Thursday, January 28, 2010

I find I can even like a Republican—sometimes.

There are two species that I have not been overly fond of: politicians and Republicans. So it is not highly likely that I would have some positive things to say about a Republican politician who is NOT "officially" running for President, which, in political newspeak, means he is running for President. But I do have some good things to say about one of them. That one is Gary Johnson the former governor of New Mexico.

Recently I was invited to a small get-together of people with Johnson. I listened with interest. And while Johnson isn't exactly where I'm at politically, he seemed to consistently be "almost there" on most issues. I am happy to attribute the "not quite" there views as necessary concessions in the political marketplace. Johnson is almost libertarian across the board. In that sense I think he is far superior to Ron Paul, who was clearly unlibertarian in several ways.

Johnson, for instance, says on immigration: "Fences don't work and won't work." Ron voted for the wall on the border. Johnson wouldn't go as far as I would on immigration but his view isn't bad. He wants to make it easier to "document workers" coming to the US, make it easier to come and doesn't like throwing out people who have lived here and established a life for themselves as productive individuals. I'd go farther but this is a damn good start.

In 1988 Ron Paul was "personally" against abortion but didn't campaign for state control, something he changed views on when he last ran for office (as he changed his positions on immigration as well). Johnson says he is personally opposed but "the decision is best left to the individuals involved." I can live with that as well.

Republicans go bonkers on war. Johnson says he is against the war in Iraq and opposed it as governor. He says that the "should resort to military action only as provided for in the Constitution." Again, I can live with that—and so could billions of other people.

I told Johnson that there are three issues that divide libertarians from conservatives in the current political debate: drugs, immigration and equality of rights for gay people. So I put him on the spot about the one he had not addressed that evening. He immediately said he would support civil unions for gay couples. Again, that is about 80% there. But compared to other candidates, a consistent 80% there on issues is pretty damn good.

I asked him about the Defense of Marriage Act and his first inclination was to oppose repeal. I mentioned the law denies equal rights in ways that libertarians ought to be concerned. The father of our host for the evening asked me to clarify. So I pointed out the obvious case that a heterosexual American can marry a non-citizen and bring their spouse to America to live with them but that gay Americans are denied that right by law. Johnson didn't seem to realize that was the case and that the Defense of Marriage Act prevented a policy of equality. But he was a governor not a federal legislator so I can excuse that lack of awareness. Johnson immediately said he may have spoken too soon and said what I mentioned, "just doesn't seem fair." Hey, that's a better answer than you can get out of Ron Paul or Bob Barr.

But his immediate rethink tells me he is someone who has basic principles down and if new information is provided is open to reconsidering his views.

Interestingly Johnson gets a point I've made in this blog several times. Recently I argued the election of Brown in Massachusetts was not an endorsement of Republican views, anymore than the election of Obama was an endorsement of nationalized health care or Obama's views. Only a few days ago Johnson told the Union Leader in New Hampshire that it would be a "a mistrake for Republicans" to view the Brown victory "as some sort of mandate." He said all voters were doing was showing "a real disgust with those in office. It isn't a shift to Republicans. It's just, 'Get whoever's in there out." That is barely different than what I said.

As governor Johnson vetoed 750 different pieces of legislation that crossed his desk. Compare that to Dubya who never met legislation that he didn't like. As governor of New Mexico Johnson vetoed more legislation than all 49 other governors combined. That reminds me of the joke about what do you call a 100 lawyers at the bottom of the sea: a good beginning. I don't know how many laws Johnson didn't veto but 750 is a good beginning.

While I was unimpressed with the Ron Paul of 2008, and only moderately happy with the Ron Paul of 1988, I feel a bit more comfortable with Johnson. I'm not comfortable enough to give an unqualified endorsement—I doubt I ever would be. But I am comfortable enough to say he deserves some attention by individuals who, like myself, believe in less politicial interference in markets as well as in the social sphere. If you are sick and tired of the Ayatollahs from evangelicalism running, and ruining, the Republican Party then Gary Johnson may be the man for you, especially if you still want someone who understands the need for free markets and low taxes.

I am 90% confident, based on the conversation with Johnson, that he will be running for president. He can't declare his candidacy now because of the way the government regulates his group, Our America. But it appears, like most other issues, that when it comes to official declaring his presidential ambitions he's 80% of the way there. And that's also good enough for me. Give him some thought.

Photo: Yes, that is Johnson. The snow gear was necessary since this is him recently climbing Mt. Everest. When he wants to do something, he does it. And he does want to run for president.

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