Could Gary Johnson make drug legalization a national issue?

I don’t know who I’m going to vote for in the 2012 presidential election (besides not Obama or Romney) but I hope Conor Fiedersdorf is right about the impact the Gary Johnson campaign could have on the drug debate (HT: Andrew Sullivan):

It’s an opportune moment for a libertarian ticket to offer a serious, forceful critique of drug policy, for beyond fortuitous changes in public opinion, there’s an incumbent with broken promises and a lackluster record on the issue; and a Republican challenger who is even more of a drug warrior in his avowed positions and such a teetotaller personally that he eschews even caffeine.

Are [former New Mexico governor Gary] Johnson and [California judge Jim] Gray the right team to make this critique? Whatever their shortcomings, they’re ideal in this respect: one is an extreme athlete and health nut; the other is a veteran, former prosecutor, and judge who used to be a drug warrior and switched sides based on what he saw in his own courtroom. Can they succeed in injecting the issue into the general election campaign?

  • machintelligence

    The short answer is no, because almost no one pays any attention to libertarian candidates (and deservedly so).

    • Chris Hallquist

      People don’t normally pay attention to 3rd party candidates period, but there are exceptions: Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, etc.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    My problem with third party candidates is that, from what I can see of history, a vote for a third party candidate is effectively a vote for their mainstream ideological opposite. If you vote for a liberal third party candidate, you’re effectively voting for Romney. If you vote for a conservative or libertarian third party candidate, you’re effectively voting for Obama.

    Not ideal perhaps, but it seems like that’s reality of US presidential elections.

  • leftwingfox

    Honestly, I don’t think the general election is the time to be doing “protest votes”. Poll monkeying, maybe, but in a FPTP election system, the general election is nothing more than damage control.

    Any real change in the political system is going to have to happen outside of the general election: primary challenges, building party support, lobbying and petitions, grass-roots change in the election systems at the local level.

  • Bronze Dog

    Given that Texas is extremely like to vote Romney no matter what I do, I probably wouldn’t do any harm by voting third party. Getting rid of the failed drug war would be an important topic, not just to break down organized crime’s profits, but to get rid of one big excuse for the police state.

  • Trebuchet

    I got into a long and fruitless discussion about the whole “protest vote” thing on one of the other blogs here. SelfAwarePatterns and Leftwingfox have it right. In this country, with its entrenched two-party system, a vote for a 3rd party candidate is pretty much a vote for the ideological opposite. This happened as far back as 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt split the Republican vote and got Woodrow Wilson elected. Not that that was a bad thing! Same happened in 1992, with Ross Perot helping Bill Clinton, and in 2000, when Ralph Nader single-handedly made GW Bush president.

    If you live in a solidly red or blue state, go ahead and register your protest vote. Otherwise, a vote for anyone but Obama is a vote for Romney.

    • troll

      If you live in a solidly red or blue state, go ahead and register your protest vote.

      Even then, it has an impact. Several states are moving toward assigning their delegates to the winner of the national popular vote as an end run around the obsolete electoral college. No matter where you are, your vote will impact those delegates.

  • MatthewL

    It’s hard to say which way a serious Libertarian candidacy would swing the vote. Personal freedom (social liberalism) and free market economics (fiscal conservatism – in the US anyway) are appealing to large numbers on both sides of the aisle.

    I think the main thing that keeps the Libertarian Party marginal is the extremist (religious) anti-government stance. I imagine that a new libertarianism that recognizes the value and importance of good governance could be a great breath of fresh air in the toxic environment that is American politics these days.

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