Matt Welch from Reason Magazine (not to be confused with Matt Walsh from The Daily Wire who I criticized in an earlier podcast episode) recently sat down with Rep. Thomas Massie from Kentucky. The congressman shared many important thoughts regarding strategy and some insider information about what it’s actually like to try being a principled person in Washington, DC.
Libertarians have a great habit of being uncompromisingly dedicated to their principles and to idealistic prospects for a free society. That propensity for radical idealism is something I share, and something I value as one of libertarians’ best hopes for inspiring that free society. There are many libertarians who hope for progress to occur through the avenue of politics as the field stands and by being a moderate bridge between mainstream positions and libertarianism in its most consistent form. While many see this as a realistic approach, this interview with Rep. Massie solidifies what I already figured was true: political ends come after cultural wins.
One of the first problems principled people in Washington face is the control of the two major parties. They control the money and the committees, and therefore are able to pull your strings, even if you want to do your job and faithfully represent your constituents. I, and I suspect most other everyday libertarians, generally take for granted just how impossible it can be to stick to your guns while simultaneously having any influence within the capitol.
The party comes to you, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, and says ‘If you want an important committee, you’re going to have to pay us this much money.’
Massie says that this system of partisan control causes politicians to become captive to the money, the lobbyists, and their party leaders. This problem is something I think can be addressed on three main fronts.
(1) People need to know about the problem at all. Interviews like this one with Thomas Massie are going to be seminal in getting the word out. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to politics, but even I had no idea about these realities of partisan politics until I watched this Reason piece. The more people who are aware enough to call BS on the Republicans and Democrats, the less votes they can get, and then the less monetary control they can have of politics more generally.
(2) Elect more Libertarians (from the LP). This is obvious, but difficult, and I’m not actually convinced it would do much good if the goal is to have influence in Washington. That leads me to the third, and most important, point.
(3) Libertarians, be they voters, candidates, or commentators must change their views on what the point of politics should be for us. We are not going to make any headway convincing politicians–who we already established are beholden to a slough of entities–to vote alongside the few “mediocre libertarians that make great Republicans,” as characterized by Massie. Tom Woods’ recent podcast episode with the Chair of the LP of Canada raised a useful distinction. Politics can be a platform for sharing ideas and influencing culture. If the goal is simply to win elections, people will be quick to appeal to the lowest common denominator and nominate/promote lackluster, watered down candidates that will neither win nor change anyone’s perspectives (cue Johnson/Weld 2016 and some individuals’ insistence on Weld 2020 *yawn*). In fact, radical insistence on consistent principles is a really attractive thing to many Americans. So, not only will candidates like this be more likely to win and help release the stranglehold of the two major parties on DC, they will have more of a widespread influence that will eventually lead to more a society that more readily demands liberty. It really can be a win-win situation.
In the interview at hand, Walsh leads Massie through a meaty conversation that is mostly about the impossible state of swamp, partisan politics in DC, but toward the end, when Walsh asks the congressman about optimism, Massie gave an answer that inspired the existence of this post in the first place. The congressman said that the federal prohibition on the cannabis plant will be gone within a decade. That in itself is cause to celebrate; a lot of violence and injustice will come to an end when that happens. But the point here is to ask why that is the case? Why will the plant become decriminalized? According to Thomas Massie, it is because of the states ignoring the feds. Why are they doing that? States are more localized and usually listen to the will of the people much more than does DC. So, it is a change in culture, a change in the opinions of everyday people that nullifies Federal overreach.
I have hope. I have optimism that when the American People get the information that I’ve been able to obtain, by being behind the curtain, they will start advocating for things that will fix the process.
There are many libertarians, conservatives, and others who seem to believe that the Federal Government maintains and grows its power because of its monopoly on force or its overwhelming firepower as compared to the people. While that is valid to some extent, State power is deeper. Something must drive police and military to use unjust force against their innocent neighbors. Ultimately, citizens’ reliance on and respect for the State as the standard of civilzation is what allows political power to continue and to grow. Nearly every cliche objection to libertarianism, or even so-called limited government, is predicated on the undue, ignorant love for the State. It is currently seen as our protector and provider by the left, and a necessary evil to protect individual rights by the right.
We can elect Bill Weld’s and Gary Johnson’s all we want, but as Massie’s insider information reveals, wins for liberty via politics are nearly impossible at the current moment. It will not be through legislation that a free society flourishes. It will be through people just living free; drug laws, for example, don’t matter if your neighbors are unwilling to call the cops on you. It will be the popularization of liberty and self-reliance that eventually changes the nature of politics, and will eventually see its perceived utility end.
Be radical. Be friendly. Be persuasive. Do all you can to change people’s minds, and show people how much better life can be when they fully own themselves. This is how the political violence of the state will eventually come to pass.
In liberty, John Osterhoudt
PS. I’m re-branding the site. Stay tuned for an update about some big changes. Hint: it’s relevant to the message above…