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By dinner time Saturday I was a bit disappointed with how my experience at the Libertarian Convention had progressed. Part of me was eager to bask in the craziness that I had assumed such a gathering would inevitably draw out. Yet to that point, I had encountered little out of the ordinary. We met with numerous campaign workers, all of whom seemed polite, professional, and possessing a full measure of sanity. Discussions with various delegates turned out many people who seemed eminently reasonable and thoughtful. As James of England and I sat down to eat before the debate, we each expressed a bit of surprise out just how uneventful the entire affair had been thus far.
Having let our guards down a bit we set out for the debate, oblivious to the horror show that awaited us. Charles Cooke has said that the easiest way to determine if one is a conservatarian is that when you find yourself among conservatives you feel like a libertarian, while if you find yourself among libertarians you feel like a conservative. After two hours in a room with hundreds of libertarians and their candidates, I was seeking forgiveness from the ghost of Edmund Burke for having ever been led astray.
It is difficult to convey just how uncomfortable it was to sit in that room as miscellaneous spectators let out bloodcurdling screams of disapproval when Gary Johnson stated that Islamic terrorism was a threat to the United States, and that the Iran nuclear deal was dangerous. There was a palpable sense of helplessness when candidate Darryl Perry insisted that the United States was responsible for WWII, and his lunacy was met with widespread cheers. James and I looked at each other in shock as candidate after candidate declared taxation “the worst kind of theft,” presumably making muggers morally superior to IRS agents.
After nearly every candidate promised to end all forms of taxation, most of them stated that we had an obligation to pay back seniors the money they had paid into Social Security. How these funds would be secured was largely left to the listener’s imagination. Candidate Marc Allan Feldman suggested that taxpayers should be able to allot their tax dollars for specific purposes when they write the check to the Treasury. You could use the memo section of the check to write “Education” or “Police” or my personal favorite “Bombs for killing children overseas.” Bombing children overseas turns out to be the Libertarian Party’s preferred way of describing any military action the US has taken around the world.
Part of me wants this policy implemented, simply so I could watch the horror on these candidate’s faces as 70 percent of all federal revenue was allocated to the military by ordinary citizens.
The most negative reactions of the crowd came in response to Gary Johnson, whose identity as a faux libertarian is never more starkly visible than when he is surrounded by the genuine article. When Johnson suggested that he would not do away with driver’s licenses, as he prefers to not let the blind drive, he was nearly booed off stage.
All of the candidates agreed that drugs should be legalized, but any suggestion that it should not be legal for children to use them was met with jeering. It was pointed out that it is the parents of these children who should be keeping their kids off of drugs until they reach an age where they can make these decisions for themselves. That parents should do this is a truism. The open question is of course what to do when they fail to be responsible parents. Where is the line, that when crossed, causes law enforcement to step in? No candidate addressed the point.
With the exception of Austin Peterson, the stage was overwhelmingly pro-abortion. Johnson appears to have pivoted completely to this position over the course of the convention, after presenting a more moderate face at many appearances. Feldman brought out the tired argument that he would never force someone else to comply with his beliefs and couldn’t tell a woman that she can’t have an abortion simply because he believed it was morally wrong. Feldman presumably feels no such restraint about forcing others to comply with his beliefs of right and wrong on the subjects of theft, rape, and murder of those who have been born.
John McAfee equated internationally diplomacy to the relationship between husband and wife, where the husband needs to apologize even when he is in the right. Peterson declared that he had never met a “damned Republican” that he liked. Having already denounced Democrats earlier in the evening in similar fashion, we can only conclude that Peterson doesn’t like 97 percent of the US population.
My shock at the overall poor quality of arguments coming from the stage likely stemmed from my mistaken impression of what a libertarian is. I had assumed that despite the wack jobs who are surely present, most were something comparable to Milton Friedman, and desired to slowly push the country in the direction of more limited government. Instead, I learned that there are anarchists and there are statists. If you’re not on board the train of no government, you are the enemy.
Speaking of trains, the highlight of the evening was McAfee’s closing statement, which I will not transcribe below but will attempt to summarize. I fear that much like the Necronomicon, reading it can drive sane men mad. I surely failed a sanity check while listening to it. After explaining that he had been waiting the entire campaign for this one minute to talk sincerely to the voters, acAfee proceeded to paint perhaps the greatest metaphor that has ever been conceived by a human mind.
He described the Libertarian Party as a skyscraper that was being built from the top down. Hold that image in your mind as the metaphor shifts to a train which is filled with compromise. McAfee planned to derail this train, and instead lay new tracks. Why the train couldn’t simply be stopped and perhaps cleared of the compromises is unclear. For reasons I cannot comprehend, these new tracks would run through the grassroots. He presumably didn’t mean that he wished to crush the grassroots under a locomotive, but he provided no additional context. Somehow this new train would enable us to build the skyscraper from the ground up. Perhaps it is a cargo train.
I remind you that his entire campaign was building to this one minute to talk to the voters.
After an evening of watching the Libertarian Party let their freak flag fly, we fled the scene like we had just committed a hit-and-run. It was tempting to skip the following day’s presidential vote and instead head to Disney World, in an attempt to restore some faith in humanity. Against this better judgement, we returned to witness the proceedings.
As ballots were being distributed, many points of order/information and privileged motions were made. Of the 10 or so interruptions, three related to outrage that “none of the above” was not listed on the ballot. Each time it was patiently explained that the delegates could write in “NOTA” if they desired. Each time this provided no comfort. How does one express their anarchist purity if they accept any of the available options? One man requested that he be allowed to play his harmonica. The motion was granted. Another to make Dobby from the Harry Potter series the official Libertarian mascot was ignored.
Perhaps the most incredible feature of the convention is that Gary Johnson became the Libertarian nominee, despite virtually everyone I spoke to at the convention having huge reservations about his purity. When pressed for a reason for giving him their votes, his supporters universally replied that they thought he had the greatest potential to do well in the general election. Though I never pressed the point, I wished I could ask each of them if they were comfortable with a moderate Republican like Johnson at the head of their party, why were they so resistant to supporting conservative Republicans in order to fight big government? If they are able to put aside principle and vote for electability in this race, why not others?
As Johnson appears likely to get the 5 percent of the vote he needs to get the Libertarian Party public election funding (one of the most non-libertarian actions I can imagine), it is clear that the largest faction within the party is focused on growing at all costs. If moderating their candidates is necessary, so be it. Getting 7 percent of the vote nationally would be a huge step forward. But the amount of moderation required in order to bring them into parity with the Republicans and Democrats would leave a Libertarian Party that is every bit as compromised in their principles as the left and right they despise so much.
The lesson of the weekend is clearly that the Libertarian Party is five kinds of crazy and they know it. As they self-administer electroshock therapy, I am forced to admit that I am clearly not one of them.
Note: We left before candidates began taking their clothes off.