Why America Needs Gov. Gary Johnson in the Presidential Debates

Two parties with the same bad ideas don't represent the extent of electoral choices in 2012.

Last fall, GQ ran a profile of former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, under the headline "Is This the Sanest Man Running for President?" The piece noted that in 2003, Johnson scaled Mount Everest with a broken leg, and in 2005, broke his back paragliding off the highest mountain in Maui. "Sanest"? Well, maybe not.

But Johnson, now running on the Libertarian Party ticket, is certainly the most interesting candidate in the 2012 field -- and that's not an attempt to damn with faint praise.

Yesterday morning, I sat down with "Gov. Gary" to talk about what he hopes to achieve in this race.

The American electoral process almost guarantees third-party failure, says "Duverger's Law," coined by the French political scientist who pointed out that "The plurality (1 winner) voting system tends to lead to a two-party system."

But some of the main obstacles that third parties face are artificial, not structural. "The two old parties have gamed the system," Johnson charges. The Presidential Debates Commission, or CPD, the private group that serves as the gatekeeper for the nationally televised debates, imposes an arbitrary barrier of 15 percent support in three national polls before a candidate can be included. That rule, adopted in 2000, would have barred virtually every third-party candidate in American history. The fix is in, it seems.

Still, getting into the debates is one of Johnson's key goals, and he intends to "kick and claw and scrape" until he hits 15 percent or public pressure forces the CPD to lower the bar: "If I'm in the debate, then the world changes," he insists.

What about the "spoiler" charge -- or, as a Twitter follower of mine phrased it, "why does [Johnson] want four more years of Obama?"

He says he gets that a lot: "The implication of the question is that I'm gonna take votes away from all those ... anti-war, pro-gay marriage Republicans that are currently supporting Romney." Johnson admits that his candidacy hurts Romney in North Carolina, but insists, "I take more votes from Obama in New Mexico."

He's right: Last week the Public Policy Polling firm noted: "Interestingly [Johnson] hurts Obama a little bit more than Romney, pulling the President's lead down to 42-38."

Regardless, he adds, "to heck with all that -- you as a voter should vote your conscience," Johnson argued.

"Vote your conscience, not your fears" was a Ralph Nader slogan in 2000, for a Green Party presidential bid that earned Nader the enmity of liberals for allegedly helping deliver the presidency to George W. Bush.

How much you fear "spoiler" scenarios depends on how stark you consider the difference between 2012's major party standard-bearers. On Sunday, I spotted a minivan bumper sticker that read: "Jesus was a 'community organizer.' Pilate was a governor." Pretty stark!

But you could be forgiven if you don't see the difference between the technocrat who pioneered the individual mandate in Massachusetts and the one who took it federal as one of -- ahem -- Biblical proportions.

Meanwhile, Johnson is "the only candidate who doesn't want to bomb Iran. ... the only candidate who wants to repeal the Patriot Act."

And, as he made clear to me, the only candidate who's committed to abolishing specific agencies: the departments of Education and Homeland Security "for starters." As the final, catchall plank in the LP platform puts it, "Our silence about any other particular law, regulation ... [or] agency ... should not be construed to imply approval."

I don't know that "the world changes" if Johnson manages to claw his way into the debates. But the race would start to get interesting. And interesting is one thing that, right now, it's not.

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  • Ryan60657||

    November choices: Big Government, Bigger Government, or Gov. Gary Johnson.

    Live Free.

  • SIV||

    That rule, adopted in 2000, would have barred virtually every third-party candidate in American history.

    The 15% rule wouldn't have barred Ross Perot, John Anderson or George Wallace. I believe that is 3 of the 4 3rd party/independent Presidential candidates who, during my lifetime, drew more than 2% of the vote in the general election.

  • Brandybuck||

    Did Ross Perot poll 15% in selected polls BEFORE the debates?

  • Brandybuck||

    Actually, I looked it up. He looks like he did.

  • Onyxwolf||

    Three times?

  • Raston Bot||

    If the debates do not include any 3rd parties, then how about a 3rd party-only debate? Virgil, Jill Stein, Gary.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    That's been done in the past. Cspan covered it. If GJ is on the ballot in all 50 states, there is no good reason to keep him out of the debates. The Constitution allows the House of Reps to break presidential race ties among the top five vote getters.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    They should invite the major-party candidates and, if they don't show up, select major-party celebrity spokespeople. I keep telling you, this is the way to keep on the pressure.

    Johnson: "It's too bad that Obama and Romney were too chickenshit to attend this debate, but I'm pleased that Michelle Rodriguez and [other actress with movie coming up] agreed to appear in their place. To honor your place in this debate, the sponsors have allowed you to sit on this sofa behind the two empty chairs representing the absent candidates you represent."

  • Pro Libertate||

    They should tape the debate with Johnson, using the exact same questions, inserting holographic video of Obama and Romney answering the questions.

  • Loki||

    I suggested once before, last week IIRC, that maybe Johnson could live-blog his answers along with rebuttals to Obamney's answers to the debate questions. Might be a little hard in that format to keep up with the moderator, but still better than nothing.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I'd take advantage of the non-invitation and tape. That way, Johnson can think through his responses.

  • Onyxwolf||

    Two things: 1) Johnson did similar to this for the first major CNN Republican candidate debate that he was excluded from. He did it while watching the TV and rocked it!
    2) He since has been doing live answers to any debate he should have been included in via twitter and kicks ass with his answers, most within 140 characters, rarely having to resort in 3-4 tweets, but gets his message loud and clear: We want REAL change, not the lies promised us by Obama... Not the Status Quo that Romney is promising. REAL change.

    Live Free brothers and sisters

  • ant1sthenes||

    They should do the creepy lip thingy that they do on Conan.

  • Pro Libertate||

    You mean the old Clutch Cargo real-mouth-in-animation bit? Possibly the creepiest thing ever in children's TV.

  • Loki||

    Where are you going to find a celebu-tard to be Romneybot's celebrity spokesperson? There's not that many Republicans in the entertainment industry outside of maybe country music.

  • Raston Bot||

    The Baldwin from Biodome comes to mind.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Country music ain't chopped liver. And I say pick the most in-your-face, America-love-it-or-leave-it singer you can find, just so Romney can cringe and feel that, gosh, maybe he should have shown up in person rather than have this guy represent him.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

  • Eduard van Haalen||

  • Loki||

    IOW Toby Keith? Or how about Lary the Cable guy? I know he's not a country singer, but if we're going for pure embarassment factor that one's got to take the cake. And then get Rosie O'donnell to fill in for the O and you might be onto something here.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    At least the candidate spokespersons would have some *substance.*

  • Virginian||

    Toby Keith is a registered Democrat and supports Barack Obama.

  • perlhaqr||

    Kid Rock?

  • Rich M||

    Hank Williams Jr.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Johnson "intends to 'kick and claw and scrape' until he hits 15 percent or public pressure forces the CPD to lower the bar"

    So, induce the CPD to violate its entire reason for existence - the preservation of the duopoly?

    I doubt I'll vote for Johnson, but since I certainly support increasing his profile, I would suggest that he doesn't try the sucker's game of trying to appease the CPD people.

    Schedule a debate with a couple celebrity spokesmodels who undertake to make the case for Obama and Romney. Make sure they are total publicity whores who won't be scared off from appearing on TV.

    Then offer to cancel the celebrity debate if the actual candidates agree to debate him.

    It's all in the hands of the candidates - they use the CPD as a cutout in order to fool voters with low IQs, but the candidates themselves decide who they want to debate. They use the CPD to avoid charges of cowardice when they decline to debate particular candidates - "I'm just following the CPD's guidelines, hur dur." The fact that they actually say things like this shows how little they estimate the voters' intelligence.

    The candidates themselves decide whom to debate, and if they don't want to debate Johnson, the latter should use all sorts of gimmicks - like the celebrity debate mentioned above, the empty-chair tactic, etc. - in order to shame and embarrass the major-party guys.

  • John||

    Schedule a debate and let Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity stand in for Obama and Romney.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Wouldn't they just boycott, after their respective party central committees tried to warn them off?

    But if they agreed to come, excellent.

  • John||

    Since Maddow and Hanity are both functionally retarded, it wouldn't be a fair fight. But it would be damned entertaining.

    If you wanted a fair fight you could get someone like Jonah Goldberg to play Romney. I have no idea who you could get to play Obama with a straight face.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Glenn Beck would be the best Romneybot stand in. Any leftist would suffice for The Chosen One, as they are all True Believers.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    As long as they have enough celebrity value to bring in viewers and legitimize the debates, I'm cool.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    One advantage of the media culture is that there are Reps and Dems who would be willing to come on camera to defend their candidate, even if it means derailing the candidates' plans to marginalize 3rd parties. And raising awkward questions like "why don't the reps and dems come in person, what are they, chicken?"

  • Zair||

    I kinda feel like Glenn or Jonah would be too intelligent and reasonable compared to Romney to put up a good fight. Both of them are more agreeable to libertarian issues than Romney ever would be. Constitutionalists and state's rights.

    I mean, sure, they might be pro-life and anti-gay, (at least Glenn is,) but you could successfully compromise and say the federal government should stay out of it and that would let him support Johnson on those issues.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    And I bet Romney would love it if Goldberg said something like, "look, we all know he's not a great candidate, but grow up, people, he's better than Obama, and you'll just have to learn to settle."

  • NL_||

    Mitt Romney is the Jim Belushi of political conservatives.

  • Pi||

    Hannity's actually endorsed GJ already if the latter's website can be trusted.

  • ant1sthenes||

    No way, Obamabot. Make that Olbermann and you have a deal.

  • 16th amendment||

    Since many people are saying the presidential race is about race, you would need a black liberal and a white conservative.

  • NL_||

    Schedule a debate and let Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity stand in for Obama and Romney.

    I believe osmosis would take over, with Gary Johnson's semi-permeable membrane quickly flooded by countless particles of smug self-righteousness until Hannity's head shrinks to a normal size and Maddow's glasses disintegrate in an affected poof.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    GO GO GARY JOHNSON!!!!

  • John||

    I would love to see him in the debates. It would force Obama to go left and go full "you can't be serious". And it would force Romney to go right and actually articulate a commitment to the free market whether he wanted to or meant it or not.

  • Libertymike||

    Could Romney articulate a stronger committment to the free market than GJ?

  • John||

    Not even close. But he would have to try.

  • MoreFreedom||

    If Johnson gets in the debates (I hope so) he will show voters that there is an alternative to the statist policies advocated by both Obama and Romney. And this will show both parties are advocating more government and less freedom.

    To paraphrase Ryan above, in 2012 we have a choice between less freedom, even less freedom, and Gary Johnson.

  • playa manhattan||

    OT: Joker was on a $26K federal grant at CU.
    http://www.wusa9.com/news/arti.....n-From-NIH
    In other words, the guns and ammo and swat gear were paid for by taxpayers...

  • John||

    When will America do something about grants to psychotics. How many people have to die before we institute background checks to ensure psychotics don't get federal grants?

  • Citizen Nothing||

    You'll get my federal grant when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

  • playa manhattan||

    Or we could end federal grants, as they are on borrowed money anyway...

  • John||

    You can't be serious!!

  • SIV||

    Remember Amy Bishop Our universities turn out these killers and then the FedGov pays them to plan their attacks.

  • John||

    Funny how they never talk about her.

  • SugarFree||

    The was an important lesson for academia that there is such a thing as too crazy to get tenure. And if they are too crazy to get tenure, duck.

  • John||

    I can't remember. Did she get tenure and then shoot everyone because of some other reason or did she shoot everyone because they didn't give her tenure?

  • Ptah-Hotep||

    She was denied tenure, and denied again on appeal. She had also killed before; her brother.

  • SugarFree||

    Denied, then fired. Her effective termination date was when she showed up with a gun.

  • John||

    Yeah, too crazy to get tenure is a bold statement.

  • SIV||

    This was reported yesterday.. I don't know why Drudge is only now going with it as a headline. I'm still intrigued by the fact he is the second neuroscientist mass shooter in the past 2 1/2 years. What percentage of the population are neuroscience scholars?

    I've repeatedly warned about these so-called "scientists" in Ron Bailey post-comments for years now.

    I propose we replace "going postal" with "going neuroscientist".

  • SugarFree||

    Too many syllables. "Going neuro"

  • SIV||

    Much better. You can have co-credit when the etymologists revise the dictionaries.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    When neuroscience is outlawed, only outlaws will study neuroscience.

  • SIV||

    Not if we hunt them all down with pitchforks and torches as I've proposed in many Ron Bailey neuroscience post-comments.

  • SugarFree||

    It's also the name of a dance craze I hope to inspire.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Perhaps, like child psychology majors, they're trying to understand themselves first.

  • Raston Bot||

    Too long. How bout going neuro? Neural?

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Neural. I like it.
    "That guy was totally neural, man!"

  • ||

    I always find it laughable when supporters of both the Democrats and GOP defend te Presidential Debate Commission as a bipartisan effort and thus should be defended. Yeah, no shit, of course both parties want to preserve their stranglehold on relevance.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Lincoln and Douglas froze out Isaac Cook[sp?] from their debate. Cook was the machine candidate whose job was to say that slavery was totally awesome and we should have more of it if anything. He was, in other words, the official, administration Democratic candidate.

    Apparently, the voters didn't hold it against Lincoln or Douglas that they froze out Cook. This is because Cook was a proslavery bootlicker whose presence at the debates would not be missed.

    If Obamney wants to take that position re Johnson, Goode and the Green gal, then fine, but they would risk voter backlash. The media can do its job by getting Obamna to take out a specific position without insulting our intelligence and pretending they're leaving it up to the Senor Wenceses of the CPD.

  • CE||

    "If only we had a better choice," people complain, ignoring the fact that we do.

    Comparing Romney's record as governor and Obama's record as president to Johnson's record as governor without someone telling them who they were or how much money they had or which party they represented would likely produce a much different outcome.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    What makes me laugh is the argument that Johnson isn't "serious", and that Obama and Romney are.

    Please. They aren't going to debate; they're just going to regurgitate the same talking points they've been spewing for months. This will not only be as exciting as watching paint dry, it will be utterly irrelevant to any problems people are facing.

    For both Obama and Romney, their "plan" can be boiled down to "We're going to keep doing the same shit we've been doing for the last 100 years, with slight variations to make it look radical and different."

  • Michael||

    On Sunday, I spotted a minivan bumper sticker that read: "Jesus was a 'community organizer.' Pilate was a governor."

    If memory of the few days I spent awake in Sunday school serves me correct, that didn't exactly work out too well for the community organizer unless you consider "seated at the right hand of the Father" to be a second term. I'm still glad that this little detail doesn't prevent some Volvo driving asshole from patting him or herself on the back over their own cleverness.

  • Joe R.||

    Community organizers throughout history: Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Jim Jones...

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "Fight insomnia - support the CPD format!"

  • Globalite||

    If everybody would buy and read the book by Angelo M. Codevilla titled "The Ruling Class", there would be no doubt as to why you should NOT vote for Romney or Obama.

  • ant1sthenes||

    GJ really needs to cultivate a Most Interesting Man in the World sort of persona. I bet if he did some alcohol adverts, he'd have more name recognition than Obama. Should he shill for FourLoko, or something classier?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "I do not always smoke ze marihuana, but ween I do, I...hmmm, I don't actually remember..."

  • johnd2||

    As far as the "debates" go, the fix is in and Johnson is out. Might as well work on alternate arrangements with the other parties and try to embarass the big guys. It will not work because they have no shame. But there can still be some fun.

  • 16th amendment||

    "the only candidate who doesn't want
    to bomb Iran. ... the only candidate
    who wants to repeal the Patriot Act."

    Doesn't Ron Paul want these things too, right?

    imposes an arbitrary barrier of 15
    percent support in three national
    polls ...
    That rule ... would have barred
    virtually every third-party
    candidate in American history

    If they lower the bar too much then we get all sorts of candidates in the debates. If we agree to see Johnson in the debates, then we have to also agree to see the crazy green party types as well. So there has to be a bar. The current system implicitly maintains the two party system, but that's a side effect and not the actual purpose.

    Also, libertarians like free market economics. So if there is enough demand, a new private company, say CPD2, would be formed that would be more inclusive. So stop whining and start working on constructive solutions to get libertarians more visibility.

  • Rasilio||

    "If they lower the bar too much then we get all sorts of candidates in the debates. If we agree to see Johnson in the debates, then we have to also agree to see the crazy green party types as well. So there has to be a bar."

    somewhat true, however even a threshold of 2% would rule out every 3rd party candidate in most years and a threshold of 5% would give you a 3rd party candidate appearing in the debates about once every 20 years or so.

    In my lifetime to date there are about 3 actual 3rd party candidates who would have likely broken that 5% margin, John Anderson, Ross Perot, and maybe Ralph Nader and Johnson may do it this year (not sure what the cut off dates are or which polls they count).

    Given that it is patently obvious that 15% is ridiculously high.

  • Onyxwolf||

    Too true!!! That 15% is not arbitrary at all! It was specifically devised for a very specific reason... to ensure the continuance of the Establishment parties dominance over our thoughts... But it is us who continue to let them! Screw the duopoly, screw the CPD, screw TV (just ditched my DirecTV myself for internet streaming and not missing the $100 bill one bit)... The internet revolution is coming, even if Obama is trying to quell it with "Emergency Communication" EO's. He will learn that he can't truly filter the internet, no matter how hard his new agency tries.

  • kormathaw||

    If you are serious about wanting 3rd party viability, stop whining about how your candidate doesn't understand the current system enough to make himself a viable candidate in it, and start a serious nationwide push for election reform. I'd love a system that allows for a viable 3rd party candidate. As it stands now, that is not the case, and the most viable option for the 3rd party candidate is to win the Primary for one of the major 2 parties. Ron Paul did an excellent job attempting this. Johnson would have done no better. Both of them have lost the "primary". You might as well vote for Mickey Mouse.

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    Don't be retarded, 16th Amdendment. The CPD is about as private as the Post Office and the Federal Reserve. It was created b/c they needed more control over the debates. The League of Women Voters was starting to get a little uppity.

  • jason||

    America is the country who introduce the democracy all over the world, now US is under the government from years now they can not survive without it.

  • Mizchief||

    I think the key is to get someone with true leadership sills on the Libertarian ticket and to get the message out. Most people I talk to about politics really are Libertarians, but they have either never heard of it, or think we are a bunch of nuts.

  • kormathaw||

    I would love to see the US voting system changed to a model that allows for a viable 3rd party candidate. That however requires a logistical change of the process, not wishful thinking. Until reforms are made to the election code, allowing for runoffs, 50% majority requirements, etc. a 3rd party candidate will ALWAYS be nothing but a spoiler. As our system is set up now, the primaries act as the "runoff" process. If you want to be the candidate for the conservatives, run for the Republican primary as Ron Paul did. If you cannot even win half of the 70% who make up the 2 major parties, then you have no business concidering yourself a contender.

  • ||

    I can't fathom this "spoiler" charge. I have one vote to cast. I live in Washington State - so solidly "blue" that Obama will win Washington State's 12 electors by tens of thousands of votes. So my vote won't decide the election. Indeed, if Romney wins Washington State, it will be part of such an historic sweep that - again - my vote won't matter. Even living in a swing state, you still have only one vote. The odds of your vote deciding this election are smaller than the odds you will be killed by a falling meteor entering the polling booth. Voting is a self-actualizing event; it's a way I can register my desires and share that with those I talk to about voting. I have no delusions about my vote "handing the election" to anyone. People who do should seek immediate psychiatric help. I don't know why any thinking person would spend even a moment considering that issue. Reporters who discuss the question demonstrate an incredible ignorance about how American politics actually works.

  • Rick Stewart||

    *** Write one email today! Change the world! ***

    Commission on Public Debates is vulnerable to public pressure - they just announced a woman would moderate a debate this year, although 2 weeks ago they refused to accept a petition from 120,000 high school girls/women demanding the same thing.

    Write their Executive Director Janet Brown and demand some method for the public to provide them feedback. At the moment their website does not even have a 'contact us' link. Don't ask for 3rd party participation, yet (that comes later). Just demand some manner for the public they claim to serve to tell the Commission what is on their mind.

    jb@debates.org needs 500 emails TODAY!

    "The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners. " This is what they claim. Make them live up to it.

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