Gov. Gary Johnson is not your typical politician. Summiting Mt. Everest is certainly not a routine accomplishment for a politician. Nor is he your typical Republican. That was made crystal clear by a recent, strongly-worded statement that he made to the Conservative Leadership Conference.
While Republicans are falling over themselves to win the approval of the religious right, Johnson pulled a "Goldwater." Sen. Barry Goldwater, fuming over the rise of the religious right and its malignant influence over the Republican Party, famously said, "Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass," referring to then Moral Majority leader, Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Gary Johnson's words, while more polite, amounted to something similar. The so-called Family Pledge, pushed by a far-right religious organization, has attracted support from the more theocratically inclined Republicans. The Christian site Life Site News describes the pledge as a promise to "uphold the right to life, the dignity of marriage, and will oppose 'all forms of pornography and prostitution.'" But in fact, the Pledge spends a great deal of its time bashing gay people in general, and gay relationships in particular. It calls for a federal Constitutional amendment to ban recognition of gay relationships, implies that American troops need protecting from rampaging homosexuals, and takes swipes at Muslim Americans, as well.
Johnson, didn't just refuse to sign the pledge; he damned it, and did so to a conservative audience:
Government should not be involved in the bedrooms of consenting adults. I have always been a strong advocate of liberty and freedom from unnecessary government intervention into our lives. The freedoms that our forefathers fought for in this country are sacred and must be preserved. The Republican Party cannot be sidetracked into discussing these morally judgmental issues -- such a discussion is simply wrongheaded. We need to maintain our position as the party of efficient government management and the watchdogs of the "public's pocket book."
This "pledge" is nothing short of a promise to discriminate against everyone who makes a personal choice that doesn't fit into a particular definition of "virtue."
While the Family Leader pledge covers just about every other so-called virtue they can think of, the one that is conspicuously missing is tolerance. In one concise document, they manage to condemn gays, single parents, single individuals, divorcees, Muslims, gays in the military, unmarried couples, women who choose to have abortions, and everyone else who doesn't fit in a Norman Rockwell painting.
Johnson's YouTube page even posted a short video addressing the matter:
Johnson certainly is one of the more refreshing politicians on the scene, which perhaps explains why the media tend to ignore him. I suspect that a large percentage of voters would prefer his straight talking to the usual gay-bashing that motivates the Republican base.
But Johnson has two hurdles to the face. One is the Republican primaries, and the second is the media blackout regarding his campaign.
The Republican candidates are, for the most part, clamoring to assure the religious right that they are one, but there is still a significant percentage of Republican voters looking for the principles that Johnson happily espouses, while the rest of the Republican pack is trying to divvy up the theocratic vote that could afford Johnson the opportunity he needs.
Most the opposition to the pledge is regarding its wording, not its principles. Herman Cain says he won't sign but that he supports all the causes outlined. Ron Paul's campaign says the "current wording" is the reason they won't sign. Jon Huntsman says he doesn't sign pledges. The reality is that most were more likely driven to their positions by watching Michele Bachmann have to defend herself and explain away the suggestion that slavery had a better "pro-family" record than modern social tolerance. As far as I've been able to discern, Johnson is the only Republican who openly rejected the principles espoused by the pledge, while his opponents are debating semantics more than content.
The unfortunate reality is that most Republican candidates are seeking the support of the theocratic right. Johnson is not.
Getting the media, with all its preconceptions, to actually give him the coverage he deserves is actually more difficult.
When CNN sponsored a Republican debate recently, they announced rules for inclusion that included every Republican candidate, including numerous individuals who had not declared themselves in the running, but which, they said, excluded Gary Johnson. The Johnson campaign showed that the criteria listed actually would have included Johnson, the Republican with the most executive experience. CNN then tweaked the announced rules once again, excluding only Johnson. But the changes they made were done after the rules were announced, and then only in response to Johnson's team proving that he qualified under the announced rules.
Columnist Luke Broadwater, of the Baltimore Sun, wrote that CNN and other debate sponsors "shouldn't change the rules to justify the exclusion of a candidate whom they had already improperly decided to exclude."
Getting past the religious right in the Republican Party may be much easier. In the end, it is the public media, playing the role of gatekeeper, that are Johnson's more formidable opponent.