Against the Odds: Focus on the small victories

May 24, 2006

His party won less than 1% of the vote in the 2004 presidential election, but Indiana State Chairman Mark Rutherford’s blog boasts of "the exciting progress and success of the Libertarian Party of Indiana."

WM asked Rutherford ’82 how he defines success against such odds, what sustains him as the state chairman with the longest tenure of any party boss in Indiana, and why he believes his party’s role as "the defender of small business" promises bigger things to come.

WM: When did you join the Libertarian Party? What attracted you to it?

Mark Rutherford: I officially joined the Party in 1996, although I’ve voted for Libertarians since at least 1980. I had given up on the Republican Party after it made little viable effort with its "Contract for America." It was getting harder for me to distinguish the Republicans from the Democrats, except that the Republicans wanted to spend a lot of money on different things and expand government in ways different than the Democrats.

Also, I’m very easygoing and accepting of other people. "Live and let live" and "Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you" seem like very good concepts. By 1996 I decided that the Republicans seemed to want to legislate morality more and more—to tell me how to live my life. It’s none of their business.

Did anything you learned at Wabash shape this decision?

Professor Bill Placher ’70 assigned Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia in one of the classes I took. This book introduced me to libertarian philosophy. Also, Ben Rogge’s reputation led me to read his "Can Capitalism Survive?" He published it while I was at Wabash. So I was already well-versed in libertarian ideas when I gave up on the Republicans.

While I was at Wabash, a couple of my fraternity brothers volunteered for the 1980 Libertarian presidential campaign. I liked what they had to say about the views of the Libertarian candidate.

What do you see as the main selling points of the Party today?

We are the only‑political party that regularly advocates for and supports‑small-business owners and individuals.‑The small-business owner and individuals, as special interest groups, are being ignored. We’re picking up the political slack for these interests.

We’re helping small-business owners regarding smoking bans. Our position is that businesses should decide whether they want smoking or not. It’s their business. Secondly, as a state party, our position is that smoking bans in public buildings owned by government is a decision for the governing board. Such decisions don’t necessarily disrupt fundamental concepts for freedom in the United States. Thus our opposition to smoking bans is focused on private property.

In 2004, our gubernatorial candidate raised pro-small business issues in all three gubernatorial debates. He was the only one raising these issues.

We’ve also done a lot of work regarding opposition to mandatory seatbelt laws (we prefer resources directed at improving the arrest and conviction rates of burglars, rather than government going after seatbelt scofflaws).

What recent national or world events have been catalysts for increased interest in the Libertarian Party?

The United States Supreme Court Kelo decision has been a major catalyst for increased interest in the Libertarian Party. When the Supreme Court said it was constitutional for government to take one’s home and then turn around and sell it to a private developer, a light bulb seemed to go off in people’s heads. They realized what we’ve been saying for a long time—unfettered government affects everyone.‑

Many small business owners already know how government was taking their small businesses in the name of redevelopment. Now homeowners know it can happen easily to them, too.

What do you see as the most pressing issue faced by Indiana today,and what’s the Libertarian Party’s solution?

Indiana’s priorities are wrong. A new football stadium for a private business downtown and putting the onus of its cost on local property owners and the patrons of small businesses (restaurants) is wrong.

The Libertarian solution is quite simple. Scale back government to essential items. Focus on those who use physical force against others instead of "feel good" seat belt laws. Focus on real problems, such as the homelessness of the mentally ill, which in large part was created by government.‑

What’s the Libertarian solution for combating the epidemic of methamphetamine use throughout the Midwest?

We need a two-pronged approach. First of all, the investigation and prosecution of burglaries should have the highest priority. People who burglarize to support their drug habit are some of the most despicable people out there.

The second prong is to reduce government regulations and other requirements that have destroyed the middle class business owner in small towns, where the meth epidemic seems greatest. We have a saying among Libertarians: "Wal-Mart is the creation of big government. It had to become big in order to economically deal with the cost of complying with the thousands of government regulations, the zoning battles all too commonly faced by business, and to attract tax abatements (which are rarely given to mom and pop stores).

If it becomes economically feasible to fill the store fronts in small communities again, there will be more jobs, more stable communities, a larger pool of movers and shakers for a community, and fewer reasons for people to succumb to meth because of the desperate economic condition of their community.

What’s the most pressing issue faced by the nation?

The most pressing issue facing the nation is the Internal Revenue Service. It has become the primary instrument of choice for our current politicians to implement their social experiments on us. The Fair Tax promoted by Libertarian radio show host Neal Boorst is the best program I’ve seen out there for reform. It attempts to remove the social engineering and return the tax system to one of a more neutral system of raising revenue to support essential neutrally based government needs.

How do your own spiritual values drive your Libertarian politics? How much do you believe one’s religious beliefs should shape his political agenda?

I believe in the Golden Rule, and that one should not use physical force against another except for self-defense, and that one should not engage in fraud. These drive my Libertarian politics.

I also believe government should not legislate morality. The power to take one’s beer is the same power to take one’s bible. It is the role of churches, clubs, civic organizations, and even businesses to drive morality and to advocate how one should live their life. Government’s role should be to protect the right each of us have to live life as we see fit without others using lies or physical force against us.

When all you can reasonably hope for in many races are percentages in the single digits, how do you define success?

Success is defined in many ways. Sometimes it’s by changing the issues debated by the candidates. Sometimes it’s requiring incumbents to justify their existence. A lot of races in Indiana are two-way, with the Libertarian the only opposition forcing the incumbent to justify themselves to the voters.

Other times it is victory—we have several elected officials in Indiana. Other times it’s when our candidates are asked to be on various government and non-governmental boards because they impressed people as candidates, even though they didn’t win.

You’ve got a full-time law practice, as well as the state chairman’s post and work on the Party’s national committees. You’ve poured a lot into this. What keeps you coming back?

My wife says I have infinite patience. That is a good trait to have when trying to fight oppressive use of power and a power structure. I focus on the small victories, which are numerous.

Also, when things are going roughly, I think about British member of Parliament William Wilberforce. He presented his first bill to abolish the slave trade in 1791. It was easily defeated by 163 votes to 88. For more than 30 years he fought in Parliament to slowly abolish slavery. Small successes built on small successes. He retired from the House of Commons in 1825. But by then the path was almost certain, and one month after he died in 1833, slavery was abolished in Great Britain.

I’m glad he was patient and kept coming back. I intend to do the same thing—and expect to see more positive results, or at least, trends toward my desired results.

Read the complete interview at WM Online.

Read Mark Rutherford’s blog at


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