Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Libertarian Case for Gary Johnson

The Libertarian Case for Gary Johnson:
Note: Reason.com is published by a 501(c)3 nonprofit
and doesn't endorse particular candidates or specific pieces of
legislation. Nothing in what follows should be construed as an
official endorsement for any candidate, but we do hope that you'll
find what follows provocative and informative.

This is one of three related articles, each making a
specifically libertarian argument for the
, or Libertarian presidential contender.

The libertarian case in favor of voting for Libertarian Party
presidential nominee Gary Johnson is pretty self-evident and
exceptionally strong.
Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor of the
overwhelmingly Democratic state of New Mexico, is not just the
single-most qualified candidate the LP has yet to field for
president. At this stage in his life, he's got more experience in
managing actual political reality and bureaucratic state operations
than the one-term former governor Mitt Romney has or the
wet-behind-the-ears senator Barack Obama had when he moved into
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Or for that matter, Rep. Ron Paul
(R-Texas) had when the good Dr. No ran for the LP in 1988.
As a bonus as big as the Mt. Everest that he actually climbed
(on a recently busted leg, for god's sake!), Johnson actually
happens to be a full-throated champion of strictly limited
government and maximally empowered individuals, of free minds and
free markets, of marriage equality, engagement with the world
through trade not aid (or drones or boots on the ground), of open
borders, of social tolerance, and more. (Go here for Johnson's
platform.) When he was running the show in the Land of Enchantment,
he held the line on spending and taxes and vetoed hundreds of bills
while pushing school choice, prison reform, competitive
outsourcing, and many other good things. He never once threatened
to invade Texas or Arizona or Colorado, or even Mexico.
Lord knows that finding experienced and comitted-to-the-cause
candidates hasn't always been easy for the LP. Four years ago, the
party nominated former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) a notorious social
conservative, war hawk, and drug warrior who embraced libertarian
values only after being bounced from the House due to redistricting
shenanigans. Even as the LP's standard bearer, Barr was not fully
at ease with the non-interventionist foreign policy that's deep in
the party's roots as an emanation of right-of-center dissent from
Vietnam. When LP is not putting forward recent and
sometimes-ambivalent converts, it has a knack for anointing folks
who may not quite be ready for their day in the sun. In 2004, the
LP put forward Michael
, a nice and smart guy who nonetheless became best
known for refusing to acquire a Texas driver's license. Badnarik
finished with just 0.32 percent of the vote, one of the worst
performances among the generally desultory performances of
LP candidates
This isn't to say Johnson is all things to all libertarians
(broadly defined as believers in fiscal responsibility and social
tolerance). He's said some odd things on the campaign trail, most
notably about U.S. military support for capturing Joseph Kony, the
leader of the Ugandan cult, the Lord's Resistance Army. In a

Daily Caller interview
earlier this year, Johnson
unconvincingly called the LRA "possibly the worst terrorist group
that's been on the planet for the last 20 years." Um, no. It took
Johnson a while to find his voice in explaining what he calls
the "fair tax
," or a consumption-based tax that would replace
all existing personal and business income taxes. I personally find

the widely circulated video
 of him crowd-surfing to be one
of the greatest moments of the 2012 campaign (right up there with
Clint Eastwood's Empty Chair improv), but I understand why
latter-day Hobbesians find it unsettling to see a potential ruler
literally put his life in the hands of the rabble.
But geez-louise, this guy Gary Johnson is everything
any party could hope for in a presidential candidate: He's
accomplished in private and public life, he's vibrant and
energetic, and especially since kicking free of the final parts of
his Republicanoid past like a butterfly leaving the cocoon for
good, he's genuinely charismatic when stumping on the differences
between his own views and those of Obama and Romney. A few weeks
back, I saw him bring about 500 people to their feet at a
University of Cincinnati rally by forcefully detailing the ways in
which he and he alone is talking about government spending and
debt, ruinous foreign policy, and federal buttinskys dead-set on
policing the boardroom and the bedroom. He's the best of both
worlds: A leader who can move an audience but who always stresses
that you and your choices - as opposed to some nutty coercive
agenda - come first. He's the perfect candidate for a
post-best-and-the-brightest DIY world. We don't need a maximum
leader, we need someone who will set and enforce simple rules for a
complex world.
So if you vote and think your vote should express your political
beliefs, there's nowhere else for libertarians (and Libertarians)
to look.
But of course, Gary Johnson is not going to win the election.
if past is prologue
, he will likely finish with less than 1
percent of all votes cast. So the real case for Gary Johnson - a
tougher case to make - is arguing for why you should think about
pulling the lever, tapping the screen, or punching the butterfly
ballot for the guy knowing that he's a bigger lost cause than the
Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, the Gilmore Girls
movie getting made, and the release of Dr. Dre's Detox put
As it happens, Johnson has addressed this very question in his
forthright manner. "A wasted vote,"
he says
, "is a vote for someone you don't believe in."
He's even exhorting
people to "waste" their vote, telling an
audience at New York University, "We can make a difference in this
election. Waste your vote!” How will pushing Johnson's total above
the 1 percent mark - and ideally, higher than the spread of votes
separating Obama and Romney on November 7 - make a difference?
In several ways, but let me emphasize just one. Going large on
Johnson will send the unmistakable message that the surprisingly
large and consistent 10 to 15 percent of the electorate comprising
"libertarian vote"
can no longer be taken for granted. Voters
are leaving the Democrats and Republicans
in record numbers
at exactly the same moment that they are
saying that the government is too big, too expensive, and too
involved in
all aspects of our lives
. Is it so hard to recognize that these
two things are related?
To be clear, neither the Dems or the Reps are going into
receivership any time soon. The U.S. has always been dominated by
two parties and for the past 160 or so years, it's been the parties
represented this time by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. What can
change, however, is the agendas pushed by those parties. It's
happened before. Grover Cleveland, the two-term president, wouldn't
pass for a Democrat these days and Teddy Roosevelt wouldn't be so
bully on today's GOP. Long the party of segregation, the Democrats
shifted course when it became clear the votes weren't there
anymore. Without suffering a major loss in credibility or support,
Reagan went from denouncing
Social Security and Medicare as
socialistic abominations in 1964 to embracing them as sacrosanct
building blocks of all that was exceptional about America by the
time he became president.
The Republicans will move in a libertarian direction when they
finally realize that the libertarian ethos of live and let live
doesn't represent moral nihilism but a goddamned sustainable future
in a globalized, post-mainstream world. Who do you want sitting
next to you as Spaceship Earth hurtles through time: Todd Akin or
Gary Johnson? The Republicans have failed to wrap their heads
around the unmitigated disaster that the Bush presidency was.
Forget social issues for the moment. George W. Bush - in total
cahoots with a Congress led by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell,
who still roam the corridors of power like Tor Johnson roamed
the set of Plan 9 From Outer Space - kicked out the jams
on spending and cronyism. He was a big-government
, the political equivalent of Hurricane Sandy. And he
did what he did with the full aid and succour of a GOP majority
that signed on for The Patriot Act, Medicare Part D, the invasion
of Iraq, the creation of the TSA, and TARP. The fully unconvincing
and meager attempts by Mitt Romney to say he's going to rein in
spending while
"preserving" and "strengthening"
Medicare and Social Security
and ramping up military spending to a perpetual 4 percent of GDP
flatly demonstrate that the Republicans have yet to get the simple
message that voters first delivered during the 2006 midterms.
For their part, the Democrats have yet to learn the lesson of
2010, when voters sent exactly the same midterm message: Don't
just do something, stand there!
 In 2010, the party of
Thomas Jefferson took a "shellacking" (Obama's term of art) not
despite all of the president's highly touted "historic" successes
but precisely because of them. Obamacare, stimulus, more bailouts
up the ying-yang, stupid interventions everywhere from Detroit to
Afghanistan to college football's ranking system - all helped spark
a strong and obvious reaction among large swaths of voters. And
yet, Obama and Team Blue haven't changed a goddamned jot or tittle
in their basic script. If you don't vote for the (liberal)
Democrat, this line goes, then mere anarchy will be loosed. All
that is decent and civilized about America will forever be
destroyed and we will be bombing indiscriminate countries into the
Stone Age, women will go barefoot and be forcibly impregnated and
shoved back into the kitchen and Paul Lynde will once again be
closeted in the center square. The skies will once again be filled
with the choking fumes of plutocrats lighting cigars with $1,000
bills featuring the image of Ayn Rand and power plants will once
again exclusively be powered by grinding the bones of the poor, the
tired, and non-unionized illegal immigrants. It will be
the Hunger Games, but without the laughs. The
important thing, the Democrats say without blinking, is that
government spending can never, ever decline because it's all
essential spending and we'll pay for it merely by asking the
super-rich to pay just a little bit more. It's like South
Park's Gnomes Underpants Profit Plan
, only slightly less
What neither party understands is that the American people - and
especially libertarian-minded voters - have moved on into the 21st
century. As the recent
CNN/ORC International Poll notes
, "just four in 10 registered
voters believe the government should promote traditional values,
down from 53% in 2010 and 57% in 2008." At the same time "six in 10
say the government is doing too much that should be left to
individuals and businesses." Can you imagine that? In a world in
which voters are evacuating the traditional parties in record
numbers, Americans are articulating a basically libertarian message
of social tolerance and fiscal responsibility. That is precisely
what Gary Johnson is selling as the Libertarian Party's
presidential candidate. And he doesn't have to win in order to
deliver the message to Democrats and Republicans that they can
maintain or consolidate their standing by taking the choke collars
off of us all and giving us more space and freedom to figure things
out for ourselves. We're not talking about some sort of radical
Stephenson-meets-Robert-Nozick-meets-Zardoz anarcho-capitalist
scenario. Just a recognition that the federal government doesn't
have to be in on every conversation we're having (literally and
figuratively), and that it can't keep spending 40 percent more than
it takes in or gain the world's trust via military occupation and
the semi-regular bombing run or drone deployment.
That's the message that a vote for Gary Johnson will be sending,
especially if he pulls, say, 5 percent and the final spread between
Obama and Romney is 2 percent. According to the Reason-Rupe Poll, support for Johnson

pulls equally from Democrats and Republicans
, so they would
have no one to blame but themselves. And the candidates and their
parties could start working to resolve the situation by changing
what they stand for in time for the next election.
In a memorable campaign slogan, Johnson asks voters to "be
Libertarian with me this one time
." Who knows? The next time it
happens, it might be for Democratic and Republican office
Related Stories
Libertarian Case for Mitt Romney
," by Robert Poole
Libertarian Case for Barack Obama
," by Mike Godwin
Getting Our Votes?: Reason Writers' 2012 Presidential