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
The first half of his self-description reads, “Politically, I’m a combination of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Ron Paulâ€¦” 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, “â€¦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 firstname.lastname@example.org.