Libertarian Party Convention Brings Optimism

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com

Libertarian Party Convention Brings Optimism

by Sandra Johnson, Bob Johnson, and Jim Bane, May 1999

The Colorado Libertarian Party Convention was held April 23-25 at the Sheraton Denver West Hotel. On Friday night LP members attended a party and a comedy show. On Saturday, panels assembled to discuss libertarian politics and Party strategy. Panel discussions continued on Sunday even as focus turned to Party business. Several of the panels are reviewed below. Omission of some panels is due only to the limited availability of writers and time. Those who attended the event are welcome to submit additional notes. Sandra Johnson was the 1998 Libertarian Party candidate for governor. Bob Johnson wrote about the panel "Freedom in Education," and Jim Bane wrote about "What is the Price of Free Speech?"

Reasons for Optimism

Do members of the Libertarian Party and advocates of free markets have reason to be optimistic? Will we be more free in the future?

It was an absolute delight to see a record turnout at the recent State Libertarian Party convention, AND to see so many new people, including many young people. Despite the current prevalence of statism, a common thread of optimism for the future of freedom ran through many of the speeches, panels, and discussions at the Convention.

Is it unrealistic to believe America will become more free? I think not. Tyranny (like cockroaches) can't stand the light of day. Consider that the Communist USSR fell after widespread availability of the copy machine and the fax machine.

Several trends contribute to a sense of optimism:

1. A variety of groups are fighting for limited government in specific areas.

2. People are finding ways to exercise more individual freedom.

3. Many are accepting greater personal responsibility for their own lives.

4. New economic realities demand more freedom.

5. The culture manifests a greater awareness of freedom issues.

Let us consider each of these points in greater detail.

1. A variety of groups are fighting for limited government in specific areas.

The Libertarian Party represents more than a political organization -- it is also the home of a particular political philosophy. A myriad of libertarian groups, many affiliated with the Party, are fighting for more freedom on a host of fronts, composing a vast movement for freedom.

The Libertarian Party of Colorado has made terrific advances, winning the ability for people to register to vote as Libertarians. The Party also now enjoys much easier ballot access, which means that the Party can run candidates without the onerous petitioning procedure of the past. Last year (1998) after gaining ballot access, we ran a record number of Libertarian candidates.

The Libertarian Party of Colorado helped Doug Bruce get the TABOR amendment passed; as a result you will get another refund from the surplus taxes the state collected. Also thanks to TABOR the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional Governor Bill Owens's plan to borrow against expected federal funds.

The Libertarian Party of Colorado helped defeat RTD's Guide The Ride, as well as Referendum B (to allow the state to keep your taxes which they over-collected).

This year's Convention focused on political action. More spoke about taking action for positive change, such as preparing now for running campaigns, and fewer prognosticated about the libertarian dream-world.

The larger Libertarian community has also achieved recent successes. The National Libertarian Party was instrumental in stopping the "Know Your Customer" law that would have permitted the Federal government to invade the rights of bank customers.

The alternative medicine movement is very strong, thanks in part to the fact that the FDA has angered almost everyone. Horror stories abound about how the FDA even denies potentially life-saving drugs to the terminally ill. When the FDA tried to put vitamins under its control, Congress received the most letters it has ever received on any one subject. Political ineptitude encourages the legal mail order of non-FDA approved drugs from outside the country. The FDA is a prime reason for the high cost of drugs, and libertarians are making more and more people aware of this.

The many groups who are fighting tyranny include the huge (and growing) home schooling movement, new private schools, numerous gun rights groups, drug de-criminalization groups, tax protest groups, movements to encourage more people to vote, and the Fully Informed Jury Association.

When enough people are fed up with government oppression, things will change. In 1973 the Denver Circuit Court was afraid to bring to trial a backlog of 450 draft dodger cases because it was unable to bring convictions. When a jury believes the law is evil, they won't convict (a type of "jury nullification"). The drug war may end the same way, just like alcohol prohibition ended, when juries refuse to convict non-violent drug users.

A few people can make a big difference. It only took a few members of Congress (about 25) to lose their seats over the Vietnam War for the rest of them to pay attention, and soon the war ended.

2. People are finding ways to exercise more individual freedom.

People are smarter than politicians think, and folks will find solutions on their own. More Americans than ever have lost respect for laws they don't believe in. Civil disobedience enjoys a long and noble tradition in this country: many Americans ignored the laws against harboring fugitive slaves, and many Americans would not convict their neighbors caught making alcohol during prohibition.

Today many (if not most) moral Americans break laws and yet hurt no one. Who hasn't exceeded the speed limit (or been honked at if you are going the speed limit)? It's estimated that about 25% of our economy is "underground." It's estimated that about a third of young Americans have smoked marijuana. Although the war on drugs continues to devastate the lives of many, it hasn't seemed to make any difference in drug use. Those who carry a concealed weapon to exercise their right and responsibility to protect themselves and their families often break laws in some places (certainly if they carry a weapon into "criminal safe zones" where the law says no one is supposed to have a weapon).

One panelist noted, "If you ask the government for permission to exercise a right you already have, you deserve it when they say no!"

3. Many are accepting greater personal responsibility for their own lives.

When people accept more personal responsibility, they discover that they need not remain helpless victims of the poor-quality "services" the government provides. People can take direct action to take better care of themselves and their families.

Don't like the public schools? Try a private school or home schooling. Don't like Medicare or your HMO? Save up and pay privately for what you need; consider nutrition and alternative medicines. Don't like the high cost of drugs? You can get them much cheaper in Mexico.

Or you'd like to use a drug the FDA hasn't yet approved? You can buy them from abroad legally through the mail. Don't like the Post Office? Try e-mail or Fed-X or UPS. Don't trust Social Security? That is a no-brainer: set up a plan to save and invest for your own retirement. Don't like paying state income taxes? Consider moving to a state without one. Don't like high sales taxes? Move to a state without sales tax, or make some purchases by mail outside your tax district, or drive across town to a lower sales tax area.

Do you feel vulnerable and fear the police won't be able to save you should a criminal choose to attack? The Supreme Court has ruled that the police are NOT required to protect us; their job is to bring criminals to justice after the fact. So it is clear you need to take on the responsibility to protect yourself. When just a few people accept the responsibility to protect themselves through carrying a concealed weapon, it makes everyone safer because the criminal does not know who is armed and who is not. Don't like the way government protects the environment? Help out private conservation groups such as Nature Conservancy who buys endangered habitat to protect it.

4. New economic realities demand more freedom.

Nathaniel Branden, a guest of the Conference, said that the new economic realities of the information age economy require more freedom. What the marketplace demands, sooner or later it gets. Some estimate we'd be eight times richer in a Libertarian world! As people learn about this, they won't tolerate being left behind.

5. The culture manifests a greater awareness of freedom issues.

More and more people know about libertarian ideas: the word "libertarian" has been used more in the past five years than in the past 50. More press and more Libertarian candidates bring critical awareness to these ideas: think about the Socialist Party which never elected a majority yet saw their Platform adopted by our government. Not long ago the media scoffed at Libertarian ideas to de-criminalize drugs, to eliminate the IRS, and to abolish Social Security -- but now these ideas receive serious discussion.

Alternative Medicines

Are vitamins soon to become prescription drugs? Should a person who is terminally ill be allowed to use potentially dangerous, but potentially life-saving, new medicines?

Dr. Mary Ruwart, Mary Hoagland, Tom Goonan discussed these issues in their joint panel discussion.

FDA regulations require costly testing which often takes ten years or longer for new drugs. This contributes enormously to the high cost of prescription medicines. Advertising is prohibited for specific uses of drugs that have not gone through the FDA process. An example of this is aspirin being used in heart disease. Unless you are affluent enough to have a doctor tell you its use for this purpose, you will miss out on the benefits it can provide. AIDS patients have been able to buy small quantities of useful drugs overseas that are illegal here, but the FDA is trying to shut that down.

Litigation also contributes to the higher cost of medicine in this country. People need to learn that extremely high damage awards hurt them in the long run -- because it drives the cost of drugs much higher than they would be otherwise, and drug companies are less likely to introduce drugs for diseases that affect just a few people because it wouldn't be profitable.

Americans are finding that the drugs they need are much cheaper in Mexico, in part because there is no Mexican equivalent of the FDA. There is a move to globalize USA drug standards; the result of this is that the poor won't get any drugs. A web site that track legislation related to medicine is www.lef.org. It is obvious that nutrition is vital to your health, yet only a third of the medical schools in the U.S. offer courses in nutrition.

The FDA has angered many by denying alternative therapy and prohibiting drugs that might help a sick person. Outwardly, the FDA may appear to be a loving parent, but in fact it is abusive. The alternative health care movement consists of many potential allies in the cause of freedom, as shown by the uproar over regulating vitamins.

In a wealthier Libertarian society, people could afford to pay for new therapies and cures. In a pre-paid socialistic system, people will go to the doctor for the slightest sniffle; yet when they need a major operation such as a kidney transplant they will be put on a waiting list -- or told they are too old for such a procedure.

You do not need to wait for a political solution. You can provide for yourself. For instance, forget about the exasperating, heavily regulated Medical Savings Accounts. Do it yourself: set up your own special savings for the medical care you may want in the future.

Barbara Goushaw Issues a Call to Arms

Libertarian Party candidates have an awesome responsibility as the face of the Party, Barbara Goushaw explained. First impressions are critical. Consider the impression the first Libertarian made on Rush Limbaugh -- it was extremely negative (because he was an idiot) and it has affected Rush's view of Libertarians for many years.

Candidates are our troops in the fight for freedom. Our arms (our tools) are pen and paper -- the tools of persuasion.

One person can have a big impact on a community. Running candidates is the single most important thing we can do. The goal should be to either win, or do better than in previous races.

Libertarians need to set goals. Goushaw's goal in the next election is to lead Michigan to the highest vote total ever as well as the highest voting percentage of any state for the Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 2000.

Goushaw shared a number of other insights. The best cure for burnout is success: a Libertarian victory party that actually is (vs. a moral victory)!

Would you rather make an impact or discuss philosophy? Or both? There's no reason not to combine them. Discuss issues during activist campaigns.

If you say that "somebody ought to do X," that somebody could be you!

Ignore the "nattering nabobs of negativity", the naysayers; excitement and enthusiasm are contagious.

Goushaw's Rule of the 100: AFTER you've contributed $100 or given 100 hours to a project -- then you're entitled to an opinion!

What is courage? Courage is facing overwhelming obstacles and being afraid -- yet doing it anyway.

Equality: we are all equal. We each have 24 hours every day. We each have the right to accept the consequences of our success or folly. We're all self-made men and women; only the successful ones admit it!

Letters to the Editor

In a panel entitled "The Parlor Pulitzer," George Getz, Ron Bain, and Bette Rose Smith discussed effective ways to write letters to the editor. They offered numerous suggestions for getting letters published.

  • Letters to the editor are the best form of free media available to Libertarians.
  • Editors look for letters which are short and simple and which make their point well. Don't ramble: keep it under 100 words, or even 50 words if possible.
  • It help to refer to an editorial or another letter or to an article in their paper, especially when you are on the opposite side of most of the letters.
  • Don't write too often (use friends names if you need to).
  • It helps to humanize or personalize your issue. An emotional element to a letter can be effective.
  • Hypocrisy of a politician or public figure can be interesting.
  • Organized campaigns are ineffective, unless writers write original, personalized letters.
  • Use the word "Libertarian" and explain how the libertarian philosophy is unique and uniquely correct.
  • Show that the LP has solutions whereas the tired old parties do not.
  • Give your letter a local angle and current relevance.
  • Write with focus! If you can't answer the question "What is my point?" in one sentence, don't bother writing anything else.

Freedom In Education: Alternative Learning

The Home Education Radio Network, represented by Vicki Brady at the Conference, supports home education through radio broadcasts and other media. The Network provides information to parents about how to educate their children at home. The organization can be reached at (303) 567 - 4092.

Larry Welshon, a founder of Alpine Valley School, discussed how that school follows the Sudbury philosophy which allows students to decide for themselves what and how they want to learn. The school operates on a purely democratic system which includes the students. The school can be reached at (303) 271 - 0525.

Robin Sharp and her son provided valuable insight from the perspective of a family who became disenchanted with government schools and decided on home schooling. Sharp said she decided to home school after attending last year's Libertarian Party conference.

The Rights of Juries

Have we lost the right to a trial by jury due to the limited knowledge of the average juror or the limited instructions of the typical judge?

Paul Danish reviewed the history of jury nullification, where the juror decides on validity of the law and it's applicability to the case as well as the guilt of the accused. The Peter Zenger case in 1750 was noteworthy in that it was found that truth is defense from liable, and that juries may rule on both the facts and the law. Zenger was a publisher and editor who printed information about the Crown's choice for Governor of New York.

At that time anything defamatory which was printed was considered libelous. His defense was that what he wrote was true. Jury nullification is a very powerful tool which has been used both for and against liberty. Among the pro-liberty jury nullifications have been not convicting abolitionists who helped runaway slaves and refusing to convict draft dodgers during the Vietnam era. On the down side, some white juries wouldn't convict a white accused of harming a black in the south.

Effective Media Strategies

In a lively session marked by strong audience involvement, Jon Caldara, Richard Lamping, and George Getz discussed ways Libertarians can earn media coverage. A wide range of points were discussed.

  • Published books exist which list media contacts.
  • Often it's easier to earn media coverage in smaller markets.
  • Press releases are not very effective. The best approach is to pursue personal (though polite) contact.
  • If one can break into a major market, such as the two main Denver area newspapers, that makes it easier to sell a story to other media.
  • Don't yell at the press for not covering an issue or event. That's like yelling at the thermometer because it's too hot or too cold.
  • Many find success with a press kit, complete with a CD or disk that contains photos, information, and position papers.
  • To earn photo coverage, one must organize a photo-worthy event. Large visual aids help.
  • One effective way of gaining media attention is to let one's opponents earn the coverage, and then steal the thunder.
  • The media will not cover discussions of general philosophy. Issues must be hooked to a news story.
  • Don't try to intimidate or kiss up to editors or reporters. The only way to earn coverage is to show that one's views are interesting, honest, and relevant.
  • One way to gain coverage is to use the natural competition that exists among papers.
  • Consider talk radio as a way to share ideas. Libertarians make good talk radio because they have strong, coherent beliefs.

Gun Rights Held Hostage

The Second Amendment secures all the other civil liberties. Libertarians must learn the history of gun rights, said panelists Bill Masters, Barbara Goushaw, and David Segal.

Barbara Goushaw pointed out that gun control most hurts the poor and those in inner cities.

David Segal reviewed a number of historical points relevant to the Second Amendment.

  • Aristotle said that tyrants fear an armed people.
  • George Washington said that government is not reason or eloquence, but force. The government is a dangerous master.
  • The Second Amendment calls for an armed citizenry to keep a free state and to stop tyranny.
  • In the Second Amendment, "regulated" means "trained," not "restricted."
  • The 1792 militia act said that citizens should possess state of the art weapons.
  • Hamilton said that if the Federal army got out of hand, the general militia would defend against them or overthrow them.
  • In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson said that when government becomes tyrannical the people have the right to overthrow it.

Bill Masters said that to obtain a concealed carry permit in Colorado you must provide the Colorado Bureau of Investigation with fingerprints. They will not say who gets or keeps these fingerprints.

An Outsider Looks at Libertarianism

Former Judge Richard Borchers reviewed his 1984 thesis on "The Libertarian Party: Headed Where?" which covered the history of the Libertarian Party from its beginnings in 1971 (thanks in large part to Richard Nixon) through 1984. He donated original letters that he received from Robert Poole, Murray Rothbard, and David Bergland. His opinion today is that there are organizations such as CATO and Reason Magazine to discuss the libertarian philosophy, and that the Libertarian Party should get Libertarians elected.

Nathaniel Branden on Responsibility

Nathaniel Branden, a central figure in the Objectivist movement and the author of numerous books on psychology, spoke at the convention banquet Saturday night.

According to Branden, many in society have developed attitudes of "I couldn't help it" or "I'm entitled." Individuals think they are controlled by outside forces. No one is ultimately responsible for his or her own actions.

If one has high self-esteem, then freedom is not scary. Those with high self-esteem believe that they can cope with life.

The world is changing. In 1970 people believed that most problems could be solved by more government socialism. The romance of the socialistic vision collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union.

There is a shift towards free markets, because the planned economy is hopeless. The world is moving in the direction of markets because that's what works. We need to publicize the philosophical underpinnings of the free market, to present an intellectual vision to support freedom.

Business is moving from the industrial to the information age. Once wealth depended mainly on land; then in the industrial age it depended on capitalization and equipment; as we move into an information age economy (during the past 20 to 30 years) the new economic realities demand a higher level of self-respect, consciousness, self-direction, and self-management. A Libertarian society needs highly evolved people to function well in the information-age economy.

The old American dream was liberty. The new American dream is a risk-free society.

The greatest gift that America could give the rest of the world is to be a good example. We're connected in a global economy and we lead the information age. To the extent that America adopts capitalism, it will be a beacon of hope to the third world.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com