essays

Jun 1, 1978

Taxes and the 1978 Campaign

“With the Alaska campaigns and…Gary Greenberg for governor in New York, the Clark campaign will be one of the most important Libertarian efforts in 1978.”

This is a key year for electoral politics. Inflation is heating up; the tax rebellion is at long last getting under way; the middle class is getting more and more frustrated; the Carter administration is in utter disarray. The issues of the hour are our issues, and libertarians are beginning to stand up and address them. More than anything else, this accounts for the new recognition given to libertarians—inside and outside the Libertarian Party—in the media.

Several young libertarians have recently gained some prominence, both locally and nationally, by addressing the issue of taxation in this country.

Jim Clarkson, the chairman of the Libertarian Party in Georgia, has led a continuing campaign against local taxes, making the fullest use of the media in the process. Every time a new tax or bond issue is proposed, Clarkson has been there, ready, willing, and able to do battle for local taxpayers. With several victories under his belt, Clarkson has perfected several unusually persuasive ways of getting his libertarian message across to people. Wit, sarcasm, and gentle ridicule are some of his specialties, and he has been talking before libertarian meetings and LP conventions across the country explaining how he does it, complete with a slide show of his techniques. Clarkson is a roguishly entertaining speaker who combines optimism with an ability to charm and delight an audience. His southern drawl, ever so slightly in evidence, merely adds to the fun. He should be badgered into speaking at every opportunity, and can be reached at the Libertarian Party of Georgia, 4 Coral Avenue, Rome, Georgia 30161.

James Tobin has also been busy of late. Tobin was one of the leaders of the recent tax revolt in Illinois, and has continued to work for much-needed tax relief. President of National Taxpayers United of Illinois, Tobin recently was quoted in a Newsweek cover story called “Burned Up Over Taxes” (April 10). An articulate spokesman for libertarian antitax sentiments, he has attracted attention inside and outside Illinois as he continues to organize and speak out. We will be hearing more from Tobin in the future.

Yet another young libertarian who is making a virtual career out of opposing taxes and government waste is the energetic chairman of the National Taxpayers Union, James Dale Davidson. Jim Davidson has been active speaking and writing against taxes for many years, appearing on such prominent shows as Johnny Carson’s Tonight show, and in such forums as Penthouse, whose pages he graces frequently. While NTU occasionally misses the mark [see Tom Palmer’s review of their new booklet on property taxes in last month’s LR], Davidson’s published essays are usually insightful. His latest effort is one of his best, a rip-roaring dissection of the causes of “The American Middle-Class Tax Rebellion,” in the May issue of Penthouse. The short essay is touchingly eloquent, as these few lines will show.

“Taxation in America has become a pilfering of the spirit—a subjugation of your liberty, your life, and your dignity by other human beings. The politicians don’t just want your money. They want your soul. They want you to be worn down by taxes until you are dependent and helpless, as surely as you would be if some bloodsucker were draining your body. This is why you are taxed and taxed again, a hundred times in a hundred ways, until you are weak with an anemia that is worse than physical exhaustion… . Its object is your weakness.

The entire essay fills a scant two pages in Penthouse, but makes its case very well indeed. Reprints are available from the National Taxpayers Union, 325 Pennsylvania Avenue S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003. Write for other NTU information and publications as well.

With a growing number of eloquent and committed people such as these three, libertarians can begin to assume their rightful place as the leaders of the revolt against taxes and big government.

The indispensable framework for this kind of activity is the Libertarian Party. It is unfortunate but true that the majority of the American people—not to mention the all-important national media—are only interested in hearing political issues addressed within the context of elections. It is therefore very important that the Libertarian Party be taken seriously as a political force in this country. To that end, it is crucial that the LP continues to grow in both quantity and quality.

That the Libertarian Party is being taken seriously on an increasing level is everywhere in evidence. One indication of such is an article on “The Libertarian Party” by Julian Weiss in the March/April 1978 issue of Practical Politics, a nuts-and-bolts political magazine published by the Center for the Study of Practical Politics. The article is respectful and serious:

With increased respectability accorded minor party movements, one faction is gaining increased attention from campaign observers and poli sci buffs. The Libertarian Party … clearly sees itself as a major third force during the 1980s and is busily taking steps to fill what LP leaders foresee as a political vacuum approaching shortly.

The Libertarians are a unique amalgamation. Their spokesmen and positions cover the full range of views across the standard liberal-conservative spectrum. First brought together as a political instrument in 1972, they declared opposition to ‘the omnipotent state’ and have ever since trumpeted laissez-faire economics at home (favored by the rightists) merged with non-interventionism overseas (supported by left-radicals). Government power—whether evidenced through military conscription, drug laws, high levels of taxation, social spending or undeclared war—is held with disdain… . The Libertarians ‘deny the right of any government … in the areas of voluntary and contracted relations among individuals.’ This would cover almost every sphere of activity, from prostitution and pornography to the Social Security tax and the Department of Agriculture’s broad range of activities.

The article goes on to summarize the history of the LP, highlighting its more successful races, concluding:

Since the demise of McCarthy’s independents and the collapse of the American Independent-Wallacite parties, Libertarians have an opportunity to assume third party leadership. The flux of social and political events may themselves add cohesion to a seemingly informal libertarianist movement. The LP has made its mark with the 1976 returns, and will perhaps contribute to the serious dramas of government in the decade ahead.

This seems all the more likely as the Libertarian Party concerns itself with defining a coherent strategy in the months to come. Last fall, the National Committee of the LP adopted a “Statement of Purposes and Strategy.” The purposes of the LP were said to be to educate both libertarians and the general public about the doctrines of libertarianism, to provide for political activity for libertarians, and to provide a vehicle to roll back state power in the United States. The strategy section said that “we must hold high the banner of pure principles and never compromise our goals: a world embodying the LP statement of principles. Any intermediate demand must be treated as it is in the LP Platform, as tending to the achievement of the pure goal and inferior to it. Therefore any such demand should be presented as leading toward our ultimate goal, not as an end in itself. Holding high our principles means avoiding completely the quagmire of self-imposed obligatory gradualism. We must avoid the view that in the name of fairness, abating suffering or fulfilling expectations that we must temporize and stall on the road to liberty. Achieving liberty must be our overriding goal.”

The strategy statement went on to say that we must avoid committing ourselves to any particular order of destatizing America: “We should accept any and all destatizing measures wherever and whenever we can.” It emphasized that libertarianism is not on the conventional left-right political spectrum. Endorsing ad hoc alliances, the statement went on to say that the LP should not endorse candidates who are not libertarians.

On May 14th, the LP National Committee met in Seattle, Washington, to discuss important policy matters. The committee adopted a statement of policy submitted by Murray Rothbard (an LP National Committee member), “On Coalitions and Alignments,” which was an attempt to define the LP’s proper role when working alongside other groups to affect specific political issues.

According to the statement of policy, the LP should form coalitions or alignments with any other group—barring those in universal public disfavor, such as the KKK and other such organizations—but only on an ad hoc basis, never forming permanent organizational coalitions. The coalitions should be on specific, current political issues. Furthermore, “we should never extend our uncritical support to groups which happen to be our allies on particular issues.”

A key part of the policy was that the LP should remain distinct from other political parties; toward this end, LP endorsements of Republicans and Democrats were discouraged. Moreover, the LP should disabuse the media and others of the notion that libertarians are conservatives, particularly since the LP is often treated as a conservative splinter group, which it is not. “The greatest single threat to American liberties is the pro-war foreign policy of the Conservative movement,” the statement said.

State and local LP efforts are also being stepped up this year wherever possible. In Alaska, there is a strong possibility that one or more candidates for the State Legislature will be elected; New York has seen the beginnings of a rebuilding of the Free Libertarian Party, around the dynamic candidacy of Gary Greenberg for governor (more on this next month); Texas has more than 20 active candidates for political office; in California, the Ed Clark for Governor campaign is preparing its necessary ballot drive on the way to a six figure vote total in November.

Clark has begun an ambitious and well-coordinated campaign, kicking off with a number of speaking engagements and advertisements on major radio stations in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. Clark has spoken on platforms with personalities such as Thomas Szasz on his recent speaking tour of California, and Paul Gann, the coauthor of the Jarvis-Gann “Proposition 13” on the June ballot, a measure which will, if passed, reduce property taxes by nearly two-thirds in California. Clark has already been endorsed by Anthony Russo, the manager of rock star Bette Midler, and an announced libertarian.

Clark is an attorney who has been chairman of the LP both in California and in New York, as well as a member of the National Committee since 1972. California libertarians had eyed the 1978 Governor’s race with uncertainty until Clark was persuaded to make the effort. Clark hopes to help increase in a massive way the number of registered libertarians, and gain a vote total of somewhere between two and five percent-more than the expected difference between Jerry Brown and his Republican opponent.

Clark’s major issues include taxation, education and crime. The controversy over the Jarvis-Gann tax limitation initiative on the June ballot has put the entire issue of taxation squarely before the voters. Clark proposes tax credits for education, to boost private alternatives to a massively inept public school system which is already heavily criticized by parents. And Clark will strongly advocate the abolition of victimless crime laws, while pointing out that the resources of the criminal system should be concentrated on violent crime with victims.

LP National Director Chris Hocker will spend an initial period of four weeks in California, setting up the petition drive (which will require 100,000 valid signatures to get Clark on the November ballot), and to establish a statewide network of volunteers and paid staff to coordinate appearances and media contacts for the campaign.

Together with the Alaska campaigns and the campaign of Gary Greenberg for governor in New York, the Clark campaign will be one of the most important Libertarian efforts in 1978 in terms of gaining national attention. LP strategists in California intend to use professional skills in order to carve a permanent niche for the Libertarian Party on the political spectrum.

ADDRESSES:
Clark for Governor 
1620 Montgomery St.
San Francisco, CA 94111

Greenberg for Governor 
15 West 38th Street 
Suite 201
New York, NY 10018