2000 Campaign Report

5. Controversy in the Libertarian Party

by Harry Browne

I would do almost anything to avoid publishing this part of the report.

For many years during the 1970s and early 1980s, I was the best-known advocate of what were called "hard-money" investments gold, silver, and foreign currencies. It was not unusual for an ambitious competitor to act like a gunslinger trying to pick a public fight with me as a way of showing that he was smarter than I was.

I carefully avoided every such gunfight. When I criticized investment or economic ideas I thought were wrong, I never mentioned the name of the person whose ideas I was criticizing. I believe very strongly in civility and in not defaming people with whom I disagree.

That policy served me well in the investment world.

Policy as a Libertarian

So when I, as a Libertarian candidate, was attacked by other Libertarians, I carefully avoided getting into personalized battles with anyone. I simply ignored the personal attacks.

I am quite willing to discuss competing ideas, principles, strategies, and tactics. Such discussions can help each of us to better understand his own beliefs and perhaps to improve them.

And I don't consider my ideas, principles, strategies, or tactics to be above criticism. In fact, I welcome such criticism especially if it can lead to new and better approaches.

But calling names, using loaded language, and making unsupported accusations is not the same as discussing ideas. And I have resolutely avoided getting caught up in any such mud-slinging contests.

This policy extended to the point that I didn't even answer any accusations, no matter how much they might have lessened support for my campaign. I felt that this was the correct approach for several reasons, among which were:

  1. Answering the charges accurately would require time for research and writing using up precious resources that were needed for libertarian outreach.

  2. From long experience I knew that answering allegations, no matter how convincingly, doesn't stop them. The accuser will simply extend the argument. Retaliation provokes more attacks, not fewer.

  3. I do not want Libertarians to have to choose sides between someone else and me. I don't want Libertarians to oppose each other over an argument that has been started purely because one individual wants to show off. And my joining the argument would tend to draw battle lines.

I may very well have been wrong in not answering the charges. In fact, I tend to believe now that I was wrong. If my campaign had simply issued brief statements that corrected errors that were being circulated, it might have headed off some of the problems that evolved.

And then again, maybe it wouldn't have changed anything. If you refute someone's accusations, that person isn't likely to say, "Sorry, I was wrong about that; I'll shut up from now on." More likely, he will try even harder to bring you down hoping to demonstrate that he was right all along.

Also, it's easy for me to look back now and imagine issuing simple statements of fact to refute stupid accusations. But I had numerous opportunities to write positive articles, respond to questions, and do interviews on behalf of the campaign in numerous websites, publications, and other venues and many of those opportunities were going unexploited because I already had far more to do than I could possibly handle. The same was true for everyone on our staff. So any time taken to refute accusations was time diverted from libertarian outreach.

Whether my policy was right or wrong, it was the policy.

Policy Now

But now the campaign is over. Although I am tremendously busy now helping to build the Downsize DC Foundation, doing libertarian outreach, writing articles and doing radio-TV interviews, and trying to repair my financial affairs after six years of very little income I feel it's important to take the time to deal with the charges that were made against me and against the LP.

I have several reasons for doing so.

  1. A good deal of the mud-slinging is continuing after the campaign. The record must be set straight.

  2. The Libertarian Party continues to be harmed because the attacks cause non-Libertarians to believe that LP members tolerate unethical behavior by con men who have the party in its grip. This is totally false and it must be corrected.

  3. I believe it's important that Libertarians come to understand the far-reaching harm that comes from acting uncivilly toward each other. It is one thing to debate ideas; it is quite another thing to show off at the expense of other Libertarians.

  4. Most people reading this put their trust in me in 2000 as the candidate of the party. Even if you like what I did, you are bound to have been affected in some way by the enormous amount of misinformation and mud that was heaped upon the campaign by ill-wishers. I owe it to you to clear the record.

The two principal mud-slingers have been Jacob Hornberger and R.W. Bradford, publisher of Liberty magazine. So I have written reports to answer the charges made by these two individuals. A third report deals with the controversy that erupted this year over Perry Willis' activities while National Director. And Perry has issued a Q&A report to deal with some of the questions raised about the controversy.

I regret having had to write these reports because, unlike Hornberger or Bradford, I care enough about the LP that I don't want to divide it down the middle. I'd rather be expelled from the LP in disgrace than to see it degenerate into the factions that are so typical of such organizations.

And because I don't want to create problems where none exist, I won't circulate these reports via FreedomWire. Instead, I've posted them on this website. You can reach each of them by clicking on these links:

The Hornberger Chronicles

Liberty Magazine's Allegations

The Perry Willis investigation

Perry's Q&A report

Mr. Phillies Writes a Book

If you haven't been aware of the allegations made against me and my campaign, or if you have no interest in these matters, I encourage you not to bother reading the reports. Study them only if you've heard the allegations and want to know the truth.

WHAT THE CHARGES HAVE DONE

Those who have made the allegations must have thought they were advancing their own interests. However, they don't seem to have profited from the attacks. But they did manage to do considerable damage to the 2000 presidential campaign and to the Libertarian Party. There have been at least three bad consequences:

  1. They managed to convince a number of people within the party that there must be a fire somewhere, since Liberty and Hornberger seem to have discovered so much smoke. This severely dampened the desire of many people to support the 2000 presidential campaign or the party in general.

  2. Their allegations spread outside the LP, and convinced many outsiders who should be our friends that the LP is hopelessly corrupt, and that the corruption will continue so long as I or the present LP leaders are involved in the party. Not surprisingly, most of those people declined to help the party in 2000.

  3. The constant carping even demoralized people who don't believe a single word of what Liberty and Hornberger have said. Many of them have simply given up and chosen not to participate in the LP any longer believing that success is impossible for a party that's so burdened with such lying, bickering, and pettiness.

One result of all this was that the campaign didn't raise nearly as much money as was appropriate for the size the LP membership had become by 2000. Another result was that many people in positions of authority in the LP were so concerned about keeping their distance from the Browne campaign that the cooperation with the party that achieved so much for the LP in 1996 wasn't there in 2000.

Driving People Away

Here's a good example of the harm such dissension can bring.

During the 1996 campaign we recruited a business executive and his wife to the LP. Over the next few years the husband made substantial amounts of money, talent, and time available to the party.

In 2000 the wife agreed to organize a fund-raiser for the presidential campaign. She called Libertarians in the area to get assistance. A couple of them treated her very rudely, repeating rumors and allegations made against me by Jacob Hornberger, and they wouldn't drop the matter. She didn't believe any of it, but she was so upset by their mean-spirited attitude that she finished organizing the fund-raiser and then resigned from the LP.

A year later, when the Perry Willis issue arose, her husband was so disgusted by the pettiness of the LP bureaucracy that he, too, withdrew from all LP activity.

So the LP lost two people who had been great assets for the party because the people who chased them out have no regard for the consequences of their acts.

Here's another example. A friend recently forwarded to me an email written by a Libertarian he knows. The Libertarian said:

I can't even convince myself anymore that by supporting the Libertarian Party, at least I'm supporting a principled group. Those of us who are heavily involved in the party know about the actions of people like Harry Browne, Perry Willis, Michael Cloud, and others. I'm no longer convinced that the leadership of the LP is any different than that of other political parties. There is corruption in the LP just like there is in every political party I've seen. I can't go on telling people how much better the Libertarian Party is, when in reality it's not.

For still another example, the writer David Kopel published an article just prior to the 2000 election in which he told why he couldn't vote Libertarian. Although he agreed with most of the party's stands, he couldn't condone the corruption in the party and the presidential campaign. The source of all his "knowledge" about these things was a series of articles in Liberty magazine (discussed in my report on Liberty). As it happens, none of what he had read was true.

Immense harm has been done to the Libertarian Party by people who have spread rumors and made accusations in hopes of furthering their own interests at the expense of their opponents and the LP.

HOW TO HANDLE DIFFERENCES IN THE PARTY

Should no one ever criticize anyone else? Of course, if someone believes there has been wrong-doing that hurts the party, he should be free to try to correct it.

But such concerns can be handled in a civilized way. . . . 

  1. The concerned person can confront the apparent wrong-doer privately with his suspicions and find out whether there's more (or less) to the story than what he's heard or surmised. (Obviously, if someone has publicly accused you, your reply will have to be public as well, to reach the people who heard the accusation.)

  2. If taking step #1 doesn't produce satisfactory answers, one can go public with his evidence with evidence, not with rumors, suspicions, or idle accusations.

  3. But anyone going public shouldn't just add to the problem. If there's something wrong, there must be a solution. You can judge someone's sincerity by how much he makes practical suggestions to set things right.

  4. Before making any public statements, a Libertarian should ask himself how his remarks will be treated by people outside the Libertarian Party people who are on our side generally and might someday be members or become sources of money, votes, and/or moral support. Will the statements drive them away from the party or make them respect us more? Could concerns be phrased in a more thoughtful way that will help, rather than hurt, the LP? We should all think before shooting from the hip.

  5. Under any circumstances, we should all be civil. Each of us should choose his words carefully. Nothing is achieved by being patronizing, writing in a disgusted manner, or trying to appear morally superior.

  6. If you have a disagreement with someone over ideas and strategy (with no accusations of wrong-doing), there's no reason not to discuss the matter publicly. Even then, it should be done in a civil way. Don't try to buttress your argument on behalf of an idea by making personal attacks or by alleging facts for which you have no evidence. If you're discussing ideas, stick to the ideas.

  7. And if you're tempted to say something critical about someone, ask yourself if you know first-hand that what you're about to say is true or is it just something you read in an email forum or heard somewhere?

Accusations You Hear

When you hear accusations made by someone else, think carefully before you accept the allegations as fact Ask yourself some questions . . . 

  1. Is the accuser offering hard evidence? If he got his information from someone else, does he tell you who the source is? Disregard completely statements that begin with "I've heard that . . ." or "Someone told me that . . ." or "It's well known that . . ." In fact, when someone says something like that, you should assume he's actually saying, "I'm repeating [or starting] a rumor that . . ." or "I've told myself that . . ." or "I'm hoping that it will become well known that . . ."

  2. Has the accuser made accusations before? If so, how did those accusations pan out? Is he an intelligent person who is thoughtfully concerned about some problem? Or is he simply a crank who loves to demonstrate his own alleged superiority by repeatedly tearing other people down? If he makes his accusation in a smug, smirking way, I would have very little confidence in the accuracy of his remarks.

  3. Is the accuser consistent? Does he apply the same standards toward everyone or is he continually attacking the same target? If the latter, you have good reason to believe that his motive is to hurt the target of his attack, not advance the cause of liberty. Ask yourself what the accuser may have to gain by bringing down his target. It isn't that someone who has something to gain can't have a valid complaint, but his own interest must be recognized and considered when weighing his accusation.

  4. If the accused has caused genuine harm, there must be other people to whom that harm is evident perhaps including people who don't have the self-interested motives possessed by the person doing the accusing. Have any of those other people people in a position to know confirmed any of the accusations?

  5. Don't assume that a lot of smoke means there must be at least some fire. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be true. If someone has made many accusations, the realization that some of them are untrue should automatically cast doubt on all other accusations for which there is no convincing evidence. The burden of proof is on the accuser for every allegation no matter how many he makes.

In other words, don't be taken in by people with an axe to grind.

The libertarian movement is too small and fragile to tolerate easily the pettiness and spite I've seen over the past few years.

WE DON'T NEED PUBLIC CENSORS

Libertarians don't need other Libertarians to tell them when a candidate for office is failing to profess Libertarian views.

Libertarians can tell for themselves whether a candidate is adhering to principle. And those candidates who fail to promote Libertarian ideas will fail to win support from Libertarians. The problem is self-managing and self-correcting.

Likewise, there's no need for Libertarians to publicly criticize the initiatives and projects of other Libertarians. If a project is a good one, the Libertarian marketplace will support it. But if it's faulty, insufficient support will cause the project to die on its own without anyone having to slay it publicly.

In other words, Libertarians are intelligent enough to decide for themselves whether a project is achieving results that justify its continuation.

The LP doesn't need self-appointed censors to perform "quality control" on the activities of other Libertarians. The Libertarian market will provide the best determination of how resources should be spent.

This doesn't mean there's no place for criticism. But criticisms and suggestions should be made directly to the people involved. Made privately, such criticisms and suggestions can be helpful but public criticisms create discord, cause battle lines to form, and generate permanent resentments and grievances.

And, from what I've seen, such public criticisms usually are made for internal political reasons or to settle scores rather than as sincere efforts to help other Libertarians become more effective.

Those who believe they know a superior way to pursue the Libertarian Party's mission should put their ideas into practice and subject them to the market test. Let fellow Libertarians decide for themselves whether or not they want to contribute resources to an idea.

We should develop an internal culture in the LP that punishes public criticisms and accusations by shunning those who make them.

We should develop a culture that prizes civility, empathy, courtesy, encouragement, and mutual respect.

And we should establish the market test as the only "quality control" mechanism our party needs.

Campaign Report Table of Contents