On May 14, Libertarian Party elder statesman Gary Greenberg spoke to the Manhattan LP meeting on the subject of why Libertarians lose elections and what we need to do to win.
While there were a few early victories at the national level, most elected Libertarians for the past forty years have won small local offices. Typically, their victories resulted more from being personally known in the jurisdiction rather than having sold Libertarian values. Mister Greenberg, a veteran campaigner and New York party leader himself, has come up with significant insight into how to move the Libertarian party forward.
Refreshingly, Greenberg did not waste time whining about lack of media coverage or campaign finance laws, hurdles that while real, are out of the party’s control. After forty years, he cites the LP’s biggest challenge: we have not established a coherent identity in the public mind. While some voters may think of us as “gun nuts” or anti-big-government, most Americans cannot state what the Libertarian party stands for. (Like me, Greenberg observes that the same is becoming true of the Republicans and Democrats as well.) Even when a Libertarian position aligns with mainstream voters, we are easily drowned out by the major party bullhorns.
While the Libertarian party is the most successful 3rd party in America, other parties such as the Greens and the Right to Life Party have eclipsed the LP in media attention and votes by creating a strong identity or organizing around a single issue.
Applying these observations and his own campaign experiences, Mister Greenberg says the way forward for the LP is to stake out territory that reflects libertarian values, but upon which the major parties dare not tread. While quick to say these are not the only possibilities, he came up with three compelling examples:
- “90/90”: A proposal that no more than 90% of public employees should make more than 90% of the wages for the same jobs in the private economy. Because of their dependence on public union votes and union benevolence in general, Democrats and Republicans would have to publicly reject this idea, but it has common sense appeal to voters. 90/90 expresses the LP’s value of limited government with a specific proposal that can be publicized all year every year, building an identity in the public mind.
- “All schools, all vouchers”: Again, school choice is popular with voters, but no Democrat or Republican candidate could take a view so threatening to the union/government oligarchy, so the LP will stand apart.
- Mister Greenberg’s third proposal was “Zero% Sales Tax”. Most people understand the cruel and regressive nature of the sales tax, but Democrats and Republicans would never support slashing a major funding source.
These positions share qualities of catchiness, coherence with political philosophy, and common sense appeal. Mister Greenberg believes that if the LP stresses a few clear and unique positions in a memorable way at year-round events as well as during elections, we will finally become the go-to party for the defense of individual rights our founders envisioned.
Conventional wisdom says a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote. The Free Agent posits that in New York this November, the only way your vote will count is if it’s cast for a third party candidate.
The Free Agent probably shouldn’t say this, spokesmodel that she is for the Manhattan Libertarian Party, but this November, New York will cast its 29 electoral votes for Mister Obama. The city of New York in particular absolutely adores him. Gothamites will pay forty thousand dollars just to watch the man chew groceries. The poor, immigrants, lower middle class, middle middle class, young people, old people, they not only love Mister Obama, but they are thoroughly conditioned to believe they are incapable of renting an apartment, seeing a doctor, or selecting a beverage without a politician’s guidance and a lawyer’s business card. Mister Obama will carry New York. If you vote for him, your vote is wasted.
If you don’t want Mister Obama to renew his lease on the Executive Mansion, you might be tempted to vote Republican, but a vote for Mister Romney says nothing. Are you demanding X% or X+10% growth in the defense budget? If you favor the repeal of Pee-Pee Ca-Ca, with no replacement, Mister Romney has promised he will replace it, presumably with the not-uncoincidentally named Romneycare. Do you want an end to federal attacks on legal marijuana producers? Would you have the USA Patriot Act repealed? Would you like to see business and state as separate as church and same? Your vote for Mister Romney communicates none of that. Your vote is wasted.
The Free Agent suggests New Yorkers choose one of two candidates whose votes will actually communicate your desires (if anyone bothers to count votes in New York, which they don’t always do). A vote for Socialist Party USA’s Stewart Alexander loudly proclaims Mister Obama has not been aggressive enough in demolishing the constitutional limits to federal power, while a vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson says you want the federal leviathan poked back into its constitutional cage.
You know The Free Agent will urge you to vote for Governor Gary Johnson, a candidate she has supported both with her limited resources and her shoe leather. A vote for Mister Johnson could not be more unequivocal—your vote says you demand an immediate end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (or did every single soldier return home by last Christmas as the current Commander-in-Chief promised?) as well as the devastating war the US has been fighting against its own citizens dubbed by Richard Nixon, the ‘War on Drugs’. Your vote will acknowledge that a third of the federal budget must be cut, and accept that many lives will be disrupted, but that living on borrowed money is passing unearned consumption of today onto non-consenting taxpayers of the future. Voting for Mister Johnson communicates that you jealously defend your rights and the rights of others, and want the natural consequence of those rights—peace and prosperity.
Still, The Free Agent would rather you vote for the Socialist than either of the major party candidates. If what you want to say is that all humans are part of one collective, that we should all reap the same rewards regardless of our ability to pay for them, if you favor “putting workers and consumers in control of the economy” and—to be fair—repealing the USA Patriot Act—if you consider Mister Obama a traitor to the march of history for failing to create a political health-care monopoly, say it with a vote for Mister Alexander.
Can’t bring yourself to vote for either a Libertarian or a Socialist? You still don’t have to vote for a Republicrat. Tick or write in ‘None of the Above’, and your silence will speak volumes.
The Free Agent likes keeping her finger on the pulse of youth, so she almost perspired at the opportunity to speak to a group of political science students at Manhattan’s alternative City-as-High-School. Their instructor cleared the path by passing on a list of the students’ concerns, along with the caveat that they were just beginning to learn about politics and knew nothing about economics, so please to keep everything basic.
“You’ll hear Libertarians refer to the Constitution frequently,” The FA began, “because the people who started our party were grappling with the same problems as the Founders. They both decided there was the business of government and the business of society and when they get confused, bad things happen.” From then, as the neophytes say, it was on.
The first question was from a self-described “Ron Paul Republican”, “How would the Libertarian Party address unemployment?” Grateful for such a softball, The Free Agent replied, “Repeal all employment laws.” She then discussed the most catastrophic law affecting high school students, minimum wage. The FA could write a book on how 1937’s Fair Labor Standards Act is the depression that keeps on giving, but she had realized that apart from foreign policy, all the students’ concerns had to do with black markets of various sorts, so she made that her leitmotif. “If you want to do work for five dollars an hour, who am I to stop you? You own your own bodies, you’re not slaves, you have the right to work or not work however you choose. You’re concerned about immigration, one reason we have illegal immigrants is minimum wage creates a black market for lower-paid labor. That kills two birds with one stone, no minimum wage.”
The Free Agent has never had the misfortune to live in a violent neighborhood like the students she met. Unlike theorists, their experience and common sense applauded when The FA said Libertarians would end the drug war and defend gun rights. Being something of a humorist, The FA is used to her speeches being punctuated with laughter, but she wasn’t going for the belly laugh she got when she drew parallels between the drug war and other flavors of prohibition. “We’ve tried everything, every idea everyone can think of, for thousands of years, and we haven’t figured out a way to get people to not want sex. For a hundred years, we’ve tried everything we can think of to persuade people not to get high. Remember the area where government belongs and the area where it creates more problems than it solves? This is the biggest reason your neighborhoods are unsafe.” Unschooled they may have been, but no one in that room was so impoverished of common sense as to suggest that perhaps just one more moonlight basketball league would turn the tide.
One could rightly observe that The Free Agent wasn’t asked to confront the bread and butter issues of these students’ lives, such as how they will be required to pay off the federal debt and could not look forward to seeing a dime of the earnings which will be withheld for their retirement. (Although when asked what the government’s role in healthier diets should be, she asked how the school lunches at City-as-High-School were. “They suck,” came the economical reply. “That’s what the government feeds you when it has complete control,” she pointed out.) For now, they do not see that cloud on their horizon. Just in case there was a patch of fertile ground, however, The Free Agent could not resist planting a seed. “You wouldn’t pay off your crazy crack cousin’s credit card until she got off the crack, would you?” she said.
And thus for two hours, staring down the barrel of the future, was The Free Agent educated.
On the rare Saturday night she doesn’t have an assignation, The Free Agent has a new steady date, CNBC’s financial boot camp show, “Prince$$”. Host “’Till Debt Do Us Part”’s Gail Vaz-Oxlade—a realist after The Free Agent’s own heart—tackles one young attractive Canadienne, deeply in debt and deeply entitled, per week. She is prodded over the course of an hour (two months’ filming) onto a course of financial independence.
Might I suggest that like the princesses, Congress answer the Craigslist ad to audition?
As Vaz-Oxlade explains in a promo for the show, the first order of business in reforming a princess is to call her on the carpet for her moral turpitude. “People don’t like being told they’re deficit in their character,” she says, but until that happens, the princess is not ready to mend her ways. Aiming right to the heart of any princess or super-committee, Vaz-Oxlade then cuts up the credit cards. The princesses have grown up in an age where they were never called upon to limit their spending to their income, indeed, may have seemed not to be doing their patriotic duty if they weren’t consuming enough. In lean times, credit enables the shoe closet to be restocked, the high speed rail to be laid, etc., and in boom times, well, what goes better with hair extensions than a matching SUV?
After assigning her subject the instructive task of creating a budget founded on income and needs, not wants, Vaz-Oxlade’s hawk-eye then turns to those who enable the princess—her family, friends, strangers, and who knows but sovereign nations?—who offer her credit. All must agree that for the princess’s own good, the free ride must end. To test their resolve, the enablers may be challenged to a group excursion to the mall, where they must resist any urge to treat the princess to a visit to the make-up counter, a college education or a prescription drug plan. But her moral reformation does not end there, in order to earn a potential $5,000 toward her debt repayment, the princess must repay those who have been open-handed with her. Perhaps Nancy Pelosi and Eric Cantor could get make a day of it and clean out China’s garage. They could use the space since their auto ownership has increased fifty percent in the past three years.
At the end of the sixty minute morality tale, the princesses have generally done what governments from the US congress to bankrupt Jefferson County, Alabama, have not been able to do—adjust their lifestyles to the simple reality most of us take as given. She has recognized not only her moral turpitude, but a complete dependence on others that would make Elizabeth Cady Stanton roll over in her grave. Furthermore, after a Vaz-Oxlade roughing-up, she is left not only with a plan to repay her debt, but a plan to achieve a goal of her choice that was a mere pipe dream before she got her budget under control. Yes, California, if you mend your ways and save a little each paycheck, you could afford that railroad someday. But The Free Agent somehow doubts you’ll wait until then.
At 11:11 on 11/11/11, the red, white, and blue USO float, iced with Andrews-channeling trio The Liberty Bells, inched away from the curb at 24th Street to creep two miles up Fifth Avenue. With 24,999 other patriots, The Free Agent celebrated Veterans Day.
Back before global carnages required a numbering system, there was The Great War. A fairly routine assassination in June of 1914 triggered the worst application of globalization ever–alliances and treaties ultimately dragged 70 million combatants into trenches that entombed an eighth of them. In a way, World War I is its most accurate name, it was a war of the First World: mechanized war, technological war, war in which both sides used chemical weapons, war perfected so that combat finally surpassed disease as the killer of soldiers. On November 11, 1918, the cease-fire ending hostilities on the Western Front was signed, which morphed in Newspeak fashion into a holiday dedicated to world peace, Armistice Day.
The doughboys in Friday’s parade were re-enactors, but real veterans of the Second World War shook hands with well-wishers and blew kisses to the Liberty Bells. These Greatest Generation® vets are better branded than, say, the Korean War vets. But not only does America’s Forgotten War®, which began sixty years ago and which may have forestalled another Roman numeral war, have a better monument on the Washington Mall, veterans of the Republic of Korea’s army marched alongside their US allies. The Free Agent didn’t detect, say, a Belgian presence in Friday’s march, but then Europe may preoccupied with its third suicide attempt within a century.
The soldiers of The Free Agent’s youth, now peculiarly-named Vietnam-Era Veterans®, made their joyful muffler-free presence known in waves of chopper formations called Rolling Thunder®. The FA is not ashamed to admit she wiped more than one tear from her cheek Friday, and one was for the healing of the rift between them and the other veterans. Back in the day, vets from Southeast Asia were sometimes considered insufficiently patriotic by their antecedents. Now they are full members of a fraternity The FA is grateful she will never have to join.
There did not seem to be a float representing the disingenuously-named Spanish-American War, but The Free Agent suggests it should have led the parade, as it led America into empire. We should all Remember the Maine®, not as a casus belli, but as a reminder that whoever is determined to go to war will find an excuse. (She might also suggest re-branding that vainglorious exercise. “America: Too Big For North America”?)
In 1949, the Department of War officially became the Department of Defense. Not one of the veterans in Friday’s parade begrudges his service to his country, but for each of those men and women, a thousand others did not live to march. With Mister Obama’s promise that the Overseas Contingency Operation® will end this year, The Free Agent’s Veterans Day wish is that we treasure the steady supply of those who will risk the ultimate sacrifice, as long as they believe we are truly playing defense.
The Free Agent finds some tracts of common ground with the ragtag group of protesters who have camped out in and around Liberty Plaza Park in New York since September 17. While tippy-toeing through a cardboard quilt of hand-written signs, she nodded approvingly at one saying, “Hold Barney Frank Accountable,” for instance. Like the group now known as Occupy Wall Street, she rails the federal government has no authority to take out a loan in future taxpayers’ name and hand the proceeds to its friends and supporters, on Wall Street, in Detroit, or anywhere else. (Alas, power steps out on authority so often it forgets they’re supposed to be married.) Where she shakes her head in bafflement, however, is in Occupy Wall Street’s demand that government assume even more power. Stalin will never dismantle Stalinism.
Through her network of media contacts, The Free Agent has obtained the house organ of the movement, The Occupied Wall Street Journal. Likening OWS to the Arab Spring protests, the article “Learning from the World,” equates protesters’ goals in Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia, (why not Libya?), Greece, Britain, and Spain. The FA is careful to differentiate those who try to overthrow a corrupt government with those who just wish to stencil new names on the office doors. For example, the article, “The Revolution Begins at Home”, proposes “nationalize the banks”. From The Free Agent’s point of view, putting banks and government even closer together would serve nothing but to save Mister Geithner Acela fare when the next rescue occurs.
On the other hand, take government out of the partnership and banks and the other corporations OWS justifiably vilifies are rendered toothless. As The Free Agent has said before, no power on earth can force you to buy a Big Mac. Citibank, evil as it wannabe, could not have lifted a penny from our wallets without our elected representatives’ (and their completely unaccountable appointees’) say-so. To expect Wall Street, Solyndra, or The Free Agent’s retired mater to leave un-cashed a check from the US Treasury calls for a level of self-restraint few among us could muster.
But The Free Agent found herself cheering again as she read from the “Declaration of the Occupation”: “…we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice”. She hopes the various candidates who would re-stencil their name on the Oval Office door take that sentiment just as seriously.
The Free Agent calls anyone who seems to be rowing the ship in the same general direction her friend, so in the spirit of friendship, she offers the following wisdom to the various committees, councils, and working groups of OWS:
- Citibank isn’t going to give the money back. Our efforts are better spent preventing future bailouts.
- You can fiddle with the tax code all you want, but no one has figured out how to get much more than 19% of GNP in federal revenue. (Tax attorneys will thank you, however.)
- Justice is worth pursuing, equal outcomes isn’t.
- Every new labor law makes it less attractive to hire an employee here.
- The antidote to bad governance is self-governance.
- Assume the best of politicians. This may sound un-Free Agent-like, but she means it—politicians have tried their best to fix the recession, they can’t do it, and all their rearranging of deck chairs just makes things worse. It’s time to get out of the way.
- “Love” is not helpful as public policy, but would a popular uprising be complete without at least one sign saying it?
On the back page of The Occupied Wall Street Journal is a list of things we can do to support the movement. Among the donations sought are “sweatshirts, sweatpants, socks” and food, “Vegan and Gluten Free so anyone can eat it”. While she applauds the popular uprising and wonders that it took this long, for the time being, The Free Agent will sit on her case of steaks and weissbier.
Since The Free Agent was wee, one measure of the difference between a pessimist and an optimist was when each thought Social Security would go bankrupt. (The FA has a contemporary who started working at the Social Security Administration out of college and successfully surfed that wave into pensioned retirement.) Being an optimist, The FA hoped it would happen soon, so we could rationalize the way we cope with extended lifespans. Alas, she underestimated the duplicity and irresponsibility of the ruling political class who, even in the current debt crisis, keep kicking that can further down the road.
Mister Obama, who has wisely adopted The Free Agent’s household budget analogy, says that National Dad must pay more in taxes to solve the debt crisis, yet he and Congress attack spending with all their might and come away with cuts the thickness of gold leaf. These Cuts Which Must Not Be Named, according to the president, will save a trillion dollars over ten years. That sounds like a lot, until we put it into fed math. The current federal budget is $3.7 trillion (84% of which is flat-out transfer of money from You to Not You, by the way). Expected revenue is $2.6 trillion, so cutting a tenth of a trillion out of the budget reduces the budget deficit from $1.1 trillion to $1 trillion. The fed is still a Debt Shark that must keep borrowing or die. The Free Agent sees only one sensible option between those two, but of course, congress and the president saw another.
The US median household income is $50,233. If National Dad ran his affairs like Washington, he’d be $282000 in debt, spending $71,485 a year, and think that shaving $1,932 off that—37 bucks a week—would somehow get him out of the hole.
In addition to being so bad at math he had to attend law school, Mister Obama seems to forget that National Dad produces all the goods and services in the country.
Let’s say he owns a bakery with ten employees. National Dad looks “rich”, so Mister Obama would like him to move some retained earnings into tax liability. When the new taxes are paid, the bakery’s assets decrease by that amount. This has consequences for the bakery. Those consequences will not be expansion. Perhaps the bakery can now only pay for eight employees. (Who then sue National Dad for infringement on their right to not work so hard.) The federal government, which used to receive, say 150% of a baker’s income from National Dad’s employees (its largest source of income) will now receive 20% less. So the money taken from National Dad could easily result not only in no additional income for Debt Shark, but more unemployed to wring its fins over.
Using no more advanced math than National Dad would employ as he hands National Kid his allowance, The Free Agent lists the rails that must be touched if Debt Shark is ever to be electrocuted:
- Medicare/Medicaid—income transfer to subsidize health care for the poor. And anyone over 65. ($827 billion)
- Social Security—money you thought was being saved for you but was actually spent the day it was taken ($717 billion)
- DOD and Wars—national defense and other adventures, such as support for the Roundheads (or is it Cavaliers?) in Libya ($704 billion)
- “Income Security”—A potpourri of federal welfare programs like social security disability, Earned Income Tax Credit, and child support enforcement (really?) ($419 billion)
Those are the four biggest federal budget items. The next two are debt service and federal pensions ($215 billion each). These six categories account for $3.1 trillion of the $3.7 trillion federal budget. Cutting every other cent–$600 billion–would not balance the budget.
The Free Agent and National Dad are still optimistic enough to believe Americans can understand the math—even if politicians prefer to keep stubbing their toes kicking the same cans.