The Libertarian Party definitely sees the likelihood of major political gains amid the sensational revelations of a widespread surveillance program by the National Security Agency.
Gary Johnson, the 2012 Libertarian presidential nominee, and Libertarian Party Executive Director Carla Howell both voiced confidence in interviews with Newsmax on Monday that the ongoing story about the agency's Prism program would boost a political party that champions individual freedoms.
"The NSA revelations will be a good thing" for the Libertarian cause, predicted Johnson, the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico who drew 1.3 million votes — 1 percent of the total — as the Libertarian nominee for president last November.
"We will have what we have never had before, a national debate over what the checks and balances are and where the due process is," Johnson said.
Pointing to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court that authorizes the electronic surveillance, Johnson said that "people are going to start asking who is on this 'secret court' and what does it do?"
Johnson also saw as an area of national debate the news that "1.4 million Americans have top security clearance. Wow!"
"Hopefully, what Edward Snowden will bring about will be very healthy," Johnson said, referring to the intelligence contractor who leaked details of the program to the media.
As to precisely how a debate over the program would benefit the Libertarian Party, Johnson told Newsmax: "All of those who are libertarian-leaning will want a discussion and scrutiny of the government surveillance. That will bring greater focus on what it means to be a libertarian and that, in turn, should benefit the Libertarian Party."
The NSA bombshell, he added, will "help bring together progressives on the Democratic side — libertarians but they don't really know it — and Republicans who are looking out for civil liberties."
Johnson's views of the latest developments translating into political gain for the Libertarian Party were echoed by Carla Howell, longtime party activist and executive director at Libertarian Party headquarters in Washington, D.C.
"Americans are shocked and dismayed over the news of government snooping into their private affairs. We are the only party that has called for scrapping the National Defense Authorization Act, the Patriot Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the downsizing of all intelligence agencies," Howell told Newsmax.
As to whether the party was gaining new supporters from the surveillance story, Howell said, "We definitely have new interest in our party."
She underscored her belief that that the Libertarian Party would gain from these developments by noting "we have always been speaking out against assaults on personal liberty and are not just using this latest news for partisan posturing, as the Republicans are doing now."
Howell has helped quarterback three anti-tax ballot initiatives in Massachusetts and carried the Libertarian banner there against the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy and former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in their past races.
She conceded that on the national level, her party's showing has been modest.
Johnson's 1.3 million votes is the best showing of a Libertarian presidential candidate since the party began fielding nominees in 1972, and the Libertarian Party has never had a candidate win any statewide office.
"All true," she told Newsmax, "but we have elected legislators in several states and done very well at the local level. Our problem going beyond that has been lack of major news coverage, ballot-access laws, and campaign-finance laws which work against third parties. But we are growing and will continue to grow with some new energy."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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