Right now, Gary Johnson is the likely presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, regardless of what internet polls frequented by Austin Petersen’s loyal supporters show. Gary Johnson has the broadest support of the party, the most money, delegates and prestige of actually having real political experience. Even though he’s been getting more national attention in the past week than any other official Libertarian Party candidate in history, has media outlets saying he might break a record in this total fustercluck divisive election, and could win several states, he stands to be the most relevant third party candidate since Ross Perot. This year, the Libertarian nominee could debate on the national stage against two corrupt New York plutocrats and bring attention to the Libertarian mindset. However, with his rise in popularity has come a rise in criticism. He is seen by some of the more radical elements of the party as ‘not a libertarian’ and by many #NeverTrump conservative refugees as not Conservatarian enough.
The strongest criticism of Gary Johnson comes from his comments regarding free association. During the April 8th Libertarian Party debate monitored by John Stossel, Johnson was criticized by Austin Petersen for his support of laws forbidding wedding cake bakers and other business from discriminating against homosexual customers. Austin Petersen challenged Johnson that this law could be used to force Jewish bakers to cater a Nazi wedding, to which Johnson replied “Yes”. Explaining that his concern would be that current popular opinion would encourage businesses to discriminate against Muslims and other minorities, or that private utilities (e.g. cable companies) would discriminate against certain groups and deny vital services, because of this the law ought to be upheld. I must say that my own personal opinion is closer Petersen’s; that when it comes to issues like this we should be laissez-faire, we ought to let the market/public decide. If some business wants to act in a bigoted manner, so be it, but a vigilant and virtuous public will boycott and protest the business.
This is probably the opinion of almost every person that will read this blog post, yet, outside of the libertarian echo-chamber, this is probably one of the most radical and difficult views to convey. I can recall numerous times in my college days getting into arguments whenever I praised the great Conservatarian Senator Barry Goldwater, the strong anti-communist fiscal conservative Air Force General who spoke out in support of gay rights before the Democrats, supported a woman’s right to choose and told off Jerry Falwell and the Religious Right when they started to hijack the Republican Party in the 1980s. Whenever I would laud the Arizona Senator I would hear “You mean that racist?”
Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which he regarded as unconstitutional precisely because of its public accommodation clause. In his own words:
“I will never vote for a public accommodations clause in any Civil Rights bills because I think it’s unconstitutional because it I think it tampers with the right to freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech and the freedom of property.”
The man who penned Conscience of Conservative voted with it, but could not adequately defend it to a public which was more concerned about the liberties of African Americans who were being savagely beaten with batons and water cannons, than the rights of lunch-counter owners. As a member of the NAACP said, “We don’t think Senator Goldwater is racist, but we can’t go along with a man who says what’s going on in Mississippi be settled by Mississippi”.
Nearly five decades ago we were having the same debate, and the public overwhelmingly voted against Goldwater in part because of this stance. A majority of Americans would back a baker that refused to bake a Nazi cake, which actually did happen once in Pennsylvania. But a significant portion of the American population is uncomfortable with a bakery refusing to cater to a homosexual wedding. You can only imagine the disgust if a pizza parlor refused to serve a black family. Before you jump up and down screaming “free association!” and “non-aggression!” understand that these concerns have validity. We live in an age where the current Republican nominee refused to disavow his endorsement from the Klan, and where students and professors that dare openly hold libertarian or right-leaning views are discriminated against by the staff and faculty of universities that want diversity of everything but opinion, and where a Sheriff’s department in Arizona has blatantly targeted American Hispanics, arresting them as illegals for not carrying identification papers. We live in a divided political climate of disassociation, where people on Twitter are pre-blocked by algorithms for following certain pages or persons and where apps have been developed to help you rid yourself of Facebook friends that support Trump. Our politics have become toxic and exclusionary, and it is reflected in our society.
When you look at libertarianism, it is fundamentally a movement driven by ideas and philosophy. While socialism can be found in the microphones of musicians and comedians, libertarians tend to discover it on a bookshelf. Because we are a movement of dilettante philosophers, we forget that the public isn’t going to sit patiently and listen to a lecture on the non-aggression principle. I have listened to John Galt’s three hour speech while on plane rides and at the gym, but the average person has trouble finishing a twenty minute Ted Talk. For many libertarians Gary Johnson’s years and success in both the private sector and executive office isn’t enough, because he took up the hobby of mountain biking rather than blogging against the FED. They fail to see the advantage: Johnson can better speak to Americans on libertarianism than many libertarians, because he knows how to talk to non-libertarians.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t defend free association. I’m saying if our ideas are to win the support of this republic we must present our case to minorities that do have legitimate fears of discrimination. If by serendipity Johnson was to find himself in the chair of the Oval Office, rolling back protections would be foolish. If we aim for the goal of equality under the law, reversing some of the equal protection clauses would be like removing the bottom pieces of a Jenga tower. Libertarians like debating political-economy, but politics has never really been about arguing principle. It’s always been about promising practices. Principles do matter because principled people can be better trusted to deliver on the things they promise. When we make the case for liberty to the average voter, we need to talk about tangible practices, how the market is a better way to fight poverty, how school choice can create better schools for their children, how abolishing the Department of Homeland Security could make us safer, how ending the Drug War will better the lives of poor minorities who are unfairly targeted by it. When people see our movement as a universalist one rather than a divisive one like Trumpism, they will start to grasp the concept of free association.
Gary Johnson is by far the best candidate left in the race. This November you could write in R. Paul & Son, Frank Zappa, pray for Ronald Regan’s ghost to return, or be like the many writers at the National Review who are desperately slaving to develop technology to make Mitt Romney electable. The men at Houston and Cape Canaveral had an easier task in putting a man on the Moon in the 1960s; for too long the liberty movement has been drawing up sketches for rockets to take us to the AnCap Pie in the Sky.
Gary Johnson, if elected, would pursue moderate yet substantial reforms in the government, rolling back its powers, specifically those of the Imperial Presidency. Johnson might be too vanilla for the hardcore libertarians, but he is the only palatable choice left in this election. He will be a better communicator of liberty than many of us who spend our days arguing on social media. He’s not a dilettante philosopher; he’s a politician who understands that policy evolves gradually. You can’t properly bake a cake in a microwave for 30 seconds, nor can our ideas expect instant implementation and universal adoption by the edict of a dictator inspired by Mises. To want an electable libertarian candidate that could move this country in a libertarian direction and to want one that will defend and protect free association, consequences be damned, is to want to have your cake and eat it too.
This article was edited for grammar, style, and spelling, but not for content. The views expressed are that of the author, Neil McGettigan, exclusively, and do not reflect that of BeingLibertarian.com or Being Libertarian LLC
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