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What is a Reagan Libertarian?

by R. Lee Wrights

“Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.”

- William Howard Taft

The first time someone asked me, “What is a Reagan Libertarian?”, was in an e-mail from a person new to the Libertarian Party. I was contacted in my capacity as one of the At-large Representatives to the Libertarian National Committee. That particular question was one of several that this constituent asked for clarification. When I got to the question of what is a Reagan Libertarian, I felt it was a no-brainer and simply answered, “There is no such thing.”

I explained that Ronald Reagan had been a Democrat who, at some point, switched to the Republican Party where he eventually served two terms as President of the United States.  I further explained that the term they probably meant, and I thought they were misquoting at the time, was the ever-popular “Reagan conservative,” which has been adopted by many disenfranchised Republicans who have become discouraged with the direction their party has taken in the years following the Reagan administrations.

Imagine my amazement when this constituent replied to me that it was I who was mistaken. He explained that there was, in fact, at least one prominent Libertarian out there calling himself a Reagan Libertarian. That person turned out to be former Libertarian Party vice-presidential nominee Wayne Allyn Root.

Of course, I still couldn’t believe it and thought surely this new member was mistaken somehow. But in the e-mail was a link to Mr. Root’s Facebook page where, sure enough, there it was as big as life. WAR, as Mr. Root likes to refer to himself, proudly calling himself a Reagan Libertarian. Frankly, I was offended that our most recent VP nominee would so brazenly and blatantly misrepresent the LP brand in such a manner. I also realized that now we had a problem on our hands.

After reading Mr. Root’s book, I saw the problem more clearly than before. You see, Ronald Reagan is WAR’s hero. He loves the man. So much so in fact, he named his youngest son after the former Republican president. He idolizes Mr. Reagan even though he admits that once he gained the White House, after making promises to the contrary, he grew government spending to greater proportions than ever before. Apparently to Mr. Root, this is just a small boo-boo that can be all too easily forgiven, if not forgotten.

That’s right, Mr. Root’s idol is a politician who said whatever he had to say in order to get elected, only to turn around and do what he said he would not do once he was elected. In other words, just another pandering politician who would tell voters whatever they wanted to hear to gain the White House. Not a very good example for any member of the “Party of Principle” that has been calling for less government and more freedom for almost four decades now. So one has to wonder, just what does Wayne Allyn Root mean when he calls himself a Reagan Libertarian?

Now Mr. Root is the only person I have ever known in all my many years in the LP who refers to himself in this manner. Therefore, we can only use his own words to answer the question, “What is a Reagan Libertarian?” So let’s examine how WAR defines himself. He does so in his most-recent book, The Conscience of a Libertarian: Empowering the Citizen Revolution with God, Guns, Gambling & Tax Cuts.

Mr. Root is very upfront about who he is and what he is politically in his book. In fact, in the very first paragraph of the book’s introduction entitled “Citizen Politician – Citizen Revolution” he writes, “Politically, I’m a combination of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Ron Paul – a Libertarian conservative, supercharged, and on steroids!” (Emphasis is his, not mine.) There you have it in a nutshell, in Wayne Allyn Root’s own words. Let’s take a close look at what he is saying.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

The first half of his self-description reads, “Politically, I’m a combination of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Ron Paul…” Do the math with me here. Senator Goldwater was a Republican. President Reagan was a Democrat turned Republican. Dr. Paul is a Republican turned Libertarian turned Republican. All three men were/are elected Republicans. Mr. Root claims to be a combination of all three men. So, Republican + Republican + Republican can only equal Republican! There is no other way for the “combination” to add up.

Mr. Root seems to try to clarify himself in the second half of his self-description by claiming the title “Libertarian conservative,” but that doesn’t jive with the first half of his statement. The inference is that all three men were/are also Libertarian conservatives, yet we know for a fact that they were/are all Republicans. Seems misleading to me, but that is just my opinion, of course. Honestly, the majority of Libertarians I know just call themselves Libertarians. We see no need for qualifiers. In fact, since being Libertarian covers such a wide political spectrum, many of us believe using qualifiers to describe Libertarians can be misleading.

WAR brings his self-description home with the big finale, “…supercharged and on steroids!” (Please remember, the emphasis is his not mine.) Well, I have seen what steroids can do to people. I had to take care of some of them in the military hospital where I worked years ago. I know what steroids do to the body and the mind when they have been abused. Not a pretty sight, believe me. Steroids will definitely “supercharge” you, but they can also destroy you if you are not careful. Sadly, they can also cause you to destroy those around you. In fact, the danger you pose to others when using steroids is perhaps the most damaging part of this whole equation. I’m afraid by being too reckless with his words Mr. Root has put all of us in the Libertarian Party in a position where we now must do damage control.

President Taft provided us with some sage advice when he wrote, “Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.” It is doubly important for Libertarians to heed this advice since we have spent the better part of forty years trying to distance ourselves from the two major political parties in the United States. We realize we must set ourselves apart from the status quo in order to be perceived as a viable alternative for voters who have become fed up with the shenanigans of the Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, whenever Mr. Root tells anyone he is a Reagan Libertarian, the first thing that comes to mind is – Republican. He sets us back decades, intentionally or unintentionally, with this one careless statement, because what it says to far too many of us is, “I am still a Republican.”

We Libertarians have enough trouble with Democrats and Republicans who constantly try to brand us as something we are not. Both parties go out of their way to smear us as being everything from anarchists to un-American zealots. The last thing we need right now is one of our own providing them with extra ammunition for the political war in which we find ourselves.

In just a couple of weeks, Libertarians from all across the country will gather in St. Louis for our national convention. There we will be asked to decide who will be our next chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, an office for which Wayne Allyn Root is currently running, along with four other men. As I see it, we are faced with a choice between four Libertarians and one “Reagan Libertarian.” For the good of my party I will be voting for a Libertarian. If you are a delegate to the Libertarian national convention, I hope you will too.

 

R. Lee Wrights is a writer and political activist living in Texas. He is the co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Contact Lee at rleewrights@gmail.com.

9 Responses to What is a Reagan Libertarian?

  1. Starchild

    May 16, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Good points, Lee. We don’t need to be represented by a “Reagan Libertarian.” I believe Ernest Hancock is the best candidate for chair to make sure the Libertarian Party will faithfully advocate the libertarian message and not be misunderstood.

  2. Sean Shepard

    May 17, 2010 at 8:59 am

    For a lot of us that grew up with Reagan in the White House we are libertarians and/or Libertarians today because even though he didn’t do all of the right things, he sure talked a lot about them and shared a largely libertarian message.

    While I’ll be as critical as anyone of Reagan’s foreign interventions, failure to downsize government, tripling of the debt and other things … I still am very fond of Reagan.

    I think more importantly, as Libertarians we need to start figuring out to grow out of being the party of 3%. In Wayne we see someone who, first of all, seems wiling to learn and grow as a libertarian but also has some media savvy which we have sorely lacked.

    If someone had asked me my positions on lots of issues just 5 or 10 years ago they would have probably been less pure in the faith but that’s what books, and MeetUps, and conventions and other methods of association are for … so we can learn and grow.

    2010 and 2012 are going to be litmus tests, given the extreme level of outrage at the usual suspects, as to whether or not the LP can start winning some significant races.

  3. Carl Vassar

    May 17, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Thank you, Lee. Great analysis. Let’s hope we can resoundingly defeat WAR and others of his ilk, and begin to correct the national LP’s ideological drift.

  4. Ayn R. Key

    May 17, 2010 at 11:20 am

    You were right the first time – there is no such thing as a “Reagan Libertarian”. Root, by calling himself that, proves your point.

  5. Rocketman

    May 17, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    I remember seeing his speech on TV before the convention back in 2008 and thinking that this guy is a snake oil salesman. He is too quick with the glib remarks, too perfectly optimistic, too energetic to be a real “down in the trenches” libertarian as we all are that have talked the talk and walked the walk. If he becomes the National Chair I am very afraid that he will change the LP into Republican “lite” and break the LP’s back. All of you that are going to the convention need to start getting organized RIGHT NOW to keep WAR from being the next chair and presidential candidate in 2012. Good luck.

  6. Famularo's Ghost

    May 17, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    As I see it, a Reagan Libertarian is a purveyor of flim-flam.

    Would you like the Selective Service administration to be abolished because a free society cannot be defended by conscripts? A Reagan Libertarian would promise its demise.

    Would you like the Departments of Energy and Education to be abolished because they do nothing useful? A Reagan Libertarian would promise the demise of these agencies.

    Would you like the launch of commercial satellites to be provided by commercial space transportation providers? A Reagan Libertarian would promise this too.

    Would you like a space station for 12 astronauts for $8 billion in less than ten years? A Reagan Libertarian would also promise that.

    Just as Reagan did. Mind you, none of these things would be delivered. Just as Reagan didn’t.

    I concur with Starchild’s assessment. Failing the election of Ernie Hancock to be the chair of the LP later this month, I would find George Phillies to be an adequate alternative. Root is not. Strike off the root, stick with one of the squares.

  7. "George Taylor"

    June 27, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Let’s see: Twice Reagan signed the largest tax increases in history (1982, 1983). Reagan’s tax increase in 1987 was the fifth largest for at least two decades. Spending and revenues doubled under Reagan. The national debt tripled under Reagan. The annual budget deficit quadrupled under Reagan. “Reagan Revolution?” Huh! “Reagan Reverie” is more like it. And this is a man WAR admires. I regret having donated to his campaign.

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