Election 2014

Four Big Issues Libertarians Bring to the Table in Elections

Libertarian candidates are crucial for the issues they tackle that Democrats and Republicans have avoided during the 2014 election cycle.


Gary Johnson on Reason cover

Election Day 2014 is just two weeks away and Libertarian candidates are going to be a factor—just as they have been throughout the election cycle. There are 37 "top-line" Libertarian candidates—candidates in statewide, top-of-the-ticket races—across the country, with several polling above the spread and a few even allowed into televised debates. As Brian Doherty notes, final results are unlikely to be as optimistic as current polling. However, the growing popularity of Libertarian candidates is indicative of the growing importance of issues and positions championed by Libertarians. The issues Libertarians bring into the spotlight when they run for office aren't issues that are going away with the end of the election cycle, and you can even expect some of them to be adopted by candidates from the two major parties.

1. Marijuana Legalization

It used to be derogatory—libertarians are just a bunch of pot-smokers who want to legalize weed. Now it seems prescient. That transformation of a core libertarian platform position from something considered a quirky and unrealistic policy objective to cutting-edge policy has helped create this Libertarian Party moment, as Brian Doherty observed earlier this month.

While marijuana legalization is becoming more popular among the electorate, and legal in places like Colorado and Washington, it is still widely resisted by the two major parties. Colorado's own Democrat governor, up for re-election in November, has been going around the state calling voters' decision to legalize "reckless" (he doesn't like that Colorado tried a policy no other state's tried before).

Or consider Florida, where the Republican governor Rick Scott is facing former Republican governor turned Democrat Charlie Crist. Crist says he's voting for an amendment on the ballot to legalize medical marijuana as an issue of "compassion." But when a left wing group attacked Crist for supporting some of the "harshest marijuana laws in the country," PolitiFact rated it Mostly False because… the harsh laws he signed were almost unanimously supported, meaning they were backed by Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature. It's the same story around the country—and Libertarians provide an alternative.

Daily Sabah

2. Civil Liberties

Between Edward Snowden's revelations and the fallout from Ferguson, a wide array of civil liberties effort have come into the forefront of the national political debate. While many Democrats, and some Republicans, claim to be civil libertarians, few follow through in office. In June just 62 members of Congress, and only 43 Democrats—who belong to the party that's most brazenly tried to claim the "civil libertarian" label—voted to limit militarization of American police forces. And in New York City, a series of high profile incidents of police brutality didn't move the city's newly-minted progressive mayor to reconsider the petty laws whose enforcement creates the opportunity for the kind of police brutality displayed by the NYPD.

Libertarians are often the only candidates drawing attention to the issues that could limit police brutality—even when they're cops. In Kentucky, Libertarian David Patterson is running against incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. Patterson is an 18-year police veteran, who said in an interview that he preferred the term "peace officer" to police officer. "Police is really synonymous with…" he told the National Journal before cutting himself off. "Well, it's got a negative tone to it."

Obama and friends laughing
White House

3. Crony Capitalism and Actually Limiting Government

Crony capitalism is a favorite practice of establishment Republicans and Democrats, who tend to view government and the offices within government they can acquire as a way to enrich themselves, their friends, and their special interests. Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry, not running for re-election in November, has touted Texas' relatively economically libertarian policies for the state's economic successes. But even in Texas, crony capitalism gets mileage. Perry set up a public money "venture capital fund" to spend more than $200 million on as many as 100 companies.

Democratic and Republican politicians tend to enter into and cultivate various relationships inside and outside government to help them acquire more political power. It's basic self-interest at work—no matter how much the lady doth protest. When politicians push for limits on campaign spending to prevent corruption, it really is a case of "takes one to know one." The politicians don't consider the revenue streams they've already created for themselves as the same thing, and know the power of incumbency will protect them.

Libertarians come from outside that political mainstream and are thus in a unique position to challenge the pervasive cronyism in the political system. Democrats and Republicans both look at government and see the things it can do to advance their agendas. Even when winning candidates pay lip service to "limited government," the state apparatus rarely shrinks. In the last fifty years, for example, occupational licensing has been one of the fastest growing "labor market institutions" in the country.

Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, up for re-election in November, championed a law several years ago restricting the collective bargaining privileges of public unions—but exempted police and fire unions. He says he won't advocate for "right to work" laws if re-elected. The Meanwhile, Libertarian candidate, Robert Burke (unrelated to the Democrats' candidate, Mary Burke), a former Republican, is running on a platform of the "repeal of laws restricting the production, sale, possession, or use of prohibited drugs and medicines. The repeal of laws regarding a minimum drinking age which are in conflict with the legally recognized age for maturity and responsibility. The repeal of laws restricting consensual sexual relations between adults. The repeal of laws regulating or prohibiting gambling. The decriminalization of assisted suicide."

Stop sign with all-war below
Masquerade Arts/flickr

4. Anti-War Foreign Policy

This issues comes into play exclusively in federal races, but given how much warring the United States has done in the 21st century so far, it's nevertheless important. Libertarian candidates offer the rare authentically anti-war position. Barack Obama's supporters tried to make the Democrat out to be the anti-war candidate in 2008, but he turned out to be merely an anti-war-in-Iraq candidate—and as we've seen recently, even that label is suspect.

Democrats and Republicans both tend to lean heavily toward interventionism, even while many Democrats try to deny it and Republicans attack them for being weak. Where they're present in federal races, Libertarian candidates can provide a contrast to the pro-war positions of the major party candidates. Libertarian Sean Haugh, a candidate for Senate in North Carolina who was allowed into the televised debate, did just that, presenting the only anti-war, anti-tax, anti-debt platform in that election.

"Stop all wars," Haugh told Brian Doherty before that debate. "I wouldn't say it's my single issue but it is one I'm totally focused on and it has implications for so many policy issues. The only solution the Republicans and Democrats have is more bombing campaigns, and our wars helped create even greater problems for us than when we first started."

NEXT: Michigan, at the Behest of GM, Targets Tesla With Ban on Direct Car Sales

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  1. Large, thoughtful article released at the same time as the links?

    Rookie mistake; you hate to see that happen, Joe.

    1. Off topic: Was just reading the wiki page on Classical Liberalism. I remembered it as being pretty good last time I looked at it. Now it has a bunch of references to an E.K. Hunt book early on. Things like the most extreme versions were Social Darwinism (that’s not so bad but reads oddly. I had read that Spencer did not really propose what is attributed to him).

      The other things I did not like were several quotes from Hunt fairly early that Classical liberals believed people were egoistic, atomistic, coldly calculating, inert, etc. Turns out Hunt is a marxist economist. Not always the most accurate to have opponents of a theory being the ones to define it. If anyone is into editing wiki pages, might want to look at it for accuracy.

  2. The Arkansas Libertarian party did a good of getting a candidate into every major race, and also into the debates. Much better than the Green Party did.

    1. A good what?

      1. ‘Of’ – its yiddish.

  3. Four Big Issues Libertarians Bring to the Table in Elections

    1. Weed
    2. Mexicans
    3. Butt sex
    4. Monocles for everyone!

    1. Not that those things are related to one another….

  4. We had eight LP candidates on my ballot, including county sheriff. Voted for all eight and left the others blank. First time not voting for a candidate with a D or R after their name.

    1. Well done!

    2. I’m doing the same thing in Florida. I’m tired of it. I refuse to vote pragmatically anymore.

      1. ” I refuse to vote pragmatically anymore”

        They need to rename this pub “Ideology” then.

  5. 4 things libertarians bring to the table:

    1. They’re not Republicans
    2. Neither are they Democrats
    3. See items # 1 and #2
    4. See item # 3

    1. Here is who they are – Paid Shills who run around the net putting one star reviews on those liberal books and collecting paychecks from the Kochs!


  6. “Stop all wars,” Haugh told Brian Doherty before that debate. “I wouldn’t say it’s my single issue but it is one I’m totally focused on and it has implications for so many policy issues. The only solution the Republicans and Democrats have is more bombing campaigns, and our wars helped create even greater problems for us than when we first started

    We were doing so well until Ed Derped all over the end of his article. All the more reason to support Tillis over Haugh.

  7. Libertarians understand free markets.

    1. And EBOLA.

  8. Libertarians are not so morally superior to everyone else, that they are willing to use guns and jails and hand-cuffs (etc.) to coerce everyone else’s charity choices, mind-altering-substances choices, who-sleeps-with-who choices, who-blows-his-nose-and-when-choices, and so on, ad infinitum… Government Almighty, just PLEASE fuck the HELL off; will ya already?!!??

    1. I’m afraid it’s not going anywhere. Anybody out there working, on an FTL drive?

  9. Never before in U.S. history has any party, other than the Democratic and Republican Parties, polled as many as 1,500,000 votes for their candidates for the top office on the ballot in a midterm year. But I am expecting the Libertarians running for the top offices on the ballot to exceed 2,000,000 votes this year. By “top office”, I mean Governor, in the 38 states with gubernatorial elections. For the other 12 states, “top office” means U.S. Senate, and in the 4 states with neither Governor nor US Senator up, it means whatever office really is at the top, such as Secretary of State in Indiana.

    1. You are certainly distilling those stats – but please don’t remind us what happened in a POTUS election year – YES, those 3rd parties are what caused the appointment of GW Bush…and the resulting Great Recession, Wars, Patriot Act I and the rise of the Security State.

      As much as I love 3rd parties (have voted that way, many a time), that one taught me a BIG lesson.

  10. As seems likely, the Republicans will retake the Senate this cycle and thus gain a reprieve in their recent march toward oblivion. This is probably not good news for those wishing for the emergence of a Libertarian Party. Political money flows toward a party only as long as they have some chance of winning. If the Repubs would have had a couple more losses in a row this flow of money would have begun drying up, and compelled those controlling it to look somewhere else for an alternative to the (socialist/ever increasing totalitarian) Dems.

    Hopefully the Repubs replacing Dems this go around will have some commitment toward supporting the principle of individual rights (the underlying libertarian principle, if there is one) and thus, help save the RP from itself. It is hard to be too optimistic at this point, though.

  11. I’ve reached a point on my drift towards becoming full-on anarcho-capitalist where I’ve ceased to have any faith in the electoral process whatsoever. Living in Maryland and not being a Democrat will that do to you. This leaves me with an interesting problem.

    Voting is pointless, especially here. I’m in one of the bluest districts of one of the bluest states in the union. Spoiler, MD’s gonna go mostly Dem, except maybe for a couple parts of the eastern shore and a few local elections here and there.

    Voting also, in a sense, endorses a system that doesn’t work very well and relies on force to compel obedience. So, not voting is a way of protesting that system, or at the very least not sanctioning it. But if my vote isn’t going to count anyway, then my NOT voting won’t count, either.

    So, it seems like my best options are to not bother, or to go and vote Libertarian for everything I possibly can. Either way my vote won’t really matter, so I may as well give it to someone who’ll appreciate it.

    1. “But then you can’t be mad about the policies!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

      How many times do you think you will hear that? lol

    2. Vote Libertarian!
      Vote EBOLA!

    3. I feel your pain, living in MD as a non-dem. Who knows, maybe the whole letting the murderer out of jail thing will help the other parties, like they keep telling me on the radio. I doubt that will happen.

      1. “ike they keep telling me on the radio. I doubt that will happen.”

        It won’t happen because higher income and better educated places tend to be blue or at least purple…

        Your only chance is if MD becomes a place where they find massive amounts of OIL and the economy turns toward Resource Extraction or refining. Or, if the Rev. Moon (or any cult) gets millions of new members.

        Otherwise it’s staying reasonable.

        I have VERY right wing friends who live happily in MD (Waldorf).

    4. you can always move to a deep red state
      where your vote won’t matter for
      the opposite reason

  12. Liberty demands acceptance of an imperfect world. For example, no reasonable person can actually be anti-war. We can and should be against war when the purpose of that war is unjust or not in our national interest. To be philosophically opposed to war is to be in favor letting others rule you.

    The U.S. was designed to overcome exactly this type of contradiction by setting up a government that was limited in authority and power. The majority of issues today are arguments over how the government can best tinker with things it does not understand and is not empowered to engage. Our current problems all extend from the government’s reach exceeding its grasp.

    1. THIS

      especially: “Liberty demands acceptance of an imperfect world.”

    2. “Liberty demands acceptance of an imperfect world. For example, no reasonable person can actually be anti-war.”

      So you are 100% against the folks on the right who state that having a few deaths from Ebola is a failure, right?

      A libertarian would accept that any REAL authoritarian gubment would have locked up all those exposed to it – forcefully – and stopped all trade and travel…

  13. Here is what Kochsuckers do…..very well financed, of course! Look at those buses!

    They run around the net and put One Star reviews on liberal books on Amazon!

    Activists? No, Sold-Out a-holes.


  14. On #3 (cronyism), the article goes through the typical ‘R’s and D’s support cronyism’ – but when you describe the actual L in the Wisconsin race, there is no there there. Just the usual social issues.

    I have no doubt that the L candidate there thinks the right things about cronyism. But until L’s start actually getting specific about all the specific cronyism of government (and in particular the cronyism that is reverse Robin Hood which is easily the most offensive sort), then it is no more meaningful than R’s talking about reducing govt spending without ever naming depts – or D’s talking about reducing overseas warmongering without ever naming specific commitments to be reduced.

    There’s a real electoral opportunity (ie populism) here. But L’s prefer not to take advantage of it.

  15. Here’s something “Libertarians” bring to the table! There is a giant ANTI Rick Scott ad showing multiple times on this page!

    Amazing that, even with Koch money, Reason needs to sell out to whoever will fork out a couple pennies. That’s perfect “Libertarianism”, isn’t it?

  16. s still widely resisted by the two major parties. Colorado’s own

  17. my friend’s step-mother makes $89 /hr on the computer . She has been fired for 7 months but last month her income was $12328 just working on the computer for a few hours. over here …

    ======== http://www.netjob70.com

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