on candidates and presidents

Will Wilkinson, on the relative virtues of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson:

As governor, Mr Johnson showed that a non-ideological, pragmatic libertarianism can work as a governing philosophy. But neither full-blooded libertarians nor allegedly liberty-loving tea-party enthusiasts really care much about governing. Libertarians, accustomed to dwelling on the margins of American politics, participate in elections without hope of electoral success, if they participate at all. For them, presidential campaigns offer at best an occasion to preach the libertarian gospel to the wary public, and the more table-pounding the better...

The elements of Mr Paul's past and creed that Mr Somin, Ms Dalmia, and I find objectionable are not really liabilities. They are an important part of what makes "Dr No" a candidate capable of generating surprising amounts of enthusiasm and campaign cash, if not votes. Mr Paul and the tea-party movement are each in their separate ways creatures of Cold War-era conservative-libertarian "fusionism", which remains a powerful ideological and institutional force on the right. In contrast, Mr Johnson comes off as a post-fusionist, libertarian-leaning fiscal conservative. The very existence of such a creature heartens me, but it remains that there exists in our culture no popular, pre-packaged political identity that celebrates and defines itself in terms of these laudable tendencies.

During the Silly Season we call the presidential election in America, people tend to lose sight of the fact that being President of the United States is a job. It requires certain skills, a balanced temperament, and above all, an ability to actually govern. Too often, we view the presidency--and by extension, presidential candidates--first and foremost as vessels for our ideological wish lists. The result is that which makes one a successful candidate and that which makes one a successful president can be very different things.

As much as I like Paul, as much as I appreciate what he has done to bring some of the causes of liberty from the margins of political discourse closer to the center--I honestly don't think he'd be a very good president. Being a cantankerous ideologue makes him a great advocate, and a much needed voice of conscience in the halls of congress. With Johnson, you'd get much of the same ideology, with the "bonuses" of a pragmatic approach and a track record of functioning in an executive capacity.

I realize that to most this is academic; neither Paul nor Johnson have a realistic chance of winning the GOP nomination. Still, until someone resembling a frontrunner emerges from the field, it is difficult for me to tune this out.


Gino said...

my reaction is the opposite: until a frontrunner or nominee is chosen, i have almost zero interest is what else takes place.

i will vote for paul in the primary, or johnson, but its just for shits and giggles.

i'm in the 'fukem, i dont care anymore' mode.

Brian said...

Yeah, I'm just not content to wait for Roger Ailes to tell me who the GOP nominee is going to be.

Besides, if the GOP does what the Dems did in in '08, and manage to have a primary fight that goes until May, then maybe the Washington caucus will count for something. And since there is a non-trivial possibility that if I show up for the GOP caucus in my precinct, I might literally be the only person there, my vote might actually count!

Brian said...

Dan Savage (who lives a few blocks from me) (in)famously joined the Republican party in 1996 to write a piece for The Stranger. He was the only person from his (my) precinct that showed up for an organizing meeting, so he ended up being a delegate to the state convention.

I can't find the piece online (I think it is too old) but I have it in a book. It's pretty great.