The Libertarian Party is the third largest political party in America, having received over 1 million votes in the last presidential election. While this was only about 1% of the total votes cast, the Libertarians have gained enough momentum for this election cycle that the Fox Business channel had the three leading Libertarian candidates on the Stossel Show the last two Fridays for the party’s first ever nationally televised debate. These three candidates are: Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and the Libertarian presidential candidate in 2012; John McAfee, developer of the McAfee anti-virus computer program; and Austin Petersen, founder of the Libertarian Republic, the party’s largest news source. The 2 hour debate was split in half, airing the first half on April 1st and the second half on the 8th. In practice, this debate turned out to be more of a forum, relating the candidates’ stance on various topics to a public that is used to a purely blue-and-red, two party mentality when it comes to politics.
While people may disagree on more specific issues, they will usually tend to agree with those inside their own party on broader issues; because of this, the three candidates were all in general agreement on most questions brought up in the debate.The general Libertarian political mindset doesn’t fit exactly with the standard set of “liberal” or “conservative” ideas that we have come to associate with the Democrats or Republicans; instead, the standard Libertarian response to an issue is “less government”. As Petersen put it in his opening statement, a Libertarian wants to get into government so they “can leave everyone alone”. This means Libertarians, including the three candidates, tend to be socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.
On social issues such as abortion, gay marriage or the war on drugs, the candidates all said that they would try to keep the government from interfering in the peoples’ personal lives. All three were especially concerned with the ending the war on drugs, and that has been a major Libertarian stance almost since the party’s formation. When it comes to abortion, both Johnson and McAfee describe themselves as pro-choice, while Petersen describes himself as pro-life. Petersen agrees with the others that again, it is up to the individual, not the government, to make the decision.
On fiscal issues and foreign policy, the Libertarians are more conservative. All three candidates believe that balancing the national budget should be a priority. Keeping in line with the “less government” ideal, they would do this mainly by cutting government spending across the board, including a major cut in military spending. Johnson especially believes we should stop interfering in other countries’ affairs. As for government intervention in the economy and the workforce, the three all believe that the free market should be left to decide mostly on its own, without government interference.
To summarize the debate, I can think of no better words than those McAfee used in his closing statement: “I hope that [through this debate] you have seen that some fundamental principles are all that we need to live together is a sane and harmonious fashion.” With the heavy polarization that has already taken place in this year’s election, the Libertarians offer a notable alternative to the standard two party system. The fact that this debate even took place shows they seem to have more momentum than they have had in previous years. Depending on how things go in the major parties, this election could end up being a significant one for the Libertarian Party.