Way back in our teenaged days we had a summer job collecting signatures to get the Libertarian Party on the ballot in Kansas and Missouri, and the pay was not bad by ’70s high school kid standards, the work was interesting, and we liked the cause. Now that we’re looking around for some presidential candidate to vote for other than the Republican nominee for the first time in our adult lives, and suddenly feeling nostalgic even for the ’70s, we’re giving the Libertarians another look.
After ten years of second-rate public education and all the social engineering and other governmental bullying we’d already endured, not to mention all the Watergate hearings we’d raptly watched and the recent footage of the evacuation helicopters lifting off from the embassy in Saigon and the impending election of Jimmy Carter, the Libertarian Party had great appeal to our youthfully rebellious selves. We were already reading Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek and trying to slog through Adam Smith’s more archaic prose, and we’d lived through wage-and-price controls under a Republican administration and could already see the coming “stagflation” and Misery Index that a Democratic administration would surely bring, so the party’s free market purism made perfect sense. The Libertarians were mostly an unchurched lot who didn’t want religion imposed on them, but we had no desire to impose our religious beliefs on anyone, and indeed one of the tenets of our religion was that it must be freely chosen to do anybody any good, and they were also passionate about religious freedom and not at all the types to impose their non-religious beliefs on anyone. They were passionate about all the essential God-given and Constitutionally-protected freedoms, as we were, and then as now neither of the major parties were reliably stalwart about them.
The Libertarians were admittedly radical, and of course that had some appeal to such surly young ’70s punks as ourselves. They wanted to do away not only with all that Great Society nonsense that kept getting us beat up through junior high, but also to get rid of all that New Deal nonsense our beloved grandparents had voted for and our beloved parents had accepted as ineradicable facts of life with their votes for Eisenhower, and it didn’t bother us a whit. We had no confidence at that point that the government would be able to keep its promises to those of us at the very tail end of the already obviously awful Baby Boom generation, and figured we could do better with noticeable sums the government was already taking out of our meager summer job paychecks. Our surly ’70s punk cynicism extended to those hippy dippy teachers we’d already encountered, who were as bullying a bunch as we’ve met in a lifetime full of bullies, and we figured that if the government would limit itself to arresting and trying and imprisoning rapists and robbers and such as well as keeping the Commies at bay and a very few other things necessary to promote the common welfare we could handle the rest, and we appreciated that they thought so as well.
Although the Libertarians were the very antithesis of communism they were averse to doing anything about it until those Cuban paratroopers from “Red Dawn” started falling from the sky, which was a problem for us even in our younger days. We were also already reading Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov and Havel and all the samizdat writers, and the vindicated-by-history Reader’s Digest and National Review, and for idiosyncratic reasons we hated communism and every other collectivist ideology that would crush the individual who stood in its way, and our by-then long experience of bullies informed us that more collectively strong response was required.
That same summer we worked for the Libertarian Party we were rooting for Ronald Reagan’s insurgency campaign against Republican President Jerry Ford, and we even drove up to Kansas City to hang around the convention center where it fell short. The defeat made the Libertarians all the more appealing, but when the determinedly anti-commie and as pure-as-you’re-gonna-get free market capitalist and traditional values guy who didn’t seem all that interested in imposing them on anyone Reagan did win the nomination and the presidency we found what seemed a natural home in the Republican party and remained there until Tuesday night.
The Democrats are even worse than in the ’70s, which is saying something, so of course we won’t be voting for any of those. The Republican candidate is the worst ever, though, and promises to leave all those entitlement programs untouched and boasts of his very impure crony version of capitalism and has publicly threatened to punish his press critics and has no values at all and is quite willing to impose them on anybody and is in general the worst sort of bully we’ve ever encountered, so we won’t be voting for him, either.
Which prompts our reconsideration of the Libertarians. So far as we can tell they’re still free-market purists, which still makes sense to us. Those entitlements that the major party candidates both claim they can still somehow save still don’t seem worth saving, and we note that the Medicare trustees have pin-pointed that program’s collapse to the very year we’ll turn 65, just as our surly and cynical ’70s punk selves predicted. We’re almost certain to have to fend for ourselves in our old age, but we’ll still appreciate that the Libertarians thought we could do so. These days the social issues are at the point where the conservative survivors of the culture wars are being rounded up and lined up against a firing squad, and so far as we can tell the Libertarians are still passionate about religious liberty and disinclined to impose their mostly unchurched values on some Christian baker or photographer who who doesn’t want to go along with the collective’s momentary notions of morality. We have no idea where the party stands on some creepy male individual’s right to hang around women’s locker rooms, but both major party nominees are cool with that, so how bad could they be?
There’s still that crazy isolationism, but at this point neither of the major parties seem any better. The Democrat is that woman who offered the “re-set” button to Russia’s revanchist dictator Vladimir Putin, the Republican has openly expressed his admiration for his fellow bully and his campaign manager and top foreign policy advisor are both business partners with the former KGB agent, and meanwhile he’s threatening all our North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners that they’ll have to agree to his really great deals or he’ll let the whole thing go, so how bad could even the Libertarians be?
They’re a friendly and fun lot, too, these Libertarians. We still fondly recall traveling to Kansas City with a couple of older party workers to gather signatures that memorable summer, where we pleased to learn that Paul McCartney was playing a concert that evening at the old Kemper Arena. The older fellows rightly figured that the crowds outside the event would be amenable to signing a petition to get the Libertarian Party on the ballot, and when we arrived we found three long lines that we each began to pester. Meeting up at the pre-determined spot we were proud to say that we’d garnered some 100 signatures, the older fellow boasted of 120 or so, and the oldest said that he’d only gotten 10 signatures but had scored scalped tickets for everyone and a bag of marijuana. The concert was most enjoyable, and although we didn’t accept their generous offers of a toke we must have gotten what the kids call a “contact high,” because we remember thinking that Linda McCartney sounded great. Two summers later our summer job was interning for Republican Sen. Bob Dole, and it was also a good time, and we got to hang out with two future governors of our state and a lot of other very bright people, including one fellow who was proudly a member of the Prohibition Party, which some still appears every years on the Kansas ballot, and which we’ll also investigate, but we still fondly recall our Libertarian days.
The party hasn’t settled on a nominee yet, but the odds are he will again be former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. With both of the major party nominees being widely despised, and Johnson being almost entirely unknown, we give him an outside shot. He’s also an outspoken advocate of legalizing marijuana, and if he gets any traction with the issue we expect both major party nominees will soon also be on board, and given the more likely outcomes of this election some legal weed might come in handy.
— Bud Norman