I have great respect for Tom Woods and Dave Smith. They are both smart, talented and have interesting things to say. However, their recent conversation on Woods’ podcast about the problems with Justin Amash’s candidacy was not very persuasive.
Woods and Smith focused a great deal on Amash’s temperament and how he conveys his ideas in public. For example, Woods took issue with Amash’s arguments regarding the right process for going to war. I found this criticism odd because it’s a point Ron Paul has made consistently over the years: only Congress can declare war.
Does that mean Amash and other libertarians shouldn’t emphasize the barbarism of war? Absolutely not. But even insisting on a declaration of war and promising to bring troops home in the absence of a declaration sets Amash apart from the vast majority of people in Congress. Additionally, Amash recently tweeted the U.S. should only get involved in just wars. Woods and Smith likely missed this tweet given the timing of their conversation, but nonetheless, it demonstrates Amash’s commitment to a rational and constitutional foreign policy.
Woods and Smith also criticized Amash for not coming out forcefully enough against the lockdowns, claiming he is focusing too much on procedure. But procedure is important. Following the proper legislative process can preserve liberty—not always, of course, but more so than a governor or president unilaterally making decisions. Still, Amash has criticized the lockdowns, as demonstrated by his opposition to the Michigan governor’s absurd abuse of power in response to COVID-19.
More recently, in an interview with Reason’s Nick Gillespie, Amash questioned the need for mandatory lockdowns, pointing out that people voluntarily isolated when the threat from the virus was apparent. Could Amash have been more strident in his criticism? Sure. Would it have been wise to do so? Probably not. And I see this as one of the dividing points among libertarians. Amash is, temperamentally, a moderate. He doesn’t throw verbal bombs. His style isn’t in-your-face.
Woods and Smith are concerned about his approach because they feel, given the times, someone needs to stand in stark contrast to Biden and Trump. However, in the past, both Woods and Smith have defended the strategy of meeting people where they are and not leading with radical suggestions—like abolishing the CIA—because many people aren’t ready for that. And I agree with them.
However, I do feel Amash strikes the right balance between being principled and politically savvy in how he presents libertarian ideas. I think Woods and Smith are overly critical of the latter and don’t give Amash nearly enough credit for the former.
To be fair, Woods and Smith did acknowledge Amash as being one of the best people in Congress during their conversation. That’s why so many people are excited about Amash’s candidacy. It’s also the reason why admonishing Amash about his position on something like the Paycheck Protection Program is unfair given his record, not to mention the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic—and many libertarians, at least initially, were divided or hesitant about offering a solution for dealing with COVID-19.
Finally, on the impeachment issue, Woods and Smith went after Amash for being complicit in a coup because Amash supported impeaching the president. Smith and Woods took issue with the impeachment process, which is interesting considering they criticized Amash for emphasizing process problems on other issues earlier in their conversation. Smith even went so far as to suggest Amash shouldn’t be the Libertarian Party nominee because he sided with the CIA in trying to impeach the president. Yet, if we turn this argument around, it would place Smith and Woods on the side of Trump, whose libertarian bona fides are lacking to say the least.
Of course, Smith and Woods are solid on pretty much every issue, so to try and label them Trump supporters would be laughable. Likewise, Amash had his own reasons for impeachment, some of which could be described as libertarian. The fact that he found himself on the same side as some U.S. intelligence officials does not mean we should label him as a supporter of the “deep state.”
Though I’m not a fan of the Libertarian Party, if Amash gets the nomination, I will vote for him because he represents a radical (on issues) departure from the bipartisan consensus committed to increasing the size and scope of government.
I know libertarians will continue to disagree, but we need to give Amash some grace. It’s not necessary or even advisable that he always come across as a Rothbardian when given the chance.
Image: Gage Skidmore