EVER SINCE George W. Bush made the Republican brand toxic in many quarters, it’s been trendy for people to claim they’re “libertarian.” You can’t shake a stick on Facebook these days without hitting one; it’s all the rage.
Libertarian is the new hipster.
But in my own experience, nine out of ten of these self–professed “libertarians” end up voting Republican, and probably never had any intention of doing otherwise.
When I mention that they can vote for an actual Libertarian–with–a–capital–L candidate for president on the ballot in Georgia and 47 other states — former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson — they talk to me like I’m nuts.
“Why would I waste my vote?” they ask incredulously.
Doug Harman, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, has a quick response.
“The only way to waste your vote is by voting for somebody you don’t believe in,” he says.
“Let’s face it, very few people are really excited about voting for Mitt Romney or for re–electing Barack Obama," Harman says. "If everyone who doesn’t really want to vote for either of those guys voted for Gary Johnson, guess what? Johnson would win.”
An old hand at dealing with faux libertarians, Harman laughs that “not only will they try and call themselves libertarians, they’ll try to convince you that Romney and Ryan are libertarians, which is really funny.”
In any case, Harman notes that being so closely associated with a third party can make for stressful relationships with people who are still mentally locked into the two–party system.
“I’ve had people from both sides stop returning my phone calls. They say they’re mad at me for ‘splitting the vote.’ But here’s the point: If Libertarians aren’t included in any of the polling data, what votes am I really splitting?”
Ah, and so we come to the “crux of the issue,” as Harman puts it: The self–fulfilling Catch 22 of third–party candidates not being important enough to command respect.
“Take the presidential debates. Candidates are invited based off polling numbers. Your polling has to be 15 percent or better for the debate commission to invite you — which is a private company, by the way, one that gets most of its funding from, guess who? The Democratic and Republican parties,” explains Harman.
“So Zogby, Rasmussen, all those polling companies almost never include the Libertarian candidate, so of course they’re unlikely to get 15 points and be invited to the debates,” he says.
“And how does the media make all their money? By selling ads to Democrats and Republicans! It’s a big, nasty self–protecting beast.”
Harman counsels voters to follow the money, and focus not on the differences between Obama and Romney, but instead on the many fundamental similarities:
“They both support indefinite detention of U.S. citizens. They both support the Patriot Act. They both support ‘reforming’ the IRS, which to me just means they’ll add something to it but not ever consider getting rid of it,” he says.
“They both support the Federal Reserve. They both support debasing our currency through indefinite quantitative easing. They both take millions of dollars from employees of Goldman–Sachs.”
With a laugh, Harman says the basic philosophy of Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party is “we want to take over your government and then leave you alone,” the basic intent being to run the federal government according to the powers strictly enumerated in the Constitution.
“Gary Johnson wants to get rid of the IRS and install a consumption tax, so you just pay as you go. What’s more fair than that?” Harman asks. “He’s for shutting down foreign bases and pulling our servicemen and women home. He wants to quit wasting money building infrastructure overseas when we need to rebuild it at home.”
The basic hypocrisy of the Republican Party is fairly obvious to most of us with a functioning cerebellum: They claim to be the party of “limited government,” but then immediately tell you who you can and can’t marry and what health care decisions women can make over their own bodies.
With the Democrats, Harman says, the central hypocrisy is a bit harder to discern but still very real:
“The current paradox on the Democratic side is this business of ‘We’re the ones who are going to end the wars, we’re the party of peace and inclusion.’ Well sure, you’re included as long as you believe like they do,” says Harman.
“The Democrats say they’re going to end all the wars, but this is a president that’s started all kinds of unauthorized military interventions so far. He says he’s the guy who brought all the troops home from Iraq — so why do we have troops from Georgia heading over to Iraq right now?”
Fighting not just one but two major parties has been a struggle for the Libertarian Party at the national and state level. Johnson is only getting on the Pennsylvania ballot this year because a lawsuit against the Libertarian Party by the state Republican Party was thrown out.
Georgia has one of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the U.S., but Libertarians are able to get on the ballot because of the 2008 race of John Monds for Public Service Commission. Because he ran against an incumbent Republican with no Democrat in the race, he was able to garner over a million votes — enough according to arcane Georgia law to qualify his party for statewide ballot access.
With election day approaching, Harman — an avid Georgia Bulldog who lives in Athens — says Johnson is expected to make campaign stops in Atlanta and Athens this weekend.
“And he might even stop by and tailgate with me at the game!”