A couple weeks ago, I commented on the remarks of Presidential candidate and former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson regarding the ‘offensive’ Family Leader Pledge signed by fellow GOP candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.
Yesterday I was invited to participate in a blogger conference call with Governor Johnson regarding intolerance as “a formula for Republican defeat.” Unfortunately I couldn’t participate directly but I asked for the transcript knowing this was an issue I’d broached previously.
Perhaps the question closest to the one I would have asked was offered by New Hampshire blogger Skip Murphy of Granite Grok. I’m going to shorten it just a touch for this purpose, though:
I do have a question about your opening statement, on social conservatives. Certainly the Tea Party is focused on the fiscal issues, but as we all know, social issues often have a fiscal cost to them as well. If you look at Medicaid, Social Security, other entitlement programs, have an outsized cost to them. Is it really something that Republicans and conservative Republicans should do? To concede the social issues to the Democrats and step away from that arena? And thereby letting them raise the fiscal costs of their agenda, versus fighting for what we believe is our agenda, which is cutting the fiscal costs across the board?
Governor Johnson responded:
Well, if you’re talking about fiscal costs, I don’t know where an intolerance to gays, I don’t know where a woman – where decision making should be taken away from a woman, and I’m talking about abortion – and, that that should be the driving issues of the Republican Party. And I guess I could go to immigration, and to the xenophobia about immigrants, and there are costs associated with illegal immigration. I think they should be addressed, but they don’t involve, in my opinion, building a fence, or putting the National Guard arm in arm across the border. There’s some real, rational steps that can be taken, and really, a win-win situation: immigrants that want to come in to this country to work being allowed to work. And businesses that would like to take advantage of being able to get workers that they currently can’t get, because of our immigration policies and our welfare policies in this country that have us sitting at home collecting welfare checks, that are just a little bit less money or the same amount of money for doing nothing, as opposed to getting out and getting an entry level job.
Murphy pressed further:
Well, I do notice that you brought up some hot button issues that are near and dear to a lot of Republicans. But I specifically asked about some of the other entitlements: certainly the ever growing welfare state is a social issue, and it certainly has a high fiscal cost. So, what is your strategy for bringing that down, and again I ask, is that something the Republicans should just forget about, because…
No, Skip, I didn’t consider welfare as part of this Ames Pledge. If I missed that, I certainly apologize. I saw this Ames Pledge as, really, vilifying, or just saying “No” to tolerance. I saw it as a very intolerant document. And I am a firm believer that we need to reform welfare in this country, and at the base of reforming welfare is “If you can work, you should work.”
It’s an interesting and broad-based conversation overall, but I think the problem with Gary’s approach is that a lot of the base he’s catering to – the small-government crowd – also cares about social issues.
Johnson makes the mistake of assuming that social conservatives are monolithic in their support of government-centered approaches to issues like abortion, gay marriage, and the general decline of society. As I noted in my original post on the Family Leader Pledge (refer to original pledge here,) I didn’t find a lot objectionable except for the call for a Constitutional amendment on marriage between one man and one woman. It’s not that I have an issue with protecting marriage, but it’s properly a state issue.
Ironically, Johnson is in agreement with me on that, but still chose to call me and others who care about these issues ‘intolerant’ because I don’t fall completely into line with his libertarian views on the subject. Perhaps he hasn’t a problem with certain portions of the Family Leader Pledge (particularly its call for a more limited government) but he chose not to sign it and that should have been enough. Many of the other contestants for the Presidential brass ring have forgone the opportunity as well but they haven’t besmirched the competition who did – even Mitt Romney withheld personal condemnation in refusing to sign.
Certainly I would like to pick and choose aspects of government to strengthen (yes, there are a few) and which ones should release their stranglehold on the American people. There are a few otherwise seldom-discussed planks in Johnson’s platform with which I agree and think should be brought out into the national conversation – chief among them the folly of the War on Drugs.
He certainly would like to limit government. Consider this passage from the call:
I just think that we’ve gone way overboard when it comes to this notion of need and entitlement, if you will. So I am promising to submit a balanced budget for the year 2013, which would cut 43% of government expenditures at existing levels. That means Medicaid, that means Medicare, that means military spending, for starters. So, in that context, 43% reduction with regard to everything it is that government does, I think that is a weeding out process that gets us closer to the notion of helping those that are truly in need as opposed to this notion of entitlement and really this give away that has us in the fiscal predicament that we are in. Really, we’re broke, and we’re on the verge of a monetary collapse because we print money to cover these obligations.
Good luck getting that through Congress. although it’s only cutting the budget back to 2002 levels. It also brings up a point that across-the-board cuts aren’t necessarily the correct solution – for example I think the budget of the Department of Education should be cut 100 percent, with the savings from the extra share used to maintain a strong national defense.
Yet the point is a good one. We haven’t prioritized spending in decades because the government gave itself a blank check with deficit spending, knowing they have the power to tax (also known as the power to destroy.) It’s time for some fiscal discipline, and I think TEA Party members understand this point. The question which Skip Murphy presented so well is whether we can have it all – advances in both social and fiscal conservatism – and I think the answer is yes, they are nowhere near mutually exclusive.
I would like to thank Gary Johnson’s staff for forwarding me the transcript. He’s been one of the best in working with bloggers, and that’s appreciated whether I agree with him or not.