Wednesday, September 7, 2016
The Cool Dude
Gary Johnson comes across as a cleaned-up version of Lebowski, offering the kind of social liberalism many of us crave for, yet sees the economy in Milton Friedman terms. Despite the glaring contradiction, Johnson has managed to appeal to Democrats and Republicans alike, mostly young ones thanks to his pro-pot position. In fact, Cool Gary is for legalization of all drugs, which put him in a bit of a tight spot at a CNN town hall this past June, when he casually dismissed a woman's concern over the legalization of heroin.
This isn't the first time Johnson has campaigned as a Libertarian. He was nominated by the party in 2012 after he decided not to run as a Republican in the primaries. It was a watershed event for Libertarians as Cool Gary garnered one percent of the national vote, doubling the performance of any previous Libertarian candidate in a general election. It helped that he was a recognizable face to more people, and had toned down the Libertarian message to one of pragmatism in the face of ideologically-bound politics.
This time around, he shed Jim Gray in favor of William Weld as his running mate. Weld is a former Republican governor like himself with decidedly more brand appeal to conservatives. As a result, Gary has seen his numbers surge in national polls to 10 per cent. Some polls have him as high as 15 per cent, which would qualify him and his running mate for the presidential and vice-presidential debates. But, who is Gary Johnson, and for that matter William Weld?
Both have been out of politics for some time. Johnson was governor of New Mexico from 1995-2003, and Weld served as governor of Massachusetts from 1991-97. Weld has the added bonus of having previously served Reagan as US assistant attorney general for the criminal division. Both came to Libertarianism late in life. Gary in 2011 and Bill just this year. Gary asked Bill to join the ticket after Weld's first choice, John Kasich had gone down in the primaries.
Cool Gary isn't so much a Libertarian as he is a political opportunist. He hijacked the Libertarian party for his own self-interests. He knew he didn't have a hope in hell of making it through the Republican primaries as a moderate and his only recourse has been to draw attention to himself as a third-party candidate. Given that the majority of Americans don't like Hillary or Trump, Gary is in position to garner the most votes for a third party candidate since Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996.
For Gary that seems to be enough. He doesn't appear to be entertaining notions that he could actually win. He just wants to clear the 15 per cent threshold to participate in the presidential debates. The odd part is that the didn't exactly shine at the CNN Town Hall in June, getting miffed by all the questions Chris Cuomo threw at him about pot. When confronted by "real questions," he seemed to defer on these too. Weld came across as the more "presidential" of the two.
I'm not sure whether that makes Gary a spoiler or not. He seems to be siphoning some votes away from the Republicans, but he is also appealing to Berniecrats, who take his pro-pot and pro-choice positions to roughly align with their own views. The Berniecrats seem to overlook that Cool Gary is against tuition-free public universities and a minimum wage. He also favors a whopping 28% national sales tax over the current income tax, not that corporations would be anymore willing to pay this flat tax than they would the current corporate tax rate.
Cool Gary has cribbed ideas from both the left and right of the political divide and presented himself as some strange hybrid with a Libertarian bumper sticker. Given that many persons are not looking very deep into the candidates, this has been enough to draw attention to himself.
Unfortunately, he is no more Libertarian than Donald Trump is a Republican. They have both dressed themselves up as alternative candidates to appeal to a disgruntled electorate desperate to have something different in Washington. Cool Gary has built his campaign mostly on his personal appeal not what the Libertarian party stands for. As the National Review pointed out in May, his record in New Mexico was anything but anti-government, having increased spending almost two-fold and the state debt nearly three-fold, leaving Richardson and Martinez to try to clean up the fiscal mess he left behind.
Since then, he has dabbled in a marijuana-based pharmaceutical company, penned a few books and got involved with Students for Liberty, a Koch Bros. funded organization that denies climate change and promotes unfettered corporate power. He also competes in triathlons and likes to climb mountains, posting some pretty impressive times.
You would think if he harbored presidential ambitions after leaving office in 2003, he would have done more to ingratiate himself with George Bush or Barack Obama so that he could have a stronger political record. At the very least, got involved in some international organizations that would make him more aware of what is going on in the world. Instead, he pushes a non-intervention stance so that he can dodge foreign policy questions, much like fellow Libertarian-minded Rand Paul when confronted with such questions early in the Republican presidential campaign.
Gary Johnson seems like a pretty cool guy and someone you would enjoy meeting, but he doesn't have the chops to be President. He mostly craves publicity, giving him a broader brand appeal to boost book sales and get Cannabis Sativa off the ground. I see his former buddy Jim Gray sits on the board. There really isn't much to him, yet in a political climate that sees so much animosity directed at Hillary and Trump, he is doing better than anyone could have imagined.