Gary Johnson is not a libertarian

TAMPA, April 12, 2012 — While the media continue to ignore compelling evidence that the Republican primary race is much closer than they are reporting, some Ron Paul supporters are nevertheless thinking about what they might do if Paul does not get the Republican nomination.

Throughout this election cycle, Gary Johnson’s name has been omnipresent as a libertarian alternative. There’s only one problem. Gary Johnson is not a libertarian.

This just seems to be occurring to some of the faithful after his disastrous interview with the Daily Caller. In it, Johnson proposes to cut the military budget by 43 percent. However, when pressed on one hypothetical military intervention after another, Johnson refuses to rule any out. He’d consider military intervention for humanitarian reasons. He believes the United States should maintain a military presence in the Middle East. He would continue drone attacks in Pakistan. By the end of the interview, libertarians were likely waiting for Johnson to rip off a mask Scooby Doo villain-style, revealing he was really Dick Cheney in disguise.

From the moment he announced his run for president as a Republican, Gary Johnson has stated that he believes all government policies should be formulated using a “cost-benefit analysis” (about the 2:20 mark). What are we spending our money on and what are we getting in return? (Libertarians would likely question him on just who “we” is and how it became “our money,” but I digress.) While that might be a lot better than what Washington is doing now – all cost and no discernible benefit – it’s not how libertarians make policy decisions.

There is no evidence Gary Johnson is even aware of the philosophical basis of libertarianism. If he is aware of it, he’s obviously decided to reject it. That’s certainly his prerogative, but he shouldn’t be seeking the Libertarian Party’s nomination.

The Libertarian Party has never garnered more than about 1% of the vote in a presidential election. Its chief benefit has always been that it nominated candidates libertarians could actually believe in, even if they weren’t going to win. This was true as late as 2004, when the party nominated Michael Badnarik. However, it badly damaged itself by nominating Bob Barr in 2008. If it nominates Gary Johnson for president in 2012, it will completely lose all relevance, even among libertarians.

Ron Paul is not a perfect libertarian, but he does understand libertarian philosophy and he does form his positions based upon the non-aggression principle, as he confirmed in my own interview with him last year (about the 7:30 mark). That’s why he told Matt Lauer (about the 5:00 mark) that economic liberty, personal liberty and his non-interventionist foreign policy are all one package. Libertarians believe initiating force is wrong, whether it is military force against another nation or a government bureau forcibly transferring money from one person or group to another.

{Note to reader: A portion of this article is missing here. This originally appeared in Washington Times Communities, but due to contractual issues all posts written during this period have been taken down from the Washington Times website. I retrieved  this from a blogger who reprinted most of this article, but there appears to have been a portion here that he did not reprint. If anyone can locate the article in its entirety, I would be grateful to have a copy.}

If the Libertarian Party wants to be practical in spreading the libertarian message, it should endorse Ron Paul as its candidate in 2012. He is more libertarian than any politician in U.S. history and has more visibility than any candidate the party could field. If it insists upon putting forth its own candidate, it should nominate a true libertarian. It has several choices.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

2 thoughts on “Gary Johnson is not a libertarian

  1. liberranter

    Wow, Tom, some folks out there really don’t like to hear the truth, do they? What I find most frightening is that their responses illustrate an inability to absorb self-evident statements of fact in context or to think critically. We should not be surprised at this, given the deterioration over the last several decades of not only our education system, but all of our civic and social institutions, institutions that at one time developed and encouraged these skills.

    In reading further through the responses, I find myself wondering whether it’s a case of people clutching at straws or simply rejecting the possibility of REAL change. To put it another way, I really don’t think that most of the people responding negatively to your description of Johnson really want an actual libertarian president in the Awful Orifice. In fact, I doubt most of them really want to see the emergence of a truly libertarian society at all, their misguided enthusiasm for Johnson notwithstanding. Why not? Because the flip side of the “liberty” that libertarianism embraces, the other side of the NOP, is that each of us, and each of us alone, is responsible for our own life and destiny. Not many people today, including those who like to think of themselves as libertarians, really want that. Responsibility for one’s own life and destiny is a terrifying burden to have to carry, with too many unknowns to face; better to let someone else carry at least part of the load, whether they want to or not.

    Even beyond that, and to a great extent related to it, I’m not even sure that the NOP is a very popular concept, at least not in its full application as committed libertarians understand it. Most people, I believe, prefer to apply it as a response to unprovoked physical (criminal) violence, and even then only if it is “unofficial” violence committed by individuals. They shy away from extending it to acts of official coercion by the State. After all, most people, even those who call themselves “libertarians,” are rent seekers in some form, benefiting at least indirectly from the State’s depredations against their fellow man. To repudiate this by applying the NOP would be to deprive themselves of (paraphrasing Bastiat here) “being able to live at someone else’s expense.”

    The bottom line is that, based on the responses I’ve seen to your coverage of Johnson over several posts, most people either 1) wouldn’t know a real libertarian if they saw or heard one, wouldn’t recognize real libertarianism in action, and would hate it if they did; or 2) don’t really want to be a libertarian themselves, or live in a libertarian society anyway, preferring instead to “cherry pick” libertarian tenets that suit them while discarding those that are inconvenient. Needless to say, this doesn’t bode well for Amerika’s future as anything close to a free society.

  2. Steve

    I want to vote Libertarian like I did in 2008, and I probably will, but I’m hoping someone other than Gary Johnson running. In 2008 I did not like Bob Barr either. I figured we would have to be vigilant to keep the Libertarian party true and correct, but I thought it would be when we were close to winning, not when we are getting under 10% of the votes.


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