Idealist and Strategist
“So Rothbard often had to make political decisions by weighing the foreign-policy question against a candidate’s domestic program. For example, let’s fast-forward 40 years to the presidential elections of the 1990s. Pat Buchanan challenged George Bush for the Republican nomination, saying that Bush had made two unforgivable errors: he waged an unjust war against Iraq and he raised taxes. Did Rothbard support Buchanan? You bet. And he worked overtime trying to get Buchanan up to speed on broader economic issues while defending him against the ridiculous charges of the left.
But Buchanan lost the nomination, and refused to pursue a third-party option. Rothbard then turned to Perot as the candidate worth rooting for, and on the same grounds: Perot blasted Bush’s war and his taxes. Then Perot suddenly pulled out. That left Bush and Clinton, whose foreign policy was no different from Bush’s but whose domestic policy was worse.
Rothbard then supported Bush against Clinton. His very controversial column appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and it garnered more hate mail than Rothbard had ever received in his life. Many libertarians (not famous for strategic acumen or catching the subtleties of such matters) were shocked by his non-interest in the LP nominee. But by that time, Rothbard was convinced that the LP was running a presidential campaign in name only, that it was a clique devoted not to politics but to lifestyle.
Had Rothbard become a Republican? Far from it: two years later, he blasted Newt Gingrich in the Washington Post even before the new Republican Congress under Newt’s leadership had assembled. Had he become a Buchananite? Take a look at his 1995 piece, reprinted in The Irrepressible Rothbard, in which he predicts that in 1996 Pat would concentrate on protectionism to the exclusion of every other important subject. He was getting trapped into “becoming just another variety of ‘Lane Kirkland Republican’.” That article sent the Buchananites through the roof. But it foreshadowed the fall of yet another promising political force.
The point that few people could fully grasp about Rothbard was his complete independence of mind. He had one party to which he was unfailingly loyal: the party of liberty. All institutions, candidates, and intellectuals were measured by their adherence to that standard and their ability to promote it. Neither did he make (as the old conservative cliché has it) “the perfect the enemy of the good,” as his argument for Bush over Clinton demonstrates. He was always eager to prevent the greater evil in the course of advancing human liberty.
Indeed, Rothbard was a tough-as-nails strategist and thinker, one who was breathtakingly creative as an intellectual force but refused blind devotion to conventional wisdom or any institution or individual that promoted it. Such a man is bound to make enemies. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t run across some wild misunderstanding of his life and work, some outrageous calumny spread by those who know he can no longer answer them, some crazy theory claiming to be an extension of Rothbardian ethics, or, worse, a wildly distorted presentation of history that demonizes Rothbard’s role in some political affair.”