If you scripted Gary Johnson's character in a movie, critics would roll their eyes and advise you to tone it down. A self-made millionaire who serves two terms as a popular state governor and climbs Mount Everest before running for president is a bit much. But he's a real character, and very arguably, was the best qualified candidate in yesterday's presidential election, running, as he was, against a Democratic incumbent who had never held a real job and had all of one unfinished term in the Senate under his belt before putting in four truly unimpressive years in the White House, and a wishy-washy, one-term governor Republican challenger. For his efforts, Johnson pulled in, according to Google's election coverage, 1,139,562 votes and just one percent of the vote. Those are the most total votes every gained by a Libertarian presidential candidate, and a hair under Ed Clark's 1.1 percent in 1980.
Yay, Libertarian Party.
There are all sorts of reasons why an impressive candidate like Johnson wasn't treated as a serious contender by the media and the voting public, and while none of them reflect well on the United States and its denizens, they remain facts of life. Yes, the Democrats and Republicans have gamed the political system to exclude competitors; yes, the main media outlets have drunk the establishment Kool-Aid and largely do their best to marginalize anybody who doesn't have a D or R by their name; and yes, the public has allowed itself to be brow-beaten into treating two private organizations as permanent, institutional representations of legitimate political expression. All true. But that's the way it is. Occasionally, some eccentric Ross Perot-ish candidate can bypass those barriers with sufficiently large checks, and eventually, one or both of the current major parties will implode, but for now we have what we have.
The question, once again, is: Are libertarians best-advised to continue expending time, sweat and tears on a political effort that seems doomed to batter its head against a closed system? I'm not necessarily saying "no." Frankly, I don't see a welcoming home in either the Republican Party of Todd Akin or the Democratic Party of Elizabeth Warren. But if a Gary Johnson can't be taken seriously, it's difficult to imagine the Libertarian Party gaining any traction short of a massive social disruption in this country. And, while both Republican and Democrats seem dead-set on ensuring that an economic catastrophe occcurs sooner rather than later, that's an unpromising hook on which to hang your hopes.
Given the closed, kabuki-theater nature of American politics, in which the state seems to ever-metastasize no matter which party claims momentary favor, I think a strong case can be made that running or supporting candidates for office is entirely a dead end. Ballot initiatives certainly look more promising, as do lawsuits. Much can also be said for working on technologies, like encryption, that help to put areas of life beyond the state's reach. Or supporting organizations, like Wikileaks, that can short-circuit policies and humiliate officials.
This isn't a new discussion, but it's one that we need to keep having.