Since 1995, I have loved talking about Harry Browne. The first thing I usually hear is, "Who the heck is Harry Browne?" This gives me an automatic upper hand in the conversation, especially with people who think they are really, really smart. And, as an old, uber-competitive ex-jock, I love getting the upper hand on my opponent.
As a sneak preview of his legacy, I will simply say the more people learn about the late Harry Browne, the more they discover he viewed American citizens as having only one major opponent in life -- The United States government. Not the mushy Dems, or the mean Republicans, or the utopian Sanders socialists. Our enemy, according to this teacher and provocateur of the U.S. Constitution and individual freedom -- is government itself.
Harry Browne was the Libertarian Party candidate for President in 1996 and 2000. Sadly, he passed away in 2006 at the age of 72. Browne spent most of his life as a financial guru businessman, author, and radio personality who professed his libertarian beliefs. He was virtually an invisible candidate and won less than one percent of the popular vote in both elections above. He was eligible to participate in the presidential debates both election years, but was uninvited by the League Of Women Voters.
This type of dissing of Browne is a spirited conversation for another day, but suffice it to say, I personally believe the apple cart of the status-quo would have been too upset were Candidate Harry Browne given the microphone during those presidential debates.
Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively, won those elections. It is also worth noting here that Harry Browne was not a fan of either of these former presidents' parties, or their policies. Actually, "not a fan" is a gross understatement, as you realize the more you listen to Browne articulate his libertarian positions on politics and on living the wholly unique life as an American citizen.
The more government grows each and every year, the more Harry Browne's message resonates each and every day. And, based on what I see happening with the crazy 2016 election race so far, his message of yesteryear seems to sing (if not scream) to today's fed up electorate.
The federal debt that now approaches $20-trillion represents virtual financial treason to core Libertarians like Harry Browne. Treason, misappropriation of taxpayer funds, failure of fiduciary responsibility to the citizens, you name the poison. Browne, being a lead-by-example leader, refused to accept federal government matching campaign funds in order to get elected.
Matter of fact, Harry Browne was the first candidate for President in U.S. history to turn down the federal matching funds campaign option...twice! After all, it was taxpayer money.
This integrity, to me, is vital for a leader today, and any leader really in the public or private sector. If one is serious about reducing the size of government, is it not vital to lead by example when presented the golden opportunity? In a money-centric political world like this, it takes formidable courage and risk to turn down millions of dollars that would have helped fund an expensive political campaign. This unwavering integrity is a complete 180 from any finger-pointer blamers, or double-standard politicians who have competed for the highest office in the land over the years. (And I won't waste valuable taxpayer time here to name names!).
Unbeknownst to many Americans, aside from the familiar Democrat and Republican Parties, there are thirty-three other "active" national political parties, not to mention scores of ones now defunct.
The three mainstream third party players are the Libertarian Party, Green Party, and Constitution Party. (Many will remember Ralph Nader leading the Green Party). The other thirty range from a lengthy and diverse menu, everything from the Communist Party, to eight parties with the word Socialist in their names.
And my personal favorites, the Transhumanist Party, and the Modern Whig Party! I kid you not, these are actual political parties. My only question with the second one here is, do you have to wear a Whig to belong?
Only in America, a party for every hors d'oeuvre, not the other way around.
In today's mainstream political arena however, the only third party to have consistency and political legs are the Libertarians. As with the fellow thirty-three fringe parties, Libertarian Party candidates are for the most part unelectable, especially in a national election. But unlike the other thirty-two brethren, the Libertarian movement seems to have found a rising voice over the past few decades.
And thanks to the Tea Party, as well as contrarians such as Ross Perot, Ron Paul, and his son Rand, the Libertarian message has actually gained a microphone of credibility in recent years. Dr. Ron Paul even eulogized Browne on the floor of the House of Representatives after Browne's passing in 2006.
Harry Browne has not been the only presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party of course. Since its founding in 1972 there have been nine candidates in addition to Browne. I personally was introduced to the concept of libertarianism during the candidacy of Andre Marou in 1991. I appeared as a guest promoting a book on a talk radio show with WFLA in Tampa. The fiery and funny host, Mark Larsen, was a Libertarian advocate when Marou was running.
Larsen is a great guy and has always been passionately engaged in politics. Like many of us, Mark was, and is, fed up with politics as usual, and the two fat-cat traditional parties.
In the mid-90s, hungry to learn more, I read a book by Harry Browne, Why Government Doesn't Work. For me, this book changed everything. After digesting Browne's book, my political appetite took a squealing sharp turn -- not right, not left -- just a sharp Libertarian turn.
I have never looked at politics, or the American way of life for that matter, the same way since reading Harry Browne's book in 1995.
The discussion of libertarianism, synonymous with americanism, could fill volumes. The snapshot of the movement is small government, drastically decreased regulation, personal freedom and choices, and free-market solutions to big problems. The movement has a nationalist and protectionist bent -- protecting the homeland vs. policing the world. My personal favorite part of the Libertarian Party Platform is completely abolishing the IRS and income tax, and funding a limited government via a federal consumption tax on all goods and services.
In any case, the singular most important message from all core Libertarians is, well, that government doesn't work.
Libertarians do not believe that government solves anything. If anything, it creates unfettered bureaucracy and problems which might never have existed in the first place. A true Libertarian understands that unintended consequences of even noble-gestured government programs are never worth the eventual bloated cost to the taxpayers, not to mention the inevitable fraud involved, or the gradual decay of the traditional American culture, by proxy.
My deep respect for Harry Browne evolved after watching him closely in the 90s, and analyzing his public demeanor and political positions. To me, Browne brought a traditional professionalism to the party. He was very polished, media savvy, clear and communicative, and someone who was difficult to dislike. He was the perfect dad or granddad type of man. In other words, a dignified, electable national candidate.
Were he an R or a D – if he ever chose to be a status-quo politician – he'd be right there in any national race.
In the years since 1972, I don't believe the American public was "ready" for a Libertarian president. But in 2016, well, I sure wish Harry Browne was running.
As a rule, I don't write in-depth bios, and will not here. I leave that to the Wikipedias of the world. Other than his timeless book, Why Government Doesn't Work, I will assign only two pieces of homework to my readers who want to know what made this gentleman tick:
First is his Facebook community page, where his wonderful and dedicated wife Pamela keeps his memory alive. The page features quote after quote of Harry Browne-isms. They are sensational.
Second is an incredible letter he wrote to his daughter in 1966, when she was only nine years old. Anyone who knows me knows I am a father, and am deeply committed to the concept and responsibility of fatherhood. The best judge of a man, in my view, is how he shows his love for his wife daily, how he teaches and nurtures his children, and how he leads his family by example.
This priceless and timeless letter, which was a Christmas gift to his daughter a half-century ago, illustrates this man's intellectual depth. It shows his commitment to live and teach personal responsibility, and to enjoy the perfect beauty of freedom. Freedom in every way, including lawfully living life as one chooses, rather than as a government mandates.
So where does Harry Browne and showcasing the Libertarian Party fit in to the 2016 presidential elections? And who, pray tell, would he vote for? I cannot and will not speculate where Harry would stand, but I know what I would share with him were I able to have a personal conversation.
I would disclose to him that if he were running for President, and was clearly polling in contention, I not only would vote for him, I would campaign for him. This shocks no one more than me, to actually campaign for someone, since politics as a rule makes me want to throw up.
If he, like most third party candidates, were polling tiny numbers – under ten percent for example, I couldn’t vote for him. I’d vote for whichever frontrunner shares my libertarian views the most, regardless of party affiliation. Unlike many passionate Libertarians, and third party supporters, I do not believe in symbolic votes, especially in this dangerous era where so much personal freedom and national security is at risk.
I believe in winning fair and square, by out-preparing, out-witting, and out-working one’s opponent. In politics, victory is required in order to continue the message of the candidate and the mission of his or her party. Without winning, it is impossible to hold the international microphone -- or even the bully pulpit domestically -- in order to affect change.
If one were to vote the most libertarian candidate amongst a wide field of possibilities in 2016, it would have to be Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) or Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). However, mindful of the electability issue (namely winning) I could not support either at this juncture, for President at least. I would support these candidates, and others, including Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, for perhaps Vice President, or key cabinet positions.
In my mind, the closest candidate today who represents my libertarian views and who is also highly electable, is Donald Trump. No question.
Trump does not follow the Libertarian Party core platform word-for-word, which is essentially utopian -- seeking a federal government roughly 10% its current size. Rather, Trump is simply an anti status-quo candidate, with a libertarian bent, who is not afraid to shake up politics as usual, or ferociously rattle the cages of the establishment elites – including the mainstream media.
This anti-establishment courage and confidence is perhaps the primary trait that all Libertarian candidates must possess. Harry Browne had it. Donald Trump has it.
Most importantly, Trump, love him or hate him, is a patriot. Like Harry Browne, I believe he honestly seeks to protect American citizens from all things dangerous or freedom-depriving. Everything from bad trade deals, terrorism, endless taxation and government regulation, illegal immigration, jumping into unnecessary wars, and other myriad threats to the personal freedom and well-being of Americans.
As I would honestly disclose to Harry Browne, I would vote for Trump if the polls show The Donald is the most electable of all candidates, even at this early stage. And this includes defeating anyone on the Democrat side, or possibly Independent scooters like Bernie Sanders.
Hillary Clinton? No chance against Trump. Bernie Sanders? No way. (Anyone wanna bet on it?).
I have shared in past columns, and past conversations with friends and family, that 2016 represents a truly historical tipping point for the United States. I today conclude that the country is ill. Sick. Lost, perhaps. Teetering towards a euro-socialist model (a la Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders) versus tottering towards a capitalism-based, free-market direction (a la Donald Trump).
2016 represents to me the proverbial fork in the road. A really big, sharp fork.
But this time around, especially with the nuclear and terrorist threat facing the world, I believe choosing the wrong direction could take the country down a very dangerous road indeed. Likely a deadly one.
If not Harry Browne, my Libertarian money is on Donald Trump. Let freedom ring, and let us everyday Americans – the Silent Majority and other regular, tax-paying folks – begin to heal.
And I believe Harry Browne would tell me he would love to have my vote, but as a U.S. citizen, I am free to vote as I choose.
What a great country. What a great man.