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No Soft Ball Questions in Third Gary Johnson Reddit AMA

by Wes Messamore, published
Photo: Gary Johnson 2012

Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson did his third interview Wednesday, and this time, Reddit users asked some hard-hitting questions and follow-ups, especially compared to Johnson's previous two interviews.

Reddit interviews are called "AMAs," short for "Ask Me Anything," and are conducted in an open-ended format on the popular Internet forum, with users asking unfiltered questions, and like all comment threads on Reddit, voting each other's questions and comments up or down.

In Johnson's previous two AMAs, many commenters praised the former New Mexico governor's answers and lobbed him several "softball" questions about his issue stances that would garner support from much of Reddit's audience, which one of its co-founders has acknowledged as being largely "left-libertarian."

The top-voted question on his first AMA was about his stance on drug policy, and the top voted comment in response to Johnson's answer was: "So you would save money by ending the war on drugs? And give freedom back to the people? Who is this man and why isn't he president already?"

The second highest-voted question concerned the Republican Party's shift away from fiscal conservatism toward social conservatism. When Johnson, who was seeking the GOP's nomination at the time of his first AMA, answered, "We need to focus on the economy. The Republicans' focus on social issues will hurt the party," the top-voted response was, "this short paragraph has just won you my vote."

On Gary Johnson's second AMA as the Libertarian Party candidate earlier this month, when he addressed the "spoiler effect" that some analysts predict he'll have on Romney's turnout in November, the top-voted response was, "Thank you. I am so tired of being told that I am wasting my vote on you, or that I am voting for Obama by voting for you."

When the candidate ruled out running for another elected office like US Congress or Senate should his presidential bid fail, saying that, "I think both jobs are judged by how much bacon you bring home, and I refuse to be a part of that," the top-voted response was, "Good Point. I think you should stick to the Presidency. It's more fitting!"

When asked about drug policy again, and whether his support of marijuana legalization would hurt him with some voters, Johnson quipped, "Hopefully, this issue will be a litmus test as to whether or not I have a brain," and the top-voted response was, " Spoken like a true owner of a brain."

The third Gary Johnson Reddit AMA on Wednesday went a little differently. Presumably tired of the easier questions, Redditors, as they call themselves, took advantage of the unfiltered, open-ended format of their AMA interviews, and took the opportunity to ask detailed policy questions about issues where the presidential candidate and many of Reddit's left-leaning members might disagree.

Instead of the lavish praise Johnson received in past AMAs, Redditors voted up hard-hitting objections and rebuttals to Johnson's answers. The top-voted question* on Johnson's third AMA minced no words and concerned Johnson's privatization of prisons as governor of New Mexico, an issue that has received heavy attention and criticism from Reddit's users.

The Reddit interviewer asked:

"In NM, you were a prison privatizer. Do you regret that stance now? IOW, are you another wolf in libertarian clothing?"

Johnson replied:

"In New Mexico, the prisons were run by the Federal Courts when i took office. The Legislator refused to build two new prisons. On an apples to apples basis the private prisons were 2/3rds the cost of the public prisons. That is GOOD GOVERNMENT IN MY OPINION ! I always said, adopt rational drug policy and it will be a lot easier to empty the private prisons than the public prisons. Don't for get the biggest opposition to prop 19 in CA was the public prison union."

And the top-voted response challenged Johnson's answer:

"As a free market kind of guy, doesn't it bother you that you're building perverse incentives into the system by privatizing prisons?"

When Johnson answered a question about US military whistleblower Bradley Manning, and suggested that his actions might be "problematic" because they likely violated the terms of his employment, a commenter retorted, "Problematic? If he were Chinese, he would have won a Nobel Prize by now."

Johnson said in one answer, that he was the most outspoken governor in the country during his tenure in support of school choice, and that "the only way we reform education in this country is to bring competition into public education." The top-voted response was a follow-up asking for more evidence that competition improves education: "Do you have any evidence that competition actually improves education, especially in low income neighborhoods?"

Not every question and answer was hard-hitting or critical. When the Libertarian Party candidate wrote that he, "would consider running in 2016," if he doesn't win in 2012, the top-voted response was:

"Holy , yes! I've been campaigning for you since last June, and was under the impression that you weren't considering running again. Please, please, please, please do! We're making waves and getting the message out - young people, we are the ones getting screwed - in 4 years that realization will hit us full force. Gary Johnson 2012."

The progression of Redditors' approach over three AMA interviews suggests that the strengths of the open-ended, unfiltered format to really ask the hard questions of a political candidate may only come into play after the excitement and novelty of the opportunity to interact with a candidate has worn off.

If President Obama, who did a Reddit AMA last month, were to do a second and third, they might look different than his first one. So far, Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney has not taken AMA questions on Reddit.

Gary Johnson's extended remarks about prison privatization, Bradley Manning, and school choice are available here, here, and here respectively.

*This was the second-highest-voted question, but the top-voted question that Gary Johnson answered.

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