It’s a safe bet that many college students are tired of the standard left-versus-right political battles that somehow never seem to lead to any substantive change. Even more disappointing is the sad reality that politicians we support, whether Democrat or Republican, all too often fail to live up to the principled promises made on the campaign trail.
Though it’s a sales pitch you’ve likely heard before, former New Mexico governor and 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson really is a different type of politician — and he just might represent the new, bold face of the nation’s political discourse. The University’s chapter of College Libertarians and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy are teaming up to bring Johnson to campus Thursday evening, and if you haven’t heard of him yet, you’re going to like what you learn.
Even a cursory glace at Johnson’s life reveals that, despite his successes in public office, he simply isn’t cut out for the role of suit-wearing bureaucratic windbag. An independently successful businessman, Johnson seems more comfortable out of the office. His interests include relaxing, soothing outdoor activities like competing in Ironman Triathlons and scaling Mount Everest (as he did successfully in 2003). Clearly, something sets Johnson apart from your run-of-the mill politico.
Yet a compelling personal life is not enough to mark an individual as a skilled and effective leader. Fortunately, Johnson’s record speaks for itself. Elected governor of New Mexico in 1994 as a Republican, Johnson led without regard for party orthodoxy. His aggressive, reform-oriented platform proved popular with New Mexico residents, and Johnson left his state with a large budget surplus after his term-limited tenure as governor ended in 2003.
When in power, Johnson didn’t simply settle into his position as New Mexico’s chief executive and let the prominence of his office scare him into a politically convenient silence. Instead, he used the governor’s office as a platform to express his controversial views on issues of national importance.
Take, for example, the issue of marijuana legalization. Johnson hasn’t taken the easy path of avoiding the issue entirely or sheepishly calling for a review of our current marijuana policies “some time in the future,” as all too many politicians have done. Rather, he believes that cannabis should be fully legalized for use by responsible adults and has repeatedly stated that the War on Drugs has been a costly failure. To back up his convictions, Johnson serves as a national board member for Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.
The War on the Drugs isn’t the only forceful intervention Johnson has bravely challenged. Johnson publicly opposed the Iraq War despite his affiliation with the Republican Party and has more recently spoken out against the United States’s involvement in Libya, rightly recognizing that “we are once again just playing cop to the world” when we have no right to militarily intervene in affairs beyond our borders.
And Johnson has plenty to offer both civil libertarians and champions of the free market as well. Johnson’s libertarian view of a limited government recognizes that you and you alone are best able to make your own decisions and that responsible adults do not need the government to assume the role of nanny. He has spoken out against the privacy-invading Patriot Act, defended a woman’s right to seek an abortion and combated the sentiment that immigrants, legal or illegal, should be treated as second-class members of our society. Further, as a self-made man, Johnson understands the need to allow entrepreneurs to flourish in a truly free market that rewards innovation and drive, not political influence.
It’s no secret that the American political process has a tendency to disappoint the idealistic, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Before your cynicism gets the best of you and you slip into a life of political apathy, listen to what Gary Johnson has to say. His refreshing honesty and willingness to tackle the controversial issues that impact our generation are desperately needed today.
Gary Johnson will be speaking at a free event on Thursday, March 31 at 8 p.m. in the Michigan League Ballroom.
This viewpoint was written by LSA senior Graham Kozak on behalf of the University’s chapter of College Libertarians and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.