by Brian Kresge, Gary Johnson Campaign’s Jewish Outreach Director
In 2016, we’re seeing one of the most heated, if not unusual, races in recent history. Two candidates without precedent: a celebrity narcissist and questionable businessman, and a scandal-clad professional politician who happens to also be the first female major party nominee.
The voting calculus could follow the usual “lesser of two evils” formula. The argument that we must choose merely on the merits of how bad the other is may hold interest for those Jews with moral constructs that put Clinton below Donald Trump on their scales, or for those wary of the beleaguered relationship with Israel these last eight years.
I urge proponents of a “lesser of two evils” argument to reread our Jewish proof texts.
The Talmud states that the Divine Presence is only with one who is wise, strong and wealthy. In Pirkei Avot, Ben Zoma takes that statement a step further, with a definition that is outside the reach of both major party candidates:
Who is wise? One who learns from every man….
Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations….
Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot.
For me, as a life-long Democrat and ardent Zionist who believes in the two-state solution, both these candidates come with compromise. Clinton’s email exchanges raise some eyebrows, and Trump’s rhetoric is turning off many Jewish Republicans and conservatives, including Daniel Pipes, journalist and president of the Middle East Forum. Pipes said, regarding his vote for president, “Either the Libertarian Gary Johnson, a write-in candidate, or no one at all.” If you Google Gary Johnson, as he himself urges voters to do, you find a free market conservative and socially liberal former governor of New Mexico. He was popular and he was effective.
On Israel, Gary Johnson supports continued strategic aid. Israel is a strategic partner. Most of the aid we send has been in the form of loan guarantees, so it comes back to our own defense industry. A Johnson administration will consider Israel as an important strategic partner. Differentiating itself from the last eight years — or a potential Clinton administration — a Johnson administration will be interested in acting in Israel’s best interests. This means not dictating what we think Israel’s best interests are, but letting Israel’s leadership make that determination.
Johnson’s running mate, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, has a strong record on Israel. In addition to friendships with Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, Weld made six trips to Israel as governor. Massachusetts saw trade with Israel as part of revitalizing its state’s economy. It’s hard to call Johnson’s or Weld’s ideas “fringe.”
With nearly every Republican candidate proclaiming the virtues of smaller government and free markets, Libertarian ideals are always spoken of but seldom realized by Republicans. The nomination of Donald Trump represents a total inversion of the GOP’s professed ideals, while the Libertarian Gary Johnson holds those ideals in addition to those shared by the majority of Americans.
It’s not just the ideals, though. Our society is veering away, generationally, from the old ways of doing political business. I fully expect our politics to follow our entertainment consumption trends, since the two are inextricably linked. Content is abundant; content is customizable. The seismic shift towards direct-to-consumer in media will shape our expectations from political parties.
For Gen Xers like me, and especially for the dominant political generation, the Baby Boomers, it’s very difficult to relate to how this trend can and will shape the Millennial approach to politics. Sure, many will bite into the “lesser of two evils” argument — for now. But as Baby Boomers retire and die from the political sphere, sandwich generations like mine aren’t sufficient in number to take their place. The Millennials are coming, and they’re bringing a political corollary to “fan-service.”
Where the Republicans and Democrats have dropped the ball on the Millennials with both their candidates and their platforms, the Libertarians have grabbed on with both hands. Gary Johnson will be on the ballot in all 50 states. Many of his coalition builders are energized Millennials. These upstart parties and their candidates are well-acquainted with this niche, but they have broad appeal too, especially in a year when the GOP nominee behaves more like a fringe candidate than candidates from the outlying parties.
The days of assuming the youth vote will follow in our footsteps could well be over. The Talmud, referencing Isaiah, says to call them “not thy children, but thy builders.” Their expectations, whether we like it or not, are transformative. The Libertarians are ready, willing, and able to meet those expectations.
For Jews satisfied with all-or-nothing, Evangelical support for Israel, rallying behind Trump may make a certain kind of sense. For Jews who desire government-enforced civil liberties, Clinton may appeal. In either case, we run the increasingly greater risk of voting against our own self-interests, especially when we have options that may be more palatable than the Democratic or Republican offerings.
Perhaps it’s time to give the Libertarians a try.