Election 2016

Cheer Up, Libertarians! 2016 Isn't All Bad News

The presidential election is awful-but there are signs of hope for American politics.

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Candidates
DonkeyHotey / Flickr

2016 has, thus far, been a rough year for libertarians. But despite appearances, it may not turn out to be all doom and gloom. No, really.

Yes, Sen. Rand Paul, the most libertarian elected Republican in the nation at present, tanked in the 2016 GOP presidential primary race, dropping out early and leaving libertarians of a right-leaning disposition to work through some complicated internal debates as to whether Sen. Ted Cruz was an acceptable back-up option.

Indeed, the major parties are both set to nominate perhaps the most anti-libertarian, authoritarian candidates in decades, both advocating big government policies with regard to economics and taking stances that make civil libertarians regularly shudder with fear. One of them is routinely called a fascist, and not just by the usual, nutty, Michael Moore types. The other one is further to the left and simultaneously more hawkish than her reasonably competent, tolerable husband, and narrowly beat out a self-described socialist who honeymooned in the U.S.S.R.

Sure, the public square feels more and more dominated by calls for "safe spaces" and demands that no one's feelings be hurt, whether they're of the "Muslims are the problem" or "Duck Dynasty is the problem" variety. And protectionist and anti-immigrant sentiment is very clearly in your face, and on display.

True, the specter of insanely long, slow-moving airport security lines has been met with few criticisms of heavy-handed, excessive, ineffective security theater or calls to pare back what feel like intrusive, over-the-top measures designed to make people feel safe in a situation that is still less risky than driving on a major American highway. There's minimal discussion of options for focusing resources on less hassle-inducing, invasive, tech and human intelligence-based screening techniques, despite an obvious rationale for pursuing them.

And of course, a major consequence of the terrorist attack perpetrated this weekend in Orlando will inevitably be loud calls to curtail yet more civil liberties. From Donald Trump, this will likely take the form of advocating for more racial and/or religious profiling, enhancing domestic surveillance, and so on. From Hillary Clinton and Democrats, it is already taking the form of demanding more gun control measures.

Hence libertarians looking for small victories and glimmers of hope feeling that in 2016, it's slim pickings.

Yet look more closely, and amazingly enough, there are some good things happening that libertarians should applaud, and push forward, rather than wallowing in depression and resigning ourselves to apparent defeat.

First, there is the presidential race. Undoubtedly, not a day—perhaps not even an hour—goes by when libertarians do not wince at the reality of a Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump presidential showdown and the inevitability that one of these people (most likely Clinton) will become our next president.

But the fact that both candidates are so widely reviled, feared, and loathed also means that perhaps more than ever, 2016 will be a year where actual, self-described libertarians—running outside the two major party structures—perform, electorally.

The RealClearPolitics average of the last five polls testing Trump versus Clinton versus Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson shows Johnson polling just above 8 percent, and with Green Party nominee Jill Stein's name added to the mix, Johnson still holds at 5 percent. In either case, should those numbers endure, they are significantly higher than the roughly 1 percent Johnson received in the 2012 general election. That in turn presents one pathway by which libertarians might be capable of making a greater mark on American politics, given that working from within party structures looks, shall we say, complicated for now.

Second, there has been real momentum on a grassroots level in favor of select, pet libertarian issues both in 2016 and in recent years.

Americans have moved on from debating whether courts should recognize and enforce the terms of gay marriages—private contracts between consenting adults of the same gender—to debating forcible cake-baking and bathroom-usage rules (as ludicrous as many libertarians find various arguments invoked in both of these debates).

While protectionist sentiment is more manifest than many of us would like, and may be about to become dominant in the thinking of administration officials, free trade has expanded under President Obama, albeit more timidly than many of us would like.

Real momentum needed to achieve criminal justice reforms has been built at the grassroots level, making it more likely that something meaningful can be achieved politically on this front.

Marijuana, at least, is less criminalized in practice than it was even two years ago.

In many key respects, American society feels freer now than it did just a few years ago—though of course that trend, combined with hard-to-grasp technological change, economic hardship, ongoing globalization and demographic changes may be contributing to the backlash we're seeing in the form of support for more big government, interventionist presidential candidates.

Third, there are, amazingly enough, some things happening in Congress to advance important libertarian goals—some of them are just concentrated in areas that the public pays little attention to, and which are generally regarded as "hard to understand" (and therefore ignored in much political and policy media).

A good, current example is congressional action emanating from the House of Representatives to both investigate and rein in the data collection operations of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Most libertarians feel that American government maintains too much information on its citizenry, does too much data collection and too much monitoring and surveillance. That conducted by, say, the National Security Agency (NSA) on the pretext of preventing terrorist acts has been widely discussed and is perhaps the most widely-reviled among liberty-lovers. However, it has not gone unnoticed that for years now, the CFPB has been collecting in data on American consumers' use of different financial services and products on the pretext of preventing abuse, exploitation, and so on, and presumably in order to guide the agency's hand in determining what to regulate.

Data on more than 900 million consumer credit card accounts and 50 million residential mortgages has reportedly been collected in by the CFPB, something that is especially troubling given the federal government's routine failings on the cybersecurity front. When the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of State and other parts of the federal government can't keep the Chinese, or the Russians, or the Iranians from hacking them, it's rational for big questions to be asked about how all this financial data is being safeguarded—as Congress is doing—and to try to limit it—as legislation introduced by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling aims to do.

According to The Hill, under Hensarling's bill, the CFPB "would… see some of its major powers curbed. Among those are the CFPB's ability to bar any financial product in deems to be 'abusive,' and its ability to gather consumer financial data." Congressional commitment to moving this legislation may feel like a small victory, but things like this are actually important—at least for those of us of the legitimately limited government disposition—and little victories stack up to big changes when all is said and done.

Inauguration Day 2017 is almost certainly going to be a deeply painful day for millions of libertarians across America, and indeed worldwide. But the country is not going to hell in a handbasket in every possible respect, and there are opportunities to enhance rather than contract liberty despite some very unfavorable trends on display right now. Libertarians should seize them.

NEXT: Brickbat: Last Words

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  1. “…rather than wallowing in depression and resigning ourselves to apparent defeat.”

    And drinking heavily.

    Crumbs Liz…crumbs.

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  2. The good news is that you can still get enough ammo to shoot yourself in the head.

  3. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

  4. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN

  5. ‘Cheer up, things could be worse….”

  6. Liz Mair is the cream of the political/campaign/ strategist crop, at least when it comes to not being a statist twat like the rest of the talking point-spouting apologists in that sleazy hive of scum and villainy.

  7. Sen. Rand Paul, the most libertarian elected Republican in the nation at present

    Third most, being generous.

  8. From Hillary Clinton and Democrats, it is already taking the form of demanding more gun control measures.

    You left out vastly increased surveillance and intrusions on privacy- one of the many issues that Tomatoface and Cankles are holding hands about. Her call for increased measures targeting “lone wolf” attacks has only one meaning.

    1. Her call for increased measures targeting “lone wolf” attacks has only one meaning.

      *** breathlessly ***

      She’s finally coming clean about *everything*?!

  9. Cheer up, it’s always derpest before the dawn?

    1. Don’t be silly, that would require such a thing a peak derp to exist.

      1. Peak Derp will be reached someday…

        Full speed ahead, captain!

        1. Darnit, for some reason I’m thinking of the “Surrounded by Assholes” scene from Spaceballs.

        2. Careful. Only 10% of derp is visible above the surface.

        3. We will never reach peak derp. Just when we think its going to happen they find new innovative techniques for creating more.

    2. The light at the end of the tunnel…is an oncoming train.

      1. It’s a California High Speed Rail train. It will never arrive. It will probably just block the tunnel and slow everybody down.

  10. The good news for Libertarians in 2016 is that the culture seems to have finally started to turn against PC. Could there be a bigger restriction on your freedom than a culture that tells you how you can talk and sets a growing number of things that you are not allowed to talk about at all?

    Yet it doesn’t even get mentioned here, because GAYZ and POT!! The biggest threat to our freedom is a culture which threatens us with losing our jobs, our businesses or are ability to be heard in the public square if we use the wrong language or hold anything other than an ever more restrictive set of acceptable views. And reason gives it passing notice always with the caveat that “well this is wrong but it is not the national threat its critics make it out to be…”.

    1. ^ This. I’ve been seeing the steam for the anti-PC movement grow massively during 2016. It’s probably made me way more happy than anything else this article listed. I even see it with some of my friends – they’ve started to make distinctions between 2nd wave feminism and the nonsense we see on college campuses today. Even the word “racist” is starting to lose its meaning – I regularly hear people at my work and in bars question whether or not someone is really, truly “racist” when they hear it on TV or read it in an article. I think that the radical elements on the left have overplayed their hand and its starting to come back on them in ways they didn’t anticipate. They will double-down, which will only accelerate the anti-PC movement.

      This seemed inevitable. There’s only so many times you can claim everyone is racist and sexist until those words start to lose their meaning and average people see through the bullshit. Also, the PC movement has really started to eat its own allies for not being pure enough.

      1. Really, truly “racist”, & also really, truly “rapist”, as well as really, truly “fascist”, or really, truly “papist”. Plus really, truly “recast”, even real, true “repast”.

    2. ” Could there be a bigger restriction on your freedom than a culture that tells you how you can talk and sets a growing number of things that you are not allowed to talk about at all?”

      um how about when the government uses men with guns to control what you say and do? Social norms constantly change and are enforced by social coercion. That is the default human condition in a society. If public shaming is all you have to worry about, you’re in pretty good shape.

      1. Yeah, because a mob destroying your business is so much better than the government doing it. There is more threats to your freedom than just the government. Society will put a boot on your face just as easily.

    3. I want this to be true, but I just don’t see it. Maybe it’s because I’m in Northern California and many of my Facebook friends are of the derp variety, but I’ve seen the calls PC attitudes expanding like crazy and with more force.

      It seems not an hour goes by that I don’t see some article shared and enthusiastically supported about how “allies can support” whatever and it basically comes down to “white men stop manplaining.” Doesn’t matter what the subject, cisgendered white men need to stay quiet in the kitchen. In fact, with Orlando all of the think pieces are about how only LBGT people should say anything and everyone else needs to stay out of the way.

      So, while I’m sure part of this ramp up is in response to push back, I don’t quite share your optimism on things getting better. In fact, from my vantage point it’s getting worse.

  11. I was wondering how many variants of whining and bitching about optimism there would be in the comments.

    It’s Pavlovian with some of you.

    1. If the commenters here lived almost any place else on earth except for Hong Kong, they’d kill themselves.

      At least that’s what they say.

    2. Being optimistic is stupid. Stupidity offends me.

    3. And living under a $70,000,000,000,000 (CONSERVATIVELY) accrual basis debt and not have it mentioned ONCE in an article about how bright things actually are, and then have commenters bitch that people MIGHT bitch about it, is PRECISELY what is wrong with Reason right now. I don’t give a fuck about trees in Brazil or that “liberty” is contrasted between Federalistas being able to spy without a warrant or simply go through the hassle of getting a rubber stamp by a judge who doesn’t give a fuck what he/she/it is stamping. Not a whole lot of liberty anywhere from where I am standing. I see a clamped down society of vastly over entitled twats fat on seed corn just as the whole fucking thing is about to collapse. People shooting each other over being cut off on the highway, people prattling on about “injustice” because their yogurt comes in 8 oz containers instead of their preferred 10 oz containers. This just as people are about to be clued in that they are AT LEAST half as wealthy as the think they are. Of course they’ll just nod and smile because of the rain forest.

      Yep, except for Trump and Clinton and a $70,000,000,000,000 debt and 24/7 surveillance and militarized police and a complete disregard for the Constitution (and 70 others not listed) everything is great! And if you’re able to ignore the missing seven inches, I’m hung like John Holmes.

  12. Johnson may not win – but he’ll give Trump a run for his money. This is what irks them the most.

  13. No the country is going to shit. We are winning on an issue like weed but so what? That is also a proggie pet project. If our victories are limited to liberty interests progressives share with us (and so far it seems they are) we can expect to get another win sometime in the next 2 millenniums. There just aren’t enough proggie supported liberty interests to fill a thimble.

    yay!

    1. Those interests are always going to be shared w somebody else. Isn’t that a good thing? Or is it as I think John Sproul said, the important thing for libertarians is to be right & everybody else to be wrong?

  14. We might be getting more free on social issues, but economic issues are losing freedoms left and right and to me (and I think most people), economic issues are slightly more important than social issues.

    And it isn’t just the fact that you need a license for almost every job or that compliance costs are ridiculous, it is the attitude of most Americans that these things are normal and that we have to have government approval before doing something. I can’t even put a fence in my yard without a fucking permit. It is a fence. Can’t cut a tree down that is dead without a permit, etc.

    1. We are freer on weed maybe. What else?

      1. Maybe gay marriage but that is about it. YAY!!!! ughhh I’m going back to my cave

    2. You must be on of those Pavlov dogs referred to above. Don’t you know everything is peachy cuz Reason says so? TREES!!! Understand? TREES!!!

      And that $450,000 federal debt per household, or $300,000 for every working American is to be ignored. Because you need to be optimistic, if you’re going to clog your head with facts like an insurmountable level of debt with Trillions more being piled on every day, to create a false peace that will have to be paid for all at once, you won’t have the proper optimism.

    3. Look at the huge number of Google hits on “no longer need a license”: about 130,000!

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  17. RE:
    Cheer Up, Libertarians! 2016 Isn’t All Bad News
    The presidential election is awful?but there are signs of hope for American politics.

    1. This is true. More people are waking up and realizing the two major political parties are nothing more socialist and socialist lite.

    2. The LP is growing but needs to get their beliefs out more and in a better way.

    3. I believe Heil Hitlary will win in November.
    Thank God for the poppies from Afghanastan. (SP)

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