Gov. Gary Johnson is a candidate for the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination. During two terms as New Mexico's governor from 1995-2003, he vetoed over 750 bills (more than the rest of the nation's governors combined) and left government service with his state being one of only four with a balanced budget. A lifelong businessman, Mr. Johnson founded and built a construction company that employed more than 1,000 workers. You can find out more about his campaign at: garyjohnson2012.com.
Decker: What would entitlement reform look like in a Johnson administration?
Johnson: Entitlement reform in a Johnson administration would begin with the fundamental notion that virtually all "entitlement" programs can and should be turned back to the states in the form of block grants, with the federal expenditure reduced sufficiently to achieve a balanced budget. Whether it be nutrition assistance, Medicaid and Medicare, or any other delivery of basic services, the states can set policies, determine priorities and manage those programs more efficiently and more economically than the federal government. Fifty laboratories of innovation would be freed to innovate and respond to the needs of their constituents.
To the extent that political or practical realities make block grants to the states unworkable, we must then look at programs, such as Social Security, with an eye toward making the necessary adjustments to meet commitments while ensuring that outlays do not exceed revenues. The alternative is bankruptcy and a financial crisis that will do more harm to all Americans than the common-sense reforms we can and must implement.
Decker: What are the most important steps a new president should take immediately to get America back on the right track?
Johnson: Based on the premise that deficit spending, the debt and the resulting harm to the economy represent the greatest threat to not only our domestic well-being but our national security, the most important step a new president must take is to submit to Congress a balanced budget in 2013, accompanied by a firm pledge to veto any spending legislation which exceeds that budget. Whether Congress adopts that balanced budget, the resulting dynamic and vetoes of legislation that generate deficit spending will create the downward pressure on both spending and the size of government that is needed to free the private economy and allow it to create jobs.
Similarly, as I learned as governor, the chief executive can have an immediate impact on the regulatory practices of government. Employers, investors and yes, families, are demanding regulatory certainty - for good reason. Establishing an environment in which there is confidence that regulatory approaches will focus on common sense and certainty will go a long way toward igniting the economic activity we so desperately need.
I also advocate replacing our entire federal tax system with a Fair Tax. The current system does all the wrong things: It penalizes earning and investment, and allows politicians far too many opportunities to meddle in the private economy by picking winners and losers. Enacting a tax based on consumption and free-market choices such as the Fair Tax, will reboot the economy quickly and effectively.
Decker: As commander in chief, what (if anything) would you do about Iran's program to develop nuclear weapons?
Johnson: When it comes to defense and foreign policy, I frequently refer to the importance of strategic alliances. Iran and the threat it poses is a perfect example. We must move quickly and firmly to make certain that our strategic alliance with Israel is on an absolutely solid footing. In addition, we must obviously be vigilant and prepared when it comes to Iran, but not act precipitously. Too often, our actions on the international stage bring about unintended consequences, such as removing Iraq as Iran's primary concern. That consequence allowed Iran the freedom to turn its belligerence toward more ambitious targets.
Decker: America would be a lot better off if Washington adopted more libertarian positions, especially those that advocate cutting red tape, slashing taxes and getting Big Brother off our backs. In a very tangible way, however, many Americans have gotten hooked on federal largesse and aren't willing to give up their government goodies. How can you make the message of smaller government resonate in this growing climate of dependency, and who is your main audience?
Johnson: I believe most observers would agree that, of all governors in modern history, I governed from a more libertarian foundation than any other. When I ran for governor and when I took office, many claimed the sky would fall. It didn't, and I was re-elected and even today enjoy the highest approval ratings in my home state of all the governors in the presidential race. And New Mexico is a Democratic state. That tells me that people actually get it. They understand that government "largesse" is not largesse at all; rather, big government and the "benefits" it provides come at a price that is simply too great. They also understand that by limiting the federal government to that which it really needs to do, we will free the states to deliver essential services in innovative and efficient ways. And we will free the private economy to create real jobs and restore opportunity as an American trademark. Government would not disappear in a Johnson administration. It would live within its means and do what the Constitution says it should do. No more, and no less.
As I convey this message, I find that Americans of all ages, incomes and demographics respond. Young people, in particular, are embracing a libertarian approach to government. They want to be left alone to live their lives, chase their dreams and do so without government imposing values and burdens that limit their freedoms. I am convinced that there is a majority of voters in America today who are classical liberals - committed to the ideal oflimited government, constitutionalism,rule of law,due process and individual liberty.
Never before has that majority been more poised to organize and exert itself in a political environment that has for too long been controlled by the two "major" parties.
Decker: Conventional wisdom is that a third-party challenger cannot be elected president of the United States. Certainly, a Libertarian candidacy siphons votes away from the GOP. Is that the point - to send a message of protest that Republicans need to be more principled, especially on fiscal issues?
Johnson: Conventional wisdom has never been a guiding principle in my life or career. Conventional wisdom held that a businessman who had never been in elected office could not run and win as a Libertarian-Republican in New Mexico. And conventional wisdom would argue against a former governor with a not-yet-healed broken leg making it to the summit of Mt. Everest. My candidacy is not about a message of protest. It is about defying conventional wisdom and giving voice to what I believe is a majority of Americans who today do not feel comfortable in either the Democratic or Republican Party.
Likewise, I do not accept the premise that my candidacy siphons more votes from Republicans than from Democrats.As I hold online town halls, travel the country and read the emails and messages coming into our campaign every day, it is obvious that we are connecting with at least as many Obama voters as McCain voters from 2008. A lot of people who thought they were voting for change in 2008 are today very disappointed that what they achieved was only a slightly different version of the same business-as-usual they wanted to reject. The desire for a truly new approach cuts across all parties and independents alike.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the new book "Bowing to Beijing" (Regnery, 2011).
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