Sunday, May 26, 2019

Interview: Nicholas Sarwark says his "Libertarian Party has a clearer vision of what we stand for than either of the two old parties"

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in March 2017.

This is the second of five articles spanning my discussion with Nicholas Sarwark. The first piece is available here. 
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." 
Perhaps we should hear more about libertarianism's brass tacks -- namely how it functions real-time in American politics. Few people can better explain this than Nicholas Sarwark, chairman of the Libertarian Party's national committee. 
According to his LNC biography, Sarwark "is an unabashed, second generation Libertarian" who "has been an active member of the Libertarian Party since 1999" in which he "served as chair of the Libertarian Party of Maryland and as vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado where he .... supported the passage of Colorado’s historic marijuana legalization initiative in 2012.
"Professionally, Nicholas Sarwark has been a criminal defense attorney and has worked over ten years in the private sector. He served as a deputy public defender in Colorado, trying more than 30 cases before a jury and arguing in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. He also has more than a decade of experience in computer consulting and sales. In 2014 he moved to Arizona with his wife and two children to join in the operations of a family business, the oldest independent auto dealership in Phoenix, founded in 1942."
Sarwark recently spoke with me about libertarianism's role amid the American landscape. Some of our conversation is included below.


Joseph Ford Cotto: Given the current political situation, what can libertarians hope to accomplish -- more than anything else -- within Trump's first term?

Nicholas Sarwark: The Libertarian Party has a clearer vision of what we stand for than either of the two old parties right now.  The Republicans are being driven by a President who bears little resemblance to any prior Republicans; the Democrats are defined by opposition to that President and anything he does. Only the Libertarian Party has a grounding in the principle of individual liberty that allows us to be cautiously supportive of reducing regulations while being opposed to bigoted immigration policies. 

Our record of opposing the same big government policies when they were being implemented by the Obama administration gives our voice more opportunity to persuade Republicans and independent voters than the Democrats who are merely anti-Trump.

While libertarian ideals are popular with many segments of our nation's populace, the Libertarian Party has not yet made a significant difference on the American political scene. What might account for such an odd situation?

Sarwark: Gay marriage and marijuana are legal now; the former nationwide, the latter in a majority of the states (at least medically). The Libertarian Party has pushed for those individual freedoms since its founding 45 years ago, while the old parties were still ramping up the racist War on Drugs and passing the Defense of Marriage Act with bipartisan majorities. And still we won.

The nature of electoral politics and the collusion of the two old parties makes it difficult for our candidates to take all of the offices they run for.  But the flip side of that is that when our candidates control the balance of power between their old party opponents, our issues shape the race and can determine the outcome, resulting in policies that shift in our direction.

The other challenge is inertia. People who grew up voting only Democratic or Republican are very difficult to persuade to change. However, people who are not locked in to one of the old parties, especially younger voters, are now coming up as Libertarians from the beginning. That demographic shift is on our side and is reflected in partisan voter registration statistics that show the Libertarian Party as the only political party that is growing over the past decade or so.