The other day, Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson threw a SJW fit when Guy Benson uttered the words “illegal immigrant.” A few days earlier, Johnson’s running mate Bill Weld affirmed his support for a healthcare mandate.
I could write a very lengthy article on all of the instances Johnson and Weld have rejected libertarian principles. They do it almost as often as Donald Trump insults someone on Twitter. At best, Gary Johnson is a centrist (but moving left every day) with some libertarian leanings. He has close to zero intellectual understanding of the libertarian philosophy. Bill Weld is even worse, a classic Rockefeller Republican who wouldn’t surprise anybody if he became a Democrat tomorrow.
These are the men presenting themselves as the spokesmen of the Libertarian Party, which in turn is understood by many to be the official arbiter of libertarianism (it isn’t). For their 2016 campaign, Johnson and Weld have positioned themselves as the moderate “adults in the room” choice, a soft appeal based more on their experience as governors than principles or issues.
Additionally, the two governors have staked out a place in the culture wars, labeling themselves “socially liberal.” Johnson and Weld are no doubt sincere in their cultural stances, which are in line with the modern progressive movement: secularism, environmentalism, sexual revolution, and love of pot, with a smattering of political correctness thrown in for good measure.
I set all of this up to bring me to my point: why the preeminent libertarian of our time (Ron Paul), along with his intellectual and political allies, are refusing to give this ticket an ounce of support.
In 1990, Paul’s close friend Lew Rockwell penned an article calling for an alliance between libertarians and conservatives. The entire piece is excellent. But I want to focus in on the criticisms it makes of the Libertarian Party at the time:
Conservatives have always argued that political freedom is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the good society, and they’re right. Neither is it sufficient for the free society. We also need social institutions and standards that encourage public virtue, and protect the individual from the State.
Unfortunately, many libertarians – especially those in the Libertarian Party – see freedom as necessary and sufficient for all purposes. Worse, they equate freedom from State oppression with freedom from cultural norms, religion, bourgeois morality, and social authority.
In its 17-year history, the LP may never have gotten 1% in a national election, but it has smeared the most glorious political idea in human history with libertine muck. For the sake of that glorious idea, it’s time to get out the scrub brushes.
Most Americans agree that aggression against the innocent and their property is wrong. Although these millions are potential libertarians, they are put off by the Woodstockian flavor of the movement. Hair may have left Broadway long ago, but the Age of Aquarius survives in the LP.
The cultural anti-norms that mark the libertarian image are abhorrent; they have nothing to do with libertarianism per se; and they are deadly baggage. Unless we dump that baggage, we will miss the greatest opportunity in decades.
Americans reject the national Democratic Party because they see it as disdaining bourgeois values. If they have ever heard of the LP, they rebuff it for similar reasons.
The Libertarian Party is probably irreformable – and irrelevant even if it weren’t. Libertarianism is neither. But unless we cleanse libertarianism of its cultural image, our movement will fail as miserably as the LP has. We will continue to be seen as a sect that “resists authority” and not just statism, that endorses the behaviors it would legalize, and that rejects the standards of Western civilization.
Arguments against the drug war, no matter how intellectually compelling, are undermined when they come from the party of the stoned. When the LP nominates a prostitute for lieutenant governor of California and she becomes a much admired LP celebrity, how can regular Americans help but think that libertarianism is hostile to social norms, or that legalization of such acts as prostitution means moral approval? There could be no more politically suicidal or morally fallacious connection, but the LP has forged it.
With their counter-cultural beliefs, many libertarians have avoided issues of increasing importance to middle-class Americans, such as civil rights, crime, and environmentalism.
The only way to sever libertarianism’s link with libertinism is with a cleansing debate. I want to start that debate, and on the proper grounds. As G.K. Chesterton said, “We agree about the evil; it is about the good that we should tear each others eyes out.”
In response to Rockwell’s article, Ron Paul had this to say:
I hesitate to comment on Rockwell’s article because I see the debate as being more divisive than productive. I prefer to use my energy attacking those who support statism, whether they do so intentionally or out of ignorance.
Having said this, I will make one comment: it’s obvious to me that the Libertarian Party would be a lot bigger than it is now if its image were perceived as more libertarian and less libertine.
The points made by Rockwell and Paul couldn’t be more applicable today, and nobody embodies those criticisms better than Johnson and Weld. Their cultural stances have turned off dissatisfied Republicans and independents, appealing primarily only to the far left, a population with no reason to leave the Green party and the outer rim of the Democratic party. Put simply, their pandering is self-destructive.
Their cultural stances could be more tolerable if Johnson and Weld actually had a libertarian view on the role of government. But they don’t, often embracing authoritarian positions without any logical justification.
The Ron Paul Institute recently accused the two of “dragging libertarianism through the mud.”
Discussing some of Weld’s activities prior to becoming the vice presidential nominee, Dick notes Weld “was one of a group of politicians who wrote a letter to members of Congress telling them that it was important to reauthorize the portions of the PATRIOT Act that were set to sunset.” Dick continues that “these are some of the worst sections of the PATRIOT Act, some of the sections that are most abusive of freedom, and that’s why they were the few provisions that had sunset provisions to begin with.”
Dick also discusses in the interview how Weld “praised George W. Bush’s foreign policy not too long after the 2003 Iraq invasion.” This puts Weld squarely at odds with libertarians’ support for a noninterventionist foreign policy.
Looking at domestic policy, Dick argues that Weld has shown extreme disrespect for the liberty at the core of the libertarian message by saying during a campaign interview that nobody on the US government’s terror watch lists should be able to buy a gun. Dick explains that bureaucrats arbitrarily add people’s names to the lists without the need to show any respect for due process rights.
Turning to the Libertarian ticket’s potential Supreme Court nominees, Dick discusses in the interview how Johnson has deferred to Weld on the picking of Supreme Court nominees, with Weld identifying as the kind of people Johnson would appoint to the court current Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and US appellate court Judge Merrick Garland, who President Barack Obama has nominated for appointment to the Supreme Court. Concludes Dick, “There’s no argument that either Justice Breyer or Judge Garland is a libertarian, but here we have the Libertarian presidential ticket saying that is the kind of people they want to put on the court.”
The end result of such significant anti-libertarian positions being advanced by the Libertarian presidential ticket is that, even if the ticket wins a high percentage on election day, it will, Dick says, be “an absolute failure” for advancing libertarianism. That is because “they’ve drug [the term ‘libertarian’] through the mud, made it difficult for people to understand what it even means.” But, Dick predicts that the ticket ultimately will not do as well as some current polling suggests. Instead, much of the early gauged support, Dick says, “will probably dry up” because Johnson and Weld “are being so wishy-washy that they are not giving people a good reason to really support them.”
Ron Paul educated people about non-intervention, property rights, monetary policy, and constitutionalism. Johnson and Weld want you to feel mushy and vote for “a third way, up the middle.”
Ron Paul has always put principle over party. Johnson and Weld are asking libertarians to put party over principle, while at the same time misleading a public uneducated about those libertarian principles.
Johnson and Weld doesn’t deserve support from libertarians, and the less support the receive the better off libertariansm will be.