I highly recommend listening to Gary Johnson’s interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast. The former Governor of New Mexico is both articulate and likable, which is a rare combination for a politician.
I’ve had libertarian-leaning friends ask me if I’m going to make a case for Johnson. If I made this argument, it would be as follows: The two-party system is disintegrating, with Trump having mauled the Republican Party beyond recognition and Hillary inspiring exactly no one on the left. Right-leaning Americans who’ve tasted eight years of Obamanomics (and who don’t want their housekeeper to get deported) should therefore be rational and admit they’ve been libertarians all along.
However, I don’t buy these arguments. I like Gary, I like watching his poll numbers climb to double digits against Trump and Clinton, and I like watching disillusioned Republicans admitting that they’ve been libertarians all along. But I’m not feeling the Johnson.
Paradoxically, sometimes liberty is better served by thinking in second and third order effects than by picking candidates according to how consistently their views line up with our own.
Let me explain.
Johnson is benefiting from mass rebellion against the political Establishment, which now pits Trump and a dying (I mean literally, dying) Sanders against Hillary. Since Sanders probably won’t make it to November, Trump will soon garner support from the vast majority of anti-establishment voters, with Clinton soaking votes from minorities just as she soaks the rich for money (and with the same amount of enthusiasm from the other end).
As a bystander who collects support by default, Johnson can still help by pushing American politics in the right direction. The immensely popular Joe Rogan podcast is a great outlet for his message, especially since it broadcasts to younger listeners. Johnson is a prominent figure in a long-term process that has just begun: the ideological reinvention of the American Right.
This process will flourish if Trump beats Hillary and thereby destroys the remnants of the ossified political class. If libertarianism is to have any future at all, the free-speech-hating, lifestyle-regulating progressive movement – which colludes with powerful forces in D.C. and will continue to do so if Hillary is elected – needs to perish. Thanks to Trump, it is currently circling the drain.
It will not die until and unless Trump moves into the White House. At which point, there is no doubt in my mind that level-headed, libertarian-minded thinkers will prevail over neo-reactionary fringe elements.
Some argue that Trump will simply create a nouveau establishment class. Good! It won’t be long before the American people smell hypocrisy, and the beneficiaries will be (lower case) libertarians who despise the creation of political elites in principle. Which is to say, people who abhor cronyism and lobbyism because they want to see the eventual separation of State and Economics.
There are a lot of us – and for now, Trump has much of our conditional and strategic support.
There is another second order effect that helps to explain why a libertarian president might not yet be desirable. Whoever wins this election will inherit an enormous mess on every single front. Obama’s 20,642 new regulations will not suddenly disappear; the economy won’t be fixed overnight. I would much prefer that a leader known for pragmatism, rather than strict adherence to libertarianism, take the heat for shrinking Obama’s bloated bureaucracies.
I don’t want the first Libertarian president to be voted out of office for doing the right thing – which, in this case, would be the dismantling of every single superfluous federal program (which is all of them).
Better to watch Trump try to keep his promise of cutting the deficit by tackling waste, fraud and abuse. In principle, I think this is possible – most government functions fall into this category – but it might just be political suicide. If Trump is such a good negotiator that he manages to accomplish this without alienating voters, then it will help the libertarian cause for obvious reasons.
If the left is sufficiently demoralized – nay, vanquished – after this election, it will be less of a threat to a flustered Trump than a revitalized libertarian movement. Obamanomics and Trumpanomics will have had their chances. A New Libertarianism would arise either as a contingent from within Republican Party, or as a separate, third party phenomenon.
Such a movement would have to pick its battles strategically. Even if circumstances change, the age-old libertarian conundrum – the fact that many people want many things from the government – will persist.
Back to the present for a moment: Gary Johnson is a great and noble man, and I applaud his message and his candidacy. I might be tempted to make a case for him if I didn’t see him as a transitional player in a longer term political transformation.
Ultimately, I agree with about 65% of what he has to say: His opposition to the War on Drugs and his approach to arresting the growth of the Surveillance State are spot on; more bizarre is his declaration that North Korea is the most serious threat we face (more so than global political Islam?) and his hypothetical willingness to use anti-discrimination laws to force Jews to bake Nazi cakes.
The Libertarian Party has a lot of work to do before it can present a plausible candidate for the highest office. It tends to operate in an esoteric realm, with most Americans prohibited (by liberal teachers) from studying its core philosophy. It promotes a utopian view of human nature more in line with Marx (and a “stateless society”) than with Edmund Burke, and it ignores the significance of culture at its own peril.
I’m patient enough to wait for the libertarians of the future to emerge. For now, the election of 2016 will continue to be endlessly entertaining. In the most polarizing election cycle in decades, it’s symbolic that none of the personalities emerging from the chaos of the primaries show the least bit of compatibility with one another. I like to imagine Donald and Hillary meeting for an episode of Naked and Afraid. In lieu of another joke at Johnson’s expense, I’ll end my observations here.