As the numbing reality has set in that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, many conservatives are frantically casting about for a third choice. Google searches for libertarian party candidates have sky-rocketed, and one name in particular has been generating a lot of buzz: Austin Petersen. Like other libertarian candidates, Petersen had about zero name recognition a month ago. Now, none other than Glenn Beck has officially endorsed him (after having campaigned hard for Ted Cruz).
Historically, libertarian candidates haven’t excited social conservatives, and with good reason: The libertarian party platform is officially liberal on core issues such as abortion and marriage. Indeed, Gary Johnson, the last libertarian candidate, “supports a woman’s right to choose up to the point of viability” (translation: believes it should be legal to murder babies). So how is Petersen different? The answer is that he’s pro-life. Well, at least, more pro-life than the average libertarian.
That’s an important caveat, one that can be lost in the headlines.
If you listen to interviews with Petersen, he says a lot of things conservatives can get behind. He stresses his belief in the personhood of the unborn and even says he believes Roe vs. Wade should be overturned. But his words are carefully chosen. He’ll use catch-phrases about “leaving the issue to the states,” but you’ll never hear him say in so many words that abortion should be illegal.
In fact, it’s worse than that. In a FaceBook post dated March of 2015, he proposed the following “compromise” position: “What if we compromised on abortion? You can eject the baby, but you can’t stab it in the brain, poison its heart, or rip it to shreds.” This would still permit the use of drugs such as misoprostol and RU486 to induce contractions. Another reader in the thread noted that this argument was originally made by a fellow named Walter Block. Petersen approved and praised Block in reply. Here’s a short video of Block himself advocating for this position, which he calls “evictionism.” Note that Block explicitly refers to this as a “principled compromise.” In other words, he is not saying that a legislator should be willing to sign less than ideal anti-abortion bills for the sake of saving some babies. He believes this compromise is morally acceptable, even deceiving himself into pretending there’s some significant difference between “evicting” a baby and “killing” it. Petersen clearly indicated that this is his position as well, and as far as I know he’s never walked it back.
In other words, Austin Petersen isn’t pro-life. He’s prolife*. He’s pro-life, except.
There’s more. Petersen talks quite a bit about “solving” abortion by “non-coercive” means, like making birth control (even more) freely available, even over the counter. (Weirdly, he refers to the few restrictions there still are on pill access as part of the government’s “war on drugs,” a phrase that generally has nothing to do with birth control.) There are so many problems with his position that one hardly knows where to start. First of all, Petersen is blindly accepting the research that purports to show birth control reduces abortions. This is far from settled. Moreover, making birth control as accessible as Advil would benefit rapists and pimps who could reduce their own inconvenience by pressing the pills onto children. Women with other health complications would no longer have the safeguard of the prescription process to warn them away from helping themselves to something potentially lethal. For example, birth control is not recommended for women with a history of blood clots.
All of which is to say that Petersen is muddled at best on the life issue, and at worst, he is actively suggesting that abortion is acceptable under some circumstances. So, on the one issue where we were supposed to be all excited about Petersen, turns out he’s not really all that. Meanwhile, although he’s said good-sounding things about religious liberty, he’s peddling the typical libertarian shtick when it comes to “getting government out of the marriage business.” In other words, make marriage cease to be a legal matter at all. How exactly children and their custody are supposed to fit into this, don’t ask.
Here’s the truth: Austin Petersen is not going to be President, now or ever. Any vote cast for him will still be a protest vote. So, why, you may ask, is he generating so much interest among conservative voters, if he’s not even solid on key issues? I believe the answer is that people don’t want to be left out. For many, it’s already a big step to break with the Republican party. People who aren’t used to casting protest votes want to feel like they have a voice in the conversation. They like to feel as though at least some people are talking about their guy, even if he doesn’t win.
If you ask me, that’s a pretty weak argument for a pretty weak candidate. If you’ve chosen to protest, protest boldly. Vote Constitution Party. Write in Ted Cruz, or Chuck Norris. Whatever you do, vote your conscience, even if nobody’s ever heard of whoever it is you pick.
Because that’s what this is all about, right?