Promoting Libertarianism, John Ramsey Plays The Long Game
Ron Paul’s presidential campaign was unique in the history of the libertarian movement, attracting more serious attention than those of any of his libertarian predecessors. Campaigning as an unabashed libertarian, yet working inside the Republican Party, his failure to wrestle the party away from its base among neo-cons and the religious right disappointed his legions of idealistic young supporters. Many were left wondering: Will the libertarian dream of peace, freedom, and limited government fade away after the quirky old Congressman rides off into the sunset?
Not if a young campaign volunteer named John Ramsey has anything to do with it.
I had the pleasure of meeting this earnest young founder of the Liberty for All SuperPAC when he tracked me down, made his first visit to Boston, and spent the afternoon walking around our country’s cradle of liberty talking politics, economics, history, and crayfish vs. oysters.
You may have read about John, the 23-year old heir to his grandfather’s small-town Texas banking and real estate fortune, after he inserted himself and his PAC money into two obscure Republican primaries in Kentucky and Michigan. His timely expenditures in the half-million-dollar range helped the libertarian candidates crush their machine-Republican opponents. While his beginner’s luck didn’t hold up when he backed a black, gay libertarian businessman against an entrenched incumbent in the Democratic primary for Travis County, Texas constable, that modest $35,000 loss surely yielded valuable lessons.
I didn’t know what to expect when one of Liberty for All’s staffers contacted me to set up the meeting. Given that, and not immune from the usual Northeast bigotry, I imagined a yahoo-cowboy, lucky-sperm club dilettante trying to bring some meaning to his privileged life.
Rand, Hayek, Bastiat, Friedman, Rothbard – John had studied his corpus. A summer at Oxford spent “debating communists” helped hone his rhetorical skills. He also seems to know what he doesn’t know – a rarity at a young age, especially with millions of dollars jangling in his pocket. His current mission seems to be recruiting mentors. The list he had collected so far spanned the leadership of the wider libertarian community, good choices all.
Having given up on Libertarian Party electoral ambitions back in the 1980s, I pushed back at John’s unchecked enthusiasm. What makes you think the average American will ever support liberty? Most people are deathly afraid of the responsibility that goes with freedom, thoroughly corrupted by the statist propaganda that passes for public education, and too besotted with entitlement handouts to realize that bankruptcy awaits if we continue on our current trajectory.
John patiently addressed my objections. (It took a lot of effort to get him to stop calling me “Sir.”) He explained that he is playing the long game, the results of which may not pan out in his lifetime. The PAC he founded is laser-focused on winning elections where they are actually winnable. That means avoiding large, publicity-generating national contests, while focusing down the ticket instead.
Liberty for All targets winnable elections in small congressional districts, town councils, and school boards, with maybe a mayoral contest here or there. The idea is to help launch the careers of a new generation of libertarian-leaning politicians inside both parties by studying where lightning strikes of money can tip the balance, without attracting counter-strikes by big government lobbies from either the left or right. Liberty for All’s brochure quotes Clausewitz on the need for superiority of force at the point of attack. Like I said, John has done his homework.
What I found most intriguing was hearing about how he’s worked to peel freedom-minded Republicans away from the party apparatchiks who pay lip service to limited government and then spend like drunken sailors when they win a majority. John’s gentlemanly manners only slipped while describing the shenanigans of the John Boehner Republicans that currently dominate Washington.
As I left John on the Red Line train heading over to Cambridge to visit MIT – where he is considering applying for the MBA program at Sloan School – I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow. Now there’s both a life’s work and a worthy investment of his family’s fortune, fertilizing the soil that made success like his grandfather’s possible.” It will be interesting to check in on his progress now and again. You might want to do so, too.
Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here. If you would like to have his columns delivered to you by email, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.