These two guys, who headed the Libertarian Party ticket in 2012, are perfect illustrations of what I call “system libertarians.” By “system libertarians,” I don’t mean “right-opportunists” who are simply trying to hijack libertarianism towards other ends like Rand Paul, Bob Barr, the Kochs, etc. By all accounts, these two are sincere libertarians so far as one can be within a pro-system framework. When Johnson was governor of New Mexico, he was a fairly outspoken and maverick critic of the war on drugs. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity, BUT he explicitly rejected the use of executive pardon to release drug war prisoners on grounds that doing so would be “un-democratic.” In other words, his libertarian values are subordinated to his democratist values.
Gray is a former prosecutor and judge who is also a maverick judicial critic of the war on drugs. Yet in his otherwise excellent book on the drug war, he strongly criticized the use of jury nullification to obstruct drug war prosecutions on the grounds that doing so would undermine the legal system and the “rule of law.” In other words, his legal positivist values take priority over his libertarian values.
I have nothing against these guys personally. They fill a necessary role. But they illustrate the difficulties associated with individuals who claim the mantle of “libertarian” without fully rejecting the system. This is one of the reasons why I have always preferred to call myself an “anarchist” rather than a “libertarian.” The label of “anarchist” is one that most people are uncomfortable adopting. But the importance of accepting this label is that it signifies one’s willingness to completely turn one’s back on the system, and adopt an explicitly revolutionary stance, which “system libertarians” won’t do.
This past weekend, the Libertarian Party celebrated its 40th birthday by choosing its candidates for President and Vice President. The Libertarians selected former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson for President, and retired judge James Gray of California for Vice President. The convention was broadcast nationally on C-SPAN, and received coverage on National Public Radio.
What are these candidates like, and how do they compare to their opponents?
Gary Johnson is probably the most accomplished athlete in the 2012 contest. He has climbed Mount Everest. In fact, he has climbed the highest mountain on 4 continents. He has competed in Hawaii’s Ironman Triathlon Championship several times, and competed in the eight-day Adidas TransAlps Challenge bike race. He has even run a 25 mile desert race wearing combat boots and a 35 pound backpack. And he was on his high school track team in Albuquerque.
But Johnson is most famous for trying to legalize marijuana.
As Governor of New Mexico, Johnson called the War on Drugs a failure, comparing it to alcohol prohibition in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He became one of America’s highest ranking elected officials to advocate legalizing marijuana, calling for it to be handled as a health issue rather than a criminal offense. During his debate with runner-up R. Lee Wrights at the Libertarian Party National Convention (which can be viewed here), Johnson said, “We should be able to make our own choices when it comes to drugs…. [The] Libertarian Party, 40 years ago, talks about legalizing drugs. Well now, in this country, we’re at a tipping point. We’re at a tipping point where 50% of Americans now want to legalize marijuana. That has never happened before, and who deserves credit for that? The Libertarian Party deserves credit for that.” According to Wikipedia, Johnson used medical marijuana to control pain from 2005 to 2008 after a paragliding accident left him with a broken vertebra, knee, and rib.
Johnson also scores big on other civil liberties issues. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union gave him a higher score than President Obama or any of the Republican candidates in its 2012 Candidate Report Card on Civil Liberties. Johnson supports gay marriage and wants to repeal the “Patriot” Act. He opposes government interference with the Internet, torture of prisoners, and invasive Transportation Security Administration procedures. By contrast, President Obama and Mitt Romney both supported extension of the “Patriot” Act, “enhanced interrogation” of prisoners, and current TSA security measures. President Obama has been criticized for being non-committal on gay marriage, and signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement last October without submitting it to the Senate for approval.
Johnson opposed military intervention in Afghanistan and Libya. He has promised to cut the military budget 43% in his first year, including closure of several overseas bases.
Johnson is against government bailouts of private corporations. He is also opposed to unnecessary government spending, and has promised to submit a balanced budget to Congress in 2013. When Johnson was termed out of office in 2003, New Mexico was one of only 4 states that had a balanced budget.
Johnson’s policies, and how they compare to Obama’s and Romney’s, are covered in more detail here.
Johnson started a door-to-door handyman business to pay his way through the University of New Mexico. His business eventually became one of the largest construction companies in the state.
Although he was only allowed to participate in two of the Republican Party presidential debates this year, Johnson came up with the best one-liner of the entire campaign season when he said, “My next-door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel ready jobs than [Obama’s] administration.”
Johnson’s running mate, James P. Gray, is a retired judge who lives in Newport Beach, California. He earned his undergraduate degree from UCLA, and a law degree from the University of Southern California. He spent 23 years on the bench in the Santa Ana Municipal Court and the Orange County Superior Court. Before that, he taught in the Peace Corps, served in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, and worked in private practice.
Judge Gray is best known for advocating drug decriminalization. He spoke in favor of the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 and helped write the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative. Gray’s first experience in politics came in 1998, when he lost the Republican primary for the 46th Congressional District seat in California. In 2004 he won the Libertarian Party nomination for U.S. Senate, defeating former California Libertarian Party Chair Gail Lightfoot, but losing to Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer in the general election.
Gray has written a musical and three books, including Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed: A Judicial Indictment of War on Drugs and A Voter’s Handbook: Effective Solutions to America’s Problems. He also writes a weekly column for the Daily Pilot, a newspaper in Newport Beach, California.