Hillary, Bernie, Donald, Gary: A Libertarian Perspective
By Walter E. Block
Before I begin, let me take note of the fact that I can call all four remaining candidates in the 2016 race for president by their first names. With the possible exception of the latter, and this will prove less and less so as time goes on, there is little chance that anyone who is not a very low information voter will fail to know of the four people of whom I am speaking. Informality seems to have taken hold of our culture.
Now to business. I will attempt to offer a libertarian perspective on these four candidates. What is a libertarian perspective? That of course, is based on the libertarian philosophy, which is, in turn, predicated upon the non-aggression principle ( NAP: do not initiate violence against innocent people or take their possessions without permission); on free association (all interactions between persons should be on the basis of individual choice; no one should be forced to associate with anyone else against his will) and private property rights (based on Lockean-Rothbardian homesteading). To the degree a political candidate adheres to these principles is the extent to which, other things being equal, a libertarian should support him (I am not politically correct, but, in honor of our fellow citizens who have come under the thrall of this pernicious doctrine, I now offer a trigger warning: this is not a typographical error; rather, “him” includes members of both genders.)
There are three broad arenas to which these libertarian principles can apply: foreign policy, economics, and personal liberties. But the first is by far the most important. It probably outweighs the other two, even put together, by a wide margin. This is because, as Murray Rothbard and Robert Higgs have emphasized, this area determines what occurs in the other two. There are of course some feedback effects in all directions, but the causation is mainly a one-way street. For example, if the country is at war, the central banking system is typically strengthened, as taxes and borrowing become unable to finance the gargantuan appetites of the imperialist intervention abroad. And, too, the military draft is more likely to be implemented, reducing not only economic liberties but personal ones as well.
Now, let us weigh the candidates against these criteria. On the Democratic side of the aisle, Bernie is clearly ahead of the Wicked Witch of the East. And I say this not because I was a boyhood chum of the former; I do so based on their widely divergent foreign policies. Killary is a vicious warmonger as ever seen on the boards of the play which constitutes U.S. imperialism. (By the way, I favored my man Barack Obama vis a vis John Mccain in 2008 on these grounds and see La Clinton as very much in the camp of the latter; with only slight exaggeration I can say that neither has ever met a foreign war they did not like). Bernie is far from being a libertarian non-interventionist, but he stands head and shoulders above the espionage by e-mail former Secretary of State. They are both bloody awful on the subject of economics and personal liberties, although, I concede, she is perhaps less horrendous than the Vermont commie-socialist. However, as said above, foreign policy is more important than the other two venues; thus, Bernie is more congruent with libertarianism than Hillary. Moreover, she will have to prove that as a woman she’s just as tough as a man; how? By seeking war, which will only cement her natural inclinations.
What of The Donald? He is the only one of the Republican contenders (apart from Rand Paul) who said anything along the lines of: he could get along with Putin; that he wanted to end NATO; that we were mistaken to get into the Middle East; that US soldiers should leave Korea, German, Japan, etc. He said of dictators Saddam Hussain and Muammar Ghadafi, sure, they were monsters, but at least they fought the far-worse ISIL type terrorists! He asked are Iraq and Libya better off for our intervention? He answered with a resounding No. And now they want to go into Syria? Not on my watch, he averred. It cannot be denied that Mr. Trump also said a few things incompatible with these sterling statements such as we are going to kick the butt of ISIS, but this only shows he is becoming “Presidential.” However, no one else, again except for Rand Paul, has channeled the thoughts of our founding fathers such as George Washington: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible” (emphasis added). Thomas Jefferson: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none” (emphasis added). John Quincy Adams: “America . . . goes not abroad seeking monsters to destroy.” When the neo-cons hear views of this sort, they go berserk and start gnashing their teeth and frothing at the mouth. This shows that Mr. Trump is on the right path. When I was involved in the setting up of “Libertarians for Trump” this group was aimed, mainly, at garnering for him the Republican nomination vis a vis the right-wing war-mongers Cruz and Kasich; it was to ensure that this nomination was not stolen from the candidate overwhelmingly supported by the voters. Then, too, Trump’s thrashing of political correctness, an excrescence of the cultural Marxists which attempts to stifle all debate, at least that emanating from libertarians or conservatives, is a breath of fresh air.
Is Donald Trump a libertarian? He is no Ron Paul, but he is pretty close to foreign policy. Hey, give the man a B-, at least. He is execrable on free trade and does not seem to understand economics. He seems ambivalent about the minimum wage and supports such socialist nostrums as welfare and Social Security. Of course, Bernie and Hillary are far worse than Donald on these issues from a libertarian point of view. At least the GOP standard bearer is not an out and out egalitarian. We should perhaps thank goodness for his vast wealth.
How does Gary Johnson stand on libertarianism? Is he even a libertarian? I answer Yes, but only if the tent is big enough, and it will have to be a really big tent in order to fit him into it. Stupendous violations include his support for U.S. atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is blatantly incompatible with the NAP. The argument in favor of this war crime is that it ended the hostilities sooner than would have a land invasion, saving more lives, on both sides, than the actual atomic conflagration. Bah, tosh, fiddlesticks and nonsense. For one thing, the U.S. never should have been at war with Japan in the first place. FDR ran on a peace platform and initiated the war with the Japanese by cutting off their oil supplies with a blockade. He knew their navy was steaming toward Pearl Harbor, their secret codes were compromised, but wanted an excuse to go to war with them. In 1945, the Japanese were willing to surrender, but not unconditionally. They wanted a face-saving provision for their Emperor. The U.S. insisted on a total surrender, at the cost of the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent people. Why did not Truman drop the bombs in uninhabited areas of Japan to demonstrate the effectiveness of this new weapon? Surely, that would have sufficed. But no. This is because that mass murder had little to do with World War II. Instead, these were the opening salvos of the Cold War. The U.S. government wanted to demonstrate to the U.S.S.R. not only the power of this new weaponry but of their willingness to use it against civilian populations.
Gary Johnson also favors the 1964 so-called civil rights act, which outlaws discrimination against certain arbitrarily protected groups (why is it still legal to discriminate against those of us who are follically challenged? Against short people?) But picking and choosing friends, mates, business associates, customers, employers, merchants, is part of yet another bedrock of libertarianism, Free Association. The former governor of New Mexico went so far as to hypothetically support compelling a Jew to bake a cake for a Nazi. Worse, he does not seem to realize that this stance of his contradicts black letter libertarian law. It is as if he has no libertarian compass and takes things on a case by case basis. Nor does he want to legalize all drugs for adults, only marijuana. His instincts are vaguely libertarian on a whole host of issues (the BIG libertarian tent will indeed hold him), but he does not appear to apply libertarian PRINCIPLE to anything. Nor is he, either, any Ron Paul on foreign policy. He would not want to withdraw all US troops from foreign lands, where they simply do not belong. And, to make matters worse, he advocates US intervention (but only benevolently!) in areas our country has not yet heavily invaded, such as in Africa.
Why am I being relatively more harsh with Gary than with Donald? It is due to the fact that the former is running on the Libertarian Party ticket, and the main present purpose of this organization, given that its standard bearer will not be the next president of the US (I am going out on a limb, here) is to promote liberty, not win. This task if difficult to accomplish for a non-principled libertarian who takes numerous positions incompatible with that philosophy. (What is it with the LP anyway? Apart from Ron Paul and Harry Brown, only a mere two or three others fit this bill. For example, Bob Barr, the candidate of 2008, was an unmitigated disaster; far worse, even, than Gary Johnson. Several of the leading candidates, beaten by our nominee, confessed that they had never read Murray Rothbard, never even heard of him; that they rejected the NAP; these are leading libertarians?). And this is to say nothing of Johnson’s choice for VP of the LP: William Weld. The less said about him from a libertarian point of view the better.
At last, we arrive at the $64,000 question. As a purist libertarian of the Rothbardian stripe, as one of the conveners of “Libertarians for Trump,” as a long-time supporter and activist for the LP (I ran for office in New York State for the Assembly there in 1969, before even the formation of the National Libertarian Party in 1971) who do I now support for president? Now that Trump and Johnson are running against one another this is a challenging question. On the one hand, I desperately want Donald to beat Hillary. Now only are two and maybe three Supreme Court nominations likely to be in play in the next four years, but more important, far more important, a second President Clinton (gulp, I can barely make myself write those words) is likely to usher in World War III, with nuclear not atomic bombs, this time. I oppose this with every fiber of my being. A nuclear exchange between the US and either Russia or China or both of them, could ruin our entire day. Not only is she bloodthirsty by inclination, but as a woman, she will likely feel she has to prove she is tough. Already NATO forces are on the front porch of Russia, and there have already been “incidents” between the US and Chinese warships in the Pacific. All we need is for Killery to light the conflagration.
So, who in my opinion should libertarians support, vote for? Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party, or Donald Trump and the Republican Party? Donald is our last best chance of averting a nuclear war. On the other hand, Gary will (sort of) spread the “libertarian” word. Well, at least the mass media will mention “libertarianism” even if in a decidedly watered-down version, thanks to him. If Mr. Johnson garners more than 5% of the vote, something completely unprecedented in the history of the party (its usual share hovers around 1%), the “libertarian” word will be on everyone’s lips. Who are these guys, people will ask, and, maybe, possibly, some of them, many of them? will explore a more radical version of this political economic philosophy, hopefully along the lines laid out by Murray Rothbard, “Mr. Libertarian.” Surely, this is something also to be fervently wished for. Further, if libertarianism is given a boost this time around, perhaps at some future time fewer innocents will be slaughtered in foreign adventures.
When asked if we want vanilla or chocolate ice cream, Mozart or Bach, the best answer is, both. How can we apply that insight in the present context? How can we have our cake and eat it too? How can we both reduce the chances of a modern all-out war, and, also, spread the libertarian message via the LP?
I am glad you asked. Here is the plan. In states where either Clinton or Trump is leading by a wide margin, vote for, support Johnson. Trump either does not need our backing there or, it will do him little or no good in any case if he gets it. However, in purple states such as Florida or Ohio, in which the polls indicate a virtual tie between Mr. Pretty Good and Mrs. Evil, then and only then pile on in behalf of Donald. He will need every bit of sustenance we can give him on such occasions. Who to support financially? Both. Let us hedge our bets.
I realize this advice is a bit Machiavellian; somewhat strategic; rather tactical; even unprincipled. Ok, ok, very much in that direction. I make no apology for this. We are not now in the realm of libertarian principle or deontology. In choosing who to support, we are in the arena of prudential judgment. Principled libertarians may disagree with each other over such matters, without anyone’s purist credentials being called into question. Here, I claim, we have a reasonable compromise. In this suggestion, we have a chance of achieving both desiderata: reducing the chances of a war that can threaten the entire human race, and, also, spreading the libertarian word, however truncated and cloudy. It is not, I insist, a violation of libertarian principle to aid and abet Donald Trump. It may be wise or not, a very different matter. Similarly, it is not a violation of the NAP to support Gary Johnson, even though this will to some degree increase the chances of Bill Clinton becoming the “first husband.” Which course of action will more likely promote liberty and bring us the free and safe society? Donald or Gary? It is hard to say, given far less than the information we would like to have about the future course of events.
Here is a word of advice to the man I want to become the next president of the U.S.
Dear Mr. Trump:
More important than any of your policies, more important than all of them put together, at least from your own personal point of view and from that of those who love you, is that you finish out (at least) your first four-year term, unscathed, let alone your first few weeks. If you choose as your Vice Presidential running mate someone who the powers that be think they can get along with far better than they think they can get along with you — several have so far been mentioned who fit this bill — I fear you will be assassinated. Yes, I make no bones about this. Our country, unfortunately, has a history of this sort of thing. But, never have a president and a vice president both been assassinated in the same term. There are, hopefully, limits as to how even far the Deep State will go. Therefore, as a life insurance policy, I ask, no, I beg, that you will pick someone equally, or at least almost equally, hated by the establishment.
I suggest Senator Rand Paul.
Yes, yes, you and he have had words with each other. But that is now in the past. Senator Paul has recently endorsed you, so, at least in my opinion, that episode is water under the bridge. I cannot think of any other person of substance sufficient to be Vice President of the U.S. who, one, has endorsed you, and two, far more important for your very survival, is utterly reviled – as are you — by certain political leaders. Choose him, then, as a life raft, as a lift insurance policy, as protection for your very life.
Nor, of course, is that his only merit as your VP. He is also a successful senator, likely to re-elected. He, like you, can bring into the voting booth in your behalf moderate or independent voters. He, along with you, can help make inroads for your ticket amongst the Bernie Sanders supporters, assuming that Hillary (or Biden??) takes the Democratic nomination since there is something of an overlap in foreign policy between you, Rand and Bernie.
God-speed to you, Mr. Trump.