In the aftermath of the official Presidential debates, plagued by numerous scandals and hand wringing over who is the worst choice, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump remain in a tight race for the White House. However, it is clear that both candidate have alienated sections of their Party’s own support base. Hillary Clinton has not been able to win over segments of Bernie Sanders core support and Donald Trump seems far too extreme to warrant the support of many traditional republican voters.
Many Americans – repulsed by both Clinton and Trump – are likely to cast a vote for a Third Party. Predictably, mainstream commentators have been quick to condemn this type of vote, evoking the memory of Ralph Nader’s Green Party run in 2000, and referring to Third Party voting as election spoiling. Much of this hysteria has centred on the ‘Bernie or Bust’ campaign, which is increasingly associated with the candidacy of Jill Stein. Despite many on the left endorsing a Green vote, Stein has pooled a significant faction of her support from pandering to America’s anti-vaccination crowd. Her party also holds extremely anti science positions on nuclear energy and genetic engineering. However, the Green Party is by no means the largest third party in American politics.
That distinction belongs to the Libertarian Party, whose presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former republican governor of New Mexico has seized upon the dissatisfaction that many Americans feel with both the Republican and the presidential candidates in order to promote yet another right wing agenda. However, Johnson is not simply repeating the tired old libertarian talking points. He’s changing the role of traditional Third Parties in the US. Instead of staking his territory far to the right of Donald Trump, in order to attract true believers in capitalism, he has lunged to the centre in hopes of attracting bipartisan support. He is behaving like a major party candidate in a year when the Republican nominee consistently acts like a third party candidate. Combining the rhetoric with an isolationist economic platform, Trump certainly does not seem to have mellowed overtime. Instead he has presented himself as the right wing pole of the political landscape. This has cleared space for Gary Johnson to present the Libertarian Party as a progressive alternative to Trumps republicanism. This is not a new phenomenon however. Since its founding forty years ago, the Libertarian Party has served as a right wing protest party, whose main task has always been to badger the GOP into continuing to repeal scarce state protections for ordinary people, each time Republican enthusiasm wavers.
While Johnson may make embarrassing appeals to progressive minded young voters, he can’t escape from the fact that the Libertarian program is inherently antagonistic to the vast majority of people, both in the US and globally. The Libertarians want to completely demolish the already weak federal protections for organised labour. They want to abolish all minimum wage laws. They promote open borders, but for the cynical reason of providing a more flexible labour force for American business. Since their inception they have worked to actively abolish the limited social safety net that protects some of the most vulnerable workers. Such an extreme right wing platform leaves Johnson with few options when it comes to presenting the Libertarian Party as some kind of progressive force, capable of snagging both moderate Republicans appalled by Trump and dissident democrats disillusioned with Clinton. By emphasising decriminalisation of drugs and cutbacks to military spending as the main planks of his campaign Johnson has been able to paint the Libertarians as a progressive force in American politics. This has allowed him to place himself not only to the left of Trump but to the left of Clinton – who remains associated with the tough on crime extremism of the 1994 omnibus crime bill and the military interventionism that characterized her tenure as secretary of state. By focusing in this way on the two most visible manifestations of state power – military intervention and the Drug war – Johnson does make a believable argument that the state is far too big and powerful. It is by hammering this point home that Johnson has built a campaign intended to appeal to the right left and centre.
This is not entirely the fault of Johnson himself. Indeed, by incorporating pieces of Libertarian ideology into their rhetoric over the past several decades, the GOP has helped prime the pump for Johnson’s rise. He has every reason to believe his message will resonate with republican voters who have consistently cast their ballots believing that government intervention is the problem. On the other hand, it is safe to assume that ant capitalists will not find themselves drawn to the Johnson campaign in droves. The real concern is that the 2016 campaign may drive the worst aspects of ‘anti-state politics’ among young progressive voters – an especially dangerous prospect in an election where capital is overwhelmingly backing Hillary Clinton. Socialists must make the case that right wing Libertarianism gravely misunderstands the real dynamics of power in society. Power isn’t just embodied by the state. – And unregulated market competition can never structure a society.
Despite all of his faux progressive window dressing, socialism is the antithesis of the politics of Gary Johnson and his brand of Libertarianism. It is for this reason, that the Libertarian Party will never be a progressive force and does not deserve our vote.