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.