Oct 1, 1978
Convention Diary 1978: Senior Editor Jeff Riggenbach’s Personal Record of this Year’s National Libertarian Party Convention
31 August, Thursday:
We arrive in Boston at 9:10 a.m., nearly zombielike from a mostly sleepless all-night flight. The forecast is for rain this afternoon, and a fine mist is already settling on the windshield of the car as we wind through the streets past greenery and old brick toward Copley Square. The streets are clogged with U-Haul and Ryder vans, and Budget and Avis Rent-A-Trucks, as students set up housekeeping for the fall term. Other students, exchange students from Iran, clog Copley Square in a protest march. “The Shah is a murderer,” they chant. “Down with the Shah.” The rain beats mercilessly upon the expressionless masks they have pulled over their faces. “The Shah is a U.S. puppet. Down with the Shah.”
Inside the hotel, we stop by the press room to pick up our credentials to cover the convention. But it’s not that simple. The LP refused press credentials in 1977 to a reporter from the second biggest all-news radio station in the country, because he was also a speaker at the convention and was being paid in that capacity. As the party saw it, the purpose of a convention was to make money, and the more freebies you give away, the less money you make. But the way you make money at such a convention is by stimulating attendance by getting a lot of publicity by giving freebies to the press. Is it really necessary to belabor this? Apparently it is; because tonight the Massachusetts LP wants to give me press credentials but not my photographer. How do you cover a convention for a magazine in which all the features are photo-illustrated if your photographer can’t get into the convention? Well, you see, the purpose of a convention is to make money, and the more freebies you give away, the less money you make… .
A bit of a nap, then dinner and a party. The convention’s first-night hospitality suite serves beer for 50 cents a bottle. Now, that’s what I call hospitality. The suite is two large adjoining rooms, packed comfortably wall to wall with libertarians, except that all the libertarians are constantly moving and changing, with a constant influx of new arrivals and a constant outflow of bedbound old arrivals. In quick succession I say hello to Jim Clarkson, the Georgia tax rebel; Bill Marina, the Florida history professor who witnessed the Kennedy assassination; Steve Trinward from Massachusetts; Ed Crane and Roy Childs from California; Dave Nolan from Colorado; and a lady named Kate who tells me she’s an engineer.
“What kind?” I ask, naively.
“I design buildings and bridges,” she says. “Incredibly Randian, isn’t it?”
“Incredibly,” I agree, as the tide of libertarians swirls around me.
1 September, Friday:
At about 10:30 a.m., Robert Nozick of the Harvard University Philosophy Department begins explaining the wisdom of Zionism to about 225 people in the elaborate Venetian Room of the Copley Plaza, and the convention is under way.
Libertarians, according to Nozick, commonly display a special animosity toward the state of Israel, an animosity which seems to transcend their everyday hostility toward the state as an institution. Nozick finds this perplexing, since libertarians are ordinarily sympathetic, he says, “when a people, a nation, expresses its desire for freedom.” Zionism, as Nozick understands it, is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. What about the Palestinians? Well, in the first place, Palestine has never been indigenously ruled. In the second place, most of the Palestinians now in Israel have been there only since the Israeli government took over; they were lured there by the (relatively) high standard of living available to them. In the third place, the much-publicized Palestinian refugee camps continue to exist only because the surrounding Arab states refuse to assimilate the Palestinian population, preferring for political reasons to keep them homeless and the camps in highly visible operation. In the fourth place, all the documented cases of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians are also cases of real or imagined fifth column activity. “And countries have never looked favorably on fifth columnists.”
Dozens of hands wave energetically for recognition. But there is time for only two or three questions before everyone is hustled out of the room to clear the way for the next “Major Event” on the program, LP National Chairman Dave Bergland’s “Welcome,” across the hall in the ballroom.
Not surprisingly, Bergland is sanguine about the prospects for the libertarian movement. He talks about the recent striking growth of the movement, about the libertarian character of the tax revolt, about the unprecedented numbers of LP candidates on November ballots around the country. But he cautions against thinking of the trend toward libertarianism as a fait accompli, citing the imposition of rent controls in Los Angeles and the likelihood (in his view) of a majority “yes” vote on Proposition 6 (the vicious Briggs Initiative, which would make it illegal for homosexuals to teach in public schools) on the California ballot in November.
Former LP National Chairman Ed Crane follows Bergland with the keynote address of the convention—a persuasive argument for exactly the sort of optimism the current national chairman has just endorsed. Crane points out that it is no longer utopian to think in terms of ballot status for the LP in all 50 states by 1980, that a few LP candidates have a legitimate chance to win their state and local races in 1978, and that even in cases where the candidacies are more purely educational in purpose, such as the gubernatorial races in New York and California, popular support for LP candidates has been more than encouraging: In California, more signatures of registered voters have been collected on petitions to qualify Ed Clark for the ballot than have ever before been collected in behalf of a political candidate in American history. Moreover, Crane observes, the current climate of hatred and distrust of government has opened the possibility of dozens of potentially profitable alliances on specific issues with non-libertarian political groups. And too many libertarians, he insists, conceive such alliances entirely in terms of issues shared with conservatives. We have more in common, he says, with leftists who concern themselves mainly with civil liberties and foreign policy questions, than with conservatives who pay lip service to free-market capitalism while advocating that the state seize private wealth to fund wholesale oppression against deviant lifestyles at home and uncooperative governments abroad.
As Crane concludes his remarks, the lights are dimmed in the ballroom for a screening of “For A New Liberty”, a new film about the libertarian movement. Then lunch, although a panel discussion on the Kennedy assassination beckons, to say nothing of LP National Director Chris Hocker’s workshop on practical political skills and Jarret Wollstein’s seminar on “Military Defense Without a State.” Too many significant events are scheduled all at the same time and too close together at this convention. If you want to spend any time eating or going to the bathroom, you have to miss some events. If you want to attend one event, you have to miss another one or two scheduled at the same time. It’s like three days of nonstop, prime-time television.
Back up to the room, then, for the equivalent of a commercial break or a “pause for station identification.” Out in the hallway near the elevator, two hardfaced tight-lipped shorthaired darksuited coptypes are instructing a third young man who appears to be a photographer.
“Just get the really weird, far-out stuff,” one of the cop-types tells him. “Like two guys holding hands.” They snicker. We aren’t holding hands, and we’re not two guys, so I’m not sure why, but they look suspiciously at us as we walk past them toward the elevator.
In the foyer of the ballroom, meanwhile, three members of the Massachusetts LP are demanding of LR Contributing Editor Tom Palmer why he is distributing that issue (the August issue) ofLibertarian Review as a free introductory issue. Because it’s the strategy issue, Palmer explains—the issue in which the how to (and the how not to) of libertarianism is discussed in detail. “But it has that in it,” say the party people, pointing at Bill Evers’s name on the cover. “You mean his criticism of party newsletters?” Palmer asks. But convention duties and rumours have stolen his interrogators away—rumours which have sent dozens of convention goers out into the lobby to see if they can get a look, or at least some more information—rumors that “Anita Bryant is in the hotel!”
Anita is supposed to be in Boston this weekend for a benefit concert—benefiting her nation-wide holy war against gays. A rally has been scheduled for this evening in Copley Square, across the street from the hotel, to protest Anita’s visit and express gay solidarity. Dave Bergland has agreed to speak at the rally on behalf of the Libertarian Party. But rumor now has it that the concert has been cancelled (Anita’s supporters say because of death threats by militant gays; Anita’s opponents say because she failed to sell enough tickets to avoid public embarrassment) and Anita has checked into the hotel, where she’ll be holding a news conference shortly.
Right now, there’s a news conference for all the LP candidates. But only one news team is present besides ourselves—a reporter and crew from the PBS television station in Boston. The candidates line up behind Dave Bergland, who makes an intelligent, but disappointingly general, introductory speech about laissez-faire economics, civil liberties and non-interventionist foreign policy. In the back of the room, the taping crew has discovered a malfunction in the equipment. No usable video is being recorded. But the reporter is inquisitive anyway. “Isn’t it inconsistent,” he asks Bergland, “for a party like yours to seek to become the government?”
“We don’t seek to become the government,” Bergland tells him. “We seek to dismantle the government as fast as we can.”
A brief stop at the ballroom for the panel discussion and audio-visual show on space exploration. Mercifully brief, for the audio-visual show—“guaranteed” by the convention management “to be spectacular”—is in fact a colossal bore. A pity, that. The idea of escape to libertarian colonies in space is (to me at any rate) an intrinsically fascinating one. But anything can be made tedious.
Back up to the room, then, for fresh film and cassettes. But this time the coptypes are standing on either side of the hallway by the elevator. And when we walk off the elevator and start toward our room, they block our path.
“May I help you?” one of them asks with a kind of surly courtesy.
“No,” we tell him, walking around him. “We’re just going to our room.”
The coptype falls all over himself trying to get around us again so he can block our path again without roughing us up. Apparently that’s outside his assignment. But our room is very close, and by the time he gets around us again, my key is in the door.
“May I see your room key?” he intones, extending his hand.
“No,” I tell him, turning the key. “Who the hell are you that I should show you my key? Are you a cop? Where’s your identification?”
“I don’t have to show you my identification,” says the coptype.
“And I don’t have to show you my room key,” I tell him, and shut the door in his face.
I pick up the phone to call the desk. It’s dead. On the way back to the elevator I stop and tell the coptype I think I’ll find out what the hotel management thinks of cheap hoods hassling guests on the way to their rooms.
“You’re exactly like everybody else who looks like you,” says the coptype. It occurs to me only later that this is tautological.
At the desk, a Richard Nixon lookalike is disinclined to agree with my description of the “security men” as hoodlums and thugs. “There’s an important guest in the hotel, on your floor,” he informs me, “and we need tight security. There’ve been threats of violence.” He looks at me suspiciously.
“I’m nonviolent,” I tell him. “I just want a working telephone and freedom from interference when I try to walk to my room.”
The Nixon lookalike promises to take care of it all right away.
Outside the hotel, on the square, a rally is beginning to coalesce around a sound truck, a crude speaker’s platform and a motley collection of signs. “Gays of the World Unite!” “Attention Anita: Over 90% of Rapists and Child Molesters Are Heterosexual Males!” “Born Again Unitarian Gay” “Lesbians for Wages for Housework” “Libertarian Party—Party of Principle” Word is that Dave Bergland will be the second speaker on the program. Our dinner party decides to linger at least long enough to catch Bergland’s speech.
As darkness gathers, so do the gays and their sympathizers, and so do the cops, pompous and ostentatious on their horses, leaving malodorous little piles here and there as they move about. People are beginning to emerge from the hotel and stand along the sidewalk on the other side of the street. One of them is a woman in her forties, her hair whipped up in a ’50s style coiffure, her outfit attractive but noticeably on the conservative side. She looks oddly familiar.
“Is that Anita Bryant?” asks someone next to me. He points at the woman with the ’50s coiffure.
“I don’t know,” I tell him. We look harder and agree that it might be. But by now the rally is getting underway, and we stop looking to listen.
A representative of the Massachusetts Caucus for Gay Legislation is at the microphone. His group has organized the rally, and he minces no words in his explanation of why.
“Word has reached us,” he tells the crowd, by now swollen to several hundred, “that Anita Bryant is watching this rally from the fourth floor of the Copley Plaza Hotel across the street. She claims to have cancelled her concert for tonight because she was afraid of violence by militant gays. Anita, if you’re listening, come out! Come out and join us! Learn for yourself that it’s not gays who are violent; it’s not gays who sexually attack thousands of women and children every year; it’s heterosexual males!”
Several of us on the Southern edge of the crowd have been watching the woman with the ’50s coiffure across the street. She may not be Anita Bryant, but word has been spreading, and a fair number of gays in the crowd now believe she’s Anita Bryant. Yet somehow there’s no violence, no attempt to snuff out the life of this hyperstraight pop singer and Florida orange juice pusher turned demagogue. Where are all the crazed perverts who frightened Anita’s singing voice right out of her?
One of them appears to be taking the platform right now, to considerable applause: the kickoff speaker of the rally, Robin Tyler. Tyler is obviously a pro. Within minutes she has an audience of at least 500 people entirely in her power. First she hits them with the one-liners: “Anita Bryant is to Christianity what paint-by-number is to art.” “Politics in this country is a joke, and Jimmy Carter is the punchline.” “The Republicans and Democrats should trade in their elephant and their donkey and adopt the prophylactic as a common symbol. It stands for inflation, covers up a bunch of pricks, and gives a false sense of security while you’re being screwed.”
Then she turns serious. “There are six million Jews in America, 25 million blacks, and TWENTY-SEVEN MILLION LESBIANS AND HOMOSEXUALS. We are the largest minority group in America, and the politicians better learn that, because their jobs are going to depend on it.” She points to the button she wears on the lapel of her jacket, and reads it to the crowd: “We Are Everywhere.” “Say it with me!” she exhorts the crowd. “Say it with me so Anita can hear us! We are everywhere! Say it with me so President Carter can hear us in Washington! We are everywhere!Say it with me so John Briggs can hear it all the way out in California! WE ARE EVERYWHERE!”
If everyone weren’t already standing, Robin Tyler would receive a standing ovation. She’s a sensation. Dave Bergland has an impossible act to follow. That he turns out to be a weak second act is only to be expected. Almost anybody would be. She was that good.
To Bergland’s credit, he grasps and takes immediate lead of the crowd’s mood. “Can you tell by looking at me whether I’m gay or straight?” he demands. And when the crowd tells him no, he roars at them: “Does it matter?”
“NO!” the crowd roars backhand things are off to a fine start. But Bergland can’t sustain it. He gets another satisfying round of applause when he announces that “government action is no solution to the problem—government action is the problem,” but as he relaxes more into his usual style of expression (intelligent, low-key, lawyerly) he begins losing them, only intermittently holds their attention. After a few more minutes he retires to polite applause, and we retire to a restaurant.
2 September, Saturday:
About a hundred people are in the Venetian Room at 8:30 for what promises to be the most controversial event of the convention, and by the time breakfast is over and the speaker is at the podium, another 50 or so have straggled in. The speaker is left-wing anarchist Murray Bookchin, author of Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Listen, Marxist!, and other books and essays, editor of Anarchos!magazine, professor at Goddard College. The legitimacy of his appearance at the convention was challenged during the summer by LP National Committee members Bill Evers and Murray Rothbard, who argued that an LP convention should properly serve as a forum only for speakers who share at least certain important views with the LP. Bookchin, they asserted, shares the views of the LP on no issues.
Yet Lee Nason, of the Massachusetts LP, relates the following Murray Bookchin anecdote in her introductory speech: She met Bookchin in 1976 at an ecology fair. He saw her MacBride for President button and commented, “If I were a voting man, I’d vote for MacBride.” Later she ashed him if he’d like to speak at the convention, and he agreed.
Bookchin is a small man who projects enormous self-assurance from the stage. And he turns out to be the second best public speaker of the entire weekend (Robin Tyler from the rally across the street being the best), winning the only standing ovation given any speaker at the convention itself. These leftists almost always display a keener understanding than libertarians of the emotional, rabble-rousing element in public speaking. It’s one of the reasons they tend to win more converts more rapidly.
But putting aside Bookchin’s delivery for the moment, it’s hard to see how the content of his talk is so fundamentally unlibertarian as Evers and Rothbard have led us to expect it would be. Bookchin defines libertarianism as the belief that every human being should be free to run his or her own life in all its aspects, the belief that there should be an end to “the domination of human by human.” He calls the American Revolution “a glorious revolution” in which the people of this country “rose up because they were sovereign individuals who did not have to be summoned, who did not have to be ordered, who had independently developed the capacity to command, not others, but themselves.” As Bookchin sees it, a second American Revolution will come only with a new generation of Americans who can command themselves. He sees the Articles of Confederation as more or less livable, and the U.S. Constitution as a massive fraud, a “recreation of monarchy in the form of the presidency.” He argues against hierarchically structured organizations in a free society, and stresses the need for “more advanced, sophisticated forms of organization, natural organization, organization which proceeds from individual impulses.” Is all this what it was going to be disastrous for the convention-goers to hear?
I follow Bookchin to the press room, where he and Karl Hess are available for the next hour for interviews. Inside is the first radio reporter I’ve seen at the convention, asking one of the Massachusetts LP people why they hadn’t sent her a release. “I would have been here yesterday,” she says, “If I’d known it was happening. I just found out about it this morning by accident.”
The radio reporter’s name is Gail Fuhrer. She’s with WBUR in Boston, and she writes for In These Times, the “independent socialist weekly” tabloid published in Chicago. She’s a leftist herself, of course, “deeply interested in redistributing the wealth.” But she also finds libertarians interesting. As she puts it, “I like to cover things that don’t usually get covered.”
In the ballroom, meanwhile, about 200 people have gathered for the Association of Libertarian Feminists’ panel on “Women and the Law: Legislation that Discriminates against Women.” LR Associate Editor Joan Kennedy Taylor is first on the program, with a discussion of how protective labor legislation stems from the common law view of women as too weak to assert their rights. Next comes “Danielle,” a former Boston-area prostitute, who knowledgeably and wittily criticizes laws against her particular victimless crime. Finally, engineer Carol Cunningham points up one infrequently noted disadvantage of affirmative action: it can undermine the professional woman’s self esteem by creating the expectation in all who meet her that she knows nothing about her field and was hired only to comply with the law.
Thomas Szasz: “the subject matter of psychiatry is neither minds nor mental diseases, but lies.”
Michael Emerling: “the most obvious persuasive techniques are also frequently the most overlooked and the least effectively used.”
And so to lunch. After which, in quick succession, Dr. Thomas Reeves on “Gay Liberation/Human Liberation: A Libertarian View” and Dr. Thomas Szasz on “The Case Against Coercive Psychiatric Intervention.”
Only about 35 people show up for Reeves’s highly articulate and quietly aggressive presentation on why “libertarianism is the only way for gay people who really want to be free.” Reeves is a 37-year-old political science professor who’s a veteran of the civil rights, antidraft and antiwar movements of the ’60s, and a former speech-writer for Mark Hatfield and George McGovern. He’s also an outspoken defender of what one gay activist has called “free intergenerational sex.”
Who is “molesting” gay teenagers? Reeves asks. The parents who throw their children out without a dime upon learning that they are gay? The state agencies which candidly admit their inability to find homes for gay teenagers but also oppose all efforts those teenagers make to find homes on their own with gay “families”? Or the homosexual adults who take such children in and treat them, not as members of a special underclass called “children”, but instead as “younger free agents”?
Szasz draws about 200 to his presentation on “The Lying Truths of Psychiatry,” a trimmed-down version of a new paper he’s written (for a forthcoming British anthology of essays by leading social scientists and humanists on the lies which pass for truths in their fields). Szasz’s discussion is largely an elaboration of his remark in Heresies that “the subject matter of psychiatry is neither minds nor mental diseases, but lies—the ‘patient’s’ and the ‘psychiatrist’s.’”
“The pivotal lie of psychiatry,” Szasz says, “is the concept of mental illness.” And he lists a few of the most recently discovered mental diseases: “Academic Underachievement Disorder,” “Tobacco Use Disorder,” and “Pathological Tolerance.”
There’s a long intense question-and-answer period after Szasz’s talk. What about the fact that some people express thanks to those who forcibly intervened in their lives during an earlier period of “mental illness”? one woman wants to know. Does Szasz consider that there is no possibility “mental illness’ is caused, even in some cases, by biochemical factors? a man wants to know, or only that no adequate evidence of such a claim has yet been presented? And so it goes, with notables like Robert Nozick and Eric Mack joining the discussion.
Then it’s out for drinks with Szasz, Nozick, Roy Childs, Joan Kennedy Taylor, and Gail Fuhrer the left-wing radio reporter, among others. Lively conversation for an hour or two, then Nozick goes home for dinner, and the rest of us repair to the nearby Budapest Cafe for dinner and further argumentative conversation. A most stimulating evening.
3 September, Sunday;
Late to bed, late to rise. Having missed Erick Mack on Auberon Herbert, and Bill MacReynolds and Stephen Markman on “Libertarians in Government,” and it being still a bit too early for Gary Greenberg on victimless crimes, I decide to catch the last few minutes of Doc Dean’s performance as “Aym Grand at Ford Hall Forum.” Hilarious! Complete with wig, accent, cape, mannerisms, and cigarette holder.
Greenberg draws an audience of about 65 for his talk on “How to Avoid Being Busted for Victimless Crimes”—useful information on just what the cops can search and what they can’t search, the extent to which your cooperation with an officer is legally required, and generally how the criminal justice system really works (no one in the audience seems surprised to learn that it isn’t just the way the high school civics text said it was). Greenberg is hustled off the stage by Massachusetts LP people before he has time to take any questions, to make room for the panel discussion on “Libertarian Approaches to Education,” which is scheduled for the same room, exactly one hour after Greenberg’s talk began. Who scheduled this convention anyway?
On the education panel are conservative education critic Sam Blumenfeld, author of How to Start Your Own Private School and The New Illiterates; Jan McDaniel, a trustee and former teacher for the Sudbury Valley School of Framingham, Massachusetts; Hal Sadofsky, a 17-year-old student at Sudbury Valley; and surprise guest John Holt, who walked over to the convention from his nearby office to hear his old friend Karl Hess and accepted a sudden invitation to sit in on the education panel.
Holt, of course, favors abandoning schools altogether, both public and private. With Ivan Illich and the late Paul Goodman, he advocates that children learn whatever they desire to learn and that they be given free access to materials and knowledgeable adults and older children who can assist them in learning what they freely choose to learn. As Holt sees it, “telling a child, in effect, ‘I know what you ought to know, and you’re going to learn it whether you want to or not,’ is an outrageous and indefensible activity, whether undertaken by the state or anybody else, whether undertaken in school or someplace else.” From the standpoint of the child, Holt says, a private school is just as compulsory as a public one. “I think of myself as a libertarian with a small ‘I’,” he says. “The opposite of liberty is coercion. I’m interested in minimizing the amount of coercion in human affairs.” And if libertarians are interested in achieving that goal, he insists, they must be at least as concerned about what he calls “coercive pedagogical interventions” as they are about what Thomas Szasz calls “coercive psychiatric interventions.”
Sam Blumenfeld agrees. “The state educational system,” he says, “is the monster responsible for statism. And you can’t get rid of statism as long as you have the state educational system.” But Blumenfeld is concerned with the decline of reading skills among American children, and he’s worried that if there were no schools at all, not even private ones, kids wouldn’t learn to read.
“If reading were illegal before the age of ten in this country,” Holt retorts, “there would be fewer reading problems and more and better readers.”
Jan McDaniel is inclined to agree with that position, and he offers Hal Sadofsky as a case in point. Hal has been at Sudbury Valley School for ten years, since he was seven years old. At Sudbury Valley, there are no requirements, no grades, no curriculum, no classes. You study whatever you like whenever you like—or you do nothing at all, if that’s what pleases you. You don’t even have to come to school if you don’t want to. Your life’s your own. If you come to school, the teachers’ and staff are there to be of assistance to you if you want them. Otherwise, they leave you alone. You can graduate from Sudbury Valley when you can go before the staff and defend the thesis that you’re ready to accept full responsibility for your life.
Hal is already better educated than most high school graduates I’ve met, and I’ve met a few of them in my brief career as a college journalism instructor. But he’s content for the moment to stay in school. As he puts it, “the reason I’m still in school is that I’m still learning things there.” And one of the things he’s learning is how town meeting democracy works in practice. That’s how the Sudbury Valley School is governed, you see—by a town meeting in which each regular member of the school community (teachers, staff and students) has an equal vote. Participation is voluntary, and in fact most members of the school community participate in making only those decisions which directly affect them and thus interest them.
The education panel is hustled off the stage to make room for Roy Childs’s talk on the “U.S.-Soviet Arms Race: A Libertarian Perspective”. Such is the absurdity of the logic which has guided American foreign policy since World War II, Childs says, that in 25 years the United States has been inexorably led, by a commitment to violent anticommunism, to bestow military aid on communist China, with economic aid already under discussion among high level policymakers. Communist China, you see, is now regarded as a bulwark against the Soviet expansionist threat. “In fact,” Childs says, “there has been no evidence of any significant Soviet expansion outside Eastern Europe since World War II. What Soviet involvement there has been in other areas of the world has been in no way comparable to that of the United States. And often, as in Africa at the present time, it is only undertaken in response to American initiatives.”
Not only is the Soviet Union not an expansionist menace, says Childs, it’s not a military menace either. The famous missile gap is a myth manufactured out of statistics. The Soviets do have more missiles than we do, true enough; but our more advanced technology makes it possible for us to use fewer missiles to do more work, with the result that a count of warheads shows the United States ahead of Russia by a factor of about 3 to 1.
After the question and answer period, I catch the last few minutes of the seminar on “Libertarian Socialism,” so called. Martin Blatt, John Hess, and Charles McElwain argue that in a libertarian socialist society, rent and interest would be regarded as “exploitative” even when voluntarily charged and paid, and would probably not be “permitted.” They also contend that atheism is a sine qua non of libertarianism.
Robert Bleiberg, the Sunday night banquet speaker, takes a rather different view. Bleiberg is the editor of Barron’s, the business and financial tabloid published by Dow Jones. He is a remarkably consistent advocate of free enterprise and market capitalism. But there is no evidence in his talk that he has ever given any thought whatever to the requirements, not just of a free market, but of a free society. Does he, for example, regard the ceremony by means of which the heroin user gets his fix with the same genial acceptance he reserves for the ceremony by which the alcohol user gets his? In his remarks on “Can Capitalism Survive?” Bleiberg speaks of biased media presentations which inform the public that giant corporations are poisoning our environment and our food with pesticides and chemicals. He angrily retorts that only capitalism has made it possible to greatly extend the human lifespan within this century. Am I missing the point, or is this a non sequitor? Does this somehow prove that giant corporations are not poisoning our environment and our food with pesticides and chemicals? And are General Motors and General Foods representative of capitalism? Or are they rather representative of state capitalism? This is a distinction which leftists sloppily gloss over at every opportunity. But here is a prominent right-wing free marketeer helping to perpetuate the error.
Bleiberg turns the podium over to LP National Director Chris Hocker, who, with the able assistance of Finance Chairman Ray Cunningham and a phalanx of volunteers, proceeds to raise money for the party. Envelopes have been placed on banquet tables, volunteers circulate among the tables collecting envelopes and checks and pledges, Hocker and Cunningham talk about the growth the party has experienced, the gains it’s now on the verge of making and the immense cost of keeping it all going, much less growing. It’s persuasive, and within an hour, the national LP is richer by a badly needed $10,000-plus.
4 September, Monday:
David Brudnoy’s breakfast address, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Liberservative,” is a curious piece. Brudnoy himself is a curious case. He continues to insist, eloquently and with rare polish as a speaker, that the “libertarian wing” (as distinguished from the “traditionalist wing”) of the conservative movement is the true intellectual home base for libertarians. Y et, as he aptly documents in his own talk, those conservative politicians who take office mouthing libertarian slogans, or who even taste primary victories during libertarian-sounding campaigns, inevitably start lending their sanction to one kind of statist oppression or another. Brudnoy calls “libertarian conservative” Jeff Bell, who recently defeated veteran Republican Senator Clifford Case in New Jersey’s primary election, a “fascist.” For Boston radio-talk-show-host Avi Nelson, who’s running for Republican Edward Brooke’s senate seat, Brudnoy has nothing but contempt. “He has no principles. If he gets in office he’ll vote for whatever he thinks his constituents want, whatever will keep him in office.” [Brooke has since defeated Nelson in the Massachusetts primary.] The question is: What exactly does Brudnoy see in conservatism?
Next on the agenda, the tax panel, with Roy Childs; Don Feder of the Massachusetts group, Citizens for Limited Taxation; and Jim Tobin of the Illinois group, National Taxpayers United. Childs’s experience in fighting for tax reduction is mainly as a speaker and editorial writer in the Proposition 13 campaign in California. He’s staunchly opposed to the alternative approach taken by Feder, who wants to limit future taxation to its current percentage of personal income. Childs wants massive tax cuts, and he wants them now. Tobin, who came to libertarianism through the tax revolt and who has brought libertarianism to the attention of the national media by taking a leadership position in the antitax movement in his home state, is right in there with Childs. Even after a 60 percent across the board reduction in property taxes in California, the “vital services” are still there, as is the waste and inefficiency. And the state treasurer says next year’s surplus will be even bigger than last year’s. So we should freeze the level of taxation at its present level? Madness!
Downstairs in the State Room, Michael Emerling is conducting his course in “The Art of Political Persuasion.” What Emerling talks about in this much-publicized seminar is what speech and psychology professors call the process of communication. What he tries to teach libertarians is pretty much what debate coaches and professors of public speaking try to teach their students: how to be aware of all the elements in the process of communication and how to manipulate them to best advantage in trying to persuade others. But Emerling is better than most professors at teaching these things—more animated in his presentation, more systematic in his use of his audience, as he draws them out, involves them in experiments with each other, wins them over. In a handful of words, Emerling exemplifies his own principles. Much of what he says is (and he is the first to acknowledge it) obvious. As he puts it, “the most obvious things are also frequently the most overlooked and the least effectively used.”
Rudolph Laubscher, Williamson Evers and Jeffrey Butler, the participants in the South Africa panel, portray the regime in power in that country in such a way that no libertarian in his right mind could ever after apologize for it again, as some have incomprehensibly done in the past. Butler (who teaches at Wesleyan University) and Laubscher are refugees from that regime. Laubscher paints South Africa as literally a totalitarian state which permits dissent only to the extent strictly necessary to sustain the international public image of a society in which fundamendal freedoms are observed.
Evers points out that, far contrary to the South African image among some libertarians as a capitalist country, the facts are that the South African government owns the domestic steel industry, the domestic oil industry, the domestic communications industries, and all utility companies. The facts are that South Africa is a state socialist country, and one which has received and is still receiving U.S. military cooperation, as well as U.S. loans through the International Monetary Fund.
As might be expected, such comments stir up controversy and questions. But the panelists have to be hustled off the stage to make room for World Research, Inc., which is showing its new film “Libra” in the same room. This time (at the end of the convention!) arrangements have been made for the speakers and interested members of the audience to retire to another, smaller room for continued discussion. The other members of the audience are hustled out to show their tickets to reenter to see the film. These people also forced the companion of one of the convention’s most prestigious speakers to buy a ticket to hear his speech. One never knows what to expect.
Outside the hotel, Labor Day is clear and beautiful. We have an afternoon’s drive ahead of us, through Providence into Rhode Island and across the whole state of Connecticut for dinner with family in Stamford. Then on to New York and, after a few days, a plane back to San Francisco. And already next year’s convention beckons: See you in L.A. in 79!