Ed Crane on Presidential Politics and the Libertarian Movement

There has been a lot of internal debate within the libertarian movement between “Beltway Libertarians” and those not so attached to the DC political machine. Some have accused certain institutions of being pro-war or anti-Ron Paul. This interview of Cato President Ed Crane sheds a bit more light on both issues.

A bit of the history of the conflict:

Friends and Cato colleagues describe Crane as passionate and forceful, a strong leader. Detractors say he’s a hard-driving bully. Murray Rothbard, a former friend and Cato board member, once accused Crane of having “a cloven hoof.”

Crane on presidential candidates:

Ed Crane doesn’t really like politicians, nor, for that matter, people who do. So it’s not surprising that the president of the libertarian Cato Institute is brimming with caustic opinions about the presidential race.

“I’m amazed that people take a candidate like [Mike] Huckabee, who doesn’t believe in evolution, seriously,” said Crane, who presides over a Washington think tank famous for telling the government to butt out of people’s lives.

Rudy Giuliani’s approach to civil liberties “scares the hell out of me,” Crane said, and Mitt Romney doesn’t know the difference between being a president and being a dictator. Ron Paul is a friend, he added, but “I mean, he wants to build a wall. How can a libertarian be anti-immigration?” John McCain “is disdainful of free speech” and “hawkish,” Crane said, “and there’s a certain pomposity about the guy I find unattractive.”

On the Democratic side, he derides John Edwards for posing as “the candidate of the downtrodden and getting $400 haircuts, the hypocrisy reeks.” Hillary Clinton, Crane said, is “dishonest and shrill … calculating, manipulating.” Barack Obama “seems like a nice guy,” but then again, “do you want this guy standing up to al Qaeda?” If he absolutely had to vote, which he wouldn’t and never does, Crane said, “I guess I’d vote for Ron Paul, because he’s for the market and against the war.”

A bit of LP history:

Crane left it all to become chairman of the Libertarian Party with the goal of making it a national force. He remembered walking into the hall at the first Libertarian Party convention in a Denver hotel in 1972 and being stunned by the collection of misfits who shared his ideals.

“I always knew it was important, from a Libertarian standpoint, to be tolerant of alternative lifestyles, but until I went to that convention, I had no idea just how many alternatives there were,” he said. “There were all kinds of crazies there — gold bugs, Ayn Rand fanatics, anarchists — but they were good people interested in liberty.”

He managed Libertarian candidate Ed Clark’s 1980 presidential run, and Clark got the largest share of votes that the Libertarian Party has ever won — 1.05 percent. “I gave up,” Crane said. “I thought that was the one shot we had to try to establish a Libertarian Party, and when we didn’t, I just left it.”

Some libertarian credentials:

Cato takes no official position on anything. As for Crane, he’s against the religious right and for gay marriage, to the extent that he’s for marriage at all. (He and his wife, Kristina, were married in China, at People’s Marriage Office No. 9 in Shanghai, after the libertarian in him balked at asking the government here to endorse their relationship.) He’s against the war in Iraq. (“An unprovoked, pre-emptive war is just insanity!”) He’s for free markets, free speech and lower taxes. He’s passionate about getting rid of Social Security and replacing it with private retirement accounts that people would own and could pass on to their children when they die. But his No. 1 issue, he said, is making sure America develops “humility” in foreign affairs and stops thinking it can just barge in and “spread democracy.”

31 Responses to “Ed Crane on Presidential Politics and the Libertarian Movement”

  1. Jim Says:

    I regret every nickel I ever sent to Cato.

  2. Fred C. Says:

    “He and his wife, Kristina, were married in China, at People’s Marriage Office No. 9 in Shanghai, after the libertarian in him balked at asking the government here to endorse their relationship.”

    So as a libertarian, he’d rather get hitched by communist government? Or does Chinese marriage work differently?

  3. Richard Winger Says:

    Over and over, people say that the best the Libertarian Party ever did nationwide was in 1980, when it got 1.06% for president. People ought to pay attention to the nationwide vote for US House. In 2000, the Libertarian Party’s candidates for US House got 1,727,157 votes, which was 1.78% of all the votes cast in the USA for that office. That is the party’s best national showing.

    Every voter gets at least two votes, in November of even-numbered years…president, and US House. So there are two sets of data, in presidential election years. But people only pay attention to one of them.

  4. Robert Capozzi Says:

    If I recall, the story goes that he didn’t want to get “married” by the State, but since they were going to China anyway, they’d get married there as a compromise. At least he wasn’t getting married in a place that he had to deal with the State on a day-to-day basis.

    Not exactly my cup of tea, but whatever floats your boat, I say.

  5. Fred C. Says:

    Thanks Robert, that clears it up a bit.

  6. Red Phillips Says:

    “I’m amazed that people take a candidate like [Mike] Huckabee, who doesn’t believe in evolution, seriously,” said Crane

    That is just the kind of look down your nose elitism that drives people crazy about the beltway cosmoterian crowd. Huck did not say he was a young earth creationist. He said God is responsible for the world we live in. That is an entirely mainstream position and one shared by the majority of Americans. (Since God claims to be the Creator, no real Christian could believe otherwise, although they may disagree over the exacty way He went about it.) It is dogmatic materialism and naturalism and the total rejection of the Supernatural that is the outlying belief.

  7. G.E. Says:

    So Crane’s real complaint vs. Paul is that he wants to build a border wall. Well, that isn’t true, so I guess he has no complaints, huh?

  8. G.E. Says:

    What relevance does a belief’s “mainstream-ness” or “outlyer-ness” have to do with anything? Want some “outlying” ideas?

    Abolish the IRS
    Abolish the CIA
    Abolish the Fed

    What disgusts me about “conservatives” is their rejection of liberty in favor of majoritarianism. That’s more offensive than any cultural elitism from the Cosmotarian crowd.

  9. johncjackson Says:

    I agree with his issue with the Wall, but I believe Paul has called the idea of a wall “’offensive.” So I agree with G.E.

    I also find it funny that some so-called Ron Paul supporters HATE Crane, when he has just stated that he agrees with Ron Paul, unless Paul wants a wall. That ( and clearly opposing the war) wont stop them from calling him a pro-war neo-con and other ridiculous names.

  10. Ha Chew Says:

    I get a lot of mail asking me to support various libertarian groups like CATO. Until they support the Libertarian Party, I’ll hold off from supporting these groups and magazines. I understand they can’t as 501C, but they, as individuals can always join the LP.

  11. Red Phillips Says:

    G.E., I understand your point, but Crane is implying that Huckabee not “believing in evolution” (whatever that means) is some kind of crazy position that would cause people to reject his candidacy. If anything, it would attract a lot of people to him.

    Evolution is some sort of a “sophistication” litmus test with the cosmoterians. Look at the reaction to Ron Paul’s comments on the subject. If you are less than a 100% materialist you need not apply.

    All you open borders libertarians need to read Hoppe on the subject of immigration. Nothing better illustrates the ideological madness of some libertarians than immigration. See how much freedom you have when America becomes a Third World Socialist wasteland. News flash, all those new immigrants ain’t going to vote LP or even GOP. You are writing your own ticket to total irrelevancy.

  12. Itch aka Dick Masterson Says:

    Not exactly my cup of tea, but whatever floats your boat, I say.

    Dudes, isn’t that a mixed metaphor or some mangled cliche shit. Fucking up English. Hating on grammar. That’s manly. I respect that.

  13. G.E. Says:

    Red - Let’s say I accept your views on evolution, and I accept that this is the majoritarian view (I’m not sure it is). So what? What if the majoritarian view was that the sun revolved around the Earth, as it once was? The popularity or unpopularity of a view has NOTHING to do with its legitimacy. In fact, I would argue that if there is a correlation, it is a negative one.

    Maybe Hoppe should read Mises. I’ll take my Austrian economics from the Dean, not one of his pupils.

    johnjackson - Point being, though, that it’s pitiful that you and I know Paul’s position on the wall, but Ed Crane doesn’t. He’ll find something else to disqualify Paul once he finds out the obvious truth about Paul’s wall stance. Basically, it’s going to come down to the fact that Paul doesn’t openly embrace and aggrandize “alternative lifestyles.” They’ll try to use any other excuse first, but that’s Paul’s real “crime.”

  14. matt Says:

    Just last week one of the Cato Institute fellows posted an article on their website calling for Congress to ensure continued domestic wiretapping.

    The author, Roger Pilon, was probably trying to endear himself to mainstream conservatives in hopes that they will warm to Cato, but they won’t, because they can’t afford to lose the religious right and the Cato pay scale seems to be based on how many barbs each employee can shoot at that constituency.

  15. Fred C. Says:

    GE: do you think evolution is a legitimate issue in a presidential contest?

  16. Red Phillips Says:

    G.E. you are missing the point. Crane, who apparently never gets outside his insulated Beltway circle, is implying that “not believing in evolution” should disqualify Huckabee. He is “amazed” that it doesn’t. If he is so “amazed” then he is obviously clueless about how all those people he obviously considers rubes in flyover country think. Obviously I reject the purely naturalistic and materialist explanation of man’s origins, but the rightness or wrongness of that view is not really the point. The point is that Crane’s statement makes him sound like a totally clueless elitist.

    G.E., once all those immigrants pour in, become citizens and start voting, do you really think you will be able to convert them to libertarian (or Libertarian) politics? Keep dreaming buddy. Look at how recent immigrants vote. OVERWHELMINGLY Democrat. Open immigration should be called the Enshrine the Democrats from Now to Eternity Act. More later.

  17. Susan Hogarth Says:

    Red writes “All you open borders libertarians need to read Hoppe on the subject of immigration.”

    This open-borders libertarian has read Hoppe - and has taken a week-long seminar from him. I’m a big fan of Hoppe’s philosophy. Because of this I gave (and give) probably a disproportionate ear to his views on immigration. But after all that, at this time I’m even more an open-borders L/libertarian than before. I suppose I have Hoppe to thank for encouraging me think carefully about the issue.

    G.E.: “Dean”? Why not glorify Menger instead of Mises? Where do you draw the line? Mises’ insights can certainly be improved, and it’s at least conceivable that Hoppe has made some of those improvements.

  18. G.E. Says:

    Red - Crane is clearly “totally clueless” by his assertion that Ron Paul is for the border wall. He is clearly an “elitist” by virtue of his other statements made over time. I don’t care what your view on evolution is. The point is that whatever your view is, it is neither reinforced nor diminished by the number of people who share your view. Making that argument is an argument for the status quo; an argument against liberty and in favor of the tyranny of the majority.

    Next, your xenophobia leads you to central planning. So let me get this straight, you want a wall to keep immigrants out, and a political elite to determine who gets in based on their presumed or affirmed political philosophies? That elite, of course, has to be YOUR elite, not the other side’s. And this is going to work toward the optimum division of labor and maximized utility, right? Oh, and once we have this wall, it could NEVER be used by our leaders to keep us in, could it? After all, our leaders in your world are very trustworthy and would never do anything wrong. Keep dreaming.

    Susan - You’re right. Mises deserves no prominence among the Austrians. He isn’t widely considered the “Dean” of Austrian economics (a term used by Rothbard in Betrayal of the American Right). Menger came first, and therefore, he is the only one who should be glorified. . . And yet, I’m not aware of anything Menger had to say about immigration. Mises did. Ron Paul is primarily a student of Mises, and therefore his views are relavent to this conversation.

  19. G.E. Says:

    Fred - Yes, I do. If one’s position on global warming is relevant, then why not evolution? It certainly IS relevant to a large number of fundamentalist Christians. So why shouldn’t secularists and atheists take it into consideration when forming a comprehensive view of a candidate? It would not be a litmus test to me, but I would have a hard time putting a lot of confidence in someone as irrational as to believe the world is only 3,000 years old.

  20. Susan Hogarth Says:


    Let’s try to de-escalate on the hyperbole. I’ve never suggested Mises “deserves no prominence among the Austrians”; rather, I was trying to get you to identify why you considered Mises as more authoritative than both those who came before him and those who came after him. This is a question that always interests me. You answered it with “Ron Paul is primarily a student of Mises, and therefore his views are relavent to this conversation.” I hadn’t realized that to you this discussion was primarily about Paul’s views on immigration.

    Frankly I’m not sure Paul’s views on immigration square very well with Mises’. I wonder if they are more in line with Hoppe’s. But for all I know there is no substantive conflict among the three of them; I do thank you for prodding me back to the text of Human Action :)

  21. Fred C. Says:

    “Yes, I do. If one’s position on global warming is relevant, then why not evolution?”

    My concern is that people are judging the candidates by standards that are at most, peripherally related to the president’s actual duties.

    Global warming is relevant because people are looking for action: whether it be to enforce leftist controls on industry, or enforce property rights against emissions, or (in the case of skeptics) to prevent substantial action from being taken. On the other hand, I don’t want the president to take action on evolution; I don’t want him to influence natural selection or coerce an omnipotent deity to create beings ex nihilo, I don’t want him checking textbooks or funding the bonfires of the same. At the very least, it would unconstitutional. If he’s going to do his job and keep his authority away from matters not in his job description, then I couldn’t care less what our differences might be concerning natural history.

  22. G.E. Says:

    Good points, Fred. But what would you think of a presidential candidate who thought that inserting ice cream into a computer’s CD-Rom drive allowed him to communicate with Chuck Norris from beyond the grave, who is actually dead and the current Norris is a robotic impersonator created by lizard men and sent from the future? Better yet, what if the candidate wasn’t 100% sure of this, but maybe 50% sure. It would not impact his policy decisions, but what would it say for his rationality?

    I am not a member of the state church of evolution, but the fucking world is more than 4,000 years old. That is just a fact, not a theory of any kind. And anyone who says otherwise is either mentally retarded or so divorced from reality as to be dangerous.

  23. Fred C. Says:

    You tripped me up with that 50% bit, ultimately I would have to say that anyone willing to concede that they might be wrong on something is necessarily more reasonable than someone that can’t.

    Sure, the stench of retardation and delusion foul the air in either case. On the other hand (and please don’t take this for majoritarianism!), if large swarms of people treated it as a core belief, countless books both refuting and corroborating the basic ideas and supporting evidence were written on the subject, experts and would-be experts with the same set of letters by their names debated the matter ad nauseum with the smug superiority only academics can muster, and the whole damn thing became part of our political discourse for years, I can see how an otherwise sane person can be led astray. And all these being the case, I ultimately can’t dismiss an otherwise competent person outright just for holding a silly idea that isn’t going to affect his job performance.

    Of course, this is all straying a bit off topic. Huckabee’s a horse’s ass that isn’t fit to be president of a fan club, and there are plenty of damn better reasons for Ed Crane to not take him seriously.

  24. Red Phillips Says:

    G.E., you have the mindset of a third party advocate in your reflexive hostility to “majoritarianism.” Your arguments are not really addressing my point.

    First, to explain where I am coming from I am a paleoconservative, not a libertarian. Conservatives have long been skeptical of unfettered majority rule. Paleoconservatives are often accused of pessimism and grumpiness because they see modern mass popular culture as bass. So we are by no means majoritarians, especially today’s majority. But we do see as very important the wisdom of the ages and the wisdom of our forefathers. We esteem the lessons taught to us by history and tradition. We value the institutional and cultural wisdom that is inherently a part of any stable, healthy society.

    Now I am sure we would both agree that the federal government should strictly follow the Constitution, for example. The majority of people at this point in time don’t agree, unfortunately. If they did Ron Paul would be running away with it. So in that case, we feel the majority is wrong and we are right. I agree entirely that raw numbers do not make the majority viewpoint right. But it is an overstatement to say that how the majority feels about something is irrelevant. The vast majority of people believe the world to be round and only a very few believe it to be flat for a reason.

    My point was that Ed Crane was coming off as an ungracious snob and that he needs to get out and rub elbows with the common folk every now and then. How that was taken to be some sort of defense of majoritarianism forever and always, I’m not sure.

    On immigration, you, as a libertarian, share an ideological assumption with the neoconservatives and most “mainstream conservatives.” (All three of which are a type of liberal historically speaking.) That America is a “proposition nation.” That if we allow unfettered immigration then all the new immigrants will come here and simply adopt our “propositions” and everything will be peachy. But we are not a proposition nation. We are a particular nation like all others. The Founders understood this as did the vast majority of American until maybe 50 years ago. The whole idea of a proposition nation is an entirely modern Enlightenment liberal conceit.

    If you allow massive numbers of immigrants into a nation over a short period of time as we have since the 1965 Immigration Act, it can’t help but change the fundamental character of the nation and result in Balkanization. Don’t you think it would change the fundamental nature of Japan, for example, if massive numbers of Mexicans poured in over a short period of time (forgetting for the sake of the argument the differences in land mass)? It so clearly would that it is not even worth debating. But America (and the West in general) is somehow supposed to be exempt from this because Japan is a nasty little ethnic state and America is a grand “proposition nation?” Ask the French how well their recent Muslim immigrants are assimilating. Ask the long term residents of LA if the Mexican immigrants are assimilating. We are I guess exempt from the forces that have shaped all of human history because G.E. wishes it so. There is a name for that - grand ideological delusion.

    One problem with libertarians is that they share with Marxist the reductionist view of economic man. For example you state “And this is going to work toward the optimum division of labor and maximized utility, right?” I don’t necessarily disagree that open borders maximizes “utility” and the “division of labor” in some absurdly reductionist economic way, but who said that utility is the highest good that free self governing people seek? This is the point Hoppe makes. Can free people not value stability, continuity, homogeneity, etc. more than utility and efficiency? And that is arguing on your terms. Look down through history and tell me where utility has historically ranked as a unifying ideal that holds a society together. Take off your ideological blinders. There is a real world out that that requires dealing with.

  25. G.E. Says:

    Fred - I agree that “an otherwise sane person” could be “led astray” by a super widely held cultural belief. That reflects poorly on them, mostly because chances are that they don’t REALLY believe it themselves (I have a hard time believing a college-educated person could believe the world is 3,000 years old), so they’re dishonest. However, I wouldn’t fully disqualify someone for holding that belief. But it would count against them.

    Red - The vast majority of people believe the world to be round and not flat for a reason—IT’S TRUE. But even accepting this belief was, at one point, a rebellion against your “paleo” conservatism. I agree that Ed Crane is a snob and have said so. But I do not agree with your methodology in characterizing him as a snob, and I think it’s indicative of the problem with conservatism—“might makes right.” Thus, any justification that can be used to support a point—in this case, majoritarianism—is used. And then, when it’s not useful, it’s discarded. The same with your “traditions.” Well, the traditional order is for there to be a king, an aristocratic elite, and bondage for the rest of humanity. This IS what the original conservatives fought to “conserve,” but modern conservatives—even “paleos”—just discard a principle whenever it isn’t convenient for their hodge-podge worldview. Essentially, the worldview of a conservative is “Everybody should be like me and have my values.”

    Now Red goes on to diss the Enlightenment and show the true discord between conservatives (even the paleo variety) and libertarians—the heirs of the laissez-faire classical liberals who were the opponents of the feudalist classical conservatives. Really, what was the immigration policy of the founding fathers? I’m not aware they had one. IN THE ABSENCE OF THE WELFARE STATE, AND IN THE PRESENCE OF A STRICTLY LIMITED GOVERNMENT, there is no need for one. You are treating a symptom that is a problem caused by big government—you are applying a topical ointment to welfare statism so that it can endure. You are thus, a welfare statist yourself, and a central planner to boot.

    Would immigration change the nature of Japan? Sure. Good. Japan sucks. They are the racist, monocultural, male-dominated, anti-liberty society that you want for America—oh, and with a much more generous welfare state, much greater regulations, etc., than we have here.

    I don’t care if Mexicans assimilate. I care only if they initiate force against me or my property. If they don’t, then they can do whatever they want in peace.

    I don’t seek “unity.” I seek individualism and peace. And I do seek material wealth at the expense of no one else—and I have no wish to deprive anyone else of similarly seeking that aim. No one has the right to deny me my pursuit of happiness, as you would wish to do.

    Unlike you, I do not care if my neighbors speak Spanish, sodomize one another, or if they don’t want to come to my block party. I respect their private property and ask that they respect mine.

    Your view is the view that leads to perpetual war and poverty. That IS what conservatism is about, and has always been about, after all, so you’re remarkably consistent. I’ll give you that.

  26. G.E. Says:

    Susan - Yes, this is a discussion about Ron Paul. Crane dismisses him because he’s “for a wall”—he isn’t. And I do think Paul’s immigration views square with those of Mises—read Paul’s “Austrian Economics: A Personal View.”

  27. Red Phillips Says:

    G.E. I am no monarchist, but as Hoppe and others have demonstrated, the government was MUCH less powerful and intrusive under the Kings of Europe than it is under the modern nation state.

    The Founders were keenly aware of the importance of America’s rather homogeneous Anglo and Anglo-Celtic founding stock. Would America be the same country if it had been inhabited by Mongolians who lacked a history of the Magna Carta and the Glorious Revolution? In fact, back then before the PC Cultural Marixst came along, the virtue of homogeneity as a foundation for a stable society would have been accepted as a given. Not even debated. Read John Jay’s Federalist #2. Also Google the famous quotes from Ben Franklin fretting about all the German immigrants. If he was concerned about German immigrant, I highly suspect he would have been worried about immigrants who are much more culturally distant. Read Albion’s Seed. Much of the cultural differences between the different regions of American, particularly New England and the South, have to do with which particular British Islanders happened to settle there. Those are minor differences by comparison and they lead to a War.

    You are a Utopian ideologue. You think you can just philosophize the good society and make it be. Some of us live in the real world. Yours is the prescription for chaos and tyranny. Freedom is maximized when stable social structures, institutions, etc. necessitate less government. Absent non governmental forces of stability and order, tyrants step in. Hoppe, Rothbard and other rightist paleolibertarians understand this. Leftist libertarians don’t.

  28. G.E. Says:

    It’s been a really long time since someone’s called me a “leftist libertarian.”

    It may be that kings were less oppressive than our government, but our initial republican form of government was less oppressive than feudal monarchy. That’s what I want. And I will not settle for your Communist centrally planned white nationalism as a second best.

    I’m not familiar with Hoppe. But from what I know of Rothbard, I have a hard time squaring your classical conservatism with anything he would have stood for. He was against the existence of the state. Who is to enforce your race-based immigration quotas if not a central-planning state? In a free society, you may associate or disassociate with anyone you want. You may rule over your property like a private tyrant. But you may not initiate force against others. If someone wants to initiate force against me, I don’t care if he’s a white Christian, a Mongol, a Mexican, or even a “left libertarian”—I will shoot him and move on with my day. But if the person wishes me no harm, perpetrates no misdeeds against me, then why should I care what his racial background or political philosophy is?

    I have no interested in homogeneity. I am “homophobic” in that sense, you could say. I respect each individual’s individuality. I don’t view people as cattle to be split among holsteins and longhorns, etc.

    I especially love the red baiting—calling anyone who isn’t racist a Marxist. Ron Paul is a “cultural Marxist” by your standards, then. Ironically, it is YOU making the Marxist argument for a strong central government with a centrally planned immigration policy policing the collectively owned, communized public property of the state.

  29. Andrew Says:

    Susan, Walter Block in the recent issue of Journal of Libertarian Studies explains why Hoppe’s immigration position is unworkable…FYI

  30. Susan Hogarth Says:

    Thanks, Andrew. I’ve pretty much worked that out for myself, but I’ll be delighted to have Walter Block covering-my-six on it. I am certain he is more coherent and well-written on it than I could be at this point. :)

  31. wmb Says:

    Read Hoppe! Please, get real. If I wanted to read racists who keep company with neo-Nazis and anti-Semites I’d go to Mein Kampf not to this third rate fraud who understands less about Austrian economics than he does about common decency.

    Mr. Hoppe is one of the most disgusting maggots floating around the libertarian movement today.

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