Both in recognition of my (perhaps disproportionate) annoyance, and to avoid alienating potential future Murphy book buyers, I am really trying to contain my social media criticism of Gary Johnson. But let me gripe about him here.
This recent Reason interview is astonishing. First of all look at this:
NICK GILLESPIE: Earlier this week, you suggested you were in favor of a carbon tax or fee. Yesterday, at a rally in New Hampshire (video here), you said you were against it. What is your position on carbon taxes?
GARY JOHNSON: [A carbon tax] sounds good in theory, but it wouldn’t work in practice. I never called it a tax. I called it a fee. As it was presented to me, this was the way to reduce carbon and actually reduce costs to reduce carbon. Under that premise—lower costs, better outcomes—you can always count on me to support that [sort of] notion. In theory it sounds good, but the reality is that it’s really complex and it won’t really accomplish that. So, no support for a carbon fee. I never raised one penny of tax as governor of New Mexico, not one cent in any area. Taxes to me are like a death plague.
Yeah, it’s glad that he switched, but his emphasis on his word choice is absurd.
Anyway let’s move on. Look at this:
GILLESPIE: Let’s talk about vaccines. There are no federal laws mandating vaccines, and that’s how it should be, as far as you’re concerned.
GILLESPIE: Various states treat vaccines differently, and you’re not wild about the range of individual choice and opt-out provisions, but you do believe it’s a state-level decision—or certainly that it’s not a federal-level decision.
GILLESPIE: There are people who say vaccines cause autism [and other problems] or that vaccines don’t work. Are you in that camp?
JOHNSON: No, I chose to have my children vaccinated. I understand all the concerns that some people have, but for me personally, I made a decision to have my children vaccinated. I want people to make decisions and I believe in [opt-outs]. With the exception of a few states, everyone has an opt-out. But I also want to say that, as president of the United States, if I am confronted with a zombie apocalypse that will happen unless the total herd is totally immunized, I will support [mandatory vaccinations].
Now, in fairness, is Johnson just cracking a joke at the end there? I mean, of course he’s being funny with the zombie thing, but what I mean is this: Is Johnson actually trying to say, “If there were a genuine public health emergency, and reputable doctors convinced me it would save many lives, then I would impose a federal mandatory vaccine”? Because if so, then yet again he announces a principle of liberty and then flushes it down the toilet if it has dire consequences. It’s like saying, “I’m in favor of the right to bear arms, unless a lot of people started getting shot.” Or, “I’m in favor of freedom of the press, unless too many people started buying Nazi books.”
But it gets worse. Look at this:
GILLESPIE: What do you think of [Trump’s] recent appeals to black voters? He’s been saying to African Americans that the Democratic Party hasn’t really helped them much. That everything in their lives has gotten worse under Barack Obama and that Hillary Clinton is not their champion. Do you agree with Trump that Democratic Party policies haven’t really benefited the black community?
JOHNSON: I do. Both parties are engaged in pandering. The libertarian approach—equal opportunity—isn’t that what you really want? But I’d argue that equal opportunity currently does not exist.
GILLESPIE: How does it not exist, and what policies would you enact to make it a reality? Is it a question of ending a drug war that disproportionately impacts blacks, promoting school choice so they can escape chronically bad schools, and ending minimum-wage laws that price low-skilled workers out of getting their first jobs?
JOHNSON: All of what you just mentioned. Let me offer up a story. I was on Fox News’ The Five a couple of days ago with Eric Bolling. I made the statement that “black lives matter” and Eric chimed in to say, “All lives matter.” It’s not a criticism of him, it’s just indicative of the conversation [about race and politics]. I said, “Yes, all lives do matter, but blacks are getting shot at the rate of six times that whites are. If you’re of color and you’re arrested, there’s a four times greater likelihood that you’ll go to jail than if you’re white. Eric said, “Blacks commit eight times the crime.” My answer was little muddied, but I think I got to my point. Yes, blacks are being arrested, they are being charged, and they are being convicted at eight times the rate of whites. If that same scrutiny were applied to you and I as whites, we would have those same results. That’s the awareness [of unequal treatment] that doesn’t currently exist.
You might think, “What’s the big deal Bob? He’s appealing to everybody, unlike Trump.” Au contraire, mon ami, you don’t have my skills. After I point it out, go look again at what just happened in the above excerpt:
(1) Most important: Gary Johnson himself didn’t actually say anything he would do to help black people. Gillespie–I think on purpose, knowing Johnson is a babe in the woods on such matters–had to spoonfeed him the standard libertarian answers on this. Johnson nodded his head, and then went on to do this:
(2) Johnson relates an anecdote (which offers not a single new policy, in addition to the stuff Gillespie spoonfed him) in which he says some non sequitur statistics about the judicial system, Eric Bolling then cites a statistic that shows why Johnson’s numbers by themselves were a non sequitur,* and then Johnson agrees to Bolling’s number (but changes what it applies to–namely arrests versus conviction) and implicitly admits his original stat was off by
10050%. And this anecdote proves (in Johnson’s mind) why Bolling just doesn’t get it when it comes to race in America.
(* I’m not saying blacks are getting a fair shake from law enforcement. What I’m saying is that by itself, saying that “there’s a four times greater likelihood that you’ll go to jail” if you’re black than if you’re white, doesn’t prove anything. It’s like saying, “There’s institutional racism because white mortgage applicants are x% more likely to be approved than black applicants.” Bolling brings up a fact that–if true–would actually indicate that Johnson had just pointed out huge racism against WHITES, and Johnson just absorbs the number (and changes the unit of measurement) as if that were his point all along. Also, I’ve now read this passage from Johnson several times, and it’s possible that he was respecting the distinction between the two stats, but then in that case I think it goes against his original point. You guys can argue it in the comments if you’d like.)
Gillespie’s kid-glove treatment is most obvious here:
GILLESPIE: Let’s talk about Hillary Clinton. In response to being called a bigot and a racist by her, Donald Trump said that she was fundamentally not trustworthy. Do you agree with him on that?
JOHNSON: Yes, I agree with him.
GILLESPIE: So you’re in a weird position, aren’t you? You actually agree with both Hillary and Donald, but you don’t think either should be president.
Now, if Gillespie were doing anything besides giving a platform (and help from the interviewer) for Johnson to get out of the corners into which he’s painted himself, he would’ve said, “So you’re in a weird position, since on CNN in June you said Hillary Clinton was a wonderful public servant. Sooo, did you just learn in the last week that she’s not trustworthy? Was it the same person who set you straight on carbon taxes?”
(OK OK, that last line would be too much. But surely Gillespie should’ve asked Johnson why he recently praised Hillary Clinton and now says she’s untrustworthy.)
AND THE BEST FOR LAST. YET AGAIN WE HAVE MORE NUANCE IN THE GAY WEDDING CAKE ISSUE:
GILLESPIE: Let’s talk about your stance on religious-liberty issues, which has angered a lot people on the right and many libertarians. Your position is that you essentially want to extend anti-discrimination protections for race and gender to cover sexual orientation when it comes to businesses that are open to the public. Yet you support an opt-out for vaccinations. Why not support an opt-out for the religious owner of a business who doesn’t want to bake a gay Nazi wedding cake?
JOHNSON: Because it would create a new exemption for discrimination. At the end of the day we’re just going to agree to disagree. But you bring me specific legislation dealing with a cake baker not having to decorate a cake for a Nazi and I’ll sign it.
Now again, in fairness, it’s possible that that last line was a total 100% joke. But at this point, Johnson has given me no reason to believe that. This guy handles hard questions like Thomas Piketty at this point. Johnson fires from the hip on his personal feelings about a situation, someone points out that this position is neither libertarian nor coherent, and then Johnson refines the original statement with an arbitrary exception that neuters that one specific objection.
P.S. I’m adding this the next day: In the above, I suggested that school vouchers are a standard libertarian position. That may be true in terms of numbers (especially if we mean capital-L Libertarian), but a bunch of us actually don’t think school vouchers are libertarian. I mean, if you want to do a non-refundable tax credit for parents who yank their kids out of government schools, OK fine, but that’s not what “school vouchers” means to most people.