MAKING THE ESTABLISHMENT
Two years ago, libertarian political activist Sandy Cohen thrust himself upon the political scene in Poughkeepsie, NY, with a giant-size billboard and pin-up size flyers picturing himself in the nude, with the slogan: "He Has Nothing to Hide—Cohen for Congress." The political and social establishment in the area rose up in wrath and began to cause the small libertarian campaign a number of problems. Among other anti-libertarian things, the city found that the giant-size billboard violated zoning ordinances. The controversy was worth a lot of publicity, but only a few votes. The showing was better than the average libertarian political campaign, but the establishment kept solid control of the reins of power.
Sandy Cohen, however, has made the respectable ranks of the establishment at last. The Mayor of Poughkeepsie recently named him to a spot on the city's blue-ribbon drug policy committee. The newspaper headlines screamed: "Advocate of Drug Legalization Named to City Narcotics Council." It seems that the good Mayor was not aware of Cohen's laissez-faire views. The Poughkeepsie Journal quoted him as saying, "My heaven. I wasn't aware of his position." It was speculated in the press that the Mayor would immediately rescind the appointment, but the following day the headlines announced that the Mayor intended to keep Cohen on the city drug council.
One week later, however, Cohen voluntarily submitted his resignation because several anonymous phone calls threatening the life of the Mayor were received by the Mayor's wife. Nobody knows whether the phone calls came from the Mafia, which profits from the fact that drugs are illegal, or from some crazy social conservative. The Mayor expressed his appreciation of Cohen's action and offered to appoint him to some other citizens' commission.
These events are more than just amusing news items. Here is an excellent illustration of what sorts of things libertarian political activity can yield. Why was Cohen appointed? Since the Mayor was not even aware of Cohen's point of view—even though the adverse publicity two years ago should have tipped him off—we are led to the conclusion that the Mayor was simply following his political nose. Sandy Cohen, Carol Cohen, and Ellen Davis (not to mention the other libertarian activists in the area, such as Guy Riggs) have shown that they have a following among the population. The Mayor wants to curry some favor with their followers. This is typically done with little honorific favors.
Are little honorific favors of value to the libertarian movement? Among other things, spokesmen for political and social issues will not find themselves quoted or attended in the absence of this sort of credential. It is like a feather in an Indian chief's war bonnet. The tribe pays the most attention to the opinions of the chief with the most feathers, and the other tribes immediately recognize the collection of feathers as symbolizing authority and leadership. We do subscribe to one small conspiracy theory, namely that "respectable" people agree among themselves to exclude "kooks" from public forums, responsible positions, and other areas where public policy is formulated. This process, of course, begs the question as to "kooky" -vs- "respectable." Worse yet, the criterion is one based on attitudes, not ideas. For many years now, the idea of complete laissez faire capitalism has been regarded as "kooky." With continuing exploitation of the political process, as Sandy Cohen has done, and the slow but steady collection of little honorific favors, the libertarian minority can regain a powerful and influential position in American public policy discussions.
BROADCASTING THE WORD
In Eugene, Oregon, libertarian commentator Ernie Ross has a regular daily spot on radio station KUGN, 590 on the AM dial. Ross is one of several commentators on local, state, and national issues and KUGN has probably the best coverage of any station in Oregon, reaching 200,000 to 365,000 people daily. The commentaries are hard core. On Feb. 10, for example, the good citizens of Oregon were treated to one which began, "I'm often asked about my position against forced confiscation of wealth—i.e., taxes. Taxes are just one instance of government oppression—immoral, a violation of individual rights and practically unnecessary." There is no danger that Ernie Ross will be mistaken for a conservative.
Although for several years now, radio and television stations have been sensitive to the issue of "balance" in programming, especially news and issue-oriented broadcasting, it is a fairly new development for libertarian analysis and values to be presented in the media. The typical dichotomy ("both" sides, you see) is between liberals and conservatives. It has not escaped notice, however, that the conventional split is inadequate. Remember when the CBS show "60 Minutes" used to have a regular debate between Nicholas von Hoffman and James Jackson Kilpatrick? Perhaps each persuaded the other, now that both Von Hoffman and Kilpatrick have each moved sharply in a libertarian direction. Those who recognize the existence of a contrast of values, as opposed to simply a clash of interests, are more and more coming to identify the libertarian perspective as one of the polar positions (the other being a variant of statism). The Ernie Ross Comment is available by subscription for $10.00 per year, from him c/o KUGN, Box 59, Eugene, OR 97401.
PROGRESS AND CONGRESS
In Washington, DC, there must be several thousand lobby groups for almost any vested interest you can imagine. The usual split, again, is between liberal and conservative sides of issues. Frequently the liberal side is represented by organized labor and the conservative side is represented by several employers' groups. The hard core libertarian perspective is usually not represented, although sometimes the liberals make good points and sometimes the conservatives do. We are now beginning to see the formation of strictly libertarian organizations. Alan Bock and Wainwright Dawson have set up the Libertarian Advocate, 1224 National Press Bldg., Washington, DC 20045, for the purpose of initiating and developing libertarian legislative programs and lobbying against the growth of statism. Bock has already made the Wall Street Journal a few times with his testimony before Congressional committees. During the hearings on increasing the ceiling on the national debt, Bock proposed to the committee that the charade of "temporarily" increasing the debt every six months or so be ended. He suggested that we might simply repudiate the national debt and tell the Treasury to print money instead of bonds. The Congressmen were not amused, but the Wall Street Journal reporter liked the idea. Current efforts are directed at the proposed new Federal Criminal Code, S.1, which is supported by law and order conservatives and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other liberal groups. Libertarian Advocate is actively working against this rather statist bill.
The Libertarian Advocate is in a position to propose and support issues which groups such as the Libertarian Party cannot. There is an important division of labor between candidate and campaign oriented groups, which optimally should be localized around the country, and lobbying groups in the capital which necessarily work with the winners of the electoral process. The joint effect of the two different types of organizations is more successful than the work of either alone. We will keep our eye on this for future columns.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Frontlines".