Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Libertarian Gary Johnson: Blazing New Paths to the White House?

Washington Post 202 Live Columnist James Hohman interviewing Gary Johnson 10/24/16 [Photo: BD Matt]

The 2016 Election should have been the year of the Libertarian.  It is a change election with voters who would welcome fiscal sensibility and social progress.  Both Democrats and Republicans have nominees who sport extremely high negative ratings and few people look forward to support those candidates. Nearly half of the electorate is to be open to voting for a generic third party candidate. Yet the Libertarian Party remain an also ran  which may win a few percent of votes with no chance of winning any Electoral College votes.

So why can’t Libertarians capitalize on this electoral environment and significantly gain ground in Election 2016?  These are things which the James Hohman 202 Live forum with Libertarian Party nominee Gov. Gary Johnson (L-NM) indirectly answered.

Two weeks before voters go to the polls en masse, Gary Johnson’s campaign was to have a press curated pep rally in Washington, DC.  This is no way to win but to garner a bit of the spotlight while raising consciousness towards Libertarian issues.

Gary Johnson grouping waiting outside Washington Post 10/24/16 [Photo Credit: BD Matt]

Even though Johnson was the two time Republican Governor of the Land of Opportunity, he is not a typical Washington politician.  Never mind the shabby chic attire of a blue blazer with faded blue jeans.  Johnson lacked skills to connect with crowds. Even though the 400 person audience was packed with Gary believers and the interview was streamed live, Johnson kept eye contact with his interlocutor rather than those who he seeked to sway. Johnson also seemed to often have his eyes closed. This forum was not an environment for a barn-burner speech but the offhand effect was not poised to connect with many new converts.

Johnson was not worried about being a spoiler in Election 2016, as he thought that he would do well among independents who are said to be the largest part of the electorate. Johnson’s strategy is epitomized in his observation that high water raises all boats and in this change election, if Johnson wins one state then he’ll win eight.  But Johnson/Weld is not positioned to win anywhere.  Johnson seems content to keep the Libertarian Party qualified on all 50 state ballots and then ride off into the sunset.

In contrast, Independent Presidential candidate Evan McMullin (I-UT) has only been in the Presidential race since August, 2016 but he is positioned to win Utah and do well in the Mountain West. McMullin knew that he could not win Election 2016 but has a strategy to win some Electoral College votes and throw a close Presidential contest into the House of Representatives.

Gary Johnson rues not being included in the 2016 Presidential debates, unlike Reform Party nominee Ross Perot in 1992.  Johnson theorized that both parties saw Perot’s upstart candidacy as helping them so he got a place on the big stage.  Johnson maintains that he could not win Election 2016 without getting into the Presidential debates. But without him, Johnson characterized the Presidential debates as being rhetorical varieties of: “I want to kill you” without really talking policy.

Johnson’s brand of Libertarianism is liberal libertine.  Johnson is pro-choice on abortion because it is the law of the land, which he correctly notes is not Roe v. Wade (1973) but Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1991). Johnson followed with an applause line that he is pro-choice for everything. Yet Johnson’s “pro choice for all” perspective is impeached by his skepticism of religious liberty rights and the Supreme Court imposing same-sex marriage on all states. It seems that Johnson’s Libertarianism is rooted in a progressive Supreme Court rather than the primacy of the individual.  No wonder Johnson claimed during the Democrat primaries that he agreed with Bernie Sanders 73% of the time.

For a Libertarian, Johnson makes an unusual case for immigration.  The Libertarian Party nominee advocates embracing immigration and make it legally as easy as possible. Johnson claimed that there was sufficient vetting of Syrian refugees.  But then again, that is coming from a candidate made famous for his “What is Aleppo” answer.

Regarding immigration, Johnson’s view is that America should work with Mexico on quotas and border crossings.  However, Johnson’s rationale for free immigration is not for efficient economics and letting individuals decide, but prompted by pathos.  Johnson believes that America should not break up families, building a wall is nuts and that America has always encouraged immigration.  It seems Johnson forgot about the immigration freeze between 1940 and 1965.  These rationales sound more like a liberal Democrat than an orthodox Libertarian.

It was remarkable that Libertarian nominee waited 24 minutes into an hour interview to bring up drugs.  It seems that pot legalization is often the second thing out of a typical Libertarian’s mouth.  Johnson proudly assumed the moniker that he had been the “Highest Elected Official” to endorse marijuana legalization.  Johnson is jonesing for an America that treats drugs like a health policy issue rather than a law enforcement issue. Johnson expressed disappointment that every pot smoker had not chipped a dollar into his campaign coffers so he would have another $56 million.  Sorry, dude but you’ve got to save some coin for when you get the munchies.

Yet Johnson perseverated on the drug question to intimate far beyond pot legalization.  Johnson claims that public policies kill heroin users.  While Johnson would not go as far as to legalize cocaine, he said that it was less of a problem than methamphetamines because coke users will die young with a hole in their hearts. So better that coke users die from cardiac arrests than tolerating hillbilly heroin?

This fifteen minute pharmacological discussion may have affirmed the support of base Libertarians, but was “high” minded faculty room chat which did not impress unaligned voters in Election 2016 and seemed pie in the sky aside from the trend in states to legalize recreational pot.

Johnson pushed for a flat tax as a straight consumption tax would end the vagaries of the income tax code and would give pink slips to  80% of lobbyists.  Johnson’s cure for Social Security was to means test and allow for the direct direction of retirement investments.  While Johnson was skeptical of enacting the elimination of government agencies, he thought that HUD’s time had expired, questioned the relevance of most of Commerce and believed that the Department of Homeland Security should be broken up.

It was on civil liberty, particularly in the privacy realm, that Johnson embodied Libertarian philosophy, perhaps to a fault.  Johnson wanted the NSA to train its cameras off Americans and not run to a secret FISA court to do blanket spying on Americans. Johnson thinks that America is winning the Cyber War but it is a question of what we are doing. Johnson even went so far as to suggest that he would pardon Edward Snowden based on what he knows.

Johnson seems to take a lackadaisical approach to the election.  Johnson assures voters that Election 2016 is his swan song.  But if he is not elected, he looks forward to skiing for 120 days then riding the Continental Divide.

For political junkies, it is rare to hear a candidate offer new policies.  But intimate campaign events allow people to get an up close and personal and take their estimation of the candidate. For me, Johnson could not connect with a crowd and did not really seem to want to win.  His libertine Libetarianism (e.g.- abortion and drugs)  is an anathematic to a conservative leaning libertarian.  No wonder Johnson in fading in the polls as Election Day approaches.

It is a pity that Libertarians wasted this golden opportunity to become a viable third party as the Republican and Democrats face radical restructuring.  Instead, they opted for a C list name who does have some governing experience but seems little differentiated from liberal Democrat. More importantly, Johnson has little fire in the belly and seems to yearn post election freedom soaking in the Rocky Mountain High. What a waste!

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