Harrington: Gary Johnson & The Hill Libertarians Want to Die On

Gary Johnson told Newsmax on Monday that he would be running in 2016 to “provide a libertarian option.”

In reference to Tuesday’s election, Johnson noted,

“The whole election is a big yawn. Who cares who wins, because nothing’s really going to change? It’s like a debate between Coke and Pepsi. They’re debating over which one tastes better,” he said.

“They start talking about tax policy, Coke wants to reduce the corporate tax rate to 30 percent, and Pepsi wants to drop it to 28 percent.

“Where’s the libertarian viewpoint, which says do away with it completely? Do away with income tax, corporate tax? Abolish the IRS. If you’re going to replace it with anything, replace it with a national consumption tax. That’s real meat on the bones. I just don’t see any meat anywhere.”

In defense of the obvious fact that Libertarian Party candidates rarely break more than a couple percentage points, and even set records when they break 1% in a presidential cycle, Johnson referenced the increasing popularity of libertarian ideas as reason enough to be on the ballot,

“It hasn’t resulted in anyone winning an election as a libertarian, but if you look at the issues, military nonintervention. Here it was, Congress and the president,” he said.

“They’re ready to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on going into Syria, and low and behold, 80 percent of Americans said no way. Drug reform, drug policy, marijuana legalization; libertarians have been talking about this forever, and now it’s finally here.

“Marriage equality, that’s been a libertarian issue from day one. When you look at these issues and what’s really changing in America in spite of the politicians, I’m going to argue that these have been libertarian issues for a long time.”

Who does Johnson think he is kidding?

Gary Johnson is the epitome of how not to make libertarian ideas a political reality. He’s not talking about alternative means of promoting the ideas of libertarianism. He is not saying that politics can’t advance libertarian ideas effectively or that politics is even hypocritical to libertarian principles.

What he is saying is that he could better advance them through another 3rd party run in 2016.

I would ask Gov. Johnson what office he held during said Governorship? Or perhaps to count the number of libertarian politicians at any level of government in the United States? These are not unfair critiques of using the libertarian party as vessel of putting libertarian ideas into effect; these are political realities.

We have to ask ourselves, if we’re going to try and play politics to advance libertarian ideas, then what is the most effective means of going about it?

Libertarians (small “L”), by themselves, simply don’t have enough numbers to do anything politically without building coalitions with people who don’t call themselves libertarians. In this there is nothing evil; it is not code for sacrificing principles as so many libertarians believe. Even Ron Paul worked with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont – literally a self-described socialist – in efforts to audit the Fed.

Furthermore, people who asterisk their libertarian identity have, since 2010 at the very least, been the most effective at promoting those ideas on a national stage. The “libertarians” with the biggest microphone are certainly not members of the Libertarian Party. Indeed, libertarians who are actually putting forth policy – not just talking about it, but are actually putting it forward – likewise are not members of the Libertarian Party.

Let’s face it, if Libertarians are going to move forward politically with their ideas, then it is going to be from within the Republican party and if Gary Johnson agreed, then he could be a US Senator from New Mexico making a name for himself in Congress as a libertarian Republican just like Rand Paul or Mike Lee.

Don’t take my word on it; history provides a great example of the effectiveness of co-opting an existing party’s infrastructure.

 

 

The Rise of the Neoconservatives

During the New Deal, the Republican Party became the “anti-big government” party mostly because it became the gathering place of the “anti-New Dealers.” Sen. Robert Taft, being the most well-known politician of what we now call the “Old Right”, was a staunch libertarian in all but name. A non-interventionist to the core, opposed to US membership to the UN, and as strict a constitutionalist Congressman since with the exception fo Rep. Paul – Taft became known as “Mr. Republican” and was even popular enough to get his own monument in Washington, DC.

The successors to this Old Right ideology were arguably the anti-soviets – the most notable politician of which was Sen. Barry Goldwater.

Goldwater was essentially the Ron Paul of his era in the sense that his political identity was cast as a contrast to the “establishment.”

Fate, it seems, is nothing if not poetically tragic, for it was not from without which this semi-libertarian branch of the Republican party was defeated, but from within. In particular, Goldwater and Buckley’s “New Right” came with it a new formalized political ideology: Neoconservatism.

The important thing to note for the argument being made here is that the godfather of the Neoconservative philosophy, Irving Kristol, was a follower of Leon Trotsky, “I regard myself to have been a young Trostkyite and I have not a single bitter memory.”

Think about this for a second. Leon Trotsky: the rival of Stalin for succession of Lenin’s communist revolution. A man who was so strong a candidate for the title that Stalin had him assassinated.

Now, ask yourself which political party the Neoconservatives used to become the dominate ideology of what is considered the American right. The communist party? The socialist party? Those certainly would be the more appropriate political party to represent an ideology informed by Leon Trotsky than a party whose earlier political ideology was developed as opposition to the New Deal, a program that centralized economic control more than any other program in American history, or whose primary figure opposed US membership in the United Nations.

The point is that the Neoconservatives completely flipped the ideological foundation of the Republican party from what it had been since the Great Depression. The conservatism of the anti-New Dealers – an ideology informed by classical liberalism, non-interventionism, and strict constitutionalism – gave way to centralized Wilsonian interventionism and the national security state.

 

 

Johnson’s presumptuous description of libertarianism and Rand Paul

As a final point, let’s look at another quote from Johnson’s Newsmax interview. On the elephant in the room (pun slightly intended) that is Rand Paul’s all but confirmed run for office in 2016, Johnson noted,

“On half the issues he’s right, but on the whole social issue thing . . . Look, libertarians are flaming liberals when it comes to social issues, when it comes to civil liberties. A woman’s right to choose, drug reform, immigration, marriage equality. He’s not there.”

I’m sorry, but this is just patently false. Libertarians are anything but monolithic on social issues which is partly to blame for the epidemic of infighting that has plagued the movement for decades. There are plenty of pro-life libertarians, like, well, Ron Paul.

Not to mention, to simply imply that liberals are even any good on social issues like civil liberties or drug reform is a tenuous assumption at best. On issues like civil liberties, Rand Paul is miles ahead of any leading voice in the Democratic party. Simply look at his filibuster on drone policy, suing the federal government of spying on American citizens, efforts to restore voting rights to ex-felons, sentencing reform efforts, raising awareness of the racial disparity of America’s prisons, or his condemnation of the militarization of the police

Not to mention that he has single-handedly changed the narrative of US foreign policy within the Republican party. Even a liberal like Bill Maher has said that he might support Paul in 2016 over Clinton because of his stances on the American empire.

Seriously, is Gary Johnson talking about some other guy named Rand Paul?

 

 

What should libertarians do in 2016?

Support Rand Paul of course.

Don’t get me wrong, Rand Paul is not a perfect libertarian, but neither is Gary Johnson. No libertarian matches up to the standard that libertarians have set for those who court their vote. Libertarians have replaced compromising for the “lesser of two evils” for the lesser of three.

Ultimately, Rand Paul will have a better chance of winning the election in 2016 than not only any other political figure under the libertarian umbrella, but arguably a better chance than any other candidate who will run in 2016 period.

Libertarians are either going to have to make peace with the fact that no candidate will ever be perfect, or they will simply have to remove themselves from politics altogether. In that case, they don’t have to worry about the effectiveness of the Libertarian Party.

As Jim Antle put it in his most recent piece for Rare,

“Some libertarians’ inclination to spoil even a Rand Paul Republican candidacy goes beyond politics. It’s a debate between [1980 Libertarian presidential candidate Ed Clark’s] vision of libertarianism as low-tax and the view held by the winning candidate in that presidential election that libertarianism is the “heart and soul” of conservatism.

That’s a philosophical debate for another time. The practical politics, however, are simple.

As a Republican, Johnson was twice elected governor of New Mexico. As a Libertarian, success is defined as getting 1 percent of the vote.

To borrow a phrase from Occupy Wall Street, Rand Paul isn’t the candidate of the 1 percent.”

Libertarians may be coming in from the political wilderness, but if they can’t get over 2008 or 2012, then, politically speaking, 2016 will be the hill they die on.

Creighton Harrington is 26-year-old libertarian who writes for WAL occasionally and yells on podcasts uncontrollably.