The elephant in the room

Tonight at 6pm Pacific/9pm Eastern time, nine GOP presidential hopefuls will take the stage in a live question and answer session intended to familiarize Americans with the candidates. This will be the seventh so-called debate in the 2012 presidential primary season, and the second to include Governor Gary Johnson, who appeared in the first of these debates back in May but who has not been permitted to participate since. In a surprise (but welcome) decision on September 20th, Fox News invited Johnson to participate in the debate over the objections of the Florida Republican Party, a co-sponsor of the event.

Johnson was the Governor of New Mexico from 1994 to 2003, a republican elected and reelected in a predominantly democrat state. Unlike some republican governors elected to liberal states, he was uncompromising on fiscal policy, using his gubernatorial veto over 750 times in his eight years in office. This proves two things about voters that seem to be forgotten in today’s political climate: that voters will back a candidate they believe has integrity even over one with whom they agree on policy issues (within reason, of course) and that voters are hungry to escape from the unholy alliances that party politics force.


The first of these may be self-evident. Of course people will vote for a candidate they trust even with some disagreement on the issues. I’m paying attention to republican candidates this year not because of President Obama’s policy decisions (although several have been stinkers) but because he has betrayed my trust. I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, supported him, read one of his books, argued with friends and family members that he’d be a good president, celebrated his victory, and watched proudly as he was inaugurated. I was disappointed to see him start his term by spending his political capital on getting his stimulus bill passed. I’d have rather he took on health care first, as keeping Americans healthy will better allow us to weather the recession, which is more important than ending the recession earlier. This disappointment was dwarfed by the revelation that the recipients of funding under the stimulus bill mapped almost perfectly to the list of top Obama campaign donors and fundraisers. This is the biggest and most blatant example of graft in our nations history. $2,600 taken from each and every man, woman, and child in the United States was stuffed into the pockets of Obama’s corporate backers.

That Obama’s priorities did not match mine was a disappointment that was easy to forgive. That he is so openly corrupt is an offense that has almost certainly cost him my vote in 2012.

Strange bedfellows?

The second thing that Johnson’s popularity in his home state indicates is that the positions on issues drawn across party lines are at best arbitrary and sometimes contradictory, and that people respond to political consistency. Libertarian Party propaganda has been pointing out for decades that economic liberty need not be mutually exclusive to civil or personal liberty. I’ve suspected for some time that there would be a lot more Log Cabin Republicans if the GOP would abandon some of its positions that frankly fly in the face of its stated values. How many people align closely with republicans’ fiscal policies but cannot bring themselves to vote republican because they are—or have friends who are—gay or female? People will often grit their teeth and bear higher taxes, but they get angry around issues like abortion, marriage, and military service. The math is pretty simple: would I rather pay more in taxes and see some programs I don’t believe in continue, or let my gay friends in committed relationships find out I voted for a candidate that wants to amend the Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage? Or let any of my friends find out I voted for a candidate that wants to get between a woman and her doctor? It’s a choice I don’t like making. Living in the Bay Area I probably have more openly gay friends than the average American, but everyone everywhere knows women. It’s hard to believe that I’m the only one who resents having to choose between my wallet and the well-being and freedom of my fellow Americans.

Of course there is room for reasonable people to disagree on these issues and it’s not my intention to make a case for my position on social or civil issues here. I want only to make it clear that despite what the mainstream of two-party politics in America are saying, the desire to rein in government spending and the desire to rein in government intrusion into personal affairs are not mutually exclusive or in any way incompatible. I believe that the majority of Americans dislike having this choice foisted upon them, and that the split between democrats and republicans in the country is largely around which set of liberties a given voter is less willing to give up.

Who benefits?

That almost all candidates espouse one set of liberties and eschew the other with little or no ideological connection between the sets of issues that would warrant the division is no accident. If politicians actually solved problems and made our nation a better place, people would stop feeling desperate for better politicians. There would be fewer selling points for politicians and issues with which to blacken an opponent’s reputation. People would pay more attention to the conduct of politicians and they would be forced to become accountable to their constituents rather than their donors or their private agenda.

If that seems pollyannaish, consider how many political campaigns are run almost solely on scare tactics. Americans largely don’t vote for any candidate, but against the one they fear will do more harm. The message from candidates in almost any race seems to be, «don’t worry about what I’ve done or might do, do you really want that monster in office?» As a result, politicians know that it doesn’t matter what they stand for. They must simply stand against something, and then do whatever they like when they get into office.

By contrast, listen to the Nixon-Kennedy debates. Count the number of times that each actually says kind words about the other. Listen to the number of times each said they agree with their opponent about the substance of the issue, and disagree only about the method of addressing it. These politicians were playing a game, of course, but a very different game than that which is played in today’s political realm.

The senator is wearing no clothes

No, don’t take that literally. With very rare exceptions the mental image of any of our elected officials naked is traumatic and I don’t wish that on any of my readers.

While politicians are telling us about their new clothes, the fact that they are elected largely because of who they aren’t (or at least aren’t perceived to be) means their campaign promises are always empty. Nowehere is this more obvious than in the campaign leading up to the 2012 primaries. Even within one party, the debates have largely been about scaring voters from voting for the other guy or gal.

Obviously it’s not this easy, but it seems obvious that a candidate running on a platform of having cake and eating it too personal and fiscal freedom would be tremendously appealing. But it would only take one politician with sufficiently high a profile to ruin the game for all the rest of them. It’s sad then but not too surprising to see Gary Johnson’s own party try to keep him out of the debates, as they have in Florida.

I’m not a fan of Fox News—even the excellent Wall Street Journal has gone downhill since Murdoch took it over—but they get my congratulations and thanks for sticking to their guns and insisting on inviting Governor Johnson to tonight’s debate. In whatever other ways I may find them wanting, Fox has done the country a favor by giving Gary a podium.

Who is Gary Johnson?

There are plenty of sources of information about Governor Johnson that will do a better job of illuminating the man’s qualifications as a candidate. His own campaign website isn’t a bad place to start. But here is a quick rundown of what I see as his strengths:

  • He is serious about balancing the budget
  • Pro-choice
  • Believes that important social issues such as legalization (or not) of marijuana and the definition of marriage should be left to the states
  • Supported ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
  • Will end America’s hostilities in wars we’ve already won
  • Willing to use the power to veto
  • An endurance athlete

This last may not seem like a presidential qualification to some, but it goes to his character. It takes more than talent or natural strength to complete triathlons, climb mountains, or run 100 miles in 30 hours. It takes guts, determination, commitment, and long-term focus. It requires a balance of tenacity and flexibility to complete the kinds of events Governor  Johnson enjoys. One has to be willing to adjust one’s plans, tactics, and strategy on the fly, sometimes sacrifice lesser goals while at the same time refusing to give up even in the face of pain, exhaustion, and even injury. A broken leg (healed only six weeks) did not deter him from summiting Mount Everest. These are the kinds of qualities we absolutely should want in a leader.


Monochromatic Outlook has never before endorsed a political candidate for any office. It is not a good habit to get into. It’s the sort of thing that can color readers’ trust. Ultimately it is more desirable to encourage readers to do your own research and make up your own mind. That does not change: please don’t base your vote on my say-so. An endorsement here is no more or less than a request that you direct your research in a particular direction before coming to a decision. That said, Monochromatic Outlook endorses Gary Johnson for President of the United States of America in 2012.

He is somewhat of a dark horse candidate in this race, but the primaries don’t start for over three months. The race really has not yet begun. Tonight’s debate has the potential to put Governor Johsnon on the map and I encourage anyone strongly to watch the debates, even if you haven’t followed the race at all up until now.

I won’t say any more about Obama here, but I will mention the field of GOP candidates. Other than Gary Johnson, the republicans are pretty uninspiring. Nearly all of them have declared their willlingness to ignore the Constitution on matters related to abortion, and nearly all of them have declared an intention to vigorously promote the alteration of the Constitution to prevent and nullify individual states’ decisions regarding the definition of marriage. Sadly, even Dr Ron Paul, largely seen as the libertarian candidate (due in part to the fact that he was the 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for President) falls in his column. Most have no plan to address the health care crisis except to scrap Obamacare—it needs to be done, but we also need to make some kind of changes. It’s not enough for the GOP to be the party of no ideas pitted against the Democrats’ party of bad ideas. Rick Perry and Mitt Romney deserve some acknowledgment for understanding the relationship between the Federal Government and the states as prescribed by the Constitution, but each has serious shortcomings as a candidate. Michele Bachmann made a very favorable first impression which she has studiously torn down, ending in the most recent debacle where she passionately came out in favor of cervical cancer and against medical science all at once. It seems one might never meet a nicer guy than Jon Huntsman but I’m not crazy about his positions on the issues.

All told, it is my opinion that if the United States doesn’t elect Gary Johnson to the presidency the country is going to hell. It only remains to determine in which handbasket we’ll ride.