Libertarian National Committee Chairman Mark Hinkle. Both article and homepage photos courtesy of the Libertarian Party.
If an impressionable young American coming of age in the ‘60s were to finish all of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in their teenhood and shake hands with William F. Buckley before graduating college, is there anything else that person could possibly become except a devout libertarian? Such is the remarkable (if at times slightly unsurprising) story of Mark Hinkle, Chairman of the Libertarian National Committee and the subject of this week’s “A Word With…” interview series at BreakThru Radio.
Despite the much touted election of an established liberal figurehead as president, a large portion the American public has grown increasingly weary of any and all government intervention since President Obama took office in 2009. Gone are the days of culture wars and daily talk-show debates over social values, if only temporarily. Whatever the cause, such a pronounced and virile reaction to the government’s ever well-intended hand to those struggling in the current economic uncertainty has made Libertarianism a household name.
While typically categorized by mainstream political filters as to the far right, the Libertarian Party platform is comprised of a simple, minimalistic view of government not only with respect to economic policy but also on social issues. That platform, despite being partially espoused by painfully un-hip pundits and obvious social conservatives in disguise (read: Glenn Beck), is currently enjoying an extended streak in the American political vogue.
In his interview with BTR, Mr. Hinkle describes the mass media-silent and steadily upward trajectory of his party (the largest and oldest third party in America) since their formation in 1971 as well as his own ideological development. The history of the former is ripe with astonishing factoids that will no doubt astound anyone of any political persuasion. Meanwhile, Mark’s personal story includes not only a successful career in business but a history of social activism. Specifically, in opposing most American military actions abroad as well as protesting failed domestic social “wars” (on both Poverty and Drugs among others). This all for the ends of realizing early in his adulthood, as have so many of his generation during the recent political cycle, that there was no place for his beliefs in the two party system that continues to dominate the leadership of our country today.
BreakThru Radio: How did you first become active politically? Have you always considered yourself a libertarian? In your answer, feel free to go into detail describing your early political biography.
Mark Hinkle: In 1968, my parents took my sister and I on a three and a half month European trip. My mother thought I would like something to read in the evenings. She brought along a copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I had tried to read it before the trip, but couldn’t quite get passed the first 100 pages. But since I had nothing else to do in the evenings while in the hotel, other than watch Johnny Carson late at night, I managed to get past those first 100 pages and then I was hooked. I often read into the wee hours of the morning.
By the way, one of the cities we visited was Prague, shortly after the Russians had invaded. I got to see first hand the heavy hand of socialism via the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Not a pretty sight! One of the reasons we went to Prague in 1968, was to smuggle some banned books by Alan Ginsberg into the country. My father, Albert Hinkle, was a long time friend of both Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.
When I returned from that trip, I went back to start my spring semester of my senior year in high school. After about a week, my homeroom held elections for Home Room Senator as part of the schools’ student government. I nominated myself, which was unusual for me as I was an introvert, and that led to my victory. So, that semester I was embroiled in student government. That fall (1969), I was enrolled at a local community college during the start of the Vietnam War protests. I was against the war and the draft (my draft number was 346), so I attended some of the college protests there. Later, after getting my degree there, I moved onto San Jose State University, where I began to attend regular meetings of a renegade Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) group. They were not officially part of YAF, but when William F. Buckley came to campus to speak, the head of our small group was asked to introduce Bill Buckley to the students. As a reward for providing the introduction to him, our group got a back stage invitation to meet and talk with Mr. Buckley. As our leader was introducing me to Mr. Buckley and while I’m shaking his hand, she announced that I was the “libertarian” of the group. I had no idea what she was talking about. She, on the other hand, had me pegged to a tee.
So, now that I was labeled a libertarian to the eminent William F. Buckley, I had to find out what that was. Was I a libertarian? In the Spring of 1972, Dr. John Hospers (recently deceased) came to campus as part of his run for the Presidency as a Libertarian. During his speech, he quoted frequently from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I had previously read all of her fiction work and many of her non-fiction titles as well. Later, down in the student cafeteria, I talked with him for over an hour about libertarianism and free market economics.
Later that fall, I cast my first vote for President via write-in (since the Libertarian Party wasn’t on the ballot in California) for Dr. John Hospers. It was one of about 2,000 votes he’d receive in California. Interesting historical footnote was that his V.P. candidate was Tonie Nathan. Tonie became the first woman ever to receive an Electoral College vote. And that vote was cast by a Republican Delegate Roger McBride from Virginia, who in 1976 became the 2nd presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party. He traveled around the country in his own airplane, a DC-3, that he named the “No Force One”.
I continued to look into the newly formed Libertarian Party and attended a state convention in 1974 shortly after I officially became a dues paying member. In 1975, I attended my first national convention in New York City as a delegate. Also that year I became a lifetime member of the Party. My membership card was signed by, then-LP National Chair Ed Crane (now head of the Cato Institute). But it wasn’t until I moved off of my swing shift job at IBM in 1978 that I became active in the local organization. I started off as Vice-Chairman of the local Santa Clara County Libertarian Party. From there, I served as Chair of the local LP, was elected to serve on the State Executive Committee. Among the positions I’ve filled are Northern Vice Chair of the Libertarian Party of California (LPC), Chair of the LPC (a total of 6 years in 2 different time-frames), LPC Newsletter Chair, LPC Liaison to the California Civil Rights Alliance, member of the State Executive Committee (25 plus years) and 10 years on the LNC (Libertarian National Committee) before being elected as Chair of the National Libertarian Party.
In addition to all of the internal party positions I’ve held, I’ve also run for the State Assembly four times, the State Senate once and twice for Trustee of the Gavilan Community College Board. And I’ve written countless arguments against local bond issues, property tax hikes and sales tax increases. Furthermore, I’m currently a plaintiff in a case against a local “open space” district regarding an illegal tax they are collecting. It is a follow-on case to one that we’ve already won in the California Supreme Court.
BTR: As the chairman of an American third party, does that sort of thing pay for your lifestyle or do you work a day job?
MH: The position of LNC Chair pays nothing. It’s a volunteer job and I fund primarily by myself and few loyal supporters. I own a franchise that installs removable pool fencing (to prevent children from drowning) here in the South San Francisco Bay Area. Because I’m my own boss, I do have the flexibility to devote, on average, about 35-40 hours a week to being LNC Chair. I also have a very understanding wife and devoted son (Logan) who’s a dedicated Libertarian in his own right. He requires all of his true friends to register to vote as libertarians and to put libertarian bumper stickers on their cars. He was even a voting delegate at the national LP Presidential convention in 2004 at the age of 13. Can you tell I’m a proud parent?
BTR: On a pragmatic scale, what do you feel the party has been able to accomplish in the last thirty years? Perhaps more specifically, how do you think the party has developed since 1971?
MH: As we approach our 40th anniversary of the Libertarian Party this coming December, I think it’s clear we’ve had a major impact on the body politic. The word Libertarian is now a household word. Our focus on constitutionally limited government is “the” issue in politics today. Entire concepts like privatization came from libertarians. The word didn’t even exist before the Libertarian Party.
Even though Republicans and Democrats put huge legal and financial hurdles in our path and work tirelessly to keep us off of the ballot, we’ve managed to get our presidential ticket on the ballot in all 50 states three different times. No other political party has accomplished that. Our Congressional candidates collectively have exceeded 1,000,000 votes on five occasions, according to Ballot Access News.
Last year, Republicans here in California put Prop 14 (also called Top Two) on the ballot. They sold it as a ‘open primary,’ but what it really does in practice is prevent any third party from being on the ballot in the general election when there is also a Republican and a Democrat in the race. It also bans write-in voting. If the Libertarian Party wasn’t becoming a force to be reckon with, would they have mounted this attack on us and all other third parties? We’re suing to overturn Prop 14. Voters in droves are leaving the Republican and Democratic parties. The fasting growing segment of voters are independents. The older political parties are desperately trying to hold onto their power in the face of massive voter defections.
Over the last 2 years, only the Libertarian Party has gained voter registrations. All other political parties have lost members.
And we’ve managed to do all this despite draconian rules from the Federal Elections Commission, despite financial limitations placed on us by both Republican and Democratic Parties via McCain-Feingold that limit contributions from individuals to no more than $30,800 per year and completely bans business and corporation donations, and despite monumental ballot access laws that essentially outlaw third parties and their candidates from appearing on the ballot.
Mohandas Gandhi once remarked “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.”
They are fighting us now. Tomorrow we win.
BTR: In looking at the list on your website of elected officials who belong to the party, there seems to be, geographically speaking, specific states and pockets of support where your party has gained a foothold– specifically in Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Texas and New Jersey to name a few. When juxtaposed, it becomes evident that your party’s appeal crosses both typical mainstream political north-south, red state-blue state lines. Do you feel as though this is the fruition of the hard work of the party for the last thirty years in building support, the result of external variables or some combination of the two?
MH: Our strength comes from several sources. We appeal very strongly to the baby-boomer generation because a lot of them are fiscally responsible and socially tolerant. In a nutshell, that’s the basic libertarian view. Our strength also comes from the demonstration by the government of massive incompetence and waste. Today’s rational people are seeing that government doesn’t solve societal problems, and in fact, usually makes them worse. The Republicans and Democrats always blame each other for the failure of government to create solutions…and they’re both right.
And the failures are so colossal that even the waning mainstream media can’t gloss over it. Failures such as the wars overseas that we’re losing; the wars at home (the Drug War) that we’ve lost and, in fact, shouldn’t have fought in the first place, which is tied into the War on Gangs–also lost. The war on illiteracy: lost. The war on poverty: lost. The fight against homelessness: lost. The government’s solution to terrorism? Grope your junk in airports!!! The battle for affordable housing: lost. The war on hunger: lost. And now the government is shutting down private charities that serve food to the hungry. The government says it wants to create jobs, but only government jobs, not private sector jobs. And when the private sector tries to create new jobs, the government places hurdles upon hurdles to prevent new jobs and new businesses from being created.
The government has more control over the U.S. economy than ever before, and look what they’ve done to it. What a mess! Our message as it pertains to the government control of the economy is “less is more.” We urge Congress to get out of the way.
So, we’re gaining converts partly because of our 39-plus years of activity on a shoestring budget and partly due to the inability of the government to solve any problems. When failures of the government are this massive and this visible it’s not hard for the average voter to start looking for alternatives. We are that alternative.
BTR: During national elections, obviously the mainstream media hasn’t given third parties any significant spotlight. Through what other (perhaps independent) media channels does the Libertarian spotlight reach out to for exposure during national campaigns?
MH: As far as I know, the Libertarian Party was the first political party to have a presence on the web. Even before the World Wide Web was commonly in use, we were active in the old BBS (Bulletin Board System) as part of the Fido-Net system. I was co-sysop (short for System Operator) of what, I think, was the very first Libertarian BBS. It was called Liberty Bell BBS (Fido-net 14/6). It started with a 300 baud modem, running on an Ampro computer running CMP using an Intel 80186 processor with a 10MB hard drive. Am I dating myself?
So, we’ve used the Internet extensively to get our message out. We currently have 177,220 fans on Facebook. The Democrats have 58,971 and the Republicans 69,587. We have more of a fan base than the combined Democratic and Republican parties. How sad for them. And we’re on Twitter and LinkedIn and many local LP chapters are heavy users of Meetup. Earlier this year, we hired our first employee whose sole function is to create videos for use on Internet sites like YouTube. And most of our state affiliates use Yahoo Groups to keep in touch to plan party meetings, rallies, protests, and even social gatherings.
Furthermore, many Libertarians run their own blogs and/or podcasts. Some have their own radio shows on both on-air AM and FM stations, while others are on Internet radio. Still others are on cable access TV on a regular basis. And we’re most fortunate to have John Stossel and Judge Andrew Napoliton on Fox Business News cable network. What a joy it is to watch both of these libertarians every day of the week.
And on radio talk shows, the word Libertarian is used many times a day. If you listen to talk radio, you’ve heard a libertarian and/or have heard libertarian views constantly.
I do think that one of the reasons why “mainstream” media is loosing their audience to cable news, news-talk radio and the Internet is because they only spout the static democratic and republican dogma and people are sick and tired of it. The market share of ABC, NBC, and CBS has fallen for years and we all know print media is in big trouble as circulation declines every year. And their media bias is extensively documented towards “liberal” views. I put liberals in quotes, because I’m amazed how un-liberal liberals have become. They have become the outright enemies of free speech with their attacks on anything they disagree with, calling it hate speech. Anything not Politically Correct is to be shouted down, banned or censored. Scary stuff.
Finally, our Executive Director puts out a ‘Monday Message,’ you guessed it, every Monday, to over 100,000 people who’ve signed up to receive our message
BTR: The mainstream media would have Americans believe that the Tea Party is a more mainstream version of Libertarianism. How much do you actually think that movement actually has in common with your party and its platform?
MH: While the Libertarian Party and libertarianism is part of the economic core of the Tea Party movement, there are massive inconsistencies within some segments of the Tea Party movement. As will all movements the size of the Tea Party (which incidentally isn’t a party in the legal sense of the word), there are factions. The two main factions that I’m aware of are the Tea Party Patriots and the Tea Party Express. As I understand things, the Tea Party Express has been co-opted by the establishment wing of the Republican Party. The Tea Party Patriots, on the other hand, eschew any official connection to the Republican Party. And many of them tell me privately they loath the current leadership of the Republican Party. They label them ‘RINO’s (Republicans In Name Only). It’s a four-letter word to them.
The Tea Party Patriots see Obama as the enemy, but the current Republican leadership are traitors and, as such, are far worse.
But John Stossel noted on his show that a poll of the Tea Party supporters found 63% did NOT want to cut military spending, Social Security, and Medicare. Libertarians say if you want a balanced budget with no tax increases, you’ve got to cut all three of these sacred cows. There’s just no way around it. Libertarians want to end the foreign wars and that will allow for massive military spending cuts. Social Security is a government ponzi scheme that can’t be sustained. The sooner the government ends that welfare program, the better. And Medicare drives up the cost of medical care, lowers the availability of medical care, and increases the wait time for medical care. It’s all bad. There are two areas of medical care where the government doesn’t intervene: plastic surgery and Lasik eye surgery. Those costs are decreasing, whereas all other areas where the government is involved, those costs are increasing. There is a connection…..and it’s a bad one. To increase availability and innovation in medicine, get the government out of the way. To reduce the cost, get the government out of the way. To increase the quality of care, get the government out of the way.
Fortunately, the vast majority of Tea Party supporters are focused on economic issues and there we Libertarians can work side by side with them.
On the other hand, when you discuss civil liberties with them, there we have to draw the line. They are primarily social conservatives when it comes to civil liberties. They support the failed War on Drugs, whereas we favor the end to prohibition… again. They think government should define who can, and can’t, get married. We libertarians think it’s none of the governments’ business. They oppose abortion and we libertarians, again, think it’s none of the government’s business.
I like to think of our Libertarian Party platform as a three legged stool, with free market economics, civil liberties and a non-interventionist foreign policy as equally strong legs.
No matter what the surface, with a sturdy three legged stool, you’ll have a firm foundation to stand on. Remove any of the legs and it falls down.
BTR: In 2008, Ron Paul (who to many who watch television is the mainstream media’s chosen face of Libertarianism) endorsed the Constitution Party’s candidate for President when he failed to gain the Republican nomination. Did this disappoint you since the Constitution Party espouses several socially conservative beliefs?
MH: Yes, it was disappointing but primarily because it was avoidable. There were some back room personality conflicts, that didn’t involved either Ron Paul or Bob Barr as far as I know, that led to the fiasco. I blame several campaign staffers from both camps for that mess. By the way, Ron Paul remains a lifetime member of the Libertarian Party and we’re delighted he remains a member. He truly is a champion of freedom and we wish him well.
BTR: With the establishment GOP and its Presidential candidates toning down its rhetoric when it comes to social issues (i.e. fighting the War on drugs, defending traditional marriage), do you see any new major defections from their party to yours in the future? For instance, like how former Republican Congressman Bob Barr brought great exposure to the party by running as the libertarian presidential candidate?
MH: Well, funny you should ask. I can’t name names, but there “may” be a defection from the Republican Party later this year. It’s really too early to speculate beyond that. How’s that for a tease?
BTR: On the grassroots level or even over the internet, do you find it more difficult to court the support of social liberals or fiscal conservatives? Further, does this necessarily depend on the political climate and what party happens to be in charge at the moment?
MH: Fiscal conservatives, in my experience, are more loyal to the Republican Party than liberals towards the Democratic Party. Conservatives keep hoping against hope that the republican leadership will hold true to the long ago Republican Party that once valued limited government and every election cycle, the Republican Party leadership disappoints them. The Republican leadership is just like Lucy who always fools Charlie Brown by pulling the football away just as he’s about to kick it.
For more information on the Libertarian Party and their efforts, you visit their website at www.lp.org.
If you’re interested in hearing more about American third parties, as I become engrossed in doing my research for this piece, check out this 2008 Presidential Debate between third party candidates here: