This post is not about why I’m a libertarian.
That’s another post, hopefully a story worth telling, involving history, research, and fanfiction. No, seriously.
This post is about my frustrations every time someone tells me “your candidate has no chance of winning”, or “why don’t you win some local elections first?” or “a vote for your candidate that you actually believe in (or can at least tolerate) is a vote for the other scumbag, who is worse than my scumbag”. Or the ever popular “This is the most important election ever. This is not the time to waste your vote with a third party protest vote, because it’s too important to get scumbag of the moment out of office”. I hear this a lot, especially in presidential election years. In fact I’ve heard these lines not just this year, but in every presidential election year since I became politically aware.
Counterpoint one, of course, is the fact that the Libertarian Party has well over 200 elected officials and while there’s definitely still a strain of “everyone wants to be president, no one wants to be dogcatcher” in party activism, we can and do win local offices better than any other third party, and have for a long time. But that does leave open the question of why contest the presidency and the other federal offices each year.
Let me tell you a bit of my history. I started to become politically aware in early high school, but didn’t really get interested in things until the late 1990s when I started college. Discovering libertarianism, and realizing that there was actually a name for a lot of what I was already thinking was a huge moment for me. As I started to look out at what was happening in the world I was troubled by many things, but especially the drug war (despite being a straightedger myself) and its ensuing mass incarceration and police murder, stupid foreign wars, corporate welfare, and insane taxation.
At the time the most recently murdered by police were Peter McWilliams, Don Scott, and Amadou Diallo. We were bombing Iraq mostly, and supporting less than wholesome regimes across the planet. My favorite example of corporate welfare at the time was the Export-Import Bank giving handouts to Campbell’s Soup to buy foreign advertising. And taxes were what taxes were.
In the next 20 years we’ve had only presidents from the two major parties. We’ve had one actual independent, one nominal independent, and one Republican turned Libertarian in Congress. The duopoly, I think it’s safe to say, has completely controlled politics at the federal level. So…what has that gotten us?
It’s true that there have been some good things from the courts, or at the state and local level. Obergfell and Heller/McDonald were awesome, although for every Obergfell there’s definitely been a Kelo. Colorado just ended qualified immunity. Florida passed major occupational licensing reform. Many states in the ensuing 20 years have fully or partially legalized marijuana and started to crack the evil (slightly anyway) that is the drug war. These are things to be celebrated, to be sure.
But I can’t help but feel like these are just shifts around the edges, and that nothing has really changed. Let’s look at that federal list from 20 years ago, shall we? Cops are still killing people-Philando Castile, George Floyd, Kelly Thomas, Breonna Taylor jump immediately to mind. We still incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. We’re still bombing Iraq, and we’ve added Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen to the package, along with the occasional assassination of an Iranian leader. And we’re still propping up terrible regimes. We’ve lived through auto industry bailouts (multiple), bank bailouts, and most recently covid relief that mostly went to the already rich. And though the rates get tinkered with every few years, our paychecks are still raided constantly by all levels of government, we still rent our cars from the state long after buying them, most of us still pay a tax on every economic transaction we make (now across state lines). Only the names of the dead and bombed have changed.
And in response to such circumstances, who do the major parties keep giving us? Architects of war. Champions of corporate bailouts. One of the most venally corrupt politicians in the history, who is not the only racist president, but is probably the most racist to hold the office since Nixon or FDR. The guy who bragged for decades about writing the Patriot Act. People who believe in nothing save either their own ambitions or their own aggrandizement. If the major parties had actually succeeded in nominating someone like a Bernie Sanders, or Ron Paul, or going back a little Dennis Kucinich, someone who, love them or hate them you know acts from clear principles and generally lives by them-and who actually cares a bit about the people they represent, I might buy the strategic voting argument, or the lesser of two evils argument. But the major parties keep putting up more of the same, and the result is that we keep getting more of the same.
That is why it is so important for Libertarians and Greens and all manner of other voices to keep contesting the highest offices, even though the game is rigged and it’s fantastically expensive. When I go to cast my vote for Jo Jorgensen this November-and in fairness all of the rest of what I’m about to say can be said of Howie Hawkins as well, I’m voting for someone who stands for something. Who directly addresses the biggest issues of our day and says “No. What we’ve done for 20 years or more is wrong, and we need to do something different”. And who not only has been consistent herself over her lifetime, but is part of a broader movement that has been consistent on these issues for a long time.
When this question first came up this cycle, my immediate response was “we keep running presidential candidates because the major party candidates are so bad. Run someone better and we’ll think about voting for them”. This is true, but as I think about it it’s more than that. Voting major party in my politically aware lifetime has always been about voting against the other guy. Voting third party? That’s a chance to vote for something. And I’ll always embrace that.