Libertarian Party

Stossel Debate Offers Libertarians a Way to Make Their Ideas Matter

Part two airs tonight on Fox Business.

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FBN

The second part of a two-hour Libertarian Party presidential debate will air on Stossel on Fox Business tonight at 9:00p.m. ET. The debate, hosted by John Stossel, features 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate and former Republican New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, software guru John McAfee, and Austin Petersen, who founded LibertarianRepublic.com (I worked alongside Petersen on Fox Business' FreedomWatch with Judge Napolitano from November 2010 until its cancellation in February 2012; see more below). The three finished at the top of a poll commissioned by the Libertarian Party.

Last time around, Johnson scored 1 percent of the vote in the general election, with more than 1.2 million votes, the best showing for a Libertarian presidential candidate since Ed Clark received nearly 1 million votes and north of 1 percent of the vote in 1980. There are at least a dozen candidates running for the Libertarian party altogether, but only Johnson has any prior political experience.

In an election season defined largely by "anti-establishment" feeling and where Donald Trump is the Republican front runner, that's not necessarily as much of a bonus as it might have been previously.Yet Johnson rejected the Republican Party an entire presidential election cycle before it found itself in its current mess, something that ought to earn him some credibility.

Johnson is, to say the least, an imperfect candidate in an imperfect Libertarian field. 

Petersen, for example, has been told told by Stossel that he acts like he's 12 years old and Matt Welch has described the candidate as a "hustler." McAfee, meanwhile, was a person of interest in the murder of his neighbor when living in Belize.

And yet the field nonetheless offers something refreshing this election cycle. That's because libertarianism, capital-L or not, isn't about individual politicians but individual liberties.

Libertarians can offer a compelling narrative to an electorate on the verge of facing two major party candidates—Trump and Hillary Clinton—who both have unfavorable ratings north of 50 percent. The unlikeability of the Democratic and Republican nominee could make voters, and maybe even millions of horrified non-voters, more receptive to looking to third parties for articulate ideas and not just cults of personality.

From police and criminal justice reform to education, immigration, and foreign policy, libertarian ideas offer a path outside of often intractable, and always insufferable, partisan scuffles. Trump and Clinton represent the culmination of a years-long atrophy of both parties, fueled by cronyism, an aversion to critical thinking and, above all, an unquestioning belief that government can work given the correct agenda and helmed by the correct people, even as the outcomes tend to expose the ridiculousness of that belief.

So libertarians have a chance this election cycle to make their ideas matter. It's unfortunate that there aren't more high profile Libertarian politicians, but also unsurprising. After all, the ideology is averse to government as a desirable career path. If the candidates focus on educating voters about the ideas behind libertarianism and the role government plays in the social ills driving their fears, rather than triangulating (or incoherently rambling) on issues like gay wedding cakes and Sharia law or creating a cult of personality-like sideshow, perhaps they can be successful in contributing to the momentum of libertarian ideas on the policy and cultural front even absent electoral success.

Disclosure: On a personal note, I considered Austin a friend of mine while we worked together and we kept in touch for some time after that. My main point about his candidacy would be that it's a shame he didn't try to run for something like governor of Missouri first.

You can make a similar point about Johnson, who perhaps could've run for the Senate from New Mexico in 2012, positioning himself better in front of an electorate that, given the popularity of the major party candidates, looks potentially primed for a third party candidate. 

More Libertarian campaigns on local and state levels would also work to expose more voters to the idea that government plays a large role in many of the problems it claims to be able to fix. In general, more Libertarians in elected office would be the most direct way to inject policies that limit government into government itself, especially the more that the Republican Party might reject the strain of libertarianism that could be the cure to its terminal statism.

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  1. I kind of like McAfee’s “most interesting man in the world” vibe. Stay thirsty and libertarian my friend.

    1. He also has a very pragmatic approach to diplomacy.

      For instance, if there is an ongoing dispute with someone, he can simply murder that someone and run away.

      I don’t know why more people don’t think of this, actually.

  2. Petersen, for example, has been told told by Stossel that he acts like he’s 12 years old and Matt Welch has described the candidate as a “hustler.” McAfee, meanwhile, was a person of interest in the murder of his neighbor and living in Belize.

    Enough with touting their libertarian creds already.

  3. ‘My main point about his candidacy would be that it’s a shame he didn’t try to run for something like governor of Missouri first.

    You can make a similar point about Johnson, who perhaps could’ve run for the Senate from New Mexico in 2012, positioning himself better in front of an electorate that, given the popularity of the major party candidates, looks potentially primed for a third party candidate.”

    This. I’ve always wondered why the LP concentrates so much effort on a quadrennial Hail Mary play rather than building up the party from the ground. If, somehow, they win, well, so what? They’d be stopped at every turn by two hostile parties. I guess the FSP is a way of doing just this but it’s something that should have been done long ago.

    1. Yes. I used to hope Steve Forbes (not really a libertarian but close particularly on the fiscal side) would run the Senate here in NJ. Seemed to have no interest in it.

    2. Legislators have voting records they have to defend. I’m surprised any of them make it to the White House.

    3. Here are a few theories:

      Libertarians are not “joiners”. I describe myself as a libertarian in part because I don’t want to join a party, I don’t want to go to meetings, I don’t want to hand out flyers or talk to *ugh* people. So, it’s hard to build a grass-roots organization of people who don’t like organizations.

      Libertarians have stuff to do. I have a job, a wife, a dog (two dogs now), friends. In short, a life. I could make time to engage in political activism but, that means sacrificing something else.

      It’s hard to build a movement around, “we don’t want stuff”. Seriously, how many calories do you want me to burn getting people to not do stuff for me. It’s much easier to build a movement around, “vote for me and I’ll get the government to do stuff for you”. I know there is a flip-side to this. I am willing to burn calories getting people to not do stuff to me but, I’m a straight, white, professional man. Aside from taxes, the government pretty much leaves me alone… for now.

      1. Going after you is the last thing the government wants to do…the last thing on a five-part list.

        They’ve already done the first four (tax, tax, spend, spend)

    4. Susan, State and local LP organizations have always been active, and have managed to get members elected to local and regional, non-partisan office: commissioners, mayors, county supervisors, school/college district board members, etc. Getting members elected to partisan, statewide office or Congress is a different issue entirely, because of the ways that the two big parties have gamed the system to favor themsevles and literally disenfranchise independent campaigns and third-parties. Here in California, for example, we have “top two primaries,” which means that third-party and independent candidates almost never survive until the general election in November. Frustratingly, when LP candidates actually DO step forward to run for statewide or national office, and in the rare cases when they make it to the November ballot, they don’t get much help from the national organization, and often from the State organization, either. This longstanding situation needs to change. On the other hand, a Presidential/VP campaign is a good way to draw media attention to “lower ticket” candidates, and also to gain Statewide ballot access, so, if used properly and effectively, the quadrennial LP Presidential run need not be entirely futile and fruitless. This weird year, of course, some really good things can happen if the LP and its candidates can coordinate to exploit voter revolt against the establishment.

      1. “Properly and effectively” being the key phrase. And you’re right that the system is rigged against outsiders. Still, I can’t help think that there are untried options out there. Eh, what do I know? 😉

    5. The Libertarian Party is constantly running state and local candidates, as well as congress and senate candidates. The real problem is ballot access. The establishment parties have gamed the system and make a lot of ballot access laws to keep third party candidates off the ballots. Hell in 2012 the Republican Party sued to get the Libertarian Party off the ballot in a few states.

      The reason for the Hail Mary every 4 years is so they gain a chance to become a Major Party. 5% of the national vote makes them a Major Party, which will make it much easier and cheaper to gain ballot access. So would winning the presidency be nice for a Libertarian Candidate? Yes, but the first barrier is passing that 5% threshold allowing them to get more candidates into races, with less money and less hassle needed.

      1. Making the 5% threshold may not help. Remember the “Gary Johnson Rule” from 2012. In order to get into a debate you need Gary Johnson’s poll number plus 1%.

        Sanders isn’t much different from the characters who ran on the Green Party or the old Peace and Freedom Party neither of which ever had much of an effect except for Ralph Nader who got nearly three times as many votes as any libertarian had ever gotten. Still, analyses showed that Nader probably did not cost Gore the election.

        Winston Churchill once said that Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing — after they had tried everything else. It’s far too early for Americans to vote for liberty. We haven’t tried totalitarianism yet. Trump and Clinton may well provide us that opportunity.

      2. The real problem is terrible LP candidates, who are typically either trimmers or barely familiar with libertarian principles. No self-respecting libertarian would vote for these parodies.

  4. Johnson scored 1 percent of the vote in the general election

    Only 1% if you round UP

    1. Is 1% double digits?

      1. No. I think it’s close though.

  5. Is one answer “Move to Somalia?”

  6. McAfee has just announced who his cabinet would be if he wins.

    http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/thr…..60×552.jpg

    1. Will he run the country out of a beach bar in Costa Rica?

      1. We can only dream.

      2. That would make me more inclined to visit the capital.

      3. Will he bartend as well?

  7. Peterson seems like he’s doing an impression of a politician rather than actually running for office.

  8. A: “Libertarian ideas matter!”

    B: “All ideas matter!”

    A: “No they don’t.”

  9. I just wish they had taken it up a notch or two above ‘studio audience’ and put it in a real venue with more than, what sounds like 15 sets of hands clapping. It had a very amateur hour vibe that’s offputting to any fence sitters wondering if this libertarian party is just joke or what.

    1. Why not both?

      “What? Is this a joke?”

      1. You mean like a clown? Does my party amuse you?!?

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  14. “Trump and Clinton represent the culmination of a years-long atrophy of both parties…”
    ^^^ THIS. Thank you, Ed, for stating that so succinctly and eloquently.

    “My main point about” Austin Petersen’s “candidacy would be that it’s a shame he didn’t try to run for something like governor of Missouri first.”

    He needs not just to run, but also to win. Given his age, apparent energy, and presentation style, I think he should try for State legislature or (in this time of rejection of the establishment) the House of Representatives. Johnson is already a two-time winner who has not just political experience, but RELEVANT SUCCESS as a government Chief Executive. He knows how the political sausage is made, can deal with that, and was, in fact, able to govern in a libertarian fashion despite all that noise in the system. This is cause for optimism that he could and would be similarly successful in the White House.

    “Johnson … perhaps could’ve run for the Senate from New Mexico in 2012”

    And that would have put another feather in his cap, to be sure. On the other hand, some people aren’t cut out for the legislative life, and if they have proven to be successful as executives, why do we think that a detour into the legislature is a good next step, much less a necessary one?

  15. The LP is a blight on libertarianism, not a vehicle for promoting it.

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