Most of the doors were closed, most of the faces were blank.
A handful of liberty activists were lobbying the state capitol in Tallahassee, Florida. Very few people with power were giving them time, and fewer still were listening. Their arguments, those of the Liberty First Network, were for less government and more freedom, less law and more liberty. The state capitol, though, is not really a place for the discussion of ideas and ideals. It is more primal than that, really about two things: the carrot and the stick. Both were in short supply. Who had even heard of a “libertarian” anyhow?
In 2014, Adrian Wyllie ran for governor of Florida. He introduced many to new ideas, offered different policies to consider, and brought energy to a campaign with two unpopular offerings by the old parties. People did not need to pick between what the Democrats and Republicans served up to them, they had a different choice, and it was a good one that stood for something. But he lost. Politics is all about winning, and he lost. It was over.
But then a funny thing happened.
As told so well by Alex Snitker, a founder of the group and longtime liberty activist in Florida, the Liberty First Network returned to Tallahassee the next year and found more of the doors open to them, and more faces that appeared to be listening. What is this libertarianism? What do you think about this bill or that policy? Over 230,000 people had voted for Adrian Wyllie for governor, not a huge percentage of the population, but more than the difference between the winner and the loser in the run for governor, and more than any third party candidate in Florida history. A message got through to the politicians: here in this 230,000 are a lot of people who want to see something different, here is a movement with energy that can make phones ring, and perhaps most importantly, here is a voting block that can swing elections.
People say they want smaller government but the politicians know that really they just want more spending on their side of the equation—social programs, foreign intervention, prisons, whatever. It’s just a matter of tweaking a few lines in a speech and doing what you’ve always done. But this was something different. This was something they had to take notice of, something they might even have to change their behavior to deal with. Something new they had to consider: liberty.
The nation now stands at the same crossroads. Two hugely unpopular candidates, and a historic opportunity to send a resounding message that we will take nothing less than smaller government across the board. There are a hundred issues about which to quibble. A thousand reasons why everyone running is imperfect. A million responses to every assertion. But in the end, there is one opportunity here—one that the liberty movement cannot squander.
Gary Johnson is a flawed candidate. He is wholly unexciting and he seems to be arguing from a progressive left position that a true libertarian ought never occupy. We could recount the litany of the issues he trends left on here, but it is beside the point. There is no conservative or libertarian among the two party candidates. There is only the certainty that the government would grow under both of them, that it will make war under both of them, that it will operate from a core philosophy of authoritarianism under both of them.
Some on the right side of the libertarian movement say they must vote for Darrell Castle – the Constitution Party Candidate – because his policy proposals are more libertarian. Perhaps, but perhaps not – there is no point in it. Win or lose, Gary Johnson has the potential to send silent shockwaves through Washington, to put a dent in the two-party system, to force the politicians who say one thing then do another to actually open their doors and listen. A vote for Darrell Castle has no such potential.
But what about this issue? Or that? Or this one over here? The fact is the debate will be endless until election day, but for those on the side of liberty the most important issue—the issue which touches every other one—is the size and power of government. If the government is large it can take away all of the freedoms you hold dear while negatively affecting every issue you care about. If it gets smaller, freedom wins. If the cause of liberty is raised in the popular culture, freedom wins. The rest can come later.
In every state capitol, and in Washington D.C., there is a powerful inertia called business as usual. Words in a speech, policy positions on a web page, posts on social media, are all part of the campaign season, and they normally have no effect on the business of legislating (as someone who spent decades as a conservative Republican can attest). Many well-intentioned people believe that taking a magnifying glass to the policy positions of particular candidates is the ultimate way to stay informed about the reality of the current political system–would that it were so.
There is one vote in the presidential race that will effectively send the message that we want less government and more liberty in November, and only one. It is a historic opportunity to send the message, open the doors, and gain the attention of the powerful, whether he wins or loses. We can vote for Gary Johnson or we can squander this opportunity and let the doors close to us once again.