Libertarian Party

David Bergland, R.I.P.

The Libertarian Party's 1984 presidential nominee wanted his campaign to build for the future.

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David Bergland, the Libertarian Party's 1984 presidential candidate, died last week at age 83 of prostate cancer.

Bergland's interest in libertarianism began with Ayn Rand and Objectivism, and after attending a Libertarian Party meeting in Orange County in 1973 he became the young party's 1974 candidate for attorney general in California. Two years later, he was tapped to be the party's national vice-presidential candidate—a fresh face who showed up late at the convention and became an acceptable compromise candidate after a heated struggle between others.

After serving five years as the party's national chair, he became its presidential nominee in 1984 (again more or less as a compromise candidate, when one of the expected main contenders dropped out at the last minute). Running against Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale, he earned a bit over 228,000 votes.

That was a big comedown after the Ed Clark/David Koch ticket of 1980, which had earned more than 921,000, but the party had lost much of its financial backing and experienced management support when the forces surrounding Ed Crane and the Koch brothers pulled out of the party, unhappy that their preferred candidate—Earl Ravenal—failed to get the '84 presidential nomination.

As Bergland told me in an interview for my book Radicals for Capitalism, "We didn't really have any campaign organization at the time of the convention, and as we tried to get set up and rolling all the Koch money was gone and the Crane people [were] not gonna bother with my campaign, so we thought: What can we do on short budget and with the primary asset the candidate? We decided the thing to do was to educate journalists. I could spend time most productively and build for the future by trying to do as good a job as possible getting journalists clear on who we were and what we stood for…

"[A] majority [of reporters] didn't know much of anything about us, and what they did know was a little bit wrong, but they were eager to know and very respectful. They weren't saying you guys are nuts for doing what you're doing, except for the standard: 'You don't have a chance to win, so why are you running?' I'd say, 'Mondale doesn't have a chance to win. Why don't you ask him that question?'"

Bergland's media strategy indeed got libertarian ideas in American newspapers, from Montana's Great Falls Tribune to Wisconsin's Stevens Point Journal, explaining a variety of then-quite-eccentric notions: that the U.S. doesn't need and can't afford to have tons of overseas military bases that don't defend the homeland, that education could be better done by private entities than government ones, that the state should prohibit neither drugs nor pornography nor gun ownership nor abortion.

Outside his libertarian activism, Bergland practiced law as a business attorney in private practice and taught law as an adjunct professor at Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, California and Irvine, California. He wrote an introductory book on libertarian thought for his campaign, Libertarianism in One Lesson.

Bergland wrote about his experience running for president for Reason, including this example of why he saw Libertarian presidential campaigns as having media benefits regardless of vote totals:

One young reporter [at an Albany, NY, press conference] was prompted to ask, "Mr. Bergland, would you describe our government as a totalitarian government?" After some thought, I responded, "No, not so long as we have a free press and open elections." How would I describe our government, he asked. I said the best description is "a corporate-fascist, welfare-warfare state."

The reporter asked to know what I meant. I explained…the hand-in-glove relationship between big government and big business—the subsidies, the bailouts, the protections against competition, the pervasive regulatory schemes—justify the "corporate-fascist" label. I added that our huge, costly, and demeaning welfare plantation system that benefits government employees while hurting the poor, and our global interventionist foreign policy that results in ever-increasing military spending and benefits the military-industrial complex at the expense of the people, justify the "welfare-warfare" label.

Those comments went out on the wire services, and for several days I had many opportunities to elaborate on my characterization of our government as a corporate-fascist, welfare-warfare state. No other presidential candidate, particularly Reagan or Mondale, is willing to challenge prevailing political views in such strong and accurate terms.

Every Libertarian presidential candidate since Bergland beat his national vote totals, which is exactly as he thought it should be.

The details of Bergland's life, and memorial testimonials from many fellow party activists, can be found at the website of the Zero Aggression Project.

 

NEXT: The Fight Conservatives Are Having Over Theocracy and Classical Liberalism Obscures How Beaten Their Movement Is

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  1. Deepest condolences to Sharon and his family. Rest in peace faithful and dedicated Libertarian activist.

  2. “prostate cancer”?!? That’ll kill everybody. I’d be more impressed if he’d been killed by antistate cancer.

    1. You suck.

    2. I like a bad joke just as much as the next guy, but Ken is right, you suck.

      1. Obviously you don’t.

        “I support free speech, but …”

        I support the Second Amendment, but…”

        But but but.

        1. Judging you isn’t censorship dickhole.

  3. the party had lost much of its financial backing and experienced management support when the forces surrounding Ed Crane and the Koch brothers pulled out of the party, unhappy that their preferred candidate—Earl Ravenal—failed to get the ’84 presidential nomination.

    So the Koch brothers threw a hissy fit, took their ball and went home because they couldn’t put a Georgetown University School of Foreign Service professor on the LP ticket.

    Know your enemies.

    1. If the Koch brothers had successfully co-opted the LP, and went on to run competitive presidential campaigns and even (gasp) win once in a while, do you think the federal government debt would higher or lower than the current 22 trillion dollars?

      1. I win every time libertarian spoiler votes cow the looters into repealing some bad laws. Winning is repealing bad laws and increasing human freedom.

    2. Eh. If the Koch brothers thought that Bergland was doomed and that his campaign wouldn’t help in any way, why not just save money for a better candidate or put it towards a lower level libertarian issue? The fact that they were wrong about Bergland doesn’t mean much; they usually spend their money effectively.

      1. Uh, this guy was undoubtably the GOAT Libertarian candidate. I mean, he finished within single digits of the Democrat candidate in the electoral college

  4. I saw him speak at my college. My first presidential ballot — against Ronald Reagan no less, who made all subsequent major party candidates look like totalitarians.

  5. That book, “Libertarianism in One Lesson”, opened my eyes and made me a libertarian (with a small “l”).

    RIP Dave.

  6. Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.

    1. It is a consequence of PTSD, not a symptom.

  7. I’d’ve thought his national chairmanship would’ve been the highlight of his obituaries, rather than candidacies for public office. Mary Ruwart would’ve been the best one to run for president in 1984.

  8. up to I saw the bank draft of $7781, I did not believe that my best friend was like they say actually taking home money in there spare time from there new laptop.. there uncle started doing this 4 only 22 months and at present cleared the loans on there mini mansion and purchased Dodge. this is where I went,

  9. I am grateful to Bergland for giving me the opportunity to vote straight ticket Libertarian that election and every election since. His candidacy went a long way toward eliminating a mess of bad laws.

  10. I was a college student in that election, and had been a libertarian for years, and a dues-paying LP member for maybe 2 . I was informed by the state party that our University was willing to let us have a room to host a speech by our candidate, but actual students had to do all the work setting it up. All the other candidates were offered the same deal. I wound up driving Mr Bergland around to various media venues and a rally at a blue-collar hall owned by a local organization of an ethnic group that was considered a must-visit by the major party candidates.

    Do people realize what a Sisyphean task running a national campaign on a shoestring budget, before the internet was available, in the year the Mac was introduced? I did the posters for the campus appearance with a typewriter, Letraset, gluestick and xerography. I had friends who did commercial art for a living, so I knew what “pasteup” was. The Fairness (sic) Doctrine wouldn’t be quashed for another 3 years, so, while you might get “equal time” on a radio or TV station, you wouldn’t have feeds with a friendly host tossing you softballs until the 1988 election. No internet ‘money bombs.” No Youtube or Facebook or any other platform that would let you speak to people without a media gatekeeper. Who here would or could take a year’s sabbatical to pinball around the country to an uncertain, often hostile response?

    David B was a consummate gentleman, and, while I would have judged him not to be a natural campaigner, he was game as hell. He will be missed.

    Sharon Harris and others on David Bergland

  11. Come on folks, we aren’t supposed to be the types to get “triggered” by jokes. It’s funny. If I should ever get the big C down there, I’ll be telling it about myself.

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