Alex MacDonald catches up with two of the younger faces in the American libertarian movement, Julie Borowski and John Yowan, to discuss the libertarian future, the issues, and Rand Paul
Since the exceptional rise of Ron Paul in the Republican Primaries last year, the term “libertarian” has become a near household name in American political discussion. For some it is a new force in US politics, but in truth it is a part of the oldest American ideology: it represents limited government, a stern following of the constitution, a right to individual liberty, and private property rights.
I caught up with two young libertarian activists from the United States to learn about their thoughts on the movement, its recent success, and its hopes for the future.
“The biggest challenge to the libertarian movement is calling people’s attention to the existence of the libertarian system in a clear and logical way,” says John Yowan, a 25 year old political activist from Kansas.
“We must put forward books, articles, and videos. But these will get nowhere if nobody knows of their existence, which is why we need to also focus on publicity through things like social networking, radio, blogs, events, and TV. Educating the masses cannot proceed without both theory and activism,” he continued.
The rise of the internet, or rather, the greater understanding of the internet by the public has certainly helped the libertarian movement. Social media, as John mentions, allows activists to network with one another, exchange ideas, and promote their values to people who may never have considered a libertarian political movement as their own. The internet as a whole is also quite a fitting scene for libertarians to spread their message, as it is one of the very few places where governments will struggle to successfully regulate and control.
“I believe that there is a huge rise of libertarian or classical liberal young people in the United States,” Julie Borowski tells me. Julie rose to fame with her hugely popular YouTube videos which promote the libertarian movement – it’s all about social networking, like John said.
“I would say the main reason for the rise is because of Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. A lot of young people say, ‘Ron Paul cured my apathy.’ Many of us were sick of politics as usual from members in both political parties. Ron Paul introduced many Americans to libertarian ideas and inspired us to learn more.” Borowski admits herself that in her political past she once espoused a pro-war preference on foreign affairs – can such a radical change be applied to Americans as a whole? The distinct opposition to the war in Syria may well have been the first glimpse of such a movement.
But as Julie mentions, voter apathy has been a problem for many American voters, and the same could certainly be applied to the United Kingdom. The politics that makes up the two and a half party system we enjoy – or perhaps don’t enjoy – in Britain has been detrimental to political enthusiasm. Voters feel dissatisfied with the political climate: they feel that there is little difference between the Liberal Democrats, Labour Party, and the Conservatives. It’s for this reason many disenchanted voters are flocking – rightly or wrongly – to the UK Independence Party, which campaigns for British withdrawal from the European Union as well as a tough opposition to immigration and social change.
Yet over in the United States, American media is doing little to cure voter apathy: for all the similarities within the Republicans and the Democrats in the United States, Julie claims that the media is still anti-libertarian. “The media still does not treat the libertarian movement fairly in the United States. As we saw in the presidential debates, Ron Paul was not given the same amount of air time as the other candidates with similar polling numbers. I do think it is starting to get better though. I’ve never heard the word ‘libertarian’ used so much in mainstream media. More media outlets are realizing that the country is moving in a more libertarian direction and they have to move as well or become extinct.”
The same could be said of the GOP, whose candidate, Mitt Romney, lost a bitter election to Barack Obama last year in the Presidential election. The election previous saw the Republicans headline John McCain, another hawk who wanted to operate aggressively in foreign territories. Yet should we compare Obama’s foreign policy to the average Republican, it would most certainly be the case that there would be little difference – and their opinions are not representative of libertarian foreign policy. So for the future of the GOP, young libertarians like Julie Borowski and John Yowan are placing their faith in Kentucky Senator, Rand Paul.
“I think Rand Paul is a good politician. He sticks to his values, I do not agree with him on everything but I respect him for going against his political party when he disagrees with them,” John mentions. Certainly there is a correlation between principle and popularity, voters feel that consistency is a big bonus in politics, and that among other reasons was a huge problem for Mitt Romney in his presidential campaign.
“I believe that Rand Paul is probably the most libertarian leaning Senator. He is more of a constitutional conservative that is an ally to libertarians on many issues. He brought attention to Obama’s unconstitutional drone wars, he is an outspoken critic of mandatory minimum sentences, he introduced bills to withdraw from Afghanistan, he wants to privatize the TSA, he wants to actually abolish government departments (Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development), and more. I think some people give him a hard time because they constantly compare him to his father. As Rand Paul has said himself, ‘there will never be a Ron Paul,’” says Julie Borowski.
Rand Paul, as Julie says, is not the most libertarian politician that could be conjured up, but he is marching down an adjacent road. Rand Paul’s advantage is not that he is perfect – there are some things to be debated about his politics such as his position on Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning – but that he is not perfect, and he may attract the right wingers from the GOP and also the libertarian voters; which would give him a broad base and strong support in any election. Sure he is divisive, and he may not be a snug fit for either of those groups, but in modern politics, who can be everything to everyone?
For young libertarians like John and Julie, there is still much more work to be done: laws that need reform or scrapping entirely, changes in policy decisions for the government, a massive reigning in on spending and promotion of the End the Fed (#endthefed) movement.
“’If a law is unjust a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so,’ Thomas Jefferson once said,” John tells me. “The best source of information about abusive government is individuals within the government – easily. It is important to have people with integrity in government. We need people that keep true and are never ashamed or afraid of doing what is right. When the state becomes abusive not only do the people have the right to know, they MUST know in order for our form of government to work. Our country was founded on this idea.”
Are there any politicians with integrity left? John Yowan clearly thinks so. And many American libertarians are crossing their fingers and toes in the hope that Rand Paul is one of them.
American libertarianism is moving in the right direction: the drone wars, the NSA scandal, the trillions of dollars worth of debt and the bankruptcy in Detroit are all factors of aggressive Statism. Could it be time for a new era of politics? And to what level of bellicosity will it boom: “don’t tread on me”? Only time will tell; but for Rand Paul acolytes and libertarian followers, it must be a pretty exciting time indeed.