In case you haven’t heard, the Libertarian Party national convention is taking place this weekend. It is hard to tell who will emerge as the nominee, but the three frontrunners are Austin Petersen, John McAfee, and 2012 nominee, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
If Johnson is the nominee, I will not be able to support him, even though Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are downright awful. I can’t support Johnson because his role as a minor party candidate is not necessarily to win, but to be a spokesman for libertarian principles. As a libertarian myself, I certainly want more Americans to hear and understand the libertarian philosophy.
Johnson is an inarticulate and boring communicator. But that isn’t his biggest problem. Unfortunately, he never bothered to actually learn what is means to be a libertarian. If you ask Johnson what it means to be a libertarian, he will say “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” Another way of putting that is half Republican and half Democrat.
But that sloppy soundbite couldn’t be more misleading. David Boaz of the CATO Institute describes libertarianism this way:
“Libertarianism is the view that each person has the right to live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others. Libertarians defend each person’s right to life, liberty, and property – rights that people possess naturally, before governments are created. In the libertarian view, all human relationships should voluntary; the only actions that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the initiation of force against those who have themselves used force – actions like murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and fraud.”
The role of a libertarian in politics is to maximize freedom and minimize government. While being fiscally conservative (if defined as being for lower taxes and lower spending) is something a libertarian should support, it still misses the larger point of the philosophy.
A quick rundown on Johnson’s fiscal record as governor: when he entered office the state budget was $4.397 billion and when he left it was $7.721 billion. Johnson claims to have balanced the budget each year, which isn’t impressive by itself because the state constitution mandates it. But thanks to some off-budget gimmicks, Johnson actually was able to run deficits. James Spiller of National Review notes: “In fact, Johnson inherited a debt of $1.8 billion and left a debt of $4.6 billion, a rate of increase unmatched by the 22 governors in either party who have filed for presidential primaries in the past two decades, with the exception of Governor Tom Vilsack (D., Iowa) in 2007. During every year that Johnson, as he says, balanced the budget, he added to the debt.”
Johnson’s fiscal policies also apparently include government-funded prizes for science and paying U.N. dues, two things he brought up during the recent debate hosted by TheBlaze and moderated by Penn Jillette.
The more objectionable view of Johnson is that social liberalism is essential to libertarianism. In fact, it is distinct, if not in opposition to the philosophy. The great libertarian scholar Murray Rothbard put it like this:
“There are libertarians who are indeed hedonists and devotees of alternative lifestyles, and that there are also libertarians who are firm adherents of “bourgeois” conventional or religious morality. There are libertarian libertines and there are libertarians who cleave firmly to the disciplines of natural or religious law. There are other libertarians who have no moral theory at all apart from the imperative of non-violation of rights. That is because libertarianism per se has no general or personal moral theory.
Libertarianism does not offer a way of life; it offers liberty, so that each person is free to adopt and act upon his own values and moral principles. Libertarians agree with Lord Acton that “liberty is the highest political end” – not necessarily the highest end on everyone’s personal scale of values.”
Johnson’s embrace of social liberalism has gotten him into trouble with the base of the party. It reveals him to be not a libertarian, but a libertine and an authoritarian, which are qualities today well-represented by the Democratic Party.
Like Democrats, Johnson is in favor of legalizing only marijuana. Libertarians are in favor of all drugs being legal. Like Democrats, he is in favor of government-sponsored gay marriage. Libertarians oppose government involvement in marriage. Like Democrats, he believes that businesses must cater (literally-he believes Jews should have to bake Nazi cakes) to anyone and everyone. Libertarians believe in freedom of association and freedom of conscience/religion. Like Democrats, he supports funding for Planned Parenthood. Libertarians oppose government subsidization of private organizations. Like Democrats, Johnson is in favor of some gun control. Libertarians oppose restrictions on gun ownership.
The more I read about Johnson, the less libertarian I realize he is. Others are coming to the same conclusion.
Recently, Johnson affirmed his true beliefs when he selected former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld as his running mate, another self-described libertarian who also erroneously believes the philosophy means “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” In particular, Weld is proud to be pro-LGBT and pro-abortion, two hallmark positions of social liberalism.
Jesse Walker of Reason listed some anti-libertarian positions held by Weld, including support for an assault weapons ban, eminent domain, and foreign intervention, and summed up Weld as “more of a moderate “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” type, with “fiscally conservative” defined by Massachusetts standards and with “socially liberal” defined in terms a Michael Bloomberg could embrace.”
Conservative Review also notes Weld’s support of EPA regulations and affirmative action. In addition, Weld endorsed Obama in 2008, Romney in 2012, and Kasich in 2016 before linking up with Johnson.
At the LP convention, Johnson defended his pick by proclaiming Weld “the original libertarian.”
A chorus of boos then rightly rained down on him. Weld is no Harry Browne. He is no Ron Paul. Neither is Johnson. In fact, Bob Barr is more libertarian than Johnson and Weld.
As it stands today, I urge the libertarian activists at the LP convention to not nominate the Johnson/Weld ticket. If they are nominated, I urge libertarians across the country to join me in condemning them as frauds. The lies, half-truths, and stereotypes handed down from the authoritarians in the media and the other parties are bad enough. We cannot afford to have the public miseducated by people who are supposedly our own.