This article originally appeared on the blog of Heretic, the magazine of We Are Libertarians.
This week, Libertarian Vice President nominee Spike Cohen was involved in two different controversies. Both involved his inability to keep his shirt on. After his nomination, the internet noted a few pictures of him at the beach posing for pictures for a fundraiser. Then again, in light of the backlash, he took his shirt off again on a libertarian podcast. You can see this appearance on the Kris and Jessi show here:
Of course, this made the already wild uproar hit a fever pitch. And thank God it did.
“How will people take the libertarians seriously if their candidates take their shirts off?” or some variation of this question seems to be the debate. Thankfully, this question is very easy to answer with multiple correct answers. If you kill half a million civilians overseas, your party is actually the real joke. If you care about a shirtless guy and not about the millions of people wrongly imprisoned, maybe you need to get your priorities straight. And, of course, yeah, he’s a bit odd, but he’s smart and kind and that matters more to me than to get hung up about his attire (or lack thereof).
So now let’s look at the effect of this controversy. A few thousand people have tuned in to listen to the show already (I am writing this less than six hours after it was produced). It has not even gone live on major podcast players yet. But people are tuning in that usually never tune in to libertarian podcasts. And what do they hear when they tune in? A message of understanding, self-empowerment, and unity with people that are naturally left or right leaning. He is engaging with people are have either not been reached at all, or are only being reached by a single political party and used and abused like tokens.
Yes, you’re going to see people that weren’t going to vote for him anyhow that are angry about Spike embarrassing them. To be fair, they have a right to be embarrassed about shirtlessness. But if this shames them to the point where they will support Donald Trump or Joe Biden, they have no idea what is truly embarrassing. Their support was lost with or without the shirt. Over the course of a long campaign, even an ideal and safe candidate will do something that voters are ashamed of and they will either stay home or vote for the duopoly.
But you’re also going to see outsider attention. Some will start off by insulting him or laughing at him. That’s how I got to know Spike better; saying I didn’t understand him or his campaign. What happened? He and his supporters addressed my concerns. They did not dismiss them. He understands EXACTLY what he is doing when he takes his shirt off. After finding out he’s nice guy that cares what you think, you’ll start to hear what he has to say.
In the show above, he brings awareness to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. Someone comments on the show that they are scared and have to hold up their phones every time they run in to police because she’s a minority and has seen this behavior before. She felt used by Joe Biden and marginalized by Trump. Spike brought her a little bit of liberty’s light that she had not heard before.
This is how it will begin for everyone. You’ll be shocked. Major media will be happy to put a camera on him to try and humiliate him. They have already begun to make this a story, bringing much attention on his chest, yes, but also some accidental attention to his message. The message will be delivered incidentally. And it will have a profound impact. It already has.
Spike Cohen is serving the party by reaching people and touching lives that are unreachable by “normal” libertarians. This is more than just a nice boost. It is a critical impact. Without reaching these people, libertarians will never gain enough people to win at anything. I have been spoken to by several non-libertarian friends about this incident (by the end of tomorrow, I’m sure the number of these interactions will quadruple). Yes, they laughed at me for a couple of seconds. Then we talked about the episode and I laughed at them for an hour. Well, not laughed at them, but watched them blossom to the message of freedom that they heard in a way they’ve never heard of before.
Might Spike lose? Of course, he’s a Libertarian. Maybe this effect doesn’t show up at the polls in the way you want. But people are hearing about alternatives to Democrats and Republicans for the first time. This is the first step; being seen and heard. Yes, he’s a bit of a weird guy. We all are. But he’s not a psychopath like every other politician on the ballot. In fact, he’s a sweet, compassionate, and intelligent guy. And he’s using his weirdness to grow a movement and party that is mired in mediocrity and difficulty. Hate it all you want, but this is our only shot at salvation.