Gary Johnson May Be Running a General Election Race Already

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2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate and former Republican New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson avoided offering up doctrinaire answers in the second part of the first-ever nationally televised Libertarian Party presidential debate, hosted by John Stossel, that aired on Fox Business tonight.

Johnson insisted the role of government was to keep people safe from individuals, governments, corporations, and other back answers, (in an answer about whether he’d abolish the Environmental Protection Agency) and refused to give a yes or no answer on legalizing sex work. A question from Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly about the heroin “epidemic,” however, did have Johnson point out “only” 8,000 people died from heroin last year, and that legalizing heroin would make it safer. Hebrought up a Swiss program that hands out free heroin to addicts.

Johnson and the other candidates, software guru John McAfee, and proprietor Austin Petersen, had plenty of opportunities to articulate libertarian ideas about being skeptical of government and the superiority of the wisdom of markets to the idiocy of bureaucrats.

Toward the end, Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano asked the candidates how they’d preserve the Constitution. Petersen said he’d “protect it” but McAfee and Johnson took the opportunity to explain how they might change the Constitution. McAfee notes the Constitution permits a constitutional convention and says one is overdue for America, while Johnson took the chance to advocate for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, which institutes the direct election of Senators, saying that has driven a lot of government spending in the last hundred years.

In the after-debate analysis, Fox Business host Kennedy said Johnson “made the best practical case” for libertarianism of the three candidates, while Reason‘s Matt Welch noted Johnson is still “tentative” in what he believes. Tonight, Johnson came off more like a moderate Republican who is skeptical of government than anything else, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At the end, Johnson offered a hodgepodge of principles he would pursue, from small government to individual liberty to term limits to ending crony capitalism to women’s equality.

A recent Gallup poll showed more Americans identify with a libertarian politics than anything else, even if they can’t articulate it that way. As I wrote earlier today, one of the most important functions of the Libertarian Party presidential race is education. Johnson, and to a lesser extent McAfee, attempted to do that on the debate stage last night, not just lobbing crowd pleasers for the libertarian-friendly studio audience but trying to explain how libertarian ideas work in practice and why they would be better for America. There’s something a bit paradoxical about libertarians running for government office but there doesn’t have to be. Government has grown over the last hundred to two hundred years in large part because of popular desire—libertarians are needed within the political system, and not just outside of it, to push against that trend and convince people that if more government has meant more problems so far, more government can only mean even more problems moving forward.

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