Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It's Libertarian Thursday!

I warned you. I’m a man of my word, at least when it doesn’t cost me anything.

This is NOT a primer on Libertarianism. It is, instead, the story of how (and why) I became involved with the party, and we'll get to that in a minute. However, as background for those of you wholly unfamiliar with the Libertarian Party, I will put into one somewhat succinct sentence the essence of the political philosophy.

Every human being should be free to do whatever he or she pleases, so long as what he or she does, does not harm anyone else - and so long as he or she is willing to accept the consequences of his or her actions.

That's a fairly simple philosophy and I have yet to find anyone that disagrees with it upon first presentation. Deep down in their bones, just about every American agrees with that sentiment. However, once we start getting into particulars, that's where people sometimes peel off. There are any number of pet peeves, that people have with others, that they wish the government to control. However, as soon as you grant the government power to control someone else's life, you are simultaneously granting them control over your life. If you want total freedom (within the bounds of the previously mentioned 'no harm to anyone else') then you have to be willing to allow others that same freedom and responsibility.

However, as I said, this is not a primer, so I'll take the philosophical train of thought no further. If you wish to go to the next station on your own, then see FAQ concerning Libertarianism, or these articles on a variety of topics, written by Two-Time Libertarian Presidential Candidate Harry Browne. In addition, you may enjoy going to The World's Smallest Political Quiz, where you can find out quickly whether or not you are a Libertarian.


For the historians among you, a brief overview of LP history, and then on to my involvement.

The party was founded in 1971, by people disenchanted with both major parties. They felt that the only answer was a strong third party. They ran their first candidate for president (Dr. John Hospers, of USC) in 1972. For the trivia buffs among you, the first woman to ever receive an electoral vote was Dr. Hospers’ running mate, Tonie Nathan. One of the electors pledged to Nixon and Agnew – in another instance of how the electoral college is where the real power resides, by the way – defected and voted for Hospers/Nathan.

1980 was the high water mark for a national race, with Ed Clark garnering almost one million votes, accounting for better than 1% of the popular total. He was the first candidate for president, other than a Democrat or Republican, to appear on 50 state ballots. Clark polled as high as 11% in one state.

I won’t bore you with endless details of lost races or overblown recounting of glorious victories. The Libertarians are, by most standards, easily the third-largest political party in America. They have elected to offices as high as state representative in three states (New Hampshire, Vermont, Alaska) and have put more candidates on ballots than any other political organization outside of the major two. They are the only party outside of the Ds and Rs to field a full slate of congressional candidates in any election year; that is, one that, if all were elected, would have constituted a majority in congress. There are currently some 600+ elective offices held by Libertarians in the United States, more than all other third parties combined.

More history is available here.


Now, as for myself...

I was born a Libertarian. I didn’t realize it until I was 18 or so, though, as my parents were both (for the most part) good Democrats and so they raised me as though I were one. They naturally assumed that I was one of that breed, God bless them. However, I had one thing in my life that they didn’t have in theirs, and this one thing is what made me realize my true political calling. I smoked dope.

Now, let’s understand what I just said. I smoked dope; that is, marijuana. Otherwise known as grass, weed, reefer, wacky tobacky, and (in government pamphlets only, as I never actually heard any sane human call it this) Mary Jane. When I say that this made me realize that I was a Libertarian, I don’t mean to say that I had some sort of smoke-induced epiphany, nor do I mean that I became so addled from drug abuse that I fell in with some cult. No, what happened was that, due to smoking dope during a time when the smoking of dope was often considered an overtly revolutionary action, I became aware of the politics associated with drug usage.

I smoked my first joint at age 15. It was common in my neighborhood. Everybody I hung with, and that is to say every teenager within three blocks of my home, smoked dope. It was no big deal to us. We quickly realized that smoking dope left you with no hangover (unlike booze), left you in fair control of your actions (unlike booze), tended to make you contemplative and serene (unlike booze), and could result in you getting locked away for many years if you were caught with it (unlike booze).

The realization that just having a weed in your pocket could result in hard time with murderers, rapists, and thieves was a defining moment for most of us. And, for many of us, it meant that we gave up on politics. Some of us, however, explored the possibility that there might be a politician or two who might see the insanity of the nation’s drug policy. For some who thought that there might be a fight worth fighting, the search only went as far as the Democratic Party. They reasoned that this was the liberal party – the party of the people, as opposed to the party of the rich and uptight – and that they would surely move the nation towards a reasonable drug policy.

These people were well intended, but surely misguided. The drug laws in this country weren’t just put into place by the Republicans, after all. Congress at this time had a Democratic majority, and if they had really been the party to change this absurdity they could have done so. Those few of us who realized this explored further. That’s when I found the Libertarians.

In 1976, I was eligible to vote in a presidential election for the first time, having turned 18 the previous year. I had one big question concerning every candidate. I read all of their literature and listened to every speech I could. My question was, “Will you work to completely legalize marijuana?” The only one who unequivocally said, “Yes”, was Roger MacBride of the Libertarian Party. The only party that said, “Yes”, as a whole, was the Libertarians. Everybody else either wanted to throw my ass in jail for smoking a weed or they hemmed and hawed like the cowardly bullshit artists that they were, which meant the same thing to my ass.

In those days prior to internet access, you had to really dig to find some answers. The major media was then as it is now – restricted to that information which they deem useful, meaning that anything not yet of interest to a large number of people isn’t going to make the papers or the evening newscast. So, how did I find out about the Libertarians? I was handed a pamphlet in the subway.

I read the pamphlet and discovered that I agreed with just about everything these people said. They didn’t have to sell me; I was already sold. I just hadn’t known where to buy before now.

You see, aside from my dope smoking, I had really paid attention in civics class. I had swallowed whole everything that I was taught concerning the Bill Of Rights and The Revolutionary War and all of the other righteous things this country was built upon. I only wanted my politicians to uphold what was already the foundation of my country. However, the only people I found who were willing to do so, 100% of the time, were the Libertarians.

(I have in my possession, by the way, letters from Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis and Jimmy Carter, all expressing their desire to decriminalize marijuana usage. They really came through on that deal, huh? It’s not like I didn’t give the Democrats a chance.)

Anyway, in 1976 MacBride of the Libertarians was on the ballot in 31 states, receiving some 175,000 votes. I cast one of those votes. And I’ve never voted for a winning presidential candidate since then, either.

Dope, however, is still illegal. And there are thousands of people rotting in prison because they did nothing more than possess the leaves of a tremendously benign plant. These people, who are no more dangerous to the general populace than you or I, are taking up space in federal facilities at the cost of millions upon millions of your tax dollars. And the federal government is spending millions and millions more, every day, trying to catch more of them (us) and fill up some more cells, making lovely bunk buddies for the murderers, rapists, child molesters and others who deserve to be behind bars. And, outside of the rarely exceptional individual here and there, the Democrats and Republicans are no more likely to truly try to address this problem than they were in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The Libertarians are still the only political party that unflinchingly endorses the freedom of the individual to carry a weed in his or her pocket. So, I am still a Libertarian. Please understand something – if you have smoked dope, do smoke dope, or have a family member or friend who smokes dope, you or they are only one bust away from becoming a statistic. The Libertarians are the only political party that is willing to consider the fact that you might be a human being who happens to like to get high once in a while, and not some ravening animal that deserves to be in a cage.

Someday, I’ll tell you about my run for state representative, but I expect that I’ve gone on long enough for now. Thanks for indulging me, and I'll see you tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Well there is something to be said for dope smokers..... they do not vote in numbers. If they did it would not be illegal! And that's all folks.

TimK said...

Good story, Jim. I myself have never smoked dope or used any illegal drug. But in 1995, I got fed up with the Republicans. As you may remember, this was the era of Newt Gringrich and the Contract with America. Some contract. I held up my end of the bargain. What happened to theirs?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The straw that broke the camel's back was the choice between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. Internet politics was in its infancy, but there was enough there for me to find a list of all the U.S. Presidential candidates. I looked at each of their web sites, until I got to Harry Browne's and clicked on the World's Smallest Political Quiz.

Cool. This was cool. There was no other word I could think of to describe it. And I scored in the "libertarian" quadrant. On the conservative side, true, but still definitely libertarian. I went to the bookstore and bought Harry's book Why Government Doesn't Work. I read it cover to cover. I loaned it to a friend. I never got it back.

Over the next years, I migrated further and further toward the libertarian corner of the Quiz, until I ended up there.

In The Leadership Challenge, one of the exercises recommended is to list all of your leaders, the people who have had a profound impact in your life, the people you would like to emulate, both public figures and personal acquaintances. Recently, while reading this book, I performed this exercise. Harry Browne was near the top of the list. Thanks, Harry.


JRH said...

I appreciate that introduction to the Libertarian philosophy. Thanks. It is useful as lately people have been trying to tell me I am a Libertarian. I still choose not to label myself, but I find your description an agreeable one. As you say, who can argue with everyone having their own liberty? I simply choose to remain without a label, as I find, invariably, they will limit. But I have no quarrel with these tenets as you propose them, and certainly find it preferable to the two ruling groups in politics today.

I would support a candidate who was libertarian. Hell, I would probably support a lot of candidates from various parties, if I could find an honest one.

I am "undeclared" party on my voting registration. But I like the sound of the Libertarians. They sound like a soulful bunch.

M said...

I dig Libertarians, but you also know how I feel about Howard Dean ;)

I totally agree on their drug policies ... their "arms" policies make me a bit nervous, though.