“This,” exclaimed Margaret Thatcher, thumping Friedrich Hayek’s 500-page tome The Constitution of Liberty on a table in front of some Conservative Party colleagues, “is what we believe.” It also is what Bill Weld believes, which is why he aspires to be the Libertarian party’s 2020 presidential candidate.
The former twice-elected Republican governor of Massachusetts has been visiting Libertarian party state conventions and will be in New Orleans at the national convention from June 30 to July 3. There he will try to convince the party, which sometimes is too interested in merely sending a message (liberty is good), to send into the autumn of 2020 a candidate representing what a broad swath of Americans say they favor — limited government, fiscal responsibility, free trade, the rule of law, entitlement realism, and other artifacts from the Republican wreckage.
Once when a Democrat noted that Weld’s ancestors had arrived on the Mayflower, Weld replied, “Actually, they weren’t on the Mayflower. They sent the servants over first to get the cottage ready.” He was the 19th Weld — the first was in the Class of 1650 — to graduate from Harvard. Since then, the 20th and 21st have attended — two of the five children he had with his first wife, Theodore Roosevelt’s great-granddaughter. Two Harvard buildings are named for Welds. One of which John Kennedy lived in as a freshman.
Bill Weld, who majored in classics, took philosophy classes from Robert Nozick, whose Anarchy, State and Utopia, a canonical text of libertarianism, argues that “the minimal state is inspiring as well as right.” Weld served in Ronald Reagan’s administration for seven years, five years as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. He was recommended for this position by then-associate U.S. attorney general Rudy Giuliani, which was not Weld’s fault. Next, Weld was head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. There he brought from San Francisco, as his replacement in Massachusetts, a man “who might be the straightest guy I’ve ever met,” Robert Mueller.
Weld’s sandy-reddish hair is still abundant and, at 72, he is eager to build on his 2016 experience as the Libertarians’ vice-presidential nominee. During that campaign, “I carried around with me every day” the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Noting that the Articles of Confederation excellently referred to powers not “expressly” delegated, Weld says, “I might have been an anti-Federalist.” Imagine having a president who knows that there were anti-Federalists.
The top of the Libertarians’ 2016 ticket was another ex-governor, New Mexico’s Gary Johnson, who was too interested in marijuana and not interested enough in Syria to recognize the name Aleppo. Weld, however, is ready for prime time.
During a recent breakfast at the Hay-Adams hotel across Lafayette Square from the White House (the Adamses reached these shores shortly after the Welds), Weld recalled how as governor he taught agencies to not expect “last year’s appropriation plus 5 percent.” He cut taxes 21 times and raised none. A believer in freedom for what Nozick called “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” Weld says his most satisfying achievement was cutting the 6 percent tax on long-term capital gains by 1 point for each year the asset is held.
If the florid face of today’s snarling GOP wants to be re-nominated, he will be. Five-hundred days into his presidency he had 87 percent approval among Republicans, 10 points above Ronald Reagan’s rating at 500 days. And in the autumn of 2019, upward of 20 Democratic presidential aspirants might clog the stages at “debates” that could become contests to see who can most arrestingly pander to activists — a disproportionate slice of the nominating electorate — who are enamored of “Medicare for all,” government-guaranteed jobs, and generally gobs of free stuff (college tuition, etc.).
If in autumn 2020 voters face a second consecutive repulsive choice, there will be running room between the two deplorables. Because of its 2016 efforts, the Libertarian party will automatically be on 39 states’ ballots this fall and has a sufficient infantry of volunteers to secure ballot access in another nine. So, if the Libertarian party is willing, 2020’s politics could have an ingredient recently missing from presidential politics: fun. And maybe a serious disruption of the party duopoly that increasing millions find annoying. Stranger things have happened, as a glance across Lafayette Square confirms.
There is one problem Will doesn’t bring up, but the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action did in 2016:
As governor of Massachusetts, William Weld supported various gun control schemes, including a ban on semi-automatic firearms. Unfortunately, and despite being the Libertarian candidate for vice president, Weld continues his anti-gun ways.
In July 2016, while NRA and other groups concerned with civil liberties were hard at work fighting legislation that would have stripped Americans of their Second Amendment rights without due process based merely on their placement on a secret government watch list, Weld expressed support for such measures.
In an interview with the Washington Post Editorial Board, Weld said of watch list gun control legislation:
I think the Susan Collins stuff looks good. I mean, it’s hard for me, uh, having proposed this super-duper task force getting bits of information from all over to say, it wouldn’t lie with good grace in my mouth to say ‘no, don’t use the terrorist watch list as a source of such information.’ So I would go with that.
In an August interview with Revolt.tv, Weld reiterated this position. When asked about what can be done “to control this flow of guns,” Weld responded, “you shouldn’t have anybody who’s on a terrorist watch list be able to buy any gun at all.”
At another point in the interview Weld characterized commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms and standard-capacity magazines as potential weapons of mass destruction. Displaying a level of ignorance usually attendant to politicians carrying the endorsement of the Brady Campaign, Weld told the interviewer:
The five-shot rifle, that’s a standard military rifle. The problem is if you attach a clip to it so it can fire more shells and if you remove the pin so that it becomes an automatic weapon. And those are independent criminal offenses. That’s when they become essentially a weapon of mass destruction.
Weld went on to suggest to the interviewer that both handguns and AR-15s are a “problem,” stating, “The problem with handguns is probably even worse than the problem of the AR-15.”
This latest episode reveals that when pressed on firearms issues, despite any assurances he has given to voters, Weld’s political instincts are to abandon gun owners and embrace gun control.
So how did Weld deal with that? Back in 2016, Reason.com reported:
… Weld addresses the controversy over his previous gun control positions:
I am a lifelong hunter and gun owner. In 1993, however, as Governor of Massachusetts, I went along with some modest restrictions on certain types of firearms. I was deeply concerned about gun violence, and frankly, the people I represented were demanding action. Sometimes, governing involves tough choices, and I had to make more than a few.
Today, almost 25 years later, I would make some different choices. Restricting Americans’ gun rights doesn’t make us safer, and threatens our constitutional freedoms. I was pleased by and support the Supreme Court’s decision in the District of Columbia vs. Heller — a decision that embraced the notion that our Second Amendment rights are individual rights, not to be abridged by the government.
He also knows some Libertarians were peeved that he endorsed John Kasich in the Republican presidential race, who is not only not very libertarian but a particular enemy of the L.P. in ballot access fights in Ohio:
When Governor Kasich was in Congress, serving as Chairman of the House Budget Committee, I worked with him to stop deficit spending and balance the federal budget. He succeeded, as no one has done since. I was asked to help because I had done the same in Massachusetts, a heavily Democratic state.
Based on that work with Governor Kasich, I believed him to be the best choice among the many candidates for the Republican nomination.
At the same time, I am now aware that Gov. Kasich has taken actions to make ballot access in Ohio much more difficult and costly for Libertarians. At no point did I have any knowledge about efforts to restrict ballot access. Of course, we all need to fight for ballot access in every state, including helping to raise the funds necessary for that effort. You have my word that I will help ensure ballot access — and I’m a pretty good fighter.
New York has a unique system in which candidates often assemble “fusion” tickets in order to achieve a winning coalition. As part of such an effort, I was honored in 2006 to earn the Libertarian nomination for Governor. Unfortunately, the larger effort failed, and we were not successful in making the Libertarian ballot “line” part of a coalition that could win. I am grateful to the Libertarian Party for the work we did, and disappointed that the strategy simply couldn’t be executed.
Weld wants Libertarians to know that “since law school, my bibles have always been The Constitution of Liberty, and The Road to Serfdom, by Friedrich Hayek” and that if the L.P. sees fit to choose Johnson/Weld, that:
of the three tickets who will be on the ballot in all 50 states in November, the Libertarian Party has the potential to have candidates whose experience and proven leadership exceeds that of the two other parties combined. That credibility and leadership, matched by a firm commitment to the principles of Liberty, will be a powerful combination.
Tom Woods is not impressed:
I do not understand the cohort of left-libertarians (yes, that’s a thing) who are so pro-Weld. And now they’ve got Mr. Stuffed Shirt himself on their side.
Here I am supposedly the right-wing fuddy-duddy, yet I consistently endorse the most radical candidates around. They, on the other hand, are supposed to be chic and radical, and — without fail — they support the stuffed shirt.
Bare minimum for a libertarian candidate or party: anti-Fed, antiwar.
Weld has said that he supports both the employment and the inflation mandates of the Fed. He thinks we need a central planning agency to maximize employment.
I can get that from the Democrats or the Republicans.
Some people say, “Woods, we have to ease people into libertarianism!” Is that really what you think Weld is doing? He’s secretly anti-Fed but keeping his views to himself for strategic reasons? Ha, sure.
As for easing people into it, what political campaign provides a successful example of this? Ron Paul (whom these pro-Weld libertarians by and large think themselves superior to) shocked people into libertarianism when he told them the empire was bleeding us dry and spreading destruction around the world. (Truer words have never been said.)
Weld supported the war in Iraq. He later said it was a “mistake.” Nice try, creep. Walter Jones has legitimately done penance for his support for that war, and will never be snookered by the military-industrial complex again. Is that the vibe anyone gets from the status quo Weld?
Pro-Weld left-libertarians are fond of smearing their opponents as fascists and hypernationalists. But consider:
Suppose Weld had supported bombing Los Angeles instead of Baghdad, and later said this was a “mistake.” Would these libertarians be saying, “Hey, man, nobody’s perfect! He said it was a mistake”?
I’ll give them enough credit to assume they’d still be horrified, and say this was a disqualifier, period.
So why is it a disqualifier when it’s Americans being killed, but not when it’s Iraqis?
I thought left-libertarians were supposed to be the great protectors of the world’s brown people. But evidently when you kill a whole lot of them in an obviously avoidable conflict, why, this is a mere policy difference!
George Will says the Libertarian Party may be “ready for prime time,” which of course means boring, and 20 percent different from the other parties.
What the world needs now ain’t some policy-wonk party.
To many voters, being “anti-war” means opposing national defense. Some people are also able to see the difference between this country and countries or movements whose leaders want to see the U.S. destroyed, such as radical Islamists and Iran’s “Death to America” mullahs.
Between that and the party’s obsession with marijuana (which, even if a majority of Americans don’t favor pot’s illegality, the issue is not a high priority to most voters), no wonder people don’t take the Libertarian Party seriously, even if the LP is right about an issue.