For the presidential election, there are only three names that will be on every candidate list on every ballot across the country. There’s the Republican nominee, Governor Mitt Romney, there’s the incumbent Democratic president, Barack Obama, and there’s the Libertarian nominee, former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson.
If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably not familiar with either libertarianism or its presidential nominee.
Classical liberalism, or what we call “libertarianism,” originated as we know it during the Enlightenment and is essentially the conglomeration of a number of economic and moral philosophies. It draws primarily from John Locke’s moral theory of government and Adam Smith’s (in)famous “Wealth of Nations,” the first complete expression of free-market economics, but it was adapted and modified since its conception by a number of prominent thinkers. To summarize and oversimplify the general philosophy as it has arrived to us today, it is grounded in the moral argument that nobody has the ability to determine what is best for other people. Nobody, not even the government, has the right to say what someone else can or cannot do. This freedom of choice is by itself a right, and the sole object of governmental protection.
Penn Jillette, a renowned magician and libertarian intellectual, said in an interview with ReasonTV that “[the] government’s job is to get out of the way,” which echoes Thomas Jefferson’s view that the best government is the one that governs the least. In terms of social and economic policy, says Jillette, “you take a right on money and a left on sex.”
With this perspective, it isn’t difficult to predict former Governor Johnson’s platform. He supports the republican economic philosophy (if not their precise policy) while taking a more liberal stance on social issues. He, like most libertarians, is supportive of women’s right to choose in cases of abortion, and is behind equal marriage status for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning community. Johnson has also been an outspoken supporter of legalizing prostitution and illegal drugs, and has specifically endorsed Initiative 502. In keeping with the party’s focus on maximizing individual rights and liberties, he is the only candidate opposed to the Patriot Act, a piece of legislation passed by the Bush administration and maintained by Obama that allows the federal government to spy on and detain American citizens for indefinite periods of time without a warrant or charge.
In terms of foreign policy, Johnson is a non-interventionist. When asked what his timetable would be for bringing the troops in Afghanistan home, his answer was “immediately.”
While I consider myself to be at least in part a Libertarian and have already submitted my ballot for Gary Johnson, I don’t want to imply that he is necessarily the best candidate for everyone. For example, a voter who values compassion over everything else may be more inclined to vote for President Obama, while a voter who wants a fiscally conservative economic strategy infused with the moral values of the religious right would be better off voting for Governor Romney.
What I do think is that more voters would align themselves with candidates other than the main two that the Democratic and Republican parties have selected for them if it weren’t for the enormous advertising-budget gap, and that a particularly large portion of the US population would prioritize freedom for everyone even over such valuable compassion and tradition. Needless to say, a Democrat is not necessarily lacking in valuing freedom, nor is the Libertarian lacking in valuing compassion or tradition – it is a difference in priorities though, and a difference perhaps worth considering when you fill out your ballot for this national election.
I don’t agree with Gary Johnson on everything – aside from my issues with I-502, I have read too much of Christopher Hitchens’ work to truly call myself a non-interventionist. I don’t think Johnson’s ad campaign is any freer from propaganda than Romney’s or Obama’s (though it seems to check out better in terms of facts, especially in comparison to the governor from Massachusetts). However, I do agree with Johnson on this – freedom is the most valuable asset we have in America and as human beings, and even in full knowledge that he won’t win this campaign election, his perspective may be worth acknowledging and supporting with a vote.