The Ends and Means of Steve Gresh
by Ari Armstrong, June 21, 2002
I recently heard this joke: a man fell out of a 20-story window, and people at each flight below could hear him say, "So far, so good!"
Seeing the significant press coverage Rick Stanley received by saying Senator Wayne Allard should be tried for treason and then "hung," Steve Gresh, the Libertarian State House candidate for District 20 in Colorado Springs, thought he would try the same tactic. In an e-mail from May 24, Gresh said his opponent should also be tried and hanged. Unfortunately, such tactics are likely to hurt the candidates as well as the LP in the future.
Following is the text of an e-mail from Rick Stanley that contains Gresh's comments.
From TheStanleyScoopfirstname.lastname@example.org Tue Jun 04 18:27:34 2002
I asked Gresh by e-mail to retract his statement. When I didn't hear back from him, I figured I'd give him a call to get more of his perspective on the matter. I should note that, while I disagree with Gresh on this particular issue, in general I think he's a strong candidate and a champion of libertarian ideas. He has spent a great deal of his time running for office, helping out with other campaigns, and working on libertarian projects. His web page is available at http://www.stevegresh.com/.
Gresh said, "The Independent has completely ignored press releases I've sent out about my candidacy." He sent his comments to Stanley to "see if I can get some coverage." He added, "I am ticked off that I did not receive any coverage." He said he hoped his comments would earn some coverage in the Independent. "That was my motivation." "I wish there was a way to generate as much press as Rick does, without Rick's tactics," Gresh said, but he didn't see how that's possible.
Gresh's arguments sound an awful lot to me like the claim that the ends justify the means. I don't think such arguments are appropriate for candidates from the Libertarian Party, the "party of principle."
Politically, Gresh's strategy was foolish. Yes, he might earn press coverage -- negative coverage -- in the Independent. Even that hasn't worked so far. But, as he told me himself, his campaign is being covered by the much larger newspaper, the Colorado Springs Gazette. By issuing crazy statements just to get press, Gresh risks losing the press he's already getting. Or, he could inspire the Gazette to give him negative coverage instead of positive coverage.
As Gresh told me, the Independent is more of a leftist paper. It tends to be unsympathetic with libertarians on economic issues, but sympathetic on civil libertarian issues. One way for Gresh to try to get covered in the Independent is to make inflammatory comments, such that his opponent should be killed. Another way is to pitch the Independent stories with a civil libertarian bent. Another is to organize a letter-writing campaign, urging the paper to cover Libertarians. Another is to stage a protest. Another is to wine and dine reporters at the Independent. Or, Gresh could just write off the Independent, as any coverage in that relatively small paper will likely have little if any impact on his vote total.
Substantively, Gresh's comments are off the mark. I asked him if he really believed what he wrote, and he said no. He said, "The hanging obviously should not happen until after they've been indicted, tried, and convicted. I really don't think that's possible."
Gresh did defend the general premise, however. "Republican politicians who do not criticize President Bush for enacting legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act, or for intervention where there are no declarations of war, are aiding and abetting a traitorous member of their own party." Gresh likened such Republicans to Nazi sympathizers who "would have approved of what Adolf Hitler did."
I said the analogy is a stretch. Clearly Republicans do have a moral responsibility to criticize unjust laws, but failure on this matter is not the equivalent of treason.
I asked Gresh if the people who voted for Hefley should also be hanged. He said, "No more than 5-10% of the population even knows what the policies are," so they shouldn't be hanged. It would be impossible to tell which voters knew about the policies.
I asked, what about those voters who explicitly endorsed the policies? Gresh asked in return, what if voters said they wanted to exterminate the Jews? I agreed that would be morally reprehensible. But not everything that's morally reprehensible is treason. If a person participates in the murder of any individual, that person should be tried on murder charges. But Gresh's analogy just doesn't hold. Advocating the PATRIOT act is hardly the moral equivalent of advocating the extermination of a group of people.
Clearly, Gresh does not expect his opponent to ever be hanged, and he doesn't seem to believe she actually should be. When I asked him if there is any state representative who shouldn't be hanged, assuming Hefley should be, he couldn't name anybody. I reiterate the point I made in an article at http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/06/stanleyrosen.html: mass executions just aren't very healthy for a society. In a culture that would allow such a thing, those pulling the levers are likely to end up with a noose around their own necks down the road.
The ends don't justify the means, and unjust means cannot achieve desirable ends. But "so far, so good!"