The Year of the Libertarians, or the libertarians?

You can imagine Nick Gillespie of Reason.com is giddy about the Libertarian Party’s chances this year, but not without some reason:

And yet…lest we forget, it’s the Republican and Democratic parties that are imploding, with the former group split over a candidate who openly mocks handicapped people, has zero grasp of even the most basic policy issues, and calls for the forcible removal of 12 million (his count) illegal immigrants and their children (even if the kids are actually U.S. citizens). …

When it comes to the right wing, the elephant in the room isn’t that Trump somehow hijacked or stole the conservative movement and its causes. Rather, it’s that virtually everything he stands for is the fulfillment of precisely what Republicans and conservatives have demanded for decades, just with an added dose of crudeness and less fear of the gays. To the extent that his yammerings make any sense, we know Trump is anti-immigrant, bellicose when it comes foreign policy, and is obsessed with a backward-looking vision of “American greatness.” If he wants to keep Obama’s universal health insurance in place, then he’s what, like Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential candidate who was not only endorsed by National Review, but is constantly being pushed by The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol as a cure to what ails the GOP?

On the Democratic side of the aisle, things are just as sad, with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tripping over each other to denounce Uber, Airbnb, and other avatars of the sharing economy, which is a rare bright spot in a generally sluggish economy. Why? Because such “gig” jobs don’t come with the gold-plated benefits the GM offered during its protectionist heyday in the 1950s or something. Don’t you know that kids are going hungry because we have too many flavors of deodorant? Sanders, whose only play now is to Gillooly Clinton so much that she agrees to raise the minimum wage to $15 rather than her relatively measely $12 per hour. Clinton is a hawk’s hawk who, like Donald Trump (at the same time!) called for censorship of the internet because of Islamic terrorism.

At each next rally, she recites her resume lines more loudly for the simple reason that despite 25 years in the public eye, she has no discernible vision for the future of the country she so desperately wants to lead. Clinton is anti-trade and has been attacking NAFTA since 2008 or so, when she tried to outflank Barack Obama on the left. She calls Edward Snowden a traitor, has never met a surveillance program or secret presidential kill list she didn’t want to add a few names to, and has the most censorious history of anyone currently running for president. Seriously, look it up.

And yet…and yet, it’s the Libertarians who are a joke, because despite no funding and help from ballot-access laws and other schemes designed to silence alternative voices, they have somehow managed to nominate two successful, centrist former governors who believe in economic and cultural freedom, that the government is too big and expensive, that overseas interventions should be less frequent than they have been during the past 15 years, that school choice and reproductive choice and legalizing weed are good things…

Let’s stipulate that however silly Libertarians may be, and however much they might desperately want the future to feature only private sidewalks and for Soylent Green to be purchased exclusively with Bitcoin or Ethereum, they are not as batshit crazy and unhinged as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the two parties and movements they represent. Yes, we libertarians (big L and small l) like comic books and science fiction and have people who show up at national conventions wearing boots on their heads and strip down to thongs and argue over whether such unannounced nudity contravenes the non-aggression principle. Dunno about you, but when I look at a future in which I can be hanging out with the likes of Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee or Elizabeth Warren and Anthony Weiner or with Vermin Supreme and James Weeks II, I’m happy to choose the latter pair every time.

I think it’s effectively impossible that Johnson and Weld will win in the fall, but that’s also not the real endgame here either. As I write in a new Daily Beast column, the important thing is to change the general direction in which politics is headed. To the extent that the two major parties are having problems, it’s because of who they are and what they represent. Each of the parties is still locked into a mind-set where its people should control large areas of your everyday life—how you do business, say, or whom you can marry. Those days are over for pragmatic reasons (thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to route around government and just get on with your life) and to changes in belief systems (we really are a more live-and-let-live nation, thank god).

Politics is a lagging indicator of where America is headed as a country. For the past half-century or so, we’ve been trending to greater and greater freedom and possibilities of how to live our lives. We are more comfortable with choices about what to eat, whom to marry, where to live, how to learn, how to express our values through our work and social commitments, and so much more. There is a reason why our identification with the two major parties has been falling over that same time frame: The Republicans and Democrats exist only in yesterday’s America and fewer and fewer of us want much to do with such hollowed-visions that only 29 percent identify as Democrats and just 26 percent as Republicans.

Johnson and Weld and the Libertarians won’t win this time around. Even a post-Kardashian, post-body-shaming America isn’t quite ready for a striptease performed at a national convention.

But everything they stand for, and that the American people are demanding—more peace around the globe, more choice here at home, the ability to innovate and speak freely—will be absorbed either into both major parties, or by whatever replaces them. …

You’re welcome to your own world, liberals and conservatives, but sooner or later (and whether you realize it or not), you’ll be living in a libertarian world that is freer, fairer, and more fun than ever.

That bit about being “freer” and “fairer” certainly seems like a contradiction, and the world certainly is not fun now, nor is it likely to be “more fun” regardless of result in November. I certainly think our country needs more choice here at home and the ability to innovate and speak freely. (Our enemies (and yes, they are our enemies) are not cooperating on the “more peace” part.) It cannot be said that either Democrats or Republicans really support more choice, innovation or free speech.

Interestingly the Libertarians could be said to be having similar issues as Democrats and Republicans in one area — widespread dissatisfaction with their presidential nominee, former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who strikes many Libertarians as not being very libertarian. London’s left-wing Guardian calls Johnson a “pro-pot Trump,” but consider the source. The non-libertarian National Review notes:

Like Trump this cycle, Johnson in 2012 proposed cartoonish plans to cut spending. Trump promises to achieve savings of more than 100 percent on various costs; Johnson promised a less radical-sounding, but still implausible, 43 percent budget cut in the first year. Like Trump, he demonstrates no interest in even the vaguest outlines of fiscal policy. Johnson would turn much of the government over to the states and make them make the cuts. Fine. But he showed no interest, either, in detailing the cuts he promised to defense or to the federal court system. His Social Security cuts were on the order of a few percent at most in the first year. No one who seriously wants to cut spending thinks that a 43 percent cut — which would entail costs associated with, for example, closing bases — followed by stasis in subsequent years makes more sense than, say, a 35 percent cut in year one followed by a 15 percent cut in year two. …

On public financing of political campaigns, the one issue on which Johnson has gone into significant detail, he said in 2012 that he would increase spending. The biggest Libertarian-party message of 2012 was “Vote Libertarian one time.” If the party got 5 percent of the vote in 2012, it would have qualified for public funding for its private political speech in 2016 and would have been the only political party to receive this uniquely anti-libertarian subsidy. (The two major parties raise too much money to qualify for funding for the presidential campaign.) This cycle, Johnson has not addressed the public-funding issue, but he does address the problem of the major parties’ having access to inordinate private funds, aligning himself with Sanders on the larger issue of campaign finance.

Those of you with keen memories will note, incidentally, the discrepancy between his pro-choice rhetoric in this video and his moderate pro-life rhetoric when in a Republican debate four years ago. His campaign site takes the middle road: It notes the late-term-abortion ban (although not the counseling requirement) that he supported as governor and that he told Republicans about, but those positions are described in the past tense, without any indication of his current position. Whatever you believe the principled libertarian position on abortion is, it probably doesn’t involve telling conservatives that you would increase restrictions and then suggesting to progressives that the practice should be unrestricted.

On civil liberties as with fiscal issues, Johnson’s record is less libertarian than that of his successors as governor of New Mexico, and even of most other governors and presidents. Bill Richardson, his immediate successor, introduced concealed carry. Susana Martinez succeeded Richardson and got rid of civil-asset forfeiture. Johnson’s successors enacted sound libertarian reforms, including measures against eminent-domain abuse and Johnson’s government involvement in markets. This cycle, Johnson has declared against freedom of association for bakers and florists. Other than supporting drug legalization, in which he has a substantial personal financial interest, there appears to be very little in his record or agenda that National Review readers would find appealing.

Johnson’s vice presidential candidate is former Republican Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, about whom the same things are being said for different reasons (Second Amendment rights). Still, Libertarians chose Johnson over Austin Petersen, who for some reason called himself the “Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama of the Libertarian Party” as if Libertarians should think that was a good thing, and John McAfee, who would have been even more interesting to watch than Comrade Sanders and Trump’s latest intellectual tantrum. It’s as if the Libertarians picked two center-right governors thinking they would be more electable or something.

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