Tilting at windmills: the Libertarian Party and the candidacy of Gary Johnson

We have a new commenter at THE FIRST STREET JOURNAL, Mr L D Jackson. Naturally, your Editor followed Mr Jackson’s link to his site, to see what it was like. He has a few interesting articles up, but the one which caught my eye was not by Mr Jackson, but by one of his co-bloggers, Ted Lacksonen, who styles himself “The Country Thinker”:

Gary Johnson Closing in on Nomination

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 | By

I will be leaving for Las Vegas Thursday morning to attend the Libertarian Party National Conference. I will be serving as a delegate from Ohio, and as many of you already know, I have endorsed Governor Johnson, and am working on his campaign.

I am confident that Johnson will receive the nomination, and when he does, the campaign will really heat up. Party leaders at state and national have had to remain neutral until the process plays out, and that restriction will be lifted on Saturday.

As you can imagine, Governor Johnson’s decision to run on the Libertarian Party ticket has energized the party. As an increasing number of prominent Republicans have gotten fed up with the GOP, we know our ascendancy as a major force in American politics is around the corner.

Currently, Johnson is polling at 6-7%, which is a large enough number to invalidate any poll that includes only Obama and Romney (D-Mass.). We expect to go over 10% when Ron Paul officially drops out, and are targeting 15% so Governor Johnson can get on the debate stage this fall.

Anecdotally I estimate that currently 2 out of 3 Johnson supporters would have been more likely to vote for Obama than a Republican. Republicans should be glad that the Governor has made marriage equality, marijuana legalization, and peace prominent in his platform, because there are a lot of single-issue voters motivated by those issues, and they sure ain’t going to vote Republican.

When I have previously written about Johnson, some readers have said that a vote for anyone but the Republican nominee is a vote for Obama. That is wrong on two scores. First, taken as a group, it appears that the Johnson camp is more heavily Democratic than Republican, so my work on the campaign is hurting Obama more than Romney (D-Mass.) Second, as I’ve said before, I would not vote for Romney (D-Mass.) for any elected office—not even County dog catcher—so Johnson isn’t “stealing” my vote for the failed Governor of the Bay State because he wouldn’t get it under any circumstances.

Anyhow, the Libertarian Party is on the rise, and Gary Johnson is set to be the libertarian standard bearer with Ron Paul’s retirement. In the current election cycle he is by far the best candidate for president, and probably represents our last chance to avoid a major debt crisis.

Your Editor has reproduced the Country Thinker’s article in its entirety; having carefully read Mr Jackson’s Copyright and Disclaimer Page, the Editor believes that both the Country Thinker1 and Mr Jackson would find THE FIRST STREET JOURNAL to be in compliance with what they have set forth.

Governor Johnson, the Libertarian Party‘s probable presidential nominee is former Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM). Your Editor has always found the Libertarian Party somewhat interesting, but has never been a supporter, primarily due to serious disagreements with the Libertarians’ extreme non-interventionist policies. The Editor has always believes that the United States comes first, and that a strong and aggressive foreign policy is part of that; the non-interventionist notion is based, in the end, on the cockamamie notion that other nations are somehow the sovereign equal of the United States, deserving equal rights and respect.2

The 2010 TEA Party phenomenon was one that seemed to be the intellectual connection between the Republican Party, which the TEA Partiers saw as their best hope for getting their ideas enacted into government, and the Libertarian Party, whose economic and limited government beliefs the TEA Partiers (mostly) shared; they were libertarians, not Libertarians. Perhaps the Libertarian Party might have attracted more of them, had the LP been a realistic alternative and, quite frankly, not so lousy at getting its message out. Representative Ron Paul‘s (R-TX) campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has been a recognition that the Libertarian Party simply isn’t going anywhere. Jack Hunter wrote, on Dr Paul’s campaign website:

I have made the case that Ron Paul is not only changing the Republican Party, but is catering to a new, emerging electorate that eschews the big government aspects of both parties.

What remains to be seen is just how big that “emerging electorate” really is. However, at least in 2010, the libertarian additions to the Republican electorate were sufficient to swing control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats to the Republicans, and cost the Democrats seven3 seats off of their Senate majority. Whether such will continue in the 2012 elections remains to be seen.

However, President Obama’s campaign has definitely chosen to go the opposite way. His campaign’s breathtakingly stupid “Life of Julia” tells us how the federal government just has to intervene in everybody’s individual lives, how everybody must be ultimately dependent upon the good nature and good will of the federal government in order to survive. The TEA Party libertarians were motivated by a small-government ideology, to get the government out of our lives as much as possible; the “Life of Julia” slideshow is precisely the opposite of that.

The libertarian TEA Partiers helped push the big-spending Republicans out: their primary victories over several entrenched or “establishment” Republicans in 2010 might have cost the GOP the chance to pick up Senate victories in Nevada and Delaware, but they helped to win six other previously Democrat-held Senate seats, and installed small-government conservatives in the Senate, such as Dr Paul’s son, now Senator Rand Paul, from Kentucky. Six-term Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) just might lose his Republican primary race on Tuesday, to TEA Party-backed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock; Senator Lugar joined the go-along-to-get-along Republicans in the Senate in 1977, just four years before Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter did the same thing. Real conservative opposition to the go-along-to-get-along Republicans first coalesced in then Representative Pat Toomey’s 2004 primary challenge to Senator Specter, and though Mr Specter won renomination, and re-election, in 2004, by 2010 he knew that the jig was up, and that Pennsylvania’s Republican voters would not renominate him.4

One of the lessons your Editor remembers from Dr Malcolm Jewell, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, is that the structure of government in the United States very heavily tilts in favor of a two-party system. Our governments, state and federal, are based on the single-member district, where there is one representative in the legislature for each district. Because we do not have run-off elections5, the representative of the district is the plurality, and not necessarily the majority, winner in the general election. This system necessarily encourages large parties, which can have a reasonable hope of winning a plurality, without the necessity of winning a majority, while allowing the participation of smaller parties, but leaving them with little chance to actually win anything.6 Without a majority requirement, and the possibility of sneaking into a run-off election by finishing second, the minor parties almost never win offices of any importance. And thus, the Libertarian Party has elected, nationwide, a whopping 151 people to office, 36 in partisan and 115 to non-partisan offices, but they are all small offices such as water commission and borough council members. The only ones on the list who hold an executive office of any importance that I noted, Joel Stoner, the Mayor of Macks Creek, Missouri, and Shawna Clanton, Mayor of Culver, Oregon, were elected in non-partisan races.

Nor is your Editor impressed with the electoral systems which are friendlier to third party candidates. Several countries which are parliamentary democracies with proportional representation have such systems. Those systems allot seats in the parliament to parties which cross a specified threshold, and the top candidates on the list get the seats as far down the list as their votes entitle them. The trouble is that those countries usually wind up with coalition governments, governments which must give a small minority a power of outsized importance in some particular ministry to retain their votes in the coalition. The government in the Netherlands recently fell, due to the withdrawal of a minority party, and Italy and Israel have a history of short-lived governments due to the need to include minority coalition party members, and their abrupt withdrawal over various issues. Our system of government has led to stability for 225 years; I think ours works just fine.

Thus, while I sympathize with the libertarians a great deal, on most (not all) issues, I simply do not see a separate Libertarian Party as much of a help. Today’s libertarians have had their greatest success by working as part of the Republican Party, as Ron Paul and as the TEA Party have tried to do. Your Editor hopes that Mr Lacksonen enjoys himself at the Libertarian Party convention, but doesn’t see the Libertarian Party candidacy as serious at all.
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  1. The Country Thinker maintains his own site as well, and the article is published here.
  2. the Editor believes that this strange notion is part of President Obama’s thinking as well.
  3. Counting Senator Scott Brown’s special election victory in Massachusetts.
  4. He tried to stay in teh Senate by switching to the Democratic Party, but it turned out that Democratic primary voters preferred a real Democrat, and Representative Joe Sestak beat Mr Specter in the primary. Pennsylvania voters elected Mr Toomey to the Senate in the 2010 general election.
  5. Except in a few places, Louisiana and its open primary system being the best known.
  6. Jesse “The Body” Ventura won a gubernatorial race in Minnesota because the Republican and Democratic nominees were both lousy, and Mr Ventura was already famous. He won protest votes from both Republicans and democrats.

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