Gary Johnson and GMOs or: How I remembered that high school romance never works
March 13th, 2018 by Mike Coughlin
Believing in a politician is like falling in love in high school: you shouldn’t do it but you will and you’re gonna be hurt because it never works out.
is was the Libertarian Party’s nominee for President of the United States. He is not going to win. He knows he is not going to win. He spends most of his time politicking to get above 15% in the polls so that he can be included in the national debates. That’s a laudable goal, one I can get behind. The more the merrier in debates – to a point. Too many candidates dilutes things and then a bold personality like Donald Trump can stand out amongst a field of 16. Were there only three Republican candidates running then perhaps Trump’s persona would not have been enough for him to build momentum towards the GOP nomination. But such is life in a democracy, the worst form of government except for yada yada.
The 15% rule, by the by, was instituted following Ross Perot’s failed bids for the presidency. Both major parties became nervous, Republicans in particular who felt that Perot may have siphoned off voters, leading to President Clinton’s victories in 1992 and 1996. The “non-partisan” Commission on Presidential Debates set the number at 15 because:
The CPD first adopted the 15 percent level of support criterion in 2000. Its initial adoption, and its adoption in subsequent cycles, was preceded by careful study and reflects a number of considerations. It was the CPD’s judgment that the 15 percent threshold best balanced the goal of being sufficiently inclusive to invite those candidates considered to be among the leading candidates, without being so inclusive that invitations would be extended to candidates with only very modest levels of public support, thereby jeopardizing the voter education purposes of the debates. Notably, the League of Women Voters struck the balance in the same way. Fifteen percent was the figure used in the League of Women Voters’ 1980 selection criteria, which resulted in the inclusion of independent candidate John Anderson in one of the League’s debates. Prior to adopting the 15 percent standard, the CPD conducted its own analysis of the results of presidential elections over the modern era and concluded that a level of 15 percent support of the national electorate is achievable by a significant third party or independent candidate who captures the public’s interest. In making this determination, the CPD considered, in particular, the popular support achieved by George Wallace in 1968 (Mr. Wallace had achieved a level of support as high as 20 percent in pre-election polls from September 1968); by John Anderson in 1980 (Mr. Anderson’s support in various polls reached 15 percent when the League of Women Voters invited him to participate in one of its debates); and by Ross Perot in 1992 (Mr. Perot’s standing in 1992 polls at one time was close to 40 percent and exceeded that of the major party candidates, and he ultimately received 18.7 percent of the popular vote). The CPD’s nonpartisan candidate selection criteria and 15 percent threshold have been found by the FEC and the courts to comply with federal election law. The same is true for the earlier criteria CPD used in 1988, 1992 and 1996.
Sure. Right. Whatever. Johnson needs 15% in the polls to be included. That’s as good a reason as any to support him. Particularly since we now have a general election where – and I write this knowing it sounds funny but it’s really just sad – come November half the country will hate the President and the other half won’t really like who they voted for either. (2018 Update: he didn’t get it.)
But then came the genetically engineered foods, or GMOs. This is where the former two-term governor or New Mexico (an actual state) lost me.
GMOs are Safe and Governor Johnson is Wrong to Demand Their Being Labeled
I’m not a single issue voter. I’d be surprised to find a politician I agree with on every point, as even though I know I’m right of center, I’m ultimately a strict individualist wherever practical. If someone called me a Republican, that would be inaccurate. Conservative is closer, as is Libertarian, but they both aren’t quite right. I’m just me. Nonetheless, I was all set to vote for Johnson. He was close enough and the issues I disagreed with him on were mainstream enough that I couldn’t fault his position.
I can vote for a pro-life and pro-choice candidate, as whatever my stance may be, I completely accept someone else reaching a different conclusion (provided they have sound reasoning – why they believe matters more to me than what). Same for taxes, school prayer, immigration, foreign policy, mandatory vaccinations, global warming/cooling/whatever it is this year, and so on. Sure, if they espouse a solid majority of opinions that are contrary to mine I won’t vote for them, but I try not to throw babies out with bathwater. (I throw them out because that’s easier than changing a diaper.)
GMOs are different. I can’t explain why either. I’m not someone who instantly says, “Well, if a scientist says it is so then I’ll just accept it as true.” To me, that’s religion, you’ve just replaced men in white robes with men in white coats. You tell me the earth’s climate is changing, I want to see the evidence – and not East Anglia University changing data, or hockey sticks that are just a little too neat to be true. You tell me CO2 emissions aren’t as harmful as is claimed, show me all the trees sucking up that smog, let me see the forests in the Amazon coming back from being cut down for whatever we cut them down for (paper? park benches?). I’m skeptical by nature, that’s just the way the doctor made me.
But GMOs, just, yeah, different. Genetically modifying food has been happening forever. Well before Gregor Mendel taught us all about heredity, farmers had been cross breeding foods and animals since damn near the dawn of time. Look at a pure-bred dog. You think that’s an accident? Now, we just use microscopes and beakers and other nerd toys to make it happen, that’s all. Leave it to the nerds to take the sex out of something.
I know GMOs are safe. I know there’s nothing bad about them. I see attacks on genetically engineered crops as dumb on the level as claiming vaccines cause autism. There’s just one study, after another, after another, after another that reinforces this. Hell, one study even showed that far from just being safe, some Genetically Modified Super Tomato May Help Fight Cancer, Diabetes And Alzheimer’s Disease. And the reports come from all over the place. Right wing groups, left wing groups, wingless groups, there’s a constant that GMO = safe. And I hate writing that, because “there’s a consensus” is the first thing people say when they want to stifle debate. It’s crap. Oh well. I never claimed to be consistent in life.
Thus, when I hear the following from Governor Johnson I plop into my chair a bit heavier than normal.
The basic gist is that he supports government mandated labels stating a food contains GMOs. He likens this to requiring proper labeling of food in general. A dyed in the wool Libertarian would say, “No, let people decide for themselves if they want to eat food with labeling on it or not. The market will correct this issue.” I believe that would happen. I believe that would be better than mandatory labels. When labels are mandatory, companies will try to do just enough to get by. If they aren’t, then any company that publishes a comprehensive list of ingredients is likely to be more honest in doing so. If labels aren’t mandatory, people will do more research and that leads to a greater chance of exposure. When they’re government mandated, people assume, “The government has it covered” and … come on, the government, effective? On top of the ball? Not being bribed and bought left and right?
Nonetheless, it’s a rational and arguable position to require basic food labeling. I’m agnostic on the matter, when it’s all said and done. The FDA more or less making sure my milk is milk isn’t the worst use of government resources, even if they aren’t close to perfect.
But to require that “GMO” be stamped on foods like a scarlet letter is irrational, anti-science, reflexively anti-corporate, and just plain stupid. It inherently suggests that there might be something – something – dangerous about that food. That’s bullshit. There isn’t. They’re fine. They’re the closest chance we have to ending world hunger. GMOs may literally save humanity. And that’s not hyperbole. GMOs may one day allow boundless corn and wheat to grow in arid locals, they could provide food twice the size at half the price to those who need it most. And when you’re a single mom, or 95 year old on a fixed income, the ability to buy more food for less money saves your life. The only reason to let people know something is genetically modified is so they can cry “Hallelujah!” to science.
If companies want to volunteer that their product contains no GMOs, awesome! Good for them. Hell, I’m happy to know that so I can avoid them. I’ll eat an apple that is resistant to bugs on its own so it doesn’t need pesticides sprayed on it, as opposed to an apple that is so “organic” it never had any protection from bugs and disease and now who knows if I’m maybe going to bite into a worm or worse.
Just kidding, I’m not gonna eat an apple.
I think the main reason this bothers me so much is because the opposition to GMOs comes down to “Well, I don’t know. It seems like it could be bad.” I don’t hear talk based in science – not even bad science. Good or bad, those on both sides of global warming tend to present figures and measurements. Maybe they’re manipulating some and ignoring others but at least when one side says “see, the temperature is higher now than before” and the other says “but we’ve seen that some of your data was manipulated and that there’s evidence of warmer than expected temperatures in the dark ages” there’s a common ground of everyone at least trying to be scientific. The anti-GMO crowd arguments come down to feelings.
I can’t say for sure this will turn me off voting for Governor Johnson for good. Upsetting the (GMO infused) apple cart appeals to me. I like a lot of the other things he stands for. But it still sucks; I know I shouldn’t but I keep falling in love between gym and biology and act surprised when I haven’t found “the one” after all.