Earlier today I participated in a conference call with a handful of bloggers chatting with the libertarian Republican presidential candidate former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. I wanted to share some of his comments on economic and other issues as well as a few reflections of my own.
First, the format was really nice as it was just a handful of us and Johnson was almost totally "unhandled." It was not unlike being at a conference table with him as opposed to a more formal context. It also struck me that he's learning to talk to a libertarian audience as his use of language seemed pretty consciously chosen in places and he's developing a sense of which buttons to press with that audience. He also comes across as pretty smart and surprisingly intellectually curious, as in an answer to a question on same sex marriage he admitted that he'd like to know more about the constitutional issues involved before he decides for sure what, if any, role the federal government should have in overruling state marriage laws.
On to substance...
I asked him about monetary policy and his summary answer was: "I would abolish the Fed given the chance to do so. I would propose a balanced budget for 2013 and I would not raise the debt ceiling." I don't think he called for a balanced budget amendment at any point during the conversation, but it wouldn't surprise me if he supported it, especially being a former governor.
In response to a more general question about regulation and markets, he said "I really am a free market guy" and launched into a decent defense of the importance of markets and the problems of regulations. What I liked was that he was invoking the idea of unintended consequences quite a bit in talking about how what we think are good ideas usually backfire. He was strongly opposed to cap and trade and called it an "economy killer." He also talked about how he applied cost-benefit analysis to a variety of regulations while governor and that he would bring that mindset if he were elected.
He also mentioned business cycles and noted that the Fed and monetary policy exacerbates whatever smaller fluctuations markets naturally might have. He also noted that we're better off letting depressions cure themselves. He said he would not have favored any of the QEs including any more beyond QE2. He clearly does not have Ron Paul's knowledge of economics or ability to communicate economic ideas, but he said many of the right things though not as concisely and as eloquently as I think he will need to. In general, he needed more really good one-liners.
On some other issues of interest to Liberty and Power readers (and these are paraphrases):
- "I favor abolishing all foreign aid, but I think military alliances are still important."
- "If I had been president in 2001, I would have never have established the TSA and I would have left security to the airlines and the airports."
- "I used to support the death penalty until I thought seriously about the ways in which government screws up prosecutions and makes real mistakes. Now I oppose it."
- On illegal immigrants: "There's a difference between 'amnesty' and 'citizenship'. I want to make it easier for them to get a work visa and then get on the path to citizenship. Amnesty means giving them a two year period to get that visa without being kicked out. No one should jump the line, but they're here and let's get them working legally. That's how you secure the border."
- He opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and thinks Libya is unconstitutional. He was okay with Afghanistan at first but thinks we should have been out after 6 months. No way we should still be there today.
- He would support Supreme Court justices who support "original intent."
- On abortion: "I fully support a woman's right to choose up to the point of fetal viability. I did sign a late-term abortion law in NM and I do support counseling and parental notification laws."
- On same-sex marriage: "I support gay unions and think they should be legal, though I still think this is a states rights issue. However, I'm open to the argument that this is like civil rights in the 60s and that there's a constitutional justification for a federal role. I simply don't know enough about the issues involved yet and I'm interested in learning." He also said "I'd like the federal government to be out of the marriage business altogether."
It was an interesting conversation. I don't think he or his campaign has thought enough about how to reach what I think is a large group of young "latent libertarians" who would support him if they knew him and his positions. If they can figure out how to use social media and technology really well, they could reach that group and possibly rally them around him as he's got a youthful image that they would find attractive.
Is he a perfect candidate from a libertarian perspective? Nope. At least not mine. But he might be as good as one could ever expect from a major party. I'm going to pass on the comparison to Ron Paul, other than to say again that RP's knowledge of economics and his comfort level in communicating it is a real advantage. On the other hand, I think GJ is better on social issues and does not have RP's history and the baggage it brings. I think it's much harder to pin the "kook" label on Johnson.
As a pro-choice, pro-gay union, pro-immigrant candidate, his odds of winning the GOP nomination are near zero unless he can motivate a whole bunch of young voters to get into the primaries. Ironically, as he said in the conference call, he won the NM governor's race by persuading people that he would be the strongest Republican in the general election. That may well be true nationally also.
If you're going to vote in 2012, he's worth a look. You could do a lot worse.
Cross-posted at Coordination Problem.