By Andrew L. Sullivan

State Chair, Nebraska Libertarian Party

E-mail: thetroubles@hotmail.com

Once again the Libertarian Party gathered to determine whether its platform would become some sort of objectivist catechism or a watered-down set of instructions on how to boil a three-minute egg. Every state and national Libertarian convention is plagued by these sessions of figuring out where the Party stands.

The platform should be principled and uncompromising yet it should avoid becoming a laundry list or being unnecessarily exclusionary. Principled people should not be excluded and moderates should be allowed in. I understand why the delegates voted to keep the death penalty out of the platform but the excuse was very poor. The death penalty is easy to argue against. Yes, Libertarians believe in the death penalty but only the sort that is the result of self-defense, armed or unarmed.

Imagine long gone Democratic candidate Dukakis, answering the question of how he would feel about the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered, differently: "Well, I believe in the death penalty. If my wife is attacked and takes out here concealed pistol and shoots the rapist and consequently he dies, it is just. However, if you mean the state conducted executions, I am opposed because executions are not used as self-defense, can not bring back the victim and therefore are retribution, not self-defense."

The Platform Committee favored adding opposition to the death penalty to the platform. Erin Hollinden, speaking for the minority report keeping the death penalty, stated: "We should not specify a total prohibition of all capital punishments. We should let each candidate be free to declare and campaign on the interpretation they believe to be the implication of libertarian principle on this issue. We wish that the convention take no action on this proposal."

She cited numerous prominent Libertarians as agreeing: Michael Cloud, Jim Lark, Barry Hess, Mary Ruwart, Ron Crickenberger, Tom Tryon, and David Nolan. She also cited state chairs Gerrard Lugguth of Arizona, Tracy Ryan of Hawaii, Mark Rutherford of Indiana, Mark Genci of Maine, Elias Israel of Massachusetts, Charles Test of Minnesota and Jim Dexter of Utah.

As much as I am a pacifist opposed to the death penalty, I accept the reasoning for keeping the death penalty out of the plank, although the reasoning is very weak. People who are strongly in favor of the death penalty base their reasoning heavily on fear, not principle. The reasoning used to keep the death penalty out of the platform is, however, far more fit for another issue which Libertarians continue to play duck and cover: abortion.

Again and again, Libertarian candidates have come out as pro-life and found wires of contradiction cutting through them when confronted with the party platform on abortion. The integrity of the party as well as the candidate is put into doubt. As state chair of Nebraska, I am faced with the fact Omaha had 16,000 people stand on the streets holding signs of "Abortion Kills Children" just a few years ago. Candidates like Republican Alan Keyes and Pat Buchanan with both his anti-war and pro-life message, and the U. S. Taxpayers Party wander the country with a defiant pro-life message. Littered among their supporters are pacifists and anarchists who could easily side with the Libertarian Party but won't cross over to the Libertarian Party because of abortion.

You expect me to raise money to help a candidate file $1,400 plus filing fee with a pro-choice platform in Nebraska? Forget it! People won't release their money. Set our Libertarian candidates free from the Libertarian ghetto! Let them decide how to stand on abortion and remove abortion from the platform. Even pro-choice people opposed to partial birth abortion, which is really partial birth infanticide, find the new revised plank hard to accept. The platform?s words "we believe the government should be kept entirely out of the question" is just as absolute as the anti-death penalty provisions ("we oppose the death penalty in all cases") the convention rejected and does not allow a pro-choice candidate to waffle on partial-birth abortion.

Objectivists often act as if they discovered individual rights. Gun advocates think the rise of the gun, made individual rights possible. However, religion has played a large role in individual rights, pacifism and anarchy, a world without force or government. The Amish were without government and were based on freedom of association. If Jesus were executed today, Amnesty International would be running to aid his individual right. He was a prisoner of conscience, who received an unfair trial and was tortured and executed, all of which is mentioned in Amnesty International?s mandate to free prisoners of conscience, end unfair trials, and stop torture and executions.

Religion is more deeply ingrained than we want to believe. Many of these same religious traditions that are pro-life also defend freedom and individual rights. By taking abortion out of the platform, Libertarian candidates could choose how they will stand on abortion, allowing pro-life Libertarians to go after Alan Keyes' supporters and groups like the U. S. Taxpayers Party, and allowing pro-choice Libertarians to go after Ralph Nader's supporters, the Green Party and the Natural Law Party.

Unfortunately, many Libertarians just dismiss pro-lifers as one of many others who disagree with another piece of the platform such as immigration. Pro-choice Libertarians never want to admit that on this one issue, their opposition is making a hard line principled argument that keeps them selves out of Libertarian politics even if they agree with the Party 99%. Why? And why are we keeping them out of the Libertarian Party with our abortion-defending platform?

Choice vs. Life is more complicated than either side will admit. I have argued the issue for over ten years. Objectivists are right about contraceptives and preventing pregnancy in referring to the potential life. Pro-lifers are right when they say life begins at conception. The problem is, in taking the morning after pill, there may or may not be a life lost simply because the woman has not been determined to be pregnant. There is not a time of death and finding the body may be difficult or not exist at all. The platform could still defend choice as far as preventing pregnancy.

However, once pregnancy is the diagnosis, the objectivists are wrong to make reference to potential life. Pregnancy means a prenatal child is present. Abortion would force the prenatal infant to die. There is a time of death and a body. A doctor can be prosecuted.

Prosecuting a doctor may sound draconian in the face of Roe V Wade but would have been far more merciful to the number of doctors murdered and the hundreds of abortion clinic bombings in the name of stopping abortions. If Libertarians want to be the party of peace and principle, we should be more supportive of encouraging people to seek nonviolent means to resolve their disagreements. Unfortunately, the Courts are opposed to changing Roe v Wade and continue to forbid States from altering it. The Congress has embraced draconian laws to stop protests against abortion and the Court has upheld such measures. Once all nonviolent avenues to stopping abortion are cut off, violence is the end result as there is plenty of evidence. The Libertarian Party platform looks the other way.

Similar results are happening regarding a broader array of civil liberties. No one will admit it, but until the murderers of the Branch Davidians are in jail, Timothy McVeigh stands justified in bombing a federal building to keep government in check. If he is executed, he will become a martyr and future hero. (Another good reason to oppose the death penalty.) The United States is no longer a free democratic republic. 435 Congressmen can no longer represent a nation of a quarter billion people, of over 270,000,000 individuals. Congress not only does not read the laws it passes, it can no longer provide over-sight of the government agencies it funds. The United States is under control of an oligarchy of government agencies.

The Bill of Rights is no longer enforced. The Federal government can use tanks against its citizens and get away with it. Currently, we only enjoy freedom at the permission of the Federal government.

When faced with such tyranny, the options are slim. You can call a Constitutional Convention, and repeal the violated compromise of the Constitution and Bill of Rights to favor a return of the Continental Congress. You can go apathetic and accept your status as a slave. You can start a revolution and end up in jail like Timothy McVeigh. Or you can take the non-violent but active defense of freedom, and join and work for the Libertarian Party. The Libertarian Party must be the nonviolent defense of freedom.

I joined the party when its platform acknowledged pro-life libertarians. Now all I ask is that it set it candidates free. We do not have the luxury of time to argue a volatile issue like abortion. I don't want to live in a country torn by civil war or one that is taken over by brutal tyranny.

Party officials think this year or the year 2002 or 2004 will be a break through year for Libertarians. We may elect a few people but the real break comes in 2008 when the existing parties are unable to satisfy the public demands. That is when the Libertarian Party platform should be easy to embrace.

[This article originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the September/October 2000 issue of THE THOUGHT.]