A few nights ago I saw a train wreck, a bloody mess I’d as soon forget. I am speaking of course about the CNN Libertarian Town Hall #LibTownHall with William Weld and Gary Johnson.
I was anticipating the forum as if it was the Superbowl, racing home to tune in at 9pm for a chance to see these mighty men tell it straight and represent the voice of the misfits, the disillusioned former Democrats and Republicans, and all who abhor the suffocating suppression of the dual-party system.
Instead, what I saw was two mere mortals who struggled for over an hour to articulate the principles of our party, who failed to tell the hard truths that come with a refutation of the nanny state, the discomfort, and harsh realities of what real freedom is.
Last night, for whatever reason, Johnson misrepresented me and many libertarians like me. He and Weld still have my vote, for these two still most embody the ideals of limited government, fiscal conservatism, and social inclusion, especially compared to the other two candidates. But since we must stand for principle, we would be remiss in failing to hold Johnson and Weld accountable for their “dropping the ball” in this event in the hopes that in the coming debates (should they gain the 15%) they will be more thoroughly drilled, and better prepared to hold to our principles when the hard questions are put forward concerning a society committed to bearing the responsibility, joys, and heavy burden of absolute freedom.
The moderator began the town hall with an odd mix of trite and provocative questions to even include word associations with “Trump,” “President Obama,” and “Hillary”. Although I was frustrated as the time slot was only a precious hour, and these time-wasters were clearly intended to set up a controversial statement for a juicy sound bite for CNN’s primetime, Weld and Johnson maintained a civil tone with Weld referring to Trump as a “huckster” the most controversial statement of the introduction.
At last the forum opened to the audience members, and all seemed pleasant and affable until a grieving mother slammed her case down hard at Johnson’s feet: her son had overdosed on heroin and suffered permanent damage to his brain. How could Mr. Johnson advocate legalization of such drugs when these substances have so irreparably harmed people like her son? It was personal. The question badly shook Johnson. He ranted and yammered trying to find center, trying to articulate some kind of inclusive thesis to satisfy her; instead of holding to the principles of our party he sought instead to say something pleasant. His hands were shaking. Did you notice? He mentioned treating addiction like a disease, adopting a Swiss recreational drug policy, then mentioned only marijuana as the single drug he sought to legalize, a statement directly contradictory to his previous platforms, as pointed out by the moderator. There was a lot of bad noise and a lot of rambling, but never once did Johnson come close to a coherent, strong answer to that mother. For half an hour afterwards, he struggled to rebuild his shattered confidence, as Weld took up the slack. Thank God for Weld…
I am so sorry for the woman’s son, and she was indeed heard, and I am glad that she spoke, because all of us need to be aware of the entanglements that will come in a free society. I can appreciate Johnson’s trepidation as he sought to answer her, but she was provoking a hard truth which Johnson was unprepared for. I hope he is prepared next time. The truth of the matter, as articulated time and again by Ron Paul and David Boaz is that individual responsibility means that it is not the role of the government to dictate what you choose to do with your body. The hard, uncomfortable truth is that since the War on Drugs began, opioid and other drug-use rates have only increased, incarceration rates have more than doubled, and the burden to the taxpayer has increased. In no way has our current policy dissuaded the effect of drugs in America. The decriminalization of drugs represents one of the tenants of libertarian philosophy: that you are responsible for you, that, as hideous of a truth as it is, Johnson should have mustered the audacity to tell this grieving mother that it is not the role of the government to enact a prohibition to govern what you choose to do with your body. That is the burden of responsibility which is a tenant of our political platform, and it is non-negotiable.
In so doing, Johnson would have inevitably been the “bad guy” for there is no way to make this truth easier to swallow, but he must prepare for this eventuality in future forums. As I said, you still have my vote, but, Mr. Johnson, you did not hold to our principles on this issue.
* Brian DeLoach is a high school teacher in Cleveland, Tennessee, a flyfisherman, gun owner, conservationist, former Republican, and an advocate of minimal government and maximum freedom.