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How Libertarianism is a Poison that’s Crept into America (Part 1)
Now that Robert Kennedy Jr. says, “I’ve always been aligned with libertarians on most issues” let’s look at how libertarianism would work out in America, and where it came from in the first place...
Anti-vaxxer hero and Democratic primary nominee Robert Kennedy Jr. says, according to news reports:
“I’ve always been aligned with libertarians on most issues.”
Bobby, of course, isn’t the only one. It’s high fashion across the GOP to claim your Libertarian credentials; Ron (and now Rand) Paul turned it into a moneymaking scam, and most all of the Putin Caucus in the GOP love to talk up libertarianism, as do multiple rightwing billionaires. Senator Mike Lee proclaims himself a Libertarian, and has for years.
We see it writ large in the rhetoric of Republican members of Congress and conservative pundits who argue that shutting the government down is a good thing, because most government functions are “unnecessary” or “woke.”
So let’s take a look at how libertarianism would work out in America, and where it came from in the first place.
Generally speaking, Libertarians don’t believe in democracy, which, they say, should be replaced by “the magic of the marketplace” — or at least the “magic” of people made rich by the marketplace — running the country’s essential services.
Here’s the one question that always stops libertarians dead in their tracks when they come on or call into my radio/TV program to proclaim the wonders of their political ideology:
“Please name one country, anywhere in the world, any time in the last 7000 years, where libertarianism has succeeded and produced general peace and prosperity?”
There literally is none. Nowhere. Not a single one. It has never happened. Ever.
If it had, that country would be on the tip of every Libertarian’s tongue, the way Democratic Socialists talk about Norway or Denmark where the full-on Social Democracy and regulated capitalism experiment has succeeded for generations.
Doing my show from Copenhagen a few years ago, I had one of that nation’s top conservative politicians on.
“So, you’re one of the nation’s leading conservatives,” I said. “I guess that means you want to privatize Denmark’s national healthcare system?”
He blinked a few times, incredulous, and then said, bluntly, “Are you crazy?”
There are, of course, examples of governments that intentionally or unintentionally operate broadly along libertarian lines. Back in the 1980s when I was setting up international relief projects with the Salem organization based out of West Germany, I worked in several such countries.
They were places where the government’s only real function is to run the army, police, and the courts, just like libertarians say America should be run. No social safety net, no Social Security, no national healthcare, no or few state-funded public schools, no publicly funded infrastructure of any consequence.
In 2008, my friend and colleague talkshow host Joe Madison (“The Black Eagle” on SiriusXM daily) and I saw how this worked in South Sudan on the border of Darfur as the northern Sudanese government was burning people out of their homes and the group we were with was flooded by tens of thousands of refugees.
It was similar to what I saw in 1980 in Uganda when I was working there at the end of the Tanzanian war to expel Idi Amin.
In parts of Colombia later that decade, after a bomb went off just a block from where we were working, I heard stories of middle-class men in the next neighborhood over who’d an organized an urban “hunt club,” complete with logos and patches, using high-powered rifles to pursue what they described as “feral children.”
Kidnapping was also a major industry in Colombia then: a friend in Bogota was kidnapped and repeatedly raped while her husband, forced to listen to her screams on the phone, frantically tried to raise enough money to pay her ransom. I later met with them both and heard the story firsthand.
In those countries that, because of corruption, civil war, or oligarchic ideology are run along Ayn Rand/Rand Paul libertarian lines, the roads, utilities and housing are fine in wealthy neighborhoods that can provide for themselves, but the rest of the country is potholed and dark, while everyday people often have to walk miles to get firewood, food, and fresh water every day.
There are few or no taxes for the very rich in such countries, and no resources at all for the very poor except those provided by international relief agencies like the one I worked with.
We generally referred to those countries as “failed states.” Rand Paul would probably describe them as “Libertarian paradises,” as his father advocated when, during a presidential primary debate, he said people shouldn’t be let into hospital emergency rooms unless they can pay.
“That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Ron Paul said.
No country has ever succeeded when its government has suffered the fate that multimillionaire K Street Lobbyist Grover Norquist wished on America when he famously told NPR:
“I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
That’s what Texas did when they split their grid away from the rest of America to avoid regulation of their power industry. The lie of libertarian policies was on vivid display when Texans died from hypothermia while Ted Cruz fled to Cancun.
And then Texas families who survived the bitter cold got $3,000 to $17,000 power bills after the freeze left, because of magical deregulated “free markets” for power in that state.
The libertarian streak in GOP politics was on vivid display when the power went down and the now-resigned Republican Mayor of Colorado City, Texas, Tim Boyd, posted to Facebook:
“No one owes you are (sic) your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!
“If you don’t have electricity you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe. If you have no water you deal with out and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family.
“If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your (sic) lazy is direct result of your raising! Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish (sic).”
This libertarian world-view has been foundational to and at the core of the Republican mantras of austerity and “self reliance” ever since the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s.
It’s what Trump tried to do to our public health agencies when he first came into office and shut down Obama’s pandemic response operations in both the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security. As a result, almost a million Americans have died of Covid and millions more are disabled for life.
When George W. Bush put a Republican-donor horse show judge in charge of FEMA’s disaster response, his libertarian attitude pretty much guaranteed thousands of people would die in Hurricane Katrina: “Heckuva job, Brownie.”
The Bush administration also defunded food safety enforcement and the predictable result was an increase in food-borne sickness and death.
At the behest of fossil-fuel billionaire libertarians, Republicans have fought any regulation of the fossil fuel industry for 40 years; the result is climate wilding that’s devastating our country from California to Texas to the Midwest to Miami Beach.
Mitch McConnell and Republicans in the US House and Senate argue that giving a $2 trillion tax cut to billionaires was an appropriate thing for government to do (even though it jacked up the national debt), but Build Back Better to help out average Americans is, they say, a crime against our republic.
Americans, increasingly, are figuring out the damage this failed 40-year-long libertarian experiment has done to our nation, which is why people are leaving the Republican Party in droves.
There is, however, one group that is still quite enamored of libertarianism: rightwing billionaires and the corporations that made them rich. And quite a few of them have spent the past decades shoveling cash into the Republican Party, with no sign of a letup to this day.
They set up think tanks and fund hundreds of college professors nationwide to preach their libertarian ideology, and often dominate internet searches because of their thousands of organizations and “news” sites.
They create phony grassroots organizations and get deluded middle-class white people to show up with signs like, “Keep Your Damn Government Hands Off My Medicare!”
They set up organizations nationwide and in every state to bring Republican legislators together with lobbyists to craft libertarian “corporate friendly“ legislation that consistently enriches the top 1% and screws average Americans.
They proclaim the wonders of “small government” and “fiscal responsibility,” code words for gutting the protective functions traditionally performed by government and replacing them with “charity” and corporate sponsorships.
And Republican politicians live in fear today of doing anything that might cause government to actually help the American people, because those same libertarian billionaires and corporations who fund their campaigns are more than happy to destroy them politically when they stray.
Despite all the obvious disasters and widespread public opposition, they’re still intent on America being their grand experiment to prove that at least one country can operate along libertarian lines.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s when Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand were first pitching this ideology (then called neoliberalism and objectivism) as a way to bring “freedom” to America, they were broadly ridiculed and ignored.
But the libertarian foundations and billionaires got into the act in the 1970s, along with the rightwing media organizations they were then building, putting Ronald Reagan into office and shaping his policies, sending America into a libertarian slide.
Forty years of the Reagan Revolution’s libertarian experiment have brought us the predictable result:
— historically low tax rates on corporations and billionaires
— an impoverished middle-class
— devastated labor unions
— the highest rate of child poverty and maternal death in the developed world
— millions without access to healthcare
— one in seven American children going to bed hungry
— our schools, roads, bridges and rail systems in shambles
Libertarianism is a poison that’s crept into our society on the backs of rightwing billionaires like Libertarian David Koch, who ran for Vice President in 1980 on a platform of shutting down every government agency except the military, courts, and police.
But where did all this “greed is good” as a political philosophy start?
Believe it or not, it began in the 1950s with a corrupt real estate lobby, a brutal child murderer, and the young, idealistic Russian immigrant who fell in love with him. I’ll tell you the rest of the story tomorrow.