Tulsi Gabbard asked about taxation (8:00 in)
Is taxation theft? It’s my favorite question to ask in political discussion, but I rarely have the opportunity to ask it of my elected representatives. Anti-war voters missed Tulsi Gabbard on ABC’s debate stage last Thursday, but her voice persists on the campaign trail in Iowa. Her campaign hopes to make the next debate with a busy schedule of radio and town hall appearances. As a libertarian in Iowa, I couldn’t resist the chance to meet the Democratic hopeful and ask her where she stood.
I had come with friends, so I knew at least three libertarians were present, but the rest of the room may never have even heard of libertarianism. So when my turn on the mic came, I started by explaining I already support her; because I do. Truthfully, a politician’s philosophical background never reaches the importance of their political conclusions. Paul Ryan may well have insisted his interns read Atlas Shrugged, but you’d never know it from his policy positions. So I’m not concerned with why Tulsi wants to end the Afghan War, I’m content that she does. I’m not concerned with her philosophical reasons for ending the drug war, or standing up to big tech, either. The way I see it, my best chance to see the country move toward a more peaceful society is to elect Tulsi Gabbard in 2020.
“I wonder if you have any ethical problems with taxation. Whether it’s theft, or whether it’s permissible even if it is theft. Where are your thoughts on this subject?”
“Taxation is theft when our taxes are being used towards things that do not serve our interests.” she answered, prompting applause from the crowd. She went on to list examples of policies our taxes should go towards: schools for our children, fire services, and (of course) roads. “There are basic needs that we have in this country and our taxes are meant to serve those needs. Not to fund needless layers and layers and layers of bureaucracy, certainly not to fund these wasteful wars and nuclear weapons that are making us and the world less safe.” She went on to highlight the importance of fiscal responsibility and suggest that should we reach a tax surplus, the money should go towards paying off the deficit and eventually going back into taxpayer pockets.
This is not a strictly libertarian answer. Taxation is theft when it is taken, not just when it’s spent. Her answer speaks to the need for more dialogue between the different ideologies in her coalition. However, it also shows the growing space needed for a grassroots, freedom-oriented, anti-war camp within the Democratic party.
It may not be a libertarian answer, but is close enough for me. In a similar way, I remember volunteering for Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential campaign and the disappointment I felt seeing three words on the hand-outs: “Audit the Fed!” Audit? I thought. What happened to ending it? I swallowed my purity and gave Rand all the energy I could, because I can’t vote for the society I want, only towards it. No candidate will ever align with me completely, but I feel differently hearing watered down libertarian talking points from the son of Ron Paul than I do a progressive Democrat. With Rand I felt ignored and almost betrayed, but with Tulsi I feel excited and invited. Her campaign exudes community and diversity of thought, a wonderful opportunity for an ideology that has been unsuccessful penetrating the two-party system.
Democrats supporting Tulsi this cycle witness first-hand the bias of the corporate media and Democratic establishment usually reserved for Republicans and the cultural right. From the nonsense labeling her an “Assad apologist,” to the DNC’s dubiously selective approved polling list, her supporters are particularly ripe for a libertarian message in a way never before seen in the party’s recent years.
The question after mine reinforced this point. The Iowa resident emphasized her primary goal for the election: defeating Donald Trump. It’s a common question for Democratic candidates this year, but Gabbard’s answer sets her apart from the pack. She lambasted Democrats for casting aside swaths of Americans as deplorables. “Do you really think those people have any interest in then coming and joining our big tent party? Would you?” With a message of community and common ground, her campaign offers this olive branch alone. “We are inviting everyone to join us because this is what we need to unify our country, to heal these divisive wounds, to be able to move forward.”
Libertarians have long sought allies in electoral politics. We win when we engage with these allies in friendly conversation. I was introduced to libertarianism with books and lectures, but I know people brought along from the Tea Party and Trump movements. I look forward to meeting a libertarian who found the ideals from jumping into the Tulsi coalition.