Interview: Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson
You may think that the US election is just about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. And to some extent, it is. But there are other candidates running, including Libertarian Gary Johnson, who is on the ballot in 48 states. RFI's Sarah Elzas spoke with him before he went onstage in Streetsboro, Ohio, to address his supporters.
Gary Johnson is aiming to win five percent of the vote, which would give his party access to federal matching campaign funds for the next election. Libertarians believe that the government should stay out of peoples' lives, both financially and socially. Financially conservative and socially liberal, they are trying to attract voters disenchanted by both the Democrats and the Republicans.
As Romney and Obama came through Ohio this week in their last-ditch efforts to win over voters and encourage people to go to the polls, Johnson too came to the swing state. The party believes it could sway the results. On Friday night, Johnson drew several hundred people to a fundraiser and rally in Streetsboro in northeastern Ohio.
RFI: You're a former Republican. You were a Republican governor of the state of New Mexico from 1994 to 2002 and you ran in the Republican presidential primary last year. Why are you now a Libertarian?
Gary Johnson: I think I've been Libertarian my whole life. This is the 40th anniversary of the Libertarian party. And I remember 40 years ago getting a book that talked about what it was to be a Libertarian, and I identified completely with everything that was being said, which is fundamentally that I'm pro-choice regarding everything. And since you can't do harm to anyone else, your choices need to be for yourself only. As long as you're not adversely affecting other people's lives, those are decisions that you and I should be making.
RFI: As governor, you were governing under these principals. Libertarians talk a lot about ideals and morality, and you have had the opportunity to put these ideals into place. How do they change when it comes to running for office and actually governing?
G.J.: As much as I was called a Darwinist - survival of the fittest - this guy is going to have people dead on the streets and government services are going to go away. Well, that wasn't the case. People weren't dead on the streets, and things ran better. New Mexico is a state that is two-to-one Democrat, and I got re-elected by an even bigger margin the second time, making a name for myself vetoing legislation. I may have vetoed more legislation than the other 49 governors in the country combined. I vetoed 750 bills and had
thousands of line-item vetoes.
RFI: Libertarians have the reputation of being the party that wants to legalize marijuana. Is it fair to distil the platform to that?
G.J.: Well, it's true. Libertarians have really gotten labeled with that. And here we are now nationwide at an actual tipping point on the issue. So who ultimately deserves credit on this issue? Libertarians. And if you go back 40 years, I think people recognize that. And so maybe, what else are Libertarians saying?
RFI: So, legalizing marijuana is a gateway issue?
G.J.: It is a gateway issue! In every debate with Democratic or Republican candidates, the Libertarian wins, but people say they won't vote for the Libertarian because he's not going to win. Well, just give people a whiff of potentially winning and maybe that changes.
RFI: You are aiming to get five percent of the presidential vote this year. What if you take enough Republican votes here in Ohio and go down in history as the guy who made Romney lose?
G.J.: Whichever candidate I would make lose, that would be terrific. Because that would open up a debate and a discussion over the two parties. What really is the difference between the two? It's not much. It's really not much at all. They're both going to continue to militarily intervene in other countries' affairs, and the police state is going to grow, on top of continued unsustainable spending.
RFI: So it makes no difference if Obama or Romney wins?
G.J.: Look, Romney is horrible on civil liberties. He's horrible. Obama is horrible on dollars and cents. Horrible. Why not have the best of both worlds? I'm better than Obama on civil liberties, I'm better than Romney on dollars and cents. And that's the combination that I think most Americans are seeking.
RFI: Do you feel an affinity with the other third party candidates?
G.J.: The notion here is to end the two-party system. The goal is to supplant either the Democrats or the Republicans, believing that most people if they actually took the time, would realize that they're probably Libertarian.
RFI: Your vision is still a two-party system in the United States?
G.J.: I would love to have as many parties as possible. As governor of New Mexico, I signed legislation to make it easier to be on the ballot. I think it would be a lot more healthy if we had many more parties.
RFI: You have said you would replace income and corporate taxes with a single consumption tax. By getting rid of progressive taxation, how would you keep income disparities from getting even wider than they already are?
G.J.: Is the gap between rich and poor today not narrower than it's ever been before? By that I mean, even the poorest person in this country has a television and internet and a cell phone and a refrigerator and an automobile. Now, the richest person has the most expensive refrigerator, which is 20 times that of the least expensive refrigerator. They have an automobile that's 100 times the cost of a used Nissan. It goes on and on and on. Arguably the disparity has never been narrower.
RFI: You don't believe the United States should be involved militarily overseas. Do you believe there should still be an army?
G.J.: Yes, because fundamentally government should protect us against those that would do us harm, and that would be attack against us by foreign countries. So we need strong national defense, but defense being the operating word, as opposed to offence and as opposed to nation-building.
RFI: What about Nato?
G.J.: I would cut Nato spending by 43 percent. That's our deficit every year: 1.4 trillion dollars. The notion of diplomacy, in lieu of guns, that's a good notion. So I would be promoting a 43 percent cut in Nato spending, along with everything else.
RFI: Would you say you're a pacifist?
G.J.: Pacifist? No. If I'm hit, I'm going to hit back. If I'm hit, watch out, I'm going to the death. But I'm going to do everything I can to avoid getting hit in the first place, and I'm not going to lead off by hitting.
RFI: A lot of your supporters are men. Here in Ohio, the candidates on the ballot are predominantly men. What about the Libertarian party is so attractive to male voters?
G.J.: Well, more and more women are coming into it, but I wish there were that many more. But hopefully that will be self-fulfilling. I think that people haven't heard the message. To me it's just that they've never heard what Libertarians have to say.
RFI: But Libertarians talk about people fending for themselves, getting rid of government programs and welfare and having the private sector step in. When it comes to issues like childcare, do you think women are drawn to that approach?
G.J.: Fair enough. But as you pointed out earlier, I was a two-term governor of New Mexico and actually said these same kooky things as governor and got to apply them to governing as well as I could. Vetoing happened to be the tool available. And I got re-elected by a bigger margin the first time than the second time.
Gary Johnson and running mate Jim Gray hope to pull the vote their way on 6 November, in the 48 states where they are on the ballot.