Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Man Who Would Be President

Feb 18, 2004 1:13 am

The Man Who Would Be President

[cross-posted at]

Aaron Russo, the current frontrunner for U.S. Libertarian Party presidential candidate nominee, spoke at Auburn University tonight. I went to listen.

Since 1972 the LP has run seven candidates for president, of whom I've met four. If Russo wins the nomination, he'll be the fifth. Here are some first impressions:

Russo's campaign, should he be nominated, will be very different from that of Harry Browne, the LP's candidate for the last two presidential elections. Where Browne focused on the economic case for liberty, Russo focuses on the moral case. (My ideal candidate would focus equally on both, but she's not running.) Browne's delivery was always polished, professional, and dignified -- presidential, in fact -- while Russo is more rough-hewn, with a rambling, inflammatory, and self-dramatising style that I initially found off-putting, though I warmed to him considerably by the time the session was over. I was particularly pleased that he seemed like someone that left-wingers and right-wingers could equally relate to.

Judging on presentational style alone, however, I think the press would find Russo easier than Browne to justify not taking seriously; and given his rights-focused approach, I also wasn’t able to judge how well prepared Russo is to handle the hard questions about economic policy. On the other hand, Russo's colourful personal style, along with his status as a nationally prominent Hollywood producer, could work to his advantage with the press. Russo also said that he plans to draw on his own considerable financial assets to raise the profile of his campaign, though he declined to offer a ballpark figure.

Where does Russo stand on issues that divide libertarians? Some answers that emerged:

  • He strongly opposes the Iraq war.
  • He’s pro-choice on abortion, though personally opposed to it.
  • So long as immigrants are eligible for welfare he advocates curtailing immigration and -- in principle -- deporting any illegal immigrants currently in the country.

  • Why this last isn't an equally good -- or bad -- case for deporting native-born welfare recipients (who surely outnumber immigrant recipients) wasn't clear. But to his credit, Russo did acknowledge that it would be difficult to conduct a war on immigration without thereby fueling the police state still further, and admitted he wasn't sure how to address the problem. (Still, why not just focus on privatising welfare, or at least on making immigrants ineligible to receive it, rather than harassing peaceful immigrants because they might apply for assistance? And for a decentralist like Russo, why is this a Federal rather than a state issue anyway?)

    For the most part Russo's libertarianism seemed fairly hardcore, though he did suggest that drug prohibition, while"ignorant," would have been"legal and proper" if achieved through constitutional amendment. I also wasn’t sure precisely what he meant in saying that public schools should be run"like" private schools.

    The centerpiece of Russo's campaign is opposition to the military draft; he offered some disturbingly persuasive evidence that a reintroduction of the draft is quietly in the works, and Russo plans to use his campaign to win publicity for this issue.

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    Kenneth R Gregg - 2/18/2004

    My thoughts are mostly based on his run for senate and governorship here in Nevada. He runs as a populist and is willing to use some of his personal money and connections to maintain his campaign. Those points would be a plus for most LPer's (which I am definitely not--being firmly in the antipolitical tradition).

    He does tend to run off at the mouth, but there IS a lot of heart in it, and he would be attractive to a lot of populist conservative types that I think would provide inroads for a lot of conservative/populist/libertarian connections.

    The negatives may outweigh the positives. He often comes off as a somewhat empty-headed, smarmy druggie with little more than a few catch-phrases (not too much different than a lot of politicians, but probably disturbing for many libertarians).

    His opponents (mainly the Demos, but as I recall the Reps did much the same) ran commercials from early TV programs that he was on demonstrating that he was a complete loon. Unfortunatly, looking at those commercials, it was the only conclusion that one could make. There are a number of negatives in his Hollywood background as well, and it won't take much to portray him as a con-man (does anyone remember another Nevada LP candidate from a couple of presidential elections ago with the same disastrous reputation?) and a flake.

    Anyway, the best to you.
    Just a thought.
    Just Ken
    Ken Gregg