Griffin Edwards ’17
On the last weekend of February, I had the honor of attending the International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, DC. ISFLC is the largest annual gathering of liberty-minded people from around the world: anarcho-capitalists, classical liberals, objectivists, constitutional conservatives, and minarchists all under one roof. “Celebritarians” ranging from the president of Liberland (an experimental micronation in the Balkans), to a state representative from Brazil, to the crown prince of Lichtenstein, to the president of the ACLU, to American internet star Julie Borowski, made appearances this year; sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America provided especially large attendance. For anyone in libertarian circles, it was certainly exciting: a weekend of panels, exhibition halls, and selfies with some of the leading economists, politicians, activists, and authors, who were gathered to spread energy and ideas about the modern liberty movement.
The night before the first full day of events, all two-thousand-some students sat excitedly in the ballroom of a Marriott Hotel in DC. We listened to the head of Students for Liberty tell the story of how the first ISFLC had only 50 students in attendance; now, only nine years later, that number had increased exponentially. As he droned on passionately, he was suddenly interrupted by the screech of a megaphone. The audience shuddered, and a white-bearded man clad in a cape, a dozen ties, and a large rubber boot worn on his head strode out from backstage bombastically, bullhorn in one hand, massive toothbrush in the other.
The audience went nuts. The room was lit with glittering cell phone screens; some students stood up to get a better view. After singing the US national anthem using feedback from the megaphone to accentuate the especially climactic pauses, the man settled into the podium and said calmly: “Let me give you all a lesson in pony-nomics.”
This was the first time I’d ever seen Vermin Supreme in the flesh.
For those who have never heard the name, Vermin Supreme is a public actor/ comedian who appears every few years to take a shot at public office. His platform includes harnessing shuffling zombies for clean electric power (“We’ll dangle brains in front of them and they’ll turn giant treadmills.”); giving everyone a free pony, then using them as currency (“What we’re talking about is a federal pony identification program.”); and mandatory tooth-brushing laws (“For too long the United States has suffered great moral and oral decay.”). He characterizes himself as a “friendly fascist” and “a tyrant you can trust.” If you’re curious, search him on YouTube; the videos will not disappoint.
For all his shenanigans, Vermin Supreme represents something really quite profound about today’s American politics: he’s a personification of the disillusionment people feel towards the political system, especially this election season. What he does is goofy, but he makes a great point; and for this reason, he resonates with people.
Think about it: the four serious remaining candidates seem to have little to offer a majority of the population. Although Sanders has gained some traction, the economic dubiousness of his policies have made people hesitant to follow him. Clinton seems capable and handles herself professionally, but many Americans are wary of her track record, and feel they can’t trust her. Ted Cruz comes off as a little untrustworthy and slimy, and his rhetoric has failed to garner widespread support. And Donald Trump… It’s plain to see why many people don’t support Trump.
With this in mind, it’s no wonder voter turnout is so low: this cycle especially, it seems like there’s no one worth throwing one’s full weight behind. People are pissed. There seems to be no way out of our crazy system. So Vermin Supreme emerges as an alternative, poking fun at the process, the characters, and the pie-in-the-sky promises made to the electorate. By making himself the butt of a thousand of his own jokes, he satirizes the American political system, and this year, he’s making especially big waves, as thousands of people feel let down by the scant choices they have.
Indeed, 2016 is shaping up to be an interesting election cycle: third-party candidate Gary Johnson is even currently polling in the double digits in a few states. But thank God for Vermin Supreme, who is holding a toothbrush-shaped mirror up to us to demonstrate just how absurd “the system” is. In his own words, “A vote for Vermin Supreme is a vote completely thrown away”: a reflection, however ironic, of disenfranchisement, disillusionment, and disappointment.