The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore reports that Gary Johnson hopes he can steal the “cool” vote from President Obama. I met former New Mexico Governor Johnson up here briefly when he signed the book to enter the New Hampshire primary. My conversation with him was mostly about Tuckerman’s Ridge which he hoped to master again on his brief visit. He brought to mind friends middle aged and late up here in the New Hampshire mountains who the Yankees consider to be kind of local mountain kami – indigenous mountain spirits – attractive, intelligent and disciplined itinerants who live on the highest peaks and work as master carpenters and stone masons in the warm seasons. But the work stops when the snow arrives and real life begins again. We were mostly alone in conversation as the crowd had gathered to greet Texas Governor Rick Perry about 20 feet away when someone noticed that Johnson was here too, over there with one friend in the corner. Who, someone asked? And it took some explanation. He is definitely “cool.” Even as cool as Barack Obama.
Since the Fifties when Norman Mailer shared cocktails with Midge Decter and Norman Podhoretz and the latter left New York to design their own political aesthetic in Washington, Republicans have conjured a distinctly anti-cool ethic. Cool is said to have originated in 1957 when Miles Davis released an album titled “Birth of the Cool” – like John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” in the same year – classics today. But when these conservatives shifted south, anything which suggested cool was bad. The conservatives’ anti-cool ethic today is fully embodied by the current Republican ticket which not surprising suggests two Mormons in black suit on a church mission. Counter-cool has found its avatar in Paul Ryan who proudly seems to have read one book, Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” Brings to mind the Reagan quip: Someone bought a Christmas present for Ronald Reagan. What did they get him, it goes? A book. But he already has a book!
To be fair, in the heyday, the best of the cool people like André Breton, Jack Reed, Arthur Koestler, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo were probably communists or Trotskyites. It is a delight that Gary Johnson is not. But he is, as Moore says, “one politician at the Republican convention this week whom the party leaders undoubtedly wish would stay away.” Johnson guesses that he is pulling 5% of the vote.
With Ron Paul in the wings, it might be fair to say that Johnson today matures the libertarian position which is succinctly explained by Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center, whose conferences Johnson has participated in: “I don’t particularly want to be part of a movement to expand conservatism, just as much as I don’t want to be a part of a movement to expand progressivism. I just want liberty.”
But will he hurt Romney?
“Mr. Johnson is also sensitive to the obvious question of whether his candidacy is going to hand this election to Mr. Obama,” writes Moore. He says he takes more votes from Obama. “Perhaps younger social liberals who see Mr. Obama as an economic bust but are uncomfortable with cultural conservatives are attracted to Mr. Johnson’s views on gay issues and legalizing marijuana.”