An Evening With The Charles Town Libertarians

IMG_0349On Monday, June 6th, a group of Libertarians planned to gather in Charles Town, West Virginia, for a social meeting.  Although I’ve read about a lot of Libertarian meetings in various parts of the state, they were always very far from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, places such as Charleston (about 240 miles) or Parkersburg (about 220 miles).  Therefore, when I heard that they were meeting in the panhandle, only about 90 miles away, I thought this gathering might be the best and only opportunity to meet some like-minded folks from our neighbors to the north and west.  However, the name West Virginia can be somewhat misleading as Jefferson County, the easternmost county in West Virginia is actually east of the Shenandoah Valley.

About a dozen people attended.  With the exception of the three candidates, the group lived in various places in Jefferson County, with one or two hailing from the neighboring Berkley County.  At the same time, the Charles Town City Council held a meeting to discuss a new anti-discrimination policy and one or two folks at the Libertarian gathering stepped out to listen to the proceedings.  As mentioned, the three candidates were: David Moran, the Libertarian candidate for Governor of West Virginia, John Buckley, the Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State, and Brenton Ricketts, who is running for state auditor.  Unlike Virginia, which only elects three statewide office holders in the year after the presidential election, West Virginians vote on six in presidential years, and the Libertarian Party has a candidate for each position.

While there I learned more about how West Virginia politics and elections differ from Virginia.  Given that Virginia has a very high threshold for official party recognition of 10% of the statewide vote, we only have two political parties.  West Virginia, with a threshold of only 1% has four.  Along with the Republicans and Democrats, they also have the Libertarians and the Mountain Party (which is an affiliate of the Green Party).  Another interesting fact is that although Virginia has more than eight times as many residents, both states have the same number of members in their House of Delegates at 100, and West Virginia has only six fewer state senators than Virginia.  There are several Libertarians running for state office this year and one candidate for House of Representatives too.  In addition, West Virginia has voter registration by party, but again voters can choose from any of the four parties or register as an independent.  Apparently, the West Virginia Libertarian Party has seen a swell in registration in recent months.

During the evening, I spoke with a former Republican as well as a leader of a local Young Republican group who attended the gathering.  I told them about the loyalty oaths that the Virginia Republican Party makes their members sign and the penalties enacted upon those who broke party ranks (for example, if they voted in another party’s primary).  Both seemed to think that these kinds of restrictions and demands from the RPV were completely absurd.

In addition, as John Buckley led the West Virginia delegation at the recent national Libertarian Convention in Orlando, it was fun to hear his thoughts of the event and his opinions of the candidates who ran too.  And, by the end of the night, I picked up two new Facebook friends.

With the general dissatisfaction with Republican candidate Donald Trump and the Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton, will the Libertarian Party experience an upswell in interest and votes?  Will disaffected conservatives and Bernie supporters buck the two major political parties by supporting someone like Gary Johnson, or will they obediently fall in line, casting their vote for whomever they decide is the less evil option?

Overall, it was a good event in Charles Town on Monday night.  I hope I can attend another gathering before too long.

Why Not Vote Libertarian?

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Joshua Huffman with 2012 Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson at the 2016 Virginia Libertarian Convention

VC Note:  On April 2nd, the Daily News Record (my local paper) published an opinion piece from Mr. Allen Clague III entitled “Be Careful in Voting Libertarian”.  In the article, Mr. Clague attempts to dissuade citizens from voting for Libertarian candidates by using some flimsy or just plain wrong reasons, such as the party and her candidates are secretly well funded by billionaires and their shadow groups.  After reading it, I felt it required a response.  Here is what I wrote which appeared in the April 16th edition of the paper.  The paper created the title for this piece.

 

After reading Mr. Allen Clague III’s open forum piece from April 2nd called “Be Careful in Voting Libertarian”, I thought it needed both some factual clarifications and a rebuttal.

First, I do not know of many people who would call Ted Cruz “a libertarian cloaked as a Republican.”  For example, his desire to see “if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out” presumably due to the use of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, coupled with his support for religious profiling of Muslims in America and his calls for the government to force Apple to unlock their iPhone are all decidedly unlibertarian positions.  And these are just a few examples.

Furthermore, as Republican Representative Justin Amash (MI-3) wrote in his endorsement of Ted Cruz, “Ted is not a libertarian and doesn’t claim to be.”  Therefore, I believe it is an error to associate Ted Cruz as a standard-bearer or even a foot soldier in the libertarian movement.

Second, I’ve never heard of a group called Citizens for Prosperity.  There was a group called Citizens for a Sound Economy, but it split in 2004 to create Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. Although some people claim that Americans for Prosperity is a front for the Libertarian Party, in my experiences I have never seen them promote a single Libertarian candidate or official but have witnessed them helping Republican candidates and officeholders.

Now, to be fair to Mr. Clague, perhaps he didn’t write the headline associated with his piece.  After all, I have found that when I write for the Daily News Record my titles often change.   However, I agree that one should always be careful in voting, regardless of which candidate or political party you choose to support.  Unfortunately some voters don’t take the time to learn about their choices, instead blindly assuming that a party’s candidate follows a certain set of principles, which often is untrue.

Sure, there are some people who like to throw out the names of political bogeymen.  If you are on the left, the Koch brothers are evil masterminds bent on world control or if you are on the right, it is George Soros pulling the puppet strings of others.   Although it makes for an interesting story, each side assumes that these men wield an unbelievable amount of power and control over our political process.  It is easy to say that we have no say in what happens.  However, if you don’t like the way your city or county government is run then it is up to each of us to make a change.  Do you think your state or federal government representatives are corrupt?  Then mount a challenge to vote them out of office.  It’s really that simple.  If that means voting for a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or independent candidate, have at it.  Don’t toe a party line again and again simply because you’ve always voted that way.

What is Libertarianism if it isn’t a scheme to make the Koch brothers and their allies rich?  Well, unlike some other political philosophies, my understanding is that libertarianism advocates a very limited government, one that protects life, liberty, and property, while doing little else.  I do not believe that one should use the power of the government to take from our neighbors to enrich either our friends or ourselves.

Friends, don’t be scared away from voting for the best person in each election regardless of political affiliation.  Despite what some people may say, sometimes voting for Libertarians is the best option.  It certainly beats the lesser of two evils!  And, if you think that some secretive, well-funded group controls the Libertarian Party, I have some disappointing news for you.  After all, if they were, don’t you think we would have seen some extremely well funded Libertarian campaigns by now?  I’ve been involved in politics since I was a student at Harrisonburg High School in the mid to late 90s.  As soon as I get my first check from the Koch brothers the readers of the DNR will be the first to know!

Finding a Political Home

RLC LPThe “On this Day” feature of Facebook is rather amazing, isn’t it?  Today, it reminded me of an event that took place two years ago, my removal from the board of directors of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia.  This action was taken in response to my employment with the 2013 Robert Sarvis for Governor campaign.  Although I fought against my expulsion, at first, as I strongly believed in the mission of the RLC to promote liberty within the ranks of the Republican Party, I did understand where they were coming from and thus did not contest the matter further.

When I posted my piece on Facebook, the Treasurer of the Libertarian Party of Virginia told me that it was “time for you to come home.”  I assumed it was an invitation to join the LP.  In some ways it was a rather curious message.  After all, at that point I was not a member of the Libertarian Party nor had I ever been.  Like many folks that promote liberty and reducing the size and scope of government, the Republican Party was the only political home that I had ever known.  But that home would soon be destroyed.  Little did I know that less than five months later, in early 2014, I would be kicked out of the Harrisonburg Republican Party, a group I had volunteered countless hours with since the age of 15.  I discovered that being without a political home sort of sucks and, as such, a month or two later I ended up joining the Libertarian Party.  Although I ran for office that fall, I did so as an independent for a variety of reason beyond the scope of this article.

Unfortunately, the liberty movement is divided and without a unified home.  Many of us reside within the Republican Party, others in the Libertarian Party, a few with the Democrats, and some that have taken another path or given up on politics entirely.  Even worse, we spend so much of our time fighting each other that often the push for liberty is lost.  Libertarians think Republicans are sell-outs, Republicans declare that the Libertarian Party is a waste of time, and neither group spends much time thinking about the handful of us who are Democrats.

What can we do?  The answer to this situation is illusive.

Being in the Republican fold these days means that my fellow liberty activists are often compelled or even forced into supporting candidates who stand in stark contrast to their principles.  Some of my brothers and sisters in the GOP have told me that they despise the Republican Party and her candidates, but they feel that they have no other option.  I’m sure that many of us profoundly wish that the Republican Party held true to their principles and actually supported liberty and limited government.  Now, there certainly is a segment who do hold to these values, but they are a minority.

Conversely, the Libertarian Party is quite small and faces enormously unfair hurdles in areas such as ballot and debate access.  There are many stories of the LP being bullied by the Republican establishment, presumably done in order to keep the liberty-wing of the Republican Party from switching sides.  The Libertarian Party is plagued by division and a lack of resources.  Like any political party, there are a variety of ideological disagreements among members.  In addition, they have a bit of an image problem; for the longest time I viewed them as little more than immoral, pot-smoking, hedonists.  As for the Democrats…well, I don’t really know what to say about them.

The simple fact is that every political ideology requires a home, a party which promotes its interests.  The liberty movement is divided and is a diaspora.  It needs a major political party to steadfastly promote its principles.  Although they bash each other in public, behind closed doors I have heard conversations from both RLC members and Libertarians who agree on almost every major point.  So, the question remains.  What can we do to find a common political home for the liberty movement, one that both wields significant political influence and one that doesn’t routinely betray the cause?

Will the Real Libertarians Please Stand Up?

A guest post by James Curtis.

This article appeared the October issue of Virginia Liberty, the LPVA newsletter.  It has been reposted here with permission.

One of the results of the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election has been to demarcate a clear divide between libertarian Republicans and Libertarians. For this discussion, “libertarian Republicans” are defined as members or supporters of the Republican Party and/or its candidates who self-identify as “libertarian” in philosophy. (“Big L”) “Libertarians” are defined here as philosophical libertarians who are members or supporters of the Libertarian Party and/or its candidates.

While there has been talk of “litmus tests” and the measure of one’s “libertarianism,” these discussions have detracted from the real separation between the two groups. One division between the groups seems to be a tolerance, or even acceptance, of bigotry by libertarian Republicans. By any definition of the word, Ken Cuccinelli has demonstrated his belief that homosexuals do not have the same rights as heterosexuals. Examples of such can easily be found through any internet search. These are not just words on his part, either. Cuccinelli has a track record of letting his prejudice affect his performance in public office. Two glaring examples are his support for the Constitutional amendment prohibiting the Commonwealth from recognizing “same sex marriages” and his recent efforts to reinstitute anti-sodomy legislation.

Many libertarian Republicans dismiss or discount these and other efforts and comments. Some have suggested that Cuccinelli would be the “most libertarian” governor in recent Virginia history. They point to such efforts as the lawsuit filed against the federal government in regard to some aspects of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and his general touting of using Amendment X (US Constitution) as a means to thwart other federal abuses of authority. While these efforts may be laudable, they do not adequately demonstrate that Cuccinelli is “libertarian,” especially given his record on social issues. And this is not to suggest that all social conservatives are bigots. While words such as “bigot” or “racist” sometimes get used too freely, there is no denial that such sentiment exists, and has adversely affected Republican policy positions.

Many Libertarians point out that the philosophy is not just an economic model, nor one that values “states’ rights” to the point where the States may tread on civil liberties in areas where the federal government is prohibited. Libertarianism encompasses economic, personal, and even moral aspects of personal liberty that cannot be separated from the others. In these regards, bigotry is simply unacceptable. Ron Paul, the definitive libertarian Republican, dismisses allegations of racism by pointing out it is a form of collectivism that ignores individuality. While this is true, and Paul calls for more liberty with a focus on individuality, he seems to stop short of calling out the immorality of such comments and actions. The true Libertarian challenges the moral failings of bigotry, and challenges those who defend, dismiss, or downplay such sentiments to reexamine their respect for libertarian philosophy. In short, Libertarians reject bigotry, whether involved in public policy or not.

Another division between the groups was the unawareness of, dismissal of, or even hostility towards the “libertarian left” by libertarian Republicans. Many downplayed, or even attacked, Robert Sarvis’ focus on “social issues” during his campaign. Others twisted his responses to economics questions to argue that he was not libertarian at all (or not as much as Cuccinelli). Those arguments on economic issues have been well analyzed elsewhere. The suggestions that Sarvis was a “social liberal,” or that his focus on such issues somehow demonstrated he was not really libertarian, pointed out the failings of many libertarian Republicans. As alluded to above, such arguments place too much emphasis on financial matters at the expense of personal civil liberties. And as some of the vitriol showed, many libertarian Republicans do not apply the libertarian philosophy consistently, by downplaying or dismissing the importance of social issues to many voters, Libertarian or other.

Many Libertarians came to libertarianism through a focus on civil liberties. Subsets of libertarianism such as left-libertarianism or libertarian socialism exist and attract many newcomers to the libertarian movement. Groups such as “LGBT Libertarians” and “Libertarian Democrats” also help spread the libertarian philosophy with a focus on social issues. And we have to acknowledge that just as there are libertarians who choose to work within the Republican Party, there are some who choose to work within the Democratic Party, often citing similar “pragmatic” arguments for doing so. Many Virginians who voted for Sarvis were independents who were at least equally attracted to his positions on social issues as on economic issues.

The most obvious division between libertarian Republicans and Libertarians is the division over which political party to support. Good faith arguments can be made for either approach as the best tactic for promoting libertarianism to Virginians. But, as these other divides may suggest, neither “side” should expect the other to abandon its chosen path.

But I challenge libertarian Republicans to consider these points. Are you really comfortable ignoring, or even defending, the prejudices of some of your Republican colleagues? If not, you either need to work harder to drive such intolerance out of the Party, or quit supporting such an un-libertarian organization. Do you believe enough Libertarians, including the libertarian left, can be persuaded to come and work within the Republican Party to reform it? Even if some voters can be convinced a reformed Republican Party is actually a libertarian party, the Republican “brand” may have been too damaged for many Libertarians to comfortably take up its mantle, or for many independent voters to support its candidates.

For these and other reasons, the Libertarian Party is the best vehicle through which to promote libertarianism and libertarian candidates for office. While there is much divergence of thought within libertarianism (a phenomenon that is dismissed or downplayed by our political opponents or others who wish to demonize our efforts), the philosophy does not allow for the social conservatism that Republicans accommodate nor the economic redistribution that many Democrats call for. The results in this election, coupled with polling data that shows growing numbers of Americans who agree with our positions on so many issues, suggests that the time is ripe for Libertarians to abandon their efforts in other political parties, and for others to get involved in partisan politics, so that we can become a more effective political force.

James Curtis serves as the Treasurer of the LPVA and has been part of their activities since 1996.  He is a Marine Corps veteran and holds two degrees from the University of Virginia.

Liberty’s Frost

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.”  So begins Robert Frost’s immortal poem and so too the liberty movement in Virginia now faces two or more roads.  Nowhere can this divide be seen more clearly than in the 2013 race for governor where many liberty activists supported Republican Ken Cuccinelli and others rallied behind Libertarian Robert Sarvis.  As attacks mounted, each side grew to despise the other.

The question now becomes what should be done?  Many people declared that the Republican ticket of Cuccinelli, Jackson, and Obenshain was the most liberty-minded statewide slate of candidates Virginia had ever seen.  However, Cuccinelli and Jackson both fell in defeat and Obenshain is a few votes behind Herring; at this point, that contest and the recount to likely follow isn’t terribly promising.

On the Libertarian side of things, although Robert Sarvis performed leaps and bounds better than Gary Johnson’s presidential run in 2012 or Bill Redpath’s 2001 gubernatorial race, he was unable to reach the 10% mark, which would have given tremendous legitimacy to the Libertarian party and awarded them official status within the two major parties in the state.

Some of my fellow liberty activists remain firmly committed within the Republican camp, arguing that taking over the GOP is the only realistic hope for liberty.  However, there are grumblings within the establishment of that party, whether fairly or not, using 2012 as an example of what happens when the party drifts too far from the center.  Although perhaps mere rumors, there is talk of expelling the tea party and the liberty movement from their ranks.  And, given the proclivity of some Republicans to pass massive tax increases and meddle too much into personal affairs, an increasing number of libertarians see the GOP as a major part of the problem.

Others declare the Libertarian Party to be the path of the future for liberty.  However, given the party did not achieve its 10% goal, it still faces significant hurdles both electorally and, just as important, the wasted vote syndrome embedded within the minds of scores of Virginia citizens.  The party is still quite small and underfunded, thus the challenges are enormous.  And some of their positions are unpalatable to liberty-minded social conservatives.

As you likely know, during this election cycle I looked at the choices and was…“sorry I could not travel both”; ultimately taking “the one less traveled by”.

Like I stated as the campaign cycle began to take a particularly nasty tone, one of my greatest concerns was the rift in the liberty faction.  The Republican wing considered the Libertarian to be fools, wasting their time on a candidate and cause that clearly could not win, while the Libertarian wing thought the Republicans to be sell-outs, supporting candidates who did not really adhere to the message of liberty.

Regardless of which party you believe is the best vehicle for advancing liberty (or if you choose no party at all), the liberty movement needs to heal, respect each other, and come together in some fashion if we wish it to advance.  My advice to all sides is to reach across the partisan divide and search out like-minded Republicans, Libertarians, and even Democrats (yes, they do they exist.  However, they were troubled by Cuccinelli’s supposedly radical social agenda.)  At least that’s what I’m trying to accomplish.  At the end of the day, it is my great hope that we can say, “and that has made all the difference.”

Misguided Malagisi

On Friday, Washington Examiner and President of the Young Conservatives Coalition Christopher Malagisi wrote an article concerning Ron Paul’s and Gary Johnson’s recent participation in the South Carolina’s Republican Presidential Debate.  I encourage you to read his piece for yourself.  To follow is my commentary on it.

As you can tell from the title of my work, I believe that Malagisi’s conclusions are just flat out wrong.  He starts out claiming that the Republican Party is a three-legged stool, a merging of libertarians, traditionalists, and anti-communists.  Unfortunately, in this article, we are left with only inadequate assumptions of what he means by these terms.  However, if we look to one of his earlier posts, we find that he lists them as “1.) Classical Liberals – who believe in a limited government, individual liberty, and free markets; 2.) Traditionalists – who believe in preserving our traditional values and heritage; and 3.) Anti-Communists – who believe in a strong national defense.”   Although I would shy away from using the phrase “anti-communist” because I think it is outdated and has little real significance since the collapse of the Soviet Union, I believe he is spot on regarding this fusion of political ideologies within the party.

After this one salient point, Malagisi’s work devolves into fairly mindless bashing of Paul and Johnson for embracing this libertarian or “classical liberal” wing.  He claims that both men are more suited to be Democrats rather than Republicans because they don’t support the war on terror or imposed moral standards coming out of Washington D.C.  Doesn’t it seem strange that Malagisi admits there are three legs of the party, while at the same time seeking to saw off one entirely?  Although this news may come as a shock to those who lack either common sense or a basic understanding of physics, but this two-legged stool that Malagisi seems to be advocating cannot stand.

But Joshua, Chris implies that Ron Paul doesn’t want to defend our country.  Oh really?  Is it possible that one can be in favor of a robust defense while at the same time opposing undeclared wars, imperialism, and nation building?  If he is so “anti-national defense”, why did Paul receive more donations than any other candidate during the Republican nomination process in 2007-08, including former military veteran John McCain?

OK, I guess, but what about his claim that Ron Paul wants to erode our social values through destroying traditional marriage and legalizing heroin. Wrong again.  What Ron Paul has consistently advocated is taking power away from politicians and bureaucrats in the nation’s capital and returning this power to the states.  Just because we want the federal government to do one thing or another, doesn’t that desire allow us to circumvent the Constitution?  After all, are we not a nation of laws?

Let’s look at the question in another light.  To use Virginia as an example, who has defended our Judeo-Christian values better, D.C. or Richmond?  Which has produced greater restrictions on abortion?  Which has enshrined the traditional definition of marriage in its constitution?  Under federalism, conservative states, like Virginia, can offer their citizens a more upright society, while more liberal states, like Nevada or Vermont, provide outlets for sins of the flesh.  Is your state too liberal or conservative?  The proper remedy is to lobby your elected officials in your state capitol or move to a state more suited to your point of view rather than ram your social values, or lack thereof, down the throats of every citizen of the U.S. of A.

Those points aside, Malagisi then goes on to discuss the three most recent Republican nominees for President as “proper Republicans”.  But were they?  I maintain that Bob Dole and John McCain lost, not because they weren’t Republican enough (whatever that supposedly means), but because they could not appeal to all three kinds of Republicans.  Specifically, they were neither conservative nor libertarian enough.  As Malagisi points out, one of the reasons Bush won was that he advocated “a non-nation building approach”, an idea that resonated with most Republicans, like Paul and Johnson, who were weary of the multitude of Clintonesque adventures.  Then again, we saw how long Bush held true to these ideals.

Both Paul and Johnson are a welcome change to the current Republican politicians as usual who advocate a blend of fiscal irresponsibility, moral pandering absent any real commitment for meaningful legislation, wars without end, and the shredding of our Constitution.  Now, I will admit that Johnson is too libertarian for my tastes, after all, I am a social conservative.  However, with the recent debate as a guide, I would support him over Rick Santorum.  Although Santorum and I agree on many social issues, his statements in the debate lead me to fear that he would support an agenda more akin to fascism than liberty.

Despite what you may think from this post and others populating this blog, I am not a libertarian.  However, as a constitutional or paleo-conservative, I see libertarians as allies as we both seek to rein in the power of the federal government.  We can and do disagree on a number of social issues, like abortion and defending our borders, but the party should welcome these folks to counterbalance the Republicans who abandon any notion of limiting the power of government while Republicans reign.  After all, as the government continues to grow unabated, the greater fear is not having too much liberty, but having too little.  Still not convinced?  Remember that the idol of modern Republicanism, former President Ronald Reagan once said that, “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism”.  If we punt Paul and Johnson off the team, we lose those whom Malagisi himself calls the first leg of Republicanism and, like in 1996 and 2008, the stool will collapse.

As Ron Paul’s viewpoints increase in popularity, it comes as no surprise that folks like Malagisi bash him as being a Democrat, even though such claims lack any merit.  Once you get beyond the surface, how many Democrats support reining in the power of the federal government, fiscal responsibility, a noninterventionist foreign policy, and states’ rights?  Can you name even one who embraces these platforms?  I maintain that unlike “mainstream” candidates, Ron Paul is a blend of all three legs of the Republican Party and should be treated likewise.  As I’ve explained above, shouldn’t Malagisi support Representative Paul given that the good doctor embodies Malagisi’s fundamental Republican principles of “individual freedom, limited government, free markets, a strong national defense, and preserving our traditional values and heritage”?

I would wager that either Malagisi is woefully ignorant of Paul and the conservative movement (unlikely) or he is a neoconservative who longs for the return to big government Republicanism.  Either way, I encourage my fellow traditional conservatives and libertarians to steer clear of his poisonous rhetoric.  Although he is welcome to his opinions, given his current political position, I fear how many other potential allies will become unknowingly tainted by his misguided and baseless words.

Update:  Fellow Jeffersoniad blogger Rick Sincere offers his take on Malagisi’s article here.