Libertarian presidential hopeful Gary Johnson is interviewed by Brett M. Decker:
Decker: America would be a lot better off if Washington adopted more libertarian positions, especially those that advocate cutting red tape, slashing taxes and getting Big Brother off our backs. In a very tangible way, however, many Americans have gotten hooked on federal largesse and aren’t willing to give up their government goodies. How can you make the message of smaller government resonate in this growing climate of dependency, and who is your main audience?
Johnson: I believe most observers would agree that, of all governors in modern history, I governed from a more libertarian foundation than any other. When I ran for governor and when I took office, many claimed the sky would fall. It didn’t, and I was re-elected and even today enjoy the highest approval ratings in my home state of all the governors in the presidential race. And New Mexico is a Democratic state. That tells me that people actually get it. They understand that government “largesse” is not largesse at all; rather, big government and the “benefits” it provides come at a price that is simply too great. They also understand that by limiting the federal government to that which it really needs to do, we will free the states to deliver essential services in innovative and efficient ways. And we will free the private economy to create real jobs and restore opportunity as an American trademark. Government would not disappear in a Johnson administration. It would live within its means and do what the Constitution says it should do. No more, and no less.
As I convey this message, I find that Americans of all ages, incomes and demographics respond. Young people, in particular, are embracing a libertarian approach to government. They want to be left alone to live their lives, chase their dreams and do so without government imposing values and burdens that limit their freedoms. I am convinced that there is a majority of voters in America today who are classical liberals — committed to the ideal of limited government, constitutionalism, rule of law,due process and individual liberty.
Never before has that majority been more poised to organize and exert itself in a political environment that has for too long been controlled by the two “major” parties.
Decker: Conventional wisdom is that a third-party challenger cannot be elected president of the United States. Certainly, a Libertarian candidacy siphons votes away from the GOP. Is that the point — to send a message of protest that Republicans need to be more principled, especially on fiscal issues?
Johnson: Conventional wisdom has never been a guiding principle in my life or career. Conventional wisdom held that a businessman who had never been in elected office could not run and win as a Libertarian-Republican in New Mexico. And conventional wisdom would argue against a former governor with a not-yet-healed broken leg making it to the summit of Mt. Everest. My candidacy is not about a message of protest. It is about defying conventional wisdom and giving voice to what I believe is a majority of Americans who today do not feel comfortable in either the Democratic or Republican Party.
Likewise, I do not accept the premise that my candidacy siphons more votes from Republicans than from Democrats.As I hold online town halls, travel the country and read the emails and messages coming into our campaign every day, it is obvious that we are connecting with at least as many Obama voters as McCain voters from 2008. A lot of people who thought they were voting for change in 2008 are today very disappointed that what they achieved was only a slightly different version of the same business-as-usual they wanted to reject. The desire for a truly new approach cuts across all parties and independents alike.