Libertarian ideas growing strong in American political culture
Published: Monday, September 3, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 3, 2012 23:09
When the Libertarian Party was founded in 1972, the vast majority of Americans viewed their ideas as strange, or even kooky. After all, they supported legalizing same-sex marriage and marijuana. These positions were unheard of at the time.
In fact, I was recently speaking to a longtime member who recalled a conversation he had with one of his friends, a homosexual, during the early days of the party. The member supported legalizing same-sex marriage. The other man did not. This is an example of how unusual libertarianism was at the time. It is very hard to imagine that same conversation taking place today. A July 2012 survey by Pew Research showed that a plurality of Americans now support marriage equality, with 48 percent expressing support, 44 percent opposing and 8 percent undecided. Even as recently as 2004, 60 percent of Americans were opposed. Back in 1972, that number was much larger, so clearly a majority that nobody even bothered to conduct surveys. Yet the Libertarian Party supported same-sex marriage and continues to do so to this day.
Similarly, the Libertarian Party has always advocated an end to the War on Drugs. In 1972, this was a very unusual position. As with same-sex marriage, there are no surveys from that time period, because a very large percentage of the population would have opposed legalization. Forty years later, Colorado has a ballot measure to legalize marijuana throughout the state. In an October 2011 Gallup survey, 50 percent of Americans supported legalizing marijuana. If someone in 1972 had said that someday, a majority of Americans would support legalizing marijuana, they would have been ridiculed. At the time, this was precisely the reaction to the fledgling Libertarian Party.
For 40 years, the Libertarian Party has held liberty-minded stances such as marriage equality and legalized marijuana. For the better part of that time, these stances were highly unusual and as far from mainstream as possible. Nobody, other than the Libertarian Party, supported these policies. Nobody even mentioned these policies, because there was no need. Everyone agreed about them.
However, times have changed since 1972. Colorado may legalize marijuana on a state level this November. Oregon and Washington will hold referendums on the subject as well. Meanwhile, six states and the District of Columbia currently recognize same-sex marriage. Maryland and Washington state each passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage this year, but opponents managed to delay enactment until after referendums. One more state, Maine, will also hold a referendum this November. It is therefore possible that by the end of the year, nine states, or almost 20 percent of the nation, will have full marriage equality.
The Libertarian Party’s long-held ideas are growing in popularity. It is safe to say that they are no longer considered “kooky.” In fact, the opposite trend is happening – libertarian ideas are starting to become mainstream. Ron Paul, the 1988 Libertarian candidate for president, ran in the Republican presidential primary in 2008 and 2012. In 2008, he was simply viewed as a minor candidate who was nothing but a sideshow to Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and John McCain. In 2012, more people learned to accept libertarianism and Paul managed a third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses and a second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary.
Paul is hardly the only successful libertarian today, however. Barbara Howe, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor of North Carolina, polled at 9 percent in a July 2012 survey by Public Policy Polling. North Carolina recently passed a constitutional referendum banning same-sex marriage in the state, but many voters were upset by the result. Therefore, it is natural that otherwise conservative voters would turn to someone like Howe, who shares their fiscal conservatism, but also supports marriage equality. The existence of this political base shows how far libertarian ideas have come.
The Libertarian Party is gaining ground on a national level as well. For the first time ever, they have a presidential candidate with previous executive experience – former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. With a former governor running on the Libertarian Party line, it is clear that their ideas have gone mainstream.