Document:Interview with Gene Berkman July 2022
You've been a long-time libertarian - since 1964. And you have an incredible resumé. What brought you to the Libertarian Party?
Well, I was a libertarian already when the Libertarian Party was created. I became a libertarian in 64. You may remember there was a guy who ran for president on a program of freedom and limited government. Senator Barry Goldwater and I got enthused about that. I was 13. There wasn't a whole lot I could do to actually promote the campaign, but I did volunteer work at the Goldwater headquarters every day after school, and during the course of that I ran across National Review, which was the first magazine I saw that was not attacking Goldwater. So, I got a subscription to that.
During the campaign I sent $5 to the Republican National Committee. I have not done that since, but I sent $5 to help elect Barry Goldwater. So, after the election the Republican National Committee sold its mailing list to any number of conservative groups and I got a promotion from the conservative book club.
Through National Review, I was exposed to writings by Henry Hazlitt and Frank Meyer and several other people on the fringe of libertarianism and through the Conservative Book Club I bought my first books by Ludwig von Mises. Due to my promotion of Barry Goldwater in my junior high school my German teacher and my science teacher both encouraged me to read Ayn Rand.
I read Ayn Rand when I was 13 and then continued doing so. And by 1968, after several attempts to join Young Americans for Freedom, I actually finally got it together and joined Young Americans for Freedom. And that's where I met my first other libertarians. There was actually quite an active libertarian group within California Young Americans for Freedom at the time, and I became quite involved in that.
In 1969 I attended the National Convention and edited the Libertarian Caucus program. I represented the Libertarian Caucus on the platform committee, the subcommittee on domestic affairs. After the convention, a group of us held a press conference in Los Angeles, quitting young Americans for Freedom, denouncing the conservative establishment and creating the California Libertarian Alliance, which was a very informal organization.
We'd have occasional meetings in L.A. or Orange County, and we'd have some events. But mostly we put on a series of libertarian conferences. Prior to the formation of the California Libertarian Alliance in August of 1969, when we were still part of Young Americans for Freedom, we had a conference featuring Ludwig von Mises as our featured speaker. He was 88 years old at the time.
Four years later he died.
So, I was involved in promoting conferences and helping organize conferences with California Libertarian Alliance. And then in the course of things, I ended up in Maryland. I had a girlfriend who was from Baltimore, and I went back to meet her parents, and I got a job at the Society for Individual Liberty in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1971.
So, I was working for the Society for Individual Liberty and the magazine The Individualist, and we would receive ad copy promoting a new thing called the Committee to Organize the Libertarian Party, headed by David Nolan. And we'd run his ads because he was paying for them. We had very few advertisers. We would sit around and read the ad copy to each other and laugh because at the time the overwhelming majority of libertarians were totally turned off to electoral politics.
Many of us had been involved in conservative politics and felt that we'd been betrayed by politicians who would talk about freedom during the campaign and then support some new government program or some new government prohibition after they got power. So, there was not a single person there that took seriously the idea of libertarians influencing electoral politics.
I moved back to California and ended up staying in Venice Beach, and lived for a while at the Office of the Peace and Freedom Party, a little left wing antiwar political group. I was sent to Texas to organize a group there. When I got there, the people I was supposed to organize were even more anti-political civil libertarians.
They joined the People's Party – with which the Peace & Freedom Party was affiliated -because it left them alone and wouldn't tell them what to do. But they weren't interested in electoral politics either. I ended up going down to Houston and hanging out with libertarians there, and I went to the Denver convention with some people from Houston, and that's how I joined the Libertarian Party.
What formed your philosophical views?
Well, my two biggest influences are Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand, because I was always interested in economics. In retrospect, I find very few people are interested in economics. And in fact, it's been my goal for many years to write an article on economics that's actually interesting. But for some reason I've been interested in it. And the other factor was when my German teacher and my science teacher encouraged me to read Ayn Rand, it was a real expose.
I had been involved since the Goldwater campaign. I'd been involved around conservative politics. I've been reading National Review, buying books from the conservative book club, and there was always this promotion of Christianity as part of conservatism. I was an atheist since I was nine. And so, when I read Ayn Rand, here's an atheist who was not a communist, who was in fact in favor of capitalism. And that's what I am. And I was immediately drawn in. Of course, I don't agree with either Mises or Rand on everything, but they're the two most important philosophical and economic influences on me and most of the beliefs I have derive from one or the other. That's the ethical belief in liberty from Rand and the practical analysis from Mises.
You know, it's fairly common - for many years, most libertarians you would meet had read Ayn Rand and then a smaller minority were familiar with Mises. And many who knew Mises because the of Ayn Rand newsletters and the Nathaniel Branden Institute promoted the books of business.
When I opened my first bookstore in Riverside, it was in a bad location. I didn't do very much business, but this guy came in, he looks around, he says, “You have books by Ludwig von Mises!” And I said, “You’ve heard of him?” And the reason he heard of him was he was an Objectivist and he had seen the mentions in the Ayn Rand magazines. So, there you have it.
You were a candidate for a U.S. House of Representatives in 92, 94 and 96. Tell us about the experience and how that came about.
Well, 92 was a very interesting election year. You may remember this was right after the Iraq war. The Iraq war itself was immensely popular. When it was happening, I was in a little anti-war group and we were an extremely small minority. But after the war was over, the normal economic effects of war are depression. And we went into the Bush depression. And that caused a lot of alienation. People were willing to listen to other voices. And. of course, there was that insane Perot campaign. I had lived in Texas. I knew about Ross Perot and what an authoritarian advocate of big government he was. So, I never got drawn into it. But there were all kinds of people who were open to the idea of voting outside the Democratic and Republican parties because Perot appeared to be a viable candidate.
We had just had reapportionment in 1990, the new census. And so, 1992 we had new districts. And I'm in Riverside County, the Inland Empire which - since the 1960s - has been statistically the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States. Almost every ten years it has qualified as the fastest growing area. So, in 1992, we had new seats in Congress and in the state legislature for Riverside County and no incumbents in them.
We also had late reapportionment that year. The legislature was behind on drawing the maps. So, we had a shorter time to get our signatures to get on the ballot. They lowered the number. I only had to collect 52 signatures to get on the ballot for Congress. It was so easy. I figured we should do it.
I had just taken over as county chair and we had run a congressional candidate in 1988 and 1990 who was extremely unsatisfactory. Bonnie Flickinger, who eventually left the Libertarian Party and denounced thr party, even after we'd given her thousands of dollars for various campaigns. But I was unsatisfied with her campaign, so I wanted - as county chair - to make sure we had some candidates. So, I ran for Congress. My wife, Jane Henson, ran for state assembly, and we had a candidate for Congress in the Eastern District as well. That was the biggest expansion of public awareness of the Libertarian Party in Riverside County. Another third-party candidate was on the ballot for the American Independent Party, the old George Wallace Group, and he became a friend of mine and he was a nice guy and agreed with us on a lot of things.
But because of his stance on abortion and his opposition to free trade, I was not willing to support his campaign. So, I made sure we had a candidate for Congress, which in this case was me. And Phil Turner ran in the other district and Jane Henson ran for Assembly. And we had another Assembly candidate in another part of the county, so we had an active group.
I ended up coming in fourth with under 5000 votes. The American Independent got 6100, and then there was a crazy Christian anti-abortion candidate who ran a write in campaign and got 2100. The Republican won the election by 500 votes over the Democrat. And the three alternative candidates among us received 13,000 votes. So going into the 1994 campaign, I ran again because I hoped to make the difference again.
The media was primed for it since they had seen Ken Calvert was in such a weak position. Calvert - the Republican had won only 47% of the vote in a historically Republican district. So, 1994 was the high point. There were campaign forums everywhere that I was invited to. Also in 92, there were campaign forums everywhere that all our libertarian candidates were invited to; there might have been one or two where we weren't invited. But if we showed up and told them who we were, we were welcomed then. So, we got a tremendous amount of free publicity that way. The local press covered our campaigns. They included us when they covered other candidates. They mentioned us when they covered the forums and everything. And in the second campaign I did happen to do quite a bit better.
I got 9400 votes, 6.4%. And part of that was the large amount of coverage we got in the press and things like that. But I really can't take any credit. The fact is, Congressman Calvert had been elected in 1992 and then in 1993, his wife divorced him. He had convinced her to wait till after the election. And so, he's a lonely guy.
In 1994, during the course of the campaign, the congressman got caught in his car in a bad street, in Corona, getting a blowjob from a prostitute. So, I got a certain amount of the Puritan vote as well. It's ironic, but I did not attack him for it. In fact, when Jane Henson ran again for State Assembly, we sent out a press release for her campaign calling for legalization of prostitution so that the police would not be bothering citizens in their cars.
So those were the two big campaigns between 1992 and 1994. In 1996 I made a big mistake. We got cable and I started watching C-SPAN. So, after I filed for Congress, I got so bored with Congress, I hardly campaigned at all. I don't recommend C-SPAN if you're running for Congress.
You were allowed to enter those public forums and get to debate?
We were invited to all of them. And in fact, in 1992, since as I mentioned, it was an open district for Congress, there were seven Republicans and seven Democrats running in the primary, plus two third party candidates. I was invited to the forums for the primary as well.
Do you think that would happen today?
It has not happened very much since then. After in 1994, Congressman Calvert was reelected and the district route clearly reestablished it was Republican again, although now it's not. The Republican Party is so dead in California, it's even dying in Riverside County, which, by the way, went for Herbert Hoover in 1932. But since the districts were found to be safe, the media had less interest, so we weren't invited.
The groups that were holding forums stopped holding them because they didn't see any kind of contest. We were very fortunate in 92 and 94 and I don't know how to recreate that period again, especially now with top two.
Do you see that there's a change in the in the way the press covers third party candidates?
The Press-Enterprise in Riverside covered third party candidates in that period. It has since been bought and it's not so much that it wouldn't cover us. It hardly covers any news at all anymore. I mean, it's finished as a newspaper. The Orange County Register would give publicity to the third-party candidates if we didn't have top two. Top-two primary system has been immensely destructive to the party.
Why is it difficult for third party candidates to break into the mainstream?
There are a number of factors. There's the basic idea that everybody has heard of the Democrats and Republicans - and a lot of people - have not heard of the other parties. Fortunately, one of the benefits of the Libertarian Party being in existence since 1972 is awful lot of people have heard of libertarian. And the word libertarian also gets coverage in nonparty contexts.
When the Institute for Justice does something and they're covered in the L.A. Times, they'll be referred to as libertarian. If the Cato Institute releases a study, it will be referenced as libertarian. So, the word libertarian is out there a lot more than any of the other names of any of the other third parties. But we have a second problem, which is when the media reporters look at us, they don't see what they consider a real campaign.
Meaning, it takes an adequate budget to buy advertising and television and to do adequate direct mail. And they don't see that with us. The problem for us is most of the money in politics is not there for philosophical or ideological reasons. It's there either because a business owner wants a special favor from the government, or he's afraid that the government will do something and he's trying to defend himself against government. The politicians who promise favors to special interest groups, they will get the money that we won't get. The politicians who threaten special interest groups get the money by way of bribes that we won't get. So, we have to figure out how to fund our campaigns other than through appealing to special interest groups who want special favors from government.
And then the third factor is this sense we don't regularly get coverage. Since we don't normally have assets, we don't get candidates who have the credentials and the name recognition that we need to be seen in the community. We get well-meaning volunteers, including me. I was not a great candidate. I was a good explainer of libertarianism to a certain degree, but I was not a great candidate.
I own my own business. That's a certain amount of credential. But I've never been elected to anything. I have not had time to engage in major public activities, and we lack candidates who have the necessary credentials. Until we have adequate resources and figure out how to get them, until we can attract candidates who have credentials that will cause people who are not already on our side to listen to us, we will have problems being taken seriously.
Who are some of the people that you remember working with or interacting with around that time?
Well, in the period of the California Libertarian Alliance, I met a lot of people because we had great speakers. I met Murray Rothbard, I met Ludwig von Mises. I met David Friedman through young Americans for Freedom, and I met quite a few other people like that. And the people I worked with are all mostly people who've left, either left California or left the libertarian movement.
Dana Rohrabacher, who later was a congressman, Shawn Steele, who's currently a Republican National Committeeman from California, were both leaders of the California Libertarian Alliance. I got to know Alan Bock, who later became senior columnist for the Orange County Registe;, he promoted libertarian views there for many years. A truly great person, who unfortunately has left us some years ago.
Ronald Kimberling was my closest friend among California libertarians, in YAF and the CLA. He moved to Illinois and has recently been involved again in the Libertarian Party. Ron helped edit a book on the history of the Libertarian Party, which reprints brings together a group of essays on the history of the Libertarian Party. In the Libertarian Party, the person I probably worked with the most outside of Riverside County was Jack Dean, active in the Orange County Libertarian Party, and in 1988 the Libertarian candidate for US Senate from California.
You might have heard of him. He was very prominent in the nineties and most of the other people I mentioned, you probably haven't heard of. I was actually county chair up through 2016, but since 2011, when I moved to my current location, my business has taken up almost all my time and I had much less time for direct political activity. other than talking to people who come to my store. And I do offer the biggest selection of libertarian books in Southern California or America. The Mises Institute might offer more by mail order, but for a walk-in storefront, I have by far the most libertarian books.
Can you talk about meeting Murray Rothbard?
At the 1969 YAF convention I met Joe Cobb, the last editor of The New Individualist Review. Joe became one of my best friends in libertarian circles. Also, in that period I met several people associated with the Rothbard circle - Ralph Raico, Walter Block, and others. I rarely saw them after that, but I ran into Murray Rothbard at various libertarian conferences and conventions over the years.
Having been involved in the Libertarian Party, I went to a number of national conventions and regional conferences where he showed up. So, I interacted with him on a number of occasions. Of course, I do not agree with him on some major issues, though.
Tell us about the Left/Right Festival of Liberation
The Left/Right Festival of Liberation took place at the University of Southern California in February 1970. The featured speakers were Karl Hess, former Chief Speechwriter for Sen. Barry Goldwater in the 1964 campaign, and Carl Oglesby, who served as President of the new left Students for a Democratic Society in 1965-1966.
I had already met Karl Hess at the Young Americans for Freedom convention in St. Louis in 1969. He was an outside agitator associated with the Anarchist Caucus of YAF. The Anarchist Caucus was headed up by his son, Karl Hess IV. I was liaison between the Libertarian Caucus and the Anarchist Caucus.
Over the years I kept in touch with Karl Hess. When I worked for SIL in Silver Spring Maryland in late 1971, I went every Wednesday to the Institute for Policy Studies where Karl had a regular and very participatory symposium. I also corresponded with him. My last contact with Karl Hess was in 1987, when he was editor of the Libertarian Party News. He called me about my involvement with the Libertarian Republican Organizing Committee. I told him I was an advisor to LROC, but still active in the LP, so he had me write an article for LP News. The article was published in the last issue of 1987 as "The Libertarian Triad."
Could you tell us a little bit about your theory on liberty?
It's pretty straightforward. It's two parts. There's the ethical theory, and the basis of it is each person has the right to control their own body and their own life. In the words of William Graham Sumner, each person has the right to use their own talents and abilities for their own welfare and the welfare of their loved ones.
The reason behind the ethical basis for liberty is this: If each person is not qualified to run their own life, then some people are superhuman and so qualified they can run their own life and the lives of other people. And how are we going to decide who these superhuman people are that are qualified to run other people's lives?
That's the ethical basis. The practical basis is clearly the record of statism over thousands of years, and particularly the record of socialism and the mixed economy in the 20th and 21st centuries. Clearly, even where there have been limitations on the free market, the free market itself and the capitalist elements of the economy have shown themselves to be tremendously productive in a way that statist economies are not.
America clearly has a mixed economy. We clearly have too much government, we have too much regulation, we have too many taxes. But still, the capitalist part of our economy is remarkably productive. If you go to a place like Vietnam, which has had a communist government since 1975. In 1990, the communist government pulled back some and allowed private enterprise with even less regulation than we have here and now. Vietnam has one of the most dynamic, growing economies in Asia, and public opinion surveys in Vietnam show that 95% of the people in Vietnam favor capitalism. The experience of capitalism versus socialism is the proof of the libertarian philosophy. And the ethical basis of it is each person has the right to run their own life.
What do you think of the rise in the popularity of democratic socialism?
It is not a sign of people taking a sophisticated view of things. It's always easy to think, hey, you know, there's poverty. If the government just takes from the wealthy and gives to the poor, we could end poverty. It's easy for people to think that. And all too often the response to that has not been, hey, you know, there are better ways to eliminate poverty.
In fact, the capitalist system has done more to eliminate poverty than any anti-poverty program. Capitalism creates so much wealth that when there is poverty left, if you get the government out of the way, private action will help those poor people. Too often the response has been, who cares about the poor? We're just people who are successful on their own.
Libertarians need to present their arguments with a little more compassion. Not to say we should advocate altruism or living our life for the benefit of others, but accepting that as Adam Smith pointed out, we have a “fellow feeling” for other people and issues like poverty and disease are problems that should be solved. We shouldn't just say, well, the government shouldn't solve them now.
We should say, in fact, private action can and should solve them. So, the rise of democratic socialism is a response, ironically, to the continuing limitations on economic growth, the continuing impoverishment and homelessness and things like this, most of which are caused by previous government programs that were promoted by the earlier champions of the Democratic Socialist vision. We have an education problem, as we all always have had.
You know, when I was in high school, there was socialism. I argued with socialists all the time. They're not a new thing. It's just they have a lot more media attention now and they are more politically practical than they used to be.
Can you give us your opinion of military conscription?
Yes. My record is really clear on that. I was in the very first lottery. My number was 53. That was when I was 19. I had dropped a class at the University of California Riverside and lost my student deferment. So, I was ordered to report for physical and I didn't show up to it. I was ordered to report for second physical and didn't show up to it. And then I was ordered to report for induction and then that was canceled, and they gave me another physical, which I didn't show up to. And then I got another order to report for induction. So, between October of 22nd of 1970 and October 22nd, 1975, I was a draft resister with an FBI warrant after me. I was actually arrested five years to the day after the day I was first supposed to show up for a physical.
I received a three-year probation with a requirement that I go back to college. I don't believe in compulsory education. So, I put it off. Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976 and he pardoned all the draft dodgers. I have a copy of my pardon somewhere at home.
What was that experience like - getting arrested and how did you come out of it?
Well, after five years, the day they arrested me that very morning, I had actually forgotten about the draft. And they reminded me of it. I had a friend who was a lawyer that was a libertarian. He was not in the Libertarian Party. I don't know if you've ever heard of Rampart College.
They promoted a nonvoting version of libertarianism, extreme anarchist type thing. He was a graduate of there and he didn't believe in voting, but he was a lawyer. So, I got him to represent me. And he went to a lawyer who specialized in draft cases. I was facing four counts. One count of failure to report present for induction, two counts of failure to report for physicals and one count of failure to keep them informed of my address. My lawyer pointed out if I had not given them my address, I could not have received the orders to report for physicals or for induction.
I was convicted of one count – failure to keep them informed of my address. Currently there is no draft, but there is draft registration. The only way to break the current law is to fail to keep them informed of your address – the thing I was convicted of.
You've got a colorful life, Gene.
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, indeed. I left out a bunch of details.
Do you belong to any party caucus?
I never have and I never will. And specifically, I will say this. I am a very big student of Mises. I sell his books. I read his books. I rely on him for much of my viewpoint. And I'm totally opposed to the Mises caucus. They totally misunderstand him. And their attitude toward major issues in the party is problematic at best. And at worst, I hesitate to say, because I don't like to swear.
Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
Okay. Well, they put in Angela McArdle for national chair after she managed to run the L.A. County Libertarian Party into the ground. I mean, it's ineffective. I watched on YouTube her speech at Freedom Fest. And it was an embarrassment. But most importantly, she said, well, take bold stands for Liberty. And then the first thing the Mises caucus did was they deleted the abortion plank from the Libertarian Party platform. Right now, when it's a particularly important issue, they are not willing to take a bold stand for liberty.
As I mentioned, I'm against conscription. The Libertarian Party position on conscription is each young man has a right to control his own body. So, we oppose conscription. And that was in the platform for many years. Our platform on abortion was each woman has the total right to control her own body. So, we oppose government restrictions on abortion. The Mises Caucus took that out of our platform in order to appeal to people who want to give the government power to take away freedom from a large class of people. And I find that particularly embarrassing and certainly not in line with anything our leaders should advocate.
Secondly, the Mises caucus is associated with Scott Horton, who's a Russian stooge and has made clear his support for Russian imperialism, or at least his willingness to excuse it as a response to “NATO encirclement of Russia. So, I'm totally opposed to the Mises Caucus.
If people form a caucus for social reasons, I have no objection to that. And even if they form a caucus for philosophical or political reasons, I don't object. I'm just not interested in it. But the Mises caucus went beyond that to intentionally move in, to take control of the Libertarian Party in order to change its direction in a way that I'm not comfortable with.
Who are some libertarian thinkers who you admire?
Well, obviously, Ludwig von Mises who referred to himself as a liberal, of course, rather than a libertarian in the European or classical sense. I was an anarcho-capitalist for many years, but I have decided three things about it. One is that there's just too few people willing to listen to the explanations.
Secondly, the explanations rely on too many assumptions. I think the best we can hope for is limited constitutional government. So mixed opinion liberalism is what I'm for as far as contemporary thinkers. There's no deep thinker in the libertarian movement that impresses me that much. There are a number of journalists and promoters that I really like David Boaz, of the Cato Institute. I think Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch of Reason magazine are really great, very committed libertarians and as a public face for promoting libertarianism, but not a public spokesman for it.
Penn Jillette, I admire. And then there are a lot of libertarian authors that are good, but I have not really seen original thinkers at the level of Ayn Rand or Ludwig von Mises in recent years. And it's sad. I hope we get some new intellectuals coming up.
What is your analysis of the current state of California?
It's the best of times. It's the worst of times. California is an unbelievably wealthy place. It's always been wealthy, but it's never been this wealthy. I'm a native of California. I grew up here. I've lived outside of California for approximately 5 to 7 years out of the 71 years I've lived. So I have lived in California most of my life and I'm very committed to it.
I cannot imagine living anywhere else, but clearly it has too much government and clearly it has too small of an opposition to that government. Even the people who are part of the too much government are promoting liberty in some areas. We have legal marijuana here but an extremely bureaucratically organized legalization. That is very problematic. But at least there is an amount of marijuana that is legal. So if a police officer smells marijuana on your shirt or on your breath, they do not have an excuse to search you as they used to. There are some increases in freedom here and there are some ways California is more free than other states, certainly in terms of sexual freedoms, women's freedoms and marijuana. But the amount of government regulation of the economy is frightening.
And it's frightening in a way that I know New York was capable of it. I've been in New York. I've read about New York. New York was capable of it. I see California becoming all too much like New York in many ways with too much tax and too much regulation. And then this massive split between the wealthy (many of whom are politically connected and get government subsidies) and the people just trying to make it - who are victims of taxes and regulation, even if they continue to vote for the Democrat candidates.
California has a lot of problems, but I don't see any other state that doesn't have problems. And I think the problems that California has are things that can be dealt with over the long run, but it's going to take a much stronger libertarian movement and for that matter, a much stronger movement among economic conservatives in the Republican Party that don't seem to be there. And I don't know if that's likely to happen, but every place where government has gotten too big, there has been a reaction.
You mean like a backlash to that?
Yes. And you know, we're seeing it now. People got rid of Trump because he was, in fact, evil and incompetent and overbearing and many other negative things. And now they're having buyer's remorse over Biden for obvious reasons, because he's incompetent, and overbearing. And so, we're going to get a big vote for the Republicans in this coming election, whether they're capable of doing anything with it or not is one thing.
But inevitably there's a backlash. We need an organization strong enough to be able to speak to that backlash, and we don't have that at the present time. We have a problem. This is what I see is the problem for the Libertarian Party. Any business has to offer the potential customer a value proposition. I'm offering you a product for an amount of money that you don't think is onerous.
Maybe it's more than you want to pay or maybe you think it's a bargain. But I'm trying to offer you something that is worth something to you. The Libertarian Party hasn't made clear what it is offering to people. It offers a lot of rhetoric about philosophy or abstract economic ideas, and it offers some practical rhetoric on things, but it doesn't offer any kind of value proposition.
What will you get if you support a Libertarian candidate? And I'm not talking about what special favors from the government, but if you are oppressed by a government policy, if you smoke marijuana, you want it legal. If you are a woman who doesn't want the government controlling your reproductive organs, or if you are a draft age man, or if you are a business owner facing regulation or just a worker facing high taxes.
You see the Libertarian Party and you don't see it as the answer to your problems because we have not made clear what we can do. I don't know that anybody in the leadership has any idea what the Libertarian Party can do. We certainly don't have a focus on anything other than occasionally some issue will come up and we'll try to do a protest or something.
And some of our candidates managed to get issues into their campaigns, but we've never focused on a candidate or a campaign who could say, if you vote for the Libertarian Party, then it will push for you to get more freedom in this area. And it will have some effect, we might say it will push for you to have freedom, but we cannot promise any effect because we haven't figured out how to do that yet.
We run candidates for President who lack credentials, and we receive a protest vote, but cannot move beyond that. We run candidates for Congress who aren't qualified to be in Congress. And we expect people to vote for us on blind faith and until we can make a value proposition that is attractive to larger numbers of Californians and a larger number of Americans, we're going to be stuck.
How has the United States in general and California in particular changed since you ran for Congress?
Well, actually, of the changes occurred before I ran for Congress, the draft did get abolished and oddly, draft registration is still there. So, the one thing I was convicted of, which was failure to keep the government informed of my address is still illegal and now punishable by five years in prison and $250,000 fine. So there hasn't been as much change as we would hope, but I would say the biggest changes occurred in the eighties when Ronald Reagan was president.
We got bad things like the war on drugs and too much spending on the military, which has continued under both Democrat and Republican presidents. But we also got good things. Increased freedom in the economy, lower taxes. Federal taxes are still lower than they were before Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, for example. And for example, the Federal Communications Commission is drastically less restrictive of broadcast media than it was when I was growing up.
In general, since the eighties we've had more of a free market, while on the other hand, the general trends toward giving the government more power to deal with so-called crime issues and social issues has continued. And lately there's been a reversal of that on criminal justice. It hasn't been to the middle of the road where people's property is protected without putting innocent people in jail. Now, instead, people are actually attacking people's property or mugging. People are being let off because of the fears about being too repressive. So, there are both good trends and bad trends in both the state of California and in the country in general. Certainly, since I ran for Congress in 1992, the whole country's a whole lot wealthier, even if there are a whole lot more homeless people and to some degree there's a relation.
The immense wealth that the country has means that the cost of everything has gone up. The costs of real estate are much higher than it was, and that's certainly a big part of the homeless problem. And just to give you an example, to prepare for this, I looked at LPLAC and had a link to Angela McArdle on a Web page for a campaign for Congress. She talks about homelessness and does not mention the policies, the regulatory policies, and tax policies that led to the high cost of homes. She talks about the war on drugs, but she doesn't talk about what actually caused people to be bid out of having a place to live in. So, there are plenty of issues where libertarians can be the spokesmen, but they have to do it in a way that's both compassionate and doesn't sound overbearing, self-righteous, or holier than thou.
I'm not that familiar with her. Already she has turned me off completely. I assure you. She promised as Chair not to embarrass members of the Libertarian Party. And I've been embarrassed every day since she's been Chair.
It is not right to dump on you. Just the fact of the matter.
We're here to you to hear your thoughts.
Thank you. I appreciate that.
We're not trying to judge. I think that's the whole purpose of historic preservation. To listen to people who have been around for a long time and capture their thoughts.
I appreciate that. And in fact, communication can only exist when we're willing to listen to things that might be outside of our comfort zone.
What is your proudest libertarian moment?
I've tried to think about that. I hesitate to refer to myself as proud about myself in any way. I have tried to do what I can to promote freedom whenever I had the opportunity. And I'm proud to the degree I've been able to do that and to the degree anybody has agreed to that, it's made me proud.
And I would say I have thought of a couple of things. When I ran for Congress in 1994, there were people who had heard me at campaign forums in 1992 and said they've been voting Libertarian since. And this is a little offbeat, but one of the things we used to do when we were really active in the 1990s was to help sponsor legalize marijuana rallies with NORML. (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) or with the Cannabis Action Project or other groups. There are a number of groups involved in marijuana legalization, there was a rally in Redlands - that's in San Bernardino County, right next to Riverside County. There was a rally in Redlands and there was a band going on. And I had to get far in the back of the thing to get away from the band – I have Tinnitus. And I ran into these guys who were just lighting up some herb, so I went over and enjoyed their herb with them, and we talked about things a little bit. Two years later I was walking through the Riverside Plaza and there was a line at a restaurant and one of the guys in the line yelled at me, Hey, Mr. Libertarian, I've been voting for you guys ever since I met you.
And he was one of the guys I met at that legalize marijuana rally. So little things like that make me proud. I won’t say there's any big thing that I've done. I'm proud of a lot of the people I've worked with and proud of a lot of the people I've sold books for. But it's little things like that that have given me the most pride, the fact that you can actually change somebody's mind.
In 1993 you won the California Sons of Liberty Award. Can you speak that?
Yes, they gave me that award for being the most hard-core candidate, because in my campaign I dealt with issues. I put out a campaign brochure that dealt with issues. I put out some specific issue-oriented brochures, and I spoke at numerous forums and I never hesitated to talk about the issues. I never relied on rhetoric only. And so, I got that reward for having a hardcore campaign.
And then in 1995, the Libertarian National Committee gave me an award as the most effective candidate for Congress in 1994. I have a certificate and a little Statue of Liberty at home that I got from the Libertarian National Committee certificate signed by Steve Dasbach.
What are some things you think libertarians should be concerned about?
Oh, we should be concerned with all the issues that are threatening people's freedoms. Obviously, taxes, especially in California, obviously government regulation of the economy. And we should show how lower taxes and deregulation can lead to economic growth and end poverty. And we should be concerned with the civil liberties issues, including marijuana, of course, and the whole war on drugs.
We should be opposed to the war on drugs. I look at it that way. It's easier to say I advocate legalizing marijuana then ending the war on drugs. And then you discuss legalization of the drugs later. We should, of course, right now be concerned with defending a woman's right to control her own body when it's under attack in 27 states. All those are far more important than opposing the mask mandate. I oppose the mask mandate, but I wear a mask every day. I recommend you watch the interview with Penn Jillette on ReasonTV that Nick Gillespie did, because he talks about that.
He said he was invited to speak at an Anti-Mask rally, and he said if they were going to say we're against mandates, if it was going to be a bunch of people in masks with who were already vaccinated saying we're against mandates, he'd be there every day. But if it's a bunch of people saying, fuck the government, we're not going to wear masks, that's just insane.
When there is an epidemic threatening the lives of millions of people, libertarians have to be responsible, but we have to constantly stand for liberty. And we have to make it clear that our stands for liberty doesn't interfere with our responsibility, and our responsibility doesn't interfere with our stands for liberty. Whereas Miss McArdle seems to have confused the whole thing, and she doesn't think that woman controlling her own body is an important thing.
I think we should be involved in issues where freedom is in danger, and we should be involved in issues where we can show how freedom can make life better for people, economic issues and social issues. And of course, we should oppose America's direct involvement in war, and we should also, in principle, be opposed to other countries that engage in aggression.
We should, without advocating sending troops, denounce the Russian invasionof Ukraine. Whereas Miss McArdle is tied in with Scott Horton, who is a defender of Russian expansionism. So, in fact the other issue is - we should be concerned that libertarian organizations promote liberty.
Is there anything else you would like to add to the biographical details that we'll put on LPedia?
I was actually chair of the Libertarian Party in Riverside County a lot longer than I should have been. I was chair most of the time between 1990 and 2016, with about three years where I turned it over to other people.
In 1980 and 81, I was Travis County chair of the Libertarian Party in Austin, Texas. Renaissance Bookshop has been in business continuously since 1986, earlier I have worked at Laissez Faire Books. They are out of business. I have worked at Books for Libertarians. They are out of business. And I work for the SIL Book Service and they are out of business. I have a blog, calibertarianreport.com. It's California libertarian report, I sell books online at www.renbook.com. Short for Renaissance books. I'm here six days a week. You or anybody else can call me anytime you want to talk about libertarianism and people do.
When I lived in Austin, TX, I met Rep. Ron Paul in 1981, at a conference of the Young Conservatives of Texas. I saw Ron Paul several times during the 1988 campaign and served as Riverside County Coordinator of the Ron Paul campaign that year. The last time I saw Ron Paul was in 1995, when he spoke at a John Birch Society Council Dinner in Orange County. When I ran for Congress in 1992, I wrote to Dr Paul asking for an endorsement, and he sent me a nice letter urging people to vote for me for Congress. That year I was also endorsed by a chain of 7 give-away advertising tabloids.
From 1984 to 2016, we maintained an active local group in Riverside County. Beginning in 1988 we ran candidates in Riverside County, and we provided support for statewide LP candidates, with mailings, yard signs and distribution of campaign brochures. We maintained a treasury to fund these activities that reached its high point at $1800, before Aaron Starr, Chair of LPC, declared my county organization dissolved in 2003. In 2004 I spend 8 months organizing meetings to get the LPC to recognize our county as active again.
In that period the RCLP maintained an active in involvement on a variety of public issues. We supported school voucher initiatives twice in the 1990s. We supported the medical marijuana initiative in 1996 and the legalization initiative in 2010. In 2016 after I gave up my position as Chair of RCLP, I funded advertising and direct mail in support of Gary Johnson for President and Proposition 64, to legalize marijuana. Gov. Johnson endorsed a yes vote on 64, but the California LP endorsed a No vote on the proposition, so I have let my paid membership in the LPC lapse because of this.
Separate from support for LP candidates through the RCLP, I have served as Admin for several campaign websites over the years:
Libertarians for Tom Campbell for Senate, 2000. Tom Campbell was the Republican
candidate. His platform called for an end to the Income Tax and an end to the War on
Drugs. He was explicitly pro-choice on Abortion.
• Libertarians for Tom McClintock for Governor, in the 2003 recall election. Tom McClintock was the conservative candidate in the recall, and we got endorsements from Art Olivier, LP candidate for Vice-President in 2000, 2 former LP candidates for Governor and other activists in Riverside and Orange counties. • Libertarians for Howard Dean for President in 2004. Gov. Dean of Vermont was the strongest antiwar candidate (2nd Iraq War) in the Democratic primaries in 2004. I made sure there was real libertarian content besides the appeal to antiwar libertarians and other antiwar voters. • Libertarians for Ron Paul in 2008, when Ron Paul ran in the Republican primaries for President. This was one of several websites set up by Libertarian Party members to back Paul. Like the others the Libertarians for Ron Paul site promoted Paul in the Republican primaries while also promoting the Libertarian Party and LP candidates for Congress.
In addition to all this, between 2002 and 2010, I spent 20,000 hours doing volunteer unpaid research for Antiwar.com. Currently I proofread Richard Wingers Ballot Access News every month before he publishes it.
What advice do you have for young people in the Libertarian Party?
Well, first off, read Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises, but don't necessarily believe everything. Immerse yourself in the libertarian perspective and in the facts of reality that you have to deal with - the factual context in which we operate - to promote freedom and maintain your independence. And in the words of Bob Dylan, “Don't follow leaders… watch your parking meters”.
Well, it's been a pleasure talking with you and you can call anytime or come by hopefully. I am honored and humbled that you would consider my background worth investigating.