A real-life politician has admitted to having been wrong, even going so far as to dismiss a previous comment as “stupid.”
This presidential contender wasn’t abject about it — didn’t “apologize.” He simply explained how and why he had erred.
The erring politician? Gary Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico.
Johnson, who is currently running for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, told Reason last year that banning the burqa would be a reasonable step in protecting the rights of women. Here in America.
Sound sort of Trumpian?
Earlier this month, Johnson retracted his statement. Last week on Fox Business Network’s Kennedy, he explained why prohibiting the face veil wouldn’t work.
“We need to differentiate between religious freedom, which is [sic] Islam, and Sharia law, which is politics,” he said — and I add a “sic” there because he misspoke. But he was obviously driving at this point: religious freedom means we cannot prohibit the religion of Islam, but Sharia law amounts to a religious intrusion into the legal and political realm. And thus must be opposed as “contrary to the U. S. Constitution.”
The reason Johnson had earlier floated the banning of the Islamic face-veil was to save women from Islamofascist enforcement of Sharia’s mandate to go around in public only when completely covered.
“We cannot allow Sharia Law to, in any way, be a part of our lives.”
For some folks in the West, this position no doubt seems “intolerant.” But it is worth noting that Turkey, though an overwhelmingly Muslim country, banned Sharia law in 1924. Not all Muslim countries embrace Sharia, and the United States of America is not a Muslim country. We are a free country, with free people many of whom are Christians and a few of which are Muslims. It’s our freedom that we must insist upon, and that means opposing religious intrusions into our laws, whether from Christians or pagans or . . . anyone.
Gary Johnson’s take on the obvious threat of Islamic radicalism seems refreshing to me: not over the top and hysterical or (the other extreme) blithely dismissive and understative. The fact that he “dialed back” on his previous comment in a non-hysterical way seems healthy, to boot. We live in a political environment of gotcha diatribes, where a change of mind is relentlessly prosecuted as “flip-flopping,” by accusers . . . and denied as even existing, by defenders.
So what must we make of the usual mindset, to which the former governor proves an exception?
Part of it is partisan bullying. With everyone pretending that being “offended” is the greatest problem in political discourse, accusations are almost never not extreme, shrill. In this context, no wonder candidates fearfully deny the reality of their past verbal faux pas, blunders, and . . . bad legislative proposals.
Speaking of which, in ancient Athens, new laws were understood as hazards. That is why the proponent of a new law was, wrote Will Durant, “held responsible for the result of its adoption; if these are seriously evil another member may within a year of the vote invoke upon him the graphé paranómôn, or writ of illegality, and have him fined, dis-franchised, or put to death; this is Athens’ way of discouraging hasty legislation.”
Overkill? Probably. But it was designed to meet a real problem: irresponsibility in government, particularly in the legislation department.
There is nothing like that now. By the Constitution, legislators cannot be held liable for their legislative actions of even the most egregious sort, and are held harmless for any untruth they utter on the floor of Congress. The worst that happens to a pernicious legislator? Not getting re-elected. They’re not even term-limited, so crazed partisanship and the advantages of incumbency can keep a malefactor in office for years.
Gary Johnson, for his part, does not seem crazy, though Libertarian candidates often get called that as a matter of course.
He calls himself a “common sense libertarian,” and, on Kennedy, expressed hope that whoever gets the Libertarian Party nomination would also be a “common sense libertarian” — another honorable, no-nonsense comment that he offered in the course of an interview.
But hey: what is “common sense libertarianism”?
Gary Johnson offered up a few words in aid of a definition: free and responsible.
Applied to government, we get: limited and accountable.
We, the people, are to be free and held responsible for our actions.
Governments are to be limited, and the people in them to be held accountable.
It’s not a radical position. It’s just common sense. Common-sense Americans might want to have a look at a candidate who exhibits that quality. You know, in contrast to a corrupt insider, a corrupting outsider, a self-proclaimed socialist, or . . . well, there are plenty of contrasts this presidential race.
Paul Jacob, January 31, 2016
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.