It All Started in ’96

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How the Two-Party System Failed Me, and America
By Michael Joesten

In 1996 the best and brightest presidential candidate for the Republican party was Senator Bob Dole. As Dole emerged as the best hope against the second reign of the evil Clinton empire, I remember watching his campaign stops and speeches. I was several years out of college and had strongly identified as a conservative due to the messages of smaller government and more individual freedoms.

Dole_Clinton.pngAnd then he said it. Dole said something that hit me like a ton of bricks and made me question everything I had believed about the Republican party and conservatism up to that point.

On a campaign stop, Dole was crowing about how he had led a blue-ribbon panel that had saved social security until 2034.


Saved until 2034? Then what? This was your answer to everything? Kick the can so far down the road that some other poor saps will have to make impossibly hard decisions long after you have passed? This was the viable option? This is what we could count on from the brightest minds on our side?

The questions continued. What good were any of them? On one hand I was hearing messages of smaller government and more personal responsibility, but on the other hand candidates were trying to convince us of how important they and their policies were. It really started to become clear to me that the Republicans were just as interested in controlling our lives as the Democrats were. I felt betrayed and hopeless that no matter who won; government would get larger and more intrusive.

Then by almost by some weird cosmic design, during that very campaign, I switched on C-Span who was covering the Libertarian Party Convention. I watched Harry Browne, the LP candidate, describe what his first days in office would look like. He talked about how he would undo all previous and overreaching executive orders; he talked about pardoning all federal non-violent convicts; he talked about ending the “useless and insane” war on drugs; he talked about securing our Second Amendment rights; he talked about ending welfare entitlements and “replacing them with nothing”; and he talked about vetoing any legislation that came before him that was not expressly authorized by the Constitution.

This is what I was looking for! A party with candidates that were not interested in advancing policies that intruded on my life. It was amazing that there was a party (and not the Republican party) that believed, in the words of Ronald Reagan, government was the source of problems and not the solution to them.

But what was the role of government then? I began my study of libertarian principles and I have not stopped since. I started by reading Harry Browne’s book, Why Government Doesn’t Work and Charles Murray’s, What it Means to be Libertarian. I felt vindicated that a system of government could exist where people were free to choose everything and anything that they thought was important to their own fulfillment, as long as they didn’t violate the rights of others.

Harry Browne at the 1996 Libertarian Party national convention. (Image from C-Span footage.)

The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I had always been a student of the American Revolution, but now I felt more like a kindred spirit with the Founding Fathers in our classical liberal beliefs. I learned more about their influences, like Adam Smith and John Locke.

I found great comfort in different resources that promoted libertarian principles like the Cato Institute and Reason Foundation. I began studying libertarian economists Ludwig Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Henry Hazlitt and others.

The more I learned, the more I despised the two ruling political powers and their successful attempts to squeeze out political choice. It has become very clear that not only is there little political difference between the two parties, but that they are less concerned about the balance of power as they are in the preservation of their dual power.

My beliefs have evolved to almost the point of anarchy. I strongly believe that no government is preferable to a well-meaning government. The only purpose for government in my mind is to enforce contracts and protect individual liberties.

The learning continues. Besides thought leaders who write books, articles, and appear on TV, I learn much from regular people, like me, and their posts and comments on social media. Groups like We Are Libertarians and Liberty Memes Community Group are especially helpful. What better way to reason through issues of the day and how they are best solved by individuals, than to engage with individual people?

Michael Joesten is a fan of the We Are Libertarians podcast and a libertarian activist.

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Southwest Missourian, Book Lover, Writer

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