I have a prediction. Admittedly, it’s not a very bold one, but here it is: at some point in the next 15 months, someone is going to tell you that the 2016 presidential race is the most important election of our lifetime.
I realize that I’m not exactly way out on a branch with this one. It is inevitable that during every presidential election someone will come to you pronouncing the certainty of doom should the candidate that they support not win. This was an especially prevalent opinion in the 2012 election, when Republicans pinned the future of the country on the political fortunes of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney!
Now, I’m no Barack Obama fan, but does anyone actually think Romney would have been any better than Obama? Romney – the big spending, government health care, pro-minimum wage, pro-surveillance state, Patriot Act-supporting meddler in all facets of your life Republican – was the key to the preservation of American freedom?
Yes, said his supporters. Because that Obama was so dangerous that four more years of him would ruin the country. 2012 was the most important election of our lifetime. Until now.
The presidential election season is a tricky time for libertarians. For people who believe in liberty – in natural rights, in decentralization and in the need for strict limits on the power of any one person – what presidential candidates promise to do is the very definition of tyranny. It is the president that will cure the economy, protect the nation and restore morality, in either its liberal or conservative sense.
Libertarians correctly point out that if you accept these as the terms of the debate, you’ve already lost the war. This can lead libertarians to instinctively disengage from the presidential race, convinced that it’s nothing but a bunch of politicians debating policies that fall along a narrow spectrum of statism.
In 2008 and 2012, however, libertarians had a reason to stay invested in the race – Ron Paul. But the likelihood of there being another Ron Paul in the 2016 races is something approaching zero. The best chance is probably Paul’s son, Rand, and even he seems to be unsure of whether he should run to the fringes of American politics and embrace full-fledged libertarianism or slide closer to modern conservatism, with its big donors and promises of electoral success.
Incidentally, I have some free advice to Senator Paul: you’re not going to win either way, so you might as well be honest about who you are. If you’re really a neoconservative in libertarian clothing, you’re going to lose because the likes of Santorum and Huckabee will always out neo-con you. If you’re a full-fledged libertarian, you might do quite well in straw polls, but the mainstream conservative electorate – not to mention the Republican Party establishment – will never give you the nomination.
Even the Libertarian Party’s likely nominee, Gary Johnson, elicits a big ol’ shrug of the shoulders from libertarians. Might he be better than Hillary Clinton or Jeb(!) Bush? Sure. Is he likely to change the direction of the country from tyranny to liberty? No.
Of course, the same could be said for pretty much anyone on the slate of presidential candidates. I certainly don’t see anyone worthy of enthusiastic support.
But, as libertarians, if we bow out of the presidential election, we will miss a significant opportunity – that of using the focus put on politicians to show how liberty is the answer to everything that is being debated.
This was in large part the entire point of Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 candidacies. Congressman Paul knew that he wasn’t going to win the nomination. But winning the nomination wasn’t as important as what he saw as the larger goal – reorienting Americans to the principles of liberty and decentralization.
Just because Ron Paul isn’t running – and just because libertarians are a movement without a candidate – doesn’t mean that we can’t do the exact same thing in this cycle. Every economic fallacy, every logical inconsistency, every proposed violation of the Constitution, every blurring of the distinction between the state and society is an opportunity to show people that there’s another way to freedom and prosperity.
That way won’t be by electing one man (or woman) as president. Not even Ron Paul could have steered this Titanic away from the iceberg. Rather, freedom will be recaptured when people are educated about their rights, not as derived from some beneficent government, but emanating from their status as human beings.
I, for one, am intent on being fully engaged in the 2016 election season, even if I have no candidate to support. Once every four years the nation’s eyes are turned from their distractions toward matters of policy. Libertarians will miss a huge opportunity to communicate the message of liberty if we don’t engage at this crucial time.
As Ron Paul advised, “…let it not be said that we did nothing.”