Gary Johnson is the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president.
Shortly after drafting the Massachusetts Constitution, John Adams expressed his greatest fear for the nation: “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader. . . . This . . . is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil.”
He wasn’t alone. James Madison warned against the dangers of factionalism. And in his farewell address, George Washington called “party dissension” a kind of “frightful despotism,” warning that a party leader would be prone to pursue his own agenda “to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”
Almost in spite of themselves, the founders allied themselves into political parties: First the Federalists against the Democratic-Republicans, then the Whigs against the Democrats. That second party alignment collapsed under the weight of slavery — when a third party, the Republican Party, rose up with a fresh message unencumbered by the past.
Has the two-party division that the founders railed against become today’s political status quo?
It doesn’t have to be. With the Republicans and the Democrats having nominated their most polarizing presidential candidates in more than a generation, now is the moment for a third way.
My running mate, Bill Weld, and I were both two-term Republican governors in heavily Democratic states. Both of us won reelection overwhelmingly. We did this by governing as fiscal conservatives and social liberals. That’s where most Americans want their government to be.
Political parties aren’t necessarily evil — unless they lead to the level of dysfunction that we have today. Elected officials in Washington cannot even agree on a real budget — and haven’t for years. That’s their most straightforward responsibility.
These partisans place loyalty to their team over loyalty to the nation’s needs. It’s eerie to see Republicans under Donald Trump denounce free trade and limited government. It’s unsettling to see how comfortable Democrats have gotten with Hillary Clinton’s approach to Middle East regime change as secretary of state.
Fortunately, most Americans aren’t buying it. More people consider themselves “independents” than are aligned with either of the two largest political parties. They want an alternative: a common-sense approach that combines fiscal discipline with social inclusion.
As presidential and vice-presidential candidates, that’s our message. A nonpartisan approach in the Oval Office would do wonders to defuse the harsh partisanship that we’ve seen develop in recent years. Think of it as a new form of checks and balances, with different parties controlling the executive and legislative branches.
In the Federalist Papers, James Madison warned about the dangers of factionalism. His proposed solution was to divide power within the government. That can be frustrating to some because it makes the federal government inefficient by design. It keeps one person, or one party, from accumulating absolute power.
Yet the two larger political parties have worked hard to try to create their own tyrannical majorities. The majorities alternate, but the basic premise doesn’t change.
So consider a system in which a president from a bona fide third party enters the mix.
With a chief executive free of any obligation to either party, the focus will be on the business of the nation, not on propping up a crumbling party apparatus.
The first priority of the Johnson-Weld administration will be submitting to Congress a balanced budget. As governors, we held true to promising that taxes would go down, not up. We’ll end up cutting spending by roughly 20 percent in order to match it to current tax receipts.
My default is to question federal spending and to require every year that each agency justify its budget anew. As governor, I vetoed more than 750 bills, often special-interest payoffs, and I won’t hesitate to veto such bills from Congress.
That said, Bill and I are reasonable and realistic executives. We will accomplish the free-market, fiscally conservative agenda of limiting government and increasing trade, while pursuing long-overdue immigration and criminal-justice reform.
We’ll do this through having both Republicans and Democrats in the Cabinet and working simultaneously with the leaders of those parties. Seeing that, by working together, the best ideas of each party will receive a fair hearing, both will see real movement toward addressing challenges they care about, not just winner-take-all partisan gridlock. A great deal could be accomplished by having third-party leadership dedicated to finding the common ground that has so often eluded the parties in recent years: on balancing the budget, curbing taxes, protecting our privacy and reforming our criminal-justice system.
The fact that the founders anticipated our two-party morass and warned against it ought to be enough incentive to look beyond it. The two major parties have failed to meet the needs of the nation. It’s time to try something different.