U.S. Presidential candidate Gary Johnson is taking the libertarian moniker to dizzy new heights. Sure, some of his success can be explained by his two gruesome rivals, but much can be said of his pragmatic, flexible and marketable brand of small government politics.
Since its inception in 1971, Johnson’s Libertarian Party has never held a seat in any major legislature, they have not managed to secure more than 1% of the vote for its prospective commander-in-chief, and they have never been seen as a viable alternative to the Republicans or Democrats. But the former GOP Governor is different. He is tantalisingly close to polling at 15% – the magic figure required for a spot on the national TV debates alongside Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Moreover, Johnson is officially backed by representatives from ten different states, Mitt Romney is tempted to join them, and 47% of Americans are considering a punt on a third-party runner. Come November, he’s unlikely to be the most powerful man in the world, but his message will have entered the mainstream for good.
Besides prioritising key issues, Johnson is making waves by toning down and modifying his party’s traditional, hard-line minarchist stance. Instead of a free-market in recreational drugs, he talks of the legal regulation of cannabis. He thinks healthcare should be provided by private insurers, but he wants a safety net in place for those who can’t pay. And, most shockingly of all, he’s open to the idea of banning firearm sales to the mentally ill. I know, right? Only a crazy person would deprive a crazy person of guns!
Johnson’s endeavours have not gone unchecked by the diehards in his ranks. During a prime time interview with American chat show host Bill Maher, he recalled being booed at a party convention after expressing support for state-issued drivers’ licenses (what a tyrant, eh?). Maher responded more warmly to him, though; concluding that his guest is “saner than I thought”.
In all honesty, there are reasons why Maher and others dismiss the LP’s platform as the workings of a madman: some of the theory behind it is questionable, it would require the rebuilding of society to be implemented, and it’s gung-ho enthusiasts are seemingly oblivious to the realpolitik of planet Earth.
For example: accepting mass surveillance is less effort than confronting a terrorist, minority groups gain peace of mind from the Civil Rights Act, and homeowners will not take kindly to the incineration of planning regulations. In short, the electorate will seldom plump for wholesale change if society is rigged in their favour. Ultimately, human beings are intelligent, self-serving creatures of habit, and their hearts and minds must be won at the ballot box.
Consequently, Johnson is pinching one or two views off his adversaries and, at least for the time being, he’s ditching a few tenets held dear by his colleagues. But is that necessarily a bad formula?
I know I’m stepping way out of line here, but perhaps laissez-faire revisionists like Hayek and Friedman (an adviser to the Iron Lady, no less) were right to give central banking a go. What’s more, could we not learn to live with (largely unenforceable) anti-discrimination laws to humour our left-leaning brethren? And maybe, just maybe, open borders are not all they’re cracked up to be. I mean, is there not the remotest chance that Jihadists will still come here and blow us to bits – irrespective of our foreign policy or the size of our welfare state? .
Western civilisation is already tiptoeing in the right direction, so it’s safe to say the libertarian movement could accomplish a great deal if we put our minds to it. Indeed, evolution is doing the hard work for us, as fiscally and socially, we are infinitely more liberal and tolerant than we were forty years ago. So what are we waiting for? Let’s pick up the baton and run our leg of the journey – we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Afterwards, we can tire the moon with quibbles over publicly-owned pavements, the criminalisation of bestiality and other such lingering injustices, but we’re going to have to engage with the real world first. And if we follow Johnson’s blueprint and do just that then one day, in the not too distant future, we will have left our mark on history.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty