Gary Johnson Could Teach the GOP a Thing or Two About Tolerance

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The struggling candidate for the GOP presidential nomination has created a right-leaning message that casts the value as patriotic


Gary Johnson's campaign for the GOP nomination isn't getting much traction in the polls or attention in the press. In recent statements and ads like the one above, however, he is quietly showing his fellow Republicans a different way to approach social issues: cast tolerance as patriotic, federalism as a force that can expand liberty, and right-leaning libertarianism as a political philosophy that offers something valuable to minorities. It is quite a contrast to the 2012 candidates, Barack Obama among them, who want to deny gay Americans the ability to marry, send the federal government to raid medical marijuana dispensaries, or legislate their conception of virtue.

Johnson's ad is a response to a controversial pledge (PDF) that a group of social conservatives in Iowa are asking GOP candidates to sign. It concerns gay marriage, fidelity to one's spouse, and Sharia law, among other things. So far, only Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have attached their names to it. Johnson said in a formal statement that the "Family Leader" pledge is "offensive to the principles of liberty and freedom on which this country was founded."   

It's especially valuable to hear this message from someone who has already proven himself as a successful two term GOP governor, one who neither sold out his base of support nor presided over the sorts of disasters we're told will happen if a libertarian is elected to high office. It's too bad that he's the only primary candidate who'd think of running that ad. But if he attracts a bit more attention, Johnson may change our conception of what a Republican can be.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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