Gary Johnson’s Defense Delusions

December 10th, 2010 at 1:44 pm | 29 Comments |

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There’s been some interesting commentary in the conservative blogosphere about the presidential prospects of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. Johnson excites a conspicuous set of younger, libertarian cons who dream of a conservative movement without its messy insistence on defense and foreign policy issues.

But is Johnson a serious-minded politician? Is he knowledgeable and well informed? Does he understand history and geopolitics? Is he fit to be Commander-in-Chief and President of the United States?

Johnson is supposedly a Ron Paul type, but without Paul’s conspicuous baggage — except that Johnson has his own conspicuous baggage. For example, he admits to having smoked pot (for medicinal purposes) from 2005 to 2008. This caused the American Spectator’s Jim Antle to write a post entitled, “Gary Johnson: Up in Smoke.”

“While I don’t have a problem with that [smoking pot and getting high],” Antle writes, “lots of Republican primary voters will. And it isn’t exactly a very presidential image.” But what most bothers the paleocon Antle is that Johnson might discredit the “non-interventionist conservative arguments.”

Johnson, after all, doesn’t think that U.S. troops should be in Iraq or Afghanistan. And he wants to slash the defense budget “by as much as 44 percent to 90 percent from current levels,” reports the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack.

Johnson’s rationale for such a cut? He notes that the United States accounts for half of worldwide defense spending, and suggests that our share of the international defense budget should be proportionate to our population.

“If you just based it on population alone, we should be spending five [percent],” he says.

But why should defense spending be proportionate to our population? Does Johnson feel the same way about America’s use of natural resources and economic output? Should these, too, be drastically cut to ensure that they are not “disproportionate” or incongruent with our population?

[So] ‘is Johnson saying that the United States defense budget should be cut in half?’ McCormack asks.

‘I don’t want to make that kind of statement because I somehow think it would make me appear irresponsible,’ Johnson says. ‘And I don’t want to be irresponsible regarding this. I just have this sense that we’re spending way too much.’

Well, credit Johnson for not wanting to be “irresponsible.” However, breezily airing his uninformed “sense” about the defense budget is just that: irresponsible.

As a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), we’re spending roughly a half to a third of what we spent on defense under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower (a Republican) and John F. Kennedy (a Democrat).

Yet, the military threats today are far more diverse and multifaceted; and they require much greater engagement of U.S. ground forces in labor-intensive peacekeeping and nation-building efforts. Moreover, our troops today are better paid and better compensated than they were in the 1950s and ‘60s, thus further straining the defense budget.

That’s why another better and more informed 2012 GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney has argued for significantly more defense spending.

“When I add up the demands of all these defense missions,” Romney told the Heritage Foundation in June 2009:

I do not come up with budget cuts. As a simple matter of budget mathematics, we cannot fulfill our military missions without an increase of $50 billion per year in the modernization budget…

I can see no reasonable scenario by which America can spend less and still provide our servicemen and women with the modern equipment and resources that they need to defend us.

Romney has it exactly right. Of course, if, like Johnson, you favor American withdrawal from the world, then it makes perfect sense to slash the defense budget.

But interestingly enough, Johnson says he’s not an isolationist. Why, he tells McCormack, he even favors so-called humanitarian wars (!) — provided, he insists, they don’t metamorphose into “nation building.”

‘If there’s a clear genocide somewhere, don’t we really want to positively impact that kind of a situation?’ he says. ‘Isn’t that what we’re all about? Isn’t that what we’ve always been about? But just this notion of nation building—I think the current policy is making us more enemies than more friends.’

Weekly Standard: So, you think that the United States, even if it weren’t in its own narrow national interest, even if we weren’t threatened by the [other] country, but there was a genocide going on—a clear genocide—it would be the right thing to do to go in and stop that?

Johnson: Yes. Yes, I do.

Credit Johnson for having a heart and for wanting to stop genocide — at least in principle. His positions, though, are incoherent, incongruent and irreconcilable.

Stopping genocide is a labor-intensive effort that requires boots on the ground. Yet, pay and personnel are the most expensive part of the defense budget. So Johnson can say he would support “humanitarian interventions”; however, his defense budget wouldn’t allow it.

And as for dreaded “nation-building,” that’s a caricature and a straw-man which the politicians love to deride.

In truth, though, as I have explained here at FrumForum, nation-building is necessary and unavoidable in the wars of the early 21st Century. It is part and parcel of any real counterinsurgency campaign such as we are waging in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

This doesn’t mean that we’re foolishly trying to create or build something in these countries that never existed. It means, instead, that we’re allowing an indigenous civil society to emerge under the protection of our military umbrella.

The alternative, typically, is to allow countries and regions to descend into anarchy, and thereby become breeding ground for terrorists who would destroy us, as al-Qaeda tried to do on September 11, 2001.

And that’s why we’re now “nation building” in Iraq and Afghanistan — not because of some utopian desire to wage a “humanitarian war” and “do good,” but rather because of a hard-headed strategic imperative to win and prevail.

McCormack notes that Johnson

‘isn’t even sure if U.S. troops should have been stationed in Europe to confront the Soviets following World War II.’

‘I don’t think I have the expertise to be able to say that it was good or bad, it just seems to me that today, it doesn’t really seem warranted,’ he says.

Johnson also says Iran’s nuclear program isn’t a threat to the United States because the principle of ‘mutually assured destruction’ would keep the Iranians from attacking.

So even today, with the benefit of historical hindsight and the successful prosecution of the Cold War, Johnson can’t say with certainty whether it was a good idea to station American troops in Western Europe.

Johnson is equally clueless about Iran. He willfully ignores Iran’s support of terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Islamic Jihad. Ditto’s Iran’s support of al-Qaeda in Iraq and its terrorist proxy war in Lebanon.

The Iranian regime’s threat to wipe Israel off the face of the earth doesn’t seem to phase him. And Johnson is apparently nonplussed by Iran’s real potential to destabilize the entire Middle East through its continued promotion and support of violent Jihad.

Of course, I hope that Johnson is right and that Iran can be contained. But we already have one president who campaigned on a strategy of “hope”; we don’t need another. Hope is not a strategy. Hope, in fact, can be a rationale for delusion, stupidity and appeasement.

Up in smoke, indeed — and deservedly so.


John Guardiano blogs at www.ResoluteCon.Com, and you can follow him on Twitter: @JohnRGuardiano.

Recent Posts by John Guardiano



29 Comments so far ↓

  • Carney

    In general, I agree strongly with Guardiano’s point, including on the nation-building.

    However, I’m not convinced that we should be trying to shore up artificial constructs such as “Iraq” and “Afghanistan” that few locals have any loyalty to.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to break them up and try to nation-build an independent and cohesive Pushtunistan, Balochistan, etc.? Nation-states are much more stable than stapled-together ramshackle states with feuding ethnic groups that have more in common with co-ethnic “foreigners” across their “national border”.

  • JimBob

    Guardiano is no conservative. He’s a radical Neocon who expects the United States to police the world and go broke doing it. As Admiral Mike Mullen Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has said the” biggest threat the United States faces is its debt” It is long past time for traditional conservatives to purge the NeoCons!!

    http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10935

  • CentristNYer

    The last three presidents were all known to — and to varying degrees admitted to — having used various substances, so I think Johnson’s admission will matter little.

    As for Romney’s getting it “just right” on military spending, which he wants to increase, it must also be noted that Romney is equally in love with big tax cuts. So unless he’s got some magical powers we don’t know about (that Mormon underwear, perhaps?), his plan is far more delusional than anything Johnson has yet proposed.

  • politicalfan

    John gave a great counter-argument for those folks that believe in social programs. If they reduce the numerous amounts of bases around the world, will there be money to address social security, healthcare, etc.???? Some do not have an issue with a smarter and better military, they just want some of the American people to be taken care of better (a bit of nation building at home).

  • dafyd

    Why do you work For Mr. Frum? Isn’t the The Drudge report or Newsmax hiring? Fox Nation would also be a perfect fit for you. You could no longer expect the readers here on FF to take you for a creditable source any longer. After your support for such an inept candidate and your relentless push for inequality for gay rights.
    Even JimBob ( do not mean any disrespect) disagrees with you.
    Your audience are Sarah Palin, Jim Demitt, Glenn Beck, Ann Culter far right types. Not center left, center right.
    I voted for Obama and I have not completely ruled him out for 2012, but Mr. Johnson is the type of Republican my husband and I would very much consider, especially now that I know YOU disagree with him on this and probably other moderate sane issues.

  • Deep South Populist

    “[Gary Johnson] wants to slash the defense budget “by as much as 44 percent to 90 percent from current levels””

    Never heard of this guy, but if it is true that he wants to cut defense this much, let’s move him up the chain of command as fast as possible!

    The line about Johnson smoking pot made me laugh out loud. I mean, really, who gives a shit that he smoked pot? He owned up to it so that should be the end of it.

    David Frum’s highest priority is maintaining the American Empire. Everything on this site is geared toward this goal.

  • medinnus

    John Guardiano’s entire resume is one of a marine working for enhanced defense – that means an ever-increasing spending habit. He has never endorsed anything which smacked of reducing defense spending, except perhaps – maybe, if you can prove it! – “wasteful” spending. However, first you must prove beyond reason that something is wasteful.

    Given his background, personal, and professional prejudices in unilateral support of America as a military state, not necessarily subordinate to Democrat commanders-in-chief (I read his articles – he has shown nothing but contempt for civilian authority the second it deviates from “Let the Military/Industrial complex have blank checks and free reign, as only they Know What’s Safe For America”), I expect little else from his opinion pieces – because he rarely uses facts, just jingoist slogans.

    At least he has the courage of his convictions (even while I disagree with him), and consistency.

  • jakester

    I don’t think being the strongest military in the world is a bad thing at all. After all, both the Japs and the Nazis sneered at Roosevelt’s condemnations before the war because they saw how pathetically weak we were and our lackluster performance in WW l.

  • Carney

    JimBob, I find it hilarious that you seek to purge national security conservatives from conservatism for being insufficiently pure, while citing the Cato Institute, an institution that is not conservative at all, but rather libertarian, and openly says so to anyone who asks.

    Conservatism does not equal libertarianism, which, by and large, agrees with conservatism ONLY on economic issues.

    Conservatism, in the modern American context, is a merger of national security hawks, social traditionalists, and free-marketeers. Many, perhaps most, of us tend to emphasize or prefer one aspect of that triad over the others, and may find one or two of the others either less important or even oppose them. That’s coalition politics.

    Grow up, and learn to play nicely with others. It’s the only way to get ahead.

  • Carney

    jakester, our performance in World War 1 was hardly lackluster; it was decisive. Had we not intervened, the Germans would have won.

    We were indeed weak in the run-up to World War 2, but that was because, as with all our prior wars, we had radically de-mobilized and de-militarized after our victory in World War 1, and our armed forces became a miniscule, hollow remnant of their former might. THAT was why we lacked credibility.

  • Deep South Populist

    Carney: Had we not intervened, the Germans would have won.

    True, Germany would have won WW1 in the absence of American intervention. What a disaster for humanity that would have been. No treaty of Versailles. No Hitler. No Bolshevik revolution. No Soviet Union. No WW2. No Cold war. Horrible.

  • JimBob

    Carney, with all due respect “If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals–if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.”—-’Ronald Reagan.

    The NeoCons are hardly national security conservatives. They’re dangerous radicals. George Will called them the most radical people in Washington DC. National security conservatives want to defend the United States. Not launch BS wars in the Middle East on behalf of Israel.

  • JimBob

    Deep South, Gary Johnson was a two term Governor of New Mexico.

  • Deep South Populist

    Carney: Conservatism, in the modern American context, is a merger of national security hawks, social traditionalists, and free-marketeers.

    “Conservatism” in the modern American context is a merger of 1) Supporters of the American global empire and the military/industrial complex, 2) Corporate plutocrats who masquerade as free-marketers, and 3) social traditionalists who get taken advantage of by the other two.

    The small but increasingly influential Ron Paul/Rand Paul strain of American conservatism is authentic.

  • Carney

    Deep South Populist, I used to think as you do about the outcome of World War 1. Now I’m not so sure, in part because of David Frum. I can’t find the columns here now, but he has pointed to World War One Germany’s brutal treatment of Poles and Belgians, including calm discussions of subjecting conquered peoples to mass starvation.

  • Nanotek

    “Conservatism, in the modern American context, is a merger of national security hawks, social traditionalists, and free-marketeers.”

    social traditionalists, being of course, people who want to impose their “traditions” on others with different traditions …

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    Guardiano: your reference to Gary Johnson’s pot use is totally dishonest. You omit to mention that Johnson’s reason for smoking weed was medicinal: he broke his back in a paragliding accident, and was in tremendous pain during his recovery. I hope Frum busts your ass for this outragous and despicable distortion. “Up in smoke, indeed– and deservedly so.”

    And if you object to Johnson’s proposed reductions in defense spending, then I hope you don’t have any serious ambitions for deficit reduction– for the latter CANNOT happen without the former.

    Deep South and JimBob: Gary Johnson’s eight years as NM Governor weren’t wasted time, either. When he left office in ’02, NM was the only state running a budget surplus. The more you guys learn about Gary Johnson, the more I suspect you’ll both like him. He’s (truly) for limited government in the Goldwater tradition that you guys seem to favor.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    A few quibbles: “Yet, the military threats today are far more diverse and multifaceted; and they require much greater engagement of U.S. ground forces in labor-intensive peacekeeping and nation-building efforts.” While the threats are more diverse, the overall threat is far less. We faced nuclear war with the Soviets, and Vietnam at its height required 500,000 troops in a population more than 1/4 less than we have now.

    “Moreover, our troops today are better paid and better compensated than they were in the 1950s and ‘60s, thus further straining the defense budget.” True but still miniscule compared to the costs of our high tech weaponry. Back in WW2 we produced a Naval vessel in less than a week, that is unimaginable now.

    Not many other quibbles with this piece, except that we didn’t need to create a Civil society in Iraq, one already existed, if we had allowed a cabal of Generals to take over and didn’t dispand their army, etc. Iraq could very well be a lot more stable now, and economically richer, but politically would resemble Egypt more. And in Afghanistan nation building is a wasted effort, completely insane. Most of the people live as subsistence farmers in hardscrabble land, there will never be anything to build with. We should have imitated the Mongols, just hold a few key cities and leave the rest alone, periodically killing anyone who challenges us.

    JimBob: Not launch BS wars in the Middle East on behalf of Israel.

    You view the war in Afghanistan as one on behalf of Israel? And the war in Iraq was not for Israel, it was to free up the Iraqi oilfields and get rid of Saddam. The hubris was in not preparing for it, not in fighting it. It could have been won and won years earlier if Bush and Rumsfeld were not so incompetent.

  • cotton

    John gives a great defense of the military – industrial complex that has damaged national security, led us into 6 wars in my lifetime (only 1 against a country that attacked us) and harmed America’s reputation and helped lead us into tremendous national debt.

    Yeah, that Nation building has proven real successful too, hasn’t it? There is a reason the founding fathers did not trust a large standing army or foreign entanglements. This guy is a conservative?

  • Deep South Populist

    “War is a racket”…General Smedley Butler 1936.

  • Conrad

    I spent enough time in the military to know that when a low- or mid-level bureaucrat buys something that isn’t needed or that benefits them personally, it’s called “fraud, waste, and abuse”. But when a high-ranking person does the same thing, it’s just called politics and business as usual. We buy huge numbers of weapons systems we don’t need, and even those we do need cost twice as much as they should because of being spread across dozens of Congressional districts and the perverse incentives of cost-plus-fee contracts. It’s 2010 and we’re still building insanely expensive piloted aircraft because the Air Force is run by pilots who don’t think UAVs are cool. The Navy always wants more ships since being a ship Captain is the path to making Admiral.

    We’re spending 200+ billion a year on two wars where we set U.S.-centric conditions that made them drag out for a decade. We have 130,000 troops stationed in Germany, Italy, U.K., Japan, and South Korea. The former don’t need defending, and the later should pay for and provide for their own defenses.

    If you don’t favor cutting the military budget by at least 50%, then you have no legitimate claim to being a fiscal conservative. And the last thing the Republican party needs is to go retreat to big-government conservatism. The Tea Party is leading us toward fiscal conservatism, and Gary Johnson is the only candidate I’ve seen with a proven track record of shrinking government rather than growing it.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    “We have 130,000 troops stationed in Germany, Italy, U.K., Japan, and South Korea. The former don’t need defending, and the later should pay for and provide for their own defenses.” The former function as forward operating bases so that we can quickly move to flashpoints throughout Europe (and it would be naive to pretend that Russia will never become expansionistic again), in South Korea we act as trip wires guaranteeing peace (without us there what would stop North Korea?)
    and as to Japan, we wrote their Constitution forcing them to have a small defense force (and again it worked)

    And of course we can afford our military, let not get silly here. The US spends 20% of its GDP on all facets of the government, everything. Can we have targeted cutbacks, sure. But 50% is just not rational.

  • dugfromthearth

    While I want to see the defense budget cut to help balance the budget, I find no significant faults with this article.

    1. I suspect republican primary voters will generally be against marijuana use no matter the reason
    2. If we want to continue fighting wars as we have we cannot really cut defense spending – the issue is whether we want to do that or not.
    3. Wanting to stop genocides but not engage in “nation building” is as contradictory as wanting to increase defense spending and balance the budget. Genocide is not a one off battle we can win, it requires changing the nations and cultures in which it occurs

    I think Guardiano lays out his case against Johnson fairly well. And I cannot imagine that Frum would act to restrict viewpoints on this forum when part of the reason for its existence is the censorship of ideas imposed by the general republican media establishment.

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    dugfromearth: you see “no significant faults” in Guardiano’s miscontruction of Gary Johnson’s (medicinal) marijuana use as recreational?

    You’re probably correct that many GOP primary voters “will generally be against marijuana use no matter what the reason,” but that doens’t mean Guardiano, in the spirit of reasoned public debate, shouldn’t be straight with the facts. After all, if , as you aver, the GOP base would object to any kind of marijuan use, then what do you and Guardiano have to fear in people knowing that Gary Johnson smoked weed to alleviate back pain? By all means, let primary voters take issue with Johnson’s pot use if they have serious moral objections that don’t allow for any kind of nuance on the subject of narcotics, but please, let them make these objections based on the facts.

    And I’m not asking David Frum to “restrict” the views of Guardiano, or anyone else, for that matter. If John Guardiano wants to argue in favor of an imperial neo-con geopolitical programme, that’s fine by me. I’ll be happy to debate him on the merits of his arguments and–most importantly here– verifiable FACTS. Making out Gary Johnson to be some antinomian pothead– in the face of incontravertible evidence to the contrary– in no way consitutes a reasoned or legitimate argument, and asking Frum to correct the record in no way constitutes a restriction of Guardiano’s “viewpoints.”

  • lessadoabouteverything

    in case you can’t get it, here it is:
    There are certain shibboleths in presidential politics that even the most forthright candidates feel obliged to repeat, certain topics they feel compelled to avoid. Yet talk to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the unorthodox 2012 GOP hopeful, and those rules go out the window. Ask about church, and he says he doesn’t go. “Do you believe in Jesus?” I ask. “I believe he lived,” he replies with a smile. Ask about shifts in position, and he owns up to one. “I changed my mind on the death penalty,” he tells me. “Naïvely, I really didn’t think the government made mistakes.” Ask about his voting history, and he volunteers (without regrets) that he cast his first presidential ballot for George McGovern (“because of the war”). Ask about his longstanding support for marijuana legalization, and he recalls the joy of his pot-smoking days. “I never exhaled,” he says. (An avid athlete, Johnson forswore marijuana and alcohol decades ago when he realized they were hurting his ski times and rock-climbing ability.)

    Like Ron Paul, whom he endorsed in 2008, Johnson is an unabashed libertarian-and, in some ways, a purer one (he’s pro-choice, pro-free trade, and pro-immigration). So, while he’s no culture warrior or foreign policy hawk—he opposed the war in Iraq and the troop surge in Afghanistan—he outflanks any Republican on fiscal issues, proposing an immediate, across-the-board 43 percent spending cut. “We’re on the precipice,” he says, of the country’s finances. To illustrate what lies in the abyss, at times he flashes his favorite prop: a $100 trillion bill from Zimbabwe that he keeps in his wallet.

    Over the past ten months, Johnson has taken his libertarian gospel on the road, speaking to conservative campus groups, Tea Party rallies, and Republican conferences in over 30 states. He has appeared on countless radio and TV programs—everything from “Hannity” to “The Colbert Report”—and is putting the finishing touches on a book. Johnson isn’t merely testing the presidential waters; several Johnson confidants told me that nothing—not even another Ron Paul campaign—will stop him from running. “There’s no waiting or seeing,” says one. “It’s a done deal.”

    “Everybody’s been aware of it, even during the last campaign,” says Paul, whom Johnson informed of his intentions in April 2008. “I don’t remember when anybody didn’t assume that he would run for president.” Fortunately for Johnson, Paul, while not ruling out a second act, has shown little appetite for one. (“I have made no plans,” he told me.) And if he doesn’t run, he’ll “most likely” throw his weight behind Johnson. “I can’t imagine endorsing anybody else,” he says. The path, then, looks clear for Gary Johnson to become the Ron Paul of 2012—with one key difference: In the last election, wherever he campaigned, the dour Paul found himself surrounded by a traveling show—a motley movement of potheads, conspiracy theorists, and other colorful characters. This time, Gary Johnson is the show.

    At age 57—sporting Oakleys, blue jeans, and a white t-shirt—Gary Johnson still evokes the carefree irreverence of a college undergrad. “I was your C student,” says the former political science major. “I paid attention in the classes that were about how to get elected.” And, in 1994, it paid off. “He came out of nowhere in the Republican primary against bigger and better known opponents … and then beat legendary [Democrats] with wide appeal,” recalls Bill Richardson, who succeeded the term-limited Johnson in 2002.

    But if Johnson harbored dreams of higher office when he left the governor’s mansion, he did an awfully good job of hiding them. Unlike Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, or any former officeholder looking to keep his name fresh, Johnson didn’t write a book, start a PAC, hit the lecture circuit, or become a talking head on Fox News. Instead, he spent most days biking and skiing, taking the odd trip to Nepal for a trek up Mount Everest, to France for a gas-balloon competition, to Maui for a paragliding run, and to the emergency room for the occasional life-threatening injury. (“I haven’t paraglided since,” he says of his most serious brush with death. “But I’m going to. I’ll do it in Salt Lake, where there aren’t any trees.”)

    Johnson’s political hibernation was remarkable, however, for another reason: He never sought to reinvent himself ideologically. And he never learned to pander. In many ways, he’s the anti-Romney. Consider each man’s treatment of Sarah Palin. In July, after aides were quoted ridiculing her, @MittRomney took to Twitter for some 140-character brownnosing: “TIME says unnamed advisors disparaged @SarahPalinUSA. Anonymous numbskulls. She’s proven her smarts; they’ve disproven theirs.”
    What does Johnson make of Palin? On a drive through the foothills of New Hampshire, I ask him. Riding shotgun, he turns the question around on me. “Um, I guess some people think she’s folksy,” I say from the backseat. “Well, at first she strikes you as folksy,” he shoots back. “And then you realize: She might be running for president of the United States! And then, don’t we have the obligation to tell her what a terrible idea that is?” Cupping his hands to his mouth, he brays, “Sarah! We love you! Don’t run!” He also performs a rendition of the “deer-in-the-headlights” interview she did on “The O’Reilly Factor,” about the BP oil spill.

    Johnson seems to relish flouting the watch-your-step etiquette most politicians practice religiously. Richardson, for example, spoke politely—even graciously—of his predecessor. “Nobody should underestimate Gary Johnson,” he told me. When Johnson talks about Richardson, by contrast, he doesn’t hide his disdain: He hones in on the ethics allegations that have plagued the current governor and reels off a lengthy list of his other qualms. After Richardson became governor, Johnson recounts, “he was teaching a course at the university, and he invited me as the guest. So I came, and somebody said, ‘What’s the biggest difference between you and Richardson?’ And I said, ‘Well, I think the difference is that I put issues first and politics last. Richardson puts politics first and issues last.’ And, actually, that was the truth. Couldn’t have been more accurate. And he was sitting there, and I don’t think he really liked it.”

    Gary Johnson has his doubters, to say the least. “I think Lyndon Johnson has as much chance of winning the Republican nomination in 2012,” says veteran political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg. He’s right, given Johnson’s heresies on virtually all non-economic issues. That said, it’s not implausible that Johnson could gain traction (perhaps more than Paul did) in New Hampshire and other libertarian-minded states. He has considerable personal advantages over Paul—eight years of executive experience, greater campaign-trail energy, better communication skills—and today’s GOP is dominated by talk of the poor economy and the size of government, providing a far better climate for a strict libertarian than the one that prevailed in 2008. Moreover, assuming the Democratic nomination isn’t contested, independents should make up a much larger segment of the Republican electorate this time around in states, like New Hampshire, where they can vote in party primaries. And even voters who don’t line up with Johnson on the issues may still be charmed by his freewheeling style.

    After trashing Palin on our drive through New Hampshire, Johnson spots a cop car in the rearview mirror. The chauffeur, Johnson adviser Ronald Nielson, pulls the rented Mazda SUV to the side of the road, and the green-clad officer ambles over. “I stopped you because you were going eighty-three in a sixty-five,” he says, peppering the driver with questions. As he disappears with Nielson’s license and registration, Johnson scolds himself for forgetting his Valentine One radar detector. “You can’t seriously speed without a Valentine One,” he tells us. “The Valentine would’ve sniffed him out long before that happened.” The officer returns two minutes later, and the roadside ritual ends anticlimactically. “I’m letting you off with a warning,” he says. “Don’t ask me why.”

    As we drive off, Johnson breathes a sigh of relief, floating theories about the merciful cop. But the close call sends him into a lighthearted rant on the absurdity of federally mandated speed limits. “Look,” he says, “there are times and places where it would be perfectly safe to go one-forty, and there are others where it would be reckless to go fifty-five.” Within moments, he’s taking aim at stop signs and red lights. “I’m not opposed to the concept,” he allows. “But sometimes, you know, it’s 5:30 in the morning! There’s nobody on the road!” Johnson laughs, turns in his seat, and fixes me with a grin. “That’s the first sign you know you’re a libertarian,” he says. “You see the red light. You stop. You realize that there’s not a car in sight. And you put your foot on the gas.”

    Benjamin Birnbaum is a reporter at The Washington Times. This article ran in the November 11, 2010, issue of the magazine.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    wastate, in other words, he doesn’t stand a chance.
    McGovern voting, Palin bashing, Jesus quasi denying. No chance in hell.

  • John Guardiano

    * Carney — thanks for your thoughtful comments, which I always appreciate.

    * Lessadoabouteverything — ditto. You’ve added to the dialogue and debate in helpful ways, thanks.

    * drugefromtheearth — Appreciate your kind words.

    * WaStateUrbanGOPer — there was no attempt to deceive or be dishonest. Gary Johnson smoked pot — recreationally as a young man and for medicinal purposes as an older man. You can try and rationalize this any way you want, but that’s the reality.

    That said, your point is well taken. One of the great things about Internet journalism is that you can correct your mistakes — or, at the very least, you can remedy confusion and clarify points. Thus we’ve added “(for medicinal purposes)” to the following sentence:

    “For example, he admits to having smoked pot (for medicinal purposes) from 2005 to 2008.”

    * dafyd — There probably are issues where I’m to the right of David Frum. However, I don’t think there’s really any daylight between us on defense and foreign policy issues.

    In any case, I write for FrumForum for a variety of reasons. One reason is that I think David is absolutely right about the political, economic and demographic changes that have swept, and are sweeping, America. These changes, we agree, must force the Republican Party to rethink its political approach and policy agenda.

    As to my posts about so-called gay rights, I fully support gay rights, properly understood. That is, I believe gay men and women enjoy, and should enjoy, every constitutional and civil right that all Americans now enjoy.

    However, I am opposed to special legal rights or privileges for gay men and women. I am opposed to giving them explicit legal privileges based on their sexual status and orientation.

    * Nanotek — social and cultural conservatives hardly wish to “impose their traditions on others with different traditions.” To the contrary: they really wish to be left alone.

    In fact, they are the aggrieved parties in the culture war. They are the ones whose rights and traditions have been trampled upon by an all-too-often intolerant secular elite.

    The great thing about federalism is that it’s given us 50 states and thousands of local municipalities. Let a thousand flowers bloom! And if you don’t like the way one state or locale does things, you can always move to another that is more in accordance with your values.

    * medinnus — You don’t read my posts closely enough. You complain that I’ve “never endorsed anything which smacked of reducing defense spending.” Not true. Why, my previous FrumForum post was entitled, “The Right Way to Cut Defense”!

    But you’re right: I believe that given the threats that we face today, and given the increasing interdependence of our world, we cannot afford to cut defense spending to levels that are significantly less than Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy spent on defense.

    In fact, I believe that we must significantly increase defense spending, even as we find ways to cut or save money within the defense budget.

    And the idea that I endorse a “military state” and have “nothing but contempt for civilian authority” is laughable and ludicrous.

    I do believe in a heavily armed, well trained and well prepared military. And I do believe that military leaders and military personnel have an obligation to help inform the public dialogue and debate. But I’ve absolutely never questioned the chain of command nor civilian authority over the military.

    * Cotton, Deep South Populist, CentristNYer, JimBob, jakester, political fan, Conrad — thanks for your comments. I do appreciate them.

    Regards,
    John

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