Being Libertarian Perspectives will serve as a weekly, multi-perspective opinion and analysis piece by members of Being Libertarian’s writing team. Every week the panel, comprised of randomly selected writers, will answer a question based on current events or libertarian philosophy. Assistant Editor Dillon Eliassen will moderate and facilitate the discussion.
Dillon Eliassen: Assuming the party affiliation makeup of Congress does not change too drastically, which items on the agenda of President Gary Johnson could we reasonably expect to be enacted?
Charles Peralo: It’s pretty simple: if Gary Johnson became President, half a million people will get pardoned in the inauguration speech. For what he’d do after that? I’d say, run a bipartisan libertarian agenda focused on fiscal reforms and using his powers to have a stable foreign policy.
Michael Vellian: The great thing about Johnson is he has no problem vetoing everything. So, for me, it’s less about what he can do and more about what he can stop.
Dillon: Michael takes it in the opposite direction. So, Johnson is more likely to emulate Grover Cleveland, and serve as a backstop to prevent Congress from passing unconstitutional laws?
Michael: Yeah, that and he also would finally stop unconstitutional wars. Those two things are enough to potentially make him one of the best presidents we’ve ever had.
Dillon: Yes, but I think he’d ask Congress to declare war on ISIS. Johnson’s position on tax reform is too radical for the tastes of most of Congress. Eliminating the code altogether and instituting a fair tax is a pipe dream. I don’t see any Democrats going for that, and not even a substantial amount of Republicans.
If I had to pick something Johnson could shepherd through Congress, that might even have bipartisan support, it would be a package of reforms that includes criminal justice reform and legalization of marijuana. Public opinion has changed exponentially regarding the decriminalization of marijuana. The problem is, for marijuana to be rescheduled, the Drug Enforcement Administration would be the one to make that decision, not Congress. That’s a conflict of interest. It’s like leaving the writing of the tax code in the hands of the Internal Revenue Service: they will opt for complexity rather than simplicity because that would help keep control and exertion of power in their hands. Johnson could use his bully pulpit to get a law passed that takes the issue out of the hands of the DEA, as well as releases convicts imprisoned for marijuana-related infractions.
Neil McGettigan: If Gary Johnson were to be elected, it would signal an amazing amount of dissatisfaction with the political system. With that mandate from the electorate, Johnson would be very wise to push through certain political reforms, like correcting egregious gerrymandering of congressional districts, or even term limits. However, it would take a lot of political capital which is why Johnson would probably aim for moderate reforms. What he should focus on are our economic issues, and identify himself as the 21st century Calvin Coolidge: the “business of the American people is business” President. Johnson should force through entitlement reforms and massive spending cuts, and if the Congress stands in the way he has the power of executive order. With that he can reschedule drugs, end civil asset forfeiture, and possibly, with the stroke of a pen, break apart the Department of Homeland Security.
Dillon: An issue important to Johnson that has no hope of making its way through Congress and onto his desk is term limits for legislators. Congress has imposed them on the executive branch, but won’t do it to themselves. It’s one of the only times in the past century that Congress has successfully reigned in the power of the presidency, rather than cede its own authority to the executive branch.
Neil: I must add that I don’t see Johnson as a bully pulpit president. Looking back at his career as Governor of New Mexico, he wasn’t a press hound who made bold promises and big speeches. He’s the type of guy who will veto three months’ worth of bills. He won’t flinch at the thought of a looming government shut-down; rather, he’d be on the phone, coolly negotiating cuts as a midnight deadline approaches. However, if his designs are hindered by conspiring Republicans and Democrats, then he will have no choice but to resort to executive orders as a means to bring about reform. Johnson would have to be careful to skirt the law but since the President has so much power he could effectively end the War on Drugs from the Oval Office without congressional approval.
Dillon: Neil, so from what you’re saying, it seems you think he would actually abuse his position as leader of the executive branch, that he’s not above relying on executive orders to see his agenda through, even if that tactic skirts the authority granted to him by the Constitution.
Neil: I don’t think he would use executive orders if he could work with Congress, though, I believe he would if Congress was exceptionally hostile to him, which is likely. Executive orders have been used extensively by both Bush and Obama, so most of Johnson’s executive orders would probably be voiding those of his predecessors, especially those relating to the War on Drugs, and civil asset forfeitures. He wouldn’t be breaking any laws, but would set a valuable precedent of voiding past executive orders.
Dillon: Johnson would be quite unique in that he would be a president more interested in enforcing laws, than in getting them passed. We’ve become so used to presidents who are preoccupied with introducing bills and shepherding them through Congress, and traveling the country utilizing the bully pulpit to gain popular support for his agenda that we’ve forgotten the Founders wanted the executive branch to take a back seat to the legislature. It’s not arbitrary that the authority granted to the legislative branch is located in Article 1 of the Constitution, and the executive branch is Article 2 of the Constitution.
Avens, both Neil and Michael think Johnson would veto more legislation than he would try to get passed. Do you agree with that, is that the general consensus of the character of a President Johnson?
Avens O’Brien: I generally agree with the consensus that Johnson would utilize veto power a fair bit, and it’d be his strongest virtue. He’d likely be a leader on criminal justice reform and descheduling marijuana. Seeing him go after the DEA and DHS would be powerful and inspiring, yet difficult, as law enforcement unions and security/defense lobbyists will fight hard. However, I think assuming Johnson will be the nominee of the Libertarian Party is getting a bit ahead of ourselves. We can better predict his character than either of the other top LP contenders, as he’s got experience at governing, but I’m not convinced he’s got a lock on the nomination. Since we’re speaking theoretically, each of the top three LP nominees will endure different challenges to their preferred agendas and their styles.
Dillon: To sum up, perhaps it’s fair to say that in the highly unlikely event that Gary Johnson becomes president (a scenario that could only come to pass if a plane carrying Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders crashed atop a bus carrying Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich), we libertarians hope that Johnson would veto any bills that are clearly unconstitutional, or bills that would promote the interests of the state over the interests of freedom loving private citizens. As far as helping to pass any pro-market reform and/or social liberalization legislation, he’d have to rely on a minority number of members of the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively, to buck each parties’ leaderships, who currently skew toward corporatism and authoritarianism, to say nothing of cutting, or even slowing the rate of growth of, spending.