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March 26, 2007

Working With the Left
on the War


David R. Henderson

(Author's note: I had planned to write "How Much is the Iraq War Costing You? Part 2" for this week, but due to the timeliness of what I discuss below, I'll delay Part 2 until April.)

As a libertarian who has generally focused on economic issues – I am an economist, after all – I have generally found myself allied more with conservatives than with leftists/liberals. But President Bush's hostility to civil liberties and his reckless decisions to go to war and stay at war have made the issues of civil liberties, war, and peace more important to me than many of the traditional economic issues in which I have been involved. Indeed, that is why I became a regular columnist for Antiwar.com. Because a higher percentage of liberals/leftists than of conservatives seems to oppose the current U.S. war on Iraqis, in the last few years I have been more allied with the Left than with the Right.

The local person I work most closely with on issues of war and peace is Lawrence Samuels, my co-chair of our local chapter of Libertarians for Peace. A few weeks ago, Lawrence and a local peace activist named Hannan Shawar persuaded our Democratic congressman, Sam Farr, to be the guest of honor at a dinner event held on March 17. Lawrence asked me to give the opening speech. I have some unpleasant history with Sam Farr: he and I were on opposite sides of a local housing issue, and I wrote an op/ed in the Monterey Herald criticizing his advocacy of price controls. But there is also pleasant history. I recently wrote a letter to the Herald, for example, praising him for introducing a bill to remove President Bush's power to make war on Iraq. And it got back to me through the grapevine that Sam had been pleased with my letter as well as a previous one defending him from an unjust attack. So I jumped at the chance to speak about him. Here's the speech I gave.

"If you read the Monterey Herald closely, you might be surprised to see me standing here to say nice things about Sam Farr. It is true that Sam and I have had our differences. He thinks price controls on new housing will make housing affordable; I, like most economists, think price controls on new housing will discourage construction, making housing less affordable.

"But we've also had our agreements. Sam voted for NAFTA, which brought down barriers to imports from Mexico and Canada, making goods more affordable, and brought down Canadian and Mexican barriers to U.S. exports, benefiting our exporting industries. Sam also voted in 2005 for an important protection of property rights, namely, for permanent repeal of the death tax. Had this passed, it would have allowed people to keep what is rightfully theirs. Sam also has been a leader, along with my Republican congressman friend, Dana Rohrabacher, in the fight to get the federal government to stop interfering with people who want to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

"That's not all. Sam also has been a strong defender of civil liberties. He showed a lot of courage, not just in voting against the extension of the USA PATRIOT Act, but also in voting, shortly after September 11, against the original USA PATRIOT Act. He was one of only 66 members of the House of Representatives to do so. Not for him that mealy-mouthed line, 'I voted against it before I voted for it.' [That got an appreciative chuckle out of Farr.] Sam was always against it, and bless you, Sam, for that.

"Had that been all Sam had done, we wouldn't be here tonight. We are here because of two other things Sam has done, one in 2002 and one this year. In 2002, Sam showed a healthy skepticism about George Bush's 'I'm the president: trust me' approach to foreign policy. Sam voted against the blank check that Congress gave George Bush to make war on Iraqis.

"And on January 11 this year, Sam did something even more important. He authored a bill, beautiful in its clarity and brevity, to remove George Bush's authority to make war in Iraq.

"Let me read you a section of the bill:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. REPEAL OF PUBLIC LAW 107-243.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107-243; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) is hereby repealed.

SEC. 2. WITHDRAWAL OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES FROM IRAQ.

The President of the United States shall provide for the withdrawal of units and members of the United States Armed Forces deployed in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in a safe and orderly manner.

"Guess what? I didn't read you a section of Sam's bill. I read you the whole bill. I've read parts of congressmen's bills before, but in my whole life I've read only a few bills all the way through and doing so took hours. How refreshing that Sam said so much with so little, in the best tradition of our Founding Fathers, whose First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protected religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition with only 45 words. Sam's bill is a better bill than any of the other bills on the war that Congress is considering.

"The cause of peace is the most important issue facing our nation today. We have far too many people, in Congress and out, who are willing to trust a powerful president. For your leadership on this issue, I say, 'Thank you, Sam.'"

My speech was well received, both by Sam Farr and by the largely left-liberal audience. Lawrence Samuels also gave a speech in which he pointed out that the U.S. war on Iraq was a war of aggression and, therefore, violated basic libertarian principles.

Sam Farr responded with a speech in which he showed appreciation for the antiwar activities of the organizers and of the speakers. He talked about how he got involved in politics: a big part of his motivation came from his time in the Peace Corps. There was much I disagreed with in his speech. For someone who has been in Washington as a congressman for over 12 years, he showed an amazing amount of confidence in the efficacy of government. He cited Lyndon Johnson, for example, as a great fighter of poverty. But none of this put my views at risk: I simply didn't applaud for this advocacy of more government power. When Farr did make strong antiwar statements, though, I applauded. Lawrence Samuels ended the event by saying, "This was a first try at an event like this, but I think it worked and I think we should do it again." I yelled from the audience, "Let's do it when the war ends." A number of people in the audience applauded.

One other connection we solidified with this venture was with Hal Ginsberg, the general manager of a local leftist/liberal radio station, KRXA, and a morning host on that station. Lawrence Samuels had been on his show, as had I, to talk about war and peace. Hal had also interviewed Eric Garris of Antiwar.com, and in our conversations over the last few months Hal had mentioned that interview as a definite highlight. Lawrence, rather than asking a libertarian to be the emcee, asked Hal, who accepted delightedly. In introducing both Lawrence and me, Hal explicitly identified us as libertarians, and then went on to say that getting to know both of us had disabused him of some of his negative feelings about libertarians. My guess is that his credibility with the audience made them more open to hearing what Lawrence and I had to say. One other indication that this was a success was that Hal invited me to come on his radio station the next Tuesday to pitch a talk I was giving at the local Borders on my co-authored book, Making Great Decisions in Business and Life. When I called in, Hal gave me more time than I had expected and introduced me as "a friend of KRXA."

This event was definitely a bridge-building success. Libertarians need to do more things like this. We don't need to say anything we don't mean: we can note our differences but then go on to note our important areas of agreement.

Copyright © 2007 by David R. Henderson. Requests for permission to reprint should be directed to the author or Antiwar.com.

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David R. Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an associate professor of economics in the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is author of The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey and co-author, with Charles L. Hooper, of Making Great Decisions in Business and Life (Chicago Park Press.) His latest book is The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund, 2008.)

He has appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, the Jim Lehrer Newshour, CNN, and C-SPAN. He has had over 100 articles published in Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Red Herring, Barron’s, National Review, Reason, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Christian Science Monitor. He has also testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. Visit his Web site.

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