Like many, I came to the libertarian philosophy through Ayn Rand and Objectivism. What Rand made possible, Harry Browne made real.
The first presidential election for which I had the franchise was 1992. As a twenty-one year old with high ideals, I voted for Bill Clinton. This became an object lesson in being careful what I wished for in case I got it. By 1996, I was fed up with the two largest parties and ready to give up on the political process all together.
I first heard of Harry Browne via e-mail. Like hundreds of thousands would after me, my first exposure to libertarianism and the Libertarian Party had been via the Internet (more specifically Usenet in my case.) But, the notion was still abstract and improbable to me. The LP had immediate appeal, but I dismissed it, thinking that a third party could never make a difference in this country.
Harry Browne changed all of that. Using terms that everyone could understand, he explained the problems and the dangers of big government. When he spoke, he was eloquent, charming, and even funny. He used the national campaign trail as a lever to appeal directly to the freedom loving people who had never heard of the Libertarian Party or who, like me, had heard of it, but never seriously considered joining.
And people listened. Membership in the Libertarian Party quadrupled between 1995 and the end of his 2000 campaign. More than that, for every person who joined the party, ten voted for Harry on election day. In spite of all the effort made by the Republicans and Democrats to convince people that voting for a third party was throwing your vote away, hundreds of thousands turned out to do just that.
Harry Browne was not the most pragmatic of libertarians, but he wasn’t a wild-eyed idealist either. He understood that, to sell the vision of libertarianism to the masses, you had to focus on small pieces of it that people could understand, not start out by talking about why we need to get rid of the FDA and sell off the public roadways.
For years, Harry Browne was the center of the Libertarian party and the driving force in its growth. The party and the movement are poorer for his loss. We’ll miss you, Harry. There may never be another like you.