The Gary Johnson Swindle and the Degradation of Third Party Politics
EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier this week, Gary Johnson, the libertarian former governor of New Mexico, threw his hat into the presidential ring.
To mark the occasion, I dug through the old NSFWCORP archives (now owned by Pando) for our coverage of Johnson’s unsuccessful 2012 bid for the White House.
You can read Mark Ames’ and Max Blumenthal’s interview with Johnson here. Below, originally published on election day 2012, is Mark’s brilliant essay on “The Gary Johnson Swindle and the Degradation of Third Party Politics.” Read this before (or immediately after) you read any of the countless hot takes that will likely be published elsewhere about Johnson in the coming days and weeks.
-- Paul Carr
The Gary Johnson Swindle and the Degradation of Third Party Politics
November 6, 2012
On this degrading election day, I want to take one last look at our alleged "third choice", the huckster who supposedly "shakes up the status quo" and can "break the two-party stranglehold." Or, as he calls himself, "Perrier."
This is the hidden story of Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson — which is really a story about the depths of corruption and depravity that our democracy has sunk to. I’ve made it clear already that I find Rocky Anderson to be a genuine progressive alternative, someone whose ideas I am for and who has a real track record of governing, as well as trial lawyer and human rights activism experience. But our politics today don’t allow a Rocky Anderson as a real choice, not yet anyway.
Since Gary Johnson and libertarianism is the only real Third Party choice our gangrenous democracy allows us, it’s time we took a serious look at him — and it’s not pretty, folks. Because if you poke beneath the facade, what you find is a sponge absorbing just about every bad right-wing idea, and a campaign mixed up with some of the most loathsome GOP political operators of the last few decades.
Gary Johnson, in other words, is proof that our democracy is finished, a fistula of bad politics swelling up under Lady Liberty’s armpit.
It’s surprising to me how little skepticism or critical interest there is in Gary Johnson’s third party campaign, especially since he’s been hard-sold to progressives as the "real alternative" or "principled" or "more progressive than [NAME OF CORRUPT DEMOCRAT SCUMBAG HERE]."
The fact that Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party was founded and funded by the Koch brothers (David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party’s VP in 1980 in order to make it easier for the Kochs to shovel more money into the party and the libertarian cause), and that Gary Johnson was a longtime loyal Republican — considering all of this, and what’s at stake in presidential elections, it would seem to me malpractice for a journalist to assume there isn’t a story, or several stories, to be found under the Gary Johnson rock. Stories that matter. And that are bizarre and fun and grotesque in their own right.
The first interesting thing about Gary Johnson is that he decided to set up his campaign headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, just a few blocks away from the HQ of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. That’s where Gary Johnson’s main Super PAC is located as well. Gary Johnson isn’t Mormon.
The Salt Lake City Tribune also thought it was a little weird, so they asked about it in a story headlined"Ex-New Mexico guv bases his presidential campaign in — Utah?" which begins:
A Republican presidential candidate has landed his national campaign headquarters in Salt Lake City, just a couple of blocks from the Utah governor's mansion. But it's not the White House contender you might think it is.
It turns out there’s a simple answer: Gary Johnson’s campaign chief, Ron Nielson, is based here. Ron Nielson runs a conservative polling firm called NSON Opinion Strategies, whose headquarters is the same three-story building on South Temple Road as Johnson’s campaign headquarters, and the same address as Gary Johnson’s "Our America Initiative" nonprofit, which launched his bid for the presidency in late 2009.
Unfortunately, the SLT didn’t pry any further, because this is where things start to get interesting. For one thing, NSOM has a history of working with GOP right-wingers including crotchety Mormon asshole Orin Hatch and ex-witch and masturbation-denier Christine O’Donnell, as well as the Koch’s 'Reason' magazine. They also worked on a smear campaign against Harry Reid in the run up to the 2010 election, but I’ll get to that later.
The point here is that Gary Johnson’s campaign headquarters is located in Romney’s backyard, in a right-wing Republican polling firm’s office. Gary says he likes transparency and believes he should wear his backers’ labels on his jacket like a NASCAR driver. Let me help him into his coat....
According to documents filed with the state of Utah, the person responsible for filing the paperwork to register Gary Johnson’s "Our America Initiative" is Maureen Otis, a Texas attorney with deep roots in the far-right Minutemen movement, and with Republican Party voter-suppression dirty tricks. Otis’s Texas law office is listed as the mailing address for Johnson’s "Our America Initiative."
Maureen Otis has a long history with far-right anti-immigration vigilante groups. Just a few years ago, Otis served as board secretary for the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which the Southern Poverty Law Centerdescribed as a "nativist extremist" group that "targets individual immigrants rather than immigration policies." That Minuteman outfit collapsed after donation funds went missing, much of it paid to Maureen Otis’s own private company, "American Caging," a company that specializes in "caging as the name implies.
"Caging" was used by Bush operatives to suppress the minority vote in 2000 and 2004. Slate offered this definition of vote "caging":
"Vote caging is an illegal trick to suppress minority voters (who tend to vote Democrat) by getting them knocked off the voter rolls if they fail to answer registered mail sent to homes they aren't living at (because they are, say, at college or at war)."
Maureen Otis’ clients for American Caging included nonprofits set up for Alan Keyes, a fundraiser for Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Alliance, and other assorted homophobic Christian groups.
So what does the attorney who registered Gary Johnson’s "Our America" outfit really believe, the libertarian end of the Republican spectrum that Johnson represents, or the reactionary extremism of the Minutemen and Christian homophobes she serves?
Maureen Otis answered that question herself on her own twitter feed, such as this June 5 tweet following Scott Walker’s win in the Wisconsin recall:
"Great news for WI & start of an important trend for Repub's in the fall. Time for everyone to $$ to Romney campaign."
If Maureen Otis were the only hard-right operative involved in Gary Johnson’s campaign, her confused allegiances might just seem odd. But as you’ll see, extremist right-wing operatives like Otis are all around Gary Johnson, beginning with the "Our America Initiative" nonprofit that launched his campaign.
The lawyer who incorporated the "Our America Initiative" charter documents, an A-list GOP dirty tricks operative from Orange County named Jim Lacy, also worked with and supported the same Minutemen outfits as Maureen Otis. Like her, Jim Lacy also operates a bland-sounding direct-mail business called "slate mail" that targets Democratic voters with mailers purporting to come from fake liberal groups with names like "The John F. Kennedy Alliance" with a soothing photo of JFK on one side, and a slate of supposedly "Democratic" candidates on the other side. In reality, Republican candidates pay to have their names and faces secretly mixed in with the liberal candidates whose names and faces appear to give it a semblance of authenticity. Lacy’s slate order business is, he claims, the largest in the state of California, if not the entire country, and it wreaked so much havoc on California local elections that even Orange County residents revolted with a ballot requiring slate mailers disclose. Lacy fought to have the courts void the will of Orange County’s voters, and the courts agreed, saying that putting restrictions on how badly Lacy could deceive voters violated his First Amendment rights and constituted a form of tyranny.
So both lawyers whose names are on Gary Johnson’s main campaign group since 2009 are not only associated with right-wing extremists and violent nativist vigilantes, but more importantly, both of them specialize in fraudulent vote schemes that help their Republican Party clients win elections by deceiving Democratic Party voters.
Lacy has been poisoning American politics since his radical-right college years when he was national chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom. In recent years, Lacy has been a major backer of anti-immigrant Minutemen groups, Islamophobia, and "birther" conspiracy-theory outfits smearing Obama as a foreign-born Muslim. Lacy co-founded a handful of far-right immigrant-bashing outfits with "Birther" leader Gary Kreep, Orly Taitz’s creepier half in joint lawsuits filed to "expose" Obama’s birth certificate as a fake. Both Kreep and Jim Lacy have provided legal help to Minutemen groups in San Diego, when they were at their violent peak terrorizing homeless illegal migrant workers and vandalizing their shanties.
This summer, Jim Lacy opened up his bag of dirty tricks to get Gary Kreep get elected Superior Court judge. How he did it is instructive: On the eve of the San Diego vote, a Lacy outfit bombarded Latinos and Democrats with robocalls claiming that the sitting judge had been releasing drug dealers into their neighborhoods. Kreep won by just over 1,000 votes, and now they might have to someday face a judge who boasts of his pro bono work for the Minutemen.
But Gary Kreep is just a warm-up act. Jim Lacy’s much more serious partner in political dirty tricks operations over the past two decades is Citizen United’s co-founder Floyd Brown, a Republican Sasquatch who gets a lot of credit for the notorious Willie Horton race-baiting ads in 1988, designed to scare whites into believing Dukakis would empty out the prisons on weekends and allow black inmates to rape and rob white women. The ad worked.
As soon as Obama’s candidacy surged ahead of Hillary in 2008, Lacy and Brown unleashed a barrage of birther-propaganda, and they haven’t let up yet. Their National Campaign Fund outfit produced some of the first "birther" conspiracy commercials, including "Was He Muslim?". Just days after Obama’s inauguration, Lacy and Brown were running a new campaign, ImpeachObama.com already comparing his first week in office to Hitler and Stalin’s rule.
And here is where the Gary Johnson third party Libertarian campaign begins to cross paths with these Republican dirty tricksters. As the first stimulus bill was being debated, Lacy and Brown announced another smear project, ExposeHarry.com, aimed at weakening Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s support and turning voters against him in time for the 2010 elections. To understand where Harry Reid was most vulnerable, they hired a Republican polling firm out of Salt Lake City. That polling firm, NSON Opinion Research, is the same polling outfit whose offices serve as Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party presidential campaign headquarters, and whose founder, Ron Nielson, is Gary Johnson’s campaign chief.
Ron Nielson later helped create Gary Johnson’s "Our America Initiative" to launch the start of his campaign for 2012. This nonprofit was incorporated by GOP dirty trickster Jim Lacy, and is represented by far-right activist, "voter caging" specialist and Mitt Romney booster Maureen Otis.
It might seem strange to see so many nasty, hard-right dirty tricksters running Johnson’s "principled" campaign, but the notion that Johnson is in any way "liberal" or a friend of progressives is nonsense. Johnson’s liberal creds begin and end with one plank of his platform: legalizing pot.
Johnson’s actual record as governor of New Mexico was that of a law and order authoritarian, on the right-wing fringe of the Republican Party. Johnson ran on a “law and order” platform, stiffening prison sentences (while recklessly privatizing the prisons), along with a broader program of slashing taxes, slashing social programs, and privatizing schools. He was divisive, and his law and order policies led to some of the worst prison violence in decades.
It wasn’t until after Gary Johnson won his second term and final term as New Mexico’s governor, and turned his attention to the national stage, that he had his big epiphany about locking up marijuana smokers. Johnson’s about-face on locking up drug offenders sounded brave and newsworthy to outsiders who didn’t know his record — wow! a pot-friendly Republican governor, how cool! Johnson wanted to make the jump to the national stage, and what easier way than adopting the one popular plank in the Koch brothers’ libertarian political platform, legalizing pot, to make journalists and the public forget about all the grim libertarian policies he’d not only talked about but implemented.
The national media elites for it, none worse than the aging Baby Boomers at Rolling Stone, whose Tim Dickson hailed Gary Johnson as "one of the more honest – and certainly more unorthodox – politicians in the running."
Back in New Mexico, reporters who were familiar with the real Gary Johnson were dumbfounded by his hypocrisy, particularly on the drug war. As the Albuquerque Journal wrote in 1999:
'Johnson acknowledged that some of his recent statements, including his belief that people shouldn't be jailed for using drugs, appear to contradict his otherwise hardline stance on crime. During his 1998 re-election campaign, Johnson aired a tough-sounding television commercial in which he said if you commit a crime in New Mexico, you're going to serve "every lousy second" of your prison sentence. "When I made that commercial, I'm thinking about the guy who's got his gun out," Johnson said. "I was never thinking about the guy who did heroin and that's all he did. I wasn't thinking about Robert Downey Jr.," Johnson said, referring to the actor recently sent to prison on drug charges. [Italics mine—M.A.] Johnson said he would veto bills that required additional state spending for new drug-treatment programs because it could result in tax increases. Despite his belief that people should not be sent to jail for using drugs, Johnson said he does not intend to issue any blanket pardons for those serving time in New Mexico jails on drug charges.'
Johnson’s drug-legalization cant provided the perfect PR distraction from his real record on crime, which came down to this: privatizing half the prison population, harsh "three strikes your out" sentencing laws, and wetting his beak with campaign donations from the same private prison corporation, Wackenhut [renamed "Geo Group"], that Johnson picked to run New Mexico’s private prisons.
[For more on Wackenhut backstory and Geo Group abuse today, see Yasha Levine's "The Deportation Corporation".]
The result of Johnson's privatized prisons and harsh sentencing laws: a wave of prison riots and deaths, the first prison killings in New Mexico since the Santa Fe prison riot in 1980 that left 33 inmates dead.
Whereas the 1980 prison riot led to improved conditions for New Mexico inmates and two decades without a single instance of deadly violence, Gov.Johnson's privatization program undid those reforms overnight, sparking violence, riots and death. Johnson's response to the riots on his watch was more violence: he shipped over 100 New Mexico inmates out to a notoriously brutal super-max in Virginia, ignoring criticism from Human Rights Watch:
Virginia's first "super-max" prison... where New Mexico inmates were sent has come under criticism from a human rights group that says prisoners are subject to excessive force by guards, racism and unnecessarily harsh conditions. A Virginia state commission is investigating the allegations, which prison officials say are untrue. "New Mexico is deliberately putting people in a super-max setting who may not warrant it," Jamie Fellner, associate counsel of Human Rights Watch in New York, said Friday.
At heart, Gary Johnson espouses views that are largely on the right-wing fringe. That’s always a shock to people because he (and libertarians) expend so much energy hard-selling a few issues that make them look progressive, such as legalizing marijuana and pulling back the American military empire.
At the debate in Chicago, both Blumenthal and I were shocked at Johnson’s reactionary stances, and we’re the least gullible-to-libertarian leftists I know. Johnson spent much of his energy railing against the budget deficit, against the Federal Reserve and fiat money, against the income tax and corporate taxes and the IRS, against regulations and against entitlement programs, and so on down the line. When it comes to drugs, Gary Johnson is only for legalizing pot, by which he means making marijuana a states’ rights issue —which could very well mean that most states would continue jailing pot smokers in privatized prisons if they chose to.
As for other drugs, Johnson is coy — he won’t say he’s for legalizing or for decriminalizing, he’s somewhat coy and vague, saying he would look at HARM reduction ideas to treat drug addiction as a health problem rather than as a crime. He doesn’t say he would decriminalize; and moreover, if left to the states to decide, most states would likely continue jailing drug offenders and waging drug war on America’s minorities.
Compare that with a genuinely radical progressive approach that Rocky Anderson would take: Release all nonviolent federal drug offenders from prison, decriminalize all drugs, and invest government funds into treatment programs. It’s not that hard to say if you genuinely believe it — but Gary Johnson believes cocaine puts holes in your heart, so...
Johnson’s team has done a good job of hiding his right wing stances, but they’re not hard to spot when you actually read his platform. For example, Johnson’s "Our America Initiative" website describes his views on defense in a section titled "Defense and the Middle East War" — and here Johnson's views sound like every other Republocrat’s neocon hack, calling for preemptive military action against suspected terrorists, and favoring the use of America’s military to protect Israel:
"It is important to have a strong defense both at home and abroad. We are each grateful and appreciate those that are involved with our nation’s military. The United States should be protected from terrorism and those that attack America should be brought to justice quickly and efficiently. The United States should be proactive in such matters. We support the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign country and believes that the United States should protect that right militarily if needed."
Johnson has tried to stick to the "real progressive" script, but he’s slipped a few times, telling one interviewer that he would keep Guantanamo Bay openand another time supporting American military intervention in Uganda.
The real, Republican Gary Johnson was rolled out in late 2009 on a website called "Johnson For America" promoting his candidacy:
"As Governor, Gary ... dramatically curtailed taxes and spending, (vetoing 750 bills, more than all the vetoes of the other 49 Governors in the country at that time, combined), with only two overrides."
When Gary Johnson is selling himself to a Republican or libertarian audience, this is what his pitch really looks like: He’ll go veto-to-veto against any uppity governor who thinks he can out-authoritarian Gary Johnson.
Besides vetoing everything, to quote the Johnson for President site, "Some of Governor Johnson’s accomplishments include:
- Enacting major welfare reform, which cut government welfare spending by 30%
- Shifting state Medicaid to managed care
- Privatizing half of the prisons in the state
- Shooting down campaign finance legislation
- Attracting many new private and parochial schools into the state
- Repealing the Little Davis-Bacon Act, thereby allowing non-unionized labor the ability to be employed in construction of new schools and other public works
- Overseeing the construction of 500 miles of new, four-lane highway (designed, financed, built, and guaranteed by the private sector)
That last corrupt boondoggle about Gov. Johnson’s public-private highway-widening project is something I would’ve advised him to leave off that list, and scrub from the record as thoroughly as possible. This highway widening project has been attacked by everyone in New Mexico on both sides of the aisle, because rather than spending highway funds wisely, Gov. Johnson blew a giant hole in New Mexico’s budget by handing the project over to a Koch Industries asphalt subsidiary, earning the billionaire brothers tens of millions of dollars, while nearly bankrupting New Mexico’s budget and depriving the state of funds for roads in rural areas.
The Koch Industries-Gary Johnson road boondoggle was such a shocking example of bad, corrupt, Third World government, that the Albuquerque Journal published a multi-part investigative series exposing the scams, followed by a special 24-page summary report titled “Four Lane Politics” that begins:
Why We Did The Series The widening of 118 miles of N.M. 44 from San Ysidro to the Four Corners area is the biggest road project in New Mexico history. At a cost of $420 million, including financing, it is also the most expensive. The Johnson administration says its plan is so innovative it could change the way states handle highway construction projects. Critics call it a disaster in the making. Journal investigative reporters found that highway officials jumped the project ahead of other needed road work and entered into a questionable warranty deal at a cost of $62 million. They also found that the only company [Koch Industries] to bid on the project proposed it in the first place.
The road-widening cost the state $345 million, which Gov. Johnson covered by tapping a federal bond program giving the state 20 years to pay back the interest. So the “principled” budget-conscious libertarian governor forced his state deep into debt to pay for a campaign donor's pork barrel project, and the only way he could raise that much debt was to go to Washington DC and borrow everything he could against the state, sticking the poorest state in America with the bill: $345 million for construction of the road, plus another $142 million in interest on those bonds. It will take New Mexico's residents twenty years to pay off what was essentially a transfer of a half-billion dollars from New Mexico's residents' wallets into the Kochs brothers' offshore accounts.
The Upshot: The Kochs bankrolled Gary Johnson’s 1998 campaign, and they helped make him a national figure by PRing his name through their libertarian think-tanks like the Cato Institute.
The Downside: Less money available to pay for New Mexico’s public schools, food programs, Medicare, parks, and all the other roads and infrastructure.
Which is to say, no downside if you’re Gary Johnson or Charles Koch. Which you’re not. So vote for Gary Johnson, because he’s unconventional. He's for marijuana.
That’s the real, unvarnished Gary Johnson, as opposed to the fantasy hero in David Weigel’s open-throated comparison of Gary Johnson to “Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots”.
Once you get past the PR branded version of Gary Johnson and just see him for the conventional hard-right Republican he really is, you're no longer so surprised to learn that the people running Johnson’s presidential campaign were themselves big-name GOP political operatives — the darkest and the dirtiest operatives in the GOP cellar.
Exhibit A: Roger Stone, a self-described “GOP hitman” with a giant tattoo of Richard Nixon’s face etched across his back. Roger Stone —the skeeziest, meanest, most flamboyant and most Russian-nihilistic of any Republican dirty trickster working the field going back a few decades, the Satanic Zelig of Republican black ops, who’s had a hand in just about every major GOP election crime you’ve heard of, and lots more you haven’t heard of. Everyone seems to have forgotten already, but last spring, Roger Stone made a big public stink about how he’s fed up with the Republican Party and the two-party stranglehold, and joined Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party campaign. Pro bono. Because democratic idealism and principles are what Roger Stone is all about.
Let’s see if this makes any sense in the context of Roger Stone’s record. Starting with the 1972 Nixon re-election campaign, when a hippie-bashing college student named Roger Stone joined Nixon’s dirty tricks team, and impressed them with stunts like planting a fake check from the Socialist Party in a rival’s campaign fund kitty, then leaking that story to the press... Or planting a spy in Hubert Humphrey’s campaign and seeing to it that his spy becomes Hubert Humphrey’s favorite driver on the campaign trail...
Roger Stone had a hand in the "Willie Horton" ad; he masterminded the Florida "yuppie riot" on James Baker’s behalf, halting the recount long enough to let William Rehnquist decide the elections; and although he won’t admit it on record yet, Roger Stone is most likely responsible for destroying Dan Rather’s career by planting the fake National Guard documents on his producer.
That’s a small sampler, but it’s enough to make anyone with a functioning brain realize that when Roger Stone’s says he’s suddenly decided he’s had a political awakening and he’s now a hardcore libertarian doing volunteer "pro bono" political consulting for Gary Johnson’s campaign... you better assume he’s not telling you the whole story. The whole story is absurd, but obviously Roger Stone is onto something by offering the media such a hack storyline, knowing that precisely because it’s so Hollywood unreal, the Manhattan media elites will swallow it hook, line and sinker.
To see a perfect example of American media gullibility, read Mark Warren’s attempt at magazine-edgy prose in his Esquire dispatch on Roger Stone called "Roger Stone To GOP: Payback’s A Bitch". It’s his Ivy Leaguer "bitch" that makes it so authentically awful—it’s like he’s found a way to outfit his magazine prose with a black leather jacket. The piece reads as though he’s in on the joke Roger Stone is playing on the two-party system, when in all likelihood Warren himself is the mark, a sucker to keep distracted while Stone does what he does best: fixing elections, voter fraud, electoral theft, all-around sleaze.
Which brings me to the one Roger Stone story which now has four-alarm relevance to this election, and to his decision to work for Gary Johnson’s third party candidacy. I’m surprised this episode isn’t talked about more, but that could be because it’s far too disturbing in a serious not-fun way, especially compared to Stone’s more rock’n’roll public stunts, which give guys like Mark Warren and Dave Weigel a hard-on.
This episode comes from a rather candid interview Roger Stone gave to the Weekly Standard in a 2007, and in it he describes how the most effective election fraud trick of all is using a credible Third Party candidate to split the opposition’s vote. In 1980, Stone’s candidate was Ronald Reagan, and his enemy was incumbent president Jimmy Carter. The wild card in the 1980 election was a popular Illinois liberal Republican named John Anderson, who lost in the primaries against Reagan and decided to run against him and Carter anyway, given his popularity and disgust with both Reagan and Carter.
John Anderson’s biggest problem was getting his name on the ballots. Roger Stone realized that if Anderson could get on the New York state ballot, it could split the liberal vote and hand the electoral prize to Ronald Reagan. So Stone seeks help from a political operative so evil he makes Roger Stone look like a Mormon: Roy Cohn, Sen. McCarthy’s right-hand henchman during the Red-baiting hearings. Cohn brings a mobster named Fat Tony Solerno with him, and they ask Roger Stone what his problem is and how they might help.
Roger Stone’s problem was simple: He wanted to get "Mr. Clean" outsider John Anderson on the New York state ballot as a third party candidate to drain votes from Carter, but there wasn’t nearly enough time to make it happen. Most people were led to believe that Anderson would naturally split the Republican vote, but that wasn’t the case at all. Privately, polls showed that in tight state races, Anderson’s candidacy caused far more damage to Carter than to Reagan. Here, I’ll quote from the article this amazing episodeabout how Roger Stone stole New York for Ronald Reagan:
Stone, who going back to his class elections in high school has been a proponent of recruiting patsy candidates to split the other guy's support, remembers suggesting to Cohn that if they could figure out a way to make John Anderson the Liberal party nominee in New York, with Jimmy Carter picking up the Democratic nod, Reagan might win the state in a three-way race. "Roy says, 'Let me look into it.'" Cohn then told [Fat Tony Salerno], "'You need to go visit this lawyer'--a lawyer who shall remain nameless--'and see what his number is.' I said, 'Roy, I don't understand.' Roy says, 'How much cash he wants, dumbf--.'" Stone balked when he found out the guy wanted $125,000 in cash to grease the skids, and Cohn wanted to know what the problem was. Stone told him he didn't have $125,000, and Cohn said, "That's not the problem. How does he want it?" Cohn sent Stone on an errand a few days later. "There's a suitcase," Stone says. "I don't look in the suitcase . . . I don't even know what was in the suitcase . . . I take the suitcase to the law office. I drop it off. Two days later, they have a convention. Liberals decide they're endorsing John Anderson for president. It's a three-way race now in New York State. Reagan wins with 46 percent of the vote. I paid his law firm. Legal fees. I don't know what he did for the money, but whatever it was, the Liberal party reached its right conclusion out of a matter of principle." I ask him how he feels about this in retrospect. He seems to feel pretty good--now that certain statutes of limitations are up[...] "Reagan got the electoral votes in New York State, we saved the country," Stone says with characteristic understatement. "[More] Carter would've been an unmitigated disaster."
Sounds familiar, don’t it? Just substitute "Libertarian" for "Liberal Party," "Obama" for "Carter," and "Gary Johnson" for "John Anderson" and you can see what Stone might really have had in mind when he announced earlier this year that he was at last dumping the terrible Republican Party.
Players in the art of elections-fixing have no illusions over what purpose a malleable Third Party figure can, and usually does play. Jimmy Carter agreeswith Roger Stone’s version; in fact Carter has always argued that John Anderson’s third party insurgency against the tweedle-dee/tweedle-dum two-party stranglehold was what allowed Ronald Reagan to win the 1980 elections and permanently alter the country’s politics and wealth distribution. In any case, Roger Stone knows more about political dirty tricks than anyone, and as he said in that 2007 interview, his favorite dirty trick in the bag is using "patsy candidates to split the other guy's support."
That same 1980 election was notable for one other development: Charles and David Koch poured a record amount of resources into running a Libertarian third party campaign, with David Koch on the ticket to avoid campaign funding rules. That year, the Libertarian candidate ran as a "low tax liberal" who advocated marijuana legalization, which is another way of saying that the Libertarian project was self-consciously designed that year to peel votes from Carter. Indeed, after Reagan’s victory, Koch immediately moved his Cato Institute to DC to take advantage of the Regan Revolution, grafting his libertarian infrastructure to the Republican Party.
But with one honorable exception, David Sirota’s excellent piece exposing how GOP operatives were exploiting weed-legalization and Gary Johnson’s heavily-PR’d credibility on that issue to split the Obama vote for Romney, no one in the media is bothering to question the consensus meme that Gary Johnson and the Libertarians threaten Romney and siphon votes from Republicans. Even after Gary Johnson himself admitted to the New York Times earlier this year that his campaign strategy and messaging is designed to cut into Obama’s base more than Romney’s.
In answer to the Times’ question "whom do you think your candidacy will hurt the most?" Johnson answered:
"Probably, it's going to end up helping Romney. I'm probably going to take more Democrat votes -- the whole civil liberties side of this."
This helps explain why Johnson’s campaign has overwhelmingly emphasized pot-legalization and drone-crusading, while clamming up tight about the laundry list of Republican dream-policies in Gary Johnson’s platform, such as ending corporate taxes and regulations on banks and pharmaceutical firms, and abolishing the minimum wage as well as child labor laws, treating those core ideas of his as if they’re classified state secrets, lest some wobbly Romney voters hear about them and switch their vote to Gary Johnson.
Which brings me to the final figure in this sordid GOP dirty tricks operation using Gary Johnson as the "patsy": Joe Hunter, the thin, salt-and-pepper bearded energy stick who stuck close to Gary Johnson that night in Chicago.
It turns out that Joe Hunter is a longtime GOP communications strategist who got his start with a Missouri Republican who represented Rush Limbaugh’s home district, later moving to the Bush-Quayle team where folks like Roger Stone, Jim Lacy and Floyd Brown were busy cooking up smears, while his former boss, the Missouri Republican Bill Emerson, checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic.
In 2000, we find Joe Hunter engaged in the same far-right politics of immigrant bashing and race-baiting as the rest of Johnson’s campaign team. Hunter was the official spokesman for an outfit called "Utahns For Official English". Like other immigrant-bashing groups of that time, Utahns for Official English pushed for laws making English the only official language in the Deseret Kingdom (meaning all those "reformed Egyptian"-inscribed gold plates would have to go).
"Utahs For Official English" was set up by a DC-based immigrant-baiting outfit called simply "U.S. English" , an outfit that claimed at first to be a progressive project founded by a purported Green Party activist named John Tanton, who claimed his interest in pushing English-language laws was for the sake of the immigrants with whom he sympathized. Then some of Tanton’s private memos were leaked, revealing a deranged mind obsessed with racial eugenics and the "fertility" of dark-skinned races versus the relative infertility of the superior white races. Tanton was out to save and protect his beloved white race from contamination — sparking mass resignations from public figures tricked into believing they were serving a progressive Green Party agenda meant to help, not hurt, immigrants. Joe Hunter’s U.S. English headquarters got in trouble for hiring another white supremacist, James Lubinskas, as their communications director, until the Southern Poverty Law Center outed Lubinskas as a longtime activist moving in the same circles as David Duke, and a former contributing editor at the racial eugenics fanzine "American Renaissance."
After getting his English-only law passed, Joe Hunter was hired as the new chief of staff for Utah Republican Rep. Chris Cannon — one of the leaders of the Clinton impeachment — replacing Cannon’s outgoing chief-of-staff, David Safavian.
Shortly afterwards, Safavian’s name came up as a central figure in the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal. Safavian was arrested and sentenced to prison. But Chris Cannon managed to hold on to his seat until 2008, thanks to a lot of help from George W. Bush, and to the Mormon church, which made the unusual step of openly calling for Mormons in Utah to vote in the 2006 primaries, effectively defeating Chris Cannon’s rightwing primary opponent.
In 2008, Joe Hunter’s boss lost in the primaries to Jason Chaffetz. No one could help Chris Cannon’s political career anymore. But before leaving, just days before the 2008 election, Chris Cannon hatched a smear rumor against President Obama: He and his brother-in-law, a Utah Republican, paid a British professor who specialized in literary frauds to claim that Obama’s memoir was ghost-written by Bill Ayers. The rumors spread like wildfire around the media, and came right back into Joe Hunter’s boss’s office as the source, shaming Chris Cannon one last time.
That’s who Gary Johnson’s campaign spokesman worked for. These are the ingredients in the "Perrier" Gary Johnson calls his politics, as opposed to the "Coke-Pepsi" of the Republican-Democrats.
In other words, Gary Johnson is part of the fucking problem, and in many ways worse — he’s there to make sure you understand we have no way out of this dead-end trap. And so, to recap:
Gary Johnson’s campaign for the presidency to shake up the corrupt two-party system and introduce a new kind of politics outside the old paradigm of left and right, was:
- Managed by a Republican/Koch pollster who partnered with far-right GOP dirty tricksters and the founder of Citizens United in a smear campaign against Harry Reid;
- His spokesman worked to pass anti-immigrant English-only laws in an organization infested with fringe white supremacists, then served as chief-of-staff to one of the most corrupt Republicans in Congress, Chris Cannon, replacing Jack Abramoff’s partner-in-crime, David Safavian (who also was Grover Norquist’s business partner);
- His nonprofit "OUR America Initiative" was chartered and incorporated by Jim Lacy, one of the main promoters of birther conspiracy theories, who also backed violent racist Minutemen causes, and who runs one of the largest slate-mail operations in the country, essentially a mass elections fraud business to trick voters into voting for the wrong candidate;
- The nonprofit papers that launched his campaign were filed by Maureen Otis, a central figure in the Texas Minutemen extremist movement, who also worked with Alan Keyes on nonprofits that smeared Obama as a foreign-born Muslim; Otis is also a supporter of Romney and has called for people to donate to the Romney campaign;
And finally — Gary Johnson was a corrupt governor who privatized his prisoners with gruesome results, who wants to privatize the federal government and strip us of anything that might protect us from the Kochs and the rest of the oligarchy, and dismantle all the social programs including Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, college grants, minimum wage laws, even child labor laws — and in return, he’ll let you smoke pot. If your state votes to legalize pot, that is. If your state still wants to put you in prison for smoking pot, or even stiffen those penalties, sucks for you.
That’s not Gary Johnson’s problem.