06 January 2016
The Libertarian race ... to the bottom?
There will now be a contest for the Libertarian party's 2016 presidential nomination. The 2012 candidate, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson -- he was a Republican, then -- has decided to give it another try after getting 1% of the popular vote last time. He faces antivirus software entrepreneur John McAfee, whose history of legal troubles ought to be a handicap but may endear him to people harboring ambivalent feelings toward many laws. McAfee is an unorthodox Libertarian in that he calls for, among other things, a large government public works program if that's the only alternative to leaving people to starve on the street. Understandably given his business, he wants to build up the nation's defenses against cyberwarfare, and that's probably a field where libertarians would welcome government help. Meanwhile, Johnson is pro-immigration but anti-Muslim -- or, more accurately, anti-sharia. He takes the novel position that the government can ban certain Muslim practices mandated by sharia law, like wearing burqas, without violating the First Amendment, on the premise that sharia is essentially political rather than religious. While respecting Muslims' right to worship -- and making an implicit distinction between worship and practice that Muslims are unlikely to accept -- as well as their free-speech right to advocate sharia, Johnson would encourage an anti-sharia "cultural campaign" at home while moving towards a hands-off policy in the Middle East. But if his stand on Islam wins him supporters outside normal libertarian circles, those new supporters might be repelled by his pro-immigration position, which is implicit in his criticisms of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Many of the people concerned about Islam today are across-the-board xenophobes no more interested in having more Hispanics here than in having more Muslims. But you probably can't be a Libertarian and support the border wall that some Republicans endorse. What point is there in being Libertarian, though? There's been talk over the past few years of libertarianism finally becoming a mass movement due to mass disgust with the two major parties. When I look at the political environment this year, I suspect that if that moment of opportunity for libertarians was ever real, it is now past. Look at the anger and suspicion everywhere and you'd be hard pressed to find a constituency for the Libertarians' "let's let each other alone" philosophy. To the contrary, we're in a moment when everyone is demanding accountability from everyone else more vehemently than in a long time. There seems to be a realization on right and left alike that we can't just let everyone do his or her own thing anymore. On the right, Trump expresses that feeling, his followers hoping he'll give liberals and other losers the rude awakening the deserve and need. On the left, Sanders appeals to a desire to hold the corporations and the wealthy to account. Who actually thinks that what we need now is more liberty? We'll find out when we see the Libertarian vote this November, but if the party actually improves on 2012 I'll be surprised.