On Sunday, Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, won the Libertarian Party nomination for president with former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld as his vice president.
Johnson is an impassioned proponent of the party’s small government message, and he told the crowd he thinks most people are Libertarians but don’t know it. At a news conference, he made a play for tea party voters, saying what started out as a fiscal, small-government movement was captured by Republicans, especially social conservative. He says his party is the real “home” for such voters. Johnson eschews some of the wackier Libertarian positions — e.g. he favors drivers licenses and the Civil Rights Act (!).
Johnson espouses the small government, laissez faire views of the party, vowing to cut government and reduce taxes. They do not believe government should limit marriage to heterosexuals or prohibit abortion. He also, to the consternation of many Republicans who might otherwise support him, has adopted the neo-isolationist stance most in his party holds.
However, as Richard Epstein and others argue, a strong national defense and projection of U.S. power to secure commerce and ensure a more stable world are in no way incompatible with the Libertarian philosophy. Epstein wrote:
Libertarian theory has always permitted the use and threat of force, including deadly force if need be, to defend one’s self, one’s property, and one’s friends. . . . Correctly stated, a theory of limited government means only that state power should be directed exclusively to a few legitimate ends. The wise state husbands its resources to guard against aggression, not to divert its energies by imposing minimum wage laws or agricultural price supports on productive market activities. Quite simply, there are no proper means to pursue these illegitimate ends. . . .
There is nothing in libertarian theory that justifies dithering at home as conditions abroad get worse by the day.
A nation that believes in the primacy of liberty has to defend it at home and abroad, and do so over the long haul, without imposing artificial deadlines on its military commitments. Our enemies place no such limits on their efforts to kill and uproot innocent people. Our limited airstrikes have shown that force can make a positive difference. Only a fresh willingness to confess error about the President’s decision to remove ground troops from Iraq and keep all American forces out of Syria can reverse the present downhill trend. Containment is wishful thinking, not a stable option. Sadly, where the Islamic State goes, there we must ferret them out.
Johnson so far offers no sign he is inclined toward Epstein’s view. Perhaps he will “evolve” over the campaign.
At any rate, Johnson and Weld have more executive governing experience than the two major candidates. They currently draw 10 percent in many national polls. Both major parties will attempt to ignore them, but the media — reeling from Donald Trump’s exploitation of their thirst for ratings in the primary season — should think carefully about how to cover Johnson-Weld.
These rules seem to comport with fairness and the obligation to educate the voters:
1. Johnson-Weld should be included in all major polling, especially since 15 percent in national polls is required to get into the presidential debates.
2. In figuring out how to balance air time, the media rightly complains Hillary Clinton is not available nearly as much as Trump. That excuse, however, does not wash with Johnson-Weld who should be interviewed on a regular basis.
3. In treating Johnson-Weld as normal candidates the media should press for positions on key issues. What do they plan to do about the Islamic State? If they cannot get a flat tax, what sort of tax reform do they favor? If they disband the Education Department, should federal funding for schools disappear? What drugs would they legalize? In other words, treating them as serious candidates requires serious questions.
4. They owe the voters an exploration of the governors’ records, past positions, successes and failures. Were they successful as governors? How would that translate into national policies.
5. The media should look at Libertarian voters. Who are they? Are they all, or mostly, white, young males?
6. The media should allow Johnson-Weld to make their case against both major party candidates. Johnson has called Trump’s immigration policy “racist.” Is that justified? Why is Clinton, in their minds, not acceptable as president? Johnson will make arguments the two candidates will not make against one another (e.g. on free trade). The media then should be obliged to ask Trump and Clinton to respond.
In sum, this is an election like no other we have seen in generations. The major parties are splintered. A non-politician, nonconservative won the GOP’s nomination. The least the media can do is not prejudge the result nor prevent two perfectly qualified, accomplished governors from making their case to the voters.