Libertarian Party

Libertarian Presidential Debate: Free to Disagree

Gary Johnson, John McAfee, and Austin Petersen at the first nationally televised Libertarian debate in U.S. history.

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"Should a Jewish baker be forced to bake a cake for a Nazi wedding?"

I asked that strange but important question during last week's debate between three Libertarian presidential candidates. You can see the second hour of that debate Friday, on my Fox Business Network TV show.

If you're disappointed by Democrats' and Republicans' eagerness to limit your freedom, I urge you to check out the libertarians.

Presidential candidate Austin Petersen, founder of LibertarianRepublic.com, says individuals should be free to discriminate—for example, refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple if gay marriage violates their beliefs.

Libertarian presidential candidate, and former New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson, wasn't willing to go that far. It's a reminder libertarians don't always see eye to eye.

"If we discriminate on the basis of religion," said Johnson, "you're going to find a whole class of people discriminated against. … So it's harm to others."

Many people agree, but the debate over the Nazi wedding cake is a reminder that laws with good intentions often have bad consequences. If sellers can't decide to whom they will sell, they may be forced to participate in activities they consider immoral.

Without freedom, people can't reveal their true preferences and show us where they stand. I'd like to know which businesses bigots run.

Petersen was quick to add that he would never buy anything from a shop that refused to serve gays. "I would stand outside these people's store and I would encourage a boycott."

Most libertarians argue that it isn't government's job to tell people how to conduct private business. As Petersen put it, "Government is not supposed to make us into better people. That's not what the United States was founded on. The United States was founded so that we could be whatever we wanted."

Some of us may want to be jerks. As long as we do it with our own bodies and our own property, that's part of freedom, say most libertarians.

The other candidate in the forum, software entrepreneur John McAfee, found a middle ground. He pointed out that whether we allow a business to discriminate may depend on whether consumers have options, as consumers usually do.

"If you're the only baker in town, it may be a problem," he said, but normally, "no one is forcing you to buy anything."

The free market gives people choices. There are lots of bakers, but just one government. That's why government must never discriminate, but if private businesses cannot, does "private" have real meaning? What about freedom of association?

Most businesses eagerly take money from gay customers—or Muslims or transgender people or people of a different race. A few won't. That's part of the diversity of a free country, and a beauty of a free market is that customers punish bigoted businesses.

All three Libertarian Party candidates understand that. But tune in and see what you think.

Petersen was the only candidate of the three to call himself "pro-life." But on abortion, as with cakes, he wants people to find solutions without involving government.

"The president has no authority to enact laws on abortion," he said. If Petersen were president, he said he would "try and find every non-coercive measure that we can to end abortion. And there are options. Ending the federal war on drugs would allow women to purchase birth control over the counter."

But like his libertarian opponents, he would not send government in to make these decisions. Gov. Johnson said, "I do not think it is the federal government's job or the state government's job to interfere in this process." McAfee said, "A woman's right to her own body is one of the fundamental issues in this country."

Sometimes libertarians sound like conservatives, sometimes like liberals. Unlike conservatives and liberals, however, libertarians stick to the idea of keeping government out of our business. Government is force, and life is better when people are left free to make their own choices.

If we didn't try to use government to boss each other around, think how much more pleasant, and free, life would be.

COPYRIGHT 2016 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS INC.

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  1. W/o RTFA, GayJay thinks Jew-bakers should be forced to bake Nazi wedding cakes. This disqualifies him for the LP nomination even more than his support for a new federal consumption tax. John McAfee 2016.

    This is fucking hilarious. Millennials are the whiniest, most entitled special snowflakes in the history of the human species. Yet there is a tiny thread of truth in there. Of course they’re too busy diddling with their smartphones and whining about how much they owe on their liberal arts degree student loans to get it.

    1. According to someone else’s definition I’m a Millennial and I would be the first to say fuck every other Millennial. A dichotomy if you will. Or perhaps cognitive dissonance.

      P.S. I didn’t study liberal arts.

    2. I find your generalization misguided and unconstructive.

      1. “Misguided and unnconstructive” is par for the course around here.

  2. There was a time when Libertarian candidates were controversial because of their *libertarian* positions being in advance of the public.

    Now we have a Libertarian candidate who’s going to be controversial because, on the nazi cake issue, the public is more libertarian than he is.

    At least I hope the public is more libertarian than he is.

    1. His answer to that question was very disappointing.

    2. At least I hope the public is more libertarian than he is.

      Don’t bet on it. I think the general public is A-OK with forcing Christian bakers to bake cakes for gay weddings. Maybe not with forcing Jewish bakers to bake Nazi wedding cakes, but that’s only because “Nazi’s are gross” and that’s about as deep as most people are willing to think about these issues. Which side is “ickier” to them.

      Therein lies one of the main problems with identity politics.

  3. It’s a shame the candidate’s debate forum isn’t open to all the candidates – where’s the protest that Almanian isn’t being allowed to be heard? With Sanders doing so well on the D side and Trump on the R, it’s clear that the electorate has decided the normal doses of Stupid and Evil are just not getting the job done and are crying out for some stronger medicine. I believe nobody can deliver a stricter adherence to doctrinaire militant stronger medicine than one of our own. Almanian/Agile 2016!

    1. The Mississippi debate format was that all who cared to participate were allowed to make a 2 minute pitch. Then all participants voted on those who should be o the state for the debate. Top 5 were on stage.

  4. I’ve never been an enormous fan of Gary Johnson anyway, but seriously? How exactly are you for limiting state power when you’re on the record as compelling people to engage in commerce against their will?

    1. Johnson disappointed me in his answers as did Peterson eventually with his pro-life position. I selected McAfee as the debate winner … consistent and good personality on the whole.

      1. Yeah, but the probably having murdered his next door neighbor thing would likely come up if he were a real candidate.

      2. I like Petersen, he is my horse in this race, but on this point his position is questionable to me. He states that he wants to “first” try all non-coercive means to accomplish the pro-life position, not shutting the door on state coercion. BOOOOOOO! I’m wondering if the pandering to a statist R constituency means that he must keep the gun in his pocket to satisfy the slavers. But to counter my own criticism, he is decidedly practical in his policy. The all or nothing, or pure ideological liberty position, is unworkable in terms of our current political reality. We need to learn from our enemies and accept incrementalism (i.e. Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”); taking gains wherever we find them. This may make libertarians queezy, as we have always had the “privilege” of irrelevance. This allows us to remain pure and not dilute our position with practical compromises.

      3. so a libertarian can’t be pro life thats not very libertarian of you.

        1. No. I’m against the use of coercion to attain this goal. I am decidedly pro-life.

        2. In the final analysis , no. Because it requires believing that a pregnant women doesn’t own her own body.

          I support the right of the women to remove the fetus from her body… at this point in time, that will amount to the killing of the baby,

          Pro-lifers have yet to distinguish between killing a baby and murdering it.

    2. they opened a business that accepts walk in customers as a standard practice. they already made the decision of how they were going to trade their possessions with the general public. i, personally, don’t see it as coercion to expect them to stick to that decision. for non-storefront businesses, i agree… but, with the exception of one photographer (who i think should have the right to deny service because it required participation) i think every case has been a walk in store, where the business was selling standardized products, and did not require any endorsement or participation in the marriage. what if it was a gas station, and the gay couple is on empty… would that count as a hardship to them over the business? what if it is a garbage service where there are two providers, but the second one charges twice as much…. would that count as hardship? when we get to the utilities, i hope you can at least agree that service can’t be denied when it is the only option available.

      how exactly are you expecting to be taken seriously if you take a hard stand on bringing back Jim Crow laws? (as long as they can buy it somewhere else, it doesn’t count as a hardship.) and why is this an issue worth digging in on? you really want to add more laws to the books…. that you know will have unintended consequences….. because of something that has happened about 5 times? (and will decline in frequency as gay marriage becomes more “normal”)

      1. Gay bars and B&Bs; reject straight people from time to time. What if a business puts up a placard saying “no gays” or “Christian families only”? How is that different from its just being known you are only open to straights or Christians?

  5. You would have thought three Libertarian candidates could have just answered, “No” to the question. Mr. Stossel, do you have any ‘more Libertarian’ candidates you can interview?

  6. John Stossel didn’t mention ANYWHERE, strangely enough, that discrimination is a civil right regardless of one’s opinion toward it.

    1. Name of the law isn’t always true to the content…

  7. God, really Johnson? How is this not a completely obvious “no, you should not be forced to do business with anyone” answer for anyone claiming to be a libertarian?

    1. Well, unlike the other guys on stage, Johnson actually ran a state. Former governors tend, as a class of politician, to be more comfortable with compromise because it’s often necessary to get things done.

      Perfect enemy of the good and all that jazz.

    2. Because the next question would be, “Should a restaurant be able to refuse to serve blacks?” Say goodbye to breaking 1% if the LP candidate says, “Yes.”

  8. Excellent debate. I wish it had gone longer! My very first foray into libertarianism, and I’m really liking what I’m finding so far.

    1. I wish it had gone longer!

      It’s a two parter, the second part will be this Friday, so wish granted.

    2. Welcome!

      Please stick around and continue to forage.

    3. Welcome, the Cool Aid is delicious. Try some.

      1. It’s Flavor Aid. We’re too cheap for Cool Aid.

        Although it is hand mixed by Cambodian slave orphans.

        1. …and only available as big gulps.

          The orphans were homeless anyway.

        2. It’s Grape Drink. GRAPE DRANK!

  9. I watched the debate it was good and a far cry from the crap we’ve been getting from the D’s and R’s debates. any of those three will do a better job as president than the D’s and R’s

  10. The president of the United States should not be setting wedding cake policy. Ask the candidates the same questions they ask at the real debates.

    1. There’s already federal wedding cake policy dating back to 1964. The question is fair game.

  11. I think it’s a very real probability that Gary is seeing a chance to maybe break double digits for a libertarian candidate and is trying his best to attract anyone with even a sliver of libertarian in them to actually vote 3rd party. It could, although probably won’t, lend a little more legitimacy to the party in general. A lot of maybes and probably nots, I know.

    At this point it’s really a different question than ‘is this Libertarian someone I agree with’ and more ‘who can stop Hillary/Trump’ for me. If Cruz gets the R nomination I’ll probably vote for him since there’s at least a ballpark chance at stopping Hillary. If it’s Trump, well it doesn’t really matter who is on the Libertarian ticket I’m voting for that person.

    In a by-gone age of slightly more rational behavior with slightly more rational candidates I would have happily voted (L) but that day is not this day.

  12. I don’t know that there is a candidate that is purely libertarian up and down the menu of issues – Gary has his beliefs about the bakers, Petersen is pro-life, and McAfee likes how China and Russia police their internets. But I would gladly choose any one of these three over the other mainstream candidates. The clincher is getting them into the main debates this fall.

  13. I liked McAfee way more than I expected to considering he may be insane.

  14. “If we discriminate on the basis of religion,” said Johnson, “you’re going to find a whole class of people discriminated against. … So it’s harm to others.”

    Okay, let’s switch this out. Say we’re talking about gender, how would Johnson feel about barbers who only cut men’s hair? Or women-only gyms?

  15. Petersen was quick to add that he would never buy anything from a shop that refused to serve gays. “I would stand outside these people’s store and I would encourage a boycott.”

    I could never get this counter-argument. I mean, that’s all well and good that you are going to take the time out of your busy day to protest some stranger’s store. But you have to realize that the vast vast majority of people who aren’t affected by the discrimination won’t do that and will ignore your protest: they’re in a hurry, they don’t want to make a detour to go somewhere else, they REALLY love the way the bigot puts together his corned beef sandwiches, etc.

  16. “Should a Jewish baker be forced to bake a cake for a Nazi wedding?”
    Ah yes, the Nazi question. Let’s pull out a class of people that aren’t actually protected under non-discrimination law anywhere, and treat it as a serious proposition.

    How about asking “Should a Christian baker be forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding? A Muslim wedding? A wedding between a black man and a white woman?”

    Jumping straight to Nazi’s isn’t going to give a useful answer in America. You want to provide clarity on the issue, then ask about the cases people are more likely to disagree on.

    1. Should a black baker be forced to make a “flaming cross” cake for a KKK B-day party at Chuck-e-cheese?

      1. Jumping straight to the KKK is going to give comparably useless answers.

        Face it, if your choice is “no non-discrimination law at all” or “Jewish bakers forced to work for Nazis”, then you’re not interested in a discussion, you’re interested in a rant. And you’re also demonstrating that you don’t actually understand the limits and scope of current non-discrimination law.

        1. What about a Palestinian baker making a Zionist cake? What about a mainstream Mormon denying a cake for a polygamist Mormon wedding? What about a Cuban exile baker making a Fidel Castro cake? Private discrimination is a right. You shouldn’t be able to force somebody to provide a non-essential good to anyone. Jim Crow laws were different in that it was the government itself mandating the segregation so it was the government’s duty to fix it.

          1. Strike “non-essential” and we agree. My property is mine, and as long as I do not aggress upon you, leave me to do as I will.

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  18. Great stuff, John, as usual. Please keep up the good work.

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  20. a cake is not a necessity of life..nobody is refusing, food clothing or shelter..the 9th amendment is clear, it protects a store owner as well…why would anybody (want) to do business with somebody that dont like you?..

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  22. In the first debate McAfee stood out. You can point out his flaws but at least he is the only candidate that doesn’t think he knows what is best for you

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