by William Redpath
(reprinted from the December 2009 issue of LP News when Mr. Redpath was writing as Chair of the Libertarian Party)
I can’t know what each of you thought when you read the headline above, but probably the most charitable thought was “Poor Bill Redpath. He almost made it to the end of his second term as Chair before he cracked up.”
Please be assured that I don’t really mean it. But, until I get a law passed making it illegal to skip past the Chairman’s column when reading LP News, kindly forgive my grabbing your attention by stooping to headlines that would make the editors of the late Weekly World News proud.
But, there is a point to it.
We’ve all heard it many times. “I can’t (sign your petition/vote for you/all of the above), because you’ll take votes from Republicans and then The Really Bad People will win.”
In 2008, when I was the Libertarian candidate for US Senate in Virginia, we had to circulate separate petitions for the Libertarian presidential ticket and me. Many people gladly signed my petition (getting my charm tank topped off beforehand helped, I guess), but when it came to signing for the LP presidential ticket, “Nooooooooo! Barr will screw things up for John McCain!”
Let’s see how that philosophy has worked out for those people.
I just read the recently published Recarving Rushmore, written by Ivan Eland of the small-l libertarian Independent Institute, in which he ranks forty presidents (too early in Obama’s presidency/Cleveland served twice/Garfield and William Henry Harrison both served less than a year) on a “PP&L (Peace, Prosperity & Liberty) scale.”
What appeared to chafe Dr. Eland was the tendency of historians to judge presidents as “great,” or not so, based on the times in which they served, not the actual decisions made by them when they were President. Dr. Eland’s goal is to judge presidents on the extent to which their actual policy decisions contributed to Peace, Prosperity & Liberty for the United States.
As a libertarian, Dr. Eland does not play favorites. Thomas Jefferson is rated a woeful 26th by Eland, who calls TJ “A Hypocrite on Limited Government.” I have not asked Dr. Eland if he thinks we should save our rotten tomaters for whomever next sings that “Thomas Jefferson” song at an LP convention (non-old-timers may not remember this).
Surprisingly, in Dr. Eland’s judgment, the best president in American history was John Tyler (vetoed the revival of the national bank/ended the worst Indian war in US history/responded with restraint to Dorr’s Rebellion in Rhode Island/ditto with a border dispute between Maine and New Brunswick/opposed big government in fact and not just rhetoric), while the second best was Grover Cleveland, a fat guy who liked slim government. The worst president (#40) in his view was Woodrow Wilson (got the US into World War I/post-war policies set the table for World War II/plenty more, but ain’t that enough?).
But, what really struck me, as I reviewed Dr. Eland’s presidential rankings, was how low recent Republican presidents were on his PP&L scale. I know some people will dispute this, but Eland ranks Ronald Reagan as #34 (landing him in Eland’s “Bad President” category), and he has sensible reasons. Eland claims that the Iran/Contra scandal was worse than Watergate, Reagan did not reduce big government, started “surreptitiously” raising taxes soon after his 1981 tax cuts were enacted, and helped keep Social Security limping along in 1983 (with tax increases, of course) when he could have worked to privatize it. Dr. Eland also thinks Reagan’s role in ending the Cold War was overblown, and that the Soviet Union failed largely on its own. Other low recent Republican president rankings (W. at #36, H. W. at #33 and Nixon at #30) are no surprise.
What is somewhat surprising is that Dr. Eland ranks Jimmy Carter as “The Best Modern President” at #8 (restrained foreign policy/evenhanded Middle East policy/deregulated industries/appointed Paul Volcker to the Fed, who then slayed inflation). Eland even ranked Bill Clinton as the 11th best president on his PP&L scale, so he thinks that over the last forty years, Democratic presidents have actually been more libertarian than Republican presidents.
According to Dr. Eland, to find a Republican president who ranks higher in his PP&L rankings than Jimmy Carter, one must go all the way back to Warren Harding. And, to write that pains me; the Marion Harding Presidents (what else would their nickname be?) were rivals with my Findlay Trojans in the Buckeye Conference when I was in high school.
What I took away from Dr. Eland’s enlightening book was that the frequently heard advice to libertarians and supporters of small government to not “waste their vote,” and to hold their nose and vote Republican, makes about as much sense as the headline at the beginning of this column. The people who have done that over the last several decades need to look around and observe what that admonition has wrought.