Here’s the essay I would have written before the Tom Woods revelations dropped. I feel it’s important to post in its relatively unaltered form to give context, and to give proper perspective to my feelings on the Woods problem.
Over the last year or two, the Mises Caucus of the Libertarian Party has been at the center of, well, a civil war inside the Libertarian Party and the broader libertarian movement. Accusations have flown from one side to the other-from the Mises Caucus, they’ve alleged corruption, pandering, appeasement, and the classic not being real libertarians. The retorts have been homophobia, transphobia, cop worshiping, racism, sexism, and just flat out missing the point, among others, and of course not being real libertarians. Also there have been many accusations of rules lawyering and rules violations from both sides, which are harder for me to comment on.
I’m a 20+ year veteran of LP politics. I’ve seen a lot of things in my time in the party, including some successes, some colossal failures, and some seriously missed opportunities. I left party activism for a long time over my own frustrations with the deficiencies of party leadership. But the Mises Caucus overall…it makes me uncomfortable.
To show why, a good deal of background is needed.
First, the modern libertarian movement has its roots as a fusion of ex-Republicans and ex-hippies. There are socially conservative libertarians. Internally we disagree on things, most notably abortion and the death penalty, although also strategy, and relative importance of the many issues we do agree on. That sometimes uncomfortable fusion means that there are libertarian spaces that intersect with the left, sometimes even the asshole left, and some that intersect with the right, including (although far less than our leftist critics would believe) sometimes the alt-right.
Second, there are plenty of very valid criticisms of the Libertarian Party to be leveled. In my time the most glaring would be:
- Outright scandals: in my time there were serious allegations during the second Harry Browne campaign about missing money, and later on with Carla Howell’s campaign for governor. There were probably a few others along the way that I missed.
- Mismanagement and unnecessary party expenditures: The LP’s physical office has always been a source of contention, for location, for expense, for any number of things. More important to me is the lack of coordination between national and local affiliates. If the point of a political party is to run candidates that win and thus advance the ideological agenda of that party and ideology, it’s an absolute travesty that national and most local parties have no idea what the elected offices even are, let alone put any real time into candidate recruitment. I will say that one of the most refreshing things of the Jorgensen/Cohen campaign was actually trying to have some coattails and support local races, and of course Pennsylvania recently kicked ass in local races, but it’s still a major issue. I’ve also heard tell of significant lack of coordination between the Jorgensen and Cohen sides of the campaign this time out.
- Everyone wants to be president, no one wants to be dogcatcher: related to above, and again better than it was in the early 00s, there’s still a cultural problem where everyone wants to run for the top spots, and no one wants to run for city council. Yes, the top spot campaigns are important, but the only way to build a farm team, a track record of effective, non-societal ending governance, and proving that Libertarians can win is at the local level first. We need city council members to run for mayor, mayors to run for county supervisor, county supervisors to run for state assembly, and so on.
- Botching the war issue: My final disillusionment with the party came in 2002, with the onset of W Bush’s Iraq War. Despite peace, non-aggression, and anti-imperialism being in our DNA since before our movement had a name, the LP dwaddled on a response at a time when the country was begging for a proper anti-war movement and party. And since then, while individual libertarians have certainly been leading anti-war voices, the party as a whole hasn’t done a great job on what could be the issue of our time.
- Soft messaging: We’re the Libertarian Party, damnit. Don’t just call for the legalization of marijuana, call for the end of the whole damned drug war and immediate pardons and expungements for any non-violent convictions relating to it. Don’t just call for no war in Syria, call for the end of the whole damn empire. This hasn’t always been applicable, to be sure, but there have been a lot of times when LP National should have come out swinging with the biggest bat it could find, and instead was wielding a kid’s whiffleball toy.
- Running Republican retreads: Bob “Defense Of Marriage Act” Barr was simply disgusting. Gary Johnson is, as far as I can tell, a nice guy and a successful governor, but libertarian lite. And Bill Weld, he of the praise for Hilary and the calls for gun control, had absolutely no business on a libertarian ticket. Every time we put a former Republican on the top of our ticket (that hasn’t won lower office as a Libertarian first), we a)give credence to the criticism that Libertarians are just Republicans that like pot and b)far more importantly dilute the message. Libertarians are libertarians, not Republicans or Democrats. Also, when the LP runs homegrown talent that are committed libertarians, like, say, Jo Jorgensen and Spike Cohen, the people that are brought in are so much more motivated and so much more inclined to stick around. Johnson’s campaign brought in some fair weather annoyed Republicans. Jorgensen’s campaign brought in the next generation of city council candidates.
So what about that Mises Caucus then? Well…I can’t say they’ve done no good. There are a lot of MC people that are awesome personally and doing good work. Bringing motivated people into campaigns and activism is generally a good thing. Some of them have had the sense to reach out to non-LP groups on different issues and start to coalition build, which is essential for actually changing policy when you’re a small movement. And personally I’m all in favor of radicialism and being unapologetic and loud about one’s beliefs.
BUT…the Mises Caucus’ central conceit seems to be a complete inability to acknowledge good ideas from outside our own camp. The constant condemnation of anything and everything, including traditionally very libertarian issues, as “woke”-and thus worthy of complete dismissal-is just ignorant. Some of the posts from Mises affiliated sources have just been idiotic, such as LP New Hampshire’s assertion that “libertarians suffer more oppression than black people”. Second, the caucus doesn’t isn’t just an intersection between libertarianism and the right, it’s often an intersection between libertarianism and the alt-right. In the Mises Caucus facebook group and from various members I’ve seen entirely too many posts decrying Black Lives Matter and acting as police apologists (to say nothing of all the “pandering” bullshit during the election season, which I had a lengthy response to), claims about Trump being the most libertarian president ever, a lot more homophobia than I’d expect from libertarians, courting of anti-semites and entertaining their theories (especially gross given that the namesake of their caucus escaped Germany before the rise of the Nazis), and especially a lot of transphobic postings. Just a little while ago there was a fresh post complaining about “males competing in womens’ sports”, never mind that the current science on the matter is complicated but generally falls on the side of trans athletes, and the very phrasing denies the individuality and identity of people. Some of whom, might I add, are otherwise with us but ready to quit the movement because enough of us can’t get it together there.
And there’s stuff that’s flat out gross, like Dave Smith dismissing the idea of getting someone drunk just to sleep with them being bad, or the way Cliff Maloney had MC affiliated defenders even after being fired in the wake of the #YALtoo revelations, or the embrace of Kyle Rittenhouse as not just legally innocent or in a bad position, but as an outright hero of some kind.
Oh, and then there was Lew Rockwell publishing an article that ends with praise for literal fascists. No, LewRockwell.com isn’t MC, but there’s enough overlap to not look very good.
Now…all of this is not an everyday occurrence, and the various Mises Caucus groups are still far more tolerant places than a mainstream Republican gathering these days. But it’s still a lot more than I think is appropriate for those claiming to hold libertarian values. And enough of them hold beliefs that I find repugnant for me to be fully comfortable with them.
If you’re doing good work for liberty, keep it up. But please think carefully about whose banner you choose to wave. Those banners often come with a lot of hidden baggage. And while yes, the LP absolutely needs a serious housecleaning on a lot of levels, but I don’t think the Mises Caucus is the right group to do it.