There would be a few changes around Washington under President Ed Clark. Forget the FBI and CIA. Say goodbye to regulatory agencies. Bid a fond farewell to the Social Security Administration, the Federal Reserve and the Internal Revenue Service. In President Clark's administration, it's curtains for the bureaucracy.
Ed Clark will not become president of the United States this year, but he may place a respectable third. And in these times of low voter turnout and high costs of living, Ed Clark's Libertarian Party hopes it may have a certain appeal to disaffected Democrats and Republicans or anyone else who has come to believe the less government, the better.
Clark looks more like an Akron insurance agent than the standard-bearer for a third party that advocates such things as a radical reduction in government and the legalization of drugs and prostitution. He is a low-key antitrust attorney (Harvard Law School, 1957) who works for Atlantic-Richfield in Los Angeles when he isn't on the campaign trail. And he believes government has one responsibility: defending individual rights.
"People's rights are to be free from invasions of their body -- assault, rape and so on," says Clark. "They have a right to be free from invasions of property -- burglary and theft. And they have a right to be free from foreign attack. We finance this as voluntarily a way as we can. We have as a Libertarian goal a completely voluntary society with no coercion. And taxation is coercion."
Libertarians like to point to the passage in 1978 of California's Proposition 13 as proof that not only is the electorate ready for change, but also that government can survive a massive tax cut and decrease in workforce.
"The whole vociferous campaign against Proposition 13," says Clark, "Was, 'Schools will close tomorrow, the police will be out, your home will burn down, every disaster will strike immediately.' All those articulate arguments were made by almost every segment of California society -- unions, big business, reformist groups, church groups . . . but people did not believe it." b
The same year that Proposition 13 passed in California, Clark made his first bid for political office as candidate for governor. He received a surprising 5.5 percent of the vote. One federal issue he discussed during the campaign was a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget, a position Jerry Brown adopted just before his inauguration in 1978.
But Clark makes Brown look like a piker in the "small is beautiful" department when it comes to government. Clark places abundant trust in a free economy to meet the needs of the country. He aruges that unemployed bureaucrats -- and others whose jobs disappear when Libertarians abolish protective tariffs and withdraw military forces from abroad -- will find other jobs as "labor gradually shifts from less productive jobs to jobs that meet effective demand."
A Libertarian who believes the government should not interfere with individual liberties must likewise support the decriminalization of drugs, the freedom to publish pornography and other unpopular positions. At the Libertarian convention last year, then, it seemed important to choose a presidential candidate who would not appear to be a wild-eyed crazy. Clark, who once worked for the election of John Lindsay as mayor of New York, fits the bill with his conservative suits and button-down demeanor.
"The public support for traditional politics is so weak that traditional politicians are now running as anti-establishment people," says Clark. "Carter campaigned on the theme of anti-establishment, Jerry Brown ran for the governorship the second time as sort of anti-establishment. . . . In my view, Carter failed because of his contradictory goals. As I recall it, ending inflation and balancing the budget were two of his prinicpal promises to the American people. When asked during the campaign what programs he was going to cut, or what taxes he was going to increase, he never spoke with particularity, but always in general terms. And so he was talking about balancing the budget while also talking about more spending programs. You can't have both."
And so the Libertarians offer a more ideologically pure alternative that is reminiscent of Ayn Rand's objectivism. Clark and his supporters believe growing American dissatisfaction with government -- fueled by Vietnam, Watergate and congressional scandals -- will increase their appeal as the party for people who are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore.