Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Problem with Gary Johnson

Former two-term Republican Governor of New Mexico and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson has many qualities that attract the attention of libertarians. His views on states' rights, the economy and job creation are quite good and his views on foreign policy and taxes at least rub the establishment the wrong way. Johnson put his philosophy into practice as he, in a sense, "governed as a libertarian" during his two terms as Governor of New Mexico. He explains his many vetoes of Republican and Democrat legislation during his time in office, his many policy decisions, often choosing private rather than government solutions, and more in his short book Seven Principles of Good Government which I recommend. Perhaps not up to the standard set by other "Big 'L'" libertarians like Harry Browne, I cannot say that Johnson's views completely exclude him from being a libertarian - unlike, say, socialist Bill Maher or the self-described "low-tax liberal" Ed Clark - the tent is bigger than not. However, Johnson holds and promotes other views that I think does libertarianism a great disservice.

I usually approach Gary Johnson's articles and TV appearances with excitement, since libertarians do not get nearly as large of a voice amidst the interventionist US media, but I was disappointed by his latest appearance on Alan Colmes' Fox News radio show this past Wednesday.

The interview immediately begins with Colmes insinuating that Johnson is the leading libertarian voice in the country, ahead of that of Ron and Rand Paul. I will agree that Rand Paul has a number of ideological problems of his own but I find it impossible to agree with the claim that Johnson's libertarian credentials exceed those of Ron Paul.

Colmes asks Johnson flat-out if he thinks "Ron and Rand Paul are mislabeling themselves as 'libertarian,'" a question that sees Johnson initially fumbling for words. Colmes thinks that Ron and Rand Paul are not as libertarian as Gary Johnson because "they are anti-choice," alluding to the issue of abortion. Many libertarians do argue that abortion should be legal because of that tired old platitude about "a woman's right to choose." Johnson even goes as far as speaking for libertarians as a whole saying, "a libertarian would fundamentally believe that this issue belongs with the woman involved." What a grave misrepresentation. Many libertarians argue that the "fetus" is a human being that has a fundamental claim to his or her life. Few would argue that a woman has "the right to choose" to murder an adult, so pro-life libertarians argue that a woman does not have the right to choose to end the life of her unborn baby either. It is a legitimate libertarian argument that Johnson chooses to ignore.

Ron Paul's own position on abortion is basically two-fold. The first plank includes the recognition of the 9th and 10th Amendment that excludes the Federal Government from the issue altogether, which leaves the States to enforce abortion laws just as they enforce laws against murder. The second plank includes the idea that an unborn baby is a life and should be protected from aggression just as a life should not be violated outside of the womb. Ron Paul's position is a far more consistent libertarian position since it follows the Constitution and the non-aggression principle; also, as a practicing OB/GYN for many decades, Paul's position on abortion includes a unique medical perspective.

Johnson also misrepresents the libertarian position on gay marriage - or, rather, marriage as a whole - when he says people identifying as "Republican/libertarian" are "punting" on the issue that the States should deciding the legality of gay marriage. Johnson's main point on gay marriage is that he considers it a Federal issue: a "Constitutionally-guaranteed right on par with Civil Rights of the 60s." 

First of all, I find it ironic that Johnson considers the position of leaving the marriage issue to the States as "punting" while his own stated position is to "let each State decide" the issue of outlawing or legalizing abortion!

Secondly, marriage is a Constitutionally-guaranteed right? Really? Where is it written in the Constitution that the States have given the Federal Government authority to regulate marriage? (I'll give you a hint: it's not in there.) It is true that some libertarians argue for the Federal legalization of gay marriage; however, I would argue that the more consistent libertarian position on marriage (between gay or straight couples) is one that advocates the removal of government from the entire institution.

Government-sanctioned marriage (again, gay or straight) is not a "Constitutional right" - the government has no authority whatsoever in marriage. The "civil right" in question regarding marriage between people of any sexual orientation is the right of individuals to enter into voluntary relationships without the force of government in the way to ensure compliance with bureaucratic regulations or demand fees. I agree with Johnson insomuch that leaving marriage "to the States" is not good enough (even though I understand the 10th Amendment application there); however, I disagree with Johnson that government needs to be involved in marriage at all. I say leave marriage to the individuals! Whose idea was it anyway to fork over your cash, property, so that the government can sign off on your marriage?

As if it were not bad enough that Johnson misrepresents the "libertarian" brand regarding marriage, he continues to misrepresent the specific position of Ron Paul himself saying, "Ron Paul would say 'Give [gay marriage] to the States.'"

Johnson makes a special effort to separate the words "tolerant" and "accepting" on the idea that "tolerance" suggests a personal objection to a certain lifestyle. His view is noble but flawed. Everybody objects to particular lifestyles by the very fact of living the way they choose: straight people personally object to engaging in homosexual activities themselves by choosing to date people of the opposite sex, vegetarians personally object to eating meat by avoiding it, etc. Everybody personally objects to other particular lifestyles, that is why they chose not to engage in them; but that does not mean that they object to other people engaging in those particular lifestyles.

Problems arise when people try and force others (usually using the force of government) to halt activities they personally disagree with and force others to conform. There is a difference between a person who is personally against an activity, ideology or lifestyle, choosing not to subscribe to or engage in them, and a person who is trying to stop someone from engaging in that activity, ideology or lifestyle. Here is where Johnson's view comes in line with libertarian thought: Johnson says he takes the attitude of "I don't care what you do with your life as long as it doesn't adversely affect mine." Of course, this is exactly what libertarians believe and this is exactly the position that Ron Paul (and many other libertarians) take regarding marriage! Paul specifically says gay people "can do whatever they want and call it whatever they want. .... The government should just be out of [marriage] .... I have my standards, but I shouldn't have to impose my standards on others; others have standards but have no right to impose their standards on me." This position is pretty cut-and-dry - and far more libertarian than arguing that the Federal Government has regulatory control over marriage.

Luckily, the interview with Colmes was not a complete loss since Johnson had good things to say regarding drones, the surveillance state, the PATRIOT Act, the Federal Reserve, the income tax and competition. But that does not make up for the way that Johnson misrepresented the libertarian position on abortion and marriage. Johnson also continued to flimsily defend the martial law in Boston and promotes the fair tax. You might be wondering what Ron Paul's position on those two things would be.... Well, amazingly, the man whom Colmes feels is not as libertarian as Johnson spoke out against the martial law and has his own, superior, idea of an acceptable flat tax.

Some may think that my entire article is pointless: Why compare Johnson to Paul or any other libertarian? Some may think that such a discussion is distracting from promoting the message of liberty. But I argue that defining the libertarian positions on issues is important. Not every libertarian agrees on every single issue and there are points that can be argued in libertarian circles. However, Gary Johnson is not helping promote the message of liberty when he misleads others so far away from positions that are far more libertarian. Johnson's voice is welcomed in the libertarian debate. However, libertarians need to speak up when his positions do not match up with the libertarian position; especially if Johnson is to be considered a leading libertarian figure.

No comments: