This will probably surprise those who know me well, but I’ve become interested in Gary Johnson’s run for President. Gary Johnson was a Republican governor of New Mexico for two terms, which was a feat in a state that leans Democrat. He started his campaign last year as a candidate for the Republican nomination, but after being shut out by the Republican establishment and assiduously ignored by the mainstream media, at the end of the year he decided to switch parties and run as a Libertarian Party candidate instead. His record as governor is surprisingly strong, and this basically makes him the highest quality presidential candidate the Libertarian Party has ever fielded.
One way I find Gary Johnson interesting is the contrast he provides to the other noteworthy libertarian running for president this year — Ron Paul. Both hold similar positions, with the noticeable exception of abortion, where is no universally recognized correct position among libertariana, and immigration, where Gary Johnson’s positions are a lot more freedom friendly than Ron Paul’s. Overall, while Ron Paul is more of a paleolibertarian with more natural appeal to those on the right, Gary Johnson’s lifestyle and record are much more in keeping with the sort of left-libertarianism that shares goals with many progressives. Left-libertarians like myself don’t always have the same “virtue of selfishness” or “God-given rights” motivation of their right-libertarian colleagues, instead many of us are primarily motivated by concerns about poverty, environmental degradation, eroding civil liberties, and the like and simply understand that markets are a better way to solve those problems than constantly expanding state power could ever be.
And by markets, I don’t mean big corporations! Indeed, many on the left are surprised to hear that there are libertarians who are as distrustful of big business as they are of big government. Ultimately, corporations are not the epitome of capitalism, they’re a perversion of it. To own a corporation is to have a state entitlement of limited liability for the actions of the company that you control. There’s nothing libertarian about that! Indeed it’s frustrating for people like me to see progressives correctly rail against certain corporate abuses but then don’t see that the corporate power they oppose comes primarily from the collaboration between those firms’ executives and government policy makers. And it’s especially frustrating to see progressives who understand the harm done in communities, the country, and even internationally by maintaining a law enforcement approach to drug abuse that has clearly failed — an approach Gary Johnson came out to oppose while still in office as governor of New Mexico.
While obviously not as radical as myself, I believe that Gary Johnson is a left-libertarian at heart. And I further think that it would be a fascinating experiment to see him run his campaign specifically to attract progressive voters who have lost faith in Barack Obama. I say this because Obama’s broken promises about closing Guantanamo, abandonment of civil liberties by signing NDAA, and refusal to consider alternatives to drug prohibition have left many on the left without a candidate they can believe. Unlike previous cycles, there’s no name brand candidate running to the left of the Democrat — two little known figures are fighting for the Green nomination and Ralph Nader’s finally sitting one out. There’s opportunity for a left-libertarian to come in and make the case to many progressives, particular younger ones, that freedom in every sphere of life, not just on social issues and civil liberties, is progress in its truest form.