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Harvard Right Makes a Slow Entry Into State Politics

Libertarians move into Massachusetts races for national offices

By Mark C. Frazier

The miniscule Harvard right frequently obscured by the lush foliage of campus and state liberalism, has shown signs recently of making its first inroads in Massachusetts politics.

In the fourth congressional district, a 30 year old libertarian Harvard graduate student running as a Nixon supporter has thrown one of the state's leading liberals the scare of his political life by turning a "hopeless" primary campaign for Congress into a serious challenge.

In eastern Massachusetts, a Harvard sophomore who helped found the New Right Coalition 18 months ago reports that local paid membership has risen above 150 and that the group plans this fall to escalate demonstrations and postering which last Spring inflamed Cambridge tempers over rent control.

At a news conference at Logan Airport last week a Harvard Business School student accompanied by long-haired students and a short-shorn philosophy professor, announced the birth of a Massachusetts Libertarian Party which espouses a number of leftist-sounding causes and is running John Hospers chairman of the Philosophy Department of the University of Southern California, as its presidential candidate.

Despite the sectarianism and vague conflicts in approach these groups and individuals profess a shared belief in Ayn Randian laissez faire capitalism. And while the climate of Massachusetts appears lethal to their species of political flora the success of similar groups and individuals elsewhere suggests that the new growth may become may become a hardy fixture in ideological forests.

The most significant and professional of the three Massachusetts campaigns belongs to Avl Nelson a doctoral candidate in Physics Running in the Republican primary for Robert F. Drinan's congressional seat. Nelson has jumped from complete obscurity to what appears to be a photo finish in the four-way primary on Tuesday.

His chief rival. Ripon society member and state Representative Martin Linsky (R-Brookline), was conceded the race by most observers last Spring due to an established base and close ties to Governor Fransis W. Sargent.

Nelson's leap in the polls--he was a close second to Linsky in a poll published by the Boston globe last month--has been attributed to impressive personal campaigning, the services of a top Nixon political strategist, and a determined media effort. Volunteer support has come largely from libertarian Harvard and MIT students, and members of the Brookline synagogue headed by his father. Rabbi Zev Nelson.

The Nelson campaign literature has emphasized the theme that government paternalism and coercion has corroded rights and diminished the lot of productive individuals.

"I propose to begin by attacking the oversize bureaucracy, the swellen budgets of our regulatory agencies, our exorbitant welfare expenditures, and go on from there," his brochure reads. "The primary function of government is to protect and guarantee the basic rights which belong to all human beings."

Those rights, according to Nelson, are expressed in the concept that "each individual must have the security to pursue his own goals and values, in peace and without fear."

Such positions have been seldom heard in the overwhelmingly liberal Fourth, which resoundingly endorsed the campaigns of McCarthy and McGovern and gave Humphrey's 1968 presidential race landslide approval. What makes the Nelson showing more surprising still is the handicap of strong competition for the conservative" vote.

Of the four candidates, only Linsky has a solid record as liberal. Former Congressman Laurence Curtis, who has outspent all his rivals, holds the Conservative endorsement, while State Rep, Robert A. Belmonte (R-Framingham) carries a reputation for showy patriotism and "fiscal responsibility."

The race, according to a Boston Globe article published September 10 could go any way. But the article did not exactly downplay Nelson' chances--it ran under the headline "Three have the background, one has the impact." The one was Nelson.

The New Right Coalition, founded in early 1971 by eight members of Young Americans for Freedom disgruntled with the organization's conservatism, has seen a similarly surprising rise.

"We're a national organization now with about 600 or 700 members," one of the cofounders, Niel Wright '75 said last week. "Most of our members joined after reading about our demonstrations, seeing our posters, or hearing us on talk shows, we stress activism more than most libertarian groups do."

One of the more spectacular activities of NRC last year was a attempted filibuster of a rent control law in Cambridge. Forty NRC members, carrying signs reading "rent control means people control," dominated the microphone at a City Council meeting for three hours while a fuming audience for 1000 chanted obscenities.

Though violence threatened, the filibuster ended without incident after a bomb scare forced evacuation of the hall.

Other NRC rallies have been equally eventful. A demonstration for "laissez-faire" erupted last winter in Harvard Square when street people lit an NRC revolutionary War flag and fled as burning pieces fell on picketer. On another occasion, two dozen NRC members descended on Welfare Department offices, demanding unsuccessfully to see Commissioner Stephen A. Minter.

The group's pre-eminent claim to fame, however, at least in the Boston area, consists of its prodigious poster campaigns. It has become almost impossible to walk down any street in Cambridge without encountering posters emblazoned with "Wanted for Murder--Karl Marx," or IRS--Your Money and Your Life," or "Read Atlas shrugged". The posters have suffered erosion by angry fingernails and ball point pens, but Wright maintains that they still constitute the group's chief means of advertising.

NRC has targeted several activities for emphasis in Massachusetts this fall. According to Wright, the organization will hold a leadership conference during a forthcoming weekend, with an expected attendance of 40 or 50, to develop new strategies to increase membership and visibility. There the group will plan major tax protests, demonstrations against economic controls, and formation of an academic advisory group to develop position papers.

In the meantime, Wright said last week, NRC will prepare new posters and leaflets deploring Nixon and McGovern. A poster depicting the two candidates on the "Socialist" ticket has already begun to make its appearance on Harvard Square lamp poles.

The Libertarian Party, though indistinguishable philosophically from NRC and also very new, has chosen a substantially different strategy.

"NRC tends to emphasize economic decontrol, "Paul Siegler, a second-year student at the Business School and chairman of the Massachusetts Libertarian Party, said last week. "We advocate decontrol of social issues with equal stress. By strongly opposing 'crimes without victims' and legislation of morality, we tend to get a better reception from the left."

The Massachusetts party, which formally organized last week with a press conference featuring presidential candidate Hospers, now claims 25 paid members.

In the nine months since its inception, the Libertarian Party nationally has grown to a paid membership of 1500. Approximately one third characterize themselves as "free market anarchists," despite the Party's limited-state platform, while the rest describe themselves as followers of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman or Robert Heinlein.

An openness toward the left is also evident in the Party's organizational guidelines, which suggest recruitment of members from the War Resistor's League and the ACLU as well as conservative groups.

The Party's membership diversity and attention to civil libertarianism appear to have produced sympathetic and widespread coverage of the organization by the media.

"The Village Voice ran a large story about the New York party a few weeks ago," Siegler said. "They were expecting a group of Jaycees and what they found was quite a surprise."

Other major stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Herald, and The Denver Post, and on network news programs. "They usually can't tell whether we're radicals or reactionaries," Siegier said. "But they admit we're consistently in favor of letting people live their own lives."

For the upcoming months, the Massachusetts LP intends to promote the Hospers write-in campaign, host his vice presidential candidate. Oregon TV journalist Tonie Nathan, form a group of law students to prepare position papers, paste up posters, and work for Avi Nelson.

According to Siegler, the late blooming Massachusetts LP will attempt next year to build a base similar to that achieved in New York, Illinois, Colorado and California.

"The New York Party has almost 200 members to date who paid $4 or $6 to join," he said. "They are running two people for congress and one for state legislature. In California, the LP has even more members has a candidate against Barry Goldwater Jr., and has been allowed editorial rebutals on most of the important radio and TV stations. Colorado and Illinois both have serious Congressional candidates, and an LP member in Idaho just won the Republican primary for Congress."

Despite the fluke in Idaho, virtually no one in the Libertarian Party expects short-run success at the polls. Siegler and other Harvard members "The best we can hope to see as a result of our efforts is some realization that 'left' a,d 'right' are poor political terms," he said. "What we and NRC and people like Nelson are trying to do here in Massachusetts, for all our differences, is say the spectrum should be different. It should have one endpoint in tyranny and the other in liberty."

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