Atlas Rising


Libertarians claim their presidential candidate, Harry Browne, who is now polling at 3 to 4 percent in Colorado, Illinois, and Georgia, is becoming “the new Ralph Nader,” with a chance to swing the election if the race remains tight.

But while Nader stands to draw left-leaning voters away from Democrat Al Gore, Browne is bleeding support from the right-wingers who support GOP candidate George W. Bush. If the race remains tight and Browne does well enough in key states, his backers say, the Libertarian could deny Bush the election if the race remains tight.

In Georgia, where Bush leads Gore by six points, polls show Browne pulling in 4 percent of the vote. In Illinois, where Bush and Gore are deadlocked, one survey has Nader and Browne tied at 3 percent. In Colorado, where the race is also too tight to call, Nader is running at 5 percent and Browne at 3. With slender margins between the major-party candidates, even a relatively weak showing by the upstarts could affect the outcome.

For years, right-wing Republicans have been stealing Libertarian economic rhetoric, but in an e-mail interview with the Voice this week, Browne said he is not a carbon copy of Shrub. “George Bush wants to run your life,” Browne wrote. “I want you to be free—free of the income tax, free of Social Security, free of the drug war, free of people like George Bush and Al Gore.”

Such classic Libertarian laissez-faire stumping has long made prominent guest appearances on Republican platforms, though the GOP has left the Libertarian social policies safely in the closet. Browne and company are running hard against the war on drugs, for example, which the right-wing GOP has unsuccessfully tried to build up as a major foreign policy issue to replace the fight against Communism. And Libertarians generally support free movement of labor across national borders, which would lead to the demise of U.S. immigration enforcement and restore much of the Southwest and California to a Spanish-speaking annex of Mexico. Libertarians were the first and most-prominent opponents of the income tax, an issue which has riveted the Republican Party over the last decade. They even forced Clinton to talk about simplifying the existing tax system.

Browne is on the ballot in 49 states, and his party has congressional candidates in 44 states, running for 245 seats, half of all House districts. Though the party has a spotty record at the polls, many more people seem to share Libertarian beliefs than vote for Libertarian candidates. A recent Rasmussen Research Survey shows 16 percent of Americans—one in every six voters—back Libertarian positions on issues, compared to 13 percent who identify as liberal and 7 percent as conservative. More than a quarter of those polled said drug laws do more harm than good, and 36 percent want to get rid of the income tax.

What follows in an edited version of the Voice‘s cybertalk with Browne.

Voice: Aren’t you like Nader and Buchanan—just a spoiler?

Browne: I am running to help build a Libertarian Party big enough to win the presidency and Congress. By your definition, we could never have anything but the Republicans and Democrats, because anyone else would be a “spoiler.”

Voice: Give three simple things you’d do first if elected:

Browne: (1) Pardon every federal prisoner convicted of a nonviolent drug offense. (2) Tear pages of regulations out of the Federal Register. (3) Bring U.S. troops home from abroad and announce that the United States will no longer meddle in other countries’ affairs.

Voice: Why won’t you take federal election money?

Browne: I don’t believe you should be forced to support my campaign. And you certainly can’t believe that anyone who feeds at the federal trough is serious about reducing government.