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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A trans woman, a racial justice activist, a former Democrat and a lifelong Libertarian walked into a Libertarian Party of Iowa convention last week.
Libertarianism is often seen as a right-wing ideology, but Iowa’s third-largest political party is working to shake the reputation. Party leaders hope to chart a more inclusive path, beyond the stereotypical conservative-to-libertarian pipeline.
At their annual convention last week in Cedar Rapids, party organizers invited me to moderate a panel discussion focused on Libertarian outreach outside the usual networks of the liberty movement.
Jeni Kadel, a member of the gender and sexual minority community, lamented that the political left gets credit for issues where they fail to deliver.
“‘We’re going to drop bombs but on the side of the bombs is going to be a rainbow flag for pride.’ They’re able to sell this even though they don’t follow up or do anything,” Kadel said.
Jules Ofenbakh, a Russian immigrant and former candidate for Iowa secretary of state, said she voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because he promised to end wars, curtail the Patriot Act and close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. When he failed to deliver, she sought other options and found the Libertarian Party.
“I was not going to vote for someone who has done absolutely nothing on the three issues that are important to me in the last four years, and I was certainly not voting for Sarah Palin,” Ofenbakh said.
David Green, member of the Libertarian State Central Committee, said the libertarian movement has always been his political home.
“I’ve been libertarian since birth but they didn’t have a party all those years ago,” Green said.
For as long as there has been an American libertarian movement, there has been libertarian infighting. And there has always been a subset of the movement bent on courting prejudice and white grievance.
In the early 1990s, the radical political theorist Murray Rothbard struck an alliance with right-wing populists and defended the white supremacist politician David Duke. His writing from the era reads like proto-Trumpism: “America first,” “defend family values,” “unleash the cops to clear the streets of bums and vagrants.”
Rothbard drew a line separating his libertarianism from the Koch brothers’ libertarianism, which he wrongly decried as leaning toward “cultural and social leftism” and “a libertine lifestyle.” In the thirty years since, the Koch version — more inclusive and socially open than Rothbard’s — has thrived in comparison.
Libertarianism is not a bigoted philosophy, but it sometimes attracts bigots. Some in the movement are determined to sweep the ugly bits of our intellectual history under the rug, but we must not. We must acknowledge it, reject it and root out its remnants.
At the convention last week, Abena Imhotep, a Black woman and 2018 candidate for the party’s lieutenant governor nomination, challenged members to build a more diverse party.
“If the party doesn’t want to be seen as the party of white dudes who smoke weed, then where’s the Black dudes who smoke weed? There are plenty of brothers out there who smoke weed. … Yeah, they’re locked up, which is another issue. The point is, talk about it and then be about it,” Imhotep said.
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