By GUEST COLUMNIST Gregory V Diehl
People today tend to categorize their political values and beliefs on a binary spectrum, ranging from “far left” on one end and “far right” on the opposite. This spectrum is so widely accepted that many of the people who regularly include its terms in their lexicon and mentally include themselves within its confines scarcely stop to examine what it means. Furthermore, they seldom question the validity of this dichotomy.
The left and right are usually characterized by America’s two major political parties, Democrats and Republicans (or “liberals” and “conservatives”), respectively. But where do political groups of lesser prominence fall on the spectrum? Where do Libertarians, the party most closely associated with freedom for the individual align?
To answer that question, you have to dive into what left wing and right wing really mean, followed by what it means to be a member of the Libertarian Party.
According to Wikipedia: “Generally, the left-wing is characterized by an emphasis on ‘ideas such as freedom, equality, fraternity, rights, progress, reform, and internationalism’ while the right-wing is characterized by an emphasis on ‘notions such as authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction and nationalism.’”
Hmmm. At first glance, it’s not obvious which of these two sharply divided categories the US Libertarian Party fits into. Let’s look at its recent history and what new voters could be seeking from their candidates next.
Where Gary Johnson Stood
As a successful Republican New Mexico governor, 2016 Libertarian Party presidential candidate, Gary Johnson pronounced that he had slashed taxes more than a dozen times, balanced the budget, and left the State with a billion-dollar surplus.
Under conventional definitions, reducing taxes and focusing on fiscal responsibility would usually fall clearly under the right-wing paradigm.
Conversely, on addressing the issue of high crime, particularly those that were drug-related, Governor Johnson noted that half of what the State of New Mexico was spending on law enforcement was being “wasted” on drug-related crimes. He further proposed that, for instance, the use of marijuana be treated as a health issue and that, further, it be decriminalized.
Granting individuals the right to legally choose for themselves what they put in their bodies? That’s undeniably left-wing activism.
Reputed to lack interest in policy details, Governor Johnson took a more partisan approach to governing during his second and final term as New Mexico governor.
Several significant proposals to do with tax reform, health care, education, jobs, the State of the economy, its budget deficit, the promotion of civil liberties, the use of military force or the lack thereof, legalizing marijuana, and dealing with the environment were put forward during the 2016 presidential campaign. Johnson’s proposed tax reforms would furthermore incentivize the private sector to create millions of much-needed jobs.
Another of his radical proposals dealt with the administration of the State. State bankruptcy filing would be allowed, while negating any chance of the Federal government coming to the financial aid of any one troubled state. A move away from federal power and toward greater state power is undoubtedly a step toward smaller government, a traditional right-wing value.
Free-market principles were at the heart of the 2016 campaign when pouring over documented opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Proposed budget cuts would have negatively affected the military. There was even an endorsement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the proclamation that this partnership was indeed promoting free trade.
How Libertarians Feel about “Leftist” Ideals
There are many on the left who support the Libertarian Party’s proposals to legalize the “liberal” use of marijuana. This falls in line with the “no victim, no crime” principle, which basically claims that people should be allowed to do what they want with their own lives so long as it isn’t hurting anyone else.
Of course, where this agreement often falls apart between political parties is exactly what constitutes “hurting” someone else, which might explain why Democrats are so often opposed to the Conservative ideals of loosening business restrictions and allowing entrepreneurs to do whatever they want for the sake of profit.
Individual liberties are undeniably a fundamental part of the Libertarian Party’s platform. The American Civil Liberties Union even afforded Libertarian Gary Johnson its highest rating in lieu of civil liberties. Other than drug decriminalization, the Libertarian Party is vehemently opposed to censorship and the regulation of the internet, the Patriot Act, prolonged detention without trial for prisoners, as well as “enhanced airport screenings” that rob travelers of their liberty and privacy.
What Libertarians distance themselves from Democrats is frequently on the subject of what handouts and amenities Americans are entitled by virtue of the government intervening on their behalf. Libertarians, by definition, are minarchists. They are among the lowest when it comes to the number of services they want to be funded by involuntary taxation and provided by central planning.
Many Libertarians see government involvement in central services like highway planning, military, police, and healthcare as a necessary evil to be monitored and endured. Meanwhile, a typical Democrat wants the central government’s power and funding to provide these things as heightened to ensure all citizens receive equal access to them.
Tossing the Whole Bird out the Window
As Gary Johnson saw it, the Libertarian Party is more culturally liberal than the Democratic Party yet more fiscally conservative than the Republican Party. Their overriding willingness to legalize same-sex marriages, end capital punishment, and end prohibition of illegal drugs place them closer to the Democrats. Yet, the party maintains positions of lowering taxes, closing down the IRS, and ending the concept of a welfare state, just like the most hardcore Republicans. Perhaps, optimistically, we can see this as embodying the best of both worlds.
So how do we reconcile this dynamic collection of political values with the standard left/right dichotomy that defines modern American politics? Perhaps the answer is not to have to resolve it at all, but to throw the outdated dichotomy out the window. Maybe the most Libertarian ideal of all is for every individual to be able to pick and choose their principles and policies by their own merit, not broad and sweeping category generalizations.