Gary Johnson Finding Not-So-Strange New Respect


Over at Andrew Sullivan's blog at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf says that libertarianish (but not, please, libertarian!) GOP presidential would-be Gary Johnson deserves to hit the big time. Why?

Imagine a successful two-term Republican governor with a credible small government record, a demonstrated commitment to civil liberties, skepticism about foreign wars, a longstanding determination to right America's fiscal ship, evidence of competent management skills in the public and private sectors, and an utter lack of ugly populist rhetoric during the whole of his substantial time in public life. You'd think he'd be a God send for tea partiers and civil libertarians, a possibility to win the GOP nomination in 2012, and an appealing alternative for those of us who think that given a sane alternative Barack Obama doesn't deserve another term….

Tell a savvy politico that you'd love to see former Governor Johnson win the Republican nomination and they'll tell you the same thing, usually in a condescending tone: he doesn't have a chance. It's a dynamic I might accept if the GOP field were filled with excellent options. As things are, however, there's talk of Mitt Romney reappearing in a guise that has yet to be determined, a new xenophobic version of Newt Gingrich advancing the notion that Saudi Arabia and its treatment of religious freedom should inform attitudes toward religious freedom in America, and Sarah Palin, whose crowning achievement as governor of Alaska was… well, never mind that, she's a cultural phenom and really connects with the base!!

Here's the thing about politicians and their initial rise to national attention: it's often a phenomenon driven by elites. Sometimes promising young leaders are given a speaking slot at a political convention, like Barack Obama. Other times it's taste-makers in coastal media who launch a pol from obscurity: take Bill Kristol's role in the rise of Sarah Palin, who he championed after meeting her on a luxury cruise to Alaska. There isn't anything wrong with elites alerting the wider public to a deserving candidate. What I object to are the judgments about who is worthy of that boost.

One hopes–perhaps against hope–that eventually a candidate decidedly rejected by those elites–as Johnson surely will be–can reach the voter through all those means of reaching voters that those elites can't control. I'm not betting the nation's future on it though.

Freidersdorf says something nice, but a little curious, about Reason, where we write frequently about Johnson:

Either the elites on the right should start alerting us to worthier leaders, or else the GOP rank-and-file should start looking elsewhere for inspiration. (Being a Gary Johnson partisan, I'd suggest Reason magazine, where writers seem more interested in advancing the careers of people who share their professed beliefs, as opposed to helping ciphers who'll advance their agenda out of a combination of policy ignorance, malleability, and personal indebtedness.)

Do look to us, GOP rank-and-file, but don't expect any "advancing the careers" of any politicians per se–just coverage and commentary that takes seriously the notion that that government is best which governs least, and that the governing styles and decisions of both Republicans and Democrats have been a disaster for American liberty and America's future.