Why Not Gary Johnson?

Many of the friends I worked with back in my Republican days have recoiled, understandably, from the candidacy of Donald Trump. Some of them will vote for Hillary Clinton, but others are longtime GOP activists who–despite being heartsick about the current state of the party–cannot bring themselves to pull a Democratic lever.

I do sympathize. When you’ve spent your adult life working for a particular political agenda, it can seem like blasphemy to defect to the other side. (On the other hand, several newspapers have endorsed a Democrat for the first time, and numerous high-ranking Republicans have done so, recognizing that Trump’s GOP is no longer the party they originally joined.)

Several of them plan to vote for Gary Johnson, the libertarian, despite the fact that a vote for a third-party candidate is still a vote for Trump, albeit an indirect one.

I wonder if they really understand what Johnson (“what’s Aleppo?” “I can’t name any foreign leaders”) really stands for. Perhaps they don’t care, since there is no way a third-party candidate will win, but it’s interesting to look beyond the Libertarian’s popular support for legalizing marijuana, to other positions that are a bit less attractive.

A recent article catalogs them.Here are just a few of his more…interesting… positions.

  • No gun control. At all. Johnson says Americans would be safer if everyone was armed.
  • No minimum wage. At all. In July, he told the Washington Examiner that, if given the chance, “I would sign legislation to abolish it.” (In 1999, during his first term as New Mexico governor, Johnson did veto a bill that would have raised his state’s minimum wage from $4.25 an hour to $5.65.)
  • He opposes laws requiring equal pay for men and women doing the same job.
  • He opposes collective bargaining for public employees, and in New Mexico, vetoed the renewal of that state’s collective bargaining law.
  • He advocates cuts to Social Security
  • He wants to remove the federal government’s role in Medicare and Medicaid.
  • He supports privatized prisons.
  • He supports privatizing public education.

These are positions that my friends who are voting Libertarian for President are endorsing.

At least Johnson isn’t running around calling women “fat pigs” and whining that he lost a debate because they gave him a bad mic….I guess that’s something. So several people I know are determined to cast a protest vote for him, or for Jill Stein, to “send a message.”

It’s not the message they think they’re sending, however. As Clay Shirkey recently wrote in the Huffington Post

But it doesn’t matter what message you think you are sending, because no one will receive it. No one is listening. The system is set up so that every choice other than “R” or “D” boils down to “I defer to the judgement of my fellow citizens.” It’s easy to argue that our system shouldn’t work like that. It’s impossible to argue it doesn’t work like that….

Throwing away your vote on a message no one will hear, and which will change no outcome, is sometimes presented as “voting your conscience,” but that’s got it exactly backwards; your conscience is what keeps you from doing things that feel good to you but hurt other people. Citizens who vote for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, or nobody aren’t voting their conscience, they are voting their ego, unable to accept that a system they find personally disheartening actually applies to them.



An Intriguing “What If?”

A recent op-ed in the New York Times posed an intriguing possibility–Republican voters who are frantically looking for an alternative to The Donald might opt for Gary Johnson, a former Republican Governor of New Mexico. (At least he has more government experience than Trump.)

Johnson was the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President last time, and  is likely to be their candidate again in 2016.  Supporting him would solve the biggest problem facing those who are advocating a third-party or independent presidential campaign.

The biggest hurdle anti-Trump Republicans must overcome, aside from finding a candidate willing to go into the wilderness for them, is getting on the ballot. The presidential election system is a patchwork of state deadlines and ballot requirements. Ralph Nader, who critics say helped usher George W. Bush into the White House by running as a Green Party candidate in 2000, is extremely familiar with the ballot requirements, having been booted off the Pennsylvania ballot in 2004. While Mr. Nader is happy to rail against the “two-party tyranny” of the American electoral system, he thinks starting a third-party run at this point in the election season a near-impossible goal.

“It’s almost too late, unless you’re a multibillionaire,” Mr. Nader said. “Other than just a tailored two- or three-state approach, I don’t see it happening.”

There was a time, twenty or twenty-five years ago, when the Republican Party was beginning its change from a big-tent major party into the extremist, litmus-test amalgam of resentment and reaction that it has become, that the Libertarians had an opening–an opportunity to step in and gather up those members of the GOP who were increasingly uncomfortable with the party but not inclined to join the Democrats.

Here in Indiana, I knew several former Republicans who were trying to make the Libertarian Party the logical alternative–to appeal to Republicans whose “small government” rhetoric was genuine– not of the “keep government out of my boardroom but not out of my bedroom” variety–and whose anti-welfare beliefs encompassed crony capitalists as well as impoverished single mothers.

It didn’t work then, because the base of the Libertarian Party was in-your-face pro-gun and anti-drug-war. (Today, ironically, most Americans probably agree about the drug war.) Any softening of those positions would have led to a wholesale abandonment by the party’s base–but a failure to move even a bit toward more “mainstream” positions frightened off the disaffected GOP prospects.

This is probably not the Libertarian moment, either. We are seeing too many examples of what happens when government is neutered, or wholly-owned by private interests. (The water in Flint, the crumbling infrastructure in Indiana, etc. etc.) If the pendulum is swinging, it’s probably swinging in the other direction.

But the great virtue of libertarianism as a philosophy is that it forces us to ask an all-important question: what should government do? What is the role of the state?

Just as there are things that–I would argue–government must do, there are things that government should not do, decisions that government should not make. Think how refreshing it would be to have those discussions, those debates–free of the propaganda, self-dealing and hypocrisy that characterize (and attempt to mask) today’s efforts to gain power and advantage.

It’s an intriguing thought.