Plenty of libertarians were wary of seeing former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for vice president. Even those of us who haven’t had anything to do with the LP would like to see the party represented by, you know, libertarians. Weld, who seems like a nice man and was apparently a decent governor, is the living expositor of the difference between a libertarian and someone who’s “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.”
Case in point: this week’s ReasonTV interview, where Weld praises Justice Stephen Breyer and Judge Merrick Garland, who are the jurists most deferential to the government on everything, whether environmental regulation or civil liberties. Later in the same interview, he similarly compliments Republican senators like Mark Kirk and Susan Collins, who are among the least libertarian of the GOP caucus in terms of the size and scope of government and its imposition on the private sector and civil society.
My point isn’t to criticize the Weld selection as a matter of political strategy. Indeed, he seems to have brought a certain respectability to a party that is rarely taken seriously. And if that moves the national political debate in a more libertarian direction, bully.
But then look at the most recent news made by the man at the top of the LP ticket. Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, in an interview with (my friend) Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner, calls religious freedom “a black hole” and endorses a federal role in preventing “discrimination” in all its guises. More specifically, he’s okay with fining a wedding photographer for not working a gay wedding – a case from New Mexico where Cato and every libertarian I know supported the photgrapher – and forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraceptives (where again Cato and libertarians supported religious liberty). He also bizarrely compare Mormonism to religiously motivated shootings.
In other words, Johnson doesn’t just come off as anti-religion, but completely misses the distinction between public (meaning government) and private action that is at the heart of (classical) liberal or libertarian legal theory. That’s a shame: it makes him no different than progressives in that regard – or social conservatives, who miss the distinction in the other direction, restricting individual rights in addition to government powers.
And so, what we’re left with is a Libertarian Party ticket that’s positioning itself as “moderate” more than anything else. Again, that may well be a clever political ploy – though it makes the dubious bet that there are more #NeverHillary Democrats than #NeverTrump Republicans – but it’s not very encouraging for libertarians who want to “vote [their] conscience.”