Libertarian Party of Colorado, R.I.P.

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

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Libertarian Party of Colorado, R.I.P.

by Ari Armstrong, May 26, 2004

[For more material about Mark Brophy's Libertarian nomination for the Colorado legislature, along with commentary about the Liberatrian Party of Colorado, please see Mark Brophy Updates.]

The Libertarian Party of Colorado is dead.

All that remains is a walking corpse without a soul.

From May 21-23, the LPCO held its annual convention in Estes Park. Fewer than 45 voting members nominated a Libertarian candidate for state legislature who has pledged to violate the right of self-defense.

According to Steve Gresh (and others), only one person voted for None of the Above to protest the nomination of Mark Brophy, who signed a survey from Rocky Mountain Gun Owners saying he supports the so-called "assault weapons" ban, local ordinances that limit the right to bear arms, and Brady registration checks at gun shows.

Brophy has since backed off from his position on the ban, which at least suggests he doesn't have the knowledge or steadiness to run as a Libertarian candidate. He has described his position about local ordinances as a concern over carrying guns into courts and police stations, which demonstrates, at a minimum, that he is completely ignorant about the issue, because those things are addressed by state law (see CRS 18-12-214). Brophy has written twice about this matter without stating his general view on local disarmament ordinances. Brophy further explained his position on Brady registrations at gun shows by arguing, "If government needs a couple of days to check all 50 states, that's fine with me." This is a clear endorsement of the Brady system (plus waiting periods), despite one contradictory answer on the original survey. Thus, Brophy's position resembles that of a weak-kneed Republican or some Democrats on the gun issue. Libertarians have attacked Republicans for holding precisely the views expressed by Brophy, now a Libertarian candidate. And this from the so-called "Party of Principle."

Gresh said Norm Olsen, the chair of the state "Libertarian" Party, rose to defend Brophy with the tired argument that every Libertarian disagrees with some part of the LP platform.

Olsen misses the point for two reasons. First, some issues are more important and more clear-cut than others. If you do not support the right to keep and bear arms, you are not a libertarian. If you do not support ending the prohibition of drugs, you are not a libertarian. If you support increasing the general tax rate, you are not a libertarian. If you think the state should run education, you are not a libertarian. These points are not negotiable -- they are part of what it means to be a libertarian.

Libertarians DO NOT support registering gun owners with the state or delaying people's right to buy a gun, as Brophy announced to the world he does.

Those running for legislative office on the Libertarian ticket must be held to the highest standards. This is not some game of musical chairs we are playing. The time to develop one's principles and views on the important matters of the day is before one decides to run as a candidate for the legislature -- particularly if one professes to be a libertarian.

Second, while disagreement among libertarians is common on many theoretical and strategic points, what's important is that libertarians invoke libertarian arguments for their conclusion. For example, I know libertarians (including atheistic libertarians) who argue that at least older fetuses have rights and should not be aborted. Other libertarians, including myself, argue that the rights of the mother trump, in part because a prohibition on abortion would result in the unjust use of state power. That's a debate within a basically libertarian framework.

The libertarian perspective, at root, upholds the value of the individual in pursuing his or her own ends and supports the rule of law to uphold property rights. Libertarianism is not simply a matter of throwing darts at the board and seeing how many policies you happen to hit.

Brophy made no libertarian argument (because there can be none) to explain his survey results. Instead, Gresh said, Brophy ignored the substance of the survey.

If, as Olsen claims, a Libertarian candidate can perfectly well disagree with any given libertarian idea, without any principle or rational argument to explain the divergence, then the Libertarian Party is really no different than any other party (except dramatically less effective). I know Republicans and Democrats with more libertarian views than what Brophy has expressed.

If there is any point to the Libertarian Party, it is running candidates who are libertarians and supporting the libertarian perspective. If those goals are forsaken, the LPCO might as well lock its door and urge its members to join some other party.

Observe a strange phenomenon. The same people who apologize for Brophy are the ones who criticize any activity or cooperation with the Republican Party. How can this be? Shouldn't it be the case that those most hostile to the Republicans are also the ones who most insist on running principled Libertarian candidates?

Gresh said that Michael McKinzie, Campaigns Director for LPCO, attacked Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and its executive director, Dudley Brown, on the grounds that Brown is out to get Libertarians and only supports Republicans. McKinzie's claim is false: Brown has supported at least one Libertarian and he also regularly attacks Republicans. But Brown's motives are completely irrelevant. Brophy's signed survey and written comments speak for themselves, and they are publicly available. He filled out the survey of his own volition and signed his name to it.

So why did McKinzie substitute a personal attack for a reasonable argument? It is for the same reason that too many "leaders" of what passes today as the Libertarian Party of Colorado shrilly attack Republicans, regardless of context, even as they defend sell-out Libertarians, again regardless of context. In a word, the premise active among these leaders is tribalism. Republicans are bad just because they're Republicans, not part of our gang. Similarly, Libertarians are good just because they are part of our gang, and ideas and principles be damned.

Olsen has shown a consistent and overt hostility to philosophy, saying he wants the party to be an activist organization, not one that debates the ideas of liberty. Well, he got what he asked for: a Libertarian candidate who is hostile to a central libertarian tenet.

No party that calls itself Libertarian can trample liberty and get away with it for long. The real freedom advocates will go elsewhere, and what remains will be irrelevant and worse.

It is no coincidence that those who eschew philosophical principles are also inept strategically. Those who want only political influence and have any talent whatsoever join the Democrats or Republicans. Those who are serious about liberty will find other meaningful projects. It is no coincidence that the state LP has, with few exceptions, been in decline. Fewer candidates, smaller conventions, less money, loss of intra-party communications, and less (positive) publicity are among the achievements of the current leaders.

In nominating Brophy, the Libertarian Party of Colorado has declared war on the rights of gun owners. At present, no one who cares about liberty could possibly support the LPCO (though other individual Libertarian candidates might be worthy of support). The Party of Principle no longer, the state LP has sold its soul. In return, it collected not silver but irrelevancy and contempt.


[Note: Ralph Shnelvar and others, including Brophy, have replied to this article. On May 27, Rand Fanshier and others also replied.]

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