Amidst Obama's Triumph, America Enjoys A Libertarian Moment - Spectator Blogs

7 November 2012

4:57 PM

7 November 2012

4:57 PM

Amidst last night’s Democratic triumph and the confirmation that Obama is, in many respects, Ronald Reagan’s heir let’s not forget that this election was also a triumph for libertarians and libertarianism.

True, Gary Johnson – shamefully treated by the GOP a year ago – “only” won a million votes and 1% of the vote but this was still the Libertarian Party’s best performance since 1980. In any case, this small but cheering libertarian moment did not depend upon and should not be measured in terms of the presidential race itself.

The real action came at the state level and it was mostly encouraging news for those of us interested in a better, kinder, fairer America. In Maine, Maryland and Washington state voters approved of ballot measures endorsing gay marriage. As Jacob Sullum points out, gay marriage laws had never previously been endorsed by voters asked the question in a referendum. Their legitimacy (if you will) depended upon fragile legislative majorities. That has changed now. You can no longer say that when the people are asked their opinion on gay marriage they reject it. Furthermore, voters in Minnesota thwarted a ballot initiative designed to prohibit gay unions.


The good news did not end there. In Virginia voters approved a measure amending the state’s constitution to prohibit eminent domain seizures of private property in which “the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development”.

Meanwhile, in Washington state and in Colorado the people chose to legalise the private and personal consumption of marijuana. The Drug War is not over but, on marijuana at least, many more Americans now enjoy greater freedoms – and legal protections – than they did last week. Confirming the trend towards liberalisation, Massachusetts endorsed measures to legalise the consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The forces of sanity and reform have momentum on their side.

All this is encouraging and a reminder of how the states can still be the little laboratories of democracy they are supposed to be. The people are often ahead of the politicians on these matters and experience has shown that marriage and drugs reform are not the scary invitations to Armageddon we were told they were.

These are, to be sure, small shifts but they are also telling developments. In important ways many Americans now have the opportunity to enjoy freedoms they were until recently denied. America is a better, more free, marginally more libertarian place today. That’s another thing worth celebrating.

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Show comments
  • Le Rit

    I must admit I find it surprising how often gay marriage is described as a libertarian issue. The idea that the government can and ought to redefine the fundamental institution of society is about as un-libertarian as it’s possible to get.

  • Skipjack

    These are less libertarian victories than liberal ones. I’ll give you full pot legalization in CO and WA as more cleanly libertarian wins. But the broader tenor of the evening, and of the presidential race in general, is a strong vote for strong government. This makes me happy as I have long held that liberty is best guaranteed by an engaged society through it’s government than by letting the chips fall as they may.

    @Augustus and Alex, you know better than to conflate the Democratic Party with Obama, and the Democratic base has long been ahead of it’s elected officials on the subject of gay marriage. If you answer, but Libertarian candidates have openly supported this for a while, I answer back, yes, “candidates”.

    • Madfoot713

      A Liberal victory would be if Obama or the Supreme Court forced gay marriage on the whole nation, ala Roe v. Wade, since that’s the only way Liberals know how to do things. Washington and Colorado were bottom-up victories based on tolerance and laisez-faire social policy, not forcing a certain vision of society on everybody. When you consider the Virginia resolution on eminent domain and the Washington amendment to require a supermajority for revenue increases, Nov. 6th was clearly a victory for libertarians.

      • Skipjack

        I think you found the only one which is a defeat for liberalism (as practiced in the US) and a victory for libertarianism. I’ll happily give you the Virginia eminent domain one. But I think you’d be quite surprised and happy about how across the board unpopular the SC Kelo decision was. I’m glad this referendum passed and would have been one of the tremendous number of liberals who voted for it- it did get 82% after all.

        I think you are simply quite mistaken about what liberalism is about. Forcing things on others doesn’t work for us, and yet you still see us rolling along fighting for the right of every voice to be heard, and rewarded this time with a majority of the popular vote in re-electing Obama.

        Libertarian wins largely take nothing away from the tremendous liberal wins on Tuesday, perhaps the most progressive election night in US history. We made massive gains in fighting back against voter suppression, and in some cases overwhelmed the attempts with sheer turnout, and a higher minority participation. We sent more women to Congress than ever, returning one of them over her Neanderthal opponent particularly in objection to his patriarchal views. We have our first openly gay Senator. And we organized and mounted a movement over the past several years to achieve bottom-up victories based on tolerance and activist social policy insisting on dignity and equality and caring in four separate gay marriage victories.

        And finally, we preserve the status quo but our hand is strengthened in dealing with the issues facing the nation. Good luck to you in your causes, and if you find yourself wanting to convince people about any cause greater than their own wallets, I recommend you try on some liberalism.

        • Madfoot713

          Every major ballot initiative that passed on Nov. 6th was a libertarian victory. That includes marijuana legalization, same-sex marriage, eminent domain reform, and initiatives that make it harder to raise taxes (initiative 1185 in Washington).

          Democrat activists won’t be able to take credit for the same-sex marriage initiatives, since they’re more interested in top-down forcing it on the whole nation and special privileges like ENDA. These are unpopular policies and will backfire if the new Democrat senators try to push them through. If you think the Tea Party is unpopular, wait until Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren move your party to the far left and watch your new coalition crumble.

          So typical that you characterize libertarians as “people who only care about your wallets”. Libertarianism is about FREEDOM, something leftists evidently have no understanding of. The Americian citizens are begging for less government involvement in all aspects of their lives, that’s why the American people rejected the Akinites and Mourdockians in 2012, and it’s why they’ll reject the new cradle-to-grave nanny statist Occutards in 2016.

  • Augustus

    Obama in 2004: “My religious faith dictates marriage is between a man and a woman, gay marriage is not a civil right.”

    • Alex Massie

      So what? Libertarians were ahead of the Democratic party just as they remain ahead of the Republican party.

      • Augustus

        I have the feeling that ‘the people’, to which you refer are so often ahead of the politicians on matters, seem to assume that all their fathers were fools. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. As for gays, I don’t know whether people are actually born gay, or not, the fact is that nature designed itself to survive. And it is impossible for our species to survive if we were all gay and lived that lifestyle. But the goal seems to have been to push homosexuality not as an anomaly, but as a normal state of the human condition. Just because the gay rights lobby wants everyone to believe it’s “normal” doesn’t make it normal. It’s an abnormal and counter-productive behaviour.

        • Madfoot713

          Libertarians don’t want you to think being gay is normal, they just want to let gay people live how they want to live. Not everyone is gay so we’re not going to become extinct that way.

        • Skipjack

          It is normal that there are gay people, not that everyone is gay. There have always been gay people, and there will always be gay people. It behooves society to treat this as a reasonable expectation and accommodate this fact. There is no threat to the species from people being gay, and indeed gay people can and do reproduce quite alright. People don’t particularly choose who turns them on, but it remains an essential element of their selves.

          There’s nothing counter-productive about people being free to pursue their own happiness, I would say it is the essence of American society. There’s nothing anti-social about people disagreeing with you and making their own choices, sorry.

  • CraigStrachan

    As a two-time Obama voter who is also a member of the Libertarian Party and the ACLU, I would tend to agree with your insight on this!