The Politics Of Liberty

October 19, 2012

The disembodied, suspended rock face you see above is probably the only redeeming feature of Work in Progress, the dreadful night club where  Libertyfest was held. Thankfully, the day overshadowed the venue. Mike Salvi, the Master of Ceremonies, did a capable job overseeing the proceedings, despite the unusual nature of the event and sporadic disruptions, gently admonishing the crowd with a gentle “shh” and “shut the fuck up” as the occasion dictated. Although not yet a household name outside of the liberty movement, Salvi has a Joe Roganesque sensibility which added some some structure and comedic pacing to the event, similar to his hosting job at Philly Phreedom earlier this year. 

A former radio host/lawyer, Lionel was one of the first speakers of the afternoon. Even though most people now know him from his somewhat glib-yet entertaining and occasionally edifying-comentaries on WPIX, I remember him from his days as a talk radio host on 77-WABC. He was one of the first speakers to describe his conversion to libertarianism, which began with the presidential campaigns of Harry Browne. Like Lionel, Browne’s bete noire is this country’s draconian drug control laws, which have inexorably lead to the decimation of the Constitution and government tyranny, a view which Mr. Browne has expressed repeatedly.

In addition to contradicting the core principles under which our government is supposed to operate, the prohibitionist policies the federal government and states have pursued regarding narcotics have demonstrably failed, whereas nations that have followed an opposite course have seen a decrease in drug consumption and abuse. Even so, their path hasn’t been a complete success, and the state is still inserting itself into personal decisions in the sense of subsidizing methadone clinics, which as a policy decision is just as idiotic and harmful as imprisoning people for ingesting an arbitrarily proscribed drug.

The folly of the drug war was also discussed at length by Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center, who framed the issue within the context of states asserting their right to nullify patently unconstitutional federal laws and edicts. Although some witless analysts view the concept of federalism as obsolescent, his speech made it clear that this philosophy was just as vital today as it was when Patrick Henry defended the rights of his fellow Virginians during the debates surrounding ratification of the  U.S. Constitution.

Boldin focused specifically upon the Raich decision, and how its affirmation of the Supremacy Clause did not deter other states from enacting medical marijuana legislation, some as quickly as the day following the Supreme Court ruling. The fact that other states have sought to assert their rights under the Constitution, most frequently with respect to Obamacare, demonstrates that this is an effective restraint upon federal subversion of inalienable rights. Much more so than other stands of the liberty movement, which-whatever their merits-have not come remotely close to mobilizing vast numbers of the population, let alone achieving their desired ends.

Even so, there are some libertarians who still see federal politics as a means of effecting positive change, including Michael McDermott, a Libertarian candidate in the 3rd Congressional District of New York who’s running against Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Peter King. One of the chief obstacles facing him  is the monopoly exercised by the two major parties over access to things like presidential debates, which are often the sole means third party challengers have of disseminating their message to a large swath of the electorate, an impediment that Green Party nominee Jill Stein and LP standard bearer Gary Johnson know firsthand. As Mr. McDermott astutely pointed out, the problem is not so much public support for measures like the NDAA and SOPA as public ignorance of these affronts to the Constitution. The media complicity in news management by the established duopoly doesn’t help matters.

One of the few libertarian politicians who’s been able to carve out a niche in the public consciousness by exploiting an indifferent or outright hostile news media is  Dan Halloran, the Republican nominee running for Congress in an open seat in Queens against  Aseemblywoman Grace Meng  who’s been endorsed by the current occupant of Gracie Mansion. One of the chief themes of his speech was the attempt to integrate different strands of the libertarian movement into a cohesive whole.

One of the unique things about Councilman Halloran is his political success in a city straitjacketed by leftist groupthink. From his opposition to New York’s Tammany-inspired gun prohibition laws, to his rejection of Ayatollah Bloomberg’s food diktats, his brief political career has been marked by a willingness to challenge political orthodoxy. While most of his speech focused on the necessity of fusionism and disavowal of “purism” within the libertarian movement, the speakers who followed him identified this tendency as precisely where the liberty movement was led astray. I’ll discuss these consistent, or “purist,” libertarians in Part III of my recap of LibertyFest.


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