Principle is Foreign to Johnson

 

Most reasonably informed people will tell you that Gary Johnson doesn’t know a lot about foreign policy, but he has principles. This is partly because Johnson regularly tells people that he’s unusually principled, partly because he’s the nominee of the Libertarian Party, which has a terrific brand for purity, and partly because Johnson so effectively casts himself as a category rather than a person; one of his most frequent interview schticks is to respond to questions with “Libertarians believe … ” Thus, even his critics often suggest that his statements can be extrapolated into an ideology.

Among libertarians, though, the issue is a little less clear. When Johnson announces his principles, they’re roughly the principles of Ron Paul. Nonetheless, Ron Paul speaks more highly of the Green Party’s Jill Stein than of Johnson, specifically because of her foreign policy superiority. That isn’t because she’s more knowledgeable (Paul defends Johnson from claims that his ignorance is relevant), but because she’s more principled.

Do Johnson’s positions reflect claimed principles?

To see why this is, examine the correlation between Johnson’s claimed principles and his approach to military policy. Start with his most frequent statements: he is against regime change, and there has not been a single positive example of regime change in his lifetime. Johnson has gone on record about at least five historical instances of regime change. He supported regime change in Afghanistan and Bosnia (in his 2012 book he says we should not have gone into Afghanistan in Chapter Ten, but supports it in the appendix and consistently favored it before and since). He’s been opposed to regime change in Iraq and in Libya. He probably endorses American efforts in World War II; he’s refused to endorse it in front of libertarian audiences, but he cut an ad that depends on the assumption that he supported it, his campaign contextualized his debate answer, and before his debate answer he’d condemned the US for waiting so long to enter WWII. In his latest book, he declines to pick a side in the Civil War, noting the free trade libertarian and similar arguments for the Confederacy, but that may not be a question of regime change.

His next most frequent condemnation is of interventions generally, sometimes with an exception for responses to attacks and sometimes for humanitarian wars, despite his view that “without exception” intervention makes things worse. This general rule means that sometimes he says that fighting ISIS does no good; if we wipe out ISIS we’re going to create a void; and drone strikes, bombs, boots on the ground, and military interventions in general don’t work, since the successor to ISIS will be “just as bad” or worse. Instead, we should focus on increasing cyberwarfare (sometimes he opposes cyberwarfare and advocates eliminating the NSA and abolishing FISA courts, drawing a moral equivalence between them and China, but at other times he denies advocating this), treating those who practice Sharia in America like Kim Davis, oil sanctions, and a Weld-described “expensive” and “not libertarian” thousand-man expansion of the FBI focused on counterterrorism combined with changes in criminal procedure such that investigations against potential terrorists would not be so easily dropped for lack of evidence.

At other times, he supports fighting ISIS, including with drone strikes, bombs, and naval bombardment. He nods along when Weld advocates hypothetical strikes in Yemen. He’s keen to clarify that he’s not a pacifist. He criticizes Obama for insufficient military action against Joseph Kony, despite Kony having attacked America even less than Milosovic. Given support for those interventions, on which Trump is silent or opposes, it is possible that Johnson supports more intervention than Trump does. It might appear inconsistent to sometimes favor attacks on ISIS while opposing intervention in Syria, but Johnson’s problem with Syria is mostly that we’re opposed to Russia, when the only path to peace is to be aligned with Russia, or, in other interviews, hand in hand with Russia. In other words, the problem is that when, in 2011, some of Assad’s troops refused to fire on unarmed civilians, mutinied, and formed the Free Syrian Army, the US failed to support Assad’s crushing of that resistance, and American non-endorsement of atrocities has continued to this day.

Fundamental ignorance of Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria

In August, Johnson claimed that in Libya we supported the opposition, but they were wiped out and their arms were all taken by ISIS. He said this two days after the Libyan government, formerly the rebels, took the ISIS headquarters in Sirte, the last “major” (eighty thousand people) settlement they held in the country. Sometimes Johnson defenders will point out that there are still problems, which there absolutely are, but they aren’t problems on a remotely similar scale to ISIS defeating the opposition. Two factions of the opposition currently rule Libya. ISIS does not.

This sort of basic confusion permeates his thought on foreign policy. He has a five minute summary that explains why he thinks that regime change is wrong. He thinks that Libya is not more stable or safe “since we helped topple its government.” Before the US intervened in Libya, Libya was at the height of a civil war. You don’t have to believe that the intervention was a good idea to believe Libya is more stable and safe today than it was in early March 2011. At some level, Johnson knows this, since he thinks that the newsworthy atrocities were the motivation for intervention and he spends enough time going through airports to know that Libya is not constantly on CNN screens today.

Likewise, he says that Afghanistan is not more democratic than it was under the Taliban. Afghanistan has a better Freedom House score (24) than five out of six of its national neighbors (and Russia). Admittedly, that’s a low bar. Nonetheless, “more democratic than the Taliban” is an even lower bar. Today, Afghan democracy is shamed by being ranked no better than Angola, despite considerable support. Before 9/11, it was shamed by being ranked alongside North Korea. The undemocratic nature of Taliban rule isn’t exactly a closely guarded secret.

As in Libya, Johnson insists on non-recognition of viable forces that are neither ISIS nor tyrannical. Thus, he has said that the US is allied with ISIS against Assad, a claim that is at odds with the many and decisive US attacks against ISIS with no intentional strikes on Assad. He gets there by suggesting that because the Kurds and the FSA, the chief enemies of ISIS in Syria, are opposed to the government, they are allied with ISIS, and hence we are, too, and then that the people we sided with are trivial. His belief that the opposition has been completely wiped out is the heart of his problem with Aleppo; how can you understand a fight in which you refuse to believe that one side of the fight still exists? Sometimes he goes further and says, giggling, that the opposition has not only been destroyed, but that it was mythical to begin with.

None of this means that the invasion of Afghanistan was justified nor that any particular policy in Syria is sound. If I make the argument that Obama should not be president because he has never travelled outside of Washington, you could not soundly defend my stupid claim on the basis that Obama is a bad president, or that Obamacare is poor policy. Nor would disputing my claim make you a supporter; agreement with a conclusion does not justify agreement with an argument. If US intervention in Libya was a strategic and moral mistake on the scale of Hitler invading Russia, Johnson’s claims would still be shamefully ignorant.

Is his ignorance a virtue?

Johnson, his defenders say, may not know about foreign policy specifics, but he knows about libertarian principles. It’s certainly true that someone deeply versed in International Relations theory might grasp contemporary applications of that theory faster and more soundly than someone ignorant about both facts and theory. Johnson knows the institutions who host functions with him (Reason, CATO, Friedman Foundation), but sitting down and reading in long form isn’t how he rolls, so Rothbard and other libertarian staples have passed him by. New Mexico officials had a maximum of two minutes to brief him on any issue, and he would frequently change the subject from policy to fitness; today, watch any interview in which he is asked a third question on the same topic and you’ll see him almost desperate to change it. The one libertarian author whose books he has read is Ayn Rand. He likes to say how his life partner asked him what he believed and he gave her a copy of Atlas Shrugged. He was so passionate about Rand that he read a second book of hers, also fiction, also without a foreign policy focus. The title of his new book, “Common Sense For The Common Good,” rejects theoretical or ideological principle as a claim. The possible nod to theory is a feint. He did name it after Thomas Paine’s book, but says that he doesn’t remember what Paine believed, he just liked the title. Time and again in interviews and speeches he disclaims that a position “isn’t libertarian, but…” The book is, like many of his interviews, filled with examples of favorable polls being used to demonstrate that a position is correct, although he also denies that polls are particularly reflective of reality. One is reminded of Trump’s Fifth Avenue shooting hypothetical; what would it take for people to believe Johnson when he says he’s not into theoretical principles?

Johnson spent most of the campaign claiming as an asset his lack of learning. Good government is easy. He has the advantage of not knowing the rules, which means that there are no sacred cows. He argues further that “The fact that somebody can dot the I’s and cross the T’s on a foreign leader or a geographic location then allows them to put our military in harm’s way….We elect people who can dot the I’s and cross the T’s on these names and geographic locations, as opposed to the underlying philosophy, which is, Let’s stop getting involved in these regime changes.”

His later effort was the 2016 approach to policy competence of giving a prepared and reasoned speech. He’s often claimed that Clinton was well intentioned but hapless, but here he explicitly claimed that he, Johnson, was a “chess player”. Unlike Clinton, he would not only consider his opponent’s response when moving but also his own follow up (chess enthusiasts often plan more than one move ahead, but Johnson claims only to be a chess player, not a chess master). This speech, given after some of his gaffes but before others, rejected the first approach.

Thus for a change he made accurate claims about the size of the defense budget, but more significantly avoided kowtowing to Russia. Indeed, he promised to use economic power to “end the era” of the US being “powerless to influence” Russia. Russia would have “no choice but to be concerned about the economic and diplomatic ramifications of their actions.” He also promised to rule with free trade, a claim somewhat in tension with this (free trade is where the government does not intervene in markets, muscular use of economic influence for political reasons is intervention in markets). Nonetheless, as with Pence at the debate, there was a moment of apparent resolve. Unfortunately, when the speech ended, a student asked for details. Johnson’s hilarious response focused mostly on the portion of his stump speech that addressed Uber and young people finding work. When the moderator insisted that he explain how he would resist Russia, Johnson went back to talking about supporting Putin in Syria, making it clear that whoever wrote the speech failed to convey to Johnson how or why we might wish to engage in resistance. Aggression against third party non-NATO Members would be fine, returning to a general policy of appeasement of Russia.

Does ignorance matter?

Johnson objects to questions about foreign policy specifics on the basis that they are easy to google. This defense is undone by the chess analogy. It is important to competent chess playing that one is highly familiar with the existence, alignment, placement, and movement capabilities of each and every piece.

This problem with googling when issues arise is partly that knowledge is often layered (this is part of the reason that a grandmother with WebMD is no substitute for a doctor). Thus, although Johnson has access to Google today, he nonetheless frequently makes the claim that he could reduce the Defense budget by 20% without reducing capabilities because the BRAC Commission claimed that bases could be reduced by 20% “in the mid 1990s”. Kevin Williamson takes apart the first layer of ignorance here, noting that bases aren’t really a big part of the defense budget. Even if Johnson internalized this and lowered his aim accordingly, the last of the Commissions he could be referring to was in 1995. There has been some change in the demands on the military since the post Cold War reforms, with BRAC closures taking place as a consequence, rather than a primary driver, of tremendous drops in manpower. Even if Johnson internalized that and understood the relevance, he uses BRAC closures as the sole major example of spending cuts he would engage in (closing departments by moving agencies to other departments isn’t a spending cut, particularly when paired with more FBI, massive new non-libertarian “emergency” federal jobs and education spending on African American men, a new Social Security death benefit, more oversight of police training on race, etc.), claiming that this would allow him to balance a budget. The BRAC consolidation of bases support long term savings but incorporate up front costs; no BRAC commission has reduced spending for the administration of the President that commissioned it.

The BRAC isn’t magic, but a way of fulfilling policy set at the top, and Johnson has no idea what he wants. Sometimes he says that we should not have any bases overseas at all, since our refueling abilities give us a global reach anyway (you will note that he also thinks we spend twice as much as we do on defense and have twice as many troops in Europe). Sometimes he suggests that we should have them. For example, “I would completely withdraw our military presence [from Afghanistan]. Does withdrawing our military presence from Afghanistan mean that we would still have a base open in Afghanistan if they allowed us to keep a base open? Perhaps.” When he’s talking to Charles Krauthammer, he suggests that the Navy “may be the direction that we should pursue”. How would he find out? He suggests that people should apply for White House jobs, he’d hire people who thought like him, and something would emerge. When he talks to Military Times after his success in their poll, he says he would not bring upheaval to the Pentagon and that “I will exempt from that category [of government that can be cut by 20%] those that are serving, the resources going to those that are serving, and veterans. There is no obligation that is too great for those we have asked to do that.”

It is also a problem because, while some problems are somewhat like chess (what is the minimum force level we need to achieve a particular goal, for instance), foreign policy is not a zero sum game and sometimes involves nuance. Johnson appeases Putin by rejecting the protection of the borders of countries with whom we only have collective defense treaties that he believes did not get Senate approval. In addition to explicitly “reassuring” Putin on Syria and Ukraine, he would also provide comfort by pulling back the US military presence from Europe even from NATO allies. Why don’t we need those troops? Because Russia knows that we would nuke them if they invaded one of the Baltic Republics and we can send aircraft and redeploy quickly (although, obviously, if we close our European bases we probably can’t redeploy all that quickly, and certainly not at a “speed of Russia rolling through Estonia” level). This is roughly the foreign policy mistake that Trump was most mocked for (Johnson failed on the chief rival for that title, the nuclear triad, too). Johnson accuses Clinton of being likely to start a nuclear war because she tries to appear tough. What this misses is that nukes being the first line of defense makes nuclear war far more likely; it’s precisely because she has a little education in “looking tough” and escalation theory, a subject that she has talked about frequently, that Clinton, like most Presidents, is likely to steer clear of the top levels of escalation. A foreign policy that ends the Pax Americana has all kinds of economic and moral consequences at lower levels, but it is also pretty terrible at managing the risk of the ultimate horror unless one goes all the way and also foreswears the use of nuclear weapons.

Conclusion

Johnson likes to say that if you’re honest, you don’t have to remember anything. As anyone who has underprepared for a test before knows firsthand, even if Johnson were honest, it would be helpful for him to remember some things. Nonetheless, one does not need to know a lot to appear to be a principled non-interventionist. If you think that regime changes are always bad, for instance, don’t support the toppling of governments, even when it’s popular. If you think we should not have bases overseas, don’t suggest we should have bases overseas, even when talking to people who want them. If you think that we need a chess player in the White House and that you might be president, spend a little time with a book. If you think that US military intervention is morally equivalent to chemical warfare attacks on children, don’t call for US military intervention, even when Facebook makes a Kony documentary popular. Given that Johnson correctly identifies himself as a non-pacifist, Ramesh’s post does not show that he has pacifist principles, but that he has no principles.

Although if Johnson simply imitated Ron Paul’s answers he could appear more principled and knowledgable (and he’d probably have landed Paul’s endorsement), imitation still wouldn’t make him principled. To be principled doesn’t just mean that you answer in line with a principle, but that you do so out of sincere commitment. Johnson and Weld suggest that immigration enforcement is kind of like the Holocaust, but do not apologize or even imply concern about the immigration enforcement, including raids, that took place under them as governors. When they further propose, without regret, apology, or concern, a policy of universally deporting people when their work visas are done, they make it clear that they never believed their implied principle, to wit, that deportations are unthinkably evil and Anne Frank references are appropriate. When Weld describes the border fence as reminding him of the Berlin Wall, Johnson does not feel a need to explain why he was one of the earliest governors in the country to come out in favor of that sort of fencing in 1995, supporting the building of a fence at Sunland Park to follow on from Clinton’s first walls in San Diego and El Paso. Sunland Park marked an early instance of the “Berlin Wall” line. One can be principled and support Clinton’s walls but not Bush’s, but it’s hard to see principle that makes one section of border fence positive and another shockingly evil. Similarly, the suggestion that Libya today is ruled by either Gaddafi or by ISIS shows that Johnson’s short temper on these things is a Trumpian temper, a snapping about disrespect, rather than a concern for the issues.

A candidate does not have to work hard to make it possible to believe that he has principles; he just needs to support them more often than he opposes them. A candidate does not have to work particularly hard to suggest that he cares a little about the issues; if reading TWS or the NYT is outside his comfort zone (and properly digesting some articles can take more than two minutes on a single topic), there are limited government and libertarian digests. Paying attention to them would have been enough; it’s not like he’s under much scrutiny. He’d have avoided proof of his ignorance and some of the proof that he is uninterested in principles. Trump’s limited efforts to educate himself have been mocked, but anyone depressed and angry at Republicans running a D student against a do-anything-to-win A student may take comfort in looking at the Libertarian Party and being reminded that there are grades worse than D. It is also helpful to remember that it is not true that fringe candidates are necessarily more principled than their more successful peers.

There are 57 comments.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    You can’t remember a thing you never knew to begin with.

    • #1
  2. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I have nothing to add, but this is an excellent post. Thank you.

    • #2
  3. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    MarciN:I have nothing to add, but this is an excellent post. Thank you.

    Thank you.

    Percival:You can’t remember a thing you never knew to begin with.

    And you.

    • #3
  4. Solar Eclipse Inactive
    Solar Eclipse
    @SolarEclipse

    Eh.  I lost all respect for Johnson when he backed away from religious liberty in that interview.  I’m not a libertarian, but their whole appeal is supposed to be that they’re the dogged defenders liberty in general, hence the libertarian.  A man who tries to distance himself from a core freedom enshrined in the Constitution just because it’s not the thing to do right now…well, that’s hardly a man at all.

    • #4
  5. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Solar Eclipse:Eh. I lost all respect for Johnson when he backed away from religious liberty in that interview. I’m not a libertarian, but their whole appeal is supposed to be that they’re the dogged defenders liberty in general, hence the libertarian. A man who tries to distance himself from a core freedom enshrined in the Constitution just because it’s not the thing to do right now…well, that’s hardly a man at all.

    If anyone chooses to suggest a core freedom enshrined in the Constitution that he does not distance himself from, I would be keen to hear it and to bet a drink that I can find him distancing himself from that freedom.

    • #5
  6. Salvatore Padula Inactive
    Salvatore Padula
    @SalvatorePadula

    James Of England:

    Solar Eclipse:Eh. I lost all respect for Johnson when he backed away from religious liberty in that interview. I’m not a libertarian, but their whole appeal is supposed to be that they’re the dogged defenders liberty in general, hence the libertarian. A man who tries to distance himself from a core freedom enshrined in the Constitution just because it’s not the thing to do right now…well, that’s hardly a man at all.

    If anyone chooses to suggest a core freedom enshrined in the Constitution that he does not distance himself from, I would be keen to hear it and to bet a drink that I can find him distancing himself from that freedom.

    I’m unaware of Johnson being equivocal on the Third Amendment.

    • #6
  7. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    @jamesofengland

    You might have finally convinced me to vote for Johnson.

    You’ve protested too much. You argue that a vote for Johnson isn’t simply an imperfect way to express one’s support for liberty, but an active vote against it. You argue that it’s not simply a mistake, but morally wrong. And not simply morally wrong, but obviously morally wrong.

    Instead of sympathizing with the Johnson voter, you choose to lampoon them. How could anyone vote for Johnson? He’s worse than Trump in almost every respect!

    How is it supposed to make me feel when you call my friends and people I admire, whose intelligence and thoughtfulness rival your own, that they are not understandably mistaken, but essentially supporting the most evil candidate in the race?

    Libertarians are everyone’s favorite punching bag because they usually put philosophy before politics. They are usually regulated to hilarious obscurity, and if libertarians ever have chance at political success, it’s easy to just point out that in order to have that chance, they had to engage in politics. Which means they had to do all the things that every other politician has to do, but probably worse because that’s the most likely way someone who doesn’t have the party recognition might be able to gain the ear of more people. Then libertarians shrivel because you’re right, their representative gored all the sacred cows, and since libertarians are primarily people of principal, they must flagellate themselves for ever considering supporting someone so impure and relegate themselves back to obscurity where they belong.

    • #7
  8. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Salvatore Padula:

    James Of England:

    Solar Eclipse:Eh. I lost all respect for Johnson when he backed away from religious liberty in that interview. I’m not a libertarian, but their whole appeal is supposed to be that they’re the dogged defenders liberty in general, hence the libertarian. A man who tries to distance himself from a core freedom enshrined in the Constitution just because it’s not the thing to do right now…well, that’s hardly a man at all.

    If anyone chooses to suggest a core freedom enshrined in the Constitution that he does not distance himself from, I would be keen to hear it and to bet a drink that I can find him distancing himself from that freedom.

    I’m unaware of Johnson being equivocal on the Third Amendment.

    I thought about arguing that this wasn’t a “core freedom”, but then I recalled your passion on this issue. You’re right; I should have made an exception for this and other issues that he has not been asked about and as such, I owe you a drink.

    • #8
  9. Salvatore Padula Inactive
    Salvatore Padula
    @SalvatorePadula

    James Of England: I thought about arguing that this wasn’t a “core freedom”, but then I recalled your passion on this issue. You’re right; I should have made an exception for this and other issues that he has not been asked about and as such, I owe you a drink.

    While I’m certainly not one to turn down a drink, I have to say I’m a little disappointed. I half expected you to come up with a quote from Gary Johnson advocating quartering of federal troops in private homes.

    • #9
  10. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Thanks for this and your earlier piece on National Review Online on Johnson’s record as governor.

    • #10
  11. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Mike H:@jamesofengland

    You might have finally convinced me to vote for Johnson.

    You’ve protested too much. You argue that a vote for Johnson isn’t simply an imperfect way to express one’s support for liberty, but an active vote against it. You argue that it’s not simply a mistake, but morally wrong. And not simply morally wrong, but obviously morally wrong.

    Just to be clear, are you suggesting that your personal antipathy to my abhorrent views should guide your vote?

    Instead of sympathizing with the Johnson voter, you choose to lampoon them. How could anyone vote for Johnson? He’s worse than Trump in almost every respect!

    How is it supposed to make me feel when you call my friends and people I admire, whose intelligence and thoughtfulness rivel your own, that they are not understandably mistaken, but essentially supporting the most evil candidate in the race?

    I don’t have friends that have not been labeled as supporting the most evil candidate in the race by other friends of mine, but I should be clear that I don’t think that it is the fault of the average Johnson voter that they build up an image of Johnson as a principled candidate. I linked to Daniel Hannan and to Ramesh Ponnuru, two of the the people I respect most in punditry. The former suggested that although we know of his flaws, he’s principled so we should vote for him. The latter suggested that his suggestion of moral equivalence between American military actions and Assad’s chemical weapons attacks on children must involve pacifist principles. In both cases, it’s my understanding that the level of research involved was exceptionally slim; they were responding to specific statements that made it into the mainstream media.

    Because the only media outlet that put any work into investigating Johnson is essentially a branch of his campaign, Johnson was able to argue for years, for example, that he passed eight balanced budgets. I do think that Nick Gillespie, for instance, abdicated moral principle in his support for Johnson. He personally asked Johnson about all kinds of libertarian issues, he’s spoken to him at length for years, and he out Breitbarts Breitbart.

    If you’re an ordinary voter, though, I don’t expect most people to go to the effort that I did to look up Johnson’s support for a border wall in 1995. So far as I can tell, not one single media outlet has raised that topic in the past decade. It isn’t wrong for people to be less obsessed by Johnson than I am. It’s not wrong for people to be as obsessed  by him as I am, but to channel that energy into activism rather than research.

    If you’re saying that it’s offensive for me to think Johnson morally repulsive to a degree unrivaled in his fellow candidates, then I’m not sure what you would want me to do about that. I mostly avoided that sort of language in the post; should I simply be silent? Is there a particular claim that you feel was poorly sourced, stretched, or otherwise unsound? If you’re concerned that suggesting that unpaid Johnson voters are bad in a similar way, then I can assure you that I’m not; Johnson’s gaffes and media appearances are sufficient to show him to be incompetent and not very libertarian, but it would be perfectly reasonable to read the secondary sources and come away under the impression that on every specific mentioned Johnson was bad, but in general he’s awesome. Indeed, this is the overwhelmingly dominant response I’ve had from Johnson supporters; they can’t name something good (some of them talk about prison privatization), but they have the words of Bill Weld, Rachel Maddow, Reason, and such that Johnson’s generally good.

    Libertarians are everyone’s favorite punching bag because they usually put philosophy before politics.

    This is an important claim. There’s some truth to this; this is why the branding for purity has become so strong.  That libertarians often do this, though, does not mean that all libertarians do this. The susceptibility of the world of professional libertarianism to Johnson, like the susceptibility of the world of professional libertarianism to Trump exemplified by Wayne Allyn Root and Stephen Moore, suggests that this is a weaker trend within the paid ranks than one might have thought before this experiment.

    They are usually regulated to hilarious obscurity, and if libertarians ever have chance at political success, it’s easy to just point out that in order to have that chance, they had to engage in politics. Which means they had to do all the things that every other politician has to do, but probably worse because that’s the most likely way someone who doesn’t have the party recognition might be able to gain the ear of more people. Then libertarians shrivel because you’re right, there representative gored all the sacred cows, and since libertarians are primarily people of principal, they must flagellate themselves for ever considering supporting someone so impure and relegate themselves back to obscurity where they belong.

    It’s not “libertarians” that I urge not to vote Johnson. It’s human beings. Johnson isn’t merely sinking to the level of non-LP politicians. Theirs is not just the only campaign to Godwin their opponents, it’s Hitlerizing behavior that the nominees engaged in themselves. I’m not calling on Johnson to hew to higher standards of libertarianism than Trump or Clinton (I would agree with you that it would be unfair to compare him to McMullin, who lacks the analogous pressures).

    I don’t understand the counter argument. How am I arguing that libertarians must flaggelate? You make the argument yourself that libertarians put philosophy first. I’m providing here evidence that Johnson supporting libertarians who have knowledge of Johnson’s total lack of interest in philosophy are clearly exceptions to that rule. Most libertarians don’t know how lazy and poorly read Johnson is; they think that the gaffes are just ignorance about Aleppo, North Korea, foreign leaders and such. It’s my understanding that if you put philosophy first, you might be interested in the parts here about philosophy.

    I’m sure you’re not just telling me to shut up, though; what would you like me to do with this information? How could I have presented it in a manner that would not have offended you?

    • #11
  12. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Paul A. Rahe:Thanks for this and your earlier piece on National Review Online on Johnson’s record as governor.

    Thank you.

    Salvatore Padula:

    James Of England: I thought about arguing that this wasn’t a “core freedom”, but then I recalled your passion on this issue. You’re right; I should have made an exception for this and other issues that he has not been asked about and as such, I owe you a drink.

    While I’m certainly not one to turn down a drink, I have to say I’m a little disappointed. I half expected you to come up with a quote from Gary Johnson advocating quartering of federal troops in private homes.

    It is now an ambition of mine to get an enterprising journalist to ask him (he knows who I am, so I can’t do it). If you come up with a way to make it sound like an appealing, common sense, way of asking the question in the next three and a half years, I’d be grateful.

    • #12
  13. Salvatore Padula Inactive
    Salvatore Padula
    @SalvatorePadula

    James Of England: It is now an ambition of mine to get an enterprising journalist to ask him (he knows who I am, so I can’t do it). If you come up with a way to make it sound like an appealing, common sense, way of asking the question in the next three and a half years, I’d be grateful.

    I would suggest that the best approach would be to frame it as a way to reduce military spending.

    • #13
  14. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Libertarianism is great in theory, but falls apart if there are powerful non-libertarian countries in the mix. One never wins a war on defense if one’s opponent is determined and has sufficient resources to carry on.

    • #14
  15. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Percival:Libertarianism is great in theory, but falls apart if there are powerful non-libertarian countries in the mix. One never wins a war on defense if one’s opponent is determined and has sufficient resources to carry on.

    I should clarify here that my post doesn’t really address whether or not libertarian principles are a good idea. It also concedes more than I’d like; Milton Friedman had a pretty robust foreign policy, for instance, and those forms of theoretical libertarianism that allow for any form of government generally allow for a substantial military. @Fredcole may make a big deal out of the number of Americans dying in hostile action in Afghanistan (seven this year), while mocking those who think that the small numbers who die to people he doesn’t believe we should take action against are significant, but that position is not intrinsic to libertarianism.

    Johnson is not keen to win a war on defense. He panders wholeheartedly to Putin (the opposite of a defensive position in one way) and advocates expanding action against ISIS outside Afghanistan, just as he thought that we weren’t doing enough to intervene in African conflict. Indeed, the lack of defense is a central part of Johnson’s problem; he doesn’t want to take limited action against Putin because he believes that the potential for the use of nuclear weapons means that we don’t have to. This is kind of like viewing a car’s bumpers and crumple zones make alert driving unnecessary; treating nukes as an early line of defense is an incredibly bellicose approach in some ways.

    @mikeh If you’re wondering why I wrote this, this is part of the reason I wrote this. People frequently attribute libertarian principles to Johnson, even in response to direct evidence that he doesn’t have them. The flaws in libertarian principles aren’t a good reason to vote against him (unless you think that the flaw is one that he happens to share, such as an excessive willingness to slander the troops). Similarly, the virtues in libertarian principles aren’t a good reason to vote for him. Also, your support for those virtues isn’t a reason to get mad at my pointing out that Johnson doesn’t share your interests.

    • #15
  16. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Salvatore Padula:

    James Of England: It is now an ambition of mine to get an enterprising journalist to ask him (he knows who I am, so I can’t do it). If you come up with a way to make it sound like an appealing, common sense, way of asking the question in the next three and a half years, I’d be grateful.

    I would suggest that the best approach would be to frame it as a way to reduce military spending.

    Yeah, I was thinking that, but I couldn’t get to something that didn’t sound like it was a question on expropriation. Johnson knows enough to lie about his use of eminent domain.

    • #16
  17. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    James Of England: I’m sure you’re not just telling me to shut up, though; what would you like me to do with this information? How could I have presented it in a manner that would not have offended you?

    Some empathy would be nice. That at a time when it’d be optimal to have real alternative choices to this mess the guy with the libertarian label was uniquely bad and has been using the party for years waiting for this kind of opportunity for personal gain.

    The Republican Party ruined this election and you are going scorched Earth on everyone else because you’re scared to death they might have to compete for votes in the future. It shouldn’t have to be this way.

    • #17
  18. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    James, I didn’t know that Johnson had learned to love the Bomb to that degree. I haven’t really paid that much attention to them after my brief flirtation with the party during the early Eighties.

    • #18
  19. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    James Of England: How could I have presented it in a manner that would not have offended you?

    Your attacks on Johnson are so over-the-top that they don’t come across as credible or persuasive.

    I think we’ve seen a lot of the same thing in the divide over Trump.  When the Never Trumpers pile onto Trump, and call him a terrible candidate, morally reprehensible, and so forth, it doesn’t seem to persuade many reluctant Trump supporters — in fact it seems to have the opposite effect as intended, they tend to dig in their heels and back him all the more strongly.

     

    • #19
  20. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Johnson is not sure we should have intervened in WWII. That tells me all I need to know about his so called “principles”.

    • #20
  21. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Mike H:

    James Of England: I’m sure you’re not just telling me to shut up, though; what would you like me to do with this information? How could I have presented it in a manner that would not have offended you?

    Some empathy would be nice. That at a time when it’d be optimal to have real alternative choices to this mess the guy with the libertarian label was uniquely bad and has been using the party for years waiting for this kind of opportunity for personal gain.

    I think it must be very hard for you not having good options, but I don’t believe this to be particular to libertarians. Indeed, libertarians have a relatively appealing candidate in McMullin. As I noted in my first response to you, some professional libertarians have also found Trump appealing, but in general most people outside the alt-right have been left with this feeling.

    I put a non-trivial amount of effort in trying to prevent this action, back before the LP primary. If @FrankSoto and I had been successful, we’d be in the classic libertarian position of arguing about having a purist against politics, but we’d have a purist who’d read a book. I genuinely believe that that would have been more comfortable if we’d done better and I wish that we had.

    As you know, I put more effort into stopping the Republican party from going the way that it did, not for cynical or strategic reasons, but because ignorant and fake radicalism is awful for the Republic. We’re all suffering in this.

    The Republican Party ruined this election and you are going scorched Earth on everyone else

    I haven’t just not gone scorched earth on Stein, Clinton, McMullin, Trump, Supreme, or others, I have actively encouraged people to vote for them. I have purchased drinks for people to congratulate them in canvassing, persuaded people to donate, and received commitments to vote for them.

    because you’re scared to death they might have to compete for votes in the future. It shouldn’t have to be this way.

    Did you read the post? Do you honestly think that there’s any candidate that I’d approve of using Holocaust references to describe immigration enforcement? After they, themselves, had been immigration enforcers? Indeed, particularly aggressive hawks in that regard? Do you think it is not news that Johnson supported a border fence?

    Do you think that I don’t find Republicans who pander to Putin and slander their country to be repugnant? Do I not have a sufficiently deep record of complaining about those with kind words for Assad? Is there a candidate who you believe might have made claims like withdrawing completely from Afghanistan not meaning that we would no longer maintain a military base in Afghanistan (also, that we should not have bases anywhere in the world outside the US, but we should in Afghanistan) without drawing the ire of those of us who spend time in the details of defense policy?

    I don’t know if you really feel as if I would think either that Johnson was an appealing person if he had a different party affiliation or if you think that I would not believe my research to be noteworthy and/ or interesting.

    I’ve written on politics for a while, but I’ve only gotten one article in National Review. I don’t think I’ve ever written an article with as much in the way of important research as this one. Your shooting the messenger approach appears to be based on an assumption that I lack sincerity or that my motivation is merely tactical or strategic. Since I don’t have a political view more visceral than my views of Johnson, formed over watching him for many hours, reading his books, and researching the issues and finding that there was rarely an interview in which he didn’t say something new, and since my political views are important to me, if I’m not sincere about this, there are very few things that I am sincere about. When you try to urge me to admit my lack of sincerity, you’re asking me to admit that I’m a better educated form of Johnson, the sort of corrupt pundit that Jonah Goldberg likes to talk about. Your assumptions suggest that I’m a terrible human being. Can you imagine why I might not respond to such an accusation in a terribly empathetic manner?

    • #21
  22. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Joseph Stanko:

    James Of England: How could I have presented it in a manner that would not have offended you?

    Your attacks on Johnson are so over-the-top that they don’t come across as credible or persuasive.

    Do you have a specific claim that you think is either not credible or not persuasive? I’m not asking you to take my word for this; there are a lot of links here to Johnson saying the things that I’m saying he’s saying. If there’s anything that you find implausible, I urge you to click the link, watch him saying that thing, and maybe come back to me if you think that I was unfair. I’ve gone to the effort of linking in almost every one of those videos both to the specific point at which he made the claim I’m referring to and, at the same link, to the video that the quote is extracted to so that you can check the context.

    I think we’ve seen a lot of the same thing in the divide over Trump. When the Never Trumpers pile onto Trump, and call him a terrible candidate, morally reprehensible, and so forth, it doesn’t seem to persuade many reluctant Trump supporters — in fact it seems to have the opposite effect as intended, they tend to dig in their heels and back him all the more strongly.

    Do you have a specific part of this post that you’re referring to? I understand that I make a lot of claims here that Johnson has said some surprising things, but you shouldn’t have to move your mouse more than a couple of sentences to see the claim and its context. I’m fine with pushback, and I agree that NeverTrumpers sometimes get “no, you’re just wrong and shut up” pushback, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope for pushback of a more specific and thoughtful variety, which NeverTrumpers often encounter, too.

    • #22
  23. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    James Of England: Do you have a specific part of this post that you’re referring to?

    Nope, it was a general observation.  Honestly I didn’t read much of the OP because:

    1. general election fatigue
    2. I dropped off my absentee ballot earlier today, so I’ve already made my decision

     

    • #23
  24. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Bryan G. Stephens:Johnson is not sure we should have intervened in WWII. That tells me all I need to know about his so called “principles”.

    @MikeH Note that I defend Johnson against this charge in the post.

    I don’t think the pandering was pretty, but it’s very far from his lowest moment; I’d much prefer him to dishonestly claim not to know something than to claim to know something that is clearly not true and that poisons hearts against America at home and abroad.

    • #24
  25. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    James Of England:

    Your assumptions suggest that I’m a terrible human being. Can you imagine why I might not respond to such an accusation in a terribly empathetic manner?

    I obviously don’t think you’re a terrible human being. I think you’re doing what you think is best for the country. But, you’re continuing to rag on Johnson after he’s all but certain to fall well short of 5%. Why? Is it a personal vendetta? Extra insurance? Why is it so important that you have exhaustively detailed everything that’s wrong with him? Did you find an area of journalism space that hasn’t been exploited so decided to become one of the most researched in this niche?

    When I tell you it looks like you’re doing this for strategic reasons, I’m saying that’s what it looks like. I wouldn’t doubt you have much more noble reasons, not that strategy isn’t a noble reason (if you’re right that this is the only hope for liberty then I would hope your would embrace that this is what you were doing), but I would think you would be sensitive to the optics of what you were doing and hopefully me and Joseph have shown you what it looks like to someone who doesn’t already want to be convinced by your thesis.

    • #25
  26. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    James Of England:

    Bryan G. Stephens:Johnson is not sure we should have intervened in WWII. That tells me all I need to know about his so called “principles”.

    @MikeH Note that I defend Johnson against this charge in the post.

    I did note that. It would be pretty ridiculous to argue against WWII with the benefit of hindsight.

     

    • #26
  27. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Mike H:

    James Of England:

    Your assumptions suggest that I’m a terrible human being. Can you imagine why I might not respond to such an accusation in a terribly empathetic manner?

    I obviously don’t think you’re a terrible human being. I think you’re doing what you think is best for the country. But, you’re continuing to rag on Johnson after he’s all but certain to fall well short of 5%. Why? Is it a personal vendetta? Extra insurance? Why is it so important that you have exhaustively detailed everything that’s wrong with him? Did you find an area of journalism space that hasn’t been exploited so decided to become one of the most researched in this niche?

    I did most of the research for this when he was above 5% (and fivethirtyeight has moved him from 4.4% to 4.8% today; your version of “well short” may not match up to mine). I’m not sure if it’s clear from this article, which contains a relatively small selection of the interviews I’ve watched (just the non-redundant foreign stuff, and not the enormous last minute flip flop on Syrian refugees, the ridiculous contradictions on the abolition/ improvement to the TSA, etc. etc.), but I’ve spent a lot of time learning about Johnson. I thought that I’d get more published, but didn’t because on neither this nor his domestic promises was I able to produce something short enough to be suited to the prolific organs, and finding that out took a long time. Before that, I hoped to sort out a PAC, either a new one or helping support relevant functions for an existing one; I was keen to either support it with cash or not, but certainly to contribute labor. I wasn’t successful, in part because watching Johnson contributes to my depression and anxiety, and because so very few people are interested in Johnson and not interested in engaging in ad hominem attacks on people who disagree.

    When I tell you it looks like you’re doing this for strategic reasons, I’m saying that’s what it looks like. I wouldn’t doubt you have much more noble reasons, not that strategy isn’t a noble reason (if you’re right that this is the only hope for liberty then I would hope your would embrace that this is what you were doing), but I would think you would be sensitive to the optics of what you were doing and hopefully me and Joseph have shown you what it looks like to someone who doesn’t already want to be convinced by your thesis.

    Have you talked to Frank since the spring? Back at the LP convention, we had our first real blast of genuine Johnson horror. In my whole life, I’ve never found myself so horrified by political conversation that I couldn’t talk to people. I don’t think that @Franksoto was used to it, either. That was after my NR article, which was mostly inspired by my recollection of his fiscal record from the 2012 cycle, when the libertarian, conservative, and mainstream media also felt that it wasn’t worth exploring.

    I knew that he had a collection of my least favorite policies. Whether it’s “spending cuts” in the form of “abolishing departments” in the form of moving agencies into different departments without genuine spending cuts as previously featured in Newt ’12 and Cruz ’16, the FAIR Tax from Huckabee ’08, repugnant claims about the US military, Islamophobia, “getting the government out of marriage”, all other politicians are corrupt and corruption is the reason why we don’t get the policies everyone wants, he single handedly included top three policies I’d been opposed to in a variety of the races I’ve devoted time. He also went after the article (on marriage licensing) that until this cycle, when a “Presidential candidate” called an article of mine “horseshit” in his most prominent debate, I had thought to be my best.  Orlando added his not wanting to cut Social Security and, unlike the drivers licence thing, his followers not caring. Not a peep. On the pre-Convention issues alone, he’d have been one of my least favorite Republicans if he’d stayed in the party, but at the convention he made a bid for leadership, which he secured over the Summer. Take a figure that I’ve written negative things about within the Republican party and you’ll find that the negative things I say about them have a high degree, generally a majority, overlap with Johnson.

    As with the NeverTrump people, part of the issue has been that when I’d talk about Johnson, I would always get a response from the fans of straight up attacking the messenger. People who pay money to subscribe to Reason would say that it seemed like it was irrational for me to be interested in the things that Reason covers. People (not limited to, but including Ricochetti) would complain about my talking about Johnson on Facebook because Johnson isn’t important and then post on Facebook about Johnson. It should be obvious that @Fredcole‘s response of suggesting that objections to Johnson were limited to religious liberty was frustrating. I’d like to think that you’d agree that this has never been true. So you and Joseph (and others) say that things aren’t credible. So I add sourcing. Again, and again. I move from one topic to another topic, and it doesn’t matter; so far as I can tell, you’re not interested in my making verifiable claims. It really feels like you’re simply interested in my not criticizing a candidate you’d like to have different views and a different record to reality.

    This is a solid article with considerable research; people have talked about this being the best thing I’ve written. It has incredibly extensive sourcing. I’d be surprised if there’d been a similarly heavily sourced article on Ricochet in months. And yet it’s not surprising that you and Joseph both felt like you shouldn’t read the darn thing but instead should attack me for writing things in it that you imagine I might have written and for not having what I say be credible.

    • #27
  28. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    FWIW, most of the libertarians and libertarian-minded people I know are absolutely aghast at Johnson, furious that he should be their spokesman this year.

    • #28
  29. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    James Of England:

    And yet it’s not surprising that you and Joseph both felt like you shouldn’t read the darn thing but instead should attack me for writing things in it that you imagine I might have written and for not having what I say be credible.

    I did read the whole thing, before I made my first comment. It’s incredibly well done. I’ll admit, I didn’t follow the sources, but nor did I doubt they would back up your claims.

    You did help shed some light on why you’ve gone to all this trouble.

    • #29
  30. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Mike H:@jamesofengland

    You might have finally convinced me to vote for Johnson.

    You’ve protested too much. You argue that a vote for Johnson isn’t simply an imperfect way to express one’s support for liberty, but an active vote against it. You argue that it’s not simply a mistake, but morally wrong. And not simply morally wrong, but obviously morally wrong.

    Instead of sympathizing with the Johnson voter, you choose to lampoon them. How could anyone vote for Johnson? He’s worse than Trump in almost every respect!

    How is it supposed to make me feel when you call my friends and people I admire, whose intelligence and thoughtfulness rival your own, that they are not understandably mistaken, but essentially supporting the most evil candidate in the race?

    Libertarians are everyone’s favorite punching bag because they usually put philosophy before politics. They are usually regulated to hilarious obscurity, and if libertarians ever have chance at political success, it’s easy to just point out that in order to have that chance, they had to engage in politics. Which means they had to do all the things that every other politician has to do, but probably worse because that’s the most likely way someone who doesn’t have the party recognition might be able to gain the ear of more people. Then libertarians shrivel because you’re right, their representative gored all the sacred cows, and since libertarians are primarily people of principal, they must flagellate themselves for ever considering supporting someone so impure and relegate themselves back to obscurity where they belong.

    I reached the same conclusion a few weeks ago. I respect James immensely but on this subject he lost me. He might be 100% right on substance, but I wouldn’t know because I tuned him out on Johnson. A pity.

    • #30
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