essays

Jan 1, 1979

Libertarians in Government

“The critical importance of having a few libertarians…holding any…office is that they take libertarianism out of the realm of theory and into the real world.”

POTENTIALLY one of the most exciting periods in the modern history of libertarianism will begin this month when at least two (possibly three) full-fledged, hard-core libertarians take over the duties of the offices to which they were elected in the November elections.

The first of these is Dick Randolph, who was elected to the Alaska State Legislature, not simply as a libertarian but as the candidate of the Libertarian Party. This is a victory of unprecedented proportions. For the first time in the brief history of the Libertarian Party it actually has someone holding office. In my opinion, this is a far bigger step toward achieving the ultimate legitimacy of the Libertarian Party than even Roger MacBride’s famous electoral vote cast for the national Libertarian ticket in 1972.

The second libertarian elected in the November election was not elected on the Libertarian Party ticket, but is nevertheless as libertarian as anyone reading this magazine. He is Dr. Ron Paul, elected to Congress from the 22nd district in Texas on the Republican ticket.

This is Dr. Paul’s second time around. He was first elected to Congress in April of 1976 when his prececessor resigned. It was a tough election for Ron. First he had to win the Republican primary against several strong challengers. Then, in the first special election, Ron finished second. But because of a third party candidate, the winner failed to get the required 50 percent of the vote. So there was another special election a short time later. This time it was Ron Paul who finished on top and went to Washington. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived victory. That November, Ron Paul and his Democratic challenger, Bob Gammage, squared off again—for the third time—and it was Gammage who won this time. But the margin was extra ordinarily close: less than 100 votes out of almost 200,000 cast—the largest voter turnout in the district’s history. Although voting irregularities were numerous, Gammage retained his victory against Ron Paul’s congressional and court challenge.

For the past two years Ron has continued his campaign, despite a heavy work schedule as a medical doctor. For example, a newsletter he established while in Congress was continued and mailed to all his supporters. And a telephone call-in service he established to inform constituents was also continued. So in November it was Ron Paul versus Bob Gammage for the fourth, and hopefully last, time. Although Gammage received all the support his party could provide him, including a personal visit to the district by President Carter, Ron Paul was again elected to Congress by a comfortable 1,000 vote margin.

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possible third libertarian was also elected to Congress from Texas in November. He is Dr. Phillip Gramm of the 6th congressional district. Gramm holds a Ph.D. in economics and has been teaching economics at Texas A & M University for several years. He was elected as a Democrat.

Gramm first rose to prominence a few years ago after the Arab oil embargo. It was at this time that the nation first began to hear about the so-called energy shortage affecting the planet. In a famous article for the Wall Street Journal (November 30, 1973), Gramm argued persuasively that there was no general shortage of energy, just a temporary shortage caused by government policies. He noted that there had been previous energy shortages throughout history, such as during the mid-1800s when whale oil began to run out, ultimately to be replaced by petroleum. This article caused quite a stir and has made Gramm one of the leading exponents of a free market in energy ever since.

I know that Ron Paul is a sincere libertarian (I served on his congressional staff the first time around), but it is too soon to tell about Gramm. Although Gramm has written forcefully about the free market for such magazines as Reason and Human Events, I don’t know where he stands on critical foreign policy and social issues. But even if he is in fact a libertarian on these issues as well, he will be hard-pressed to stay that way once he gets to Congress. Too often, libertarian leaning men have come to Washington only to be corrupted by the system. And the most corrupting influence of all has nothing to do with lobbyists, campaign contributions, special interests, or any of the other things usually discussed. It is simply the influence that your fellow congressmen have. Call it peer-pressure or whatever; when the other members start to lean on you the pressure is almost unbearable. An example of a congressman who has been utterly ostracized by his unwillingness to go along is Larry McDonald of Georgia. Unfortunately, McDonald is not a libertarian but a conservative John Bircher. Nevertheless, one has to admire him for standing up for his principles, even if they are wrong.

The critical importance of having a few libertarians or quasi-libertarians holding any political office is that they take libertarianism out of the realm of theory and into the real world. It is a constant struggle to find ways of translating the theory into practice, and in a way that can attract political support. But it must be done. I know that Dick Randolph and Ron Paul can do it. 1just hope that they are not made to carry the whole burden themselves for too long, or they will get discouraged. If a few good prospects like Phil Gramm can join their ranks then we may be well on the road to a libertarian renaissance.