I am a relatively newly-minted Libertarian. I grew up a Republican, was very involved in Republican Party functions, serving as a committeeman, executive committee member, operative, and more. I have often said that I would have been a Republican all my life if not for two little words: John McCain. He’s essentially a Democrat. Once he became the nominee, I knew I could no longer identify with that particular organization. I left the Republican party, but they left me first.
Before my time in the wilderness, I had already started to feel us growing apart. Sure, McCain was the final straw, but there were others. There was W. and his spending. I had long felt very uncomfortable with the endless wars and supporting a president who never met a spending bill he didn’t love… and worse, sign into existence!
There was of course, the PATRIOT Act. And I was never comfortable with the term, “Compassionate Conservative.” It implied that I had been heartless and lacking in compassion. I didn’t think the man who took his country into two wars, one of which was entirely unnecessary, had the moral authority to define compassion.
So off I went into the wilderness where I wandered. I wrote off politics. I focused on other things, wrote a few screenplays, traveled a bit. Focused on my family. But I never lost interest. I hoped the Republicans would find their way back to me. But they didn’t. The truth is they moved farther away… in a leftward direction as it were. While I moved in the direction of common sense. Alas, our relationship would never be restored to its former glory.
So I wandered some more. I read. I met a woman named Ayn and a man named Milton. They invited me to dinner; an intellectual banquet of sorts. There were many chefs who seemed to be there to prepare a feast just for me and my starving mind. A man named Ludwig was at the carving station and heaped raw meat on my plate. A nice man named Lao Tzu served up a spicy noodle-for-my-noodle dish. It was more than I could consume! Where had this place been all my life?
I took my overflowing plate and my cup, which had very nearly been run over by this time. There was only one seat left in this entire banquet hall. It was at a table for two. A nice, older man sat at one of the seats. I asked him if he would mind me sitting with him. He smiled and motioned to the chair. I introduced myself. He smiled and told me his name was Ron Paul.
I began to gorge on the delicacies. I cleaned my plate and went back for more, but it seemed I couldn’t tame my hunger, and each time I went back to the buffet, there were new dishes prepared by new chefs.
Ron, my dining companion, nibbled on a cookie. He seemed dejected. I asked him what was wrong and he shrugged. He looked around the room and then at me and then down at the table and said, “Such a waste.”
I looked down at my plate, which was piled high and assured him nothing would be wasted. I would devour every last morsel.
He smiled. “Not you,” he said. “This. All of this. We are all here because of our beliefs and yet we accomplish nothing because we all want to be the smartest guy in the room.”
Ron wiped his hands with his napkin and asked me to follow him. We walked around the room, checking out the other diners. There were people of all races, all walks of life, all different age groups. There were businessmen in Brooks Brothers suits. There were hipsters. There were Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and agnostics. I think I even saw a Pastafarian donning the traditional colander.
I saw so much. I didn’t see the problem. So I asked my new friend what was troubling him. Ron explained that we were all there for the same reason. We were there because we were Libertarians. We had great minds and people capable of achieving great things but we never would until we knocked the chip off our collective shoulder.
“What chip,” I asked.
“Libertarians have been outsiders since the party was formed in 1971. It served us well, since we were trying to change things. We knew those who were in power would never give up power. We would have to take it from them and give it back to the people in the form of freedom.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. “I’ve been looking for this my whole life!”
Ron said, “It does sound good, but the way we’re acting right now, It’s probably never going to happen.” He must have seen the confused look on my face. He continued, “Libertarians have gotten so used to being outsiders that we don’t seem to be willing or able to do the things necessary to reach our goals. It seems most of us would rather retain our outsider status because we need something to complain about.”
Rather than attacking the problem, we attack one another. We call each other dirty names like, ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat.’ We’re so busy trying to be the most Libertarian guy in the room, we don’t bother to bring in new Libertarians. So rather than a thriving political party and a viable third option, we’ve become a debate society.”
“That’s not so bad, is it?” I asked.
“It wouldn’t be so bad at all if we were debating our opponents. It would be great if we engaged them in the arena of ideas because I have no doubt we’ll win. But too many Libertarians are so smug and high on their own superiority that they will only debate other Libertarians. They can’t get their hands dirty with people of lesser philosophical inclinations.”
“So what you’re saying is that we don’t bother going toe-to-toe with the very people who we are supposed to be fighting against?” I asked.
“Correct. And since we don’t engage them, we don’t present our case. And since we don’t present our case, our opponents define us.”
“Which explains why people think we’re a bunch of kooks,” I mumbled. “The only thing the public at large knows about the Libertarian party is what the left and right wings of the ruling party has told them about us; that we’re a bunch of stoners who only exist to tip presidential elections to the other side, whatever side that might be for them.”
“Now you’re understanding. Now you see why I’m not enjoying the banquet this evening,” said Ron, looking around and smiling wistfully.
“Ron, please. Tell me you know how to fix this!”
He looked at me for a moment, then looked at his watch. He shook my hand. “It’s up to you, and all of them, to fix it.”
Then he walked away and I was left alone. Now that I wasn’t focusing on Ron Paul, I would hear bits of the conversations happening around me. They were disheartening.
“Oh, you’re just a Republican in Libertarian clothing!” yelled one man.
“I bet you haven’t even read Hayek,” said a woman dismissively.
“Someone needs to explain the N.A.P. to this guy!” called another voice.
I heard another man talking about how he rejected the new tax plan because it didn’t go far enough and was too this and not enough that, and blah, blah, blah… He sounded like a Democrat, which was all right. He was right to feel how he felt. What he didn’t understand is that Libertarians have earned nothing. We have to take our small victories (however they come) and build on them toward big victories. I tried to explain this to him but the man turned his back on me, telling me I was not Libertarian enough to join the conversation.
A group of people who claim to all want the same thing, and yet they could get nothing done because they were too preoccupied with remaining pure. They want Libertarian senators and governors and presidents but they’re not willing to first create Libertarian council members and dog catchers. They want dessert before vegetables, and they’re more concerned with being Libertarian to the extreme – even if it means living in chains; the very chains they claim to abhor.
Being number two (three in our case) allows you to do things the big boys can’t do. You have nothing to lose. You can go all in, which will could result in spectacular victory while failures unnoticed. Libertarians have an incredible opportunity to define who we are. We need to show the world what we are, rather than proving it to ourselves and one another.
by Adolfo Jiménez – Vice Chairman, Libertarian Party of Broward County