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Here’s the frustration about talking with a libertarian. You can agree about the issues, but when you ask about solutions, the response is not intelligible as an answer — unless you speak that libertarian jargon.
I had such a conversation recently with David Clements, who calls himself not a libertarian but a constitutional conservative. He’s running in the Republican primary for United States Senate against Allen Weh. The winner will face Sen. Tom Udall in November.
Clements is the underdog against the well-funded and better known Weh. He’s youthful, likeable, handsome, energetic and exudes earnestness.
Clements is reluctant to support any intervention by government, even to solve problems government has created. So I found it challenging to get specific answers about what he would do on major policy matters.
In the Senate, would he stick with principle, even if it leads to gridlock, or seek compromise? Gridlock sometimes serves the interests of liberty, he says, but he would work with Democrats on matters where they agree. An example he offered is reducing government surveillance of private citizens.
His positions on foreign policy are easier to understand. What should the U.S. do about Crimea, for example? No U.S. military and intervention unless it is in our national security interest, he says, and then only with the declaration of war, as the Constitution requires. What about sending arms to Ukraine, as some have suggested? Would he regard that as an act of war on our part? He says yes. We should only send arms to Ukraine if we declare war.
We should not be occupying countries or nation-building at our expense, he says. The greatest threat to our national security, he said, is our national debt. I worry more about terrorists with bombs, but I agree the debt is a very serious issue and we’re not doing nearly enough about it.
We can do more for national security by spending money at New Mexico’s national labs, researching ways to keep us safe, he says. I wonder if that’s his way of placating New Mexico economic interests while sticking with his principles.
And what about our national economy? I asked about the so-called “one percent,” who have more wealth than the rest of us combined, and the consolidation of money and power in fewer and fewer people and organizations. What would he do about that?
What we have now is not capitalism, he said. It’s corporatism or crony capitalism. Then how should we fix it? His answer was a mini-lecture on the private sector, capital formation and the virtue of the profit motive. Government misallocates resources, he said. He’s not interested in enforcing antitrust laws because he believes that should be left to consumers.
This is where we part company. I think the extreme consolidation of wealth and power is a national security issue as grave as the national debt. It occurred because of government policies, it needs to be changed by changing government policies, and I want to know specifically what my senators propose to do about it. Anti-trust can’t be left to consumer choice because the consolidation of markets has left consumers powerless. I think free markets are sustainable only if there is some regulation, because the most successful companies use their power to corrupt the marketplace, as they have done. We didn’t have enough time to debate that.
Clements said his policy positions derive not from any abstract philosophy but from talking with New Mexicans, such as farmers and ranchers who are tugged in all directions by conflicting regulatory mandates. He says he’s pro-environment but favors leaving environmental regulation to the states. Many environment issues cross state lines; we didn’t have time to talk about that, either.
He said I asked the best questions of any interviewer he’s met so far. I’m flattered, I’m impressed by his sincerity, and I’ll be genuinely delighted to talk with him again. But I still need answers, not theories.
Contact Merilee Dannemann through triplespacedagain.com.