Open Letter to Gary Johnson

Personally, I prefer to write about political policy over campaign tactics; however, this video and script offers a few interesting points related to Selfish Citizenship: (1) history as facts from reality to use as a guide, (2) understanding that success/improvement is possible without “winning” the office, and (3) recognizing that politics in other countries offer insights to and evidence for domestic political discussions.

Video Script

Mr. Johnson,

I write to explain how your quixotic presidential campaign could become consequential in American history.

To be clear, I did not support your Republican bid; I judged you to be too inexperienced. However, now that you have surrendered serious contention by running as a Libertarian, I offer some advice at the cost of you checking your premises about your potential role in this election. If you missed it, I recommend that you see or listen to C-SPAN’s recent series “The Contenders”; in which, historians discussed the long term historical impacts of failed presidential candidates.

First, I recommend that you take a page from the once almost viable Ross Perot by making the actual ending of deficit spending the focus of your campaign. To adapt Carville, the slogan would be “It’s the federal spending, Stupid!” Given popular disbelief that real spending cuts are possible in reality, you should promise to follow Jefferson’s example and appoint a modern Albert Gallatin (our nation’s longest serving Sec. of Treasury) to discipline federal spending with a focus upon eliminating programs and positions. Gallatin roots your program to historically proven debt reduction and ties it to the Revolution of 1800, a shift in national party power. A deficit focus draws in the Tea Party, the memory of the Reform movement, and deficit hawks from both parties, while giving you the opportunity to challenge bipartisan failure, out of control Congresses from both parties, and weak Presidents from both parties.

Second, following the examples of presidential contenders of consequence, you need to develop a populist message to challenge the status quo. Instead of past irrational emotionalism, I recommend that you appeal to morality and the American sense of life by naming and challenging political corruption. The term to use to brand your corrupt opponents is the “New Spoils System”, which will focus on how the major parties rob the federal Treasury to pay off their pet special interests for electoral financing and support, and how the parties use federal regulation and executive power as a protection racket for sale. I like the bipartisanship of the term as it invokes Jacksonian abuses and Garfield’s bloody shirt while modernizing the emphasis from patronage to appropriations, regulations, waivers, and an administrative process exempt from court review (see Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council).

Third, to have a significant and ongoing influence on our political discourse, you need to champion a differentiating idea that resolves the contradictions created by your opponents’ Gordian rhetoric. In the present context, that idea is the restoration of civil society in America. Americans identify the ongoing rancor in our polity, which results from 50% plus 1 attempting to impose intrusive uniform solutions by law in ever growing areas of our lives. The idea that “we” must do something has been misappropriated to mean that government must do something, which is advocated at the expense of freedom of association and civil society, the collection of non-governmental institutions and groups acting independently, freely, and organized to achieve specific shared goals. In our foreign policy, America champions the development of civil society as the cure to tyranny, but our leading parties vote and act to strangle civil society domestically.

Fourth, at the risk of sharing an idea that could help you actually win, you need to recognize the electoral support of our major parties as coalitions of conflicted interests, which in some cases champion the protection of individual rights and in others the use of government power to violate individual rights. To break the parties’ electoral stranglehold, you need to forge a new middle that focuses exclusively upon the government’s role of protecting individual rights; this not only puts you into a position to challenge for portions of their bases, but also allows you to be the beneficiary of the two major contenders’ attacks upon one another to disaffect their opponent’s base. Further, it potentially repositions your opponents as the fringe candidates by positioning them to speak in defense of the rights-violating fringe of their base (a.k.a. the religious right, the nativists, the progressives, the environmentalists). As an example of using concrete political issues to challenge for an opponent’s base, illustrate a broader theme, and influence future policy, I recommend the recent campaign of Ontario’s Freedom Party.

As a specific example of applying this tactic in this campaign by targeting a core of the Democrats’ new electoral coalition: “President Obama, a confessed user of illegal drugs, asks the young of this country for their votes while simultaneously acceding to federal policy to criminalize these franchised citizens drinking a beer. If this is your first election and you agree that you should be prosecuted and your future encumbered by sanctions for drinking a beer, then vote for President Obama. If you reject federal paternalism in your life choices, then vote for me.” Framed so that he cannot have it both ways, who is Obama going to throw under the bus, MADD or the youth vote? If he attempts to use his office to change the policy, then your campaign has directed the policy agenda.

Finally, while previous influential presidential contenders shaped the direction of their party and its agenda, you do not have a real party to influence. Thus, the focus of your influence should be shifting the positions of congressional candidates from both parties. One reason for using Perot’s deficit elimination as a core issue to your campaign is that he was able to attract a significant enough portion of the vote to influence the outcomes of congressional elections. To win, congressional candidates should be put into a position to require your supporters, in addition to those of their party’s standard bearer. In order to attract your supporters, they will need to take strong positions for restoring civil society, and against deficit spending and corruption, while running to the middle and away from the fringe factions of their party. Congress, and not the President, will set the path for reform or further decay after the next election; should that be a Congress guided by the values outlined above? Should the next President (one of your opponents), winning a plurality instead of a majority, be positioned to become a catalyst for these changes so as to avoid becoming an instant lame duck? While you will not win the office, through the conduct of your campaign, you could still set the policy agenda and win the future for our American republic.

Sincerely,

Jim Woods

Extra Points:  In C-SPAN’s series The Contenders, the discussion focused upon the following men who ran and lost but changed political history: Henry Clay, James G. Blaine, William J. Bryan, Eugene Debs, Charles E. Hughes, Al Smith, Wendell Willkie, Thomas E. Dewey, Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, and Ross Perot.

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9 Responses to Open Letter to Gary Johnson

  1. Pingback: Question #1: Why haven’t Libertarians been electorally successful in face of growth in government? | Selfish Citizenship

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  3. brucepmajors says:

    Two terms as governor, twice as many terms as Romney, and far more executive experience than Obama, is not enough experience. Interesting.

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