A Good Man Gone

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Dick Armey’s announcement that he would not seek re-election to the House of Representatives comes as bad news for libertarians. Armey has been an unusual politician. He is the most influential of the small number of congresspeople who genuinely believe that the size and power of government ought to be reduced. And he doesn’t just believe in that as a distant goal – he has actually sought to implement that goal by means of the legislative process. “Making laws is like making sausage,” the old adage goes, and few who value liberty want to get involved in the ugly business. While Congressman Ron Paul articulates libertarian ideals, Congressman Dick Armey tries to make them real.

Plainly going against the temper of the nation, Armey still enjoyed a considerable amount of success. He rose to a position of leadership among House Republicans, and managed to sell his colleagues on flatter, lower taxes, and he did his best to roll back state power in other ways as well. He never articulated the radical reduction of the state that libertarians like me propose, but every day he did what he could. His personal qualities were in some ways as important as his political ones. He brought grace, wit, charm and a powerful intellect to an occupation in which it is often lacking.

There are many libertarians who believe that the differences among major party politicians are insignificant, just as there are many who consider the moral status of Franklin Roosevelt as comparable to that of Joseph Stalin, as if enacting minimum wage laws, raising taxes, and creating government-run old-age pensions were comparable to killing 30 million of one’s fellow citizens.

If any argument against this view were needed, it would be provided by the political careers of Dick Armey and Ron Paul- friends of liberty who have also, indeed, managed to maintain political careers. Unfortunately, however, Armey’s retirement will make the case seem more credible to the credulous, since his absence from the scene will inevitably result in the ‘House Republicans moving toward the welfare-statist consensus.

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