Thursday, March 02, 2006

Harry Browne, 1933-2006


Harry Browne was the first presidential candidate I actually felt good about voting for -- the first one who wasn't just a "lesser evil," and the first one who didn't leave me worried that I'd regret having supported him if he actually won.

I worked for Harry's opponents (Rick Tompkins and Don Gorman) in the 1996 and 2000 Libertarian Party presidential nomination races, but once the party had decided, I still believed that we had not only the best, but the only acceptable, candidate on the ballot in November.

I'm sure that Libertarians from further back felt the same way about Ed Clark or Andre Marrou, and that newer Libertarians experienced the same thrill when pulling the lever for Michael Badnarik. But I joined the party in 1996, so for me the first great presidential candidate will always be Harry Browne.

As often as we were on opposite sides of contests and controversies within the party, it was simply impossible not to like Harry. As often as I disagreed with him on strategy, it was impossible not to admire his gift for communicating libertarian ideas in a reasonable, friendly, engaging way. I know a number of party members who got politically active after reading his Why Government Doesn't Work and/or The Great Libertarian Offer, not to mention a boatload of Old Guard libertarians who cut their teeth on How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.

Harry wasn't afraid to be right when the public was wrong or the party was divided.

He kept the LP right on the drug war before the medical marijuana dominoes began to fall, state by state and his position became "mainstream."

When he suggested during his 2000 campaign that bounties on leaders of "rogue states" were preferable to war, he was roundly ridiculed, even by many of his own party. But in early 2001, without irony or even acknowledgement, Republican congressman Bob Barr introduced a bill precisely matching Harry's prescription.

After his presidential candidacies and after 9/11, he was a leader among libertarians in principled opposition to US military adventurism, even while the vast majority of Americans screamed for the blood they are now trying in vain to wash from their hands.

In 1998, the Curbstone Critic and I were privileged to escort Harry and his lovely wife Pamela from the Springfield, Missouri airport to the state LP's convention in Branson. The Critic -- who, due mostly to his acquaintance with me, regards libertarians as a bunch of harebrained, drug-addled anarcho-hippies -- seemed charmed, although he didn't experience a political epiphany or anything of the sort (the only specifics of conversation I recall are Harry's comments on the 17th Amendment and The Critic's lecture on the geology of the Marshfield Plateau as we drove over it).

At other times, the opportunity came up to converse with Harry for a few minutes over a drink or between events at LP functions. He was always gracious. He always remembered me -- and, as far as I could tell, everyone else he'd ever met. When I stood in for candidate Aaron Russo as a guest on Harry's radio show during the 2004 nomination race, he tore me and my candidate apart ... without ever once speaking rudely or in an accusatory manner. It was always hard to go up against Harry, even when he was wrong. The raft of righteous zeal always seemed to break apart on the reef of his congenial manner, to the frustration of his detractors.

The last time I saw Harry was in Atlanta in 2004, at the Libertarian Party's national convention. He was signing copies of his latest book, Liberty A-Z: 872 Libertarian Sound Bytes You Can Use Right Now. He greeted me by name and shook my hand. The following year, he took over as president of Free Market News Network, with which I'm proud to be affiliated as a contributing editor

Harry Browne died yesterday. He was 72.

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