote, and theyíre not likely to change before November.

A PRINCIPLED NON-INTERVENTIONIST POSITION

For those willing to use their votes on a minor-party candidate and are mainly concerned about the lack of differences among the major-party candidates on foreign policy, however, Harry Browne is at least as interesting a choice as Pat Buchanan. On his Web site he identifies a new foreign policy as one of the most important issues.

"Bring the troops home from overseas," he proclaims, "where they breed anti-American resentment – and quit relying on our overwhelming national offense, create a secure national defense, withdraw from all international organizations and mutual-defense treaties, and allow other countries to manage their own affairs."

That brief outline is fleshed out in fairly considerable detail (for a political candidate) in the sections on defense and foreign policy. "Today the Cold War is over," he writes, "but our political leaders seem determined to lose the peace.

"There is no Soviet Union now, but our government still acts as though we were in danger of imminent attack. You are paying for the defense of Europe a group of nations with as many people and as much wealth as we have. You are paying for a military designed to fight two wars simultaneously.

"Most of the world is at peace, but our politicians and diplomats are searching the globe looking for any excuse possible to get us involved in other peoplesí squabbles.

"Why? Because, as Randolph Bourne put it, war is the health of the state. Constant dangers mean more power and money for politicians and government and less freedom and prosperity for you."

WHICH VOTE IS WASTED?

With all due respect (meaning Pat has unquestionably been courageous and politically useful), Harry Browneís non-interventionist stance on foreign policy is more firmly rooted in principle and of longer standing than Pat Buchananís. It reflects an overall attitude toward the free society that Harry Browne sums up this way:

"The other presidential candidates want the burning issue of this election to be: Who is best qualified to lead the nation?

"I want the issue to be: How quickly can we restore all the liberty youíve lost to arrogant politicians?"

It might be Quixotic to make such a question the centerpiece of your campaign. But itís a constructive kind of Quixoticism.

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