Raising the Standard.

Q&A: Dr. Bob Johnson on the Economy, Foreign Policy and Immigration

Dr. Bob Johnson. (Photo by Blake Seitz)

“That’s why one of my favorite presidents is Calvin Coolidge, the underdog. He wanted no honor for himself, no accolades. That’s ultimately my vision for Congress: it should be like taking a position on your church’s Grounds Committee.”

Dr. Bob Johnson is a candidate for the House of Representatives in Georgia’s first congressional district. “Dr. Bob,” as he likes to be called, spent most of his working life in the military, first as an Army Ranger and then as a doctor and disaster response specialist. Dr. Bob’s technical roles required him to travel the world. From his travels came stories, and he shares quite a few — he jokes that he is “like Ronald Reagan” in that respect. After he ended his career in the military, Dr. Bob began a private health practice in Savannah. The past decade of his private life, he devoted his time to his medical practice, medical missions and an international consultancy position in disaster relief for developing nations.

THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE‘s Blake Seitz sat down with Dr. Bob to talk about his background and plans for Congress. As Dr. Bob insists, the race is not about glory. The role of the politician, in his view, is more modest than that. This is the second part of a two-part interview. Part One can be read here.

THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE: We’re still in a down economy, and a lot of people are hurting and incapable of finding jobs. If elected to Congress, what would you do for these people?

DR. BOB JOHNSON: That’s a pretty easy answer: get the hell out of the way. I was jogging with [incumbent Rep.] Jack Kingston in 2006, and I was complaining, you know, “You guys have had both houses for a long time and the presidency for six years, and you haven’t passed any new laws.” He looked at me and said, “Why is that a bad thing? Every time Congress passes a new law it costs you money and increases regulatory burden.”

TAC: That reminds me of the quote by Mark Twain, “No man’s life, liberty and property are safe when Congress is in session.”

Dr. Bob: It reminds me of the quote “Talk is cheap, unless it’s coming from Congress.”

That’s why one of my favorite presidents is Calvin Coolidge, the underdog. He wanted no honor for himself, no accolades. That’s ultimately my vision for Congress: it should be like taking a position on your church’s Grounds Committee.

I was on the air this morning on talk radio in Savannah, and I said the reason we need term limits is because politicians come to expect the adulation of the public. It should be a job that mature citizens do for four, six or eight years and then go home.

To use another analogy, the federal government should be a fire extinguisher, to be used in emergencies. It should not be used in every instance, nor to redistribute wealth.

TAC: You grew up in a poor family in Chicago, but recounted earlier about how the community pitched in to help out those in need. Do you think the level of social unity and charity you experienced as a child exists today?

Dr. Bob: It certainly does, although we steal from citizens the opportunity to care for their brothers and sisters when we take away their money via taxation. Ten dollars in taxes is ten dollars that could have contributed to the poor in your local community.

I’m all for that kind of investment because society need safety nets — there really are people who fall through the cracks. Mental health is the biggest issue, and we do very poorly in that area.

TAC: How do you go about solving that problem? Should we strengthen civil commitment laws, or..?

Dr. Bob: There are few people who need to be institutionalized, but we ought to have voluntary institutionalization so that the homeless — who are predominantly male and who self-medicate with drugs and alcohol — have a support network.

I’m a Christian, and these are not people who Christ abandons. He abandons no one, although society certainly has. The resources we’re putting into giving handouts to normal, healthy people — if even a fraction, a pittance of that went to the mentally ill, it would make a big difference.

TAC: You have extensive military background and have traveled all over the world. What do you believe America’s role is in promoting freedom and democracy abroad?

Dr. Bob: I read some of the goals on your web site, and one of them was to help free people, by any means necessary. I think it’s a very careful role. We must always remember that there is nothing in our Constitution that says we should promote international peace and welfare.

For instance, I think getting involved with Syria would have been a tragic mistake. There was little we could do there because there was no obvious good guy and bad guy. The Syrian Civil War is a proxy war between Shia extremists and Sunni extremists: al-Qaeda versus Hezbollah.

So where did we get involved that mattered? In the Balkans, in Kosovo. It’s a place where we could intervene and make a difference — but that simply wasn’t going to happen in, say, Afghanistan. We’ve been there for twelve years and, in retrospect, nation-building there is like building a home out of sand on the beach.

We should never have gotten involved in the nation-building paradigm, but even conservative administrations adopted the progressive attitude that somehow we can make people behave the way we want if we just lend them our influence and smarts. This is an incredibly arrogant and shallow view of the world.

TAC: Finally, we’ll tack away from foreign affairs issue to another domestic issue. The GOP leadership has floated the idea of comprehensive immigration reform despite the public’s apathy toward the issue. What would be your advice to the leadership on this issue? Should they take it up, and if so how best to proceed?

Dr. Bob: The short answer is no. We need to enforce the laws we have on the books for the purposes of national security.

Last year, I was invited to the Metropolitan College of Georgia to teach FBI agents survival skills before they deploy across the country. I ask these guys questions about what they do, and two agents, one from Texas and the other from Southern California, tell me they spend all their time tracking down Hezbollah agents who have taken introductory courses in Spanish, changed their names and come across the borders illegally. These agents launder money on behalf of the Zeta and Sinaloa drug cartels and establish terrorist networks. Doesn’t that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up? While border security and immigration are not identical issues, they are related, much like the similarities between preventative and intervention medicine. Right now, we are doing a really poor job of keeping bad guys out of the country. That should be priority number one.

The goal of immigration policy is to protect and enrich America, not to serve as a social welfare valve for Latin America. The other side of the coin is that for generations we’ve been luring workers from Latin America with agricultural jobs, all without establishing an adequate guest worker program. That’s an abject failure of the federal government.

Juan, who I mentioned before [see Part One], is 46 years old with four children plus grandchildren. He’s making eight or nine dollars an hour picking onions over a 3,000 hour work year, which is $27,000 per year. He’s living with about nine other guys in a dilapidated motor home with a window air conditioner, but he thinks it’s great because it represents amenities and opportunity he did not have back home. He has limited access to American health care for his cancer, and can send home $20,000 per year so his kids can go to a private Catholic school.

If I were him, would I break everybody’s laws between Guatemala and Georgia to be here? You’re darned right I would. So would you. So would any decent father. He’s not a failure or a bad person — he’s doing what we ask of hard-working people as a culture and a nation. So should we going to round up all the illegal immigrants in cattle cars and deport them? Of course not. That’s not what we’re about as Americans. But, that said, we need to stop the inflow of illegal immigrants before it becomes even more of a problem.

So what to do about the people who are here? I would not offer a path to citizenship, with a single exception: young men and women should be allowed to join the military and apply for citizenship after four or five years of service. Instead of a path to citizenship, I would establish a guest worker program and grandfather current immigrants into the program. They would not be given citizenship status, but would be documented guest workers who participate in the economy, pay taxes and are eligible for some level of benefits.

TAC: Dr. Johnson, thank you for your time.

Dr. Bob: Thank you.

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