Prior to 2010 my interest in politics was, like that of most people, virtually non-existent. To any extent I had an opinion at all, it was simply that politicians should stand for ideals that made society more just, healthy and prosperous. I was OK with any policy that seemed to promote these goals. So, I guess I was a Liberal by default since it was mostly the liberal politicians that espoused support for such legislation. That just made sense to my idea that laws should seek to manifest those good intentions. It was a safe ideological position that made me feel good about myself, albeit in a non-involved kind of way.
In 2004, I 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 the accuracy of America’s self-identity. During my research for that book, I came across a video by Peter Schiff that amazed and intrigued me. Peter Schiff is an economist who had correctly predicted the housing crises of 2007/8. That alone wasn’t so amazing. The fact that he had explained specifically, and from clearly expounded first principles, why it would happen is what intrigued me.
In the Schiff video, I heard the term “Austrian Economics” for the first time. When I googled it, the relevant Wiki page led me to something called libertarianism. My initial reaction to this new found political philosophy was that it made a lot of sense. A friend of mine, who runs a non-profit that teaches the history and principles of liberty and freedom to folks in developing countries, recommended some books on the subject including titles by Bastiat, Hayek, and a few others.
Meanwhile, things were heating up in the campaign for presidential election of 2012. 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 think the world is full of brilliant people and will do just fine without my opinions. Nevertheless, I had been given this serious platform to talk to the left.
Like most readers of Huffington Post, I had been delighted when Obama defeated Bush’s Republicans in 2008. 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 to anyone – to see if I could actually do any good for the country.
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 know how to speak the language of the Left, so I simply wrote an article called, “If You Love Peace, Become a Blue Republican (Just for a Year)”. It went viral. The thesis 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 true 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 – who also happened to be an old, white conservative Republican, called Ron Paul.
I 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 for a new pro-liberty, pro-social political identity, and a kind of permission to break out of political tribalism for their moral principles. Not only did the article go viral, but also the term “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 national party convention.
That is quite a thought: the largest coalition for a man who the media used to call an arch-conservative (but really is nothing of the kind, at least as that word has been commonly used) was born of an article in the most Liberal of Liberal media, aimed at progressives.
I was asked to do dozens of media interviews about this new movement, and suddenly I 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 – between my original approach to American politics, benefiting perhaps from the fact that I am not born in the USA so I have a rather more detached perspective than most commentators – make a huge difference to the political debate. I had become, as a result of the operation of the free market of ideas, a political activist. My disinterest had become a passion as the belief that I was a small and insignificant cog in a large system of quite significant cogs gave way to a belief that certain ideas can, if properly show-cased, have enough power to shake the system.
While I may have been uninterested in politics prior to 2010, I have been greatly interested in my personal evolution, the importance of Love and the freedom of every one of us, as spiritual beings, to be as fully expressed as possible. As I began to understand better the political philosophy of Liberty through my research and reading the canon of pro-liberty thinkers, 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”.
Moreover, it was through reading the great thinkers of the classical liberal tradition that I learned so many important things about human nature, the nature of freedom itself, 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 how the method by which politics is done determines its outcomes more strongly than do the intentions with which politics are practiced.
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.
My training in direct sales has helped me understand that political activists are salesmen and marketers. And our product is, broadly, liberty.
As I engaged increasingly in politics – and especially in the liberty movement – I 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, that is required to win people’s hearts and minds and thereby to make the country a better place.
Our side is full of people who can’t sell or market. My calling is to put that right – to teach people who care enough about liberty that they are activists, candidates, party executives etc., 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 being delving in the fields of neurology, empirical psychology and behavior economics, moral psychology etc. , all of which speak to how we form our beliefs and act on them (or even against them).
Those of us involved in moving the dial of culture or politics are in a very difficult business – getting people to rethink entire belief systems, to admit that they were wrong about ideas that may have even been part of their very identity.
I have discovered as a liberty activist that, this set of skills and knowledge, combined with an unusually clear vision of what is wrong with America – clear because I am looking from outside the paradigm, have no party loyalty, and yet am passionate about liberty and justice – enables me to speak very powerfully to people who are concerned about their country.
Most importantly of all, I can teach people who are already engaged in activism and persuasion to become so much more effective… by showing them how to win supporters, rather than arguments.
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.