The Unseen Reason Why Libertarians Haven’t Become Mainstream
When faced with the decision of who to vote for in this election, many Americans are ripping their hair out at the current choices.
Stuck between choosing the hackneyed rhetoric of Donald Trump or the establishment incarnate that is Hillary Clinton, a lot of would-be voters are choosing a third option; staying home on Election Day.
Now, many of you are shouting “There’s another candidate running!” I know. He’s even on the ballot for all fifty states. Anyone who subscribes to libertarian principles has probably found themselves in a similar argument a dozen times this season. So why hasn’t Gary Johnson been dominating the others in the polls when the public has clearly been crying out for just such a candidate? Is it because Johnson is not a “real libertarian”, as the die-hards say? Or, perhaps, people value America’s foreign policy so highly that they can’t vote for someone who didn’t know where Aleppo was? Possibly, but looking back on the last decade of America’s international endeavors, I would say a candidate’s foreign policy doesn’t land high enough. No, there is a real reason that people haven’t dumped the Trump Train for the Johnson Jet, just yet.
The truth is, libertarians have become extremely efficient at scaring off potential supporters.
There is no doubt that this election has left a never-before seen amount of Democrats and Republicans detached from their party and in search of a better option. The current trend within the Libertarian Party, however, seems to be that the best way to entice these potential supporters, is by showing them how different we are. And the poll numbers are not kind when analyzing how we’ve been doing. People are looking for any reason to tell themselves Johnson isn’t a viable choice. Even the weak examples the media have given, hurt Johnson in the polls.
So, why are people so afraid? If they dislike their party’s candidates enough to stray, why hasn’t standing out worked?
That is because people say one thing, and mean another. And in this case, they want change, but they don’t want too much change. People aren’t convinced that things are so terrible now that they should vote for a party who wants to let business go unregulated, legalize drugs, or privatize roads and emergency services. When the first sentence on our party’s website refers to the government as a “cult of omnipotence,” it may strike someone hearing about us for the first time as being cult-ish itself.
We’ve all seen the memes out there on the internet mocking libertarian ideas. Where a mundane situation turns riotous due to a lack of government. For instance, a party your neighbor hosts gets too loud and turns violent, when there is no alternative to get him to quiet down due to a lack of publicly funded police to call. Because, as they deride; “There are no rules in Liber-land.” This scenario is laughably untrue, but it doesn’t help calm the skittish enquirer when all we try to sell them on is how “libertarianism is so different and never been tried,” or another cliché that comes off as unflattering. We need to change the way we handle these delicate first impressions, if we want to see more people settle into libertarianism.
I’m not suggesting we water down party principles or pander to get more support. We already have everything we need to demonstrate why libertarianism is the natural choice. The approach just needs amending. As an example, if our potential supporter is a child heading to their first day of school, then our current tactic is that of the older brother. Assuring our sibling of how different life will be now that they’ve started school, not realizing that we’ve scared our brother into tears, and by doing so, lost a follower. We need to approach it as the supportive parent. Explaining that although it looks different or difficult, it’s a smooth transition for a better outcome, and you will be there to help. We need to tell these would-be Johnsonites that things wouldn’t be tremendously different if he were elected. We need to tell ourselves that, too.
The first step to correcting any problem, is realizing there is one. The impression left from many libertarians is that the world will somehow be whisked away into an unspoiled utopia when Johnson is elected. I find it ironic that the biggest critics of our ideas assure us inflated consequences will result from our policies; claiming corporations will poison their patrons or that gangs would take over. Yet, when we explain our ideas, they are embellished in the exact opposite direction. The truth is that neither is likely to happen. Take the earlier reference to the partying neighbor: we surely wouldn’t assault them for making too much noise. More likely, we would still call the police for a noise complaint if they refused to quiet down, and that entire encounter would play out almost identical to how it would today. The change being implicit in that the police are no longer funded through taxation, but through a myriad of other ways, like as an added service built into our homeowner’s insurance. And this is just one of countless examples of how everyday life would have hardly any visible changes.
Libertarianism isn’t an idea of demolishing the current system for a clean slate to start again. Millennia of human progress and refinement has led us to our current system, and most people don’t see the “invisible hand” of government overreach in it, or the headaches it causes. Nor would they see the invisible hand of the market, when the headache of that overreach is gone. The big picture is still the same in a Johnson presidency; just less coercive and more seamless. When our party comes to that realization and is able to convey that knowledge confidently and compassionately to curious ears, we will see the Libertarian Party attract the masses.
* Thomas J. Eckert is a college student graduating with his degree in December. He studies economics and history and writes in his spare time on political and economic current events.