How To Improve the Libertarian Movement

By: Julie Borowski

The 2016 election cycle was flat out embarrassing for libertarians.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the two most unpopular presidential candidates in more than freaking 30 years of ABC News/Washington Post pollingAmong U.S. adults, Clinton had a 56% unfavorability rating, while Trump had 63%. 

Great opportunity for the Libertarian Party to swoop in and present itself as a viable alternative, right?

Heh. Good one.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and former Governor of Massachusetts Bill Weld won the Libertarian Party nominee. The plus side of this ticket was credibility. Both had held public office and had impressive resumes. Gary Johnson’s biggest known accomplishment as governor was vetoing 750 bills, which is bloody awesome.

But well, some not-so-awesome things happened during the campaign trail.

Like the cringeworthy Aleppo moment.

Gary Johnson was asked on MSNBC’s Morning Joe what he do about the Syrian city of Aleppo, the center of the nation’s civil war.

Johnson responded: “What is Aleppo?”  


And no, he wasn’t high. He temporarily broke up with marijuana to run for the president. It had been a few months since his last toke, okay? 

He later (half-jokingly?) defended himself by saying he can’t attack a country if he can’t find them. 

Touché, I guess.

Still, people have a reasonable expectation that their president will have a clue about what’s going on in the world.

I don’t fault him for not being able to name a foreign leader he admires. He got a lot of criticism in the media for being unable to do so, but there’s no winning answer. No matter who he said, they would have tried to tie him to that person’s most unpopular stance.

Many libertarians were understandly disappointed when he said that bakers should be forced to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding, during the Libertarian Party presidential forum on FOX Business. LP presidential candidate Austin Petersen pushed back with this question: “Should a Jewish baker be required to bake a Nazi wedding cake?”

“That would be my contention, yes,” replied Johnson.  

Good God...

Look, in the grand scheme of things it may not seem like wedding cakes are a deal breaker. But it’s a major problem if the LP presidential nominee does not believe in freedom of association-- a fundamental libertarian value.

In the same debate, Johnson repeated the progressive “equal pay for equal work” line, though he did say that he would be hesitant to sign legislation because “the devil is in the details.” 

The “devil” is that government should not be the one dictating wages.

He also supported a carbon tax to reduce global warming. Excuse me, he called it a “fee.” And it was somehow a “free market” approach? I don’t follow.

Then on an appearance PoliticKing with Larry King, Johnson said, “I am opposed to cutting the funding or eliminating funding to Planned Parenthood.”  

Now, Gary Johnson being pro-choice doesn’t mean him unlibertarian. Libertarians can have a wide range of opinions on abortion. However, all libertarians should want to eliminate federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

That’s a no-brainer.

I’m not a purist by any means. Just ask my Internet trolls. They will gladly tell you that I’m a statist sell out. But the Libertarian Party presidential nominees should be a spokesperson for libertarian ideas and not confuse people on what libertarians stand for.

And they certainly shouldn’t “vouch” for Hillary Clinton, for heaven’s sake!

On MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Vice Presidential nominee Bill Weld said he was “vouching” for Clinton and that they should pick her over Trump. The next day, the Washington Post ran an article with the headline, “Libertarian Party VP nominee Bill Weld basically just endorsed Hillary Clinton.” 

Hillary Clinton is the antithesis of libertarianism. What was the game plan there? The biggest effect it had was pushing more people to vote for Trump rather than the LP ticket. Many strong anti-Hillary libertarians couldn’t stomach voting for Johnson/Weld after that Hillary love fest of Maddow.

All of this pandering to the left caused some people to straight up leave the libertarian movement for the alt-right or just give up political activism altogether.

The Libertarian Party ticket ended up with about 4% of the popular vote. While this is the highest vote total that the LP has ever gotten in a presidential election, it was still under the 5% that they needed to make the party’s next presidential candidate eligible for federal election funds. 

The Libertarian Party desperately needs both credible candidates and one’s who fully understand libertarian philosophy. I know, I know. It’s easy for me to make all these criticisms as someone who has never even run for dog catcher. I applaud people like Gary Johnson for putting himself out there, but it’s time for someone new in 2020.

I hope I didn’t come off as too harsh to Gary. I think he’s a good guy. He deserves to go back to mountain climbing and everything else he enjoys. I’m sure it’s a heck of a lot more fun than being a punching bag for overly critical libertarians.

Of course, we should have standards on what it means to be a libertarian. We should cry foul if someone like Bernie Sanders or Lindsey Graham calls themselves a libertarian. No, clearly, you’re not in the club. But there are several policy issues where libertarians should be allowed to disagree with each other because they approach it from a libertarian perspective.

Abortion is one.

It is intellectual consistent for a libertarian to be pro-life or pro-choice. It depends on whether they believe abortion violates the non-aggression principle (NAP). This fundamental libertarian principle states that it is always wrong to initiate aggression against another person.

Pro-life libertarians tend to believe that fetuses/unborn babies are separate human beings and abortion is aggression/murder. While pro-choice libertarians tend to believe that fetuses/unborn babies are part of the mother’s body and she has the right to do with it as she pleases.

Yet, I often hear that “libertarians cannot be pro-life.”

Tell that to Ron Paul, Andrew Napolitano, Austin Petersen, Tom Woods, Thomas Massie, Justin Amash, and the many other pro-life libertarians.

This belief is enforced by the Libertarian Party Platform which reads, “recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.”  

I believe the platform should be revised to reflect that there is no official libertarian stance on abortion. Libertarian Party candidates and members have diverse opinions on the subject.  

Another divisive topic is immigration.

It is intellectually consistent for libertarians to be open borders or closed borders. Open borders libertarians tend to think that people should have the freedom to travel anywhere without government permission or approval. While closed borders libertarians tend to think that it’s unsustainable to have open immigration with our massive welfare state.

Yet, I often hear that “libertarians must support open immigration.”

Economist Milton Friedman, who is generally respected among “mainstream” libertarians, said “it’s just obvious you can't have free immigration and a welfare state.” We can’t even afford our current welfare state, let alone let everyone who wants to come in and give them free goodies, too.

Among the closed borders libertarians, there are also some who believe that it’s counterproductive to let in people who come from cultures hostile to liberty. They argue that people bring their culture with them, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think they will vote for or respect libertarian values.

If libertarians were to ever create a floating “ancapistan” city at sea (dream big), wouldn’t it be smart to exclude statists?

Much of the debate is centered around Muslim immigrants. They ask if it is wise for libertarians to support letting in large numbers of people whose culture is overwhelmingly hostile to homosexuality and women’s liberty?

A Pew Research Poll asked participants in 39 countries: “Should society accept homosexuality?” While they found “broad acceptance” in North America, the “overwhelming majorities in the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed also say homosexuality should be rejected, including 97% in Jordan, 95% in Egypt, 94% in Tunisia, 93% in the Palestinian territories, 93% in Indonesia, 87% in Pakistan, 86% in Malaysia, 80% in Lebanon and 78% in Turkey.”  

Of course, libertarians can have a wide range of personal views about homosexuality. The point is that these anti-gay beliefs in large parts of the Middle East and Africa have led to laws against homosexuality. In many of these majority Muslim countries, homosexual acts are illegal or even punishable by death.   

Clearly something all libertarians should be opposed to.

Likewise, majority Muslim countries tend to have very different attitudes about women than we do. It should be said that clearly not all of these countries are the same. Pakistan is not as strict as Saudi Arabia, for instance. There is some disagreement in the Muslim world, but their cultures are still illiberal compared to the west.  

A Pew Research Poll found disagreement on whether women have the right to choose whether to veil a veil in public. “While more than eight-in-ten Muslims in Tunisia (89%) and Morocco (85%) say women should have the right to choose whether they wear a veil, fewer than half in Egypt (46%), Jordan (45%), Iraq (45%) and Afghanistan (30%) say the same.”  

There was also disagreement on whether sons and daughters should have equal inheritance rights. “More than half of Muslims in Indonesia (76%), Thailand (61%) and Pakistan (53%) support equal inheritance rights, but fewer than half do so in Bangladesh (46%), Malaysia (36%) and Afghanistan (30%).” 

Some people worry that open immigration would fundamentally change our culture and make us less free. I think it’s a point worth discussing and debating without the typical name calling. Unfortunately, some pro-immigration libertarians have completely shut down the debate and called these people racists and islamophobes. That drives people away.

It's a controversial point, for sure. I have to admit that I am often torn on the subject. But whether or not you agree, I think they are still approaching it from a libertarian perspective concerned about the future of liberty. It’s unfair to try to “kick” these people of the libertarian movement simply because they have a different view on immigration.

OK, cya then!

People often ask me why libertarianism isn’t more popular. There’s probably a lot of reasons. Public schools and the media reinforce the idea that government is the answer to our problems. Freedom can be scary, and some people would rather get “free” handouts than work.

And don’t forget, libertarians.

Libertarians are often our own worst nightmare.

Another common complaint is that libertarians aren’t focused on the real issues. While the national political debate is on health care or tax reform, libertarians are busy debating on whether drunk driving should be legal or something else that will never happen.

Remember when 2016 LP presidential candidate Austin Petersen was booed for saying “you should not be able to sell heroin to a five-year-old"? Not the finest moment in libertarian history…

I have zero interest in debating anarcho-capitalism vs. minarchy. As if private police and courts were even close to becoming a reality. It may be an interesting intellectual debate at conferences, but we can debate it until we’re blue in the face and nothing will change in the real world.

Libertarians need to get in the battle, which also means focusing on what’s winnable. Many libertarians have an all-or-nothing approach. Yes, for the millionth time, taxation is theft (more like extortion). But tax cuts are still a win that should be celebrated.

If we never have any accomplishments, people will get burnt out and leave the movement. There’s a lot of other things competing with people’s time—like taking care of their kids and stuff. People want to know that the time they spend on liberty activism makes a difference. 

It’s undeniable that the liberty movement is going through some growing pains right now. Perhaps we need another presidential candidate like Ron Paul who can unify us once again with a shared purpose. One who is both credible and knows his libertarianism A through Z.

Until then, start talking about things that matter.

And oh, learn how to take a joke, too.

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