How I Became a Libertarian

Blogger’s Note: This article was written in October of 2007, just before my Father passed away. It was written for a compilation book on how Libertarians discovered their political beliefs. The story was not used in the book because I would not agree to the terms required. But, it tells about some of my early experiences. That is why I post it in my Blog.

By: Allan Wallace

My father once asked me why I became a Libertarian. I responded… “This is what you get when a Republican and a Democrat marry and have a child….IF you are lucky.”

Dad consistently voted Republican even though he always claimed that he voted for the best candidate regardless of party affiliation, and Mom, a Roosevelt Democrat, never disagreed with Dad in public, but voted for and supported the candidates of her choice in private. Around the supper table, however, Mom openly disagreed with Dad, and as we talked over meals they would often discuss (sometimes heatedly) the political, social, and economic issues of the day.

As I grew into my mid-teens near Knoxville Tennessee, my parents told me that I needed to develop a greater interest in current events because it wouldn’t be long until I turned 18 and could vote. They said I needed to form opinions on issues and decide the principles on which I would choose the candidates for whom I would vote. As I approached my eighteenth birthday and the 1972 elections, I discovered that I did not like either party or its candidates completely. When choosing my own political philosophy, I chose the things I liked about each party and added to that a few ideas of my own. It was nearly 15 years after the first time I voted that I discovered that the philosophy I had developed organically was called Libertarianism. Perhaps you can see how my opening jest is actually true.

Two things happened while I attended college that solidified my personal political philosophy:

A Pound of Flesh

My sophomore year at college I experimented with living off-campus and took a small one-room apartment. I worked promoting the college but all that went toward my tuition. My parents gave me a small weekly allowance that had to pay for food, incidentals, and gas when I had the car on campus.

I got to know a guy who lived across the hall from me. He had a rich family but refused to take any money from them. So, he worked a full-time job to pay for his tuition, books, and room and board. He went school full time as well. On the first Saturday afternoon of the month, he was not working, we both decided to go grocery shopping.

In the previous week, beef prices had doubled due to some disaster that hit the mid-west. And that fueled price increases in other areas. The general outlook, especially for food prices was not good. But, the effect on meat prices was immediate and dramatic.

We each grabbed a buggy as we entered the store and started selecting our meager and well-chosen items when we encountered a rather large family with three buggies, two of which were piled high with groceries and the third well on the way to the same condition. We gave each other a “what’s that all about” look and just rolled on finishing our shopping.

We rolled up to the only checkout lane still open on this late Saturday afternoon and our selections combined would have filled one cart to about half capacity. But, in front of us was that family with several kids and three carts piled high. This was before checkout scanners and the cashier had to enter each item manually. As my friend and I patiently waited, the checkout person’s fingers were flying over the register keys. She got most of the way through their last buggy of food then stopped.

She told the woman, “I’m sorry Mam, but you’ll have to pay cash for this. Food Stamps won’t pay for Dog Food.” So the woman took the bag from the cashier, turned to one of her children, a boy about 10 years old, and said: “Take this back to the shelf where we got it, then go to the meat counter, and pick up a few pounds of hamburger. The dog likes that.”

I was shocked. But my friend looked angry and his face turned bright red, but he didn’t say a word. At least, not until that family left. Then so loud that the whole store could hear him, he said, “…the dog likes THAT??” “…the dog likes THAT?!!!!!!!!!”

As we say in the south, he was fit to be tied. He fumed about it all the way home and for the remainder of the day. He raved about the injustice that he did not qualify for Food Stamps because he worked a full-time job even though most of the money went for school. He paid income taxes that made those food stamps possible and, this family was abusing the system by buying expensive meat for a dog with their food stamps.

While my friend ranted and raved, I wondered about the kind of a lesson the parents were teaching their kids. That mother probably thought that she was teaching her child proper southern etiquette by insisting that he return the dog food to its place on the shelve where they got it, but that isn’t the lesson I noticed being taught.

The Little Brother

The college I attended was in a small town in southeastern Kentucky. At that time, Big Brothers/Big Sisters had not extended its reach into rural areas, especially not in Kentucky. So a social worker for the state seeing the need decided to pilot a state-sponsored program and came to our campus looking for big brothers and big sisters for about 15 local teenagers living in one-parent households, with other relatives, or in foster homes.

I volunteered and a 14-year-old boy, “JoJo” was assigned to me. His story began with an unwanted pregnancy by a boyfriend with whom the mother broke up shortly after finding out about the pregnancy, but I don’t know the details. When her next boyfriend didn’t want to raise a child that was not his own, she literally left the baby on her parent’s doorstep.

JoJo’s grandparents raised him even though neither of them were educated even at a grammar school level and were living off of the grandfather’s black lung disability and welfare. They lived in a drafty, shack of a house below the flood plain of the Cumberland River, a house so old and run-down that it looked like the next flood or storm might reduce it to kindling. Their source of heat in the winter was a coal stove and a kerosene heater for when they ran out of coal, and while the kitchen had a sink with “city water” (cold only) they had no bathroom and used an outhouse. JoJo looked like pictures I saw of my father at that age taken during the great depression; a kind of scruffy poor boy look.

JoJo’s grandparents received a small stipend from the government to help take care of him, but having enough money from other sources, they started just cashing the check (about $30) each month and giving the money to him when he was about seven. Sometimes he would just blow the money but when he wanted something, he would save the money until he had enough to buy it. He had two good hunting rifles (a “squirrel rifle” and another for larger game), a fishing rod and tackle like a professional fisherman might have, and a bicycle nice enough that he had to keep it chained up even in a little town in rural Kentucky in the 70s.

He liked to hunt and fish, neither of which I enjoyed, nor did he have any care for the things I liked; music (he would only listen to the Country and Western) and Science Fiction, a waste of time as far as he was concerned. But he did like playing pool and he liked the places I could take him when I had a car on campus, so most of our times together involved one or both of those activities.

When I would try to talk to him about school and his grades he reacted badly, so I backed off from that and started telling him about all the possibilities for his future if he could manage to graduate high school and possibly go on to college or to a tech school. But he was convinced that he was not capable of any of that.

One time I got permission to take him with me to a Knoxville TV station where the group of singers I sang with promoting the college went to record a Christmas program every year in early December. I thought if I could show him what goes on behind the scenes of a TV station, he might just try for a tech school education and make something of his life. He was awestruck by what he saw, but as soon as we were back in Kentucky he never mentioned it again.

All my other attempts to stir some excitement or even just some hope in him for his future seemed to fail. And, he started pulling away from me, missing times when we were supposed to meet up. Finally, one of the last times I saw him, in frustration I asked him what he would do with his life if he quit school at 16 as was his plan. How would he live, how would he eat? His response has made me an opponent of the abusiveness of the welfare system ever since… shrugging his shoulders, he said, “The government will take care of me.” He said this with the kind of confidence and conviction born of repeated proofs throughout all of his 14 years.

When humans are given enough for a minimum level of comfort and assured that it will continue no matter what, they seem to stop trying, to stop striving for something better. It is one thing for welfare to make a middle-aged person who can still work stop trying, but when welfare kills a teenager’s dreams even before he starts to dream, that’s tragic.

The Defining Moment

A few years later, as I fell in love, moved to Atlanta, became well employed, and bought a house these events stayed with me and helped to shape my political and social philosophies. After getting that house and my first computer in the mid-80s, I took a computerized test (based on the Advocates’ World’s Smallest Political Quiz, I later discovered) that told me I’m a libertarian. I was shocked that it described me as something I had barely heard of. But, when it explained what a Libertarian was, I had to agree that it very accurately described me.

Events have brought me full circle. I returned to the city of my birth to care for my elderly parents, and I live in my grandparents’ old house. And, even though my father loves the way the Libertarians out-conservative the Republicans on economic issues especially with its stand on taxes, and he likes the sensible, reasonable approach the Libertarians have to social issues, he still wonders why I’m a Libertarian.

INTERESTING NOTES: JoJo’s grandfather (who could not read or write) sternly warned me about this modern science thing that he believed to be totally false: “They tell everybody that the Earth is round, but it ain’t so! The Bible clearly says that the earth has “four corners” and that means that it’s Flat.“ I had always heard of “Flat Earthers” but had never met one. And, I haven’t met one since.

Also, the picture of the poor boy is a stock picture, not my father as a boy nor my “little brother” even though this boy could have been either one. There is even a picture of my father at that age that does not look much different.

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