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Liveblogging The Libertarian Debate

TAC Contributing Editor Jim Pinkerton is moderating the Libertarian presidential debate tonight, which is a good excuse to link to his article on the future of libertarianism.  You have to love how the crowd at the debate is booing all mentions of Reagan and Bush the Elder.  The American Conservative received mostly cheers, though I could have sworn I heard a few boos.

8:06 Barr named Ayn Rand as his favourite philosopher in response to the first question (which wasn’t supposed to be asked until later).  I’m not sure if this is deeply worrying evidence of insanity or evidence of absolutely shameless pandering to the Libertarian crowd.

8:09 Mike Gravel takes a more serious tone to attack the two-party system.  Gravel makes a better impression to me in his opening remarks.  The crowd responds rather more enthusiastically to Gravel than to Barr.

8:12 Massachusetts state party chair George Phillies appeals to his history of party activism and his role as a centrist party unifier.

8:14 Michael Jingozian (an Armenian libertarian!) sets a more reflective, subdued tone.  Mary Ruwart makes a rather amusing feminist appeal to nominating a woman to “pick up the ball” that the Democrats have dropped; she also makes an appeal to her history in party campaigning and says nice things about freedom.

8:16 Steve Kubby, cancer survivor and medical marijuana activist, praises the virtues of medical marijuana, but then makes the marijuana issue a broader issue of defending liberty.  His personal story seems compelling, and Kubby makes what is probably the most coherent opening statement so far.

8:19 Wayne Allyn Root is, as he puts it, the anti-politician, “homeschool dad” and first-ever small businessman and Jewish-American presidential nominee.  He is way too excited, but then I suppose enthusiasm can be an asset in winning the crowd.

8:21 Mike Gravel must be going for the Eunomia vote, because he named Solon as his favourite philosopher.  Solon!  His answer was quite brilliant, actually, and if I had never seen him before I would argue that he ought to be the nominee.  Phillies oddly named Cicero, the antithesis of heroic resistance to tyranny, Jingozian named Ben Franklin and Ruwart copied Barr by naming Ayn Rand.

8:28 Sorry, technical difficulties crashed my browser, so I missed the last few minutes.  I just caught the tale-end of a good Gravel answer on foreign policy.  Phillies praises Chinese lack of industrial regulation?  Jingozian makes a straight antiwar appeal.  Ruwart calls for withdrawal from Iraq and cheers on trade.  Kubby claims that America has no enemies (!) and comes out against bombing civilian populations.  Strange feedback on his microphone is distracting.  Root praises Jefferson and impoundment, acknowledging his pro-war past.  Barr rejects foreign occupation and nation-building, calls for withdrawal not just from Iraq but from Japan, Korea and around the world.  This is a more forthright non-interventionist line than I expected he would take.

8:35 Phillies proposes nuclear and renewable energy.  Jingozian agrees, and opposes drilling in ANWR, among other things.  Ruwart says that the “true cost of oil” would be made known if we withdrew forces from countries with oil, which would then spur on the development of alternative fuels.  Kubby would “walk his talk” and talks about fueling engines with cooking oil.  “Get the politicians out,” Root says, and makes  the sensible point that ethanol is a gigantic fraud.  Root wants to drill everywhere.  Barr likes polar bears, but opposes making them an endangered species; he rails against regulation.  Gravel proposes moving away from gasoline in five years and…basically makes no sense. 

8:44 Jingozian calls for intellectual humility and acknowledging what we don’t know.  Ruwart talks about establishing fines for imposing externalities through pollution.  Kubby wants to arm the chickens and trust the market.  Root loves to take shots at Al Gore.  I am ready for him to go back to Las Vegas.  If I wanted a talk radio host for President, I would say so.  Barr opposes international institutions and Kyoto and complains about having to wait a long time to answer the question.  

8:49 Gravel takes a property rights angle on pollution externalities.  In my estimation, Gravel is generally making a much better impression during this debate than Barr.  Phillies takes a more ardently green line.

8:51 Ruwart calls for abolishing PATRIOT and Real ID Acts.  She name-checks Ron Paul and makes a good argument on civil liberties.  Kubby attacks Barr for having been a former PATRIOT Act supporter.  Root cites PATRIOT Act and warrantless wiretapping as the reasons he became a libertarian.  Privatise the “war on terror”?  What?  Barr cites his work on civil liberties in recent years and utterly rejects both acts.

9:00 Kubby calls U.S. immigration policy something that the KKK would have produced–clearly he’s interested in expanding the party!  Root takes an anti-welfare line on immigration, citing the example of his ancestors who didn’t need it, and calls for secure border and “pathway to citizenship” for those here.  Barr notes that there is no immigration policy to speak of; Barr makes basic border security points.  Gravel unfortunately, but predictably, takes an open borders line.  Will Wilkinson has found his candidate.  Phillies imagines a future where everyone is rich and happy, and then makes a standard anti-welfare point. 

9:08 Root denounces the drug war, makes a non-interventionist pitch and calls for legalising marijuana (shocking, but true!).  Barr talks about jailing people for possession, and opposes federal involvement.  Gravel goes farther and suggests total decriminalisation. 

P.S.  Sorry, I got a bit distracted from following the rest of the debate.  I’ve just tuned back in to hear the closing statements.  Kubby is very combative and seems to enjoy attacking the others.  Root says that the party needs energy–well, he certainly has plenty of that!  Root says his hero is Churchill–good grief, can’t we get away from this hero-worship even at a Libertarian debate?

Update: Dave Weigel of Reason notes in his interview on C-SPAN that the debate was surprisingly polite given earlier hostility to Barr.  Weigel estimates that Barr and Ruwart are “neck and neck” as the frontrunners for the nomination.  Talking about the lower attendance at the convention, he cites the bruising intra-party fight from the last election and Ron Paul’s success in pulling people into the GOP.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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