Q&A: Duke professor Munger discusses Gary Johnson endorsement, two-party system

Munger formerly ran for North Carolina governor in 2008

<p>Michael Munger gave the&nbsp;keynote speech at the 2008 Libertarian National Convention in Colorado.</p>

Michael Munger gave the keynote speech at the 2008 Libertarian National Convention in Colorado.

Michael Munger, professor of political science and director of the philosophy, politics and economics certificate program, has endorsed third-party Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for president. Munger himself mounted an unsuccessful Libertarian bid for North Carolina governor in 2008. The Chronicle’s Neelesh Moorthy talked with Munger over email about his endorsement of Johnson and his criticism of the two-party system. 

The Chronicle: What is it about Gary Johnson’s Libertarian policies or positions that attracts you the most?

Michael Munger: Libertarians are socially very liberal, and fiscally conservative. That is just not a choice we have in North Carolina. So, being for gay marriage, pro-choice in reproductive rights, for treating immigrants like human beings and being skeptical of locking up huge numbers of people for the “crime” of possessing small amounts of substances that grow in nature is very attractive to me.

Also, Johnson has experience working “across the aisle.” He is a two-term governor of a very Democratic state. That is, he was elected, and then re-elected, by people who were persuaded that his vision of leadership was inclusive. Neither Clinton nor Trump have this kind of administrative experience in elected office! Johnson is actually the best qualified candidate, in terms of practical experience. 

TC: When did you first decide to formally endorse him? Did you issue a public statement?

MM: I actually know him pretty well, having campaigned for him (and sometimes introduced him) in the 2012 race. The idea of my “issuing a public statement” is kind of funny: how would anyone know if I “issued a public statement”? It’s not like I have any kind of public following. To whom would I “issue a statement”? What I did do is agree to an endorsement statement, and the Johnson campaign added me to a list of endorsers that they keep.

TC: Have you always been a Libertarian, or was there a point when you switched from a party?

MM: I was a Republican all my life. I worked in the first Reagan administration, for [Budget Director] Jim Miller and Wendy Gram [wife of Texas Sen. Phil Gram].

But in 2003, within one week in March, two things happened. One: [George Bush] invaded a country that posed no threat to the U.S. And two: I had dinner with Rick Santorum, who was visiting Duke to give a talk. I realized that I was not a Republican. I might claim, as Reagan did, that “I didn’t change, they did.” But in any case I have no interest being part of a group that advocates violence, the use of force, mass incarceration and aggressive spying on American citizens. 

Which, by the way, is also the reason I’m not a Democrat, since President Obama has largely simply been an extension of Bush era foreign policy and the insane “War on Drugs.” The U.S. has nearly 25 percent of all the prisoners in the world. Why? 

TC: What lessons do you take away from your libertarian bid for NC governor in 2008 about the viability of a libertarian in this presidential race?

MM: In political science, we know that “third” parties have two jobs. One: Blackmail the state-sponsored duopoly parties into behaving more responsibly, by pointing out their hypocrisy and wrong actions. Two: Embarrass the state-sponsored parties into adopting more responsible positions by suggesting new policies, such as decriminalization of drugs and a “Basic Income Guarantee.”

TC: Do you think Gary Johnson has a shot at the presidency, realistically? If so, why? If not, what stands in his way?

MM: If you asked Coke and Pepsi, they would oppose allowing more than two soft drinks. If you asked Ford and General Motors, they would say that two car companies are “enough.” But they don’t get to do that! The difference is that the Democrats and Republicans find competition very inconvenient, because outsiders can point out that the state-sponsored political cartel is extremely corrupt. Consequently, the [Democrats] and [Republicans], who do have the power to rewrite the rules, create obstacles to competition. They make it very hard to get on the ballot in most states, and they deny legitimate candidates a chance to participate in debates.

So, the biggest obstacle to any “third” party candidate is the fact that the state-sponsored parties find competition inconvenient and deny voters the fundamental right to vote for the candidate of their choice. (This is part of the reason for the “Trump Revolution,” by the way: The smug Republicans thought they could control the process of candidate selection, and it blew up in their face!)

Gary Johnson is polling well above 10 percent. But it is difficult for him to be taken seriously if he is not included in the debates. It’s “chicken and egg”: Outsiders can’t poll well unless voters know of them, but the only way to be known is to be included in the debates.

The situation for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, is even worse. The Democrats are terrified of having any competition, because they know the Democratic Party is corrupt and vulnerable to sincere ideological challenge. So the Democrats are very careful to deny the Green Party any kind of foothold on the ballot. I have heard Democratic House and Senate members in the North Carolina General Assembly openly say they will never allow the Green Party on the ballot in North Carolina. [Democrats] are afraid of the truth, and they should be, because the truth is that the Democratic Party is in shambles in North Carolina.

TC: What do you say to those who have argued that voting for Johnson makes it more likely Trump will win the presidency, and that you should vote for Clinton even if you disagree with her (and to those making the opposite argument)?

MM: Two things. One: Johnson will take about equally from the two parties, so the premise of the question is mistaken. Two: Even if the premise were correct, think what you are saying: Voters are slaves! Their votes belong to the two “Master” parties. Voters are too stupid to make their own choices. I find this argument reprehensible. 

Better that the two state-sponsored parties offer better candidates and less violent, intrusive policies. Stop police killings of innocent people because of their skin color, and stop using drone strikes to conduct extra-judicial murders of U.S. citizens without due process. The whole point of elections is to allow voters to disapprove of the choices they are offered. To require voters to choose from a list of candidates approved in advance by elites is simply tyranny.

TC: Would you ever consider running for office as a Libertarian again? Do you think the political climate has shifted to make winning more likely?

MM: Well, never say never. But I can have more impact teaching, writing and giving speeches than I can losing elections. I have a really great job!


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