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Bob Newland, Jerk… and Honest Political Orator

Any political speech that begins with “I am a jerk” clearly deserves a full hearing.

Bob Newland spoke to the South Dakota Libertarian Party convention last month in Rapid City. After declaring himself a jerk, Newland expanded from personal to political self-assessment:

I’ve lived a life of dissolution*, dissipation, and irresponsibility…. Much of what I’ve done I’m not particularly proud of, but my devotion to liberty and justice is at the basis of everything I’ve done. I am for liberty. I am for justice, and I am for what works. I didn’t place those issues in any particular order; let’s just say that I think that what works generally incorporates liberty and justice [Bob Newland, speech to Libertarian Party of South Dakota, Rapid City, South Dakota, 2019.06.15].

Interestingly, Newland says (around 10:00) the Democrats and Republicans adopted the policies of the Socialist Party until the Socialist Party had nothing left to run on. Republicans and Democrats both contradict their own principles for the sake of political expediency, but the Libertarian Party, while faintly influential in getting the Legislature to recognize that hemp belongs in the free market, is “weak, spread out, and broke.” Newland concludes that any South Dakotan with both principles and a desire to hold public office faces “dismal choices” for party affiliation.

Around 13:20, Newland gets practical. He says the abolition of taxes is unlikely and suggests Libertarians might do better to slow down the increase in the kinds and rates of taxes. However:

I’m not even opposed to all taxes. I am, though, apprehensive over the looming problem of infrastructure disintegration. Roads and bridges are failing and becoming more and more expensive to maintain. Nationwide as well as in South Dakota, the enormity of the pile of cash needed to restore them to good condition and keep them there is daunting. What’s the Libertarian solution? I don’t know [Newland, 2019.06.15].

Newland here poses a problem to his eager successors in Libertarian activism: it’s all good fun to shout easy slogans like “taxation is theft!”, but if Libertarians are serious about winning elections and making (or unmaking) policy, they need to square that simplistic absolutism with the complicated and costly business of knitting together a nation with functional roads.

At 14:20, Newland turns his attention to “the most insidious threat to South Dakota government that I have seen in my life,” the effort of “squinchy-eyed evangelicals” to enact “their version of God’s will” to “effectively end the initiative process in South Dakota, the first state to allow citizens to enact laws that the Legislature won’t.” He reminds the Libertarians that they have an interest in reversing several laws that restrict “our ability to voice our dissatisfaction” with the Legislature’s “authoritarianism.” He encourages Libertarians to sign the People Power Petition (which he is circulating!).

I have to admit: while the People Power Initiative I’m promoting is a completely non-partisan measure, Newland gets me thinking that the People Power Initiative is at heart a Libertarian proposal. It repeals regulations and paperwork. It shortens government delays. The only new provisions it writes into statute give citizens more opportunities, not less.  The People Power Initiative tells big government to step aside and gives regular citizens more room to captain their political destinies. Libertarians, if you want to put your principles into practice, take Newland’s advice and sign and circulate this initiative petition.

Newland concludes his speech by thanking the new generation of Libertarian activists for “devoting time and money to fight the South Dakota Taliban.” That unkind assessment of the powers that be in South Dakota probably makes some people think Newland is a jerk. I prefer to think of Newland as honest.

Newland says he has no desire to run for public office, and his June speech to the Libertarians supports the hypothesis that there is an inverse relationship between a speaker’s desire for power and the honesty of his speech.

*Correction 2019.07.23 12:48 CDT: As noted below, I misheard Newland’s “dissolution” as “disillusion.” The former, a lack of moral restraint and an indulgence of sensual pleasures, may characterize significant portions of Newland’s life, but the latter, dissatisfaction and disenchantment, suffuses and motivates much of Newland’s political activity.


  1. David Newquist 2019-07-21

    Sen. Tim Johnson first identified the “South Dakota Taliban,” for which he was excoriated.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-07-21

    Yet those same excoriators will label Scyller Borglum an infiltrator and four Congresswomen socialists who should go back where they came from. Bob is right about Republicans’ inability to adhere to any principles. Perhaps we should persuade Bob to run one more time, for Governor in 2022, and get some serious reformers to back him with serious money and billboards.

  3. grudznick 2019-07-21

    You would be hard pressed to find a fellow who says my good friend Bob isn’t sometimes entertaining and occasionally righter than right about some issues. I, for one, admire his flipping of the bird finger at the taliban and the squinchy-eyed overgodders, but know his dependence on the demon weed has altered his vision of the heinous ballot measures.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-07-21

    Tell me more, Grudz, about how demon-weed addiction manages to alter the addict’s vision only political matters on which the sufferer disagrees with you.

  5. Porter Lansing 2019-07-21

    Libertarians are like Greek Gods. All they do is argue with each other and no one believes in them.

    BTW – What’s the difference between a libertarian wedding and a libertarian funeral?
    – One less opinion.

  6. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-07-21

    “I’ve lived a life of dissolution, dissipation, and irresponsibility…”

    Cory heard the word “dissolution” as “disillusion,” although “disillusionment” could easily be added to the list, my friend Bob tells me.

  7. Baby Moon 2019-07-21

    I think Bob’s “jerk” act is completely consistent with his irreverence and kind heart.

  8. grudznick 2019-07-21

    The reason you caught on to that, Mr. H, is your mind isn’t addled by the demon weed. There are many political matters upon which my good friend Bob and I agree. Squinching overgodders, for example. We have often spoke, Bob and I, about how they are going to be the end of us all.

  9. Porter Lansing 2019-07-21

    Grudzie … There are five and a half million people where I live that can choose to gamble, drink whiskey, or use marijuana. None of their choices hurt you one bit. What’s gives you the right to judge what others do? That’s a personal problem you need to deal with, amigo.

  10. Debbo 2019-07-22

    I listened to all of Bob’s speech and enjoyed it. That’s humility and honesty. Imagine if the SD Taliban gave that a shot? Nah. Bob’s more likely to replace NoMa’am in Pierre than the SDGOP be honest.

    There are aspects of Libertarianism that are attractive, but the survival of the fittest part seems cruel and heartless. Bob’s pragmatic Libertarianism has possibilities.

  11. Porter Lansing 2019-07-22

    ツ Why did the Libertarian cross the road?

    What road?

  12. Catherine Ratliff 2019-07-22

    Good going, Bob. I appreciate you.

  13. Catherine Ratliff 2019-07-22

    When I read “squinchey-eyed evangelicals” the VP sprang to mind. Perfect. Right on, Bob.

  14. TAG 2019-07-22

    I don’t agree with most of the Libertarian platform, but I do think that they could become a viable third party in SD, if not for our current (plurality, first-past-the-post) voting system.

    Some kind of Proportional Representation (PR) voting would enable the growth of thirds parties in general, unlock the tyranny of single-party rule in many places, and would also go a long way towards diffusing all the angst and polarity we currently have in politics.

    I know I often beat that drum, but it really would be a win-win solution, I think. Not just for Dems and third parties in SD, but also for the California GOP, etc. Here’s a video I found recently that explains PR and Duverger’s Law really succinctly:

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-07-22

    Porter, excellent line on roads! Libertarians drive on roads to get to their conventions and grocery stores just like the rest of us. Libertarians need to put forward and get excited about a candidate who can speak to such basic needs and government obligations without falling into absolutist absurdity.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-07-22

    TAG, your suggestion that Proportional Representation could help Libertarians win seats makes practical sense. Does PR square with Libertarian principles, as an end and as a means?

  17. TAG 2019-07-22

    Cory said: “Does PR square with Libertarian principles, as an end and as a means?”

    I don’t know. They seem to be against the concentration of governmental power generally. It would follow that the stranglehold on power that the majority party has in a given jurisdiction would be distasteful to them.

    On the other hand, I once read that some LP academics argue against participating in elections at all, as they see it as participation in a corrupt system.

    Beyond the LP, I’d love to see more powerful splinter groups from the major parties. The Tea Party has been neutered and assimilated into the “R team”. Independents that caucus with Dems are basically Dems for all practical purposes. The Green Party is invisible. The Blue Dog Coalition should have been a separate party decades ago. The Minnesota Farmer-Labor party should still be a thing. But none of that happens because of our 2-party system. And over time, people’s diverse personal views and opinions gradually coalesce into the group-think of Red or Blue.

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