This year, Donald Trump vanquished 16 Republican candidates, and he did it while NOT saying that Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security and other government spending would be cut on his watch. Take that, GOP!
Fellow outsider Bernie Sanders is selling a vision of government that would make sure everybody is taken care of, with free college, more Social Security and universal health care. While he almost certainly won’t be the Democratic nominee, the movement he’s built has pushed Hillary Clinton to make some similar pledges.
So where does this leave Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico? At a time when many seem to fear the “every man for himself” philosophy of many conservatives and libertarians is going to leave them behind, Johnson is stressing how overbearing government tilts the playing field, and he is downplaying some traditional libertarian points.
“When I took the quiz on isidewith.com to see where my views stood against other candidates, I matched with Bernie Sanders more than anyone else, at 73 percent,” Johnson told me yesterday, “except for myself.”
In pointing that out, Johnson, who stayed at a Holiday Inn Monday and met me in the lobby wearing a button-down shirt and tie and sporty running shoes, is making a play for Sanders supporters who dislike Clinton.
Both Sanders and Johnson think we spend too much on defense and too easily go to war. Both support legalization of marijuana, want to stop rampant incarceration and oppose government surveillance of citizens. Both want us to welcome immigrants and let go of racism and homophobia.
But Johnson, who got about 1 percent of the votes as the Libertarian candidate in 2012 and will run with former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld for vice president, does see big government as stifling. He points to regulations and restrictions on businesses from cosmetology to taxi-driving that protect the established players. He points to a health care market that has no competitive pricing of services. “Where are the doctors or labs advertising they do it better and cheaper?” he said.
He favors keeping Medicare and Medicaid but turning them over to the states to set up a 50-lab study on best practices. He favors shoring up Social Security, but letting it be somewhat self-directed, and paying an extra benefit for people who die young and get little or nothing out of the system.
A recent poll showed 44 percent of voters would want a third-party candidate to run against Clinton and Trump. They have one. Johnson says he will be on the ballot in all 50 states. Yet it’s hard for him to get his message out. Another recent poll had him at 10 percent nationally, but if he can’t get to 15 percent in five polls, he won’t get in the debates, which the major parties control. That task is herculean because often his name isn’t even included in polls.
This race has highlighted new ideas. Sanders changed his party with a liberal agenda. Trump did so via anger over lost jobs, immigration and a crumbling middle class.
But the main disruption isn’t outsourcing, immigration or an uncaring government. It’s production methods so advanced that the labor of low-skilled workers has diminishing value. It’s a problem our agrarian- and Industrial Revolution-era political philosophies never foresaw. The mainstream leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties who’ve failed to adapt to and solve these problems continue to fight to keep other, needed voices silent.
Gary Johnson is almost certainly not going to be elected president in 2016. But he’s an experienced, upbeat, successful public servant with a fresh voice. He deserves to be heard. More important, we deserve, and need, to hear him.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.