In the midst of the debates about banning firearms with certain features, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s failed attempt to ban New Yorkers from drinking soft drinks he felt were too large, and the debate over whether or not same sex couples should have the ability to enter into a legal contract to have the same legal rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples, a thought occurred to me: “Gee there are a lot of people out there who just want to ban things!”
Why is this impulse so prevalent in our society? It seems that nearly everyone wants to be free to live their lives as they see fit. I haven’t met too many people who favor any notion of limiting their freedom because elected officials passed a law or majority of fellow citizens took a vote. When it comes to one’s own personal liberties, everyone is a libertarian! Consider that the Gadsen flag underneath the coiled rattlesnake reads: “Don’t Tread on Me.”
But far too many of these same people who jealously defend their own liberties are more than eager to limit someone else’s when that someone else engages in an activity that, for whatever reason, offends them. No, when it comes to other people, these people who don’t want their liberties tread on are not libertarian but majoritarian (i.e. political might makes right).
Last week, in his historic filibuster, Senator Rand Paul provoked Attorney General Eric Holder to relinquish the right to assassinate American citizens on American soil - a claim previously made in a Department of Justice White Paper. In so doing, we have established the first real boundary for the use of drones in American foreign policy. Senator Paul has since stated the drone debate “isn’t over” and that this victory is “just the beginning.” Senator Paul is pioneering a winning strategy to incrementally advance freedom within a broader liberty movement.
As Barack Obama begins his second term in office, trust in the federal government remains mired near a historic low, while frustration with government remains high. And for the first time, a majority of the public says that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults, finds that 53% think that the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms while 43% disagree.
In March 2010, opinions were divided over whether the government represented a threat to personal freedom; 47% said it did while 50% disagreed. In surveys between 1995 and 2003, majorities rejected the idea that the government threatened people’s rights and freedoms.
The growing view that the federal government threatens personal rights and freedoms has been led by conservative Republicans. Currently 76% of conservative Republicans say that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms and 54% describe the government as a “major” threat. Three years ago, 62% of conservative Republicans said the government was a threat to their freedom; 47% said it was a major threat.
So today is inauguaration day. For many in this country it is a grand and glorious day, but for many it is a stark reminder of the failures of the GOP establishment and the Romney campaign. If ever there was a presidential election that should have been won by the non-incumbent party, this was it. So what happened?
For starters, a weak candidate who ran a very weak campaign is usually a recipe for disaster. But more than that, I think the biggest failure was the refusal of the GOP establishment to to even tolerate, much less embrace, the liberty wing of the party. You can call this wing the “crazy Ron Paul people” or, as a lady in my county said, “these libertarians trying to take over our party.” This behavior was found at all levels - precinct, county, district, state, and national. A real shame considering that this was the one wing of the party that could have actually GOTV and created some excitement. But the GOP antics in Tampa made sure that wouldn’t happen.
What were they thinking? In such an electric and polarized environment, you’ve got to be inclusive as possible, not completely exclusive. It’s as if many GOPers had a death wish - making all of the wrong decisions at every, single turn. But…that’s all in the past - water under the bridge.
So where do we go from here? That depends on what you believe and what you think is truly helpful to the liberty movement. We all have our opinions on that. A method that I learned from my real estate days is the wall method. Throw it all against the wall and see what sticks, also known as the kitchen sink method.
Perhaps one of the biggest news stories in the world of libertarianism this year was former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party record-breaking general election raw vote total of approximately 1.2 million popular votes. This figure wasn’t enough to clear a one percent threshold according to Reason’s Garrett Quinn, but the state by state gains over the Barr/Root ticket of 2008 were astounding. Libertarianism was and continues to be a thick strand in the sinews of the Tea Party movement, and it’s no surprise that a Libertarian Party candidate like Johnson, running against a progressive Democrat and an establishment Republican, garnered record-breaking numbers. Quinn, who followed Johnson on the trail for Reason during the last cycle, has an excellent piece on the future of the Libertarian Party in the December 2012 dead tree edition of the magazine. Here’s an excerpt:
It is far past time to separate the conservative movement in this country from it’s fanatical marriage to religion, to once and for all put to bed the idea that all conservatives are Christian and that to be a conservative one must be a very religious person.
This is complete balderdash.
Recent surveys have put the number of nonreligious Americans at 20%, or one-fifth of the population. That’s right: one out of every five Americans does not have a religious affiliation. That’s not the same as being atheist or agnostic—we’re only 6% of the population—but it is significant. That’s because almost every argument for social conservative policies, which are a main course in the conservative policy dinner, are argued for on either religious lines or appeals to “tradition” or “Western civilization,” and those almost always come back to religion too.
What that means is that there is automatically one-fifth of the population that disagrees with you, and will always disagree with you, and will very likely always support your opponent.
Obama won a large Electoral College victory, but he did not receive a mandate for his agenda
People more eloquent than I am (who probably had more coffee today than I did) have already made this point. I thought this tweet from left-of-center blogger Cory Doctorow summed things up pretty nicely:
Amazing to think that I’m relieved at the victory of the pro-wiretapping, pro-extrajudicial-assassination, anti-whistleblower candidate
— Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) November 7, 2012
When it’s a struggle for your most vocal supporters to root for you, that’s not a good sign about how effective you’ve been as a leader. To read more on how exactly Chicago pulled off this election, see thisTIME piece. That kind of attention to detail made the Obama reelection effort more nimble and better prepared to adapt to changing conditions on the ground, and it’s really no surprise (from an operative’s perspective) that they won.
I don’t like to make political endorsements and, on principle, I certainly don’t discuss my vote before an election (the protection a secret ballot offers me from harassment and intimidation only works if I keep my preference a secret). I was stunned to read in an email yesterday, “I had no idea high-information, intelligent undecided voters even existed!” You know, as if the choice between an underwhelming incumbent president, an underwhelming challenger, a list of names with no mathematical chance to win, and not voting at all is an easy one to make. If your only goal is to beat the incumbent, then your decision is easier than mine. I, however, don’t only want to beat the incumbent; I want to elect a president worthy of the exercise of one of my most sacred rights, the right to vote.
Dr. Robert Lawson is the Jerome M. Fullinwider Chair in Economic Freedom in the O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom at the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business. Also, Lawson is co-author of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World annual report, which provides a widely-cited economic freedom index for over 140 countries. The CATO Institute has been partners in its publication since 1996.
As my former academic advisor, Dr. Lawson is a mentor and friend who introduced me to libertarian philosophy. A happy warrior with a dry sense of humor, his love of economics and freedom is inspiring.
Lawson is a member of the prestigious Mont Pelerin Society. He also writes at the popular economics blog, Division of Labour, which you should subscribe to.
Matt Naugle: How did you become a libertarian?
Robert Lawson: I actually wrote about this in a little book that Walter Block edited titled, I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians. As with most people, I can trace this to a couple of influential teachers. First, Mr. Eaton at Princeton High School (Cincinnati) who gave me my first copy of The Freeman. Second, Richard Vedder at Ohio University.
I know that I am in the minority among the contributors to UL in that I will cast my vote on Election Day for Mitt Romney. I laid out my reasons for switching my vote from Gary Johnson to Mitt Romney in The Blaze a couple of weeks ago.
I was no fan of attempts to bully or shame libertarians into voting for Romney before I made my endorsement and I am no fan of those tactics now. I tried in my piece in The Blaze to lay out reasons why a libertarian should consider a vote for Romney – reasons that are obviously compelling enough for me personally to cast that vote.
If Romney wants to win over libertarians he doesn’t need his supporters trying to bully or shame libertarians who plan on voting for Gary Johnson. Instead, to win the votes of libertarians, Romney needs to actually take positions advocated by libertarians. I know this isn’t rocket science, but considering some of the pieces I have seen written by Romney supporters with the supposed objective of winning over Johnson voters, this actually needs to be said.
Tonight, Governor Romney has an opportunity to win over libertarians in the foreign policy debate.
First, let me say that I am realistic about what Romney could do to win over libertarians tonight. I know, unfortunately, that he will not repudiate the failed nation-building and interventionism that has been the hallmark of the Bush and Obama foreign policies.
That having been said, here is what Romney could say that would set his approach apart from the disastrous Obama foreign policy and win over libertarians: