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.