Prior to 2010 my interest in politics was virtually non-existent. To the extent I had a political opinion at all, it was simply that politicians should stand for ideals that made society more just, healthy and prosperous. I suppose, therefore, I was a Liberal by default. For me, as for so many others, the belief that laws should simply manifest good intentions was common-sensical and enabled me to feel good about myself, albeit in a non-involved kind of way.
In 2004, I had developed a website called “WatchingAmerica.com” – which translates foreign opinion and commentary into English so that Americans can see the impact they are having on others. My experience with that project prompted me to consider writing a book on America’s conception of itself.
During my research for that book, I came across a video by Peter Schiff that intrigued me. Peter Schiff is an economist who had correctly predicted the housing crisis of 2008. That alone was amazing enough, but the fact that he had explained why it would happen from clearly expounded first principles, is what really intrigued me.
In the Schiff video, I heard the term “Austrian Economics” for the first time. A Google search threw up the relevant Wiki page, which in turn led me to something called “libertarianism”. On first pass, it seemed to make a lot of sense, so I asked a friend of mine who runs a non-profit that teaches the history and principles of liberty to folks in developing countries, to recommend some books on the subject. His reply included titles by Bastiat, Hayek, and others of the “liberty canon”.
Meanwhile, things were heating up in the campaign for presidential election of 2012, and on account of my publishing WatchingAmerica.com, I had been invited by the Huffington Post to write for them.
I have to admit to a little disdain for the narcissism that fills the Internet – the idea so many people have that the world really has to hear from them. I’m all too aware that the world is already full of brilliant people and will get on just fine without my opinions.
Nevertheless, the Huffington Post was a serious platform for reaching the left so I decided to use it to promote the pro-liberty candidate that I was excited to support for president – Dr. Ron Paul.
Like most readers of the Huffington Post, I had been delighted when Obama defeated Bush’s Republicans in 2008. Back then, I believed the GOP needed to be punished for their lies, for the crony corporatism (Halliburton , the huge bank bailouts), the wars that took hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and made us no safer (Iraq), the take-down of Civil Rights (Patriot Act etc.) – all offenses against solid Liberal, let alone libertarian, principles.
So I gave myself a window: I’d write a few articles on the Huffington Post to see if I could make a difference by offering some new perspectives on America and its politics that might nudge its progressive readers to reconsider their own political choices and support the man I was rooting for, Dr. Ron Paul.
By 2011, it was clear that Obama had failed to make things better with respect to all those reasons we were happy he’d won: cronyism was worse, not better. Non-defensive wars were being escalated. And the decimation of civil rights had worsened. Obama was more Bush III than anything else.
Since I had been a progressive-by-default, I knew how to speak the language of the Left, and so wrote an article entitled, “If You Love Peace, Become a Blue Republican (Just for a Year)”. It went viral.
The thesis, quoted from the article, was simple:
After two years, we now see that Obama 1) conducts wars against countries that do not threaten us (e.g. Libya, Yemen etc.), 2) oversees large financial benefits to companies with which those in his administration were close (e.g. Goldman Sachs), 3) supports the legal framework for riding roughshod over the liberties of private individuals who are not suspected of crime (e.g. Patriot Act), and 4) is growing a massive federal apparatus to carry out such intrusions on innocent Americans in what is becoming a police state (e.g. domestic wiretapping, TSA etc. ).
Put another way, when it comes to such things as the killing of innocent people, taking from the common man to support cronies, and the elimination of the basic values that make our lives worth living, we had the hope, but we haven’t had the change.
Just as in 2000, Bush hadn’t shown his true colors, in 2008, Obama had not either. A vote for either in those years was fair enough. But in 2012, if you vote for the Democratic nominee for president, you better have a moral justification that is SO good that it is a) worth killing innocent people who don’t threaten you, b) transferring wealth to the rich and well connected, and c) the complete suspension of your right to privacy and such basic rights as protecting your child from being touched by a government official with the full force of the law behind him as he just follows his orders.
Accordingly, as the article continued, I urged liberals to stay true to their liberal principles and vote for the one man in the race for president who had a track record (and a voting ) record on those principles – against cronyism, for peace, and for civil rights. The challenge, of course, was that that man, Dr. Ron Paul, happened to be an old, white Republican whom the media at that time insisted on labeling “ultra-conservative”.
My article explained that putting a true pro-peace, pro-civil-rights candidate on any ticket would involve switching to the Republican party, if only for a year. Realizing that the Republican party stunk to many of my Huff Po readers, I wrote,
Just in case you need to make it absolutely clear for your friends at work that you have not gone to the dark side, I offer you a special moniker to set yourselves apart and give yourself a way back once you’ve done what needs to be done — “Blue Republican” — to signify, of course, your liberal sensibilities.
It turned out that many hundreds of thousands of people had been waiting unconsciously for a new pro-liberty, pro-social political identity, and a kind of permission to break out of two-party political tribalism. Not only did the article go viral, but also the term deeply “Blue Republican” resonated, giving its name to what became, almost overnight, a new movement of Americans who would put “principle before party”.
Immediately, Blue Republican became the (numerically) largest grassroots coalition behind Ron Paul’s candidacy, and remained so until the GOP’s national convention.
That is quite a thought: the largest coalition for a man who the media used to call an arch-conservative was born of an article, aimed at progressives, in the most Liberal of the Liberal media.
I was asked to do dozens of media interviews about this new movement, and I quickly discovered that I had a following. I wrote more articles along these lines, some of which made even more of a splash than the original “Blue Republican” article.
It became clear that I could make a huge difference to the political debate. My work was characterized by a highly original perspective American politics, benefiting perhaps from the fact that I am not born in the USA and so have a rather more detached view than most commentators. I had become, as a result of the operation of the free market of ideas, a political activist.
My disinterest in politics had become a passion, as the belief that I was an insignificant cog in a large system gave way to a belief that certain ideas can, if persuasively expressed, have enough power to shake that system.
Whereas I had been uninterested in politics prior to 2010, I had been greatly interested in my personal – and dare I say spiritual – evolution, including the importance of Love and of the freedom of every one of us to be as fully expressed as possible. As I began to understand better the political philosophy of Liberty through my research and reading, I came to see that Liberty is the political manifestation of Love. Why? Because if you love someone, you want for them what they want for themselves.
The system of liberty – gifted to us by our Founders in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – is the political system that similarly says to people, “As You Wish”. It is, if we stay true to it, the basis of a politics of love.
Moreover, it was through reading the great thinkers of the classical liberal tradition that I learned new and important things about human nature, the nature of freedom, and the workings of the economy that must be understood by anyone – liberal or conservative – who is really concerned with making our society a better place – healthier, more prosperous, and more just. I learned that political tribalism itself was more of a problem than was any one political tribe, and the way that politics is practiced determines its outcomes more strongly than do the intentions behind those practices.
Perhaps more importantly, as I was being asked to speak on my new principle-before-party, liberty-with-love, unifying approach to politics, I discovered my calling and how my unique life experiences and education have equipped me to do something that so many people yearn to be done, but so few people can do – and that is to unify, to communicate with people in ways that persuade even across deep political divisions.
After my undergraduate degree, I trained in direct sales, and knocked on hundreds of doors to sell books. Now, as a political activist, I still do sales, along with marketing and branding, but for an altogether different kind of product – a philosophy and the ideas that it entails.
As I have engaged more deeply in politics – and especially the liberty movement – I have noticed how most people are more concerned with winning arguments than winning supporters; more concerned in other words, with feeling that they are right than with doing the hard work of listening, understanding others, and being humble enough to win people’s hearts and minds, which is what large-scale persuasion invariably entails.
The “circle of liberty”, as my friend Jeffrey Tucker calls it, has for a long time been full of people who don’t know how – and often don’t really want to learn how – to sell or market their ideas effectively.
Thankfully that is now changing and my calling is to help it change as fast as possible by teaching anyone who cares about freedom to communicate in a way that will win supporters – rather than arguments.
For my graduate degree, I specialized in epistemology – how and why people believe as they do. On top of that, I am a scientist (physicist) by academic training, and I have for many years been delving into the fields of neurology, empirical psychology, behavioral economics, moral psychology etc. to improve my understanding of how we form and, occasionally, change our beliefs.
Those of us involved in moving the dial of culture or politics toward liberty are in a very difficult business. We have to get people to rethink entire belief systems, to admit that they were wrong about ideas that may have even been part of their very identity for a very long time.
This is why having the best ideas, the most facts and the tightest logic simply isn’t enough for our purposes.
It seems that helping to save American liberty by giving activists and communicators insights and tools that they never even knew they were missing, was the thing that all the disparate parts of my life were leading up to. The feeling of purpose that comes from this understanding is fueling my desire to have an even greater voice in this fight to bring Love into politics and Liberty into the lives of every one of our fellow humans on this planet.