The Choice Facing Libertarians

If you want to find a Libertarian Party organization that has achieved relevance, look no further than Georgia. That’s where Shane Hazel, running for the U.S. Senate as a Libertarian, garnered 2.3 percent of the vote in November. Hazel’s showing may have been insignificant, but the Republican candidate, David Perdue, only needed 0.3 percent more votes to have avoided a runoff, where he lost.

America’s political system today, with rare exceptions, is a two party system. All that Perdue needed was for one in seven of Hazel’s voters to choose him instead, and the GOP would still control the U.S. Senate. In a two party system, it doesn’t take much to be relevant. Hazel now intends to run as a Libertarian for governor in Georgia in 2022.

Libertarians, to their credit, do not operate with the same level of lies and hatred as leftist Democrats. They also tend to be more willing to stand on principle, although this may be more a function of their status as spoilers. The actual challenge of governing requires compromises.

On the Libertarian Party of Georgia’s website there is a chart entitled “Common Sense on the Issues” that thoughtfully outlines their positions on issues. It compares them to Democrats and Republicans, showing areas of agreement and disagreement. This chart bears examination, both for its assumptions as well as for what it leaves out.

Libertarians object to the Left’s positions on regulations, “UN led US military actions,” eminent domain for private gain, taxpayer funding of government charities, and higher taxes. Libertarians object to the Right’s positions on “government regulated morality,” nation building, the war on drugs, the surveillance state, taxpayer funding of faith-based charities, stricter immigration laws, and corporate welfare.

Most of this sounds pretty good. Maybe we should all be libertarians. But this chart underscores the luxury libertarians have that governing parties do not have. It’s all theoretical. A look at the center of the chart, “libertarian positions,” makes this clear.

Libertarian Principles:  A Reality Check

The core positions of Georgia’s Libertarian Party are as follows: “government should just defend our rights,” the United States should “stop nation building” and instead pursue “peace through trade and diplomacy,” end the “war on drugs,” legalize marijuana, champion civil liberties, “protect personal privacy, support small business, entrepreneurship and free markets,” and offer an “easier pathway to citizenship.”

In every one of these cases, there is a monstrous gap between writing a principled bullet point, and operating in the real world. It may be useful to contrast how differently Republicans handle some of these issues vs Democrats. And even more to the point, it might be useful to contrast how Trump attempted to handle these issues, since he encountered opposition from members of his own party. “Defending our rights” would be a good place to start.

During the summer of 2020, did Democrats defend the rights of property owners and business people, as mobs funded by Democratic donors rampaged through American cities? Did Democrats defend freedom of speech, as leftist communications monopolies silenced thousands of online accounts? Are Democrats defending the Second Amendment, now that they’re in control in Washington, D.C.? And what about the property rights of people who want to build homes, or harvest timber, or drill for natural gas, or operate a manufacturing plant, as the “green new deal” rolls out, thanks to Democrats?

As for “nation building,” at what point did President Trump do anything apart from trying to extricate the U.S. from “nation building?” How many new wars did Trump start? And what exactly does “peace through trade and diplomacy” mean? How long can the United States continue to sustain a $400 billion dollar per year trade deficit with China, a powerful rising nation? How long can the United States continue to sell trade secrets in exchange for what limited access its companies do have to Chinese markets? China is a nationalist superpower. For the CCP, the libertarian “principle of nonaggression” is a joke.

And what about ending the “war on drugs”? Hardly anyone still thinks people in jail for possession of marijuana (and nothing more) should stay in jail. Trump worked hard to fix that, unlike most Democrats or Republicans. But when it comes to the war on drugs, we aren’t just talking about marijuana which, like alcohol, destroys lives but isn’t worth an ongoing prohibition. What about fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamines? 

Have libertarians recognized the consequences of tolerating use of these drugs? Tens of thousands of overdose deaths every year, ruinous addictions, and entire cities given over to lawless filth? This is no exaggeration. How do you cope with hard drugs? How do you cope with homeless drug addicts? It’s fine to say the cure of criminalization is worse than the disease of drug use. But answer the tough questions. How do we help addicts? How do we take back our cities?

This challenge feeds into the next libertarian plank, “protect personal privacy.” Who would argue with this? But as with everything in governance, there are infinite examples of nuance. Where does the right to privacy collide with the need to prevent terrorism? Where does the right to privacy collide with the need to get a feces encrusted, rat infested “private” tent encampment moved off of public property? 

And then there’s “support small business.” During the pandemic, which U.S. states shut down every small business while keeping the big box stores open? Which states stayed mostly open? Weren’t the states run by Republicans more likely to support small businesses? And now, with Biden’s Democrats in charge, what does support small business really mean? That if you can check off the right race and gender boxes, you can get into the front of the line for government handouts?

Finally, there’s an “easier pathway to citizenship.” What does citizenship mean to a libertarian? You have to start with that basic question, because whether they deserve it or not, libertarians are stereotyped as being for open borders. So if that’s false, what criteria should be set for admission to the United States and obtaining citizenship? This is a messy question, but if you’re going to govern, you have to answer it. Will libertarians support more border security? Will they support merit based immigration, so people who can support themselves without government assistance get priority?

Libertarians Must Recognize How They’re Being Used

Support for individual liberty and economic freedom isn’t helpful if it splits into pieces the voters who favor those ideals. The only individual liberty that Democrats still seriously care about is legalized drugs. They are overtly against economic freedom. The Democratic Party is controlled from above by global corporations and billionaires, and from below by militant collectivists, “anti-racists,” and climate change zealots. Democrat voters will never be seduced into supporting Libertarian candidates at nearly the rate as Republican voters.

This is why a Libertarian candidate enabled the Democrats to take control of the U.S. Senate last month, and this is why Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian presidential candidate, quite possibly delivered the presidency to Joe Biden. But it isn’t merely as spoilers in close elections between Republicans and Democrats that libertarians have become tools of America’s corporate establishment.

Across a host of vital issues, libertarians exert just enough influence to be useful when it suits the Left, while they are otherwise ignored and irrelevant. Libertarian mega-donors fund think tanks and political action committees to pump out countless studies, write op-eds, publish newsletters; they hire lobbyists and support candidates. Here’s an example of how all this work just plays into the hands of the Left:

What Libertarian Think Tanks Are Doing to America

Destroying Suburbs: Libertarians are having a decisive influence on densifying America’s cities through “infill,” but are ineffective when it comes to preventing taxpayer-supported subsidies for the new construction, or enabling development via urban expansion onto open land.

Preventing Needed Infrastructure: Libertarians successfully oppose government-funded infrastructure projects “on principle,” which stops new freeways from being built but does not stop construction of subsidized light rail or high-speed rail; or stops new dams and desalination plants but does not stop water rationing and mandatory purchases of new “water conserving” appliances that cost a lot, don’t work very well, and break down often.

Enabling Lawlessness and Corruption: Libertarians successfully oppose laws that might get drug addicts, psychopaths, and vagrants off American streets, but cannot prevent compassion brigades from providing them free amenities which only attracts more of these unfortunates. Neither can they prevent opportunistic developers from coming in to build tax-subsidized “supportive housing” for them at a cost of over a half-million per unit.

Expanding the Welfare State: Libertarians support “free movement of peoples” on principle, but have no impact whatsoever on the growing welfare state that is a magnet for economic migrants coming into the United States.

Killing American Jobs: Libertarians support “free trade” without first insisting on reciprocity.

Supporting Censorship: Libertarians have stood on the sidelines as left-wing billionaires in the Silicon Valley used their online communications monopolies to manipulate what information Americans had access to in order to destroy a sitting president. All of this in support of their “principle” that these companies are privately owned and so, presumably, should be free to assault the rights of Americans who use their products.

There is a common thread to all of these policy outcomes: multinational corporations, financial institutions, and billionaire investors do well. Ordinary Americans do not. Libertarians have not adequately confronted the fact that their economic “principles” are put to good use when they serve the agenda of corporate globalists, but are indeed irrelevant when they do not.

Don’t Destroy the Republican Party, Fix It

If Libertarians, from Georgia to California, are serious about what they believe, they’ll value the results that come from hard work and compromise. It is easy to be a spoiler. It is easy to build a website, have meetings, and even run candidates for office. Because by comparison, reforming an established political party is very, very difficult. But that is the task at hand. It is the only way to win.

Obviously the Republican Party has disappointed a lot of people. Obviously the Republican Party does not live up to the pure ideals of libertarians, and it never will. But the allegation that Republicans are no better than Democrats, when it comes to protecting individual liberty and economic freedom, is a preposterous delusion. It isn’t even close.

Instead of running for governor as a Libertarian, which guarantees that the next governor of Georgia will be a Democrat, Shane Hazel is invited to run in Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary. Doing that might not be nearly as much fun. He would probably lose, although he’d likely attract a higher percentage of votes than he would attract running in the general election as a Libertarian. And in losing, if that ended up happening, Hazel would still have accomplishments on which he could build. He would have held the incumbent accountable. He would have served notice to the Georgia GOP: If you don’t support more libertarian principles, we will primary your candidates. He would inspire and attract other libertarians to join and influence the GOP, and he would inspire GOP voters to reemphasize libertarian principles. He would have needed to think more comprehensively about how his ideals translate into actual policies. And last but not least, he would demonstrate to himself and voters around the nation that he is a serious human being, instead of a troll who finds concern about what he’s done to be “delicious.”

There is a war for the future of America being waged right now, and so far, Libertarians are not helping. They need to recognize the threat of tyranny, whether it’s a softer Brave New World style tyranny or a harder 1984 version of tyranny, is coming from the Left, far more than it’s coming from the Right. This is an existential battle. Siphoning off voters from the side that’s fighting the hardest to preserve individual liberty and economic freedom is not principled. It is nihilism.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

Photo: (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)