During last week’s virtual Libertarian Party Convention, the Libertarian Party selected Jo Jorgensen, a Clemson lecturer and the party’s vice presidential candidate in 1996, as the party’s Presidential nominee.
Unlike the Democratic and Republican Parties, the Libertarian Party selects its Vice Presidential candidate separately from their Presidential candidate. In an upset, Jeremy “Spike” Cohen narrowly beat out John Monds, a Libertarian activist and the President of the Grady County NAACP.
Cohen is a podcaster who runs Muddied Waters Media and is an ally of performance artist Vermin Supreme, who ran for the Libertarian Party’s Presidential nomination in 2020.
This week, I had the opportunity to speak with Cohen, who is Jewish, about his campaign and where he stands on a variety of Jewish issues.
Question: Describe your Jewish upbringing and were there any significant Jewish related moments in your life? Did you have a Bar Mitzvah or attend a Hebrew School?
Cohen: First of all, I should note two things that may disqualify me as Jewish to many of your readers: I was raised as a Messianic Jew, and my mother is a Gentile.
I am a Cohen, which is passed patrilineally, and had a Jewish upbringing, kept Shabbat and all the holidays and days of remembrance, proudly proclaimed my Jewish identity in the deep South my whole life, and continue to do so today. Still, to the standards of many Jews, they would not consider me Jewish.
I did have a Bar Mitzvah, and attended a Hebrew preschool (I don’t believe there was a Hebrew school in Myrtle Beach when we moved here).
Question: How do you view yourself as a Jew today? Has Judaism impacted who you are today and your Libertarian politics?
Cohen: Judaism, and my Jewish identity, has had a big impact on my political outlook. The reality is that, while we have been living peacefully among Gentiles in the US for a very long time, this was true in other places as well before, and governments often use us as scapegoats when things go wrong. It can happen quickly and with little time for us to prepare.
This shapes my ideas of government quite a bit. A government that scapegoats other identities, like ours often does with immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and other marginalized communities, could easily do the same to us if it sees fit.
And think of all the stories in Tanakh about governments trying to victimize Jews, including the ones of our own making. When Samuel told HaShem that we wanted a king, He warned us against it. Better to voluntarily live under the decisions and guidance of the Rabbis. But no, we wanted a king. I don’t claim to be a scholar on Tanakh, but when I read it, I see a lot of warnings against following man’s rule rather than His, and I see Him giving us a choice on it.
All of this has lead me to adopt the libertarian philosophy, which is grounded in the idea of self-ownership, and eschews collectivization. It also affirms our right to defend ourselves without relying on government to defend us.
Libertarianism is straightforward: every single one of us owns ourselves, our lives, our bodies, our labor, and our property. Any attempt to take from someone else is an act of aggression, which is both morally wrong and a terrible way to organize society.
Under that framework of self-ownership, it would make no sense to collectivize people or scapegoat them based on their identity. That is a moral outlook that fits well within Jewish law and tradition of treating others as one of our own, and a powerful protection for any minority group, including Jews.
Question: You are the first Jewish Vice-Presidential candidate of any party since Joe Lieberman in 2000. What does that mean to you?
Cohen: I think it’s great for representation, and also the fact that my being Jewish was never scrutinized in a negative way. It was simply a matter of fact thing. I neither hid it nor attempted to use it to tokenize myself, nor did anyone else on my behalf. I think that shows how far we’ve come.
From a personal standpoint, while I am not very religious now, I think it’s important for me to represent myself well as a Jews, and to dispel the negative stereotypes that antisemites slander us with by demonstrating what I am advocating for: peace, freedom, nonaggression, voluntary solutions.
As an aside, I’m also the first millennial on a presidential ticket in the US.
Question: Do you look up to any Jewish figures, who have played a positive role in society?
Cohen: There are the obvious ones in Scripture, as well as historical figures like Maimonides, Hillel and Mendelssohn.
In terms of my political beliefs, the Jews that have helped shape them the most have been Walter Block, Murray Bookchin, Emma Goldman and Murray Rothbard.
Question: A 2019 report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found more than 2,100 anti-semitic incidents throughout the United States. Should the federal government have a role in combating this hate? If so, how?
Cohen: These questions are always interesting to me. Time and again, government has demonstrated itself to be powerless to stop hate crimes against us and others, and many times to be complicit. Every year, we see more politicians, bureaucrats and and police officers being exposed as neonazis and white supremacists, and some of them aren’t even removed.
Given that, I don’t believe the answer is to look to government to save us, but rather to demand that government allow us, and everyone else, the ability to defend ourselves using the means and tools that we see fit.
Question: Some notable Democrats have critiziced Israel in a way that many view as anti-semitic. What do you view as the line between criticsm of Israel and actual anti-semitism?
Cohen: I think the line is pretty clear: if it is simply a criticism of the Israeli government, whether or not you agree with that criticism, it isn’t antisemitic. If it is a criticism of the Jewish people as a whole, and especially if it delves into common tropes against us, then it is antisemitism.
Question: Would a Jorgensen Administration end military aid to Israel?
Cohen: The Jorgensen administration would end all foreign aid, and also stop interfering in the matters of other nations.
Question: How would a Jorgensen Administration handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Would annexation of parts of the West Bank be opposed?
Cohen: The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is only being made worse by US government interventionism. Not just through our direct involvement in the “peace process” that has largely gone nowhere, but also through the endless “war on terror” which has been an incredible recruiting tool for terrorist groups throughout the region, and for the blowback it has engendered against the US (and by extension, Israel).
A Jorgensen administration will end the wars, stop interfering in the business of other nations, and open up America to trade and voluntary cooperation with the entire world, including the Middle East. The vast, vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians just want to live in peace and build a safe, stable future for themselves, their families and their communities. The Jorgensen administration’s plans will go a long way in helping with that.
Question: Your platform is fairly satirical and includes offers of free ponies and a Waffle House on every corner. New York Magazine recently described your campaign as a “joke.” Do you think that’s an accurate description of your candidacy?
Cohen: You are referring to the satirical part of my campaigning, which was, in part, successful in securing me the Libertarian nomination for Vice President. Satire is an extremely effective way to share a political message with those who are disgusted by politics and aren’t open to hearing anything from a politician. Satire draws their attention, entertains them, lowers their cognitive defenses and intrigues them. For people who are sick of politics, it is a great way to engage them.
With that said, I have always done serious campaigning, such as college campus tours, and door-knocking tours in housing projects and marginalized communities, listening to the concerns of the people, and sharing Libertarian solutions for those concerns. That is how I campaign: show people we care, listen to their concerns, and present our solutions in an empathetic, engaging and dynamic way.
This is and will remain a serious campaign for the Vice Presidency on the Jorgensen platform of ending the wars, removing the burdens that government has placed on the people, and freeing us to live better, safer, more prosperous lives.
Question: The Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld received about 4 million votes. Do you think the Libertarian Party will come close to reaching that same number of voters 2020?
Cohen: I believe we will do even better. America is currently living in a dystopian nightmare that was imposed on us by Republicans and Democrats. Donald Trump and Joe Biden are mirror images of each other, and voters are disgusted. The American people want change, and Jo Jorgensen is that change: wise, accomplished, steady-handed, ready to set America free and undo the damage done by the Republicrats, so that we can begin to heal.