I’ve been a Libertarian since the eighties. I am of the variety who believes ALL human interaction should be voluntary. Each election season, I have yelled at the TV while crumbling up proverbial newspapers and pelting the pundits who followed every move of “BOTH” candidates.
The World-wide web gave us a bit of a voice, but (in the average voters mind), the so-called MSM (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, AP and UPI) remained the final word on which candidates were credible. Anyone could post stuff online, and everyone does. This paradigm of the establishment media as curators of truth is dissolving, but not gone.
Have I been alone in this frustration? Hardly. Until recently, this ideological shunning has been obvious to libertarians, and of no interest to people who were not minor party activists. For years the official political discourse had been about liberals, moderates, and extremists (meant in a scary-bad way).
Enter Ron Paul’s second Presidential run. Twenty years after being the Libertarian Parties nominee, he returned to Presidential Politics as a libertarian-Republican. While the establishment did their best to marginalize him, they could no longer do so without being called out.
Libertarians of all backgrounds were finding each other, and the Ron Paul campaign was the catalyst. Finally we were hearing the word “libertarian,” and people were using it correctly; but they were referring to the philosophy, not the party. Ron Paul supporters became the Campaign for Liberty, which has attempted to make the GOP more libertarian. I’ve been there, and can’t blame them for trying… but how’s that working out in this Presidential election cycle? Privately many C4L-Republicans have told me that in general elections, they vote Libertarian if no liberty-Republican made it through the primary.
So once again, I find myself throwing those proverbial crumbled newspaper balls at the TV and cursing at pundits who talk about “BOTH parties” or “THE candidates” and would go on on to talk as if only two parties existed. Sometimes they would ask if it might be time for a third party, as if none existed yet…
…but sometime between 2012 and 2016 change was underway. Those moments of hopelessness and frustration were punctuated by respectable recognition of the Libertarian Party by many of the mainstream broadcasters and publishers who had once shunned them.
The major parties continue to nominate hard-core statist candidates, but this time the idea of picking the lesser of two evils is no longer taken for granted. Mixed in with the idea that Americans need a third choice, there is an acknowledgement that the choice exists, and that choice is the Libertarian Party’s candidate. Most of the time they name that candidate, and when they do, it’s Governor Gary Johnson.
Something I have been working toward for about 30 years is finally happening. Conversations outside the echo chamber have included respect for the Libertarian alternative. This is beyond a token mention. There are interviews and analysis… even polling results indicate 10% of the voters being willing to support a Libertarian candidate. Most interviews with a Libertarian Presidential candidate are with Gary Johnson. He is also the candidate polling 10%. Of course there is one glaring omission to most of the hype, that Governor Johnson, himself, has to keep alerting people too: He has not been nominated.
After years of stagnation and shrinking membership, the Libertarian Party is respected by regular people outside the movement. When Johnson was nominated in 2012, many Libertarians were overly optimistic about the effect of nominating a two-term governor. The fact was that the Libertarian brand was no longer taken seriously; most people found us to be irrelevant. In spite of that Johnson earned us a record number of votes, and in my home state of Michigan he earned the highest number of statewide write-in votes in the states entire history.
The Johnson-Gray team never went away. Through the non-partisan issues oriented organization, “Our America Initiative” they had been providing a libertarian network whereby activists, working on libertarian legislation, could unite and lobby for it on an issue-by-issue basis. This way we were gradually showing relevance. Also, through Our America Initiative, Gary Johnson, Judge James P. Gray and others have taken the Commission on Presidential Debates to court. Even if the lawsuit fails, Libertarians are winning; we are on track to regaining our long-lost 50-state ballot access. I can hardly keep up with all the news reports and interviews that have focused on the Libertarian Party and the Johnson candidacy. I can hardly contain my excitement either (so I blog about it). Recent polls have Johnson at 10%, but if the libertarian nominee reached that 15% threshold, the commission could just close shop, thereby exposing themselves as a fraud to the general public. At this point we would be the proverbial naked man running down the street. Ignoring us would be like ignoring the 800 Lb gorilla in the room. We would have to be recognized by the people covering the election, and voters could begin to think of us as a viable choice; the death of the “wasted vote” argument is upon us.
For years we have looked for the magic bullet. Little did we know that round was already primed in 2012, and if the Libertarian delegates are willing, it will exit the muzzle this weekend. This is our moment, but only if we seize it!
But what about the message? Has it been watered down? In a way, but it’s a good thing.
Here’s the Real Politik. A while back my late friend, Pat Clawson found that more people would support him petitioning to run as an independent rather than the much less costly option of being nominated at a Libertarian convention; they just didn’t feel right about the about the Libertarian Party. He said we needed to do some market research. Well, it’s been done for us.
The sucess Gary Johnson has had reaching people outside the movement shows that he is doing something right. Perhaps those of us who thought the logical elegance of libertarianism would be universally recognized for its crystalline beauty were distracted from a blind-spot.
People have different learning styles. The fact that they don’t readily agree with what ever we say, doesn’t make them sheeple. They think differently, and need to be spoken to in a way that makes sense to them if we are to persuade them to agree with us. To people who love to debate (as I do), he comes across as indirect. His policy positions often don’t go far enough to satisfy libertarian activists. This does not make him the perfect candidate at a Libertarian Convention. In 2012 Johnson was quick to credit R. Lee Wrights with out-debating him.
However, Gary Johnson is the perfect candidate, and an excellent spokesperson, on the national stage. People connect with him emotionally. He doesn’t scare people, and his policy positions take us in the Libertarian direction.
At an event in 2013 I asked why he supported a “harm reduction” approach to hard drugs, like heroin, rather than just legalizing them outright. His response was that everything he does must be “reality based.” I didn’t get this right away because I thought in terms of physical reality, but there is also the world of political reality. If one wants to affect change, one needs to get people on one’s side.
Governor Johnson knows how to reach people where they are. In the current political context. The reality is that we live in a popular soft tyranny, not a state of nature. The reality is that we are not ruled over by a few statists with fancy hats. Millions of people put leaders in office, and most people are comfortable with what they do.
The way to move from a soft tyranny to a relatively free society, is to appeal to that libertarian part of them that would like to remove government aggression from some part of their lives. Let’s give people a taste of liberty and hopefully they will want more. Respect the moderate Libertarians because we need them to move forward. They are reasonable, but cautious, people. They will vote for us, and we can expand liberty by getting government out of the way, one reform at a time.
I have renewed optimism that we may finally reach critical mass, and we might even win the oval. I hope my optimism survives past this weekend.