Despite the talk of widespread anti-Clinton and anti-Washington feelings, the underlying sentiment is simply anti-government. The complaint isn't against the way things are being done or the politicians who are doing them. The issue is government itself. Government doesn't work.
If you ask people - store clerks, barbers, taxi drivers, anyone - whether they want more government, less government, or what we have now - at least 7 out of 10 will say they want less. And all formal polls of the American people bear out this feeling:
One is the educational campaign conducted by organizations like The Libertarian Party, the Cato Institute, the National Taxpayers Union, the Heartland Institute, and hundreds of others - all of whom have pointed out the failures in government programs and explained free-market alternatives. Magazines such as Reason and Liberty have exposed the many ways in which government isn't working, and much of this has been finding its way into the mainstream press. And today more libertarian books are published in a single year than were published in the entire 1950s and 1960s.
These educational activities are bearing fruit - as more Americans join the movements toward term limits, school choice, and privatizing government services; as voters turn down bond referendums and tax increases; as millions of Americans begin to realize that government isn't the way to get what they want.
Another factor in the changing sentiment is that government has become too large and oppressive to help one group without visibly harming several others. Until recently, the harm was diffuse and easy to hide. A government program typically would provide a large benefit to a small group of people - say, a million or so - while spreading most of the cost thinly over 200 million others. The beneficiaries would lobby for the special privilege - while those paying the bill barely noticed the program or its cost.
Now government is so big that it runs into itself coming and going. It has reached the point where new programs provide relatively little benefit while the costs are conspicuous and the impositions intolerable. Health care "reform" is an obvious example. Every proposal benefits only a small group, while it jeopardizes existing health-care arrangements for tens of millions of Americans who, on the whole, want to keep what they have. Not surprisingly, resistance is widespread.
Government has lost the latitude to promise benefits while hiding costs. As government has become bigger and further extended, it has become more self-evident that it doesn't deliver on any of its promises.
And so the simple statement "Government doesn't work" strikes a responsive chord. Ten years ago it required philosophical abstractions to explain the problems and dangers of government. Today it's necessary only to point to the obvious - that government can't deliver the mail on time, it can't keep the cities safe, it can't educate our children, it can't deliver on anything it promises.
Most people can see for themselves that government doesn't work.
Our only hope is to elect a President who has the will and determination to just say "No" to Congress and to just say "Now" whenever the politicians try to pawn off multi-year reduction programs on the taxpayers. We need a President who will demand huge spending cuts now, huge tax cuts now, and a balanced budget now.
The right Presidential candidate will be a lightning rod for all the anti-government feelings. He will offer a clear-cut choice by standing for less government on every political issue. He will refuse to concede the merit in any government program, and promise to veto any bill that would increase the size and power of the federal government. He will force Congress to forgo any new government program that can't muster a two-thirds majority to override his veto. Even more, he could use his veto as leverage to compel Congress to move in the other direction - to reduce or eliminate taxes and abolish government programs.
The presidency is the single place where one person can make a difference - where one person can rally all the anti-government sentiment, and where one person can actually reverse the direction of government.
When an interviewer like Larry King says, "Doesn't it bother you that America is the only country in the world that doesn't guarantee health care for all its citizens?," I will say:
"Not at all. Apparently it bothers you that America is the most productive country in the world, because you seem to want us to be like less prosperous countries. Let's talk about the ways government has run up the price of medical care and made health insurance unaffordable for so many people, and how reducing government could improve health care and make America even more productive and prosperous. . . ."
The income tax is the biggest single intrusion suffered by the American people. It forces every worker to be a bookkeeper, to open his records to the government, to explain his expenses, to fear conviction for a harmless accounting error. Compliance wastes billions of dollars. The income tax penalizes savings and creates an enormous drag on the U.S. economy. It is incompatible with a free society, and we must get rid of it.
And the income tax is the key to reducing government. We can't remove federal programs one at a time, because each program has beneficiaries and supporters who will fight us. We can overcome their resistance only by proposing one enormous package that gets the federal government completely out of welfare, education, health care, crime control, housing, regulation, transportation, and every other activity that isn't specified in the Constitution - and at the same time repeals the income tax completely.
This means every voter will have a choice: (1) do you want to retain your favorite federal program, or (2) do you want to be free from paying income tax for the rest of your life? Only when this is the choice will we ever see a significant reduction in government.
In my book Why Government Doesn't Work, I have introduced a plan that will:
Imagine your candidate on television speaking directly to the camera:
When you get your next paycheck, look at the stub that comes with it. See how much is being taken from you each payday in income tax and Social Security tax.Repealing the income tax is the most powerful weapon we have for rolling back the welfare state - not just slowing its growth, as the Republicans are promising to do.
Then please spend a few minutes with your spouse, discussing what you'd do if that money were available to you, instead of the government. What would you do with it?
Is there any benefit you're getting from the government now that you couldn't replace several times over with the money you will save in income tax?
- Would you put your children in a private school - one that provides the kind of education and values you've always wanted for your children?
- Would you set the money aside to save up for the business you've always wanted to start?
- Would you move into a better home, a better neighborhood?
- Would you make a bigger contribution to your favorite cause, charity, or church?
What would you do with that money? It's yours, you earned it, so you should decide. It's time you got it to spend for yourself.
And until we accomplish that, it would be foolish to throw away this precious opportunity by debating irrelevancies. Once government is much smaller, we can have a giant meeting in the SuperDome for six months to argue over how far we want to go from there. Until then, let's focus on the direction we want to go - not the destination.
Even the most hostile questions will be opportunities to take the offensive and tell our story our way. For example, suppose an interviewer says, "I understand you want to take Social Security away from people."
"No, I want to make Social Security truly secure. I want to transfer it to private companies that keep their promises - unlike the U.S. Congress. Today, every retiree is afraid Congress will take away some of his benefits or destroy the system by over promising. And every young person fears another hike in Social Security taxes and the addition of new benefits that could bankrupt the system before he retires. I want to transform the system into one in which everyone knows what he is paying and getting - and can count on it.""Shouldn't the federal government protect us from unsafe products and unscrupulous businessmen?"
"Government doesn't protect us from these things, because government doesn't work. The savings and loan crisis, every financial scandal, every class-action law suit is a testament to the failure of government regulation."Aren't Libertarians the ones who want to put heroin machines in restrooms?"
"Government's War on Drugs, its war on insider traders, its promises to clean up the environment or reduce crime always have the same result - the innocent lose more of their freedoms and the guilty slip through the net.
"Government doesn't work, and the money government has taken from us to provide this 'protection' is money we could use to take care of ourselves. So let's get the money back into the hands of the people who earned it."
"I personally have no interest in using drugs. But I can't think of any one act that would do more to reduce the crime rate in America than ending the federal government's War on Drugs. It creates an enormous profit for criminals, causes gang warfare and drive-by shootings as gangs fight over drug territories, and pushes drug prices up to a level that causes addicts to steal to support their habits. Only an extremist would tolerate having a child molester released from prison early to provide a prison cell for a marijuana smoker. The answer to the crime problem isn't more prisons, more taxes, and more of our liberties taken away - it is to get rid of the colossal failure known as the War on Drugs."Philosophical arguments are no longer necessary. Now that government has created such a mess, we are the ones who can use the one-liners, and the politicians must take minutes to explain how they will somehow improve their failed programs.
People can see for themselves that government doesn't work, but we're the only party that recognizes this. We are the mainstream now. Most people are on our side, because they want more control over their own lives and they want to escape the chaos and misery the government has inflicted upon them.
There is no reason to compromise what we believe, and no reason to threaten anyone. All we have to do is tell our story honestly.
But the public has become progressively more sophisticated. More and more people are determined to vote their consciences. An April 1995 Gallup Poll found that:
If you continue to reward someone on welfare for not getting a job, you can't expect him to change. If you continue to reward Republicans for making government larger, they will never have an incentive to make it smaller.
If I'm elected, the anti-government revolution probably will be won.
If Bill Clinton is reelected, the revolution will continue, because everyone will know what the problem is.
If a Republican is elected, the revolution will go to sleep, and may not reawaken until it's too late.
Obviously, a third party can't mount an effective campaign in only four months. So I am campaigning now as the Party's de facto candidate - directing 95% of my attention toward the general public.
I am giving speeches to organizations and at public gatherings. The campaign is recruiting CEOs of America's corporations to join us. We're raising money from within and without the Libertarian Party. We are producing a TV infomercial that will begin airing around the country in the spring of 1996. We now have, bumper stickers, lapel buttons, and other campaign tools available to you.
We have enlisted the support of influential people outside the Libertarian Party. For example, investment writer Mark Skousen told his 50,000 readers:
We already have a good man who has decided to run for president on the Libertarian ticket: Harry Browne! He's articulate, a great writer, and an intelligent thinker. I suggest you contribute to his campaign by sending a donation (up to $1,000 per person).And Joseph Sobran wrote in his nationally syndicated newspaper column:
The most eloquent man in politics today - if you can say that a third party is "in" politics - may well be the Libertarian Party's candidate, Harry Browne.My book Why Government Doesn't Work is now in the bookstores. It presents libertarian solutions to the current problems inherent in welfare, education, crime control, national defense, health care, Social Security, and the federal budget. It provides a credible plan for getting from today's big government with high taxes to the kind of government the Founding Fathers had in mind.
The book is generating radio and TV interviews all over the country. I already am showing up in straw polls and getting better response than many of the Republican candidates - even though they're better known and better covered by the press.
Our intermediate goal is to have sufficient name recognition by Summer 1996 that major poll-takers will list me along with the Democratic and Republican candidates.
We need to triple the present membership of the Libertarian Party, so that our infomercial is being shown everywhere and the campaign is being talked about. And we need to raise millions of dollars by Fall 1996, so that we can buy enough TV time to let the American people know there's a credible alternative to continued big government.
My philosophical and political views gelled about 35 years ago, and I have lived most of my adult life as a libertarian. I have been writing and speaking about government and individual liberty for over three decades. I know what to say, and I can answer any question. No one will maneuver me into a position of conceding the need for any government program. Nor will anyone force me to dwell on irrelevant issues; I will keep coming back again and again to the need to repeal the income and Social Security taxes and get government out of people's lives.
I've made hundreds of radio and TV appearances - on national networks and local stations. I focus on winning over the audience, not on scoring debating points. I can think on my feet, and I know how to deal with hostility, ignorance, or honest disagreements.
By the end of 1995, I had already campaigned in person in 32 states, and my message has generated enthusiasm and excitement almost everywhere.
I've discussed libertarian ideas for over a quarter of a century - and never felt the need to soft-pedal anything. Each of my books - investment or otherwise - has been a libertarian tract. The philosophy is so deeply a part of me that there's no question for which I don't have an effective, persuasive answer.
A political candidate often softens his views as his prospects for winning improve - trying not to offend any voter or contributor. Even if he is running to further some principle, he may believe he can do so only if he wins - and that he can't win without compromising.
Once in office, candidates often go over to the other side. First, they make deals - giving large concessions to obtain small victories for their principles. Then they make bigger concessions merely to stay in office. Always the rationale is, "I can't do any good if I lose the next election."
But I know that such temptations are disastrous. As a third-party candidate, my greatest strength is that I'm the only candidate with a consistent, small-government message. If I compromise that in any way, my message is meaningless, my strongest asset is lost, and the whole enterprise is a waste of my time. If I stand for more government on even one issue, no one can know for sure how I stand on other issues - and the campaign will collapse.
We don't have to compromise. We are the mainstream now - the only credible group offering ways to reduce the cost and impact of government. We must recognize the opportunity we have. Our chance has finally come, but to make the most of it we must be like no other political party - we must be 100% consistent. Only if we run the campaign on clear principles can the Libertarian Party overcome the two old parties.
I understand this, and so I will never be tempted to compromise or trade a principle for a bloc of support. Neither will I be tempted to shade my beliefs to make them palatable; I have never been afraid to speak honestly, because honesty always brings me more than it costs.
Lastly, I have a wife whom I love very much, and who loves me for what I am. If I became a glad-handing, compromising politician, I would lose the most important things in my life - her love and respect. That's the greatest possible incentive to remain as I am.
Should you become involved?
Only if you want to. You have no duty to do anything but what you believe is best for you and your family.
I hope you do decide to participate. Here are some ways you can provide valuable help:
But that time is passing. Government has become so big, so cumbersome, so incapable of hiding its own costs and drawbacks, so useless that no one can keep a straight face when calling politicians "public servants." Now people see them as self-serving manipulators who cost us money and freedom.
All that's needed is for someone to shout the obvious - that the problem is government itself, not the current cast of characters. And that's what I will do. We will suffer in silence no longer.
Whether I win the election remains to be seen. The opportunity is many times greater than it would have been just a decade ago. But 1996 will bring many surprises - some helpful and some hindering. So we can be certain only that we have a remarkable chance to make an impact far beyond anything that's been possible before.
Even if we don't win this election, we can change forever the face of politics in America.
If we succeed in reducing government to a fraction of its present size and scope, we may gain the time and opportunity to go much further - to reduce government at all levels to a tiny fraction of its size today.
But the tide might someday turn back against us. Government is a parasite - a cancer that by nature tries to spread itself deeper into society. Those who want to run others' lives won't give up and start minding their own business.
So it may be that after 20 or 40 years the cycle will begin anew, and government will resume its relentless growth. If that happens, will those few years of freedom have been worth the trouble we went to?
I believe they will.
The next two generations will have lived their lives free of the crime-ridden culture the government promotes through welfare programs and its no-win Drug War. They will be free to use their money to build their own futures, free to choose their own retirement plans, free to get medical care from a greater array of choices than we have today, free from fear of the IRS, free to make of their lives whatever they want.
We will have given our children and grandchildren two generations of freedom. What they do with that will be up to them. But at least they will know an atmosphere freer than most of us have ever known.
The prospect of two generations of freedom is enough to motivate me. It makes this the most exciting thing I've done in my life. Thousands of people feel the same way - and have signed on to the campaign.
I hope you'll join us.