I get it. It’s Hillary versus Donald, two of the most despised candidates ever to step onto the presidential stage. I also understand we have been told our entire lives that simply for the accidental consequence of being born American, we are biologically imbued with exceptional rugged individualism. How many times have we been subjected to the right’s mantra of “smaller government” or a diatribe about “government intrusion” into our lives? How many of our realtives and acquaintances have taken to calling themselves “Libertarians” because they feel an absent government is the antidote to all that ails us? How many do you know tout their desire for fewer regulations that “just get in the way of people’s potential to live up to their God-given abilities as freedom-loving Americans”?
That’s an admirable stance to take, I guess. Press people, though, and we’ll quickly find they fundamentally don’t understand what the term “libertarian” means from a policy perspective. I mean no disrespect to authentic libertarians out there. I mean no disrespect to anyone. But the libertarian philosophy is essentially a collective middle finger to Uncle Sam because its adherents want to rid themselves of the hassle of following rules. They’re perfectly fine on their own financially and don’t want to compromise for those who may not be as well off. I’m not afraid to say it: “Libertarian” is an empty label. It’s the “party” of 1%, rapidly devouring the mainstream Republican party.
What is “Libertarian”? According to the official Libertarian Party website, “members of the Libertarian Party challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual. We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”
Sounds good, right? Who wouldn’t want to belong to this party? Isn’t this quintessentially American? Sure, we should “challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.” We should “hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives.” We should “have the right to live in whatever manner we choose, so long as we do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.” Isn’t that what democracy is supposed to look like? It’s written right in the Declaration of Independence: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
Read on, though, and we’ll find an obvious motif: government’s role is simply to protect the individual’s right to do whatever he or she wants and is to be be kept out of everything that possibly hinders one’s profit motive or ability to have an unfair advantage over those less financially or socially advantaged. Simply, Libertarianism a political ideology that advocates the privatization of–everything. True libertarians do not want a Federal government. They see it as unnecessary and monarchic. Instead, they want the so-called “free market” to be our lord and savior. Yes, they claim to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative, but eliminating a federal government only supplants Washington with a state capitol equally susceptible to tyranny.
For example, Libertarians will tell us they support the decriminalization of marijuana. What they don’t say is that they support decriminalization at the federal level only. At the state level, they’re perfectly fine with keeping pot illegal and sending thousands of people to private prisons for minor drug offenses. So unless one lives in Colorado, Washington state, and, in theory, Washington D.C. where recreational marijuana use is legal, he or she can still go to prison for a very long time for something as inconsequential as possessing a couple ounces of weed, even if President Gary Johnson sits in the Oval Office. Even Johnson himself has admitted to have partaken of the wacky tobaccy. Does that make him a potential felon?
Another example is the Libertarian stance on social safety nets, i.e. Social Security, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, free school lunch programs, unemployment insurance, disability, and subsidized housing, et cetera. Libertarians want all of these and anything resembling a “handout” to be eliminated, under the justification that people should be able to thrive independently without government interference. Here’s the thing, though. Some people cannot exist without government “interference”, or, more appropriately, intervention. Eliminating the Federal government would eliminate FEMA, vital after a natural disaster, of which we are experiencing and will continue to experience more of thanks to climate change. Eliminating the Federal government would cripple the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which uses taxpayer money to fund research on diseases and medications. Eliminating the Federal government would shut down the Departments of Education, Labor, Interior, Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, Homeland Security, and more. It would prevent drug treatment facilities, libraries, public schools, fire departments, police departments from functioning. Are states prepared to pick up the slack? There would have to be an incredible amount of time dedicated to developing states’ infrastructures to accommodate the tasks with which these departments are daily charged. That would leave quite a gap in crucial services people depend on every day to conduct their lives and businesses. It would place states in the position to privatize–or ignore–those departments altogether, which is precisely what the Libertarian and modern-day Republican parties want.
Just look at Kansas under Governor Sam Brownback, who ran promising a utopian “red state model” if allowed to enact his Reaganomics “trickle-down” experiment. Once in office, he granted massive tax breaks for Kansas’s 1%, repealed income taxes for more than 100,000 businesses, tightened welfare requirements, privatized Medicaid to benefit corporations, slashed $200 million from the education budget, eliminated four state agencies, and laid off 2,000 government employees. During his first year in office, the state lost $688 million and job growth shrank to 1.1 percent below the national average. According to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, the poorest one-fifth of households in Kansas, those that make less than $23,000 a year, saw their average taxes increase about $200 a year while the richest 1% save an average of $25,000 per year. I’m no mathematician, but that doesn’t sound like people exercising “sole dominion over their own lives”, unless we’re referring to the billionaire class. If one is affluent enough to not need social programs and can exploit the myriad tax loopholes we’ve allowed the wealthy, corporations and their lobbyists to negotiate with Congress, perhaps he or she doesn’t realize millions more–most of the world, in fact–are not as well off. I understand extremely wealthy people not wanting government to do anything to impede their ability to squirrel money away in off-shore tax havens. I understand why if one is opulent enough to afford literally anything he or she wants and needs, he does not want the government poking around. But the rest of us–the 99 percent–need a good, stable, equitable government to fulfill its Constitutional obligation of providing for our general welfare.
Did you know that David Koch, one half of the infamous Koch brothers spending billions on republican candidates from school board to Congress, ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket back in 1980? A few of the platform positions he advocated were repealing all campaign finance laws, abolishing Medicare and Medicaid, abolishing the Postal Service, repealing minimum wage laws, environmental protection laws, and dissolving the Departments of Energy, Education, and Transportation. Read the entire platform and we notice there is absolutely nothing left of government. Under that system, people would be left completely on their own, with no redress of grievances or anyone to turn to should they need help. For the Koch brothers and other oligarchs bankrolling republicans all over the country, that’s exactly what they need to assert hegemony over the rest of us, Medieval serfdom to the core. This is the face of Libertarianism, and there’s no difference between it and Republicanism.
Time and again, every day, we see evidence of multinational corporations putting profit over people, exploiting laws their lobbyists push on lawmakers, doling out billions of dollars in campaign contributions, so they write the rules that best benefit them. And what benefits them is usually not what benefits us. A counterargument is that government is so bureaucratic, it’s too slow to work properly. Yes, government can be slow, and I’m not so naive to assume there aren’t policies and regulations we shouldn’t revise or scrap altogether. However, as long as we still have a quasi-functional representative democracy where the men and women we elect to speak for us continue to do so, I trust it far more than some faceless corporation taking its marching orders from a board of directors comprised of bank, oil, firearms, and pharmaceutical executives concerned only maintaining the status quo. We vote, voice our concerns to our representatives, and, if we don’t like the jobs they do, we can vote them out. We don’t have that freedom with corporations. They control us.
Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King said, “We all too often have Socialism for the rich and rugged free-market capitalism for the poor.”
Tell that to the guy driving around with the “Gary Johnson 2016” sticker on his bumper.