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There are better candidates running for President in 2016

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BY JEFFREY OPPENHEIM, M.D.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have the highest negative ratings among all the major candidates running for President in modern times. Few people are thrilled with either of them. Both Republicans and Democrats bemoan the lack of a good alternative. Yet, there is another choice.

Governors Gary Johnson and William Weld are running for President and Vice-President on the Libertarian Party line. Sounds like a long-shot? Take a closer look. They are the only alternative candidates who will appear on the ballots in all 50 states. They have the background and credibility to mount a serious challenge, if they can communicate their message.

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Third party candidates have traditionally not fared well in America: none have won a general election for President. But there is reason to argue that a successful third party candidate could make a difference this year. In the 20th century a number of third party candidates have won some states during presidential elections (Roosevelt in 1912, La Follette in 1924, Thurmond in 1948, Byrd in 1960, Wallace in 1968). Notably, twice in American history the failure of any single candidate to garner a majority of the electoral college votes has led to a decision being sent to the House of Representatives (1824 and 1876). In this election year, a credible alternative to two unpopular candidates makes the possibility of an unconventional outcome credible.

The failure of third party candidates to succeed is usually because they are unqualified, bizarre and extreme. For example, in 1992 Joan Jett Blakk, a drag performer from Chicago, ran for President on the Queer Nation Party ticket with the slogan “Lick Bush in ‘92”. This year, Limberbutt McCubbins has filed a “Statement of Candidacy” form to run for President. He will undoubtedly be disqualified by virtue of his species: Mr. McCubbins is a house cat.

Yet, Johnson and Weld offer credibility that both Trump and Clinton lack. They have both served as elected (and re-elected) Governors: Johnson in New Mexico and Weld in Massachusetts. Presidents have traditionally held elected positions with executive experience, but neither Clinton or Trump have this on their resumes. A history of executive experience reassures the public that a candidate knows how to manage a government. Recent Presidents who had been Governors or Vice-President prior to their election include George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. Presidents without prior executive experience are the exception in American history, not the norm. In fact, President Obama is the only American President in the last 50 years who had not previously held the title of either Governor or Vice-President.

Because Johnson and Weld have a track record of governance it is easy to examine their records. We don’t really know how Clinton or Trump might govern. For example, we can only guess the types of judges they might appoint. Yet, it is easy to look up the actual judicial appointments by Johnson and Weld.

Most importantly, Johnson and Weld hold policy positions that are more closely aligned with the American public than either Clinton or Trump. In a nutshell, they represent a fiscally conservative but socially liberal philosophy. They favor a frugal government with low taxes that stays out of the personal lives of American citizens. Democrats, it might be argued, support the liberty of personal freedom for lifestyle choices (e.g. LGBT, decriminalizing drug offenses) at the expense of higher taxes and greater governmental bureaucracy. Republicans are against big government, except when it comes to personal life choices (such as abortion). A plurality of Americans would likely identify themselves as holding fiscally conservative but socially liberal political views. These are the natural supporters for the Johnson/Weld campaign.

A successful campaign requires media exposure. In this Presidential election access to the Presidential debates is somewhat arbitrarily limited to candidates polling more than 15% in the national polls. At this point, Johnson and Weld are polling at about 10%; certainly within striking distance if they can garner interest. If they were given the opportunity to debate, Johnson and Weld’s popularity might rise quickly.

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The conventional argument against supporting a third party candidate is that it would be a wasted vote. Yet, such logic undermines any reasonable attempt at genuine democratic change. If Johnson/Weld are able to win even a few states, the choice for President might be sent to the House of Representatives and the next President would almost certainly not be either Clinton or Trump. For those favoring “Neither of Them” the best choice is probably Johnson and Weld.

Most Americans are disappointed with our behemothic Federal government. Excessive rules, high taxes, a massive deficit and debt are reasons to fear for our country’s future. Clinton promises little more than poll-tested ideas and more of the same old politics. Trump challenges establishment authority, but more in the tradition of Archie Bunker than Bunker Hill.

For those genuinely reluctant to vote for Clinton or Trump, the Libertarian candidates are a sensible alternative. They are legitimate, experienced and seasoned politicians. It certainly can’t be argued that America lacks a reasonable choice this year. Hopefully, the Presidential debates will include their viewpoints. In the auspicious words of Mr. McCubbins, “Meow is the time.”

Jeffrey Oppenheim, M.D. is a Neurosurgeon and former Mayor of Montebello, N.Y.

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