Letter to Libertarians


liberty_bell_2To my libertarian-minded friends,

I put the loose and awkward alliance among libertarian-minded voters and Republicans in the strange bedfellow category. The Republican right is dominated by authoritarians who take a very dim view of individual liberty. Witness the Texas State Board of Education’s recent decision to strike the word democracy from social studies textbooks and replace it with “constitutional republic.”

The [state textbook] standards were once littered with references to the U.S. as a democracy. No more. In an early draft, the U.S became a “democratic republic” but now will be termed a “constitutional republic,” as suggested by Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond.

Or better, check out this story about wealthy, authoritarian Chinese officials launching their own Tea Party to resist new government programs aimed at stimulating the Chinese economy.

The word democracy, of course, refers to the investment of political power in individuals. Constitutional republic refers to the investment of power in institutions aimed at channeling and checking popular sentiment. America is both things, of course. But it’s revealing that the Republicans are using white-out to elimate the word democracy from the political lexicon.

Republican policies are almost always aimed at enhancing centralized power. Witness the imperial presidencies of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. Even a constitutional republic is viewed by them as a system that gets in the way of authoritarian executive power.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC (pdf) decision is another example. Cast in lofty language about freedom of speech, the decision is really aimed at enhancing the power of corporations by giving them the ability to spend unlimited sums to get the election outcomes they want.

When I reached voting age, I was attracted to Democrats because they were the defenders of individual liberty. Let’s take civil rights, which might better have been called the Individual Rights Movement, because that was what it was about. State-sponsored oppression of African-Americans was made illegal by the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The South screamed about the federal intrusion in their affairs.

Over time, the Right succeed in making the Civil Rights Act look like an attack on individual liberty. Who was the federal government to tell us whose individual liberties we could take away if we wanted to? This upside-down logic was a dodge and a distraction. It disguised the authoritarian bent of the Right.

I have to agree that progressives too often pursued statist solutions. I view government as nothing but our cooperative effort to get done collectively what we can’t do individually. We need police and fire departments. We need public roads. We need oversight and regulation of certain industries because left unchecked they will too often prey on innocents, in the process using their economic leverage to diminish opportunity and take away individual liberty. But government is not itself an answer to anything. It is a vehicle, not a destination.

I am skeptical of power in all its guises, and I think I share this with my libertarian-minded friends. We need to talk, before it’s too late.

Author: Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” “There’s no one like him,” says author George Lakoff. CNN commentator Paul Begala says, “He has unmatched experience, a graceful pen (or pixel nowadays) and deep insight into the best and worst of us.” Novelist Sarah Bird speaks of his “lucid and lyrical” prose. And, she says, he’s fun. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington says Glenn writes with “grace and abundant humor” and “uses his colorful experiences in Texas to enlighten us all.”

Smith led Ann Richards’ successful 1990 campaign for Governor of Texas. He worked for former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Earlier, Smith was a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post. He’s coordinated national campaigns for groups such as MoveOn.org. In 2004, he authored the highly acclaimed book, The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction. He also wrote Unfit Commander, a book that detailed George W. Bush’s mysterious disappearance from military service.

In 2004, Smith was featured in the film, Bush’s Brain, a documentary about Karl Rove. Smith provided commentary on Rove’s role as then-President Bush’s senior advisor. He has made numerous media appearances with Chris Mathews on Hardball, Joe Scarborough, Brit Hume, and many others. He writes a regularly for top national web sites, including FireDogLake and Huffington Post.

As a senior fellow at George Lakoff’s prestigious Rockridge Institute in Berkeley he studied, wrote and taught on the power of metaphor and narrative in political communications. He also lectured on religion and politics at the Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley. As a sponsor and organizer, he has pulled together numerous national events with progressive religious leaders. He also organized a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in New York City as well as “Freedom and Faith” bus tours, which was a nationwide campaign for social justice and progressive values.

Smith’s play, Double Play, which explored American Western myths and legends, was held over to sold-out audiences. He’s even written and performed songs in the Americana tradition, such as his best-known song, “Helping Marty Robbins,” a tribute to his hometown, Houston.

Most recently, Smith is the creator of DogCanyon, a political and cultural web site covering state, national and global issues from a Texas perspective. DogCanyon is an exhilarating and unique site that gets the connections between politics and culture and explores both the personal side of politics and the ups, down, craziness and beauty of “life its ownself,” as humorist Dan Jenkins would say. DogCanyon offers heartfelt personal essays, hard-hitting political analysis, and, most importantly, laughs.

As Paul Begala said, Smith writes in “the finest, firmest, fearless tradition of Texas essayists like Molly Ivins.”

1 thought on “Letter to Libertarians”

  1. “We need to talk, before it’s too late.” And the “we” needs to move beyond right / left divisions — if the increasing corporate power, along with increased executive power, isn’t a call to conversation and action that goes beyond political parties, well, then maybe it’s already too late.

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