With Hillary Clinton failing to provide a genuine voice for the 99% against Donald Trump’s bigoted fake-populism, a left-wing third-party candidate like Jill Stein can act as an important pole of attraction for a section of workers and youth sick and tired of the status quo. But Stein isn’t the only third-party challenger to Trump and Clinton. Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, is running for president under the Libertarian Party. Johnson has been consistently outpolling Stein, and some polls even show Johnson beating Stein among former Bernie Sanders supporters.
Given his polling results, Johnson may appear to be the best bet for building a viable challenge to the two-party system. And Johnson has a number of progressive positions on certain isolated issues, such as support for the legalization of marijuana and opposition to government surveillance. But, as socialists, we have to be clear that Gary Johnson, and libertarian politics in general, are a dead end for anyone trying to build a voice for the 99%.
While Johnson may occasionally attack “crony capitalism,” he is not opposed to capitalism in general. In fact, his libertarian ideology outdoes both Clinton and Trump in his support for pure, unadulterated capitalism. He wants to abolish the minimum wage, privatize Social Security, and abolish all government regulations protecting civil rights, labor rights, and the environment.
When Johnson was governor of New Mexico, he consistently acted on behalf of big business. During that time, he annulled public employees’ collective bargaining rights, freezing the wages of ten thousand workers. He implemented one of the country’s strictest welfare reform programs. His two biggest campaigns were the building of private prisons and his attempt to privatize education through voucher programs.
The Johnson campaign is counting on you to look past all this. This was seen in an interview in The New Yorker, where Johnson appealed directly to disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters. To do this, he referenced an online political quiz he took on the website ISideWith.com: “I side with myself the most, and then, amazingly, I side with Bernie next closest. … It’s about everything but economics … on legalizing marijuana, on ‘Let’s stop dropping bombs,’ crony capitalism.”
Libertarian appeals to the left often entail reducing politics to the level of an online quiz. As an ideology, libertarianism is said to be “left on social issues, right on economic issues.” So, while it takes a hard-right approach to public services, workers’ rights, and environmental regulations, it takes a progressive approach to issues like LGBTQ rights, drug policy, and civil liberties. If you view these social issues as isolated yes-or-no questions on an online political quiz, you could mistakenly conclude that progressive workers and youth would have common ground with Johnson.
But, when you look at the issues in their wider social context, this common ground falls away. When Gary Johnson slashes New Mexico’s funding for subsidized drugs for AIDS patients, it cuts across his progressive credentials on LGBTQ issues and drug policy. Johnson may oppose direct discrimination like racial profiling – but, when it comes to tackling institutional racism, you probably shouldn’t trust the man who made New Mexico the biggest center of private prisons.
This is why socialists advocate for not just independent politics, but independent working-class politics. We don’t just want a new party, we want a new party of the 99%.
Gary Johnson’s rise in popularity was not inevitable. When Bernie Sanders challenged Clinton in the Democratic primary, he tapped into a mood of anger at a corrupt political establishment. Had Sanders run as an independent all the way to November, he could have cut across any progressive illusions in Johnson. But by endorsing Clinton, the chief representative of that establishment, he left a vacuum in politics that Gary Johnson has partially been able to fill. Fortunately, Jill Stein has also been able to fill part of that vacuum, calling for a Green New Deal, a $15 minimum wage, free college, and a single-payer health care system – which echoes Sanders’ pro-working-class program. As a way to continue the political revolution against the billionaire class, Socialist Alternative calls for the strongest possible vote for Stein while arguing for taking steps to build a new party of the 99%.