Introduction: Currently serving his 12th term in Congress, Dana Rohrabacher represents California's 46th District, including Orange County and Los Angeles. Congressman Rohrabacher serves as Chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and is a senior member on the House Committee on Science. During his tenure as Chairman, one of his first priorities was to investigate the U.N. Oil for Food program and potential foreign influence in the Oklahoma City Bombing. Rohrabacher's roots in Orange County run deep. He attended elementary school locally and during his college days, he resided in Sunset Beach. Prior to joining Ronald Reagan's White House staff, he was an editorial writer for the Orange County Register. Born June 21, 1947, in Coronado, California, he graduated from Palos Verdes High School, attended Harbor Junior College and received his bachelor degree in history from Long Beach State College in 1969. He received his master's degree in American Studies from the University of Southern California.
Daily Bell: Thanks for sitting down with us. You are known for a kind of libertarianism that is unusual even for a Republican Congressman, especially one that has served for so long. Can you explain how that came about and how far back it goes?
Dana Rohrabacher: We can begin at the beginning. I inherited an interest in politics because of my family. My parents were poor farmers from North Dakota; my dad had gone off to fight in World War II and decided to stay in the Marine Corps, so I grew up on Marine bases. My family was a real frontier type of family, so I inherited those values and also anti-communism. International tensions were rising, and my dad was flying sky missions along the China coast and was deeply involved in the Cold War. I think the opposition to communism led me to a greater interest in political ideas and the ideals of our country. That's how I got into politics in the first place.
Daily Bell: How does your philosophy fit in with your current activities?
Dana Rohrabacher: At first I was very involved with the Goldwater campaign. I read the book, The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater, and then several other books that sparked my intellectual interest. I became basically what would be called a libertarian/conservative. At that time the word libertarian wasn't being used very much, so I described myself as a sane conservative.
Ronald Reagan used to say that libertarianism is the heart and soul of conservatism, and there's definitely a symbiotic relationship, but there are distinct differences. I was really opposed to government controlling your personal life, along with the draft for an undeclared war. During the '60s those types of issues came to the forefront and I realized I was libertarian or conservative/libertarian. So I dropped out of politics for a number of years, going into journalism as a reporter.
Daily Bell: You were a kind of anarcho-capitalist, but we've read you underwent a political conversion. You became a conservative Republican and served as assistant press secretary to the 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan. Why did you change?
Dana Rohrabacher: In the late '60s, I took everything to its ultimate extreme in terms of my philosophizing about what I am and what the world should be. That, of course, sometimes puts you in a position where you're really not having any major impact on the world because now you have put yourself as the ultimate purist and purists generally don't have any impact on policy.
So after I worked as a journalist and got to know firsthand the workings of our democratic system, I was much more inclined to be practical about my ideals rather than radical. I became more focused on a reduction of government power rather than insisting that we eliminate all the controls over our lives. When I went to work for Reagan, I found myself very compatible with his goals and have evolved in that direction since then.
Daily Bell: How did you get the job as assistant press secretary? What was Reagan like?
Dana Rohrabacher: I was actually working as a volunteer for Reagan's campaign when he first ran for governor. That's what got me my job with Reagan, because I was a respected member of the press corp in LA; I covered all the major press conferences and things. Reagan needed some help in his press operation and I was hired to be his assistant and worked with him in ‘76 and in '80. When he won in 1980, I went with him to the White House.
Daily Bell: What was Reagan's Economic Bill of Rights? Were you directly involved? What was the Reagan Doctrine?
Dana Rohrabacher: The Bill of Rights and the Reagan Doctrine are probably two areas where I did a lot of work. Reagan was a tremendous writer himself and taught me how to write speeches. I hadn't written speeches for anybody before I worked for him, and he taught me the fundamentals of writing and speech writing.
One of the things that separated Reagan from others was that he always tried to lay the philosophical principals that guided his decision-making in his speeches, so that he was not only telling people what he was doing, but he was giving people the philosophical reasons why he was making the decisions and why he had the policies that he had.
With the Reagan Doctrine, President Reagan believed yes, we should have strong military, but he also supported the volunteer army. He was also not for building a massive military state; he wanted to support people all over the world who were fighting against communism, which was our enemy. Reagan masterminded the policy of supporting the enemy of our enemy, rather than sending American troops everywhere, and letting the enemy of the enemy do the fighting rather than having American troops everywhere. That was the Reagan Doctrine.
In terms of the Economic Bill of Rights, I think it was just an effort to encapsulate the fundamental economic principals that had guided his decision-making. I was honored to have worked with him on that speech that he gave at Jefferson Memorial, July 3, 1987.
Daily Bell: How has Barack Obama handled foreign policy? Do you believe he has sympathy for the free market?
Dana Rohrabacher: Unfortunately, I think President Obama personally thinks that America is at fault for most of the problems that we see around the world. I don't think that he is sympathetic toward the marketplace at all.
Daily Bell: How is he regarding the commercialization of space, one of your main interests?
Dana Rohrabacher: I haven't been able to work with him on the space program. However, he's been trying to permit commercial development of space transportation systems. Instead of having the government run space transportation, he wants private companies to take over. I am in agreement with him on that.
Daily Bell: You chaired the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science Committee from 1997 until January 2005; what was that like? How did you apply your free-market perspective?
Dana Rohrabacher: What I did as Chairman of the Space Subcommittee was focus on how we were going to develop the post-Cold War policy that made sense. I opted for cooperation with our former enemies, the Russians. I also was the author at the time of several pieces of legislation that laid the foundation for commercial space development. What I did then to be sure that private companies could get involved with space transportation is now bearing fruit with much private entrepreneurial activity taking place.
Daily Bell: Tell us about privatizing government and space. What would you do? How would you go about it?
Dana Rohrabacher: What you would do is take things that can be done in the private sector and try to make sure they are able to function as an alternative to government and then hopefully lose the government alternative because it's no longer necessary.
You can do that automatically with a number of businesses. For example, is there any reason why we need a post office these days? I mean, maybe 100 years ago there was a need for a post office. Communications were dependant on horse-drawn vehicles. But now with the Internet, we should just get rid of the post office. I personally would give the post office to its employees and let them compete. We should be doing that with a number of government services that might be provided by the private sector.
Daily Bell: What is your position these days on illegal immigration? How has the Obama administration done regarding illegal immigration?
Dana Rohrabacher: As a patriot first, I love my country; my parents transmitted that affection to me at a very young age. While libertarianism and even conservatism to some degree are important philosophies and theories of human activity, my top priority right now is what's good for the American people.
I have been very, very tough on illegal immigration and very, very tough on employers who would employee them, and very tough on government officials who would give away the tax dollars of the American people to provide benefits for those people who have come here illegally. So this reflects what I consider, my key identification with the American people. Whatever race, relation or ethnic background, we Americans have to be loyal to each other and I think that's where my very tough stance on illegal immigration comes from.
Daily Bell: Will you endorse Mitt Romney for president again if he runs? Is he a libertarian?
Dana Rohrabacher: He is not libertarian and I don't even think he's conservative. I am looking for a candidate that is closer to my philosophy than Mitt is. If he wins the Republican nomination, I will support him. In the meantime, I am trying to find someone a little closer to my perspective.
Daily Bell: What are your feelings these days about John McCain? He seems more authoritarian than libertarian. Why did the US press like him so much?
Dana Rohrabacher: John McCain was always more authoritarian. I think John McCain and his type of Republicans are what have dragged down the Republican party. They've brought about a situation where you can elect a president like Obama – one who was raised in a Marxist family and is tied to an incredible political machine, the Chicago political machine. Yet the American people elected a guy like that because the alternative was John McCain. If left unchecked, McCain and his fellow-travelers will eventually destroy the party and certainly destroy everything Ronald Reagan tried to accomplish.
Daily Bell: What is your position on global warming? It seems like a scheme to take away more Western freedoms.
Dana Rohrabacher: Yes, global warming is a good example of the tactics used by the Liberal Left to centralize power. The Left likes to centralize power and give government all sorts of authority to make the world a better place. They're willing to lie and do anything that's necessary to accumulate that power.
When it comes to global warming, it's more frightening because they not only are trying to create authority centralized in the hands of Washington, DC, but they are willing to set up a global system of controls. They do it by trying to scare people, and they offer a Big Lie … that somehow the CO2 and the emissions from using fossil fuels are changing the climate of the Earth.
Of course, sensible people know this climate cycle is NOT substantially different than any other climate cycle we have gone through. So it's a fraud and this needs to be defeated. But if they get their way, there will be huge amounts of resources taken from the American people. More than that, freedom to live their lives as they choose will be severely limited and authority will be placed in the hands of elected foreigners.
Daily Bell: What is your position on the legalization of marijuana?
Dana Rohrabacher: I think government has very limited resources available to provide services to us. Certainly security and order has a cost to it. Trying to control people's consumption of marijuana is a terrible, terrible waste of limited law enforcement resources.
Daily Bell: What would you do with the current deficit? How would you cure it?
Dana Rohrabacher: The current deficit will only be cured by decreasing the expenditures of government or by eliminating programs or making government more efficient with the things it does.
But there are certain things we need to decide. If we are going to cut the deficit we need to make sure that those people who are producing the energy for our country, whether it's oil and gas or whatever it is, should not face the incredible restrictions that put us into a point where we are giving away hundreds of millions of dollars every year to overseas powers. We need to get energy we can produce on our own.
We cannot afford to send American troops all over the world anymore. That is literally breaking the bank. We also have to quit providing government services to those who are here illegally. That's cost us enormous amounts of money. It is a very broad strategy but it basically comes down to trimming back the expectations of what our federal government can do because it is trying to do so many things for so many people that in the end it is going to come down to the fundamental things necessary to preserve order and keep our country secure.
Daily Bell: Some questions about the war in no particular order: Is the US winning in Afghanistan? Should it get out? Should we have gotten into the war in the first place?
Dana Rohrabacher: We are not winning in Afghanistan. Local people are put off by seeing foreign troops engaged in combat with their countrymen. We should get out of there as soon as we can. Should we have gone in, in the first place? We had to do something after 9/11, and we did it with 200 men on the ground. The Northern Alliance went on the offensive with our help and defeated the Taliban. Then we started having more Americans doing the fighting. It was not a mistake to get in it but it was a mistake to have us take over the battle.
Daily Bell: Are you still close to billionaire libertarian Charles Koch? Do you pattern some of your perspectives after him – or vice versa?
Dana Rohrabacher: I knew him more like 30 or 40 years ago and am always very respectful and grateful for his family's commitment to liberty. I would like to be closer than I am and am hoping to work closer with Charles in the future because I like what he is doing. I think the Koch family is playing a really significant role in the future direction of our country in a positive way. As much as I can work with the Koch brothers and help bring about some of these changes they are working on, I am going to do it because they are trying to make this a freer country and I admire the fact that they have stepped forward as they have.
Daily Bell: What do you think about Congressman Ron Paul and his efforts?
Dana Rohrabacher: I like Ron Paul. I think he certainly stimulates the discussion about free markets and freedom. I have differences with him on foreign policy. I believe we should be very engaged in foreign policy, and he evidently does not. Where we agree is that neither of us believes we should be sending our troops all over the place. However, I believe we should be very engaged. Domestically, I am content with trying to find areas where we can reduce the size of government, rather than trying to generate the kind of massive revolutionary change – all at once – that Ron Paul has spoken of initiating.
Daily Bell: Where do you go from here? Any other points you wish to make about conservativism and libertarianism?
Dana Rohrabacher: Our American Revolution was all about liberty and independence. My goal is to try and get us back on the right path for the next few years. We need to see our way out of this mess that both George W. and Obama pushed us into.
Once I help see that through, I would like to spend more time with my family and more time surfing!
Daily Bell: You're not a bad surfer according to what we've heard.
Dana Rohrabacher: I'm a very good surfer in one regard: I'm having a hell of a lot of fun. What surfing is all about is not being the best; it's being out there on the waves enjoying life and putting everything in perspective. It's a family endeavor, as well, and as soon as I can, I'd like to stop saving the world so much and spend more time with my family.
Daily Bell: Well, thanks for spending time with us.
Dana Rohrabacher: Thank you.
Dana Rohrabacher has certainly had his ups and down as a politician but he has retained a free-market outlook, which is unusual for somone who has attained his congressional heights. Of course, we wish he would go further and reclaim some of his youthful radicalism. The American congress needs more committed free-market thinkers who are willing to transcend accepted boundaries.
According to some economic estimates, America is facing a US$200 trillion debt from baby-boomer and other obligations. It is an insupportable amount. We have a hard time believing that business-as-usual is going to prove adequate in this day and age. America's leaders and its citizens are going to be called on to make some hard decisions.
When we began this website, we believed that the world was on a course to great change, especially the West, but we never anticipated how fast events would move. Dominant social themes – ones the power elite uses to frighten the middle classes into giving up power and wealth – are failing with surprising frequency. In their place looms a far more naked authoritarianism; but societies based on outright coercion are destined to fail.
Perhaps legislators like Dana Rohrabacher and Ron Paul can lead Congress away from bipartisan politics and towards a consensus that takes into account the ruin the West faces. Rohrabacher points out that he is realist who understands that incremental change is far more likely to make a difference in the real world than "massive revolutionary change." But this may be one of a few historical interludes where massive change is called for.
It's obvious that congressmen like Rohrabacher understand the problems. The question is whether America's economic and civic institutions have the flexibility to embrace the necessary solutions – and whether leaders will take them there.
The alternative is one that The Daily Bell has often expressed: Society's fundamental (modern) underpinnings will gradually collapse and human action will generate new social and cultural paradigms. These will include free-market systems (gold-as-money and the rapid dissolution of some of the more objectionable aspects of the corporate-industrial-military state).
In fact, we would be satisfied with this outcome; we believe human action is the preferred alternative and that the "best government is the one that governs least." We are also aware that in such crisis-laden situations as the West now faces, the alternative is often a massive, manipulated war.
Unfortunately for the power elite, world war is nearly impossible now because of nuclear weapons; smaller wars, such as the war on terror, are not proving effective enough to fully polarize society and thus provide renewed social control and increased global governance. War is always a possibility, of course, but one we hope wil not take place.
The power elite is in the proverbial fix. Authoritarian alternatives now being imposed are likely not to prove viable because too many people have been alerted to elite manipulations and propaganda via the Internet. The austerity riots in Europe and tea party activism in the US constitute a sea change in expressions of how people view their governments and what they expect.
We often write the Internet is a process not an episode. The powers that be cannot sustain many of the manipulations that have proven effective in the past. There is no single "problem" to confront, only a gradual collapse of a social construct that was once impregnable (in the 20th century) and is now crumbling piece by piece.
Powerful political leaders like Dana Rohrabacher may be in a position to help build something new out of the wreckage of the West's unraveling sociopolitical and economic institutions. We hope this is the case and that such free-market oriented leaders will turn crisis into renewed opportunity. Carpe diem.