The libertarian moment is finally happening. Faced with the horrifying prospect of either a predestined Machiavellian queen or a political sock puppet come to life claiming the White House, rational American voters are looking to anyone who can save them from their fate. And, like the nerd patiently waiting for his crush to get tired of dating jocks, the Libertarian Party is there for them. This time, however, it seems the urge to go third party is more than just some empty threat. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson has reached as high as 11% in recent polls (15% being the minimum requirement to get into the presidential debates along with the major party candidates), interest on Google in the Libertarian Party spiked to record levels for May and June, and Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld presented a respectable front at a historic town hall hosted by CNN, viewed by nearly 1 million people. The libertarian moment might finally be here.
Unless, of course, it’s not a libertarian moment at all. Scores of the liberty faithful are upset over the LP’s choice of nominees, saying Gary Johnson isn’t libertarian enough (or at all). As for Weld, he might as well be the cursed second coming of Mitt Romney. Yes, this is not exactly the glorious return of the Ron Paul revolution. However, it still is the great libertarian moment we’ve been waiting for. No, I’m not necessarily suggesting that liberty lovers vote Libertarian this election, and I certainly am not saying that they should voice nothing but wholehearted support for all of Johnson’s policy positions. What I am saying is that, rather than eating their own, libertarians should capitalize on the moment in the spotlight to advance their ideas. Here’s why the Libertarian Party’s rise is good for the cause liberty:
Johnson/Weld advance (some) libertarian ideals
The largest criticism of Johnson (and even more of Weld) is the lack of understanding of libertarian ideas. There may be some weight behind that argument; however, that absolutely does not preclude their ideas from contributing to the advancement of libertarianism. Johnson does not advocate the legalization of all drugs, but he does support repealing marijuana prohibition and shifting from punitive enforcement to rehabilitation. While he has not advocated for an end to all foreign interventions, he has endorsed a peace-first approach to global policy. And while the Johnson/Weld ticket has eschewed the stance of completely gutting government, they have proposed simplifying the tax code by eliminating the income tax and the IRS while consolidating revenue collection under a single simplified consumption tax. While none of these ideas are attractive to radical libertarianism, they are sadly considered radical in modern America’s political climate. A world used to Gary Johnson’s proposals will be much less terrified by the ideas of more extreme non-interventionism, across-the-board drug legalization, and massive government funding cuts.
They built the vehicle, next time someone better can drive it
If the Libertarian Party succeeds, but nominates no true libertarians, is that even a victory? Yes, yes it is. Having won only a handful of local elections and never receiving more than 1% of the vote in a presidential election over the past 45 years, while failing to secure national media attention in any meaningful way, 2016’s coverage and polling jumps push the party to an advantageous position that will likely stay well on into future elections. The name recognition, respect, and political infrastructure built by the Libertarian Party’s success this year will be in place to be used by a more purist candidate in the future. If Johnson performs well this election, libertarianism will have lost its single most crippling weakness: irrelevance
They claim reason in an unreasonable election
The final benefit of this year’s Libertarian Party effort is the ability to claim the mantle of reason. Between flamboyant shock-jock and symbol of polarization and corruption, sanity is not on the menu at the two-party cafe. While 2012 was the perfect year for Ron Paul’s zeal and ideological purism to contrast from two establishment flip-floppers, 2016’s crazy political landscape is the perfect setup to appeal to the average joe. If Gary Johnson can’t convert through the purity of the good word of liberty, at least he can make libertarianism seem like the only reasonable choice.
For the first time ever, the Libertarian Party, a valid third option in an election with unprecedented dissatisfaction in the two-party system, has a shot at taking the stage. Is this the big libertarian moment we have all been waiting for? Possibly. Is it instead merely a temporary shift of the centrist forces of both major parties to something more safe? Maybe. Does the Libertarian Party’s glorious rise into national prominence still offer a priceless opportunity for hardcore libertarians to advance their cause? Absolutely. Let’s not squander our big break.