Should Progressives Support Gary Johnson?

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Author Dan Arel says Gary Johnson’s policies may sound progressive but really benefit the top 1%

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

Away from Tuesday’s spotlight on the Vice Presidential debate, interesting developments were happening on the Libertarian ticket. In the wake of a series of high profile foreign policy gaffs by presidential candidate Gary Johnson including not knowing what Aleppo was and being unable to name a foreign leader he admired, Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld told the Boston Globe his main focus in the last week leading up to the election is to stop Trump. The Gary Johnson-Bill Weld ticket has surged especially among young voters in recent weeks with polls showing them neck and neck with Trump and Clinton among this key demographic.

Well now joining us to discuss all of this is Dan Arel. He’s an award winning journalist, bestselling author of the Secular Activist and Parenting Without God. Thanks so much for joining us.

DAN AREL: Thank you for having me.

NOOR: So let’s get your reaction to the latest news that former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld says he’s now running to make sure Donald Trump is defeated and he’s saying he’s not even sure that he’s going to stay committed to the Libertarian Party along with Gary Johnson who’s a former Republican.

AREL: That doesn’t really surprise me because the Libertarians in general at least in the last decade or so have been sort of comprised of ex Republicans who seem to just not be able to find the political footholds in the party they want so they sort of look outside of Libertarians. But they tend to go back and forth when it’s convenient for them. Then hearing him say he’s not going to really focus on his campaign and focus on defeating Trump isn’t that surprising either because a lot of the more “moderate” republicans seem to now always say oh now we have to stop Trump, let’s even get behind Clinton and Bill Weld kind of fell short of saying look I’m endorsing Clinton by saying he’s focusing on stopping Trump. Well the only other outcome from that is a Clinton presidency and it really isn’t that surprising considering a lot of the news recently has said a vote for the Libertarians at this point is now a vote for Trump because so many young people are sort of shifting that way that I think Weld probably started getting afraid of what a Trump presidency would look like and think that maybe he’s getting in the way of stopping that.

NOOR: And you just mentioned one of the most interesting stories of this election cycle was the number of young voters that aren’t supporting Trump or Clinton. As you said, many in the media are saying these would be Clinton supporters because they’re among this younger demographic. She along with Trump has some of the highest unfavorability ratings ever. So I wanted to get into some of the reasons why people support Johnson or support third parties. We’ve seen Jill Stein get far less support than Johnson. I guess key among that is the Libertarians is a party that have been along for a long time. If people want to build a third party they want to go support something even if they fully agree with them, support something that’s been around and both names on those tickets have governing experience. How do you respond to those arguments that we want to support something and candidates that have a track record of governing?

AREL: I like the idea and I like the enthusiasm that young voters are giving to say that look we want to support something different. We want to break this two party system. But they seem too ready to settle on the next best thing and a lot of people out there are saying I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. But if you really break it down, Johnson and Weld are really just part of that same lesser evilism because they come from the party that people are trying to reject.

So just because they jumped to a new name doesn’t mean they’ve really changed who they are. So what you have is these people on these liberals, these young voters that aren’t quite leftist but they’re still in that generally they would want to vote democratic but Clinton seems so unlikeable to young voters. She’s not connecting to them the way she should be and so they’re looking for this other option. Stein hasn’t really stood out as a Green Party option because mainly she doesn’t have enough money to really compete against the Libertarians so she’s not getting valid access. She’s not getting the same sort of airtime. But when she does get airtime she tends to not focus on the Green issues that make them stand out. And she tends to get muddied up in these ideas like vaccines and GMOs and wifi causing problems in kids brains.

NOOR: Which the media seized upon and sort of used it to kind of pivot away from the issues that people do support the Greens for.

AREL: That is very true. But to a degree it is important to understand how these people think about all these sorts of issues. But what happened with Stein was that that became the focus so the Green Party environmental issues sort of became secondary. So people said I’m not taking this candidate seriously. But look at this other guy who’s saying we should be able to marry who we want and we should be able to smoke weed and do drugs and he doesn’t want to go to war. Well I can get behind that. Sure I don’t agree with these other things but we have to start somewhere.

So that’s where you’re seeing this rise in Libertarian support from young voters is they see that as their only other option and they just can’t bring themselves to support Trump or Clinton so now they’re sort of supporting Trump-lite I guess you could say. He’s not quite as racist as Trump is but what he’s still standing for are a lot of issues that these young voters are probably unaware of and would not be so eager to support if they hadn’t been enlightened on those issues.

NOOR: So as you mentioned Johnson wants to end the drug war and wants to legalize marijuana. That’s something that a lot of people can get behind and Clinton hasn’t come out and said that. Discuss that and sort of put that in the context for his support for private prisons.

AREL: You kind of just nailed it right there. Johnson will come out and say look I’m for legalization. Drugs are a personal choice and the government shouldn’t have a role in this. We need to end the war on drugs because it’s putting so many people in prison. Nonviolent offenders are being locked up in just astronomical numbers. But then he comes out and says I support a private prison system which really only survives because of the drug war. The private prison wants nonviolent criminals in their system because they’re easier to manage. The guards aren’t worried about violence breaking out when you’re locking up people who are selling weed on the street. That’s easy money for these prisons and Johnson’s supporting them.

So it’s hypocritical to support one and not the other and I think voters really need to kind of dig into that because while he may say look I’m not going to support the drug war, he’s likely going to have to continue to support some sort of legislation that is just the drug war with a new name that keeps these prisons going and happy because otherwise they’re all going to shut down if we stop locking up people for these nonviolent offenses. That is one area where Clinton sort has stood out more is that she is, she says she’s for ending private prisons. She hasn’t acted in any way towards that but that’s sort of the juxtaposition of two candidates who both stand for one and knock the other and by doing so neither accomplish anything.

NOOR: And what’s sort of a surprising to some people is that Johnson’s comments released from a video from 2011 where he said the sun would engulf the Earth therefore we don’t have to worry about climate change, that caused a lot of controversy. It got millions of views online. Johnson backed away from those comments and said that was a joke. But should the libertarian position on climate change and environmental regulation also be of concern to young people that generally think those are really important issues?

AREL: It really should be because they don’t take it very seriously and what I mean by that is, they think that the free market will take care of the environment and that the government shouldn’t have role in keeping it clean. So if businesses and consumers are fine polluting then so be it. That’s their decision. They have “free will” to do that. So he said you know I’m not going to regulate the coal industry. If consumers don’t want coal power they’re not going to buy it. But that’s not really how markets work when you may be stuck with only coal and you’re not given an alternative solution.

So what you have is Johnson saying look I was joking about the earth taking care of everything in 7 million years. But when you say okay what’s your serious solution he actually said well we’re going to have to fund the space program because we’re going to have to go to another planet. Which is probably just more crazy than waiting 7 billion years. Because while I completely support and most democrats, liberals, leftists support a wonderful space program and exploring space all we can, it’s not realistic to think that in any serious amount of time we’re going to be getting to the closes inhabitable planet which is something like 3-4 billion light years away or 3-4 million light years away, uninhabited. It’s not going to happen.

So he’s not taking the problem seriously. He’s just giving up these funny—ah look the earth’s going to get destroyed. We’ll just get there on a rocket. But it’s so far away you won’t actually survive the trip. And his solution is let the market take care of it. The market taking care of it is when you see corporations dumping chemicals into rivers. When you seem them pumping black smoke into the sky and waiting for consumers to say oh wait I don’t want to do that. But if consumers aren’t aware of it, if these companies keep a secret and there’s no regulations to stop them from doing it, how’s a consumer going to be aware of the pollution the corporations are causing because they’re not about to admit to it.

NOOR: Yea I think for more affluent younger people they see the idea of less taxes as really appealing because we Americans do pay a decent amount of money out of their paycheck every month to go to taxes and young people don’t really see where that money is going and that idea of fiscal conservativism along with this sort of compassionate social programs as the Libertarians kind pitch themselves, it is appealing to some people. Can you talk about what exactly Johnson’s record was in implementing those sort of austerity policies in New Mexico and why people, if you think people should be concerned and aware of that?

AREL: Yea people should really be concerned because what you have, you have this idea that sounds great. Like look I’m going to pay less taxes. Even if you compare him to Trump, many tax calculators online try to figure out what you’re going to pay under Clinton or Trump and when you look at it, even under Trump me personally would pay $3,000 a year less in taxes which sounds wonderful. But those $3,000 fund public education. Something that Gary Johnson wants to get rid of. Johnson thinks that all education should be privatized. He wants the Department of Education done away with.

But what happens to the non-affluent neighborhoods where you don’t have people being able to pay all of this money into these private schools? The school crumble. The schools don’t exist. Suddenly you have 12 year olds that either are not going to a school or going to a school that’s so understaffed that it’s being run by volunteers and not by people with high educational standards because there’s no Department of Education to make sure that teachers are qualified. What happens in other neighborhoods like what I said kids can’t even go to school because they can’t afford to travel the distance when public schools shut down and they’re stuck picking between a smaller amount of private schools. And a private school wants to open but the community can’t afford it, it’s just going to shut down and move.

So suddenly you have big huge pockets of this country that would have no school system at all. Johnson has no plan to set that up and he says they can look to charity to open up these things. But charity is wonderful but charity doesn’t help everybody and they just can’t. We have this wonderful invention called government that has the ability to take care of others. And so when you’re paying taxes your roads are being taken care of. Emergencies are showing up at your door. People don’t realize that under a Johnson presidency, the police department and the fire department would be privatized. You’d pay a bill straight to them to come put a fire out at your house and if you don’t pay that bill, they might not show up. Your house is burning down and you call, they say well you haven’t paid your bill in 3 months. Sorry, we can’t help you.

This is the sort of Libertarian utopia they want to create. But what that does is that benefits the rich and the wealthy, the so called 1% that young voters seem to be demanding that we march against and stop this whole 1% thing but they don’t realize the Johnson and Libertarianism plays right into that. Johnson’s idea that free market capitalism only benefits the rich and it only benefits the rich at the cost to the poor. So why we are paying a lot in taxes, they can be used to do a great deal of good. And while we can argue that democrats and republicans aren’t spending this money wisely, they’re putting billions of dollars into foreign aid to countries that we maybe should not be supporting.

But they’re also putting all these billions of dollars into the military industrialized complex and they’re ignoring the social things that we could be taking care of at home. Johnson isn’t the answer to that because he’s just going to eliminate all those social programs that could help keep people in their homes, keep people fed, keep the lights on, keep the heat on. They’d all be gone and people’d be forced to look to charity and charity only survives off the money people decide to give to that particular charity.

NOOR: Alright Dan Arel thanks so much for joining us.

AREL: Thank you again for having me.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.

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