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Don't Be Fooled by Pot-Loving Libertarian Gary Johnson -- He Works for the 1%

Johnson’s candidacy is heavily premised on cultivating wasted votes by wasted voters...but are people that stupid?
 
 
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Spoiler is an ugly word in elections. It ignites the "wasted vote" debate—such as whether voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein for president in 2012 could help swing the final result of the presidential election.

According to a national JZ Analytics poll last week, Johnson, the ex-two term governor of New Mexico, got 2.1 percent in a five-way race with Stein, Obama, Romney and the Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode. In that poll, Stein got 1.9 percent and Goode got 0.9 percent. In this same poll, another 9 percent were undecided. In Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada, Johnson cut into the Obama-Romney vote, JZ Analytics’ John Zogby said. In 2000, Ralph Nader won 2.76 percent nationally and 1.7 percent in Florida.
 
Who Johnson could hurt the most depends on who you ask. Republicans have failed to knock Johnson off of the ballot in many swing states. Zogby said Johnson is the 2012 protest candidate and is drawing more votes from Romney. But Obama’s backers think he could undercut their vote in states like Colorado, where legalizing pot is on the ballot. Johnson has been appearing at pro-pot rallies, saying he inhaled and liked it, and that government should stay away, riling up recreational smokers and medical marijuana users.

So let’s change the topic from wasted votes to wasted voters, specifically Johnson’s outreach to pot smokers, such as at the Democratic Convention. Do these voters—especially those who consider themselves liberals—know where Johnson stands on any other issue, for instance how he would gut government medical services? Let’s look at where Johnson stands, so people who want to vote for him can make a more sober case, instead of giving him a pass for his views on pot.

OnTheIssues.org describes Johnson’s stances on two dozen issues, drawing on quotes, interviews, media appearances and giving links going back a decade. He’s a libertarian—in agreement with Ron Paul on many issues, and not far from Romney’s remarks about 47 percent of Americans being dependent on public programs and not self-reliant, code words for the agenda of America's wealthiest 1 percent.

On The Issues: Pot And Beyond
We know where Johnson stands on illegal drugs. He’s for legalizing, regulating and taxing pot. Alcohol is far more dangerous, he says. Heroin and methadone would be available with prescriptions. Addiction is a health issue, he says, not a crime. He notes that 75 percent of border violence with Mexico is due to illegal drugs, that the justice system ruins too many lives because of drug arrests, and that states spend too much on drug crime and punishment. He’s restated these stances at many rallies to reform marijuana laws, arguably where he’s drawn the biggest crowds.
    
But there’s far more to Johnson than YouTube videos talking about pot. 

Johnson’s abortion stances point to how he sees other government-backed services. He wants to cut the biggest federal health programs; Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor (which is state-run) by 43 percent, as part of a $1.7 trillion in cuts. As New Mexico’s governor, he favored federal funding of rural health clinics, but now wants to repeal Obamacare, which provides money to states for clinics. He wants to end George W. Bush’s prescription drug subsidy for seniors. He wants states to determine how they will use federal Medicaid dollars. These stances, if enacted, would make life far more difficult for the poor and elderly.

Johnson wants to raise the retirement age—when you can start getting Social Security. He wants to replace Social Security benefits with personal accounts, which is letting Wall Street gamble with one’s retirement savings. And he would means-test all federal Social Security recipients, so only the neediest get federal help.

When it comes to the economy, there would be no federal assistance to businesses. He would cut the federal deficit by drastically cutting safety net entitlements and defense, and seek to dissolve the Federal Reserve and the government’s ability to print money. He would end corporate income taxes, federal income taxes, capital gains taxes, and seek to reduce state income taxes. Instead, he would impose a 23 percent national sales tax—and abolish the IRS, along with the federal Education and Housing and Urban Development departments. He’d end government-subsized student loans.  

These economic stances would be a boon to the wealthy and need to be seen in tandem with his energy and environmental policies. He says that global warming is real, but is against taxing carbon emissions. He opposes ethanol subsidies, but backs nuclear power and alternative energy. He would loosen federal controls on Superfund cleanups, trust mining companies to clean up old mines, but support more state efforts to ensure clean water and air. He also told some Web sites that he favors the nullification movement, where states would get to nullify or ignore federal laws they don't like.

There is potentially some common ground on some issues as well that he espouses aside from marijuana that may appeal to progressives. His opposition to federal assistance for businesses may turn off some in the case of propping up important manufacturing sectors, like the automobile industry, but could find greater support in the case of the banking and finance industry. The self-made construction business owner-turned-politician claims he wants the federal government out of people’s private lives and their businesses at home. He argues he U.S. military only to get involved overseas if the nation is attacked first—like Afghanistan. Though he does support keeping the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison open. 

Who benefits from libertarian viewpoints?

Johnson’s views fall along the hard-right where the beneficiaries are regulation-averse entrepreneurs and businesses that don’t want to be told what to do, don’t want to pay taxes, and have little sympathy for people who don’t make much money.

His spectrum of beliefs includes getting the government out of the business of policing recreational drugs and medical marijuana. But there’s far more to Johnson’s hands-off approach to government when you include his cost-benefit framework, especially as it concerns public health, retirement security and entitlements, and safety nets. Johnson believes most progressive government programs create more problems than solutions.

Zogby is one of the few national pollsters to put minor party candidates in his surveys. He says there are plenty of “leave me alone” voters in 2012, especially men under age 40 who do not believe the government will do anything for them and are inclined to vote for "none of the above." He also says most of the people who will vote for Johnson, whom he calls 2012’s “leading protest candidate,” will undercut Romney more than Obama.

But with the spread between Romney and Obama being as close as 1 percentage point in Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Colorado—until the past few days when a series of Romney gaffes pushed Obama up a few points, as seen on this chart—would-be Johnson voters could have an outsized influence in swing states.

While nobody wants to be told they wasted their vote—or their candidate is a spoiler—the more liberal of Johnson’s pot-smoking supporters in swing states should ask if they really know who they are voting for. If their foremost issue is medical marijuana, they should ask themselves if Johnson is the most compassionate candidate.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, the low-wage economy, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).