Do Libertarian Converts Know What the Party Actually Stands For?

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Do Libertarian Converts Know What the Party Actually Stands For?

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

Here’s Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President, reflecting on his own supporters:

“You’re going to find really wonderful, well-meaning, well-spoken people, and then people who are just bat-shit crazy.”

It’s fitting that libertarians should run this gamut. The party is a mishmash of high principles and pure nuttiness.

Johnson, who garnered 1 percent of the vote when he ran for President in 2012, is the former governor of New Mexico. His running mate, William Weld, is the former governor of Massachusetts. Both are enjoying unparalleled political attention and success, with roughly 9 percent of the public now planning to vote Libertarian.

But probably many of these people are largely unaware of the party’s positions.

That’s in part because the Libertarian Party’s rising fortunes in the current presidential sweepstakes have little to do with the Libertarian Party. Rather, they reflect a greater-than usual degree of popular dissatisfaction with the candidates being offered by the Democratic and Republican parties.

Urgent!

“I’ve always said I will not vote for Donald Trump and I will not vote for Hillary Clinton,” U.S. Representative Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia, recently told The New York Times. “I’m going to vote for the Libertarian candidate.”

But it’s not just Republicans who are gravitating to the Libertarians, often described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. The website FiveThirtyEight in July cited poll results suggesting that the Libertarians may take more votes away from Clinton than from Trump.

And what ideas would these newly minted Libertarians be voting for? Let’s start with Johnson.

The Libertarian Party standard bearer is not opposed to big money in politics, telling New American in 2012 that corporations “should be able to contribute as much money as they want.” He does support “100 percent disclosure” for donors.

Johnson backs the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that Trump, Clinton and Green Party candidate Jill Stein all vow to reject. He’s lukewarm at best regarding calls to increase the federal minimum wage and is opposed to government-mandated paid family and medical leave.

Johnson’s position on gun control is simple, as he explained it to Slate in 2011: “I don’t believe there should be any restrictions when it comes to firearms.”

While Johnson believes global warming is happening and caused by human activity, he’s not sure the U.S. government can do much of anything about it, telling Rolling Stone in 2011, “I’m a free market guy when it comes to the clean environment.” He opposes a carbon tax on principle, saying “Taxes to me are like a death plague.”

And finally, while Libertarians purport to be all about personal liberty, there are some limits to their tolerance, as when Johnson told the Libertarian magazine Reason that he would ban the wearing of burqas in the United States. One reason he gave is that these make it harder to see when Muslim women are beaten.

Okay, these are just the musings of the candidate the Libertarians want to be President. Perhaps within the party’s big tent we might find positions on issues that voters upset with the choice between Trump and Clinton would find more palatable.

Let’s check out the party’s platform, which it adopted at its convention in May of this year.

It begins with a rousing promise to “defend each person’s right to engage in any activity that is peaceful and honest, and welcome the diversity that freedom brings.” This is backed by planks to repeal all laws against recreational drug use, oppose wholesale government spying on individuals, uphold the freedom of consenting adults regarding sexual practices and relationships, and “support full freedom of expression and oppose government censorship, regulation or control of communications media and technology.”

The Libertarians also oppose the death penalty and all forms of foreign intervention.

But the platform has other planks that may not sit well with some of the people now planning to vote Libertarian. Here are some of them.

  • Self defense: “Private property owners should be free to establish their own conditions regarding the presence of personal defense weapons on their own property. We oppose all laws at any level of government restricting, registering, or monitoring the ownership, manufacture, or transfer of firearms or ammunition.”
  • Energy policy: “While energy is needed to fuel a modern society, government should not be subsidizing any particular form of energy. We oppose all government control of energy pricing, allocation, and production.”
  • Taxation and government spending: “We call for the repeal of the income tax, the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service and all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution.”
  • Union membership: “We favor repealing any requirement that one must join or pay dues to a union as a condition of government employment.”
  • Schools: “Education is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality, accountability and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Recognizing that the education of children is a parental responsibility, we would restore authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government.”
  • Health care: We favor a free-market health care system. . . . People should be free to purchase health insurance across state lines.”
  • Campaign financing: “We call for an end to any tax-financed subsidies to candidates or parties and the repeal of all laws which restrict voluntary financing of election campaigns.”

It’s a mixed bag, like the party itself.

Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders is a reporter, editor and Money and Politics Project director for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

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