Going for the Bronze

On the road with the Libertarian ticket


On a cloudy August morning in Detroit, Andre Marrou, the Libertarian Party's 1992 candidate for president of the United States, sits in a studio awaiting his turn on J. P. McCarthy's Focus, an hour-long news-and-interview program on radio station WJR. First on the agenda is Gary Moeller, the coach of the University of Michigan football team, who spars with the easygoing, know-it-all host over the question of how bad the Wolverines' new season figures to be without last year's Heisman Trophy winner at wide receiver. The next segment is a chat with Vicky Lawrence, a perky Carol Burnett Show alumna launching a talk show specializing in nonfreak guests and mainstream viewpoints. Finally it is the Libertarian's turn at the microphone.

"What do you stand for?" J. P. asks after a brief introduction. The Constitution, limited government, Marrou replies. "What would you do as president, cut taxes?" I'd repeal the income tax, abolish the IRS, bring the troops back home to defend America, and stop replacing federal bureaucrats, Marrou declares.

"What you say has everyone nodding their heads," McCarthy says. "It seems to make sense."

The remark is an aside, tossed off as part of the windup for a question about what makes Andre run, but it is the most important event I witness in four days following Marrou in Michigan and his running mate, Dr. Nancy Lord, in Connecticut and New York. WJR is the top public-affairs radio station in the nation's sixth-largest metropolitan market, and J. P. McCarthy is a mainstream broadcaster in a city that relates to power and position the way Hollywood relates to physical beauty.

For years, Michigan Libertarians' efforts to get a spokesman on the program have been rebuffed. Now J. P.'s longstanding Drop Dead has turned into a tentative Let's Talk. In this citadel of statism, with its leftish unions and protectionist corporations, in a medium that puts love-bombing and blame-mongering ahead of rational deliberation, the political philosophy on which the world's oldest constitution was built seems poised for an incongruous comeback.

To Marrou, the civil reception is evidence that his strategy for the 1992 campaign is taking hold. Unlike previous L.P. candidates, who, he says, have emphasized print media and long, reasoned, formal declarations, Marrou is focusing on the broadcast media and using humor. TV, he argues, is where the people are, and humor is a good way to connect with them. With these "secret weapons of libertarianism," Marrou predicts, the L.P. this year will make progress in its effort to become "the next major party."

Specifically, Marrou says he'll be on the ballot in all 50 states (by mid-August the count was up to 44, with only Alaska and Missouri looking somewhat iffy) and will win more votes than any of his five L.P. predecessors—at least 1 million. These are bold predictions, and some L.P. watchers are skeptical. But 1992 is the year of change, of outsiders, of widespread disillusionment with Washington, and Marrou is positioned to catch that wave and ride it, if not to the White House, then at least to new visibility and respect.

As I join up with the campaign in Lansing, Marrou's strategy still hasn't struck sparks among the national media, which, interested mainly in winners, have given him practically no coverage. But the campaign is making headway among the local media. Everywhere the candidate goes, it seems, a camera crew or newspaper reporter is on hand and a talk show on the schedule. In mid-August the campaign has amassed a sizable collection of clips and videos, most of them respectful.

There is an emerging sense that, as courtly black cable-TV talk-show host Lou Farrell tells Marrou after a taping in Dearborn, "This is your time." The libertarian view of where the country stands and the direction in which it should be heading—widely dismissed as the theoretical ravings of an intellectual fringe a decade ago—has begun to find a popular audience.

The object of this modest swell of interest is a slight, balding, neatly bearded 53-year-old with a penetrating bass voice and warm smile. Born a South Texas Democrat and raised on his father's cattle ranch, Andrew Verne Marrou acquired his French nickname while rooming with some French students at MIT. ("If you're looking for someone with a French name from Texas, here I am," Marrou tells an audience in Dearborn, smiling broadly and holding his arms wide in a welcoming, embracing gesture as he appeals for the Perot vote.)

Following graduation, he stayed in Boston and worked as an engineer for more than a decade. Divorce prompted a move to Alaska for the "freedom and opportunity," he recalls. There he dabbled in living off the land, launched a successful liquor-supply business, and, at a seminar for small businessmen, first encountered free-market ideas. Marrou was an instant convert. Reading the pamphlets he'd been given by a libertarian who attended the seminar, he says, he immediately realized that "this was what I'd believed all along."

In 1982, having achieved prominence as a citizen leader of the successful drive to repeal the state income tax, Marrou made the first of three runs as a Libertarian Party candidate for state legislator, the second of which was successful. In Juneau, he was a tireless critic of prevailing views, a role that brought him to the attention of REASON readers. (See "Mr. Marrou Goes to Juneau," October 1986.) In 1987 Marrou moved on to Las Vegas, where he works as a real-estate broker when he isn't campaigning. In 1988 he was the L.P.'s vice-presidential candidate under ticket leader Ron Paul, and last year he sought and won the party's nomination for president.

At a meeting of Justice Pro Se of Michigan in the serene, modernist Henry Ford Centennial Library in Dearborn, Marrou finds a friendly hearing for his populist libertarianism. Justice Pro Se is an association of people who have been defendants in government prosecutions involving such offenses as nonpayment of income taxes. Tonight's gathering includes some 150 members and guests, many in their 20s. A show of hands reveals that about half the attendees have never before attended a Libertarian event.

After an introduction by state L.P. chairman Bill Shotey, Marrou, nattily dressed in a double-breasted dark blue suit, white shirt, and artistic-looking tie covered with painterly splotches of color, strides down the aisle and mounts the stage. He opens with a joke. Have you heard about the derivation of the word politics, he asks? It comes from poly, which is the Greek word for many, and ticks, which are blood-sucking parasites.

The audience roars with laughter.

Marrou moves on to the story of how, with assiduous campaigning, he carried the tiny hamlet of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. Dixville Notch is the place where by tradition everyone casts an absentee ballot so that the polls can close at 12:01 on the morning of the election and the results can be covered as an election-day news story. On primary day 1992, the Dixville Notch result was: Marrou, 11; Bush, 8; Clinton, 3; and others, 2 each or less. The vote, he says, shows that the Libertarians are well organized this year and can win. And the way it was covered in the media, he adds, shows one of the difficulties the L.P. campaign is up against.

While CNN and the A.P. wire carried the story of the Dixville Notch victory, many of the major national media either played it down or ignored it completely. For three days, Marrou says, PBS—the Proletarian Broadcasting System, he calls it—refused to report any of his votes in its stories about the New Hampshire primary results even though he ran 10th in a total field of 63.

Soon the candidate has segued into Marrou's Laws of Politics:

1. People are afraid of freedom.

2. If you smoke marijuana, inhale. Otherwise, what's the use?

3. When it rains it pours.

4. The press is always hostile to visionaries.

5. If guns are outlawed, how will liberals collect taxes?

The audience loves it, cheering and clapping. Smiling broadly, Marrou mimics George Bush's voice and accent as he reads a long, funny cartoon lampooning the president. Dana Carvey he isn't, but no one seems to mind. The Henry Ford Centennial Library rocks with merriment.

Now Marrou, turning serious, launches into his main theme. There's a crisis in the United States, he says. We're in the worst recession since World War II. Inflation and unemployment are high. The Los Angeles riots were the worst since the Civil War. Taxes of all sorts total 47 percent of GNP, the highest in our history. Regulations have ballooned by 50 percent in just the last four years. Things are bad, very bad.

The crisis was caused by the Democrats and Republicans, who between them have enacted the entire 1928 Socialist platform and seven out of 10 planks in the Communist Manifesto. Only the Libertarians have a clue as to what caused the crisis, Marrou says, and only the Libertarians understand what to do about it.

Government is the problem, he says, and the solution is to get rid of the problem. End the income tax. Abolish the IRS. End the recession with the vastly increased disposable income freed up by the tax cut. Stop hiring new government bureaucrats. Abolish the Federal Reserve Board and monetize gold and silver. Restore constitutional government.

Then some more jokes and aphorisms:

The Democrats favor welfare, the Republicans favor warfare, and the Libertarians favor none of the above.

The Democrats want to be your mommy, the Republicans want to be your daddy, the Libertarians want to treat you as adults.

The Democrats are always afraid that somewhere, someone is making more money than they are and they want to put a stop to it. The Republicans are worried that someone, somewhere is having more fun than they are. The Libertarians are in favor of both making money and having fun.

Amid the fun and laughter, the candidate moves swiftly to a brief coda. The Libertarians, Marrou says, will be the next major party. We won't win this time around, but we will win sooner or later; the only question is when. Help us, join us, vote for us.

The room explodes in sustained applause. When decorum returns, the candidate takes questions, and the event, if this is possible, becomes even livelier, with the exchanges continuing for an hour and a half until the building closes.

It is a brilliant performance but, I later wonder, of what? Most of the time Marrou is staging an attractive, sharply etched classical-liberal candidacy for high office. Some of the time, however, he's more like a stand-up comic than a constitutional politician, and in such moments his thinking sometimes seems to detach itself from the luminous, rational, moral world of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, imploding into a nasty mass of opportunistic government bashing and flaky anarchism. On these occasions, Marrou sounds as if he'd say anything if he thought it would lower people's regard for the existing system, and as if he has little idea of or interest in the limited state he'd erect in its place.

The problem here isn't really Marrou's effort to use humor, which, though not always hospitable to precise communication, is a valid means of differentiating himself from Bush and Clinton and conveying his basic message. His funny distinctions among Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians, for instance, frame good reasons why a voter might decide he's had it with the major parties and cast his vote for Marrou. At another point, the candidate's acid humor neatly limns the "insanity" of a system that simultaneously subsidizes the growing of tobacco and discourages the smoking of tobacco; that stations more troops in Japan, and spends more on the defense of Japan, than the Japanese do; that first armed, then went to war against Saddam Hussein.

The problem is, rather, the highly polemical, somewhat oversold, negatively framed concept of libertarianism lurking behind the jokes, and this pattern isn't limited to Marrou. A similar tendency is evident in the L.P. platform. In this not always cogent document, the party declares, among other things, "We recognize the right to political secession. This includes the right to secession by political entities, private groups, or individuals." In other words, if the Libertarians have their druthers, a state, interest group, or person strongly opposed to a policy or act of government would have the right to declare its independence of the unit of government and proceed to do whatever it feels like with respect to it. No conditions, no explanations, no need to show a decent respect for the opinions of mankind—just a blank check for anyone to exercise an unlimited veto over anything that rubs him the wrong way. They can't be serious. Yet there the idea is, spelled out in black and white, in the party's most important official document.

Similarly, Marrou, in response to a question about defense issues, suggests that Washington delegate the defense function to the states, and that the state of Michigan in turn delegate the defense of its own borders to General Motors to perform gratis as a corporate promotion. Huh? Leave aside the question of whether 50 state defenses add up to a national defense and consider only the matter of competence. G.M., which has lost about a third of its market share in recent years, is barely able to make and sell cars any more. What reason is there to think that it would learn to wage war to our satisfaction? Why would someone who believes in a market economy and the profit motive imagine that a business would provide defense services on a not-for-profit basis?

The proposal sounds like pie in the sky, part of an indirect promise that a Libertarian president could wipe out virtually all federal taxes while still maintaining a strong military, eliminating the budget deficit, and paying down the national debt. Defense is one of the two functions, along with the maintenance of a court system, that Marrou says he'd have the federal government retain. He and his running mate officially call for maintaining a military of 1 million troops—less than half today's level but still a large and expensive force. The G.M. scheme seems to be Marrou's way of suggesting that we might get something for nothing, that we can persuade companies to pay for defense the way the Olympic committee persuades them to pay for the Olympics. This isn't just a harebrained defense idea, then; it seems to be a load-bearing element of Marrou's antitax political economy.

Later, when I ask for more detail, Marrou backs off. He says it's just a new idea some libertarian theorists are putting about, not a solid policy proposal that he and the party have a real investment in. He quickly steers the conversation to the more traditional notion of basing America's defense mainly on the state militias.

On a wet afternoon three days later on the veranda of a shopping mall on the northern shore of Long Island, Marrou's running mate, Nancy Lord, decides she's waited long enough for a local TV crew to show up as promised and goes ahead without them to deliver her stump speech before a bare dozen people, most of them members of the Suffolk County Libertarian Party, who have braved the rain that patters down during her remarks.

There are obvious points of similarity to Marrou's pitch. Like him, Lord evokes a sense of national crisis, draws attention to the economy's chronic weakness, calls for a radical cutback of government, expresses anger over the chronic abuse of state power, and summons hope for a day when the nation's traditions of freedom and constitutional government will be recovered by a robust, growing Libertarian Party. The differences, however, are also striking.

Where Marrou is humorous, polemical, demotic, opportunistic, Lord is fact-filled, issue-oriented, intellectual, eloquent. She doesn't eschew the parts of the Libertarian creed that remain a tough sell in George Bush's America, such as the legalization of drugs, a topic Marrou avoids. Neither does she let the comedian or salesman in her get the upper hand over the constitutional politician. In fact, there is no discernible trace of the comedian, and not much of the salesman, in her public persona. Lord is, paradoxically, both more doctrinaire and more moderate than Marrou.

Despite massive increases in education spending, our public schools are failing to educate, Lord says. American students test behind children in 10 other major countries. In math and science, the best American students are only as good as the average Japanese student. On a national test, only 12 percent of 17-year-olds could solve math problems using fractions. Only 20 percent can write a coherent, grammatically correct, two-paragraph letter applying for a job. The time has come to take education out of the hands of bureaucrats and put it back into the hands of parents, where it belongs.

Government programs for the poor are a bad joke, she says. Nearly $200 billion a year is spent on programs that trap people in a dependency plantation. Some 70 percent of welfare funding goes to pay the salaries of bureaucrats. For poor people trying to work their way out of poverty, government has regulated away the first rungs on the economic ladder. Today, if you want to sell hot dogs on the streets of Washington, D.C., you must first put up $500 for a license, $1,500 for a tax bond, and $7,500 for a government-approved cart.

Government should get out of our personal lives, Lord continues. People should decide for themselves what to eat, drink, read, or smoke and how to dress, medicate themselves, and make love. She isn't preaching moral relativism, she says. Libertarians' belief in freedom is based on the idea that morality grows out of ethics and education, not the police. Those who want government to enforce moral standards are actually undermining moral responsibility, she says. And once the police are freed from the hopeless task of controlling private behavior, they'll do a better job of putting criminals in jail and making the streets safe for the law-abiding.

Lord closes characteristically with a careful answer to the person who asks, Why should I vote for you if you can't win? For one thing, she says, an election isn't a horse race. You don't win anything if you pick the winner, and the lesser of two evils is still an evil. Moreover, a vote for the L.P. candidates isn't wasted if they don't win. It will tell officials that they aren't fooling you, and that you aren't putting up with politics as usual anymore. The message will get through.

Lord delivers these thoughts in a loud, low-pitched, emphatic voice that conveys seriousness, lucidity, and, often, anger. A taller-than-average, striking-looking woman who, at 40, could be in show business, she captivates her audience. She is the perfect complement to Marrou, and together they turn the high-road, low-road cliché of presidential campaigning upside down: It's vice-presidential candidate Lord who stresses ideas, policies, and high national values, and the presidential candidate who attacks the opposition, tells jokes, and seeks to arouse the animal spirits of the audience. In a further reversal of roles, it's the female candidate who puts on a display of intellect and learning within the formal framework of the speech, while the male campaigner is the one who plays down the substantive, rational elements of his candidacy, strays from formal structures, and reaches out to touch his listeners' emotions and make human contact.

Lord comes to her role naturally, having spent no small part of her adult life in the formal settings of medical school (she received the M.D. from Maryland in 1978) and law school (J.D., Georgetown, 1990). She's been something of a rebel and outsider all her life, a nice Jewish girl who, growing up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, demonstrated against the Vietnam War and was expelled from high school briefly for selling an alternative newspaper banned for publishing a nude photo. Unhappy working as a physician, she took a job testing medicines for a pharmaceutical company, then developed an expert consultancy serving attorneys bringing medical malpractice suits. Finding that she loved testifying in court, Lord entered law school. In her second year, on a project on drug issues, she discovered libertarianism.

Two years later she entered the Washington, D.C., mayoral race as the Libertarian Party's alternative to incumbent Marion Barry. "It was a role I found irresistible," she says, "the drug legalizer against the drug addict." At last year's L.P. convention she was persuaded by party leaders to run for the vice-presidential nomination. Marrou says he'd wanted a woman as a running mate, but his own pick, Dr. Mary Ruwart of Michigan, lost to Lord on the second ballot.

There is little contact between Marrou and Lord, who at any given time are usually working different parts of the country. They travel by car from event to event, city to city, each driven, tended to, and advanced by a single young assistant. Marrou is in the care of Adam Dick, a slender, shy, well-spoken sophomore at the University of Texas in Austin who wears his blond hair in a pony tail and dresses in neat Italian-cut suits. Lord's Girl Friday is Alic Franklor, an enthusiastic, talkative, warmly charming metalworking major who's president of the Libertarian Society at the University of Georgia in Athens and who has turned the rear end of her white Nissan Sentra into a showcase for Libertarian bumper stickers and rock-band poster art.

The candidates and their drivers are obviously fond of each other. Marrou describes Adam as open, friendly, and unsectarian. He hopes that these qualities will be more prominent in the libertarian movement of the future. Lord swears, perhaps sincerely, that the folk-rock tapes Alic plays on the road have won her over to the musical art of Toad.

Inside these vehicles of idealistic dissent and new politics, criss-crossing the country under the protection of their blithe youth-culture icons, spirits often run incongruously low.

Lord, newly married, misses her husband and dog and, having just moved to Atlanta so he could take up a new job as president of a think tank, wonders anxiously what line of work awaits her when the campaign is over. Her days are filled with the stress of having to cope with an unending stream of new people and situations. She is acutely aware of the possibilities for disaster lurking in her schedule. Reviewing the plan for the day with the chairman of the Suffolk County L.P., Lord peremptorily nixes a mall walk-through when she learns her host hasn't cleared the event with the mail's management. She explains that an uncleared walk-through in an Arizona mall earlier in the year led to her eviction by security forces, with the media picking up the story. The campaign was embarrassed and she felt humiliated.

Behind the anxiety about events and logistics lies a certain diffidence about meeting the general public. Lord readily concedes she isn't the type to kiss babies (she's done so only once in the campaign, as a stunt). Walking through a large Polish street festival in rural Long Island, she seems more interested in the dogs we pass than in their owners.

Every once in a while, however, she gathers up her resolve and begins introducing herself to members of the passing throng. Many hurry on, but those who stop to chat are soon captivated. The candidate has long, lively conversations in the wind and rain with a black-leather-clad motorcyclist (they talk about helmet laws) and a heavily bearded clammer (local clam beds are being wrecked by the runoff from the municipal road system). In these open-air events as well as in formal appearances, she lights up—and makes human contact—whenever she is able to talk about substantive topics of mutual interest.

For Marrou, in his fifth campaign and second national effort, the physical and psychic demands of day-to-day electioneering are no sweat. A professional politician by now, he mixes as easily and cheerfully as he feels like. He, too, is lonely, however. Several times in my days tagging along he speaks longingly of his girlfriend, a talk-show host in Illinois. (Marrou, four times divorced, describes himself as "in between marriages.")

What bugs Marrou—and, between events, he sometimes seems grumpy—isn't the campaigning but his lack of control over the process and his dependence on people—from L.P. leaders to journalists—who, as he experiences it, show him no respect. He is in frequent conflict with the campaign steering committee over the concept and particulars of the campaign, he reports, and the issues of humor and his desire to maximize the use of TV are among the points of contention.

The candidate is also in a standing rage over journalists who dwell on the questions of why he runs and whether he can win. Marrou says that discrimination against political minorities, expressed by an insistent denigration of their chances of success and a refusal to take their ideas seriously, is the last great unremedied form of bias in America. If I were a black or a woman applying for a job, he expostulates, no one in this day and age would dream of sitting on the other side of the desk and asking me, in a dismissive tone of voice, why I, as a black or woman, was bothering to apply, and what made me think I had a chance of being hired here, and why I imagined that anyone would be the least bit interested in my qualifications and ideas. Journalists may not realize it, he adds, but they're doing something precisely analogous when they dismiss me as a minor candidate with deviant views and negligible chances.

Intensifying Marrou's backstage anger is his bitter brush with the Character Issue thanks to a series of charges brought this spring by his campaign manager. Without warning, the members of the Libertarian National Committee in April received a 14-page letter, with supporting documents, alleging, among a long list of complaints, that Marrou had failed to pay some small private obligations, profited from the sale of land to an Alaska municipal authority while in a position to influence its decision to make the purchase, used a campaign credit card inappropriately, and fallen behind in child-support payments. Marrou vigorously rejects the charges, saying that most are innocent acts taken out of context (his bills eventually got paid, and he was unemployed when he missed some of the child-support payments; his ex-wife didn't bring a complaint) and the rest are lies. The LNC investigated the charges in a day-long executive session and decided against asking Marrou to withdraw as candidate.

Marrou is still shaken by the attack. "I thought it would be fun to run for president. I thought being a candidate would be something I'd feel proud of," he says ruefully. Before the charges, he adds, he'd considered the man who became his accuser to be his best friend. So far, the story hasn't been picked up by the general press.

Like Lord, Marrou, currently between jobs, wonders what will happen in his life after November. He rules out another run for the White House and expresses interest in a television career, perhaps hosting a public-affairs talk show using humor and satire. It sounds like a good idea to me—Nancy Lord would also be good on the tube—and for what it's worth, I tell Andre I'll be happy to get him together with a public-affairs TV programming entrepreneur I know. In the meantime, emboldened by my campaign-trail experiences, this fall I guess I'll break with my lifelong pattern of voting for major-party candidates and pull the lever next to the names of these two interesting, intelligent, spirited bearers of a venerable political message that really does have something to offer a nation that has strayed a long way from the ideals it started off with and finds itself sorely troubled as a result.

Contributing Editor Paul H. Weaver is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. His forthcoming book is News and the Culture of Lying, to be published in 1993 by The Free Press.