Acceptance speech of presidential candidate Harry Browne

By Harry Browne
web posted July 24, 2000

We Believe in You

This is a happy day for me. Aside from the day that Pamela gave me her hand in marriage, this is probably the proudest day of my life. I thank you and I am honored by your nomination.

And I will end the suspense right now. Yes, I do accept your nomination for President.

I am running for President because it is obvious that no Democrat or Republican is ever going to stop the relentless growth of the federal government.

  • Only a Libertarian will free you from the income tax.
  • Only a Libertarian will unlock the door and let you out of Social Security.
  • Only a Libertarian will end the insane War on Drugs.
  • Only a Libertarian will end the reckless foreign policy that puts your children at risk of fighting and dying in a foreign war, and that makes your city a target for terrorists.
  • Only a Libertarian is going to return us to constitutional government.
  • Only a Libertarian is going to set you free.

Who Are the Libertarians?

Who are we? Who are these Libertarians youíve been watching on television - these Libertarians who presume to challenge the Republicans and Democrats?

We could explain ourselves in terms of philosophy, economics, morality, or in other ways. But itís really very simple:

We are the people who want you to be free - free to live your life as you want to live it, not as Al Gore or George Bush thinks is best for you.

We want you to be free to raise your children by your values, not the values of some bureaucrat whoís trying to create a Brave New World.

We want you to be able to keep every dollar you earn - to spend it, save it, give it away as you think best, not as the politicians will allow you to do.

We Believe in You

As this election season continues, youíre going to see Al Gore, George Bush, Pat Buchanan, and Ralph Nader talking about the issues - the issues of the environment, education, health care, foreign policy, foreign trade, jobs, and many other things.

But in reality theyíre talking about only one question. What theyíre discussing is simply this: Which one of them is best qualified to run your life?

Which one of them should decide exactly what kind of school your children should attend - and every other child in America should attend as well?

Which one knows best how your doctor should treat you - or what you should encounter when you enter a hospital?

Which one is best able to run your life?

Do you know what makes Libertarians different? Now this is going to be an earth-shaking discovery - a revelation, perhaps - but we think you should run your life.

In short, we believe in you.

We believe you are a responsible individual - that you can take care of yourself, that you know what is best for your children, that you know how to care for yourself and your family. We believe you know how to live your life.

Even as you make mistakes, youíll find your way through life a lot better than Al Gore or George Bush can lead you - or Bill Clinton or Newt Gingrich or Pat Buchanan or Ralph Nader or any of the other politicians who presume to know how you should live your life.

We believe in you.

The Issues

Do you want to know how we stand on any given issue? Itís very simple. Whatever the issue, we come down on the side of your running your own life, making your own decisions, keeping your own money - spending it, saving it, giving it away as you think best. We are always on your side - the side of stopping politicians from running your life.

Letís take Social Security, for example. We want to unlock the door and let you out - let you decide how much you should put aside for your retirement, let you decide where to put the money.

Of course, the Republicans and Democrats have some wonderful ideas. Al Gore wants to be your investment advisor. George Bush (remember, heís the one supposedly for smaller government) thinks you ought to be able to keep 2% of the 15% Social Security tax. And he thinks you ought to be able to invest it on your own - but only as long as you do it within the governmentís guidelines, of course.

Al Gore, predictably, responds, ďThatís risky.Ē I disagree. I donít think it ís risky. I think itís puny.

Now, letís ask a simple question: Who earned that money? Who went to work every day? Who got up at the crack of dawn? Who put in 8 hours, 10 hours, 12 hours a day to earn that money? You did. So who died and made Al Gore your investment advisor? Who died and made George Bush your nanny?

On Social Security, as on all other issues, we believe in you.

How do we stand on other issues? On foreign trade, on health care, whatever the issue, we believe you should be free to make your own decisions. We donít think anyone should tell you where youíre allowed to buy things, what countries youíre permitted to deal with, what products youíre limited to, how much of anything you can buy.

We donít believe politicians should design your health care for you. We want the politicians completely out of health care, so we can have a system in which:

A hospital stay costs a few daysí pay instead of a yearís pay.

Your doctorís waiting room doesnít look like Grand Central Station - and doctors make house calls.

Low-cost health insurance is available to almost everyone.

Charity hospitals and free clinics abound to take care of the poor with tenderness and concern, instead of with red tape and orders.

How do I know thatís the way it would be if we got the federal government out of health care?

Because thatís the way it was before the federal government moved into health care in the 1960s. And in those days anytime you didnít like the health care you were getting, you were free to choose from many other alternatives. We want to restore what was once the best health-care system in the world by getting government out of it.

We donít want your health care ordered from Washington. And it doesnít matter whether itís ordered by Republicans or Democrats. If it isnít designed to suit you, it isnít right for you. We believe you should make all the choices, because we believe in you.

We could go through many issues. Our stand would always be the same - for your free choice and against political orders.

But there are two issues I want to focus on today because you donít usually hear all sides of these issues.

Gun Laws

The first is the gun laws in America.

Everytime thereís a gun disaster of some kind, the Democrats say, ďWe need new gun laws to keep this from happening againĒ - even if 25 existing gun laws were violated in the disaster. The Republicans immediately go on the defensive and say, ďOh no, we donít need any new gun laws. What we need is better enforcement of the existing gun laws. We need more prosecutions of people breaking those gun laws.Ē

Ladies and gentlemen, those gun laws are the primary source of gun violence in America today.

Criminals arenít affected by gun laws. They donít buy guns in ways that involve gun registration, or waiting periods, or any of the other panaceas that are supposed to end gun violence. They buy their guns in the underworld or simply steal them. So the only practical effect of these laws is to intrude upon your privacy and upon your ability to defend yourself.

Like so many well-meaning laws in this country, gun laws injure the innocent while allowing the guilty to continue slipping through the net. And the gun laws are particularly tragic because they cause so many deaths. If just one person at Columbine High School had had access to a gun, there might be eight or ten teenagers alive today who, instead, are buried under a pile of gun laws.

If we care about making our schools safe, if we care about making our neighborhood safe, if we care about making our cities safe, we will stop disarming innocent citizens and putting them at a disadvantage to armed criminals.

The Drug War

The other issue I want to focus on is the insane War on Drugs.

Youíve heard a good deal about this during this weekend if youíve been watching our convention on C-SPAN. Many speakers have referred to it.

Some people might get the impression that Libertarians are a party full of druggies. But I look around this hall and I find it hard to believe that.

The truth is we are adamantly opposed to the Drug War not because drugs are important to us - but because our lives, our safety, and our children are important to us.

The War on Drugs is probably the greatest scourge ever to be visited on America.

It has spawned violence in our cities.

It has spawned law-enforcement corruption.

It has spawned over-crowded prisons that allow murderers, rapists, and child molesters to get out on early release.

It has spawned the greatest destruction of personal liberty in American history. And Iím not talking about the liberty to take drugs. Iím talking about the liberty to have your bank account, your e-mail, your home, and your property safe from prying eyes and safe from arbitrary seizure.

In the last 30 years, almost every intrusion on our liberty has been enacted in the name of the War on Drugs.

And who gets hurt - the drug dealers? Of course not. Innocent people like you and me are the ones who have our privacy destroyed, and whose bank accounts are inspected by Treasury agents looking for suspicious transactions. Innocent people like you and me are the ones who have our cars torn apart in random searches, and who are stripped-searched at airports.

This has to stop, and it has to stop now.

How It Happens to People Like You

Maybe this still seems far away to you. Who is really being hurt? Just some people who want to smoke marijuana? No. And to demonstrate how vulnerable you are, Iíd like to tell you three short stories, if I may.

The first one is about someone whoís been mentioned often at this convention: Peter McWilliams. In 1996 he was diagnosed as having both AIDS and cancer. His doctor prescribed a daily regimen involving an enormous number of pills. The medication was so intrusive to his system that he continually vomited the pills back up. He couldnít keep the medicines down in his stomach until he began smoking marijuana. I believe he told me he hadnít smoked marijuana in something like 25 years - since the 1960s. But he found that marijuana kept the medicines in his stomach. Marijuana kept him alive.

But that wasnít a good enough reason to smoke marijuana as far as the federal government is concerned. The Drug Warriors imagine this sends a bad message to our children - a message that we let people save their own lives by smoking marijuana. So the Feds moved in on him and took his marijuana away. Without marijuana his medicines were ineffective, and a couple of weeks ago Peter McWilliams died.

Democrats and Republicans treat someoneís death as an opportunity to pass new laws that will take away more of your freedom. But the reason so many people in this convention have spoken of Peter McWilliams is because he was a friend to all of us.

Despite all the persecution brought upon him, he always said the enemy isnít the individual Drug Warriors, it is ignorance. To me he showed a dignity and a benevolence throughout his ordeals that went beyond the limits of a saint.

So it truly was a terrible loss for us when he died. He was an inspiration to us and we miss him. As Steve Kubby pointed out, he died of an overdose of government.

Yes, we want people who are sick, people who have glaucoma, people who have cancer, people who have AIDS to be free to smoke marijuana to relieve their pain, to relieve their nausea, to be able to live in dignity like human beings. But we want more than just a permit from the state under special circumstances. That isnít enough. The Drug War itself is an abomination and it must go.

Let me tell you the second story - about a woman named Debbie Vineyard. She didnít use drugs or sell them. But one day she received a phone call from a man she barely knew. The fact that she accepted the call and recognized the manís name was treated by federal agents as confirmation that she was the manís accomplice in a drug deal. He had already been arrested and, because of the insane drug laws, the only way he could reduce his sentence was to inform on other people.

It didnít matter whether the people he fingered were guilty or innocent, because it isnít necessary to produce drugs or money as evidence at a drug trial. All thatís needed to convict someone is the testimony of one person - even a person whoís already facing prison and can get a reduced sentence by saying anything the prosecutor wants. And so Debbie Vineyard, who was pregnant with her second child, was separated from her family and sent to prison for 10 years. Shortly after arriving there, she was taken in handcuffs, a belly-belt, and shackles to a prison hospital to deliver her second baby.

This is the real effect of the War on Drugs - not the protection of our children, but the destruction of the Bill of Rights. This is what happens not to drug users, not to drug dealers, but to innocent people like you and me. We are the ones who are in jeopardy because of the War on Drugs.

And, finally, let me tell you a third story. This is about Lonnie Lundy - a 32-year-old businessman who had never smoked, touched alcohol, or done drugs of any kind in his entire life. In 1993 an employee of his got in trouble with the law for dealing drugs. The employee was faced with a 20- or 30-year prison term. His only hope for a reduced sentence was to put the finger on other people. So he identified Lonnie Lundy as his supplier, as the kingpin drug dealer.

When the case went to court, no drugs or money were produced as evidence. Nothing was offered in evidence except the testimony of the convicted drug dealer. And Lonnie Lundy received a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. Later, the informant recanted his testimony. But thatís no help to Lonnie Lundy, because letting Lonnie out of prison might send a bad message to our children.

There is a further twist to this story. Lonnieís father wrote to his U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby of Alabama - a Republican Drug Warrior. He pleaded with Senator Shelby for help. The Senator wrote back, ďWe must take a strong stand against drugs, and I support strict punishment for individuals involved in the possession or distribution of illegal drugs. . . . The protection of innocent citizens must be our top priority, and mandatory sentences are a deterrent for future drug activity.Ē

Five years later Senator Shelbyís son, arriving at the Atlanta airport from London, was arrested with 13 grams of hashish in his pocket. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor possession charge, paid two fines totaling $860, performed 40 hours of community service, and was on probation for one year. He didnít spend a single hour in jail or prison.

In case youíre wondering, Senator Shelby is still an ardent Drug Warrior - as is Senator Grams, Senator Lugar, Rep. Cunningham, and all the other politicians whose family members have been caught with drugs - family members who didnít serve the sentences that would be imposed on you or me if someone put the finger on us.

Senator Shelby still believes in the Drug War. All the other Drug Warriors still believe that putting young people in prison for 10, 20, 30 years without parole will somehow make them better persons - as though Al Gore and George Bush would be better people today if, for their ďyouthful indiscretions,Ē they had served 10 years in prison.

The Good News

I said earlier that the War on Drugs is the worst scourge ever to be visited on America. Thatís the bad news.

The good news is that the tide is turning. Public opinion has changed considerably over just the last five years. People are coming to recognize, if nothing else, that the Drug War is an enormous failure, that it is a monumental tragedy, that it is an unmitigated disaster.

They may not yet understand fully what the solution is. They may not understand that the complete absence of drug laws would be the greatest reform for this country since alcohol Prohibition ended - an ending that also ended the gang warfare, the drive-by shootings, the police corruption, and all the other ills that Americans had come to take for granted in the 1920s.

Most people may not yet realize what the solution to the drug problem is, but theyíre quickly learning that the problem isnít so much drugs as it is the War on Drugs.

And so, today, to all those people whose lives have been harmed, injured, or even destroyed by the War on Drugs - to those families who have loved ones in prison - to those people who have lost property to government through the oppressive asset forfeiture laws spawned by the War on Drugs - to the people who have been searched and harassed and had their doors broken down - to the people whose families have torn apart - to those denied medical marijuana to relieve their suffering - to all these people we say to you:

Lift up your hearts.

We know what has happened to you. We care what has happened to you.

We will not forget you. We will not forsake you.

We are Libertarians, and we will not rest until your lives are made whole again.

Why Voting Libertarian Is Important

People ask me, ďWhy are you running for President? Do you think you can win?Ē That question comes up in nearly every interview.

But the real issue is not whether we can win this year. The real issue is that we will not have a free country again until we do have a Libertarian President - whether thatís in 2000, 2004, or 2008. And every vote we get this year puts us one step closer to the day when we do have a Libertarian President.

So if youíre sick and tired of the Drug War, if youíre sick and tired of the government taking your income and doling a little of it back to you as though youíre a child on an allowance, if youíre sick and tired of seeing the Constitution shredded, if youíre sick and tired of seeing more and more and more of your liberty stolen from you, you really have only one choice: vote Libertarian.

If you want people to know what you believe, if you want to get government out of your life, if you want control of your life, thereís only one way you can make that known: vote Libertarian.

And you need to send that message all up and down your ballot. You need to send the message to your local government, to your state government, and to the federal government. That means voting Libertarian for President, for Governor, for Senator, for Congress, for State Representative. This is the only way you can tell them how you feel.

You may say, ďI canít stand Al Gore; Iíve got to vote for George Bush.Ē But do you think George Bush will accept the idea that you voted for him as the lesser of two evils? No, heíll take your vote as an endorsement of every one of his plans to make government larger and larger. Heíll assume you voted for him because you like the fact that he helped make the Texas government bigger and bigger. Heíll say, ďThey like me, they like me!Ē

If you vote for Al Gore because you donít like George W. Bush or youíre afraid of the Religious Right, I can guarantee that Al Gore wonít pay attention to your reason. He, too, will use your vote as an encouragement to make government bigger, more expensive, and more intrusive.

The only possible way to cast an unmistakable vote to get government out of your life, to regain control of your life, is to vote Libertarian. And if that doesnít result in a victory this year, it will at least move you closer to victory. And victory is what you want in the end - not the election of the lesser of two evils.

A Better America Ahead

I said I believe the War on Drugs is living on borrowed time, and I fully believe it. And I believe there is more good news ahead.

However, I freely admit that Iím an optimist. As a matter of fact, Iíll confide in you that I went for a physical a few weeks ago, and I was diagnosed as having Chronic Euphoria - with Pollyanna Syndrome.

But I also believe I have good reason for my optimism. As I look ahead I see an America that gets better and better - whereas up to now, throughout my entire lifetime I have seen government getting bigger and bigger, more intrusive, more expensive, and more oppressive.

Iím an optimist because I can see in the future (and this is not a prediction, a promise, or a guarantee) a logical progression of events that lead by the end of this decade to a Libertarian America.

A Libertarian American in which you pay no income tax, because a government limited to its Constitutional functions would not need an income tax.

A Libertarian America in which no one forces you into a fraudulent retirement scheme like Social Security.

A Libertarian America in which there is no Drug War tearing our cities apart.

A Libertarian America in which we have a foreign policy focused totally on national defense, and without todayís enormous national offense that butts into the affairs of everyone around the world.

I can see how this could happen by the end of the decade.

But only Libertarians can bring it about because only Libertarians are determined to bring it about. Only Libertarians will achieve it because only

Libertarians believe in you. Republican, Democratic, Reform, and Green politicians all believe you must be guided, arranged, ordered, and homogenized.

Only Libertarians recognize that you - not Al Gore or George W. Bush - are the rightful owner of your life.

A further benefit of that Libertarian society is an America at peace with itself - an America where Blacks are no longer afraid of Whites, and Whites arenít afraid of Blacks - where Gays arenít afraid of Christians and Christians no longer fear Gays - where old people no longer are in competition with young people for limited government resources.

This harmony can come about because the government no longer will be the instrument by which one group can impose its values upon another. When that instrument of oppression is no longer available, no group will have to fear any other group.

If you want tolerance, if you want mutual respect, if you want benevolence, if you want diversity, there is a simple answer: get the government out of the way and set people free.

That is the kind of America we Libertarians want - an America thatís at peace with itself - an America that believes in you.

And that is the kind of society America was once moving toward. That was the promise of America - a nation continually moving towards greater personal responsibility, greater liberty, and greater individual sovereignty.

It was an America that was able to overcome slavery, and get rid of laws that made men and women legally unequal. It was an America full of promise that got derailed in the 20th century and became instead a copy of the Old World countries of Europe - so that now you can hardly distinguish America from Germany, Sweden, or any other country in which the politicians know best how to run your life, and in which they have the power to impose their way upon you.

We Libertarians want to return to the America that promised every individual the freedom to pursue his own dreams. That was an America that said to people:

It doesnít matter who you are or where you come from or what you were there.

You might have been the king of your country or the lowest member of society. But once in America you will be a free, responsible, sovereign individual.

No one will ask for your papers. No one will stick a number on you. No one will extort a percentage of your income as the price of getting a job. You will be free to pursue the life youíve always dreamed of.

And I believe thatís the meaning of the Statue of Liberty - holding aloft that great lamp beside the Golden Door. I believe thatís what Emma Lazarus meant when she wrote those wonderful words inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.
That is the America we once had.

That is the America we should have - the beacon of liberty providing light and hope and inspiration to the entire world.

And, by God, I am determined that this is the America we will have.

Harry Browne was nominated as the presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party late last month.

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