The Republican race for the Presidency is now upon us. The first debate was on May 5 with five candidates: Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Gary Johnson.
Notable in their absence were Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Mitch Daniels.
But I think this was a good thing. This gave the candidates a decent amount of time to speak. Debate fields of previous years included as many as a dozen candidates, making it less likely that the lesser-known candidates could make an impression.
In fact, I'd prefer three or four candidates per debate. A debate could be held somewhere every week, with each candidate appearing once every three or four weeks, usually facing different opponents each time.
This kind of debate scheduling would provide inexpensive programming for the news networks, give a weekly fix for political junkies, and provide more real exposure for more candidates.
Of course, I'm also biased. This format would provide better platforms for my two preferred candidates, the libertarians Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.
When I say "libertarian" I use this in the most general, inclusive sense. Some use the word to describe people who support a political philosophy called "libertarianism." Depending on how one defines libertarianism, it could be proven that Paul and/or Johnson aren't "real" libertarians. But "libertarian" can be broadly defined as favoring policies that promote:
- Individual liberty, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, personal privacy, and the rule of law
- Economic freedom, including property rights, free exchange, and free entry into any kind of industry and employment
- Non-interventionism, the belief that it is morally and diplomatically in the interests of the U.S. to refrain from using economic or military coercion on other countries
Of the two, Rep. Paul is the more radical, frequently discussing issues from core economic theory or the Constitution. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is allegedly more pragmatic and moderate.
Here's what sets them apart. Until 2007, we haven't heard this kind of libertarian talk from any major party candidate for decades. That's when Ron Paul entered the GOP debates and Mike Gravel entered the Democratic debates (and who later sought the Libertarian Party nomination). This time around, it appears that President Obama is not receiving a primary challenge from an anti-war candidate of Gravel's ilk.
And so we have two Republican candidates who are to the "left" of Obama on critical issues such as Afghanistan, the War on Drugs, and the Patriot Act. They are attracting young activists and, if they make an impact, they could very well make for a raucous Republican National Convention. A schism and the creation of a third party is a very real possibility.
And the reason is that Paul and Johnson have virtually nothing in common with the rest of the Republican field (with the possible exception of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels). The reigning ideologies of the GOP field are essentially imported from the Democratic Party: the foreign policy is LBJ's, and the social views are reminiscent of William Jennings Bryan.
The old coalition in the GOP of social conservatives, neoconservative hawks, and libertarians is fractured. Paul and Johnson personify this, as I imagine most Republicans would rather re-elect Obama rather than either men.
But that is exactly why they are the only alternatives to Obama. Even after two and a half years of disastrous policies, incompetence, and war crimes, Obama scares me less than any Republican aside from Paul, Johnson (and, again, maybe Daniels). Any other GOP candidate will give us less liberty and more war. Just like Obama.
I will not vote for Obama. But if the Republican isn't named Paul or Johnson, I will likely express a sigh of relief if Obama is re-elected.