Will Libertarians Move from Barr to Johnson?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 29, 2011 — 30 Comments

In 2008 the Libertarian Party nominated former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr as their candidate for President of the United States. Many modern Pagans who consider themselves libertarians/Libertarians were displeased by this turn of events, as Barr had notoriously tried to ban Pagans from serving in the military, claiming that equal rights for Wiccans and Pagans set  “a dangerous precedent that could easily result in the practice of all sorts of bizarre practices being supported by the military under the rubric of ‘religion.’ “ However, what was acceptable behavior in the Republican party of 1999 wasn’t going to pass muster with Libertarian live-and-let-live notions of freedom, and so Barr kinda-sorta recanted his position.

“I got to ask Barr a question I’ve wanted to ask him for quite some time. He’s repudiated and apologized for many of his previous positions and I asked him if he would repudiate his absurd anti-Wiccan crusade of 1999, when he wanted all Wiccans banned from the military. He said yes, with a bit of hemming and hawing. He said that he had reports from several military leaders that Wiccans doing rituals on military bases were causing problems and that’s why he did what he did, but that since that time it’s become clear that there are no problems with allowing Wiccans to serve and to practice their religion on military bases like any other religion. I did ask him for any specific problems that were reported to him back in 1999 by these military leaders, but he said he didn’t want to get into specifics. I’m sure that’s because there are no specific incidents and those military leaders who complained to him did so out of bigotry, or because the problems it caused were really caused by bigotry against Wiccans.”

Sadly, this change of heart seemed to only last as long as the presidential campaign, once he no longer had to curry political favor his obvious scorn for modern Paganism reemerged. Barr’s moral compass seems more guided by what will enrich him at any moment, than from a recognizable ethical philosophy, and his ongoing prominence within the Libertarian Party no doubt continues to keep many small-l libertarian Pagans at arms length from the party that purports to represent their views.
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Johnson and Barr on Fox News together in 2010.

Now, it seems, there might be an alternative for Pagan libertarians/Libertarians in the form of former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, who just announced that he’s abandoning his bid for the Republican presidential nomination to run on the Libertarian Party ticket.

“This was both a difficult decision – and an easy one,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of Republican history, and a lot of Republican supporters. But in the final analysis…I am a Libertarian – that is someone who is fiscally very conservative but holds freedom-based positions on the issues that govern our personal behavior.”

You can read his full statement, here. Johnson, in stark contrast to Barr, openly courted modern Pagans in a now-famous press conference with Pagan and Hindu media representatives (The American Spectator calls him a “pro-choice pursuer of the pagan vote”). I saw it as a hopeful harbinger that our political system could embrace the full religious and philosophical diversity of our county.

“What does it all mean? I think it represents two opportunities. First, there’s an opportunity for politicians to realize that America’s religious diversity isn’t simply a stock phrase to pull out when describing the virtues of our country. According to the Pew Forum, 16.1 percent of Americans claim no formal religion, while another 2.3 percent are part of religious tradition outside the Christian-Jewish-Muslim monotheistic paradigm. Those aren’t insignificant numbers, and they put the often lumped-together “other/unaffiliated” category on a statistical par with evangelical and mainline Protestants. Despite this, moral debates are almost always framed along a left-right Christian axis; Rick Warren gets to interview Obama and McCain, while Hindus, Pagans, Buddhists, and practitioners of indigenous traditions rarely get to ask questions on a national stage. Gov. Johnson’s courage in talking to religious minorities might have been driven by a modicum of desperation in getting his message out, but it should be seen as a harbinger of what campaigning to religious groups will be like in the future.”

Already, some are wondering if a Johnson Libertarian run could act as a spoiler for the Republicans in 2012, though a Libertarian spokesperson pointed out that (aside from the libertarian-beloved Ron Paul) “you can’t spoil tainted meat.”

“All of the Republican Party presidential candidates ” except for Ron Paul ” have a track record of voting for higher levels of government spending. Many have raised taxes, supported bailouts, and/or voted to expand Big Government.

The mere fact that two Libertarian presidential candidates, one past, and one potential, could have narratives so entwined with modern Pagans is remarkable in of itself. Add to that fact that if Barr should run for the LP nomination again against Johnson (though he endorsed Newt Gingrich, so maybe he won’t) it stands to reason that their respective attitudes towards minority religions will no doubt come up in debates and news stories. Pagan leaders and media should prepare themselves now for mainstream reporters looking into the “Pagan angle” of the Libertarian Party’s 2012 candidate. At the very least libertarian/Libertarian Pagans should be pleased that the party may be moving from Barr to Johnson in 2012, one wonders how many conservative Pagans will jump ship from the Republican Party to support Johnson’s candidacy. Interesting times are ahead.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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