In both parts of my previous discussions of the Jorgensen campaign I’ve stressed the point that the next big year for Libertarians is 2021. Now is not the right time to talk about 2024. We should be worried about city council runs, not our next presidential ticket.
This is still true.
However Libertarians, being Libertarians and, well, people can’t help but think about the next presidential cycle in the immediate aftermath of this one. And as such, I’ve got Some Thoughts on what I’ve been reading in libertarian circles post-Election Day. In no particular order…
Justin Amash 2024: Simply put, no. Don’t get me wrong-Amash was an amazing congressman, especially in light of having to be in Congress during the Obama and Trump years. His regular explanations of his votes were illuminating. His nearly successful attempt at defunding the NSA was amazing. And his last potshots at Trump over foreign policy have been wonderful. He conducted himself with ethics, principles, and intellect. He was wonderful for a Republican, and he’s continued to move in the right direction since officially joining the LP. The US could do a lot worse than him as president. However, he should not carry our standard in 2024. And the reason is simple: he’s still a carpetbagger. He’s still kind of wishywashy on immigration. Although he seems to be moving in that direction (which I support!) historically he wasn’t the strident non-interventionist that the LP needs and that I feel most comfortable voting for. And, as a matter of appearances and strategy, as of right now he’s only won election as a Republican. He needs to win a local office-any local office, whether governor or sanitation board rep-as a Libertarian first before he deserves a shot at our big seat. For a long time (and still, to a large extent) the LP was seen as a vanity project for failed Republicans. For whatever the failings of the Jorgensen campaign, the return to homegrown talent was the smartest thing our party has done in years. It was the beginnings of reclaiming the LP’s identity as its own entity, not just a rump Republican party, and even more importantly the effect of homegrown talent was that the candidates were firmly committed to the message, and as such campaigned harder, articulated the message much better and much more consistently, and brought people in that were motivated rather than meh. That’s the kind of person we need again in 2024, whether it’s Spike Cohen, Jorgensen again, Hornberger, or one of our many recruits from this cycle-or someone I don’t know yet.
Further thoughts on the presidential nominee: They should be a proud libertarian of strong principle, but also someone who’s willing to reach out to groups well outside the stereotypical libertarian constituencies-this is another thing that Jorgensen and Cohen did exceptionally well. They should have a solid body of work behind them. Ideally we would draw from our stock of officeholders, but I know that’s not always how it goes in the LP.
What issues should we focus on?: As I said in part 2, there are a lot of local issues to focus on that can make our communities better and prove our ideas can work in the real world, most of which we don’t know about yet. We have such an information gap in our party between what’s happening on the ground and what we’re aware of that it’s tragic. We need to be out in the world (metaphorically, in the age of quarantine anyway) in a way that we haven’t been. Even having a libertarian watching a city council meeting and reporting back on it would be an improvement. And I think that’s where a lot of our energy needs to be.
That said, the state and national stuff is always bigger and far more egregious. I think we need to recognize, if we don’t already, that we’re a small movement, and as such look for single issue coalitions on what’s important to us, across the entirety of the traditional political spectrum. The goal should always be to move society in a more liberty oriented direction and to improve peoples’ lives, but we shouldn’t be ignorant of how things will play out in recruitment either. In the year of Black Lives Matter and police murder being in the headlines we continue to have natural allies there on qualified immunity, civil asset forfeiture, the drug war, and, in time, ultimately the very nature of the relationship between the state and the individual. The Jorgensen campaign did a great job of starting that conversation in a way that no Libertarian ticket had done before. And, when the Biden/Harris administration inevitably lets down that constituency, whether through backburnering criminal justice reform or simply being true to their historical track records, that’s a major opportunity for us to pick up new supporters. And to anyone who’s screaming pandering right now, or “dirty commie thugs” or somesuch nonsense, my response is here, but more importantly, hear them in their own words. How anyone-especially those who have been railing against the abuses of the state for so long-can hear the stories of those people and not be moved to tears is beyond me. Also…in SoCal George Gascon was just elected DA on a campaign of, and I quote, “ending the racist drug war”. It’s an issue that I wish wasn’t necessary to pursue, but it’s also an issue that wins both morally and at the ballot box.
Given Biden’s stance on guns, expect a lot of people on the right to suddenly care about gun rights again after ignoring Trump’s abuses. The NRA is in decline (thankfully), but many better groups are out there carrying on the good fight-Firearms Policy Coalition, Gun Owners Of America, and Citizens Committee For The Right To Keep And Bear Arms all come immediately to mind. There are also a lot of groups that are reaching out in minority communities, often also doing work (or overlapping with the work) of dismantling the drug war and reigning in police abuse. Maj Toure and Black Guns Matter. The National African American Gun Association. The Latino Rifle Association. Armed Equality. The delightfully named Not Fucking Around Coalition. I don’t agree with every stance these organizations and people have taken on every issue, and I have serious disagreements with some of them on some things. But they are all doing important work on an issue that’s very important to us as libertarians, and we need to reach out to these people, go to their meetings, and offer as much support as we can.
War will be another issue which we will need to pursue with great vigor. With the return of Democrats to the White House the antiwar (mainstream) left will most likely go silent, and I don’t think there’s a lot of antiwar Republicans left among the elected class. However, the American people have very rarely liked war in the modern era, they’ve just dealt with it as the price for supposedly getting the domestic policies they want. We can become the antiwar party. We can reach out across the spectrum to help stop the next war, which we all know is coming giving Biden’s track record. We can reach out to a broad variety of people here; Adam Forgie’s excellent series of interviews with all of the third party candidates this cycle had one unifying thread-every third party, from nativist to Libertarian to flaming commie, is profoundly antiwar and anti-empire. This should tell us something big.
The issue we shouldn’t pursue though, or at least seriously modify how we talk about it? Covid-19. I have heard entirely too many libertarians, including a lot of candidates and official representatives, talk about the virus almost as if it didn’t exist, and talk about the quarantines and lockdowns as if they’re the second coming of the Soviet Union.
This is not a winning strategy for us, morally or politically.
I have a more detailed take on this here, but to summarize I agree that lockdowns of private enterprises are unconstitutional and wrong, and they’ve been horribly economically destructive. However, Libertarians need to have some damned nuance when we talk about this. In mid-November as I’m writing this we’re facing flu season on top of a resurgence of Covid cases in various places. And regardless of the percentage of surviveability (the case fatality rate is hovering at about 2%, according to that study), the reality is that almost 250,000 people have died because of this disease, which is somewhere between double and 7 or 8 times typical flu deaths. Anecdotally Covid support groups have been talking about a lot of dead members, and side effects that linger for a lot longer than a typical flu. And yes, the numbers might be goosed some (a charge I’ve heard frequently), but there’s still a substantial number of Americans that have been really affected by this. To not acknowledge this, even as we criticize the abuses of the lockdowns, will win us no friends and quite frankly makes us assholes. And it may well put us on the wrong side of history-we run the risk of becoming like the early AIDS denialists. We need to point out the realities of the virus, the people that have died, and what people are living with and risking even as we point out the effects of the lockdowns, and we need to emphasize that private solutions are better here but solutions are still needed for a very real problem. Simply going out and railing against the lockdowns and calling anyone wearing a mask a cuck or some nonsense just makes us sound like Trumpers.
Finally, tone: Tone is always the toughest thing for libertarians, and really any ideologues. We’re often angry and self righteous, and not without justification-there’s a lot to be angry about. A lot that has been going on for a long time, and didn’t just spontaneously arise in the age of Trump. The state has been killing people, and robbing people for a long time. The ideology of control of the individual has had a powerful allure for a long time. Suppression of dissent is almost as American as dissent. And while Trump’s loss is welcome, Biden’s election is hardly a cause for celebration.
It’s hard not to be angry.
We should be angry. We should continue to stand firm against what is wrong, in no uncertain terms (and that was one of the very refreshing things about the Jorgensen/Cohen campaign). And those in office deserve every bit of the ire and venom that we can give them, especially since a large chunk of the formerly angry populace will probably be turning a blind eye to the sins of the new administration and will need to be reminded that their enemy just pulled a lot of the same crap a year or two ago.
But for those not in office? We need to be kind. I’m not talking about the knock down dragout debates we have with our close friends, although some kindness there wouldn’t hurt. I’m talking about when we go out into the world. When we’re at a community fair, or a city council meeting, or a protest, or a meeting of a non-Libertarian group. First off, if we’re going to claim the moral high ground we damned well better act like we deserve it, and lead by example. Ron Paul said it very well: “Setting a good example is a far better way to spread ideals than through force of arms”, and while he was talking about international relationships, if you substitute force of arms with “yelling and screaming and calling someone a filthy statist idiot” it translates pretty well to interpersonal ones too. More practically, again, we need to recognize that as a small movement if we want to actually affect positive changes in the world rather than self righteously jerking off in our own echo chambers we need to actually convince people to work with us, whether on a single issue or in fully coming over to our camp. That does not mean compromise our message, change positions, or pretend to be what we’re not. But it does mean we need to listen a lot more than we talk, we need to be empathetic, we need to hear what peoples’ real concerns are based on their lived experiences, and speak to them in their language, based on their concerns, not just theoretical abstractions. We also need to recognize that good ideas can come from other camps, that (for the most part) if someone comes to a point of agreement with you on a particular issue through a very different path that’s ok, and that people can and often do come to good faith beliefs that are very different than ours. The way to reach them isn’t to beat them down. It’s to listen to their story, to figure out how they got there, to find out where we agree, and build out from there.
Good luck out there.