We beat conventional wisdom with a stick
24 July 2017 18:44 (South Africa)
Opinionista Ivo Vegter

America, pick a third party: Choose Gary Johnson

  • Ivo Vegter
    IvoVegterBW
    Ivo Vegter

    Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He is seldom wrong.

The Republicans nominated the tycoon Donald Trump. By means fair and foul, the Democrats thwarted the insurgency of socialist Bernie Sanders to anoint former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Both enjoy record-breaking unpopularity, however. Outsiders should root for a sane third-party candidate in the US presidential election. Gary Johnson offers a safe and rational choice.

If South Africa’s recent municipal elections have demonstrated one thing, it is that an apparently unassailable establishment can be threatened by a combination of economic trouble, distrust of government, and the unpopularity of party leaders. Change doesn’t come overnight, but it sure came sooner than most people predicted, with the ANC at historically low support levels at 54% of the national vote. It remains in outright control of only three of South Africa’s eight metropolitan municipalities, two of which are the only metros with populations below a million people.

In the US presidential election, conditions are in some ways similar. The economy has been sputtering along on three cylinders, government is bigger and more corrupt than ever, and the anti-establishment insurgency on both right and left have rocked the political landscape, only to produce the two most disliked characters ever to run for president in the United States. The most recent polls, despite a post-convention bounce, give Clinton a more than 10% unfavourable rating, with more than half the US, 53% disapproving of her and only 43% having a favourable opinion. Trump fares even worse, with a 27% disparity between favourable ratings of 34% and unfavourable ratings of 61%. In recent history, no Democratic nominee has ever had a net unfavourable rating, and of the two Republicans who have – Mitt Romney in 2012 and the George HW Bush in 1992 – neither won the presidency.

Much of the mainstream media – including this paper, which has referred to Donald Trump in needlessly personal, partisan terms as “the orange menace” guilty of “buffoonery” – appears to be siding with Hillary Clinton, either on the shallow grounds that she is the first female nominee of a major party, or on the pragmatic grounds that she is an experienced politician and better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. While denouncing Trump as a dangerous and inexperienced candidate, they express at most abject resignation at the inevitability of a Clinton presidency, as reflected in US opinion polls.

But for all Trump’s well-documented inadequacies as a crass reality TV billionaire who appeals to people’s baser instincts with brazen appeals to xenophobia and economic protectionism, Clinton is a pathological liar and imperious egoist who represents the worst of the crony-capitalist establishment that is so unpopular on both the left and the right.

The view that choosing between Clinton and Trump is a choice of the lesser of two evils is well founded.

Trump cuts a radical, populist figure who threatens to tear his own party apart. He shoots from the hip, and plays fast and loose with facts. While he might not have Clinton’s reputation for lying, he is far from honest. He supported the war in Iraq in 2002 and 2003, which isn’t in itself worth a disqualification for the presidency, but he now claims that he was one of the earliest opponents of that war.

He once claimed to have spoken with Russian president Vladimir Putin and that the two had a close relationship. When this seemed more like a liability, when it appeared Russia may have been involved in a hack that exposed scandalous email correspondence from the Democratic National Committee, he reversed course, saying that there was no relationship after all. This seems to be true: Trump has never met or spoken with Putin, after all.

When asked in a debate whether he called for a 45% tariff on Chinese imports, he said, “That’s wrong. They were wrong. It’s the New York Times, they are always wrong.” Admittedly, the New York Times is not the most impartial of newspapers and it is often wrong, but it promptly released an audio recording in which Trump called for exactly such a tariff. He also overstated the US trade deficit with both Japan and China by a third.

Mostly, however, Trump exaggerates and boasts. He acts like a second-hand car salesman in selling himself, as has always been his character.

Much more alarming than his boastful, bombastic attitude are his positions on the issues. He is strongly against immigration, and strongly in favour of domestic protectionism. This will not only raise prices for American consumers, but negatively affect the entire world economy. He’s in favour of low taxes, which is a plus, but he also advocates spending a lot more on the military and foreign intervention. He has chosen a vice president who represents the religious right, equivocates on gay rights, and is in favour of continuing the war on drugs.

Clinton has a worse record on honesty than Trump. Perhaps her most famous lie is the claim about going to Bosnia in 1996. “I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base,” she told the media.

The Washington Post thoroughly dismantled that claim. There was no sniper fire. Instead of running to the vehicles, she met a large welcoming committee, which included an eight-year-old girl who presented her with a poem and a kiss.

She blows with the political winds on issues such as gay marriage, which is not unreasonable for a politician to do, but she tends to go on to deny that she ever changed her mind. She first claimed that her private e-mail server did not contain any classified e-mails, which was false, and then claimed that the FBI director, James Comey, declared her to have been truthful about it. He had said the exact opposite. A liar who lies about lies is a liar indeed.

She told the families of the victims of the embassy attack in Benghazi that the violence was the result of Muslim anger about an offensive video posted online. In fact she was well aware that it was a planned terrorist attack that had nothing to do with any video.

She was offended when Donald Trump accused her of playing the “woman card”, but that is exactly what she has done, on very many occasions.

She has often defended international trade deals, only to turn against them later. A famous video compilation of her prevarication begins with a CNN host asking her: “Will you say anything to get elected?”

She is a pathological liar, backed by a corrupt party establishment that relies on huge corporate donors. She epitomises the crony-capitalism against which the Democratic insurgent, socialist Bernie Sanders ran. His campaign, although deliberately undermined by party apparatchiks that were supposed to be neutral and have since resigned, ended with a whimper. His supporters answered with a chorus of booing when he endorsed the candidate against whose big-money politics and dishonest rhetoric he had railed.

On the issues, she differs from Trump on gun control, gay rights, immigration and taxation. She’s of a mind with him about many other issues, however. Many should be of greater concern to both Americans and foreign observers, such as greater military spending and foreign interventionism, continuing the failed and disastrous drug war, protectionism for American producers at the expense of free trade, and higher government spending.

In essence, she stands for continuing the status quo of big government and crony-capitalism, against which ordinary people from both the left and the right have protested so vigorously over the last eight years.

In contrast to these two evils, there is a third option. The major two parties have colluded to keep smaller third-party candidates out of the official presidential debates unless they can gain 15% in the polls, which is hard to achieve without being in the debates in the first place. Many polls don’t even include third-party candidates.

The candidate with the best chance of drawing support from both disgruntled Democrats, who saw their progressive candidate Bernie Sanders eliminated, and unhappy Republicans, who strongly oppose Donald Trump, is Gary Johnson. With his vice-presidential choice Bill Weld, the pair form a reassuringly moderate ticket for the Libertarian Party.

Both Johnson and Weld are successful two-term Republican governors from Democratic states; Johnson from New Mexico and Weld from Massachusetts. As always, the Libertarian Party espouses individual liberty. Roughly speaking, they agree with the liberal social values of the Democratic Party, and the conservative economic values of the Republican Party.

In particular, Johnson would favour free trade, while opposing cronyism and protectionism in existing trade pacts. He is not opposed to immigration, while remaining firm against those who could pose a threat to America’s security. He’d favour lower taxes, and has spoken of instituting a simple, low consumption tax to meet the revenue needs of the US government. He’s a small-government advocate who believes that prosperity is generated by a dynamic, competitive private economy, rather than bloated and over-indebted social programmes. He opposes “corporate welfare”, and promises to act against corruption, subsidies and cronyism.

He favours ending the war on drugs, on grounds of its abject failure, its record of imprisoning huge numbers of non-violent people who would otherwise be productive members of society, the excessive powers it has given law enforcement agencies, and its undermining of basic principles of personal freedom. He is in favour of gay rights and other civil liberties, and doesn’t want to take anyone’s guns away. He disapproves of high defence spending, as well as expansive military adventures abroad.

Neither Johnson nor Weld are libertarian radicals. Both have offended the purist extremes of their party, but would seem pragmatic and sensible to the general public. Both oversaw growing budgets and debts in their respective state, although both did so in the face of Democratic legislatures that actually controlled the purse strings. Both left their states with a balanced budget and lower taxes. Johnson vetoed a third of all bills that came across his desk. Weld turned around Massachusett’s unemployment crisis. Both support a school voucher system by which parents would be able to move kids from under-performing schools to well-performing schools, without losing state funding for their children’s education.

An advert for the pair can be found on Youtube, and there’s a campaign website that hopes to get Johnson into the US presidential debates.

Compared to the extremes represented by the disliked standard-bearers of the Democratic and Republican parties, Johnson and Weld appear rational and safe. Libertarians cannot always say that for their preferred candidates.

A vibrant, prosperous and freely trading America, not hamstrung by partisan extremes, benefits the rest of the world in numerous ways. Foreigners who want to see economic progress in the US and around the world ought to advocate loudly against both Clinton and Trump, and humbly suggest that they consider the virtues of the only moderate ticket in the race for its presidency. It is extremely unlikely that he’ll win, of course, but the more Americans are aware of Gary Johnson’s campaign, the more likely that American supporters of liberal social values and free markets will get to hear a rational voice in the presidential debates.

Not that a lone columnist in Africa will have much impact, but Gary Johnson has my endorsement, for what it’s worth. DM

  • Ivo Vegter
    IvoVegterBW
    Ivo Vegter

    Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He is seldom wrong.

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