My Journey to Liberty
By Hodey Johns
How It Began
I still remember the feeling I had standing outside of the capital of Denver amidst a sea of people. I was struck by the profound wit of some of the signs that called for low (no) taxation and smaller government. I clapped with those surrounding me as speakers called for getting out of foreign wars. I cheered as, for the first time in my young life, members of the LGBTQ community shook hands with conservatives. It was a feeling of unity.
This was the Tea Party. This was freedom. This was 2009. And this, I convinced myself, was the beginning of what the Republican Party was always supposed to be.
Denver was only one of thousands of rally sites around the nation. And I truly felt the presence of the souls who marched from Washington State to Washington DC beside me. It was a philosophical movement, to be sure, but a spiritual element was undeniable.
More than a simple feeling; we were united in message and purpose. Pundits from both the far left and far right offered huge sums of money to find a bigoted or xenophobic sign at the rallies; they never did find a single one. Videos surfaced of operatives from the Democratic Party attempting to sneak racist signs in only to be recorded and booted before they got close. It wasn’t because we had strong security, quite the opposite, we didn’t have any at most of these events. It was because we, as Republicans, were finally free to condemn bigots with a fervor that we’d been forced to contain for generations. We weren’t simply allowing outcasts to join our ranks; we flung the doors open for them.
Gone were the excuses we’d try to find for why the debt kept going up while the GOP was in charge. Gone were the days when we’d have to try to find some convoluted response for why we tried to stop gays from getting married. Gone was the old party of stoic rituals and contradictions. This was a fresh look on small government. Millions of people joined arms in condemning both George W. Bush and Barack Obama as economic illiterates, warmongers, and hypocrites. We had transcended party lines.
A Lucky Break
One year before this, the newspapers loudly declared that this was the death of the Republican Party. Barack Obama’s wild popularity crushed John McCain. McCain, of course, represented everything the Republican Party had always been. As a Senator of the GOP, he was slightly less bad on economy than the Democrats, kept his mouth shut on social issues, and supported war every chance he got. Obama, on the other hand, represented something new for America. He talked about ending all wars and occupations, creating a Google for Government to track every taxpayer dollar, and maintained the liberal goals of treating immigrants and homosexuals with equal love and respect.
It was hard to deny. If the Democrats became fiscally responsible, saved countless lives overseas, and kept their mantra of equality, what good were the Republicans at all? I had worked for George W. Bush against John Kerry, but after four more years of failing expectations, I stepped back and curiously hoped Obama would do what the Republicans never did; fix the economy. And if he did it all while preaching tolerance, then all the better. I knew McCain wasn’t going to deliver those things.
But in 2009, the Republicans got a second life. Obama had showed himself to be a complete liar. He was starting wars instead of ending them. By the end of his eight years in office, he would have lost American lives in wars with eight different countries. He redefined war as “kinetic military action” in order to avoid congressional approval (even his own Secretary of Defense said there was no difference). He did the opposite of creating Google for Government; his administration actively covered up how money was being spent. And then he turned it into Google for Citizens; abusing the Patriot Act and spying on political opponents and their families. He had begun to issue executive orders to hide abuses by his administration. In the cases of the Mexican cartels and overseas embassies, these orders suppressed investigations into the murders of Americans. And healthcare, his first order of business, was being bought with special interests, big insurance companies, and obvious bribes to politicians. In truly Nixon-esque moves, within the bill, he sent money to districts that didn’t exist, private accounts owned by donors, and crony committees that he owed favors to.
In only one year in, Obama was one of the most corrupt politicians of all time and everybody knew it. Instead of being different, he was simply a large dose of the same awful thing Americans had dealt with for centuries. And while it was terrible for Americans, for Republicans, this was our lucky break. Their colossal failure was our opportunity.
Preparing to Strike
As Republicans, we began to regroup. Obama could have destroyed us and instead he gave us new life. Activists across the country, including myself, began to excitedly prepare for the future. In one year, we’d have some midterm elections. In three years, we’d be able to take back the White House. How could we lose? The president had broken every promise he made to both his base and his opponents. All we needed to do was seize the chance that we’d fouled up with McCain and Bush.
And I wasn’t alone in this line of thinking. As I began to excitedly fire up lines to old friends that had been dormant for a while time, we came to similar conclusions, “Let’s give them somebody that is actually for small government”, “Let’s completely reform the tax code”, “Let’s give them somebody that is serious about treating LGBTQ and minorities as brothers and sisters instead of outcasts.”
I speak about this as though it were my revolution because it felt that way. It felt like America had caught wind of my scheme and embraced it. Suddenly, parades and carnivals established a stake in the hearts of states both rural and urban. City folks and country folks came together under this banner. Perhaps most excitingly, for me, was seeing gay friends of mine, who were forced to choose between a party that forbid them to practice love and a party that forbid them from being economically literate, be welcomed into our fold. They were even more eager to accept out invitations than we were to give them!
And as we stood outside the capital building, there were no closets. There were no identity politics. Indeed, we all had our identities, everyone in the crowd was a character. In my mind, I still see a janitor with a furry mustache, the words, “Taxation is Theft” on a rainbow flag, and a group of rodeo clowns in full getup all chanting for transparent, accountable, and responsible government. But the thread that connected us all, that vision of promise, was the same.
For those who weren’t a part of it, you really did miss out. You could have hugged anyone in the group and they’d have hugged you back. The speakers made us smile and laugh instead of stirring up anger and hatred. This happened ten years ago and it’s easy to forget that, at one time, the Republicans had the chance to be the ones with the cool young kids that had bright futures.
I need to issue a spoiler alert for those who haven’t finished all of their 14th Century Italian Literature classes yet. In Dante’s Inferno, the final circle of hell features Cassius, Brutus, and Judas being chewed up by Satan himself. In Dante’s mind, treachery was the worst thing a human being can do. After 2010, I agreed with him.
For the next two elections, we, the excited, energized base of the Republican Party, eager to come through on our contention for small government and inclusiveness, put forward candidates that represented the American promise. And for the next two elections, we were defeated. But not by Democrats.
How does a Republican lose to a Republican at the voting booth? That’s a great question. That’s not where we lost. We lost before we even got there.
My experience was the same as those of my friends in other states and counties. We’d find a person with a great message, a lot of support, and a passion for servitude. Another Republican who was classically anti-gay and big government would then show up. We’d get all of our papers and signatures together and prepare to win on the debate stage against this outdated hack with our superior message. That day rarely came.
The RNC (Republican National Committee) would challenge the signatures of the “Tea Party” Candidate who, I’ll remind the reader, was a fellow Republican. Seeing this, we’d collect so many signatures so that they couldn’t overturn them. But that didn’t deter them; they actually took the candidate in my county off of the ballot because the judge took too long reviewing the number of signatures we gave him and couldn’t validate each one in time. The big government candidate never got challenged. In very rare instances, a few of my friends survived this step and then quickly died in the primary because the RNC would then dump vast sums of money from Super PACs to crush us.
The Democrats never had to deal with any of this, it was Republicans and Republicans alone that squashed our movement.
We were well prepared for a war against those who hated our message. We didn’t expect to have our soldiers struck down by those who pretended to embrace it.
History issued no surprises. The Democrats won those next two elections in spite of Obama’s horrific record. As we had already proved with McCain, being a little bit less corrupt or a little bit less bad on economy was not good enough. It can easily be argued that the Republican candidates might even be more inept, but even they never got the chance because they predictably lost. Maybe it should have given me comfort to see those who betrayed us lose, but it didn’t. The Republicans spent billions of dollars to make sure nobody with the message of liberty saw the light of day. At first, I thought they just got what they deserved. I thought they made a miscalculation. They thought their guys with the old ideas had a better chance of winning and so they put them forward ahead of us with new ideas.
It wasn’t until years after that when my friends began to uncover the truth. The RNC lost on purpose. You see, we, the Tea Party, would have won with our candidates. Which would have meant less money for government, less power for politics, and that would have included the RNC itself. The Democrats winning those elections were better for the Republican establishment than small government Republicans winning. The RNC knew it and outplayed us. Maybe we should have seen it coming, but we didn’t.
This ripped the soul out of the movement. Today, most of those gay friends of mine have gone back to being Democrats. I wince to think of what happened to the others at those parades. That spirit we had is long gone. The flame has died out. I hate that the politicians in the capital saw our movement as just a few months of inconvenient foot traffic. Worse, I hate that the media made it sound like the concept of liberty was not popular. It wasn’t true. Not viable, maybe, but that’s due to a rigged system and not public demand.
And so begins the story of Hodey Johns as people know him today. You see, unlike the others, while the revolution died, the revolutionary inside of me could not die. I found myself unable to go back to the days of marginalizing the LGBTQ community. I was unable to fake it. I got into voting booths and could no longer check the box next to the guy who was only a little less evil. My finger couldn’t push the button. I was no longer linked to those around the nation but my chains were broken. I could no longer pretend to be a slave.
The best analogy I have is that it is like drinking dirty water for a long time, then clean water for a few months, then asked to drink dirty water for the rest of my life. I couldn’t do it. I refused.
Unlike most of my group of friends, I demanded clean water. I demanded a clean message. I was done with the days of looking at politics and trying to determine which scandals were worse, which positions were more enslaving, which path meant less debt to pass onto our children. I was fine with debate, but, if I would debate, I could only stomach a debate between maximum goods and not minimum evils.
Shortly after Romney’s laughable challenge against Obama, I heard my step-dad saying he voted for the Libertarian candidate. I still remember that feeling of sheer jealousy inside of me. I wanted to make that my vote. I wanted to be able to wash my hands of the whole thing and vote with a clean conscience. And I began to do just that. Between politics and media, I’ve slowly been trying to rekindle what I’ve lost. Slowly, the friends that I made before are making their way to the liberty movement. I hold onto that fire in my heart that I once had, that a rainbow flag with the words “Taxation is Theft” will once again rise outside of my state capital to the sound of thunderous applause. For now, I will settle for less. During my last family reunion, all but two of the thirty plus people that showed up said they were libertarians. And I felt that spark again.
It is with that spirit that I persist today. I pride myself on being the most inclusive libertarian alive. The reason is deeply personal. If you’d be-en there that day and hugged that guy in a business suit taking his lunch break or high-fived the girl selling t-shirts with a snake on them, you’d understand. Some might say “it takes all kinds.” In truth, to get back what has been lost, it needs all kinds. And I won’t stop until we have all kinds.
Hodey Johns is a regular guest on the We Are Libertarians podcast, a host of WAL Daily, and the head of the WAL Research Team.