Republicans are not Libertarians: a Q&A with a leader of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul recently released a list of endorsements from state leaders, including those in Minnesota, many who used the word liberty or its synonyms to explain their support.

“He believes in a country where our personal freedoms and liberty are paramount,” said Nevada Assemblyman John Moore.

“I believe Rand Paul, among all the candidates, understands and will resolutely defend Religious Liberty,” said State Rep. Anderegg of Utah.

“Sen. Paul’s priority is freeing citizens and putting the people back in charge of their lives,” said Minnesota state Sen. Roger Chamberlain. 

Clearly, liberty and libertarian are a favorite term for Republicans. In Minnesota, there’s even a Republican Liberty Caucus, chaired by Neil Lynch, who also has endorsed Paul. And the party has a component of self-described libertarian Republicans like former state Sen. Branden Petersen (another Paul endorser) and party activist Bill Jungbauer. The Liberty Minnesota political action committee states that its goal is to empower “liberty-minded voters.”

But do not confuse liberty or libertarian Republicans with actual Libertarians. I made that mistake — in a story for MinnPost that referred to Jungbauer as a Libertarian, capital L — and soon after received an email from S.L. Malleck, vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota, who wanted to explain the distinction, and what’s going on with the Libertarian Party of Minnesota: 

MinnPost: Who are the members of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota?
S.L. Malleck: I think it’s safe to say we are the third largest political party in the state. Our fundraising has more than quintupled from five years ago, although we are small in that effort compared to what the Ds [DFL] and Rs [Republican] do. [LPN reported raising $42,800 in 2014.] The number of people who follow our Facebook page is the third largest in Minnesota. We are at about 200 dues-paying members. Five years ago we had about 35. 

MP: What are the party’s strengths?
SM: I think our main strength is our comprehensive principle of supporting liberty on all issues all of the time. When I was staffing our booth at the State Fair, I was able to say that Libertarians believe people should be able to live their lives as they choose, and spend their money as they choose, as they as long as they don’t impinge on another person’s right. And there’s no other party that can express their philosophy that simply.

S.L. Malleck
S.L. Malleck

MP: Is it really that simple?
SM: Yes, we support all civil liberties. Unlike other people that try to pick which ones they like and which ones they don’t, we support all. We strongly support a free and open marketplace. We strongly support the right to self-defense. We are strong supporters of the First, Second and Fourth Amendments. We’re opposed to foreign interventionism in war.

MP: I noticed you didn’t mention abortion rights …
SM: Abortion is one of the few issues I can’t give you a good response on because both sides the argument can be made form the libertarian perspective: life should be protected or a woman has a right to do what she wants with her body. Libertarians are split on this issue, so our stance is just keep the government out of it and let individuals make their own decisions as to what their consciences allow.

MP: Given the party’s small size, how can it influence elections?
SM: We are already influencing elections. We have five elected Libertarians in Minnesota, a Pine City school board member and four City Council members in St. Peter and Crystal. These are local offices. These are races we can definitely compete in. To get to the next level to have success in partisan races, we need to be included in debates. In the public’s eyes, debate inclusion is seen as legitimacy.

MP: Why do some Republicans describe themselves as libertarian? 
SM: There are two types. There are Republican libertarians who truly believe in liberty. Others are conservatives and see libertarian as a hip new way to describe themselves as conservatives. Some are truly libertarian and some are not. 

MP: Rand Paul brands himself a libertarian and his Republican supporters use the word a lot. What do you think of the use of the term liberty as a political message?
SM: Rand Paul is libertarian leaning on certain issues, for example: surveillance. But he supports continuing the drug war. Conservatives tend to talk about freedom, but what they do is just the opposite. Bush [Pres. George W.] promoted TARP [the 2008 government program that purchased assets from banks to strengthen the financial sector]. When big institutions get government support and little guy is paying for those efforts, that is not freedom.

MP: What is the difference between the Libertarian Party and the Independence Party?
SM: The Independence Party is a centrist party that moves in an authoritarian direction, supporting a government approach. We are centrist in a pro-liberty direction. Let me give you an example. We have the FDA, which regulates food as well as pharmaceutical drugs. But the market is capable of performing the regulatory function. A great example is Underwriters Laboratories – UL – a private, for-profit company. And UL has competitors. We believe we should rely more on entrepreneurs to do things that government is spending a lot of money on and not doing very well.

MP: How do you keep people engaged in the Libertarian Party movement?
SM: Unfortunately, we don’t have the large infrastructure that the Democrats and Republicans do. Their candidates dominate the headlines. We don’t have that. The way we keep people engaged is by taking active stances on issues. We took a strong stance opposing the marriage amendment and supporting gay marriage, and we built bridges to some people on the left.

MP: So do you attract party members from the left and the right? 
SM: We have former DFL activists who have joined the Libertarian Party. And we have activists who used to be Republicans.

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/07/2015 - 10:11 am.

    Well…

    Why don’t Libertarians stop running for republican nominations?

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 10/07/2015 - 10:43 am.

      Perhaps…

      For the same reason some Socialists run for Democrat nomination.

      It’s where the practical opportunity lies.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/07/2015 - 10:45 am.

      For the same reason

      socialists run for the democrat nomination.

      In fact, why hasn’t there been any discussion of Bernie Sanders running as a third party candidate? Bernie Sanders has as much philosophical disagreement with Hillary Clinton as Trump does with any of the conservatives running for the republican nomination.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/07/2015 - 09:11 pm.

        Hold Your Horses

        Who says Hillary Clinton, a center-right Democrat who has Wall Street has always been comfortable with, defines the Democratic party? Paul Wellstone, who said he represented the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party”, also had much philosophical disagreement with Hillary Clinton and the New Democrats of the Democratic Leadership Council.

        A lot of Democrats are wanting the Democratic Party to shed the Gucci loafers in favor the the Red Wing works boots they put aside long ago.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 10/07/2015 - 10:40 am.

    Excellent Deliniation Here

    Regardless of one’s personal political disposition, straightforward information is most important. Good to have you back on the page, Cyndy.

    This description of Independent v. Libertarian is most interesting, and clearly needed.
    Perhaps MinnPost can also be helpful in a similar piece regarding Socialist v. Democrat.

    It is long past time to use and understand proper terminology in this age of somewhat sloppy intellect.
    Regardless of view, we all need to upgrade our discourse.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/07/2015 - 01:05 pm.

    For a change

    …I’m in agreement with Mr. Tester about something: Why HASN’T there been any discussion of Sanders running as a 3rd-party candidate? He caucuses with the Democrats, but I think Mr. Tester’s assertion that Sanders has considerable philosophical disagreement with Ms. Clinton is valid, and would be worth exploring further. Jim Million’s point about clarifying the distinctions between candidates and labels assigned to them is well-taken, too.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/07/2015 - 04:45 pm.

      Why Not?

      Senator Sanders probably realizes that 3rd party candidacies are quixotic, at best. He seems to be in the race to win the nomination and not just to make a point. There is also the very real possibility that a 3rd party candidate would take votes away from a more palatable candidate, thus ensuring the victory of a bad major party candidate (yes, I mean Ralph Nader).

      The talk about Donald Trump running as a 3rd party candidate is probably based on the obvious fact that his candidacy is based on ego, not ideology.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/07/2015 - 09:32 pm.

        Bed Time

        It’s time to put to rest this myth that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election.

        1) Al Gore “lost” more Democratic votes to Bush than to Nader.

        2) Al Gore could win his home state of Tennessee!

        3) Al Gore let the Bush campaign steal Florida.

        4) It is naive to assume that all Nader votes would have gone to the corporate friendly, free trade loving Gore. I can tell you mine would not have. Al Gore was tight with the Democratic Leadership Council, whose mantra was “let’s just be Republican-light and maybe people will like us, but for sure we’ll get more of that Wall Street campaign cash”.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/08/2015 - 09:13 am.

          Naivete

          “It is naive to assume that all Nader votes would have gone to the corporate friendly, free trade loving Gore.” I don’t think they would have gone to George W Bush. Although they may have, as Mr. Nader’s record on labor-related issues could make him a guest speaker at the next ALEC conclave.

          • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/08/2015 - 09:46 am.

            In No Way

            Did I suggest that Nader votes would have gone to Bush. Those prone to voting for Nader in the first place are likely more inclined to vote for another 3rd party candidate than voters at large.

            Tennessee 2000 Presidential results:

            Bush: 1,061,949
            Gore: 981,720
            Nader 19,781

            Bush – (Gore + Nader)= 60,448 margin for Bush

            If you can’t win your home state, find another job.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/07/2015 - 11:25 pm.

      I would guess that he wants to avoid what happened in Canada

      where the left-of-center vote is split between two parties, allowing Harper’s extremely regressive Conservatives to win.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/07/2015 - 01:11 pm.

    Largely artificial distinctions because…

    On a very basic level Libertarianism is (which is a unique US phenomena) is actually incoherent. At the end of the day Libertarians end up with an irresolvable principle that citizenship in a liberal democracy is a form of repression. Ask a Libertarian when or if the needs of a community or a nation supersede the needs of an individual and you’ll find that any attempt to submit individual well being to the well being of the society is an act of oppression. Hence, the closer a society gets to Norway, the more repressive it is, while the closer it gets to Somalia, the more “free” it is.

    Libertarian economics is likewise incoherent because it relies on magical thinking that selfishness and Social Darwinism will produce the best outcome for society. This is simply bizarre, and again irresolvable, the libertarian claim that concentrating wealth and power will produce “free” societies is almost deliberately obtuse. Meanwhile they can’t point to a country following their principles that is outperforming the US either in liberty OR economics.

    The fact that Libertarians frequently claim to be representing a pure form of patriotism is one of the most bizarre features of the ideology (Well, really- pseudo-ideology). Instead of recognizing the inexorable march of more access and popular control, Libertarians seek to erase the 20th century as if “Americans” were more free when we owned slaves, were segregated, had no labor rights (Libertarians are staunchly anti-union) etc. You end up with this bizarre historical narrative that the more freedom and liberty American’s acquire, the more totalitarian the government becomes.

    You’ll get these weird proclamations that “freedom” isn’t “given” to people by government. Such proclamations only demonstrate an ironic ignorance regarding the nature of liberal democracies, wherein citizens ARE the government, and constitution makes it possible for citizens to claim and defend their freedoms. That’s how women gained the right to vote for instance.

    This inability to recognize the parameters of democracy makes it almost impossible for the libertarian minded to sort out ideology in general. Hence the claims that democrats are “socialists” etc. Whatever.

    At the end of the day you are rolling a very seriously dangerous set of dice if you think you can turn the levers of government over to these people and get a good outcome. You may agree with some of their positions, like foreign policy, but since those positions emerge from a tenuous grasp on reality they’re not likely to shake out well in the real world.

  5. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/07/2015 - 03:22 pm.

    I pretty much agree with Paul Udstrand

    Arguing about whether Republicans are Libertarians is not a very practical exercise.

    Those who follow politics in Minnesota are well aware of the libertarian takeover of parts of the Republican party in Minnesota in 2012. It is also not difficult to find libertarians who will bluntly state their goal of taking over the Republican party because they realize that otherwise their chances are slim or none.

    Those interested in this topic might see the piece in the Strib:

    Editorial: Libertarian surge remakes state GOP
    Caucus-based system magnifies populist political tides.
    MAY 21, 2012
    link: http://www.startribune.com/editorial-libertarian-surge-remakes-state-gop/152221365/

    “Minnesota’s political parties are dynamic entities. That fact was vividly on display in St. Cloud Friday and Saturday, as the Republican state convention exhibited a libertarian streak wider and deeper than seen at any previous state GOP confab in the modern era.”

  6. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/07/2015 - 11:41 pm.

    There are a lot of Libertarians in Oregon, and

    I came away from my encounters with them there (and subsequently in other places) as brats who never grew beyond the emotional age of 14.

    Taxes are “theft,” environmental and labor laws are “repression,” the social safety net is “coddling non-productive members of society,” and public schools are “collectivist indoctrination.” To hear them tell it, government regulations are the only thing that are keeping them from becoming rich. You can see these ideas in today’s Republican Party, but Libertarians are also laissez-faire on personal behavior.

    In other words, their whole philosophy boils down to, “The most important thing in the world is me and my money (especially my money), and I wanna do what I wanna do when I wanna do it, not matter who or what gets hurt.”

    At the same time, Libertarians believe that only the military and the courts should be publicly funded. In other words, the most coercive institutions of our society.

    Now why would that be?

    If you look at the countries that most closely match the Libertarian ideals of low or no taxes, few laws, and no public services to speak of, they’re all in the Third World. Third World countries are notorious for having inequality that makes ours look minor. The majority of the population barely scratches a living out of the rural soil or lives in urban shanty towns. The aristocrats live as luxuriously as anyone in the world, with private security forces, private tutors for their children, private water and power supplies, the finest private sector doctors, and plenty of low-paid servants.

    No prosperous country lives according to Libertarian standards, only poor countries where no laws prevent the rich and powerful from doing whatever they want to the lower classes.

    I suspect that Libertarians believe that in a society where capitalism had not been tamed but was allowed to run rampant, they would all be living in luxury on gated estates, not in the shanty towns.

    Yeah, right.

  7. Submitted by Elisa Wright on 10/08/2015 - 09:49 am.

    Thank you for clarifying the Libertarian concept.

    It appears we need clarification after that Strib article (: http://www.startribune.com/editorial-libertarian-surge-remakes-state-gop ) referenced above.

    I would be interested in what the MN Libertarian Party would say about Noam Chomsky’s description of his views as Liberal Libertarian.

  8. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 10/08/2015 - 10:21 am.

    How to describe a Libertarian

    Udstrand wrote one great detailed definition and a couple more like Gleason and Sandness…so how else can one explain the elephant in the room called libertarian-ism

    Never explored the big L alternative but once upon a time there was a political discussion group early in 1998 or 2000 called Intellectual Capital sponsored by Pete Dupont and it was loaded with young inspiring within-the-beltway boys who claimed they were Libertarians which they defined simply as “fiscally conservative/socially liberal. It was a good place to explore; grind down one’s political baby teeth.

    …but reminds me of a couple of comics -vintage history here…heard when I was in grade school and immature then/now but and first ‘political debate one could say… it was the state fair 1940’s and a performance done with a sideshow family of midgets doing off-Broadway skits for the audience; grand performers indeed. But for some weird reason the argument stayed with me for years.The argument between the two characters went back and forth, trying to define a doughnut; yup a doughnut..

    ….”Is the inside of the doughnut, the outside of the doughnut” or other fellow contrarian “Is the outside of the doughnut the inside of the doughnut” creating a debate that twisted around the varied political or philosophical discussions of same. Then the last hurrah…they ate the doughnut.

    Well Brucato started a fine discussion and fun to read…Now I will eat the ‘doughnut”..have a good day.

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