Even though the Black Lives Matter movement is clearly a form of group thought, it is proving to be uniquely Libertarian right now.
Black Lives Matter has shown the importance of natural rights and criminal justice reform. The movement has also highlighted the systemic failure of either major party’s establishment to address an issue that clearly matters to the American people – reforming our broken criminal justice system.
Recently protestors from the movement have been confronting politicians, pointing out poor records of people like Hillary Clinton and putting pressure on other politicians to prove they have a better record, but most have failed to do so.
The pressure that protestors from the Black Lives Matter movement have put on Democrats and Republicans alike proves that Libertarians and libertarian-leaning candidates still matter in this election. Criminal justice reform has been brought back to the forefront of America’s consciousness, as candidates in both of the major parties continue to take heat from the Black Lives Matter movement.
On the right
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have recently been heckled by activists in the movement, leaving without really addressing the issue of criminal justice reform. Bush responded to the “Black Lives Matter” chants, but not with any actual policy proposals, just rhetoric.
Donald Trump has alluded that he would fight protestors if they tried to speak during one of his events, but that’s no surprise from the man who has called Mexicans rapists and murders.
Social conservatives like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have advocated the type of criminal justice measures that have disproportionately affected people of color and left them disenfranchised with the GOP. For example his recent comments telling marijuana smokers in Colorado to smoke up while they can, because if he’s president, he’ll crack down on it, show that Christie is a Nixon-like law and order guy.
On the left
The left hasn’t fared any better, with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley apologizing after responding to Black Lives Matter by saying “all lives matter,” not that he should have to apologize for that. However, O’Malley’s backtracking opened up a can of worms for Democrats, proving that this isn’t an issue on their forefront as much as it should be either.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has also drawn some ire from the movement, after he walked off a stage after turning the microphone over to protestors who didn’t return the microphone. For Sanders, at least he gets credit for giving the protestors the stage.
Clinton has marketed herself as a champion for the Black Lives Matter movement since O’Malley and Sanders’ problems with the movement, but her record on the issue of criminal justice reform certainly isn’t great. The group has had discussions with Clinton about policies that her husband passed when he was president that have led to a lot of the nation’s criminal justice issues, and she has refused to condemn the policies, saying she didn’t think they were necessarily racist. The protestors, as well as many staffers at Reason, have also pointed out Clinton’s record of being pro-drug war as another issue.
She tried the same approach with gay marriage, portraying herself as the LGBT hero, although she has a history of being staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage. So until she actually comes forward with a proposal to end the drug war or abolish mandatory minimum sentences, there is no way she can consider herself the champion of criminal justice reform in this race.
The lack of reaction from establishment candidates in both parties, shows that this is, at least right now, a uniquely libertarian/anti-establishment issue.
Only two candidates can run on an actual record that is at least decent on criminal justice reform, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Kasich mentioned to CNN that he helped build a better relationship between police officers and black communities in Ohio. And while he is opposed to ending the drug war, Kasich is in favor of rehab instead of jail time for drug offenses, and is certainly better on the issue than other Republicans, with the exception of Paul.
While Paul’s poll numbers have dropped lately (down to 3-percent) and his talking time was the least out of any of the GOP candidates during the first Republican debate, he has been the only major party candidate consistently talking about this issue. The junior senator has called out the drug war for its failures, has been opposed to mandatory minimums and has called for reforms like his Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act. Additionally, Paul goes into extensive detail with real proposals to deal with criminal justice reform on his campaign website, something other candidates desperately lack.
Criminal justice reform is clearly making waves and forcing candidates to think about an issue that has been on the libertarian radar for decades.