Do you know who Gary Johnson is?
There’s really no reason you should, unless you happen to live in New Mexico. But if you’re a one-issue voter and that one issue is keeping the government’s hands off your right to gamble online and bet on sports, maybe you should get to know Johnson.
For those plugged in to national politics, Johnson is one of those vaguely familiar faces. The former (1995-2003) governor of New Mexico was actually the first candidate of any note to jump into the race for the Republican nomination for president, and when his eight-month presence in the race failed to generate anything more than yawns in the GOP, he jumped ship and a few days after Christmas joined the Libertarian Party. A few weeks ago the Libertarians got together at the Red Rock Casino Resort in Las Vegas and made Johnson their candidate.
In a recent interview with Covers.com, Johnson talked about how his views about the Internet in general and online gambling in particular were shaped by his Libertarian philosophy of tiny government and free-market principles.
“Millions of Americans are denied access to an activity that they freely choose to participate in,” said Johnson. “Just because the Department of Justice says that they shouldn’t be doing it, that’s outrageous. The same goes for sports betting. The government shouldn’t be in the business of telling Americans what they can and can’t do.”
Johnson stopped short of saying that he would welcome a Wild West approach in which American companies would do battle in an unregulated online sports environment.
“I would encourage Congress to send me a bill that would have certain protections and that would make online gambling safe and secure for anyone who wants to gamble,” said Johnson, without specifically saying what those protections would be. Johnson added that competitive pressure in a free market would mean that only the most reputable, consumer-friendly sites would be able to survive as the public weeds out the crooks who'd surely make their way into a marketplace with little or no government intervention.
Significantly, Johnson said many of the problems now facing online gamblers would have been avoided had he been president in 2006 when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which was attached to a port security bill, was passed. “I would have vetoed the bill and said to send it [the port security bill] bill back clean, with no attachments,” he said, adding that as president he would have refused to enforce UIGEA (assuming his veto had been over-ridden).
Johnson’s political base may actually be millions of Americans who now play poker online. Last July, when he was in the Republican race, he courted the poker vote with a shout-out on his web site, he’s in tight with the million-member Poker Players Alliance, and he attended last year’s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. He says he’s played poker for most of his life and isn’t averse to an occasional casino trip, but concedes he’s never played online.
Gambling, reasons Johnson, is a choice. And the government shouldn’t be in the business of limiting the choices people can make for themselves. If 420 happens to be your favorite number, Johnson is fine with that as long as it doesn’t impact anyone else. If you have a few $100 bills in your pocket and want to spend it on female (or male, as the case may be) companionship, let the good times roll.
If Johnson is able to become anything more than an asterisk in the presidential race and make things uncomfortable for Mitt Romney and/or President Obama, it will shed some light on a philosophy that celebrates the individual and denigrates the government.
“Individuals should be free to make choices for themselves and to accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make,” the Libertarian Party states on its web site. “No individual, group, or government may initiate forced against any other individual . . . Our support of an individual’s right to make choices in life does not mean that we necessarily approve or disapprove of those choices.” In other words, if you want to ride your Harley without a helmet, don’t expect us to glue your skull back together when you hit a soft shoulder, spin out and hit a tree at 85 mph.
Next week we’ll look at Gary Johnson’s political strategy, his chance of having an impact in the 2012 race and explain why he’s getting no love from fellow Republican/Libertarian Ron Paul.