Like snow, they are all over the DC area this week, for example at a Reason event that I missed.

Jeff Miron is, like me, a graduate of Swarthmore College in the 1970’s, an economics Ph.D from MIT in the early 1980’s, and an advocate for libertarian ideas. Gary Johnson is the former governor of New Mexico who is considering a run for President. You will sometimes see him referred to by libertarian bloggers as “the next Ron Paul,” although that is probably not the brand identity that he would prefer.

[Update: Johnson released an economic plan, Not down to specifics, but states right at the top “Scale back entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, which threaten to bankrupt the nation’s future” and later “Legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana; emphasize harm reduction for other drugs…Expand free trade and legal immigration. “]

Speaking of Reason, Nick Gillespie’s take on Sarah Palin is worth a read.

a vehicle for a backward-looking GOP bent on blending generic social conservatism, small-government encomiums, big government spending, unconvincing outsider outrage, and status quo foreign adventurism. With a Saint Reagan statue firmly glued to the dashboard, of course.

Gillespie reminds us that as appalled as we may be with the current Administration, the Republicans have many blemishes. Gary Johnson looks much better. He is a libertarian on social issues and is genuinely focused on cutting government spending and regulation. As he describes how he governed New Mexico, Johnson is quick to mention his hundreds of vetoes. He does not come across as a coalition builder. Instead, he seems to be one who tries to rally people around his ideas. Johnson wears his ideology on his sleeve–not up his sleeve, which is what I think that Obama did with his vague, gauzy campaign rhetoric. (I think the true source of anger among independents is not over the state of the economy. It is over the fact that as a candidate Obama did not warn people of the statist onslaught that he was going to unleash as President.)

I see very little chance that Johnson could capture the Presidency, or that he could accomplish much if somehow he were elected. However, his potential to help the libertarian cause is very high. He could raise the profile of libertarian thinking, so that more people start to listen for something other than the mainstream progressive and conservative slogans.

Keep in mind the Masonomic view that politics is not about policy. It is about the relative status of various groups. Johnson does not represent a coalition of groups. The Democrats represent a coalition of minorities and people who identify themselves as the educated elite (note that Obama gets to qualify on both counts). Republicans represent a coalition of non-urban whites and people who identify themselves as sticking up for traditional American values. Libertarians represent…what…a cult of oddballs and misfits?

The challenge for libertarians is that many of our ideas have not crossed the threshold of legitimacy. Legalizing marijuana or seriously cutting back on future entitlements are treated as fringe, kooky ideas. Our challenge is to move our ideas out from the fringe and into the mainstream. I can imagine a Presidential campaign serving as a vehicle for doing that. But the focus needs to be on persuading people who do not think of themselves as libertarians, not so much on exciting the libertarian faithful.

I wish Gary Johnson good luck, particularly if he continues to attract people like Jeff Miron.