Libertarians and vegetarians

By Erik Jay
web posted March 6, 2000

In his quest to enlarge the Republican tent -- a move that must be quite troubling to the zoning commissioners of the Republican National Committee since he didn't follow the correct permit procedure -- GOP presidential candidate and Arizona Senator John McCain has magnanimously declared the tent's doors open to all "Libertarians [and] vegetarians, whoever they are." An interesting mix of condescension and ignorance, this appears to encapsulate McCain's take on the third-party scene.

Lumping capital-L Libertarians (meaning Libertarian Party members who are registered to vote) with vegetarians most likely resulted from McCain's having taken the Jesse Jackson Rhyming Demagogue Home Study Course. He needed the shoddy slant rhyme for "poetic" rather than political reasons, but ended up demeaning a group of people who exert considerable influence on the American political scene; whose agenda is fast becoming the latest "hip" direction in the Gen-x and Boomer-Boomer generations' ideological meanderings; and who have a clearly articulated, widely broadcast, broadly understood set of principles that are internally consistent.

Frankly, the vegetarians are a powerful role model for the bumbling Libertarian Party.

Now, I happen to be a combined upper/lower libertarian, and a Christian one, at that. But I certainly have a problem with 0.5 per cent national election results when fully 15-20 per cent of the people I encounter on a daily basis are naturals for the unifying, encompassing "liberty philosophy" ; I figure another 20 or even 30 per cent could be persuaded on the basis of single-issue stands, particularly in local and non-partisan elections. With a sensible, long-term, know-the-voter plan, libertarian candidates (some LP members, some not) can not only be elected, but can successfully challenge for higher office, as demonstrated by the success of one Bonnie Flickinger.

In 1992, Bonnie Flickinger was elected to the Moreno Valley City Council, in Riverside County, California, for her first electoral victory. Defeating five other candidates and winning 42 per cent of the vote in that initial campaign, she was re-elected in 1994 with almost 60 per cent of the vote and continued to influence local government in a pro-free-market, pro-property rights direction. The Libertarian Party of California web site synopsizes Flickinger's public service resumé thus:

"Because of her pro-freedom philosophy, the City Council recently repealed an ordinance which required installation of ceiling fire extinguishers in private residences. And her respect for the Bill of Rights brought to the Council's attention the ordinance that said licensed firearms dealers could not use their home addresses, even to receive packages; that law was also repealed."

Flickinger is now running for the State Assembly in District 65, and actually has a good chance of winning. Long public service, great name recognition, good press relations, and national stature in the LP will doubtless be of great help. So will the few bucks I'm going to send her, and the few you could, too. The umbrella organization called "Friends of Bonnie Flickinger" (Box 1492, Moreno Valley, CA 92556) will put the money to good use.

A story carried by the national Libertarian Party web site way back in 1996 showed how Flickinger carried her principles into office:

"An elected Libertarian in California helped save taxpayers more than $7 million this month -- overcoming fierce opposition from Republican and Democratic city council members who didn't want residents to be allowed to vote on the fate of two city taxes. Libertarian Mayor Pro Tem Bonnie Flickinger's victory left her facing a possible censure from the city council and a potential recall election from supporters of the higher taxes.

"But her persistence also saved residents of Moreno Valley, California, $7.5 million annually in reduced utility and business taxes. Town residents rejected both taxes by popular vote on June 4th by similar 52 per cent to 48 per cent margins.

"Both taxes will no longer be collected after this calendar year."

A thousand (or ten thousand) Bonnie Flickingers around the country and we've got a real contract with America, a contract that reintroduces Americans to the public servants entrusted with the reins of government. City council members become county supervisors, then state assembly members, then members of state government and/or that state's Congressional delegation -- then who knows?

Maybe I've missed something in the last few decades of political activism, issues advocacy, and media work; maybe there are scores of local offices filled by the next generation of libertarian national politicians. I doubt there are, but am painfully desirous of being convinced wrong.

For a tasty conclusion, let me return to the vegetarian analogy: Fact is, vegetarianism has some distinct advantages over libertarianism. For example, the name is universally understood; the agenda is easily articulated; the media has been molded, scolded, and buffaloed into compliant boosterism; the movement is growing; and it isn't just about vegetables, incorporating a great deal of stealth ideology in its present, technosuburban American strain. As a bloc, vegetarians could conceivably control a hefty majority of Southern California beach cities.

In contrast, libertarianism is still monumentally misunderstood, in name and concept; the agendas are multitudinous and often eccentric; the media, with some dramatic exceptions, has been conditioned (mostly by libertarians) to treat the LP, its candidates, and its agenda with either contempt or bemusement; the movement is growing slowly, glacially slow in light of the serious and growing threats to our liberty; and it seems to many only to be about economics or drug laws, and hasn't yet connected with the tailor-made bread-and-butter issues across America, like regulators and land policy and tort law and third-party ballot access and educational choice and, oh, how about lowering utility and business taxes at the local level?

Liberty-loving candidates of the future, get hold of Bonnie Flickinger.

Like vegetarianism, libertarianism is a principle that can be applied in all situations without compromise. Once explained, calmly and clearly, most people can be made to understand that there won't be an apocalypse if government starts a weight-reduction program. But it takes time and personal effort, and I have written often and emphatically of the need for a libertarian analog to Christian evangelism. It is the only way to change hearts and minds; it's an inside job, as they say.

And after a decade or two of inside jobs all over America, we just might elect someone whom today's libertarians would recognize as a kindred spirit. It may be someone from the LP, but I'm betting on someone holding the GOP or Reform banner, or some new one, as the one who will finally unite the disparate forces of anti-statism in this country to crush the collectivist archaisms of our society, from the racketeering unions to the corporate welfare recipients, and restore the nation to the thriving rough-and-tumble of real freedom. Real freedom, where people go on about their business, and the government keeps the peace and protects the coasts. And...

...and then I wake up.

Okay, we're not quite there. It's one day at a time, like anything else; now what can I do today to advance liberty?

Erik Jay is editor of "What Next? The Internet Journal of Contentious Persiflage" which you can subscribe to by visiting

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