Last week, I spent a considerable amount of time examining the record of Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee for President, with a particular emphasis on her pandering to anti-vaxxers in order to dissuade Vassar students from voting for her. I stand by every word of that article. While I recognize why some progressives might find her platform appealing, her toxic and dangerously problematic beliefs relating to various issues relating to health and science are too far off into the ideological stratosphere for me to supporter her. But the fact of the matter is that of the two major third-party candidates, Stein is the lesser force.
In a recent poll, Quinnipiac listed Stein as having the support of merely two percent of the national electorate, which should make her insistence on being allowed into the debates at least somewhat unfounded. That same poll listed former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, as having eight percent of the vote.
A former Republican, Johnson is not merely drawing his votes from the right. Many disillusioned Democrats, from Bernie Sanders supporters to disaffected moderates, are turning to the Libertarian nominee out of disappointment with Hillary Clinton and the party establishment.
It’s understandable. Johnson, more than any other candidate, comes across as a genuinely good person who only wants what’s best for his country. In this roller coaster of an election, Johnson appears to be the sensible conservative option to those disillusioned with Donald Trump.
However, at the same time, many of his policy proposals align with liberal ideals. Johnson supports women’s right to choose, supports gay marriage, supports separation of church and state, wants to legalize marijuana, is pro-immigration and wants to reign in American military intervention abroad. He describes himself as socially liberal and pitches Libertarianism as the best of both political parties. Additionally, Johnson markets himself as being more relatable than other candidates, talking candidly about his marijuana and alcohol usage in various interviews. It’s no surprise that some millennials would identify with him.
But for former supporters of Sanders, supporting Johnson would be an odd choice, one that indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of both Sanders’s movement and Johnson’s policies. There are clear, irreconcilable differences of ideology between these two candidates.
Sanders’s campaign focused heavily on economic issues. A Sanders administration would break up the big banks, increase taxes on the rich and fight corporate greed. Yes, Sanders did also support socially progressive causes, but it was his radical economic proposals that distinguished him from Clinton and other democrats. Talking about the economy the way he did was the foundation of his movement. If you’re not behind that, you’re not truly behind his campaign. And if you weren’t behind that and claimed to be a Sanders supporter, you misinterpreted the very crux of his movement.
For one, Johnson stands ideologically opposed to most if not all of Sanders’s economic proposals. Johnson does not support breaking up the big banks, would not increase taxes on the rich and supports eliminating the corporate income tax.
Democratic Socialism and Libertarianism are about as incompatible as two ideologies could possibly be. Clinton and Stein align closer to Sanders’s positions on economic issues than Johnson does.
But perhaps you didn’t support Sanders. Or perhaps you supported Sanders but did so mainly because he felt “authentic,” which is a stupid thing to do. Perhaps you’re willing to deal with some light economic conservatism for four years. Perhaps you are an economic conservative. Even then, voting for Johnson as a Liberal represents a considerable misunderstanding of the tenets of Libertarian ideology and Johnson’s political goals.
Firstly, Libertarianism has often been defined as being a combination of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism. However, many Libertarians would reject this label.
According to Target Liberty, Libertarians are not fiscal conservatives. According to them, Libertarianism is about “radical freedom from government” (Target Liberty, “Libertarianism Is Not About Being Fiscally Conservative and Socially Liberal,” 06.01.2016). “Radical freedom from government” in no way resonates with the New Deal-era progressivism that Bernie Sanders so eloquently described during his presidential campaign. In fact, these two ideas could not be more diametrically opposed.
Johnson would like you to believe that Libertarianism is a happy marriage of everything mainstream America loves in their politicians, but in actuality, it’s a radical social movement closer to anarchism than conservatism. In a strictly American context, Gary Johnson is way closer to someone like Ron Paul than he is to someone like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
That distinction is crucial. I imagine that none of my readers are under the delusion that Johnson will be elected President. Therefore, a vote for the Libertarian Party sends a message that this particular ideology deserves to have a say in crafting government policy, which is a scary prospect.
The Libertarian Party platform advocates removing the government from education, removing the government from health care, ending social security and opposes environmental regulations of all kind. Libertarian ideology means an end to all social progresses the government has had any hand in.
Its supporters can drift even further from the mainstream. In 2008, Jeffrey A. Tucker of the Libertarian Mises Institute published a piece detailing his opposition to child labor laws. Libertarian economist and political theorist Murray Rothbard once argued that parents “should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children” (Mises Institute, “Children and Rights, 05.09.2007).
In all fairness, Johnson is comparatively more moderate than most Libertarians. Unlike many in his party, for example, he supports mandating drivers’ licenses. But even he holds opinions that should make American progressives recoil.
For example, Johnson, according to On the Issues, wants to abolish both the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development, doesn’t believe in a government solution to climate change, at least at one point opposed mandatory vaccination, and he believes ObamaCare is unconstitutional.
And even as a candidate, Johnson has occasionally given off the impression that he would be unprepared for presidency even if he were a serious candidate. The most notable example of this is a news interview in which he was unable to answer a question about Aleppo, a city in Syria that is the heart of the refugee crisis. This would be the equivalent of not being able to mark Seoul on a map during the Korean War. While this alone doesn’t make him a bad candidate, it is indicative of a lack of expertise in foreign policy. You’d think this would be something he’d be briefed on.
None of this is to say that Johnson would be the worst thing to ever happen to America were he elected President. Most likely, he’d be fine, and the more extreme aspects of Libertarian ideology would be filtered out by Congress. Keep in mind, he was a fairly well-liked Governor of New Mexico, and thus he has considerably more experience than most third-party candidates. He even has more leadership experience that the current Republican nominee.
But when you’re voting for Johnson, you should understand exactly the message you’re sending. Firstly, you’re sending a message that Johnson should be President of the United States, but more importantly, you are sending a message that Libertarianism, as an ideology, deserves a place in forming government policy. While I thoroughly reject many facets of Jill Stein’s campaign, I can at least understand why progressives would be drawn to her. A vote for him legitimizes the vitriolic belief in radical departure from how the federal government has come to be defined over the last century.
That is what your vote means. It’s not just a meaningless protest vote. It’s a promotion of an ideological worldview that is incompatible with progressive thought, outside the comfort zone of the electorate and unfit as a basis for government.