Former two term New Mexico Governor and current candidate for the Libertarian Presidential nomination, Gary Johnson, recently appeared on John Stossel’s Fox Libertarian Presidential Debate. His opponents were John McAfee and Libertarian Republic founder Austin Petersen. While I have many opinions on the debate and how poorly Johnson performed as the clear front-runner, my guess is that he will end up the nominee, and given the circumstances of the race, should be the nominee. I will admit that my belief was shaken after his poor performance, but for now it remains unchanged.
Governor Johnson ‘s appeal in a match up of Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton is easily understood by even the most apolitical of voters.
If ballots did not include R’s, D’s, and L’s, but instead resumes, my bet is that 51% of American voters would select the scandal free successful business person and two term Governor with a well documented history of fiscally conservative and socially liberal policies over his opponents.
How could they not when one opponent’s resume may consist of reality TV stardom and a successful business built upon premium licensing deals, but multiple past business failings and an encyclopedia’s worth of cringe inducing quotes.
The other likely resume is that of a former first lady who successfully parlayed such an association into a term as a United States Senator. In that term, she failed to author a single piece of major legislation, voted for the Iraq War, and primarily set up her campaign to run for President. After losing a primary battle to President Obama she went on to become Secretary of State. It is in that office she presided over the rampant radicalization and total destabilization of the Middle East which was the result of an adherence to a neoconservative strategy consisting of covert intervention and regime change. In Libya alone the result was the death of a US ambassador and the facilitation of a golden opportunity for the Islamic State to seize a leaderless country torn apart by warring Islamic factions and citizens desperate for order in a time of chaos. As if that were not disqualification enough, she’s the constant recipient of indictment speculation based on her flagrant violation of internal State Department digital communication policies.
In a rational world even John McAfee’s resume, fugitive and all, stacks up rather well against the current frontrunners of the two major parties. Alas, Trump and Clinton remind us this world is not one of rationality, but a world where the combination of major party viability and pandering to capture raw voter emotion dictates electoral success.
In a world where that is the case, there is little to be gained by flushing out and discussing the “libertarianness” of Gary Johnson.
Instead we must question him in a way that’s worthy of the voter’s we intend to sway by presenting him as a true alternative for President. Personally, the debate did little to change my opinion of third-party candidates as a viable option for President. I understand the philosophy of libertarianism through and through, but whether or not a candidate adheres to the NAP is of little importance to me during a campaign for President. My interest lies in libertarianism’s application through policy, and how it is messaged in a way that appeals to disgruntled voters.
If Gary Johnson were to become President, it may very well be on a message and platform of domestic issues, but upon his first day in office, he’d be greeted with the harsh realities of the job, just as President Obama watched his dreams of domestic policy overhaul lost to the demands of foreign policy.
So with that being said, I’ll propose some of the questions I believe potential first time Libertarian voters need answered before they, like myself, would consider pulling the lever for former Governor Johnson.
1) Your current economic policy proposal is for a balanced budget in your first calendar year. Suppose you succeed in pushing it through, how will you handle the political backlash from tens of thousands of citizens, if not hundreds, being laid off by government contractors? How will you respond to a large angry group of recently unemployed voters unable to meet their personal financial demands?
2) Given their recent unemployed status, how will you respond to state governments now forced to deal with a surge of new unemployment insurance enrollees as they struggle to meet their new budget obligations? In the long run a balanced federal budget is a wonderful thing, but in the first year and perhaps longer, an unavoidable and deep economic recession will begin. How will you weather the storm of populist rhetoric that will result and message against calls for economic stimulus so voters can pay their mortgage?
3) Let’s imagine you’re in year two and economic worries have resulted in a political condemnation of your fiscal policy. How will you effectively govern and continue to ask Congress to carry out your other policy priorities? What message will you use to overcome your newfound position as a political pinata for the two major parties to score cheap points in the press?
4) You receive an intelligence briefing with conclusive evidence Russia has began annexing the Ukraine. Policy experts in the press are saying it is a response to your policy of non-intervention and closing down of US bases abroad. Russia’s plans for expansion trigger a clause in a treaty requiring US action for the EU or NATO support. What message will you use to avoid political backlash both domestic and abroad while adhering to your stance of non-intervention? Will you refuse to abide by the terms of such treaties? Let’s say Russia succeeds and in a move to exert further power, threatens to cut off or reduce natural gas to Europe unless they sign a new trade deal beneficial to Eurasian countries due to painful new tariffs and penalties on US-EU trade. How would you handle such an event and effectively position a message of non-intervention while Europeans return to wood to heat their homes and US companies begin layoffs due to the new economic sanctions from trade loss?
5) As President you over see the passage of legislation resulting in open borders and amnesty. Hypothetically, lets say the Islamic State is not willing to let past crimes from US intervention be forgiven by your new non-intervention policy, so they decide to mobilize operatives from Syria in a plan to take advantage of the new relaxed immigration policy you passed. One morning you receive a phone call from the FBI Detroit office that a group of Syrian refugees just carried out an attack at a Detroit Tigers baseball game in the name of the Islamic State. How you would respond to such an attack and prevent future attacks against a non-government entity without borders or identifiable governing structure to target with military action? How would you effectively respond to calls from politicians blaming your policies for the attack? What message will blunt the loss of political capital and resulting set back to libertarianism and its application through policy?
6) Janet Yellen’s term as Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve has ended. You are two years into an economic reform package that has induced a sharp recession stemming from large cutbacks in government spending which dramatically reduced the money supply. Your appointment is a well documented advocate for tight monetary policy. Assuming he or she is confirmed, how will you effectively communicate the long-term benefits from tight monetary policy in the midst of a recession where a scared and anxious group of citizens watched the stock market drop 500 points within a minute of announcing your next pick for Fed Chair? Will your message of delayed gratification weather a storm of frustrated citizens watching their 401ks drop to levels that prevent retirement from ever becoming reality? How will you fight back against a citizenry clamoring for government provided financial outcomes in a time uncertainty?
7) As President, you successfully implemented a repeal of Obamacare and dramatic reductions in Medicaid and Medicare spending via reduced coverage. The mid terms are approaching and your political opponents are running around the clock television and radio ads of you, Gary Johnson, pushing grandmothers, cancer patients, poor people, and children in wheelchairs off of a cliff. How will you package the restoration of government to its proper role in a compelling message that softens the blow for libertarians and all of your supporters? How will you defend your legislation in a way that doesn’t prevent libertarianism’s inclusion in the political arena for the next fifty years?
8) As President you have successfully overseen the decriminalization of Marijuana and criminal justice reforms that release tens of thousands of formerly imprisoned people back into communities. In a twist of bad luck, a number of the newly released commit non-victimless crimes (robbery, rape, murder) in their communities. How will you message against the sensationalized media coverage and opportunistic politicians seizing it as an opportunity to exploit the victims? How would you hope to overcome such a political setback?
I could continue to go on with more questions for Governor Johnson on how he would handle and respond to the realities he’d face, but doing so would probably only further anger the large majority of those reading this.
My hunch is that most reading through these questions have responded with accusations of unfairness. I know I’m not alone when I’m repeatedly forced to point out the unfair double standard that exists on Libertarian candidates, on matters of policy solutions to hypothetical scenarios, however, pointing out such an unfair standard does little to assuage concerns of an already apprehensive voter.
The reality is that standard is not going away anytime soon so we MUST hold our candidate, whom we are presenting as a legitimate alternative to those willing to give him consideration, accountable for incomplete, politically improbable, and ineffective answers to the questions which lay before him.
The 2016 Presidential election is a real opportunity to elevate the Libertarian Party’s status as a protest vote for disgruntled Republicans, Democrats, and undecideds, into a vote of support for a party and candidate with credible solutions to the issues they want addressed.
As the vetting process for Governor Johnson continues, we have only ourselves to blame if we do not continue to hammer away at him. Our criticisms are not attacks, but part of a polishing process to create the kind of solution-rich message that will leave those who vote for him, not with the disappointment accompanying a wasted vote in protest, but with the satisfaction of a vote in support of a candidate widely perceived as capable of handling the job of President of the United States.
The harsh truth is that each time we respond with the answer, “Why aren’t the other candidates forced to have a perfect solution to each issue?”, we lost a vote capable of being gained.
So, the next time we feel that old response creeping up our throats, we must swallow it and get out our pencils. We are winning votes by writing down the question, asking it to our candidate, and forcing him to craft an effective answer worthy of the office of the President.