John notes below that one of Gary Johnson’s leading issues is drug legalization, which is not likely to sell well in places like otherwise libertarian-friendly New Hampshire, which has experienced a massive increase in heroin use in recent years. Then there was Johnson’s answer to the question posed to him in a candidate debate at the Libertarian Party convention: should the United States have entered World Wars I & II? Johnson’s answer: “I don’t know.”
That was it. He didn’t elaborate on the answer at all. It would have been good to hear him discuss the question, which is certainly unusual though typical for libertarians, who are big on historical litmus tests. There’s a very strong case, on prudential rather than isolationist grounds, that we should have stayed out of World War I. (Churchill came to that view in the mid-1920s.) Johnson could have made a great critique of liberal internationalism with direct relevance for today. As for not entering World War II after Pearl Harbor? “I don’t know” is pretty lame, unless you wish to develop the critique that we provoked Japan and/or pursued the imprudent war aim of unconditional surrender. That case is not very persuasive, but it isn’t frivolous. If Johnson wants to be on the main debate stage with Trump and Hillary in the fall he’ll need to step up his game by a lot.
The asking of this question shows the absolutism that runs in the libertarian mind, as does the question of whether Johnson would have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He said “Yes,” and was booed. There is something to be said for the purist libertarian position on the problems of the CRA (see Richard Epstein’s fine book Forbidden Grounds: The Case Against Employment Discrimination Laws), but the practical politics of this position are suicidal.
But above all one wonders whether the Libertarian Party really doesn’t care about practical politics at all—that’s it all just one big prank, the political equivalent of the Star Wars cantina scene. The Wall Street Journal account of their convention today includes this pitch perfect vignette:
The convention was an unusual spectacle by the standards of typical American political gatherings, even in an election year where a reality-television star has catapulted to an almost-assured Republican nomination.
Indeed, a large comic book, science fiction and anime exposition was being held adjacent to Libertarian convention, leading delegates to mingle in the hotel with a steady stream of people dressed in costumes depicting characters, such as Pokémon’s Pikachu and Star Wars’ Han Solo.
How could you tell who were the Libertarian delegates, and who were the comic book aficionados? Indeed, how about the presentation of James Weeks, a candidate for Party chair? Scroll through to about the 1:30 mark of this 3:40-long video and you’ll see what I mean:
PAUL ADDS: The Libertarian Party selected William Weld as Gary Johnson’s running mate. Weld, who supported John Kasich for president this year, is not a libertarian.
His selection, at the urging of Gary Johnson, can be viewed as an attempt to convey pragmatism and, thus, seriousness. I don’t think the attempt succeeds.