Gary Johnson Wants to Make America “Sane” Again

Gary JohnsonWhile the two main parties in the US go through their procedural requirements before officially giving their candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the nod, in a quiet corner of Orlando, the Libertarian Party have secured their presidential and VP nominations. Gary Johnson and Bill Weld will represent the party in this presidential election cycle.

It’s an interesting pick. The libertarians, maybe somewhat focused on the relative unpopularity of the Republican and Democrat choices on offer, have chosen pragmatism over purity. Gary Johnson almost certainly fails most libertarians’ “purity test”, but so what? Politics is the art of the possible, and if you vote for Ayn Rand to represent you, you’re going to end up spending most of the election cycle justifying why roads must be privatised, or some other ‘kooky’ side-issue. But picking Johnson and Weld, the LP have a real shot – even though the odds are still against it – of picking up more serious numbers this time around. Johnson could even end up being part of the presidential debates if he gets 15% recognition in a series of polls. He’s around the 10% mark with his name in at the moment. Again, it’s unlikely, but it could happen.

Let’s make this clear. There will be three serious names on the ballot in all 50 states this time around: Clinton, Trump and Johnson. Clinton and Trump are statistically the least popular picks in recent history. I couldn’t find a time in the last 50 years where the Democrat and Republican candidates both polled with less than 50% approval ratings.

Which leaves one question: how much approval would Gary Johnson get? He has a problem: people have to have heard of him first. But if there’s enough attention (and with both disenfranchised Reps and soon-to-be pissed-off Bernie voters looking for alternatives, that attention could well be on its way), then here’s a guy who arguably represents the mainstream view of most Americans.

I’ve felt for quite a while now that while there’s some die-hard ideologues on both the left and the right, broadly speaking the majority centre-ground in the US are people who are fiscally conservative (read ‘competent’), and socially liberal (read ‘tolerant’). That’s a fairly nice big-tent definition of a libertarian, but Americans haven’t been specifically looking for one before. Today, that could well change.

In the 2012 elections, Gary Johnson polled over a million votes. It was the largest raw numbers the Libertarian Party had ever seen, but was still only 1.2% of the vote, not even quite their highest level. The odds of Gary Johnson becoming the next president are very slim, but if he can push the needle far enough, then there’s every chance that libertarianism in mainstream American politics could flourish as a result of his run.

Gary Johnson is a libertarian. Weld is, arguably, a libertarian-leaning Republican. They may offer an optimistic insight into the future of the GOP. Let’s take Gary Johnson as an example. He’s a two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, in a state that’s 2:1 Democrat. How did he do it?

There’s no doubt that America is moving further and further away from the old socially conservative model that Republicans have hung their hats on for years. The times, they are a-changin’. And for a while now, the GOP has refused to move with it.

Lots of things can happen in the next few years to change that. However, it’s not totally unrealistic at this stage, to say that I can see a time in the next 20 years or so, where Republican presidential nominations are like, well, Republican gubernatorial nominations in a heavily-Democratic state like New Mexico. Gary Johnson came along, with lots of money (a successful self-made millionaire), and gave the GOP some money. They were grateful, but tried to steer him away from wanting to become the Republican nominee for governor. Despite that, they eventually picked him. After all, he had lots of energy and enthusiasm, and the rest of the field were going through the motions comparatively . After all, what’s the point? Republicans seldom win in a state that’s 2:1 Democrat.

Once he had that platform, he went full-blown libertarian, challenging the inconsistent positions of the incumbent Democratic governor. And people flocked to the idea. It was new, it was fresh, it was exciting. But more than that, it felt, it felt… right.

So he won. Became governor. Did everything he promised he would. He upset the Republican old-guard as much as the Democrats in that state. And once it came to the next election, he happily conducted dozens of debates with his challenger, and won with a bigger majority.

Imagine a time, not too far from now, where the whole US is like New Mexico. Majority Democrat. Picking a Republican candidate is not important any more, because those guys just don’t win any more.

So, just like in New Mexico, a younger, fresh-faced person wins the national GOP nomination on an energetic libertarian platform. He or she doesn’t get too much opposition from the GOP establishment because that establishment has shrivelled up. Then that libertarian pick gets to be on the main stage with the Democratic clone.

Then the future of American politics starts to get interesting. And, for this libertarian, a lot healthier too.

Donald Trump says he wants to “Make America Great Again”.

Gary Johnson says he wants to “Make American Sane Again”.

I think the two-term governor of New Mexico is on to something.

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An Objectivist Christmas Carol

  One of my odd holiday season traditions is to re-read Charles Dickens’ festive classic, “A Christmas Carol”.

After today’s re-run of this tradition, I felt – as I often do – that it’s not quite the appeal to a religious/social democratic way of life it’s often portrayed. Is there something of the libertarian – if not Objectivist in Ebinezer Scrooge by the end of the story?

Turns out, I’m not the only one who’s had the same thoughts. Here’s a comprehensive look at this idea from the very thoughtful Robert Davidson on the Rebirth of Reason site.

Davidson makes some thought-provoking points, this one really caught my eye:

Dickens argues here for an integrated rational, full-faceted individual who is as comfortable in the counting house as he is with spiritual values and the fulfillment and happiness they provide. The spirit of Christmas is a metaphor for the integrated life. Dickens describes Christmas as “the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” 

Whenever I think of that powerful scene, when pre-transformed Scrooge asks the two gentlemen soliciting charity for the needy, he asks “Are there no prisons? Are there no work-houses?…I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

Is that really the attitude of an Objectivist? Or is it more someone who relies on the state, to perform the functions of charity and forbearance? If you want a large state to redistribute wealth, look after the poor, and support us from cradle to grave, then you’ll be the sort of person who wants taxes to provide those services; those institutions. It would be someone who believes in self-reliance and thinks that charity should be precisely that: charity, then you can’t support Scrooge’s sentiment.

Anyway, I’m jotting this out of my phone on Christmas Eve night, so maybe I’m not thinking it through.

Either way, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, happy holidays.

Send in the Clowns

GOP 2015 DebateCan the Hillary machine be defeated? It’s the question a rag-tag bunch of GOP wannabe leaders are hoping to bring an answer to.

My predictions on the result of the UK General Election was so far off the mark, that it’d be pretty shameless to predict the next US presidential election. But you know, me and my big mouth…

Hillary Clinton already seems to be walking the walk as the next nominee for the Democrats, and barring any magical moment, it’s probably pretty safe to assume that she’ll be given the official seal of approval without too much fuss.

I’d love to see a female President, though I want one on merit rather that because someone finally got there and people voted for one to “make history”, which is why I’m not exactly on Team Hillary. She sounds like a pretty authoritarian hyper-interventionist to this libertarian, but looking at the rogues gallery of Republicans (again, mostly great white males), there’s not much inspiring stuff going on their either.

Donald Trump – the cartoon candidate – is currently taking all the headlines on the Republican side, with occasional references to Jeb Bush, brother of George, son of George Snr. The GOP don’t stand a chance.

Or do they? Before the Trump machine starting it’s cacophony, Rand Paul was right up there, in the public spotlight.

Rand Paul – though maybe not as “pure” a libertarian as the supporters of his father Ron would like – is the nearest thing to a libertarian running at present. We don’t know if Gary Johnson will take the libertarian party candidacy this time around.

He’s leaning further to the traditional right than I believe his natural instincts and morals would usually take him. But he’s running for the Republican nomination just now, so I ease off any serious criticism, given his fairly commendable behaviour overall in the Senate, including his remarkable filibuster attempts.

As it stands, I think only Rand Paul could stop the Hillary Machine marching into the White House. While a sequel to the Clinton years wouldn’t be so bad (balanced books, etc.) I’m not sure if we’d see that from President Clinton II.

If the Republicans were to stand with Rand, then he wins their nomination, moves to the centre, and campaigns on a broadly socially tolerant but fiscally competent platform, it would make the whole election exciting.

Republicans would (mostly) fall in line behind him. But for Democrats, it would open up a bigger moral conundrum: do they “make history” and vote for the first woman president, or do they take this very real opportunity to vote for a properly socially liberal (in the classical sense) contender in Rand Paul?

Man, I’d love to see that. But given the recent history of Republicans voting for safer, boring, more, well, I guess, ‘conservative’ candidates, I doubt it’s a political match-up we’re going to see. And that’s a shame for all of us.

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo pencil cartoonAt the time of writing, the sick and twisted individuals behind the Charlie Hebdo attack have yet to be arrested or killed. Reports of an explosion near where they were located are coming in, and we await the events in Dammartin-En-Goele with great interest.

The horrific images coming out of the massacre in Paris don’t deserve to be reposted here. But the outpouring of libertarianism around the world does. Free speech, in all its forms, is suddenly very popular. I hope it lasts.

How can anyone not be touched by the creativity, courage, solidarity and beauty that almost immediately sprung forth from the cartoonist community?

I’ve been a little concerned at the line that we’re hearing in some places already that goes along the lines of “I agree that no one should be killed for drawing cartoons and I condemn  these attacks, but…”

No.

I’m sorry, no. There is no “but”. You only know you have the right and moral position, when you can defend the very things you disapprove of. Voltaire’s quote about defending what someone says – not matter how strongly you disagree – applies fully today. Especially today.

Any concession against speech or free expression, no matter how hateful or disagreeable that expression, must be removed. Otherwise we’ll be forever stuck with cartoons like this:

Etremist approved cartoon

(Except, in the future, it won’t be a poignant joke.)

Ferguson And The Warrior Cop

Rise of the Warrior Cop CoverThe awful scenes this month in Ferguson are a chilling reminder of warnings in Radley Balko’s “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.” (also available on amazon.co.uk)

Yeah, I know I’m a stuck record, but once again, libertarians called this long before anyone else. The inherent dangers of the post-9/11 security-state measures under Bush and Obama (no real distinctions between them), have been laid out more clearly by libertarians than any other group. And classical liberal Balko places it at our feet in the most straightforward way you can imagine.

The Federal orders, made in the last 7-8 years that allowed surplus military arms to be handed out to police officers throughout the US was brought about by the shock of 9/11. But sadly there were no specific rules to how those arms could be used. And how many al-Qaeda sleeper cells do we think are hiding out in Missouri, anyway?

So these powers – that made the scenes in Ferguson look like a level on Call of Duty – led to the problems we’ve see this month. Let’s think about it in plain step-by-step points:

  • A teen – who was unarmed – gets shot by Ferguson police.
  • A peaceful protest rally – designed to ensure no coverup takes place – is held by the people of Ferguson.
  • The Mayor of Ferguson bans the rally, seemingly in violation with the first amendment.
  • The public continue to protest anyway, still mostly peacefully.
  • The (heavily militarised) police start to “crackdown” on the protesters, and even the journalists covering the protest.
  • After this show of force, factions of the protest turns into ugly riots, probably instigated in the most part by criminals with intent anyway on looting, etc., and see the protests degradation as an excuse.
  • News helicopters are banned from flying over the trouble-spots (again, possibly a violation of the first amendment).
  • Journalists get arrested for filming, other journalists are subjected to tear gas by the police. Again, this is the police, not the military (though the distinction isn’t that big by now).
  • A fairly sleepy town on just over 20,000 turns into a militarised zone. By the police.

Put it like that, and something seems very wrong doesn’t it?

Why We Should Celebrate Magna Carta Day

It's 'Magna Carta Day' on June 15th, and for my money, it's much better celebration of what it means to be English, than the tired old esoteric St George's day, which has just become an excuse to endulge in vague piffle to do with “what does it mean to be English”, without giving any real answer. Except for something about a dragon. That didn't exist.

If we really want to celebrate England's contribution to the world, it should be about the best gift our nation gave the rest of the world – namely, the rule of law.

Throughout the Commonwealth – and, indeed, the Anglosphere more generally – The “Great Charter of Freedom” is venerated and highly respected. Sadly, here in the country of its origin, we seem to have forgotten about it entirely.

So, on June 15th, take a moment to remember England's great contribution to the world, that radical, revolutionary truth: we, as human beings, are born free. And any tyrant who claims otherwise, is sorely mistaken.

 

The Libertarian Age?

I came across this article by John Stosel today, defining now as the Libertarian era. He says that today’s young(er) people self-identify more as libertarian than any other group. And their numbers are growing:

I’m not optimistic about most people recognizing liberty’s benefits. Old politicians—and old voters collecting Social Security—may never change their minds. But libertarianism is growing fastest among the young, and groups like Students for Liberty give me hope. These young people certainly know more about liberty than I did at their age.

And he quotes the articulate and always-engaging Matt Welch of Reason Magazine:

“Poll after poll show you that Americans are much more fiscally conservative than their elected representatives,” says Welch. “A majority of Americans thinks that we should balance the budget. Seventy-five percent think that we should not raise the debt ceiling … Growing majorities—especially young people—are more socially tolerant. They think that we should legalize marijuana … they’re in favor of gay marriage.”

Younger people – which I suppose you can define as those of us who can claim to be ‘Generation Y’ – are enjoying much more decentralised, hyphenated lives: the like of which our parents and their parents have never known. It makes sense that young people are linking their way of life with their life philosophy, and maybe – just maybe – their brand of politics moving forward.