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Friday, January 11, 2008

Reformer Brief on LP Presidential Candidates

I still think the odds for the LP nomination are Kubby 35% Phillies 25% Root 25% Smith 5%, with the remaining 10% for the chance that Ron Paul would stoop to re-run his 1988 LP race. The Libertarian Reform Caucus doesn't endorse internal candidates, but here is my personal reformer take on them.

With his made-for-TV brand of moderate libertarianism, Root is likely to get the most reformer votes in Denver. However, I caution against tying the reform cause to his candidacy, which has initially seemed more about Wayne Root than about libertarianism or the LP. I don't know of any interest shown by Root so far in the holy trinity of reformer issues: Platform, Pledge, and Purpose. Aside from Ron Paul, Root would probably have the most appeal among voters generally and LP members particularly, but his support among NatCon delegates (who will vote on the trinity) will be disproportionately lower. I'm going to support whatever candidate is best equipped to enduringly expand the varieties of principled libertarianism that the LP officially tolerates, and Root doesn't seem interested in being that candidate.

Like Root, Phillies has apparently decided not to sign the Restore04 petition to rescuscitate the extremist and verbose 2004 Platform, which Phillies aptly calls "abysmally repetitive". Phillies' commitment to LP activism is unquestionable -- head and shoulders above the rest of the field. On substance, Phillies has shown an open mind about deviating from the extremism of the pre-Portland Platform, and has been attacked for it by the self-described radical Kubby campaign. All of this would make Phillies my default choice, except that I'm disturbed by his tendency to personally attack libertarians who disagree with him on policy and (especially) on LP administration. He viciously criticized Ron Paul as a "homophobic bigot" for his policy stand on defederalizing gay rights, well before the recent revelations about old Ron Paul newsletters (ghost-written by Lew Rockwell?). He also has joined anti-reform conspiracy theorist Christine Smith in calling for a complete purge of the reform-friendly LNC because of how it has responded to the overwhelming support for Ron Paul among the LP rank and file. George has a history as a hard-working and unflinching gadfly and investigator of the alleged scandals in recent LP history, and so it's not clear he has the personality or inclination to unite a Big Tent LP. However, in the unlikely event of the Ron Paul campaign completely discrediting itself in the libertarian movement, George will be well-positioned to say "I told you so".

Steve Kubby was the 5th signer of the Restore04 petition, and he and his communications director Tom Knapp position Kubby as the most authentically radical candidate. Kubby disparages what he calls efforts to water down the Platform, and claims to be a "plumbline" (i.e. Rothbardian) radical. However, he is an ardent supporter of Ron Paul despite Paul's many heresies against Rothbardianism, and echoes Paul's reverance for the Constitution (which should be reviled by any good Rothbardian anarchist). Indeed, on Steve's webradio show I recently got him to admit that for him, the Constitution trumps zero-aggression absolutism, and that is why he supports the Sixth Amendment right of the accused to compel innocent third parties via subpoena. Kubby seems much more willing than Phillies or Smith to give fellow libertarians the benefit of the doubt for the sincerity of their libertarianism, and George would do well to adopt some of that open-mindedness.

Among these top-tier candidates, Christine Smith is by far the most willing to pander to LP radicals. Not to be out-radical'd, the Kubby campaign attacked Smith for coming to her radicalism only lately. Smith routinely says the LP has been "infiltrated" by people who care more about their own power than about America's liberty -- which if true would be good news to reformers who wish the LP had any power to be grabbed in the first place. Smith says she is a fan of Ron Paul and the Constitution, but opposes all taxation and says the constitutional functions of government could be funded by voluntary contributions.

Unless Ron Paul's past conspiracy-theory kookiness catches up to him, the LP nomination will still be his for the asking in May. Paul would likely ignore reform issues like the Platform, and would only be interested in the LP's ballot access. I think reformers should trumpet the many moderate libertarian positions of the Paul campaign, but studiously avoid building a personality cult around this seriously flawed candidate. (I recently listened to a couple hours of interviews and debates of Ed Clark from his 1978 and 1980 campaigns, and concluded that he was far and away the best libertarian candidate that our movement has ever produced, including Ron Paul.)

None of these candidates have had anything explicit to say so far about the Pure Principles Platform that is emerging from the Platform Committee. Each candidate has weaknesses, and only one seems to want to disqualify herself from potential support by reformers. The good news is that all of these candidates implicitly reject anarchism and explicitly endorse the idea of limited constitutional government, even if they are vague about how that government would finance itself or maintain its monopoly on force without ever initiating it.

1 comment:

esbuck said...

I have not made up my mind about a candidate; I'll make it up at the convention, I suppose. I do agree with Ron Paul about most things, and I can allow any candidate some differences from me in opinion, if he/she will advance the cause of freedom generally. I think we should appeal to Americans, broadly, not insist on being "pure" libertarians. Simply adhering to the US constitution before I die would be a giant step.