By ronpaulrevolt2008 [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A Pragmatic Case for The Johnson

Despite His Worst Qualities.

I will not sugar coat the lackluster qualities of the Libertarian party candidate Gary Johnson. Politically speaking, he’s not a libertarian, he’s a mainstream Republican who’s liberal on social issues. That’s not an accurate way, as I see it as framing the libertarian position. Libertarians, generally speaking, want less to no government intervention on the grounds that it’s both insufficient and unjustified (if not immoral).

Johnson, on the other hand, takes up the positions he does, because he wants a fiscally responsible and efficient legislator. While this isn’t a bad quality (in fact it’s arguably a virtue) it isn’t the grounding point of libertarianism. Anarcho-capitalists don’t want any legislator because they view it as immoral, and many other libertarians who do want some sort of state, think that the extraneous involvement government takes in society is largely unjustified (even if it is being efficient and fiscally responsible, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a better or more competent alternative that’s supported through voluntary exchange).

However, just because Johnson isn’t a libertarian in the sense I (or those like me) have witnessed it, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t reach conclusions that libertarians cannot support. After all, a correct conclusion arrived at terrible starting points is still correct. Here, I will present a case that although Johnson isn’t the ideal candidate (to put it lightly), he should receive our begrudging support.

The Bad

Before going into his good qualities, I want to cover his bad and ugly qualities. His bad qualities are qualities that, while anti-libertarian, are at least are mitigated by his other stances. The first of these is that he’s against mandatory vaccination.

Print-Screen from his Twitter

Now, some might decry me as being anti-libertarian because I want the state to come and vaccinate people, but I think a good libertarian case can be made for it. I personally would want the government to intervene if there was some idiot carrying around plutonium because not only does that poison himself, but others as well. However, even if he did have the libertarian position on this one, it’s still not a position well liked by others. In fact, right now it’s being touted by supporters of the Clinton campaign as one of her a big selling point.

Fortunately, state’s rights comes through once again, and would at least preserve mandatory vaccination on state and local levels. Not only does it come through on this issue, but others as well. While he is pro-choice in principle, he is anti-Roe vs. Wade (effectively pissing off both sides of the Libertarian movement), it’s at the very least a tolerable compromise.

One case he isn’t on the side of states rights is the federal recognition of same-sex marriage. I would agree that there is a good case to be made for private contract marriages (and that’s the ideal libertarian position for both those within and without the LGBT community); however, if homosexuals are contributing to an institution they cannot be a part of through tax dollars, I think there is a sympathetic libertarian argument for such a position.

The Ugly

These are the positions that are unforgivable by any libertarian standard. To quote from the Libertarian Republic,

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson was famously outed as an authoritarian on an issue that crosses race, sex, and religious boundaries. In a debate held by John Stossel on the Fox Business Network, Johnson issued his support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which mandated that private business which serve the public not discriminate based on race. In the modern age, liberal activists are working on expanding these protections to LGBT couples who wish to force Christian bakers or photographers to provide services to their ceremonies, even if they disagree with their lifestyles [1]

Sorry, but freedom of association is integral to a free society. There is indeed a moral principle to be had here, and no one deserves to have their property stripped from them.

Another is calling freedom of religion “a black hole” that could be used to justify murder[2]. Such is not the case, and over at the National Review, they really drive the nail into him,

Last week, Libertarian party candidate told the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney that “religious freedom, as a category, [is] a black hole.” Another overlooked gem from that interview, in the same vein: I mean under the guise of religious freedom, anybody can do anything. Back to Mormonism.
Why shouldn’t somebody be able to shoot somebody else because their freedom of religion says that God has spoken to them and that they can shoot somebody dead. This is some A-grade, five-star, top-shelf stupid — and that’s in an election featuring almost unlimited material from Donald J. Trump. Does this question really require an answer? Okay, give this one a whirl: Because it’s difficult to have a functional body politic when people are slaughtering one another. More to the point, though: Johnson’s answer is entirely ignorant of American legal history. Yes, religion has been used as an excuse to perpetrate violence in the U.S. But that didn’t make the violence legal.
“Freedom of religion” is not, and has never been, a blanket exemption from the penal code. Nor is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Johnson was supposedly addressing with this response (and which he seems to be opposed to). The text of the federal version of that act, passed in 1993, reads:
Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person — (1)is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2)is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
Keeping citizens from willy-nilly murdering one another would qualify as a pretty darn compelling governmental interest — in the event that that were even an urgent problem, which it isn’t. The issue we face at present is whether, say, a Catholic nurse can be forced to participate in an abortion procedure. If you think protecting her conscience rights is starting America back down the slope toward segregated lunch counters, you’re a fool — or, apparently, Gary Johnson. [3]

As a Catholic, it’s hard in all good consciousness to defend this position on a libertarian (or any other) platform. Fortunately, he has backpedaled on his earlier remarks, and has even given as an example an ideal for how he would see a balance between religious and civic freedoms.

Thus, in response to a question thrown at me while walking down a street (in the rain), I expressed my reservations rather emphatically — and cited the experience of Mormons as a case-in-point where religious persecution resulted in violent episodes right here in America.
My point was that even a respected, peaceful people experienced tragic harm in the name of religion and was, in fact, persecuted by the government itself by politicians who opposed their beliefs and practices.
And on a personal level, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to mind because I had been in Utah the day before, as my campaign is actually based in Salt Lake City. I am well aware of the painful history of government interference with Mormons and the practice of their faith.
In part because of this unique history, I believe Utah has found an appropriate balance in a religious freedom law that serves as an example to the rest of the country that non-discrimination and religious freedom are not opposing forces, but can instead go hand in hand [4]

So much for the better. At least, as one commentator said in the above article, Johnson is smart enough to apologize for his idiot remarks.

Other criticisms include things like a fair tax, keeping drugs of a harder variety criminalized at the state level, and calling Hilary a good public servant. The last one I’ll excuse as mere pandering to potential democrats, but the others I see as still an improvement over the status quo.

The Good

I wanted to get all terrible qualities of Johnson on the record so that I could make a case that despite them, his better qualities are a good enough reason for supporting him.

1 - Out of all the Third Party Candidates, He’s Got the Best Shot of Demolishing the American Political Dichotomy.

As I write this, Johnson is approaching the 15% in the polls needed to give the Libertarian Party a presence on the debates at the national stage. On pragmatic grounds, we should support him because in the next four years he would raise interests for future Libertarians to come in the party and learn actual libertarian principles.

To quote Tom Mullen,

The Libertarian Party has nominated some of the greatest voices of liberty in the past half century, including Ron Paul, Harry Browne and Michael Badnarik. Neither Johnson nor Weld are nearly as purely libertarian as any of these giants, but they’re going to get far more votes. Dissatisfaction with Trump and HIllary is certainly one reason. But it’s not the only one.
Libertarians don’t want to hear the other reason, but I’ll say it anyway. Contrary to libertarian-ish (in rhetoric only) icon Ronald Reagan, government is not the problem. The electorate is. As a social media friend remarked, “If you want to find out how interested your neighbors are in individual liberty, just go to your local planning board meeting.”
The truth is most Americans in 2016 aren’t ready for an ideologically pure libertarian message. This is an electorate that is angry with Washington, D.C. for not doing more, not for meddling too much. Grassroots conservatives complain Obama has gutted the military and (gasp!) negotiated with Iran. Grassroots liberals believe markets are too free and corporations “run rampant.” [5]

2 - He’s the best so far we have in terms of Guns Rights

If we’re going to jump off the Johnson because he gave way to anti-religious freedom non-sense, Trump has less of a leg to stand on when it comes to gun issues.

Governor Gary Johnson is the only Presidential candidate with a record of standing up for gun rights. He vetoed countless gun control measures as Governor of New Mexico including bills to regulate caliber, round limits, and more. The Democrat controlled state legislature routinely passed bills that would restrict gun rights but Johnson stood strong and vetoed them all. Thankfully the Democrats didn’t have a veto-proof majority as was the case in other states.
Donald Trump has the opposite record. He’s been calling for various forms of gun control his entire adult life. As a New York liberal, Trump consistently supported so-called assault weapons bans among other forms of gun control. He’s even said that he hated the concept of guns. There’s no reason to believe that anything has changed since he wrote the following in his 2000 book The America We Deserve:
“I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun. With today’s Internet technology we should be able to tell within 72-hours if a potential gun owner has a record.”
Of course, as with all of his past liberal positions, Donald Trump says that he has changed his mind. If that’s true, there’s no reason he won’t change it back again now that he has the Republican nomination. He’s already doubled down on his support for raising the minimum wage and national healthcare since then. Flipping on guns wouldn’t be unprecedented. [6]

The difference is that Johnson doesn’t have this record of 180 degree turns that Trump has.

3- He Wants to Limit the Size of the Federal Government

When it comes to the federal government, he wants to abolish both the IRS and the Department of Education. But wait, there’s more, he also wants to stop the war on drugs and make drug laws a state issue. What’s not to like here? [7]

4- Anti-Interventionist Policy, Where it Counts

In terms of his views on foreign policy, he’s made the following talking points,

  • We can no longer afford to shell out billions in foreign aid. (Feb 2012)
  • No foreign aid spending unless it protects U.S. interests. (Nov 2011)
  • Flights to Cuba ok; trade promotes friendship. (Sep 2011)
  • Act in US self-interest, but wary of unintended consequences. (Aug 2011) [8]

If they hold up, this is a pretty good basis for a foreign policy that’s light in intervention, as well as the wallet. He wants to cut the military budget by 43%, wants the Patriot Act to Expire, wants to cut military involvement in Europe, Japan and South Korea, and best of all, isn’t a pacifist either; willing to wage war with congressional approval to prevent a hypothetical holocaust from occurring [9].

The Pragmatic Case

I ask, given what we know of Johnson’s intentions, if the good policies were enacted, along his bad or ugly one’s, would we still not be better off? Abortion would still be legal, but at least it would be a state’s issue. Religious Freedoms would still be where they are — and I doubt Trump would change it. There would be no mandatory vaccination, but only at the federal level. Same-sex marriage would still be where it is.

However, we’d still have much more to gain in terms of his better qualities on guns, a more limited-federal government, potential libertarian voters and members, a non-militaristic (and money saving) foreign policy, and best of all, an open challenge to the two-party system.

End Notes

[1]Libertarian Republic, 5 Most Un-libertarian Positions of Gary Johnson, Link

[2]Timothy Carney, Gary Johnson: ‘Religious freedom, as a category’ is ‘a black hole’ Link

[3] Ian Tuttle, Gary Johnson, First Amendment Scholar, Link

[4] Gary Johnson, Gary Johnson: Clarifying my views on religious freedom, Mormons, Link

[5] Tom Mullen, An Anarcho-Capitalist’s Case for Gary Johnson 2016, Link

[6]J. Wilson, The NRA Should Have Endorsed Gary Johnson Instead Of Donald Trump, Link

[7] Libertarian Republic, 5 Most Hardcore Libertarian Positions of Gary Johnson, Link

[8] Gary Johnson: On the Issues, Link

[9] Wikipedia, Gary Johnson, Link