McAfee 2016: Libertarian for Real?
By Thomas L. Knapp
In September, after computer security pioneer John McAfee announced his presidential candidacy under the “Cyber Party” label, I publicly suggested that he should consider seeking the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination instead. On Christmas Eve, McAfee announced he’s doing exactly that.
No, I don’t think my suggestion changed his mind. I have no reason to believe he reads my column (or that he even has any idea who I am). But heck, maybe I’m wrong. So here’s another suggestion:
Get very libertarian, very quickly and very convincingly.
McAfee really doesn’t have that far to go. He clearly has libertarian instincts on issues like free speech, privacy, Internet censorship, immigration and foreign policy.
But in other areas, his positions are either too vague to really pin down, or else default to a naive technocratic progressivism that puts far more faith in government than Libertarians are comfortable with.
My working theory is that McAfee allowed the non-specificity and naivete to creep in on issues where he doesn’t have strong opinions, and that if he pays them more attention he’ll get more libertarian on them. At least I hope that’s the case, and that he’ll make the effort.
Why should he re-think? Does he really need to? Maybe not.
The Libertarian Party HAS nominated non-libertarians before. In 2008, big-government “conservative” Bob Barr fooled us into thinking he’d changed his stripes, then went back to his big-government “conservatism” as soon as he had what he wanted from us.
And based on my past experience with the Libertarian Party’s internal politics, a little bit of fame, fortune, glitz and glamour goes a long way.
Maybe McAfee can just waltz into our national convention in Orlando, Florida next May and walk out with our nomination because he’s famous and because he has more personal charisma in his left little finger than previous (even though announced) front-runner and 2012 nominee Gary Johnson — who clings to some un-libertarian positions of his own — has in his whole body.
Then again, maybe not.
McAfee tells USA Today that none of the other Libertarian contenders have “personality.” I don’t know about that, but some of them do have a sincere and visible dedication to the principles the Libertarian Party stands for. That kind of dedication doesn’t always beat out personal fame and charisma, but sometimes it does … and the best outcome would be to get all of those things rolled up in one candidate.
If McAfee is willing and able to be that kind of candidate, the Libertarian Party, and America, could be in for an interesting election cycle. And let’s face it — on his worst day he’s a better pick than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.
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