Even if Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson had better than a Creamsicle’s chance in Death Valley of winning this November – which he doesn’t – I wouldn’t vote for him.
Sure, I get why some millennials and liberals are drawn to him. He’s a pot-promoting, pro-gay, abortion-rights backer and foe of capital punishment who wants government out of your personal business and the U.S. out of most foreign entanglements. His unaffected style strikes a refreshing contrast with conventional politicians, even if he doesn’t know from Aleppo and can’t name even one living foreign leader he admires.
But they seem to forget there’s a reason Johnson was a Republican as late as 2012. And they seem not to know that a vote for Johnson is also a vote for an array of conservative, free-market, small-government positions that are anathema to most progressives.
He supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that more or less obliterated laws that attempted to tamp down the influence of big money on our elections.
He opposes nearly all forms of gun control, allowing only that “we should be open to a discussion on keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.”
He advocates repealing the Affordable Care Act approved under President Barack Obama and the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit approved under President George W. Bush. His belief is that deregulated competition among insurance companies, hospitals and other health providers will work its salutary magic for those who are now or will be left uninsured.
He supports free trade, though that position doesn’t appear among the 14 topics listed on the issues page of his campaign website. Indeed “trade” – like the words “gun” and “race” and “poverty” – isn’t among the roughly 4,300 words used to outline his platform.
He favors privatizing K-12 education through voucher programs, privatizing prisons and partially privatizing the Veterans Administration. He backs turning Medicare and Medicaid into leaner, exclusively state-administered programs even though he allowed in an interview with the Los Angeles Times this year that some states would likely be “horrible failures.”
He’s proposed increasing the Social Security retirement age to as high as 72, subjecting benefits to means testing and at least partially privatizing the program.
He opposes cap-and-trade measures to reduce carbon emissions and believes, in that charmingly utopian way of ideological enthusiasts, that if we allow “the market to function unimpeded, consumers, innovators and personal choices will do more to bring about environmental protection and restoration than will government regulations.”
He favors abolishing the minimum wage.
He is against “net neutrality,” the principle favored by progressives and small web entrepreneurs that internet service providers should not be allowed to favor certain legal websites over others by, for instance, giving them superior signal access to consumers.
He exhibits an indecisive weary indifference to climate change: “Is the climate changing? Probably so,” says his website. “Is man contributing to that change? Probably so. But the critical question is whether the politicians’ efforts to regulate, tax and manipulate the private sector are cost-effective – or effective at all.”
Johnson has said he wants to get rid of all federal corporate, income, inheritance and capital gains taxes and replace the lost revenue with a 28 percent federal consumption tax – think of it as a sales tax on steroids that you’d pay on top of state and local taxes. Even with the provision of monthly supplement checks to cover the tax on basic poverty-level expenditures, this radical shift would, like most Republican tax plans, almost certainly be a boon to the rich and place added burdens on low- and middle-income earners.
Further, “Governor Johnson has pledged that his first major act as President will be to submit to Congress a truly balanced budget,” says his website. “No gimmicks, no imaginary cuts in the distant future. Real reductions to bring spending in line with revenues, without tax increases.”
He may not really mean it. In May, the National Review reported that when Johnson became governor of New Mexico in 1995, he inherited a debt of $1.8 billion. When he left eight years later, the debt stood at $4.6 billion.
Either way, most of us support the general idea of government spending within its means. But even ardent deficit hawks know that the sudden and dramatic cuts necessary to balance the federal budget in one year with no tax increases would slash many valued programs, create significant new unemployment and perhaps plunge us into another recession.
I understand that my principled fiscally conservative and libertarian friends nod with approval at many of the items on the above menu, however unlikely they would be to pass through Congress in the far more unlikely event Johnson were elected. They are features of his candidacy, not bugs.
What I don’t understand is why he’s garnering his strongest support among young voters who tend to be the most liberal – 29 percent of those ages 18-34 backed Johnson in a mid-September Quinnipiac University poll – as though he’s some next-gen Bernie Sanders in running shoes or a nonkooky version of Green Party nominee Jill Stein.
If they understand what they’re endorsing when they cast their lot with Gary Johnson, that’s fine.
If they don’t, that’s scary.
The writer is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.