I have tried to be open-minded; I really have. Full disclosure — Gary Johnson was not my choice for the Libertarian Party nomination — but this is a disaster. This election is a historic opportunity for libertarianism. Because of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, millions of Americans are open to listening to new voices. They definitely heard a new idea set last night from Johnson and Weld, but they did not hear a libertarian one.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Johnson-Weld ticket is aiming to be the wishy-washy moderates instead of true libertarians. While I have had my suspicions that this would be the case for quite some time now, the candidates’ answers on last night’s CNN town hall confirmed them.
Chris Cuomo and audience members inquired the former GOP governors on every major public policy topic imaginable and the answers, from a libertarian perspective, were downright disappointing. Honestly, it was indecipherable if Gary Johnson just flat-out did not understand libertarianism, or was ashamed to be one in prime time.
After breaking down the tape, here are the comments made by the nominees that should be at least moderately troubling to those subscribing to an actual philosophy of limited government. Under each category, a grade has been assigned to the comments made with “A+” being the most libertarian and “F” being downright statist.
In light of the tragic shooting of Orlando, Gary Johnson has far and away been the best presidential candidate on guns. He has rejected new Second Amendment restrictions such as the bans of certain weapons, and also opposed Fifth Amendment restrictions such as the use of secret lists to deprive law-abiding Americans of their rights.
However, Johnson’s willingness to cave under pressure was unsettling. When being pushed by someone who “wanted something done” (a common theme of the debate), Johnson seemed highly unprincipled and willing to move. He repeatedly emphasized that he was “open to a discussion” on the issue, and seemed to indicate he could fall victim to political pressure.
Bill Weld, who should not be acknowledged as libertarian at all, was even worse. On top of his track record of limiting gun rights in Massachusetts, he seemed even more likely to cave to the left on the right to bear arms. However, to his credit, his idea to treat ISIS as an organized crime racket was quite interesting.
Overall, I left the town hall feeling less satisfied with their position on my right to bear arms than I did going in.
Drug legalization is supposed to be Johnson’s most articulate issue, so it was incredibly surprising to see him flounder so helplessly. As with the gun issue, Johnson and Weld were questioned by a sympathetic woman who was demanding the government do something after her son became permanently incapacitated from a heroin overdose. Johnson stood his ground, but looked incredibly awkward in doing so and seemed apologetic for standing for freedom.
“Prohibition really is what your son succumbed to,” Johnson said. The former New Mexico Governor could not articulately defend his position and came off in the room looking like the bad guy. Here, I do not fault Johnson so much for his position, but rather his disposition. If we are going to have someone as the standard bearer of liberty, he or she cannot falter when the winds of opposition become more violent.
Trade was Johnson and Weld’s best issue of the night. With the nonsense and downright lies being hurled by both Republicans and Democrats on this contentious issue, it was refreshing to see someone advocate for free market principles in global economics.
“Free trade does benefit. I think that – I think that unfairly free trade has come under criticism for being crony capitalism,” Johnson told Cuomo. “Look, we’re anti-crony capitalism. So much of legislation that gets passed, so much of what goes on under the guise of free trade really is crony capitalism. The fact that favoritism is for sale when it comes to government, and Congress sells it.”
Weld also agreed. “You may lose at the margin some low-wage jobs. But free trade over the long haul, even the intermediate haul, is going to increase the wage level in the United States,” he said. “And the notion that Mr. Trump has of let’s impose these huge unilateral tariffs, we tried that with the Smoot-Hawley tariff in the 1920s and it croaked the world economy.”
Health Care, B
Johnson sounded pretty standard on health care and did not really say anything markedly profound. “I am going to sign onto any initiatives, really, that bring a free market approach to health care,” he said.
He said a good deal about deregulating and opening up the market, but his lack of specifics was disappointing. I was hoping for Johnson and Weld to roll out a Health Savings Account proposal or insurance state monopoly rollback plan, but maybe that is wishful thinking.
The one topic that both Gary Johnson and Bill Weld have a solid libertarian track record for is cutting taxes. The Cato Institute gave them both incredibly high marks in its Fiscal Policy ratings throughout their tenures in office.
“If I could wave a magic wand, I would eliminate income tax, I would eliminate corporate tax, I would abolish the IRS, and I would replace it all with one federal consumption tax,” Johnson said. Pretty solid, and certainly better than what we have now (objections to a consumption tax aside).
Once more, my problem with Johnson was his inability to engage in specifics. He repeatedly told Cuomo that his questions were “getting too much into the weeds” and looked highly uninformed on how fiscal policy actually works. I understand that he has a good track record, but the average American voter might not.
And this is the moment Johnson lost the conservative #NeverTrump vote. Gary Johnson’s position on abortion is fine. That is certainly an area of debate amongst libertarians that will never be settled. The big mistake he made was defending the federal government’s funding of Planned Parenthood.
“I think Republicans, really, they alienated a lot of people when they stopped – when they talk about de-funding Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood does a lot of good, and that starts with women’s health,” he said.
It is one thing to believe PP should exist. That is fine. It is another to believe the government should use its coercive power to force Americans to pay for it. Regardless of what your position on the issue is, Johnson’s position is not libertarian.
Foreign Policy, C
Johnson seemed incoherent on foreign policy and Bill Weld seemed disjointed from his running mate. Both portrayed themselves as “intervention skeptics,” but when specifics were involved, they seemed less sure.
“You can certainly argue that we have been attacked by ISIS, but let’s involve Congress also in this process, something that Congress has abdicated to the president and to the military and that we do find ourselves in these conflicts without an open debate and discussion on how we should move forward,” Johnson said.
Bill Weld has also had a sudden “change of heart” on the issue, after supporting numerous interventions abroad, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It is funny how the times have changed.
Overall, Johnson and Weld were underwhelming. I do not require perfection, and neither do many libertarians that I know. But what libertarians – and for that matter, the American people – want is someone who is principled and offering a different product; not Republican/Democrat lite. Is it too late to nominate Ron Paul?