With the Memorial Day weekend came barbecues, remembrances of our servicemen past and present, and the Libertarian National Convention. The last of which was a raucous three day affair that eventually put an end to an equally raucous campaign that gave us Nazi cakes, erstwhile moderate Republicans coming out as Libertarians, and ever increasing media attention, all against the backdrop of a major intra-party argument between philosophical purists and pragmatists. In the end, the pragmatists won out and Gary Johnson and Bill Weld were chosen as our presidential and vice presidential candidates.
For me, the convention results evinced mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am happy to finally know the candidate for whom I will cast my vote come November. On the other, as an Austin Petersen supporter, I am disappointed that my man didn’t win. As a social conservative, I was particularly attracted to Petersen’s pro-life platform. I still respect Petersen’s candidacy, and second place showing at the convention, as proof that the “economically conservative/socially liberal” slogan is imprecise to describe libertarianism (like Petersen, I would substitute “tolerant” for “liberal”). However, and I address these words to the Libertarian purists, vote for Gary Johnson. Although Johnson and Weld hold some heretical views, they certainly possess more libertarian bona fides than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But, as I hate using the “least of three evils” argument, I shall now outline some of Johnson’s positives that make him a worthwhile candidate.
Let’s not mince words. The Libertarian Party does not have the best reputation in the public eye. While I agree with Johnson’s assertion that most Americans are at least partial libertarians and just don’t realize it, the public at large sees us (if they’ve even heard of us) as a bunch of anarchists and Ayn Rand wannabes enmeshed in constant infighting and bickering. Indeed it’s not overly surprising that a party built on hyper individualism has a hard time coming together. However, Gary Johnson has the ability to remedy this depiction. A former two term governor of a bluish state (New Mexico) running with a former two term governor of a solidly blue state (Massachusetts) give the Libertarian Party ticket the most executive experience of any of the big three parties.
Furthermore, the public seems to like him. Fox News and Monmouth University polls have given Johnson 10% nationally. Although this puts him solidly in last place, if he were to even get half of that in November it would beat his showing in 2012 five times over.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room. Gary Johnson’s views fall somewhat outside the mainstream of the Libertarian Party. I was certainly troubled by his remarks on religious liberty in his exchange with Austin Petersen at the Fox Business debate. His choice of Bill Weld (a supporter of gun restrictions in his time as Governor of Massachusetts) also drew scorn from some Libertarians, myself included.
Voting is first and foremost a moral act. Whether you take your morality from God or nature, your vote is an open endorsement of your chosen candidate and the platform upon which they stand. Many may, understandably, see a vote for Johnson as an abridgment of their most closely held beliefs. However, I put it to you: Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was the present state of our politics. We cannot expect to purify in four (or eight) years what has been corrupted for decades. Although Gary Johnson may not be the most libertarian candidate we could have nominated, he still is a libertarian. His fiscal record in New Mexico combined with his social stances on issues such as criminal justice reform certainly places him within the libertarian fold. Although the depth of his conviction to libertarianism may be an open, and valid, question, he is not the devil he’s made out to be.
In 2007, Barack Obama was barnstorming the country promising hope and change, a new era, a new awakening for America. It was all lovely and rose-colored. Eight years later how far have we come? Even by the standards of the left, the Obama presidency has not been particularly transformative. We still fight wars in the Middle East, Guantanamo remains open for business, and our post-racial society has yet to arrive (to his credit, the President did not promise this, though many assumed it). Beware the promises of would-be transformative presidents. Presidents must work with the legislature; it’s a fact of our government. We do ourselves few favors by choosing as our candidate someone whose views are so far outside of the mainstream of American politics that their chances of actually implementing any party of their purist agenda are slim to none. My aim is not to tell you to willingly violate your conscience, but rather to think of our presidential candidate as an ambassador for our party to the rest of the country. Gary Johnson and Bill Weld put a very respectable, experienced face on our party.
Donald Trump is a terrible candidate. Surely that needs no explaining, but look at what his candidacy has done. It has shifted the Overton Window, and radically so. Topics that were beyond taboo in Republican circles (support for Planned Parenthood, calling George W. Bush a liar, and vowing to expand defamation laws) are now tacitly acceptable as the party continues its coalescence around the Manhattan billionaire. Although we should by no means imitate Trump politically, we should attempt to shift the Overton Window ourselves, inch by inch, towards liberty. The Libertarian Party needs to adopt a long game strategy of making the discussion of our views acceptable in politics. And that begins with someone who, while Libertarian, is relatable to the mainstream political discourse. Who better than two former governors?
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are two of the most disliked candidates in American electoral history. Americans are hungry for other options. Bill Kirstol is floating National Review staff writer David French as in independent conservative bid, as the last gasp of the #NeverTrump movement slowly exhales. Polls are showing that large swaths of the electorate would consider a third party alternative. The Libertarian Party is getting more national press coverage than ever before. Enrollment and registration are up and the spotlight is upon us. We are the only alternative party likely to be on the ballot in all 50 states. Our candidates may not be the purist philosophically, but they carry with them the benefit of experience, and the implied credibility that comes therefrom. Do not squander this chance. The liberty movement is greater than Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. With our votes, we can rise united and choose the best candidate, while simultaneously spreading the message of the Libertarian Party. So let’s have our cake and eat it too. Vote Gary Johnson for President 2016.
* Matthew Hamel is a graduate of Suffolk University Law School. He seeks reprieve from bar exam studying by reading and writing on politics.