Libertarian Think Tank Praises Pelosi’s Call to Remove Confederate Statues from Capitol: ‘Slavery is The Least Libertarian Thing Imaginable’
Libertarian think tanks are not commonly in the habit of sending out press releases praising Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), but that is exactly what happened Wednesday when the R Street Institute commended her call to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.
Pelosi posted a letter she sent to Congress’ Joint Committee on the Library, the committee that oversees the management of the National Statuary Hall collection, to request that they direct the Architect of the Capitol to “immediately take steps to remove” from public display 11 statues representing Confederate soldiers and officials, including the President and Vice President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens.
Currently, the National Statuary Hall displays 102 statues, consisting of two statues donated by each of the fifty states, one from the District of Columbia, and one of Rosa Parks, who was added by an act of Congress in 2005, and her statue officially unveiled in 2013, the year she would have turned 100. The statue of Davis was donated by Mississippi and the statue of Stephens comes from Georgia.
“The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans,” wrote Pelosi, “expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation. Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals. Their statues pay homage to hate, not heritage. They must be removed.”
R Street responded to Pelosi’s letter by releasing their own press release, applauding her decision.
In 2017, R Street President Eli Lehrer and Demand Progress Policy Director Daniel Schuman co-authored an op-ed calling for these Confederate statues to be removed from public view, and the legislatures of the states represented by those statues invited to nominate new ones.
Mediaite reached out to Lehrer for comment, and asked him about the uniqueness of his organization publicly praising one of Congress’ most prominent Democrats.
“We thought it was important,” explained Lehrer, “because properly understood libertarianism and classical liberalism is about building a diverse society.”
“Freedom is important because it allows for diversity,” he continued, “and putting symbols of a cause that existed solely for the purpose of preserving slavery and white supremacy in the very center of American democracy is not consistent with classical liberal values.”
“Look, the cause for what the Confederacy stood — slavery — is the least libertarian thing imaginable.”
Lehrer noted that the law requires a special act of Congress to actually remove the statues completely from the Capitol property and return them to their states (similar to the congressional act that brought in Rosa Parks as a new statue), but there is no such procedure needed to simply remove them from public display, commenting that this was the solution he and Schuman had proposed in their 2017 op-ed.
“There’s nothing that says where they have to be, and they can be hidden,” he said. “The states can then find more fitting symbols for them, that represent people who are actually good and actually did good things — anybody who is there primarily for their service to the Confederacy is not someone who is admirable.”
For his own home state, Virginia, Lehrer suggested their Confederate statue should be replaced with Grace Hopper, a computer scientist, a pioneer in computer programming, and a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy who passed away in 1992.
“There’s only one female scientist or engineer in the collection right now,” said Lehrer, calling Hopper “perfect for Virginia because the two biggest industries are military and high tech,” and observing that there was not currently anything of note in the state named for her.
As for my own home state of Florida, one of our Capitol statues depicts Dr. John B. Gorrie, the physician and inventor who is viewed as the father of air conditioning — undoubtedly a most beloved representative for the Sunshine State. The other is Edmund Kirby Smith, a general in the Confederate Army who was born in St. Augustine but had little ties to Florida after his early childhood.
In 2018, the Florida Legislature passed a bill to replace Smith with an actual Floridian, Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of what is now Bethune-Cookman College, a historically black university in Daytona Beach.