Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Interview: Matt Kibbe says "you can't really move the political needle without winning over hearts and minds first"

This is the second of three articles spanning my discussion with Matt Kibbe. The first and second pieces are available. 
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
Libertarianism has seen better days.
A few years ago, certain political forecasters claimed that the future of America's center-right belongs to libertarians. Since the 2012 presidential election, however, protectionism surged -- not only in the GOP, but among Democratic ranks as well. Now, amid the age of Donald Trump, libertarianism's once-ascendant nature seems a distant memory.
"I fear that the classical liberal/libertarian idea and ideal will be seriously tarnished by the policies and politics of the Trump Administration," Dr. Richard Ebeling, one of our time's greatest Austrian School thinkers, recently told me.
He continued: "Virtually all of Trump’s proposed policies involve a continuation or an intensification of government involvement in social and economic life. He acts as the all-knowing government central planner when he calls in business executives and tells them where to invest and what products they should make to 'create jobs.' He undermines respect for and protection of essential civil liberties when he ridicules the freedom of the press and their way of reporting on his administration’s actions and his words."

Ebeling went on to state his worry "that with the assistance of the mainstream media the Trump Administration’s anti-freedom policies will tarnish the real case for a free society and a free market. That is, people who want lower taxes and fewer regulations on business will be identified as the people who also believe in torture, discrimination against immigrants, violations of civil liberties, and the instigation of trade wars because of aggressive nationalist attitudes."
One group not giving up on libertarian ideals is Free the People, a consortium which claims its "goal is to get ahead of politics, and engage in the cultural exchange that will set the political agenda for the next 50 years. We want to set the conversation, instead of settling for rhetorical scraps tossed to us by the political class. We want to make the community for liberty a cool thing. Using cutting-edge technology and storytelling, we’re building a grassroots constituency that can translate good ideas into education, conversation, and social activism."
Matt Kibbe is at the helm of this ship. FTP describes him as "President and Chief Community Organizer", making this fellow the only non-leftist I have ever known to use the Barack Obama-popularized 'community organizer' label. 
Needless to mention, he is a unique individual.
"An economist by training, Kibbe is a public policy expert, bestselling author and political commentator," his FTP biography tells. "He served as Senior Advisor to Concerned American Voters, a Rand Paul Super PAC. He is also Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Austrian Economic Center in Vienna, Austria.
"In 2004 Kibbe founded FreedomWorks, a national grassroots advocacy organization, and served as President until his departure in July 2015. Steve Forbes said 'Kibbe has been to FreedomWorks what Steve Jobs was to Apple.' Newsweek pronounced Kibbe 'one of the masterminds' of tea party politics. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann called Kibbe 'the second worst person in the world.'"
Kibbe recently chatted with me about libertarianism, its role in American life, and his organization. Some of our conversation is included below. 
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Joseph Ford Cotto: A few years ago, certain political forecasters claimed that the future of America's center-right belongs to libertarians. Since the 2012 presidential election, protectionism has surged in both major parties. Now, in the age of Trump, libertarianism's once-ascendant nature seems a distant memory. Would you say that libertarian Republican politics have any serious potential under Trump?


Matt Kibbe: My hope with Trump is that he'll make people realize that what they're really afraid of isn't Republicans or Democrats, but power. All the people who applauded Obama's executive orders are terrified by Trump's. They're learning that when it's not their guy in office, it can turn out bad for them.  We need to show people that, instead of worrying so much about who's in charge, we need to lessen the power of the office, so that it doesn't matter so much.

Cotto: Many libertarian and libertarian-oriented political activist groups have come and gone throughout the years. What makes Free the People different from any group which came before it?

Kibbe: Most libertarian-leaning groups have come in one of two forms. There's the big stuffy think tanks that publish policy papers no one reads, and there are the grassroots organizations that focus on politics. What we've realized is that you can't really move the political needle without winning over hearts and minds first, so what makes Free the People different is that we're focused on culture, and reaching out to young people where they live, on the internet, on social media. I haven't seen too many groups do that, at least not on our side of the aisle.

Cotto: On a practical level, what does Free the People hope to accomplish -- more than anything else -- within Trump's first term?

Kibbe: That's a tough question because we don't know what the opportunities are going to be yet, but one of the things we're doing differently is trying to bring together people who don't necessarily identify as libertarian from all sides of the political spectrum. You had a lot of Bernie Sanders voters who called themselves socialist, but when you dig down into their views, they're not. They're capitalists, but they just don't like the word and they think socialism means working together to solve problems, which is what we're all about.

I would hope that we could accomplish some reform on what I call transpartisan issues, issues that cross traditional party lines, like criminal justice reform and tech freedom. I think there will be some good opportunities work on those issues in the next four years.      

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