In case you missed it, the first half of the Libertarian Party Presidential Debate aired on Stossel on April 1st (the second half will air on Friday, April 8, 2016). The three participants were 2012 Libertarian Party presidential nominee and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, software developer John McAfee, and the founder of the blog The Libertarian Republic Austin Petersen.
After watching some of the GOP debates and the first Democrat debate, watching the Libertarians debate was refreshing. No name calling or commenting on the appearance of the other candidates. No scolding the debate moderator for asking questions the candidates didn’t like. To the extent that one candidate challenged or disagreed with another they were on the substance of the issue at hand (more on that in a moment). There seemed to be more areas of agreement than disagreement (and even a kiss on the cheek) among them. This debate was more about presenting to a national cable audience the case for Libertartian policy alternatives to those of the Republicrats.
Did any candidate “win” Part 1 of the debate or help/hurt his chances with the LP faithful or viewers who are open to supporting a third party candidate?
I can only answer for myself. I enthusiastically supported Gary Johnson in 2012 all the way back from when he was running for the GOP nomination to election day as the LP’s nominee. Of the three, he’s the only one I was all that familiar with. I took the Isidewith.com survey on the issues (mentioned in the debate) several weeks ago and found that I sided with Austin Petersen 97%, Gary Johnson 92%, and Ted Cruz 77%. I’m not sure why John McAfee wasn’t among those I sided with because I found myself in agreement with much of what he said in the debate. Due to these results, though Gov. Johnson is sort of my default favorite I watched with an open mind.
To my surprise, indeed I did find myself agreeing more with the thirty-five year old Austin Petersen than the other two. For libertarians looking for “purity” of libertarian principles, Petersen is your guy it seems (based solely on one half of one debate). When asked about whether a cake decorator should be forced to make a cake for someone based on personal or religious reasons, Johnson (to my profound disappointment) said they should while Petersen said the market should decide making the freedom of association argument (an argument every good libertarian should have down pat).
The second strike against Johnson and for Petersen was the question of the so-called gender pay gap. Johnson sounded like a progressive echoing the “equal pay for equal” work line but said he would be hesitant to sign any equal pay legislation because “the devil is in the details.” Petersen on the other hand skillfully explained why the gender pay gap is a progressive myth. McAfee, for his part argued that if a person doesn’t like how much they are being paid they are free to look elsewhere.
There’s certainly more in the debate that I didn’t get into here. My conclusion as far as my opinion goes: Petersen helped himself, Johnson hurt himself, and McAfee is intriguing. In a world where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are looking to be their party’s nominee any of the three would be hands down a better choice.
In the aftermath of the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris, a commenter calling herself Mrs. Lemuel Struthers on Reason’s Hit and Run threw down the gauntlet:
What I’d really like to hear is a libertarian/classical liberal approach to approaching this problem of a minority of anti-liberals within a society engaging in war-like behavior (murder) while using the values of the society they live in to promote their ideology. The enemy within – if you will. While at the same time demographic and immigration trends tend to support the likely enlargement of populations who will tolerate and even encourage that ideology.
And, just to be clear, I was really asking how France should address its issues from a an-cap perspective, not the USA.
I take up her challenge with this post. The post actually contains two mini essays. One about France like she asked. But first, I will start with an essay about Ancapistan… the one she said she wasn’t interested in (because the essay about France would be incomprehensible without it)! ;) » Read more
This short statement sums up many people’s views on “constitutionalism” and “limited government” in a nutshell. It goes like this. If the government tries to do something ‘limited government guy’ disapproves of – regulating light bulbs or soda consumption – he will scream “limited government” and point at the Constitution. But when the federal government does something ‘limited government guy’ deems necessary, he makes excuses for it, and supports it, whether authorized by the Constitution or not.
The federal government lacks the constitutional authority to do any of these things. But ‘limited government guy’ wants the feds to enforce airline security because he finds it “a good idea.” Here’s the thing: a lot of people think telling ‘limited government guy’ how many ounces of soda he can drink is a good idea. A lot of people think telling ‘limited government guy’ what kind of light bulb he can screw into his fixture is a good idea.
So, why exactly should the federal government implement the things ‘limited government guy’ likes (airport security) and not those others things he dislikes? He really doesn’t have any basis to object, other than his conception of “good ideas.” He’s already tacitly admitted the federal government can do pretty much anything. Now it only comes down to whether it should.
Of course, this is all pretty much moot in 2015 because Americans don’t really give a crap about what the Constitution says or means any more – unless it relates to abortion, porn, gay marriage or keeping somebody from slapping the 10 Commandments up in a public space.
By the way, I bet ‘limited government guy’ thinks it’s a great idea for the feds to meddle in some of those things too.
I’ve encountered quite a bit of these “constitutionalists” and “limited government guys” recently. For example, there are actually “limited government” people in my social media feeds who think anything related to Islam should be banned (burkas, mosques, “Sharia Law” in private family matters, the very practice of Islam itself etc.). “Islam isn’t a religion, it’s an ideology (or cult, or philosophy, or…). Even if I were to concede that point (which I don’t), banning Islam or any other expression of conscience which does not violate the rights of others would still be a flagrant violation of the First Amendment. A true “limited government” person supports the rights of people with whom s/he disagrees.
Mike Maharrey is definitely onto something here. Most people aren’t really in favor of liberty for “others” but only for themselves.
Is Gawker violating its writers’ rights if its chief executive editor de-publishes a controversial post?
What about if a company’s CEO is forced to step down in the face of a threatened boycott over the CEO’s political positions? Is an artist being “censored” if a comic book publisher cancels his covers and suspends him? Is it an unconstitutional “ban” on speech if Amazon and Walmart remove Confederate flag memorabilia from their offerings?
Across the web confusion abounds about what freedom of expression really means.
Most recently, in the messy wake of its sex-shaming post about a private citizen’s violation of Gawker’s neo-Victorian strictures on monogamy, founder and CEO Nick Denton (who pulled the post) had this to say to his editors:
What I can’t accept is an unlimited and subjective version of editorial freedom. It is not whatever an editor thinks it is; it is not a license to write anything; it is a privilege, protected by the constitution, and carrying with it responsibilities.
Literally, every part of that last bit is wrong.
The editorial autonomy of Gawker writers is not constitutional in nature. It is a license granted by their employer—i.e. Denton. Absent a binding contract, it can be revoked at any time without running afoul of anyone’s rights, and certainly not running afoul of anyone’s constitutional rights.
The constitutionally protected freedom that Gawker writers do have (as do we all) is not to publish at Gawker. The Constitution restricts the power of Congress, not the discretion of Nick Denton.
Nor is that constitutionally protected freedom a “privilege.” It is a right.
And it does not have to be exercised responsibly.
It vexes me when people who should know better get sloppy in their framing. Messy language leads to messy thinking and, in the process, dilutes effective defense of this crucial freedom.
Perhaps a libertarian(ish) review is in order.
“FREE SPEECH” V. FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Although routinely used in Supreme Court decisions, the words “free speech” do not appear in the Constitution. In my opinion, overuse of this terminology induces people to mistakenly believe their speech should always be costless and consequence-free.
That is not how it works.
Speech requires a forum, which must be paid for by someone.
Similarly, bookstores are not required to carry every book printed just because the author claims a “free speech” right. The corner market does not have to sell every conceivable magazine. Art galleries do not have to make room for every painting. Radio stations do not have to play every song.
And Gawker does not have to publish every post. (I would totally make it publish this one.)
If a speaker wants his speech to be “free” in the sense of not having to pay for the forum, he must either utilize a public forum or find a private owner willing to host the content gratis. Luckily, in this day and age, there are lots of options for that.
Gawker is not one of them.
Like other private publishers and forum owners, it exercises its right to decline hosting or publishing content it dislikes. There’s a term for that right.
It is tempting to say that Brendan Eich was “forced” to resign from Mozilla over his position on same-sex marriage. That Richard Albuquerque was “forced” to pull his Batgirl cover variant. That TLC was “forced” to cancel the Duggars.
That Nick Denton was “forced” to pull the now infamous Gawker post.
It sounds more melodramatic and provocative to phrase it that way. But to the extent it’s semantically correct, this is not the kind of “force” that runs afoul of the freedom of expression.
Wrongful force is actual physical force used to prevent or punish speech or other forms of expression.
Preventing forceful suppression of expression is a higher order principle. When triggered, that principle transcends issues about the content of the speech being defended.
Because speech is the most powerful weapon that ever has or ever will exist.
It has the power to topple kings, eviscerate falsehoods, destroy paradigms, provoke thought, change minds and hearts, alter the course of history, and transform the world.
And it can do all that without shedding a drop of blood.
A weapon like that cannot be entrusted to the exclusive control of the few. Enlightened rulers using force to curtail speech have too often gotten it wrong. Power once ceded can rarely be retrieved, and battles not fought with words and ideas will be fought instead with violence and bloodshed.
We cannot retain the best of speech without protecting its worst. We cannot extract its power to do harm without diluting its power to do good.
EVERYTHING BUT FORCE IS FAIR GAME
That being said, everything short of physical force is fair game.
A Congressional communications director can be pressured into resigning (or fired) for making snarky comments about the President’s daughters. TLC and A&E can cancel their reality television lineup for any reason consistent with the contracts negotiated. Customers can boycott wedding photographers or bakers in retaliation for expression of disfavored opinions. Landlords can refuse to rent to people with Confederate flags in their rear windows. Employers can bypass applicants over their social media postings.
Firing. Boycotting. Refusing to hire. Pulling advertising. Cancelling subscriptions. Social media flame wars. De-publishing. Disassociating. Shaming.
All of these are fair game. All of these are themselves protected acts of expression.
They may make life unpleasant for the target. They may feel coercive or even deeply wounding.
They’re supposed to.
If speech didn’t have that power, we wouldn’t bother protecting it.
Deciding to refrain from speaking because such consequences are too unpleasant is not a response to force. It is a response to speech.
GAWKER IS GETTING SPOKEN TO, NOT SUPPRESSED
If Gawker were being threatened with forceful suppression of its speech, defending against that violation would be a higher order principle that transcended all others. Personal feelings about the content of the speech would be secondary.
But where no force is imposed or threatened, those secondary principles are the only ones at play. The whole point of the higher principle is to create a circle of freedom in which ideas, without limitation, can be explored and judged on the merits. If we never got around to the judging part, we would destroy the very reason for preserving the freedom.
Nothing happening at or to Gawker (in this specific case) poses any threat to anyone’s fundamental right to free expression. The writers are free to write. The owners of Gawker are free to choose what to publish. The editors are free to “fall on their poisoned pens” in protest. Advertisers are free to abstain. Readers are free to boycott.
None of this constitutes a violation of anyone’s freedom. It’s what freedom looks like.
The Alabama House passed a bill on Thursday that allows judges to refuse to perform gay marriages. It passed after a four-hour debate by a vote of 69-25. More “religious protection” bills are on the way according to groups pushing this legislation.
The bill was passed to ease fears that judges and ministers would be forced to perform gay marriages if court rulings legalizing gay marriage in Alabama were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. This bill to be blunt is a travesty, would open the door to lawlessness by Alabama’s judges, and should be vetoed.
The first problem with this bill is that it tries to link judges performing gay marriage ceremonies with other travesties on this issue, such as requiring bakers to bake cakes for gay wedding ceremonies. There is a major moral difference between a private company refusing to offer a service and government official refusing to perform their legal duty. Judges are bound by law to serve all of their constituents and perform certain duties as described, despite their own personal feelings on the matter. One of those duties is solemnizing marriages. A judge cannot refuse to perform an interracial marriage because they personally disapprove it.
On the other hand, fining or legally punishing a private individual because they refuse to perform services for a gay wedding is immoral. In this age of Yelp and social media where customers can easily leave reviews of businesses, we need to ask ourselves if anti-discrimination laws covering the private sector are obsolete. If a business is discriminating based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion; it’s more easy for customers to identify those offending businesses and for people to vote accordingly with their pocketbooks. There is no need for the state to get involved and punish businesses with fines and other punishments.
If a judge cannot perform a gay marriage ceremony because they disagree with it, they should not be a judge. This is like refusing to sentence someone to jail because they object to a law. Judges do not have that discretion in criminal law and should not have that kind of discretion in marriage law.
As for ministers being forced to perform gay marriages, that’s a red herring. The First Amendment already protects the rights of ministers to refuse to perform gay marriages. The decision of churches to solemnize marriages to whom ever they want, as long as they can legally consent, is a protected religious practice. This legislation to protect them is not necessary.
The best way to solve is to divorce government from the act of solemnizing marriage. Make the only legal paperwork that has to be signed off is the marriage contract itself. Whenever a county or parish official files or signs off on a contract, they’re not passing judgment on the issue. All they’re doing is just filing legal paperwork so it can be enforced in courts. We should also look into ways into getting government out of marriage for tax purposes and other services.
All of these “religious protection bills” miss the big picture. Why should private businesses have the right to discriminate against potential customers based upon their religious beliefs and not have the right to discriminate based on other factors? Here’s another way to put it, why should gay marriage opponents have special rights?
Instead of writing “religious protection bills” to protect business owners from being bankrupted and driven out of business by government agencies for deciding who they want to serve, legislatures should consider a different approach. Every legislature should pass a bill or better yet an amendment to their state’s constitution stating this:
The right of any private business to deny service for any reason, except for emergency medical services and emergency lodging in a licensed hotel, shall not be infringed by any law.
Anti-discrimination laws, in this era of social media, are relics of the past. It’s time to make these laws history and let the marketplace punish discrimination. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to trust ordinary people than the government.
I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.