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Liberty and Democracy are not opposing ideas. The political center is where all change is made. Let's embrace reason and civility.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A History of the Modern Libertarian Party

The modern view of the Libertarian Party is seen through the lenses of corporate media. Fox, MSNBC and even Jon Stewart use the term “libertarian” freely now to describe an implicit position on issues of taxation, regulation and social welfare. To the common viewer, Libertarian means a conservative who wants to legalize pot, or a Tea Partier without the theocratic nonsense.

Here’s a quick history lesson: You’ve heard of David Koch? He’s the very wealthy person who bankrolled the Tea Party in 2009. What you may not know is that he was also the LP candidate for Vice-President in 1980, and bankrolled the Clark campaign for some 1 million dollars. The parallels between the current Tea Party and the old Libertarian Party of 1980 are too similar to be ignored.

The Libertarian Party was founded, so the lore goes, in the living room of David Nolan and some other Republicans who were upset about Richard Nixon’s wage-price freeze. They recruited a Presidential candidate John Hospers who wrote a campaign book and was on the ballot in maybe 2 states.

John Hospers received an electoral vote from the guy who wrote Little House on the Prairie. That guy also wrote his own campaign book and ran for President the next time around. The Libertarian Party was slowly growing through a network of unappreciated Objectivists, followers of Ayn Rand, and in coalition with anarchists and ex-Birchers.

In 1980, the LP went from relative obscurity to national prominence, as Ed Clark (with David Koch) was on the ballot in all 50 states and ran a strong, well-funded nationwide campaign. Reagan was elected that year, and in 1981 the LP collapsed under a half-million dollar debt incurred by the Clark Campaign.

Reagan’s presidential address was titled “A New Beginning”, also the title of Ed Clark’s campaign book. To deny that the LP was a vehicle for the Republican Party is to deny the same of the Tea Party today.

By 1982, the LP had all but vanished, except in little pockets such as my own state of Delaware. 20% of the candidates fielded by the LP in 1982 were from my state. We had a full ballot, every precinct covered with legislative and state-level candidates. But this little pocket collapsed as well in 1983, and not much happened after that—nationwide.

The LP had become another American Party, a lingering pool of veterans from some media battle long ago. It was temporarily revived when Ron Paul ran for President in 1988, but he wasn’t advocating the LP at the time, just his own views and agenda. Today, Ron Paul is considered the de facto leader of the LP by corporate media, with John Stossel as its official pundit.

So the Tea Party phenomenon was, historically, quite similar to the Libertarian Party of 1980, with the same post-election fallout of factionalism and defunding. The only difference today is in the intensity of media. In 1980, there were 3 broadcast networks. Controlling the national discourse is a more delicate affair these days.

I should say that, in 1980, there was a 3rd party candidate named John Anderson who came out of nowhere to run for President. That guy received 6% of the vote nationwide, much as Ross Perot did in 1992 when Bush was denied a second term. Obviously, corporate media provided both of these candidates with grand coverage. I maintain that a box of rocks could win 6% of the vote given adequate media coverage.

I still think the Libertarian Party is a good idea, or rather could be