Politics & Media
May 29, 2024, 06:27AM

Final Arguments

Libertarians, RFK, Trump, and Stormy.

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So, are you more of a Trump libertarian or an RFK libertarian? In my youth, I never thought I’d be asking either half of that question.

With luck, I won’t have to ask it ever again, since libertarians aren’t usually either protectionist-nativists or regulation-loving greens, respectively. This past weekend, though, Trump and RFK nonetheless made their pitches to the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominating convention—not to become the party’s nominee, for which neither man qualifies, but mainly to get some much-needed votes in the general election from libertarians of all parties.

It’s interesting that there are some genuine libertarian tendencies in both men, especially given that RFK got a standing ovation from the LP crowd Friday night largely for his bashing of the Covid lockdowns that happened on Trump’s watch, and Trump got applause for bucking the liberal establishment that produced people like RFK and the rest of the Kennedy clan.

It’s easy to make it all sound like an incoherent circus—as pundit and comms consultant Kurt Bardella, himself an unprincipled, opportunistic party-switcher, did when he told an NBC panel that the convention showed “exactly why” the Libertarian Party can’t be taken seriously—but I’d say all of it is saner and more philosophically meaningful than the logrolling, vote-trading, and shallow propaganda that dominate the proceedings of the two “major” parties.

If RFK had gotten the Libertarian nomination—given his recent endorsement by what was once Ross Perot’s Reform Party and in at least one state by the somewhat New Age-leaning Natural Law Party, not to mention RFK’s own new-fangled We the People Party—he could’ve run on the pleasant-sounding and descriptive Libertarian-People-Reform-Law ticket.

On the downside, the Libertarian Party becoming just one more vehicle for providing a dissenter from one of the major parties with a second ballot line on election day (the fate of many small parties with mushy philosophies, as New York City residents in particular have witnessed) might’ve meant, among other things, that the U.S. would effectively have about eight versions of the Democratic Party.

I think having even one is too many, but count them with me:

The LP might almost have become one if led by RFK.

The ostensibly non-partisan No Labels movement leans toward liberal centrist good-government types.

The Greens are like the Democrats with more emphasis on environmentalism and fringey AOC-type ideas.

The Democrats will remain themselves.

With the Republicans increasingly comfortable bashing free trade and shoring up big-ticket domestic budget items like Social Security and Medicare even in times of massive federal debt, they’ve basically been Democrat-lite for decades now, even under Trump.

Both Reform and Natural Law have proven their fondness for RFK this year.

And the Communist Party USA, radical as the name may sound, was full of Obama enthusiasts when I visited a celebration at their headquarters years ago, some there even going so far as to describe Obama as one of their own who made it to the bigtime. (If conservatives said this about Obama, they’d be regarded as racist conspiracy theorists.)

For purposes of making the world a better place while also getting elected, it might be nice if the U.S. simply had a principled, genuinely free-market conservative party that wasn’t also enslaved to the military-industrial complex, and that might be roughly what smart former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy was picturing during his own speech to the Libertarian Party this weekend calling for a ”libertarian-nationalist alliance” to rise from the “America First movement,” not that I think that formulation would end up working out any better than all the others currently failing all around us. Ramaswamy got some boos at his coalitional suggestion, just like most of the other speakers, and that may be the healthiest possible outcome.

The whole convention was more positive, though, than it was made out to be by any political faction. It certainly made the liberal establishment both outside and within the party look ridiculous for their past two years of alarmist cries over the right-leaning Mises Caucus rising to dominance in the party.

After all that hand-wringing—such as liberal-leaning former chairman Nicholas Sarwark whining that this weekend would prove the LP has lost all meaning and merely become a second Republican Party—the LP ends up, even under Mises-allied chair Angela McArdle, with a moderate, more or less “liberal-tarian,” young, gay presidential nominee, Chase Oliver, who’s cautious on the most divisive issues, emphatic on the widely-shared basic libertarian ones, pro-immigration, and thus far most famous for having been a spoiler in a close Senate contest in Georgia a couple of years ago that ended up handing the race to the Democrat. One might be tempted to conclude that shared libertarian principles are more important than the right-left tensions that get all the press mentions and tweet snarls.

Everyone involved last weekend probably got a little bit more libertarian, if only because adherence to libertarian goals remained throughout the standard by which people and speeches and track records were judged. That’s not usually the case in politics, in case you’ve forgotten. The current polls-leading contender for the presidency, Trump, spent Saturday night seeking libertarian approval, and that’s good.

It beats trying to turn all the libertarians into post-apocalyptic warlords, as it often seems some young far-right types naively fantasize about doing, perhaps having played too many history-themed videogames or seen Furiosa too many times (much as I hope George Miller goes on to direct Thor 5).

Of his current legal woes involving hush money payments to mistress/porn star Stormy Daniels, a battle nearing its finale in court in New York City this week, Trump said in his speech to the Libertarian Party, “If I wasn’t a libertarian, I am now,” meaning, philosophical nuances aside, that even he knows how awful it is to have the power of government and law against you. That ornery, disgruntled attitude may not be what you most wanted in a president, but it just might make him sympathetic enough to outlaws to commute the sentences of Ross Ulbricht, the creator of the black market commerce site Silk Road, and some of the J6 protestors. RFK, for his part, promised to pardon leaker/journalist Julian Assange.

I prefer those imperfect steps in the general direction of freedom to the clumsy, theatrical cultural signaling from someone like Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s celebrating “Freedom Summer” in that state by vowing not to decorate the bridges there with gay rainbows. Real libertarians, whether gay like Chase Oliver or as hardcore traditionalist as the most retrograde member of the Mises Caucus, aren’t so much sitting around wondering if the bridges will be gay or gray but simply looking forward to the bridges, and absolutely everything else, being privatized so that no one has to worry about candidates or parties ever again.

Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on X at @ToddSeavey


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