Gary Johnson Must Rise to the Occasion and Proudly Proclaim the Principles of Liberty

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Gary Johnson often claims that most people are Libertarian, they just don’t know it. We agree on both counts. We believe that most Americans are socially tolerant and fiscally conservative; they are frustrated by a corrupt, overreaching, and ineffective federal government; they want personal choice and believe in personal responsibility; and they want a strong national defense, but are tired of failed foreign interventions. That is the Libertarian Party. Yet, in the last election, Mr. Johnson’s Libertarian ticket got just under one-percent of the national vote. While many are ideologically inclined to vote Libertarian, plainly they do not know it.

With the major parties set to nominate the two most unpopular and divisive candidates in modern history, this is the Libertarian Party’s opportunity to change that dynamic — to reach out to libertarian-minded individuals who are now actively searching for a better alternative, and to explain the libertarian message to voters who have not yet heard it. And, we agree with the Libertarian Party’s selection of Mr. Johnson as the best candidate to capitalize on this opportunity. While we sympathize with supporters of Mr. McAfee and Mr. Petersen, who have argued that their candidates are more true to (and seem to have a better understanding of) libertarian principles, Mr. Johnson’s personal story, professional success, and political experience bring necessary credibility that neither Mr. McAfee nor Mr. Petersen could have provided. We believe that Mr. Johnson was the only candidate with the potential to attract the donor funding and media attention necessary to mount a credible campaign. And, even if a President Johnson is not in the cards, a strong campaign and respectable showing by Mr. Johnson could position the Libertarian Party as a viable alternative to the two-party cartel in future local, state, and national elections. Mr. Johnson’s success in this election is about far more than Gary Johnson; it is about the future potential of the Libertarian Party.

Unfortunately, what we have seen thus far from Mr. Johnson has been underwhelming. In an election driven by voter anger at a feckless President and corrupt establishment, Mr. Johnson — as the nominee of the anti-establishment party — seems unwilling or unable to embrace that anger. Watching the CNN Town Hall last week, Mr. Johnson showed no apparent discontent with the direction of this country or the actions of our government, and failed to articulate what, if anything, he would do differently. Asked about what comes to mind when he hears the names Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Mr. Johnson responded, respectively, with “good guy” and “a wonderful public servant.” Even if your purpose is to maintain a positive campaign, you must be willing to call a spade a spade. We trust that nobody who is even considering voting for Mr. Johnson would agree with these characterizations (indeed, it is hard to conceive that anyone could believe that Ms. Clinton has any purpose in life other than to serve herself). How about referring to Mr. Obama as an “interventionist” (both in foreign and domestic policy) or “someone who disrespects the limitations of his constitutional authority”; and Hillary Clinton could be considered just a “typical politician,” if we are trying to be kind.

Mr. Johnson’s responses on policy questions were little better. Asked about gun control, Mr. Johnson asserted that “we should be open to discussions,” “you shouldn’t close off that debate,” and then got sidetracked by pondering how he would be like to be President so that he could understand what happened between the FBI and the Orlando shooter. There was no defense of the Second Amendment or gun-owner rights, nor explanation regarding how gun control laws are ineffective and often counterproductive. Asked about healthcare, he vaguely explained that we should keep a safety net but that he favors undefined free market solutions. Asked about the benefits of free trade, he said little more than that “free trade does benefit.” Is a conclusory assertion that “trade is good” really the best that he can do? Asked about job creation, he explained his support for a tax plan that he claimed would be revenue neutral, yet after being challenged on that point retreated to say “well, then — well, maybe not.” That hardly inspires confidence — and why is a Libertarian tax plan revenue neutral in the first place?

Mr. Johnson, you are squandering this opportunity, both for yourself and the libertarian movement. What we saw on stage at the CNN Town Hall was not a leader, not a potential President, and worst of all, not a libertarian. Getting earned media appearances is meaningless if you remain unwilling or unable to communicate the Libertarian message — or any message at all. And, getting into the debates is hardly a victory if you are outshone by Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton. This apparent strategy of taking no positions and offending no one is misguided in any election, but particularly this election cycle. It is time to step up and forcefully proclaim the Libertarian message.

To that end, Mr. Johnson noted in his CNN appearance that he likes to “play a game” while watching debates where he answers the questions that are asked of the candidates. We have decided to do the same, taking a few of the questions that were asked of Mr. Johnson in the CNN Town Hall and providing the answers that we would have liked to have seen. If you want to see Mr. Johnson’s actual full answers, the transcript can be found here. (Note: In the interest of space, we do not provide the questioners’ full statement.)

Q:  You said America would be safer if it was easier to buy guns and if more people carried them. How would making it easier to buy guns with minimum requirements, especially unnecessary military rifles, make us safer?

A: Every time there is a terrorist attack we hear calls from the right for more surveillance, for how we must compromise our privacy and Constitutional rights for security. And, every time there is shooting incident, we hear calls from the left for more gun control and how we must compromise our Second Amendment rights to save lives. But, the truth is that these proposals are little more than security theater — they will not make us safer, they will not prevent terrorist attacks, and they will not save lives — but they will make government more powerful and everyone else less free.

You may remember that so-called assault weapons were banned for ten years from 1994 to 2004, but multiple studies have shown that this ban had no effect on homicide rates. California has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, but that did not stop the San Bernardino shooting. And, certain areas of Chicago are virtual war zones despite its strict gun control laws. Just adding more laws that restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens does not save lives or reduce crime because criminals do not follow the law. And, people who have purchased guns legally rarely commit crimes with those weapons. Trying to prevent crime or terrorism by restricting gun-owner rights is like trying to prevent drunk driving by making it more difficult for everyone to buy a car. You simply impose an unnecessary (and in the case of guns, unconstitutional) burden on law-abiding citizens, while doing nothing to target or punish the actual offenders.

So, how would more people carrying guns make us safer? Well, in the Orlando attack, we know what eventually stopped the perpetrator: when police arrived with their guns and returned fire. As is often the case, good guys with guns stopped a bad guy with a gun. How many lives could have been saved if there were some sober good guys with guns already in that club; if everyone was not defenseless until police finally arrived.

Many people just reflexively believe that more guns necessarily means more danger; more crime. But, we need to recognize that a law abiding citizen with a gun is far different than a criminal or terrorist with a gun. There are now over 13 million issued concealed carry permits; and there are rarely any instances of concealed carry weapons being used in a crime or as part of an unjustified shooting. More good guys with guns make us safer because they can defend themselves and others against bad guys with guns.

Q:  When one of my sons was 16 years old, he went out with some friends and he did a line of heroin. It did not end well for him. He became very sick and vomited. He aspirated and was left with brain damage. We live in an extremely high-risk society, and this is normal for our children. So, Governor, please explain to me how you think that legalizing marijuana straight through to heroin can possibly be a harm reduction forum. It makes no sense to me.

A:  I am very sorry about your son; there are far too many in this country who know the pain of losing a friend or family member to a drug overdose. And, I would love to stand up here and say that I have a plan to eliminate heroin; to cure addiction; to make everything better. But, we need to live in reality, and we need to reject those types of empty promises that politicians have been making for years.

It has been over 45 years since Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” In that time, we have spent over a trillion dollars, arrested and imprisoned millions of Americans, empowered militarized swat teams to raid homes in search of marijuana plants, cast aside basic Fourth Amendment rights, and taken police and judicial resources that could be focused on preventing and solving robberies, assaults, and homicides and instead dedicated them to arresting the very drug addicts that we supposedly are trying to help. And, where has that left us? With addiction on the rise; with a worsening heroin epidemic; with drugs cheaper, more potent, and more available than ever; with cities throughout the country virtual war zones between drug gangs; with drug cartels and terrorist groups — including ISIS — making billion of dollars in profits off the illegal drug trade; and with millions of American citizens bearing the burden of criminal records for nonviolent drug offenses. This has been 45 years of a failed policy and failed promises. Respectfully, what makes no sense is saying that we should continue to do more of the same; to spend more money; to put more people in prison; to get the same bad results.

There is a better way. Portugal decriminalized all drugs — from marijuana to heroin — and use rates fell, addiction rates fell, and overdose deaths plummeted. Zurich, Switzerland addressed its heroin epidemic by moving from enforcement and punishment to support and treatment, providing methadone and heroin to addicts by prescription. This program has been a resounding success. And, in Colorado, fear mongers proclaimed that marijuana use would skyrocket once it become legal; but new number just out show teen marijuana use has actually fallen in Colorado since 2009 before marijuana was legal. It makes sense to me to say that decriminalization or legalization results in harm reduction because that is what we have seen wherever it has been tried.

As President, I cannot legalize drugs. That is up to the states. But, I can work to end the failed federal “war on drugs”; and that is exactly what I will do. We will be dedicating our federal drug resources to prevention and treatment, and will allow the states to experiment with legalization. After 45 years of failure, it is time to try something different — something that has worked.

Q:  What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing our country’s next president?

A:  The country is unnecessarily divided because there is a misconception that we must adapt the values of one group or another and use the coercive power of government to force those values on all of society. So we have these fights about whose values will win out. We need to end these divisions by encouraging a respect for everyone’s right to live their own lives based on their own values, as long as they are not hurting anyone else. We need to recognize that everyone’s values can win out, as long as they do not try to impose those values on others. We need government to step back, to stop passing legislation dictating how people must live, what is good for them, and how they should spend their money, and let people decide for themselves.

At heart, the Libertarian Party is about personal freedom and personal responsibility; it is about civil society and voluntary association instead of government coercion; it is about respecting peoples’ own decisions and not thinking as politicians that we somehow know better.

As politicians do, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will make a litany of promises about what they will do for you, what they will give to you. My only promise is that I will do everything in my power as President of the United States to get the government out of your way; to let you live your life, to run your business, to raise your kids without government interference. It is time for the people to take back control of their own lives.