I wrote this essay Wednesday night for FrumForum to publish, but it’s outdated now. I kinda like it, though, so here it is.
“Hi, I’ll be your token Capitalist for the evening. Shall we bring down a Governor?”
That’s been my tag line since I entered the Wisconsin state Capitol at 1pm Sunday, prepared to spend the night but expecting to get arrested. I was wearing a business suit, with the phone numbers to legal hot lines and tolerant friends with cars inked on my arms. The plan was to meet in front of the state Supreme Court with some business colleagues to talk about organizing so we could deal with a hostile market and the people responsible for making it worse. I showed up early. None of my colleagues made it into the building.
How does a young business woman who once identified as an aggressive Libertarian wind up spending the night with hippies, union thugs, and a cornucopia of Wisconsin law enforcement? I blame the Tea Party, though honestly, that probably wouldn’t have been enough anywhere other than Wisconsin.
“What do you mean by ‘Capitalist?’” I got asked, when I mentioned that the “Without money we’d all be rich,” and “Capitalism is the problem,” signs were a touch…dumb. It’s a fair question, and one I’ve been answering since I first started identifying as a Libertarian back in high school. It’s easy to answer, too: I mean a market system where trade between people is mediated by currency, where competition along with supply and demand combine to create efficiency and determine market value, and where the actors in the market have the freedom to determine the manner of their participation. It’s a system where there are winners and losers, but which should become more robust and effective the bigger it gets. If he were around today, I suspect Adam Smith and I would buy each other drinks.
I’m not one for half-measures, so I bought the whole of the Libertarian platform. That means I spent the years of the Bush presidency wondering why I had to resort to the left-leaning blogosphere to find people as shrill and upset as I was about things like violations of the first and eighth amendments, secret prisons, torture, and domestic wiretapping. I signed up for the Libertarian mailing lists and went looking for the Libertarian society meetings, but that just turned up Reason magazine and a few people pining for the gold standard. The gold standard?
Clearly, the Libertarians and I had a conflict of priorities, but I could cope with that. We still agreed about everything. “Uhm, you just tested as more Libertarian than me,” said a recruiter for a fledgling Libertarian society, after scoring my answers to the world’s shortest political quiz. Apparently he’d never seen anybody test as bona fide, 100% Libertarian ideologue before.
Then Obama came along. Here at last, in theory, was somebody who would share my righteous indignation on rampant violations of civil liberties. By this time I was very familiar with what a real socialist looks like, so I snickered quietly while Libertarians worked themselves into hysterics over this new commie socio-fascist menace. I might have minded more, but I was enjoying having a dog in the presidential race for the first time and let it slide. My quiet news addiction turned into a full-on obsession. Even if my fellow Libertarians were frustrating in their refusal to accept that our democracy could recover from high taxes and socialized health care but not an erosion of civil liberties, at least the left-leaning blogosphere was with me in welcoming a better future.
If you remember the summer of the presidential election, then you already know what happened next. Obama voted for the FISA restructuring bill, which gave the executive frightening powers and granted immunity to the telecoms who rolled over for Bush’s illegal wiretapping program. Worse, his response to the people who were upset about it boiled down to a patronizing, “I’m doing this, so get over it.” Absent any reason to vote for him, I said goodbye to my chances at voting for a winning presidential candidate and started researching the third party options available.
There I was, just as upset and angry at Obama as my fellow Libertarians, but for completely different reasons. They were watching the Tea Party form and salivating at a chance to play in the prime time, and I was bitter at getting tossed aside by my chance. Sara Palin’s introduction to the political arena was a low point.
It was when anti-abortion Libertarian candidates started showing up on the news with the Tea Party that my Libertarian label became a real problem. I was tired of explaining that I’m Libertarian but not Tea Party. “I don’t think the government should tell us what to do with our guns or punish us for achieving wealth, but I also don’t think it gets to tell me what to do with my body or who I get to marry. I’m just like you, except consistent.” I went shopping for a new label. Ultimately, I decided to keep it simple: Angry.
I’m there for the Tea Party when it squawks about how we should return to the values of the constitution and the Bill of Rights. The government should follow its own rules. The processes laid out in our founding documents are important because they check government power and protect the liberty of the citizens. The framework for my political opinions hasn’t changed since I was sixteen, but the political landscape has.
When the governor of Wisconsin decided to ignore pesky things like the legislative process, the rights of local communities to work with their employees to determine fair value for their labor, and the public’s constitutional right (see article 1 of the Wisconsin state constitution) to enter their Capitol, there was only one thing for this angry young white-collar business woman to do. I’m not leaving this building until I have a solid guarantee that I’ll be able to enter it again, or I’m arrested.
People have compared the Wisconsin situation of the last few weeks to Nazi Germany, 1960’s America and Egypt circa 2010.
I’m told they’ve erected concrete barriers around the building, and put sharp shooters on high rises. There are people sleeping on the lawn even though this is winter, in Wisconsin. A lady who introduces herself by her Native American nickname is teaching people about acupressure points and earlier today a group of eight protesters avoided arrest by steadfastly singing a lot. There is no correct historical parallel here. This place is weird, and I want out. But not before I strike a blow for Democracy. And Capitalism. Somebody has to.