Free Minds & Free Markets

Is There a Second Libertarian Running for Governor of Virginia?

Using some of the lingo, at least.

If you thought Cliff Hyra was the only libertarian running for governor of Virginia this year, think again. There might be a second: Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.

Up to now Northam has stuck about as close to the middle of the road as you can get without turning into a double stripe of yellow paint. Nominally a Democrat, he voted for George W. Bush twice—and at one point there was some talk that he might join the GOP (Northam says such rumors were false). Still, he holds the party line on issues such as Medicaid expansion, gun control, and abortion—areas where he and his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, differ.

Gillespie has said he would like to see abortion banned in most cases, and recently admitted he would sign legislation defunding Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood promptly endorsed Northam, and its political action committee plans to spend $3 million supporting his campaign.

Northam has been milking the endorsement. "As I always say," he insisted on Friday, "there is no room for a bunch of legislators, most of whom are men, to tell women what they should and shouldn't do with their own bodies." He repeated the point in a tweet: "There's no excuse for legislators to tell women what they can do with their bodies."

A commendably bold and unequivocal position. The question is: Does Northam actually mean it? Because it leads to all sorts of conclusions that qualify as provocative, if not radical.

If there is no excuse for legislators to tell women what they can do with their bodies, then Virginia should pass right-to-try legislation that lets terminally ill patients experiment with new and untested treatments. The U.S. Senate approved such a measure the very day Planned Parenthood endorsed Northam.

Laws like that apply to both men and women, but it's safe to assume that Northam thinks men and women have equal rights—and therefore that lawmakers have no excuse to tell men what they can do with their bodies, either.

If there is no excuse to tell people what they can do with their bodies, then there also is no excuse to require that motorcycle riders wear helmets, if they would prefer not to. And no excuse to make drivers wear seat belts.

Similarly, there is no excuse to prevent a woman from using drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Or to stop her from selling her organs.

There is no excuse for outlawing prostitution. There is no excuse for prohibiting someone from working for less than an arbitrarily determined minimum wage.

And so on.

This is libertarianism in its purest crystalline form: Every person owns his or her self, and has the absolute right to control his or her own body and what is done with it. You might think society has very good reasons for making people wear seat belts and outlawing heroin and so on. But as good as those reasons might be, libertarians argue, they do not trump the individual's right to bodily self-determination.

Moreover, it is a deontological argument, not a consequentialist one. In other words, the point is not simply that, on balance, things generally go better when the government lets people decide for themselves—but it may decide for them when the scales tip the other way. The point is that the government has no moral authority to order people around, period.

Candidates don't win general elections arguing for pure crystalline libertarianism like that, though. So when asked about some of the implications of his stance, a spokesman for Northam wisely dodged the question: "Theoretical discussions about political philosophy are stimulating, but the reality of governing is more complicated. Dr. Northam believes reproductive freedom leads to economic freedom. If the legislature were to limit it, they are controlling what women can and cannot do in the workforce."

A smart answer, but not a helpful one. Because either the government can tell a woman what to do with her body, or it can't.

For instance: If the government has the authority to force a woman to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle—because, say, her physical safety has implications for aggregate social spending on medical care, on workplace productivity, on her family's well-being, and so on—then it also has the authority to make her childbearing decisions for her. Because (some would argue) her pregnancy has implications for aggregate spending on public education, consumer demand, the solvency of old-age pension programs in future years, and so forth. Just look at China, with its one-child policy, or the alarm over falling birthrates in Europe.

In the end, the government might decide such impositions are unjustified on a cost/benefit basis, and forbear from telling a woman what to do. But such a decision would be contingent on how the scales tip. No bright-line principle would prevent it from making such impositions in the future, if circumstances change. Enshrining such a principle is the only guarantee that it won't—but a bright-line principle opens Pandora's Box.

Northam's team is right: Questions about political philosophy are stimulating. Bet his answers would be even more so.

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  • ||

    Or pot, ass sex and Mexicans?

  • WakaWaka||

    So, it's not enough to keep abortion legal, you must also fund its providers? That isn't really a 'live and let live' motto.

  • FreeSpeechMatters||

    There is nothing libertarian about Ralph Northam. He is a classic big-government progressive. He wants to raise taxes, restrict guns, restrict politically incorrect speech, restrict campaign speech, and thinks the Koch Brothers are hiding under every bed.

    In a worrying sign of political correctness, he also sees racism everywhere, behind every statistical disparity (such as thinking that when the predominantly black Richmond schools suspend blacks at a higher rate, that must be due to anti-black racism -- even when the suspensions are done by black principals, and approved by black school officials.).

    Planned Parenthood isn't libertarian, either. It supports prior restraints against speech (such as injunctions against undercover videos exposing practices contrary to its public representations) and restrictions on campus sex (such as its lobbying for California's "Yes Means Yes" law, SB 969, which effectively requires you to verbally discuss intimate touching and sex before doing it, meddling in your sex life).

  • NoVaNick||

    Northam will do as his well-heeled coastal donors ask. If they tell him something is racist-its racist! If there's a Koch bro hiding in the closet-he is there! Don't dare question them!

    Like I said, if the dems get anywhere near flipping the Va house and he wins-Maryland might as well annex Virginia.

  • Azathoth!!||

    If you've been reading the articles recently, you'd know that every stance you describe is what passes for 'libertarian' around here lately.

  • WakaWaka||

    Reform Party

  • NoVaNick||

    A PP canvasser came to our door a couple of weeks ago and asked to speak with my wife, who was busy packing up for a trip we were taking. The canvasser then asked if she could ask me a few questions for a poll-the first was if I was planning to vote for Virginia governor this year. My answer: "Nope" Should have seen the look on her face.

    Northam and Gillespie are both shmucks and not worth my time or vote for that matter. On the other hand, Northam could do a lot more damage if the dems win back the Va. house, which is a very big if.

  • Sheriff Bart||

    Seriously? Northam is not in the same universe as libertarians. I voted for Sarvis, but I underestimated what an asshole McAuliffe was gointg to be...

  • NoVaNick||

    Northam is a bigger asshole than McAuliffe. He gave a "I'm a doctor and its for the children!" speech to push for a complete smoking ban.

  • chipper me timbers||

    "There's no excuse for legislators to tell women PEOPLE what they can do with their bodies."


  • dantheserene||

    Such a clear statement would be a slippery slope to recognizing rights the establishment has been doing its best to suppress since the dawn of time. No politician is going to leave him self open to that.

  • ace_m82||

    Sometimes, logically inconsistent people* can say things that if brought to their inevitable logical conclusion would lead you to think they a libertarian. But, as I just said, these people are logically inconsistent, so that doesn't make them libertarian, it makes them the blind monkey who found a peanut.

    * Read: politicians

  • Rebel Scum||

    I see the squirrels are alive and well. I am stuck in a loop between to pages but each page is the same.

    As for this Northam fellow...

    Is There a Second Libertarian Running for Governor of Virginia?

    Let's check...

    he holds the party line on issues such as Medicaid expansion, gun control, and abortion


  • NoVaNick||

    Which begs the question of why someone would put Ralph Northam and Libertarian in the same sentence-especially when you consider that dems now consider libertarians to be the antichrist.

    Perhaps the writer was paid by some dem interest group to do that, hoping that libertarians are dumb enough to believe it.

  • NYer||

    If this guy is a libertarian, then Bill Weld is an anarchist.

  • Michael Brown||

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  • Charlie P||

    Hinkle, I usually think you are spot on, but to confuse this anti-gun statist with libertarianism is just plain foolishness.

  • Edwin R||

    I share libertarian views, but I'm not really sure Ralph Northam is a libertarian. I plan on writing something on this topic, discover more here.


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