It was a bit of a shambles inside the dim, noisy pavilion. I was at the annual Free State Project-sponsored camping festival, PorcFest, to see presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and had snagged a seat, but it was a close call. The steamy, garage-like structure was filling up, and the line to get in still snaked through the campgrounds in the foothills of the White Mountains. (The speech was in late June, before the latest accusations that Mr. Kennedy shared racist and antisemitic claims about Covid-19.)
I have a peculiar relationship with libertarians and, in particular, with Free Staters, a loose affiliation of libertarians who have moved to New Hampshire to establish a stronghold for their ideology. I strongly share some of their values: their emphasis on liberty, civil rights, small government and the freedom to teach one’s own children and to worship without restriction. But I loathe others: bodily autonomy and self-reliance that extends to the point of callous disregard for the poor, the unborn, the disabled and the underage—and their obsession with guns, guns and more guns.
Still, there is a tiny part of me that understands libertarians and sympathizes with their cause. Who isn’t sick to death of the government? I think it was P. J. O’Rourke who once said that, when you’re poor, the government seems to simultaneously control every aspect of your life and care nothing for you at all. You could apply that idea to most citizens today and get a pretty good picture of the lumbering, blindly malicious, wasteful yet horribly necessary behemoth we are all languishing under. No wonder libertarians look at our country, look at the solutions both Democrats and Republicans offer, and say, “No thanks.”
Libertarians are usually right about what is not working. The trouble is, they generally think the answer is to hunker down in whatever self-made kingdom you can cobble together, and to hell with everyone else. This attitude alone makes libertarianism incompatible with Catholicism, because we are obligated to care for one another. That’s where I land.
But these are strange times. Every election in recent memory has been difficult for me as a Catholic. I cannot remember the last time I voted for someone. It has simply been a matter of voting to do the least damage, or to stop someone else from doing more damage.
So there I was, waiting to hear what R.F.K., a Democrat, had to say to a crowd of Free Staters, many of whom are so extreme that even the Libertarian Party disowned them. I was ready to hear anything and curious about his appeal. A Newsweek poll showed that 31 percent of those who voted for Joe Biden in 2020 support Mr. Kennedy’s presidential bid. That is extraordinary, considering how thoroughly Mr. Kennedy has earned his reputation as a conspiracy theorist.
I wanted to know what my fellow Catholics, in particular, thought about R.F.K. Jr., and I had spotted a few by the miraculous medals around their necks. We made plans to meet up after the speech.
We waited. Half an hour later, an organizer stood up and began to shout, “Some of you don’t belong in here!” I froze, thinking she was on to me. I had voted for President Biden (albeit gloomily), and I think the Second Amendment is O.K. (at best). But it turns out 20 to 30 people had mistakenly jumped the line and were sitting in a section that rightly belonged to the folks who had been waiting in the hot sun for hours. She acknowledged that it is a “voluntary society” and no one can force them, but she hotly pleaded with the line-cutters to do the honest thing and leave.
Two people left.
Maybe half an hour later, the last seat was filled and the speech began….Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.
Below: Some more photos from PorcFest XX