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The Pragmatic Libertarian

April 28, 2011Posted in Blog, Gov. Gary Johnson, News

Gary Johnson’s pro-liberty platform will change the debate at The Daily by Shikha Dalmia

“Independent voters hankering for a genuine alternative to Barack Lyndon Roosevelt Obama on the left and Fox News flunkies on the right might have their man. No, it’s not Ron Paul, the Texas Republican congressman who electrified them last election cycle. It is arguably someone better: the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson….

….A fitness fanatic who has participated in five iron man triathlons, he defied all odds to win the New Mexico governor’s race in 1994 as a 42-year-old political virgin, never having run for office. He twice defeated his Democratic opponent by 10 points in a state that is 2-to-1 Democratic. He funded his first campaign from his own fortune, acquired when he sold for $38 million his construction company, which he started with one person: himself.

But more impressive than his winning office is what he did in it. A fiscal hawk, he slashed government spending, something that none of the other governors leading the pack of GOP hopefuls has done. Mitt Romney destroyed his own fiscal legacy by enacting a universal health coverage program that is now devouring the Bay State’s budget. And Sarah Palin, notwithstanding her fairy tales, presided over a 31 percent spending hike in Alaska. By contrast, Johnson cut in half the 10 percent annual growth his state budget had been experiencing. He vetoed 750 bills, a third of them Republican, privatized government services and trimmed public-sector employee rosters. He lowered taxes and still exited with a tidy budget surplus.

None of this is to deny that his candidacy faces impediments of Mount Everest-like scale (a mountain which, incidentally, Johnson has climbed). He has little name recognition and no money. That might change if he makes a serious showing in the first few primaries. But that’ll be difficult given that the GOP’s primary process is stacked against anti-establishment candidates like him who refuse to pay obeisance to agricultural subsidies in Iowa, the site of the first contest. His strategy is to win New Hampshire, where his pro-liberty message has more resonance.

The issue, however, is whether he can sell this message.

His hope is that his economic conservatism and social liberalism will have cross-political appeal. But the flip side is that they will also generate cross-political hostility. Liberals, whose beloved entitlement programs Johnson would probably cut, won’t take things lying down. Indeed, they already have started digging up dirt and attacking his opposition to child labor laws. Meanwhile, anti-immigration conservatives, too, have declared him unfit for office because he supports a guest worker program and opposes deportation.

Paul doesn’t have to contend with conservative hostility because he makes no pretense of being a social liberal and routinely flirts with questionable causes popular with his Texas base. But Johnson is no populist. His strategy is to make pragmatic arguments for liberty. Thus he defends his embrace of immigration and opposition to the war on drugs, not on first principles but on fiscal grounds. He doesn’t give lectures on the importance of open borders to individual liberty. Or offer discourses on “your life, your choice” to defend drug use. Rather, he appeals to voters’ common sense. As governor, he tackled the illegal immigration issue by demonstrating that illegals pay more in state taxes than they consume in services. Likewise, he emphasizes how the drug war sucks up massive law enforcement dollars without reducing use.

This is a savvy approach because it allows him to be more pro-liberty on more issues and reach more people, especially independents for whom putting America’s fiscal house in order is a top priority. According to David Kirby of the Cato Institute, liberty-minded independents already comprise about 15 percent of voters, a big enough bloc to swing a general election. Johnson’s message could increase that number.

America is facing an unprecedented economic crisis that will require tough choices. It needs candidates who offer honest and principled solutions that demonstrate that pro-liberty policies are not a moral luxury but a practical necessity. Johnson is the only such candidate. Win or lose, so long as he makes himself heard, he’ll push the national conversation in the right direction.”

The authors remarks concerning Rep. Ron Paul do not represent Gary Johnson or his campaigns viewpoint on the matter.

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