It’s the last month of a very eventful 2020. The election is over, or at least close to over, and things are not that much clearer. Sure, the incoming President will be a Democrat, but the Republicans did better than expected in races below the President, with the Senate being closely divided and hinging on two runoff elections in Georgia to determine control.
The Libertarian Party had a strong showing from President on down, eclipsing all political options other than the big two. In many states, the Libertarian candidate earned more votes than the difference between the Republican and the Democrat, and many 2016 Gary Johnson voters broke for Joe Biden, arguably pushing the President-elect to victory (an argument that could be made about 2016 as well).
Libertarians have solidified our position as a viable third way in American politics, supporting both civil and economic liberties without defining ourselves in opposition to one of the two old parties. Republicans and Democrats have taken their total war negative partisanship to new levels, and we are seeing the consequences in lower levels of partisan identification with either R’s or D’s, especially among younger voters. This is a ripe opportunity for growth of the Libertarian Party and increased success for Libertarian candidates that we will observe in the odd-year and midterm elections.
Opportunities and Challenges
But what opportunities exist to implement Libertarian policies over the next two and four years with the elected officials we have now? How can we drive the conversation and debate to improve the lives of our fellow Americans and strengthen working relationships with elected officials across the political spectrum?
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A new President, a closely divided Senate, and mixed messages from the electorate present real opportunities for Libertarian policy proposals to be adopted. The key is to take advantage of the issues where super majorities of Americans support specific focused policy improvements to remove barriers to the peaceful pursuit of happiness and stay out of partisan feuds between Republicans and Democrats. Individual projects and initiatives are easier to get buy-in on from across the political spectrum. Passing targeted and popular legislation builds success and relationships, fostering cooperation across political boundaries.
Libertarians are uniquely positioned to bridge the deep political divide in our country and help a Biden administration build trust with a skeptical country, especially in the following areas:
Abolishing the federal death penalty
The Trump administration has been trying to execute as many prisoners as possible after having gone years without a single Federal execution. This is an admission that the death penalty has become less popular or trusted by the American people and may open up space for a full repeal of the Federal death penalty as part of a broader appetite for criminal justice reform. Successful efforts will focus on the cost of the death penalty both in achieving the conviction and the subsequent appeals, and redirect some of those saved costs to better investigation and prosecution of unsolved homicides and other violent crimes. The money it costs for the state to kill a single person could be more productively spent to solve tens or hundreds of serious criminal cases and make our families safer.
Rolling back the war on drugs
The murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police changed the criminal justice discussion in this country and the poor records of Biden and Harris on criminal justice were a stumbling block in their path to both nomination and election. With the House passage of the MORE Act to decriminalize cannabis at the Federal level, there is an opportunity to roll back the war on drugs and to do so on a multi-partisan basis. Libertarians should be part of that discussion to make sure that ending cannabis prohibition does not come with the same kind of inefficient regulation that was put in place on the alcohol industry, with politically connected people and companies being given a limited number of licenses to enter the business. Instead, we should have an open and level playing field that maximizes choice and lowers cost for consumers and allows historically marginalized communities access to the industry.
Improving free trade and increasing international commerce
The outgoing administration was an enemy of free trade, preferring bilateral agreements that worked well for politically connected companies and industries, but doing very little to open up new markets for small and medium-sized American companies. Returning to a posture supportive of free markets between the United States and the rest of the world will allow American consumers to benefit from those companies around the world that are adapting to the changes the COVID-19 pandemic has made to travel, communications, and supply chains. Similarly, those American companies who are innovating to succeed will do even better with more markets to sell their goods and services into and lower barriers to buy supplies and materials from overseas.
Making legal immigration simpler and easier
Between the Muslim ban, caging children in terrible conditions, and aggressive deportation efforts, the outgoing administration has been openly hostile to immigrants and immigration. This is despite the overwhelming popularity of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the overall popularity of immigration with Americans. Rather than wade into the fraught waters of amnesty or regularization of people already in the country, removing country-based immigration quotas and expanding short-term visa programs would move toward a sustainable open immigration policy as it becomes less important where one resides in a COVID-19 world where more and more is being done remotely. Becoming a more welcoming country to immigrants would help jumpstart our economy in the recovery that will come after the pandemic is under control.
These are just a few areas where a Libertarian policy agenda aligns with the goals of an incoming Biden administration, and more importantly, with a majority of American voters. Let’s seize the opportunity to help bring out the best in our elected officials and make progress in those areas where we broadly agree. During the beginning of the next Congress and Presidency, we should strive as Libertarians to follow the counsel of Frederick Douglass that, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
Nicholas Sarwark is Executive Director of the Libertarian Policy Institute. He served as Chair of the Libertarian National Committee from 2014 to 2020, a period of unprecedented growth. Over the last two decades, he has worked as a systems developer for a major non-profit, tried over 30 cases to a jury as a deputy public defender in Colorado, and managed the oldest independent car dealership and loan company in Phoenix. He founded Wedge Squared Strategies in 2019, a strategy, communications, and campaign consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations maximize their impact on the world. Licensed to practice law in Colorado and New Hampshire, he lives in Manchester, New Hampshire with his wife Valerie and their four children where they volunteer to build a better local community.