When the smoke clears… A closer look at Gary Johnson for President

by Scratcher, of Makes My Brain Itch

The current crop of Republican hopefuls leaves me feeling uninspired.

No, no... That's far too mild.

The list of Republicans being discussed as our "options" in the beltway and the media leave me with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. It's something like despair. Or the intestinal flu. I want to ask "Is this really the best the GOP can do? Really? I have to hold my nose and vote for one of these people?"

(If I want to see Obama go home as a one-term President, that's exactly what I have to do.)

So I was really excited to see that Gary Johnson had announced he's running. I've long been an admirer. He has a proven record, an understanding of our situation (and don't dismiss that as unimportant - our current administration has no grasp whatsoever on the situation and that's why it keeps getting worse), and Johnson holds to the ideals of smaller government and personal liberty so dear to the conservative heart.

Yet most of what I've read about his announcement refers to him as "best known" or "famous" or "most recognized" for his stance on marijuana and the War on Drugs. And very little I've read gave him the most remote odds of winning.

Yes, Gary Johnson has some controversial views on the drug war, and marijuana in particular. But he's famously best known and most recognized for those views because the media (old and new) highlights the controversial. (What a surprise that he's viewed in the way he's repeatedly been depicted.)

But if conservatives would give Johnson a shot on the issues and not write him off as the stoner candidate, I believe they'd like what they see. So please, let's put his stance on drugs to the side a moment (we'll come back to it, and I believe you'll see it's perfectly in line with conservative principles) and look at what else he's about.

In other words, let's let the smoke clear and see what's really there...

As Governor of New Mexico, Johnson cut taxes fourteen times and left not only a balanced budget, but a surplus. He was responsible for New Mexico's longest ever stretch with no tax increase. He cut the size of state government and privatized part of the prison system. He cut government growth by half. He fought for a school choice program. He vetoed over 750 pieces of legislation, 200 of those in the first six months. He used the line item veto thousands of times, often to remove spending from bills. He reformed Medicaid, and got the state's costs under control. He hired private companies to build highways.

That's not what he's talked about or what he's promised us or what the polls tell him we want to hear. That's what he's done.

(As an aside, he's also climbed Mt. Everest... oh, and Mt. McKinley, Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Elbrus. He's also competed in multiple Ironman Triathlons. How's that sound after a coupla years of watching President Mom Jeans embarrass himself trying to act sporty?)

So that's a taste of what he's done. If elected President, what else would he like to do? A lot of what the grassroots conservatives are calling for.

Government spends too much because it does too much... We should start by reassessing the role of the federal government, and always asking the question: Should the government be doing this in the first place?
Johnson advocates balancing the budget. Immediately. With trillions in cuts across the board, and entitlement reforms. He also wants to eliminate the corporate income tax, thereby making it less expensive for a company to create jobs in America.
The problem is public education in America is now doing less with more. This is unsustainable for our pocketbooks and, most importantly, unfair to our children.
Johnson wants to abolish the Department of Education and return education decisions to the parents and local school systems.

So Johnson is right in line with some of the conservatives' major concerns. The economy, taxes, education, restricting government growth...

Now, about that marijuana thing.

Gary Johnson wants to end the drug war as we know it. He also wants to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana. But that doesn't mean his campaign slogan is "Party hearty; Die high!"

On the contrary, although Johnson readily admits a personal history of pot smoking, it's not something he does now or thinks others should be doing. In a 2001 Reason interview, he said:
Marijuana is a handicap. So is alcohol... But in spite of being a handicap, it shouldn’t be criminal.
But if Gary Johnson doesn't want to change the law so he can toke up in the Oval Office, what's his motivation? Why push for an end to the drug war?
I’m a cost-benefit analysis person: What are we spending and what are we getting? My premise is the war in drugs is a miserable failure. I don’t know of a bigger problem in every single state, or a bigger expense that might actually have alternative solutions. Drugs account for half of law enforcement spending, half of prison spending, half of court spending. What are we getting for it? We are arresting 1.6 million people a year in this country on drug-related charges, and it’s a failure.
I can't see how any small government constitutional conservative can argue the point.

I consistently have... disagreements with conservatives who want smaller government but are perfectly fine continuing to fund the War on Drugs. While I believe that on some level they accept it because it feels like a war on sin, it goes against every conservative principle.

It's expensive. Enormously expensive. It's an abject failure that we keep throwing money at... similar to the failing public school system, but most conservatives are on board with an education shakeup. It's an affront to personal liberty and, frankly, smacks of the nanny-statism that usually sets conservative teeth on edge. And it has actually caused underground criminal enterprise, much as alcohol prohibition created and strengthened the original gang problems.

But I hope it's clearer... while Johnson definitely advocates major changes to our drug policy, he's not looking to be President Chong. He's coming at the issue from a small-government, common sense, conservative viewpoint.

I urge my fellow conservatives (That's inaccurate. This is nearly begging, but I'm fine with that. Looking at the other Republican wanna-runs, there's that feeling in my gut again.) to take another look at Gary Johnson... to wave away the clouds of smoke and actually learn something about the candidate.

Reason magazine offers excellent roundups here and here, and their 2001 interview is here. Race42012 collected Johnson's public answers to questions posed on Twitter, offering further insight. The Boston Globe wrote about his legalization ideas here. And his campaign site is here.

Johnson's biggest obstacle at the moment might be low name recognition. While I'm hoping to help correct that, it's not the end of the world. In my congressional district, an almost unknown candidate destroyed the Republican party's chosen candidate in the primary, then went on to close within single digits of the sitting Congressman with a huge war chest and major connections. In the age of the TEA Party, being a relative unknown isn't as much of a handicap it used to be.

So, please... have a look at Gary Johnson. And if he can't be accepted as the conservative candidate, someone explain to me why. With the notable exception of Herman Cain, he's the only candidate I can feel passionate about so far.

Now I just have to convince the rest of you...

(Editor's Note: A cynic; a smartass; a small-L libertarian; and an antisocial conservative, Scratcher guest posts at Republican Redefined and blogs regularly at Makes My Brain Itch. Language warning applies to all of Scratcher's posts as does an ample dose of required thinking.)


  1. Based on that pic I'd say Obama throws like a girl, maybe because his pants are too tight...

  2. Great post, I really like Johnson, too and think that the GOP field at this point (with a few exceptions) is incredibly weak.


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