William Weld will likely be announcing his intention to seek the vice presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party (L.P.), in partnership with presidential hopeful Gary Johnson, the L.P.'s 2012 choice and the former Republican governor of New Mexico.
Weld was a former Reagan administration Justice Department official (who, winningly, in 1988 resigned in protest over Attorney General Edwin Meese's unpunished misconduct) and governor of Massachusetts through much of the 1990s.
He had a strong reputation but a checkered record as a government-cutter in his state, starting off strong but ending, according to some critics, failing to utterly rethink or shrink state government.
Weld gave a speech in the mid-'00s giving a wide overview of his beliefs about government, which should probably be studied by those considering him for the L.P.'s vice presidential slot.
It presents some things to make a libertarian smile, and a lot to make them question how much Weld gets the full-circle libertarian vision of government's purpose and role.
I'll lead with Weld's most radically libertarian expression, which should delight fans of silly libertarian internet memes: "I think coercive taxation is theft, and government has a moral duty to keep it to a minimum."
While some libertarians take the implications of "taxation is theft" to mean it's entirely improper, it is pretty rare to hear those words from a politician. It shows the right mindset, at least.
The giveaways, from the hardcore libertarian perspective, come thick and fast after that.
We need government as "a safeguard of our property" but also to "help us better our lot, to act as an economic catalyst. When I was the governor of Massachusetts, we used taxpayers' money to stimulate growth in biotech and telecommunications, two high-end industries that were tailor-made for the state because of all the universities."
He believes that in the cases of those industries, "government had a legitimate role in stepping in to address what I saw as a market failure."
Weld also talks up government's role in "redistributive justice," applying it first to education, where he thinks it's wrong for richer localities to have more money for schools than poorer ones.
He was proud his administration in Massachusetts:
already put in a statutory scheme of spreading the wealth around with a redistributive formula for financing education that went as far as was politically feasible: You have to get the votes in the Legislature. My Secretary of Education at the time was a woman, a native Cuban, who had been in the hills of Cuba with Fidel and Che in 1958. The joke around the statehouse was that this was the most Communist piece of legislation sponsored by a Republican administration in a long time.
That line could haunt him on the L.P. convention floor.
He goes on to praise government's role in righting wrongs, such as "slavery" and "Second-class citizenship for women." (Those wrongs were of course government-caused or at least government-buttressed, which Weld doesn't point out but many Libertarians might be likely to.)
He cops to:
depart[ing] radically from the Republican orthodoxy [on] the environment, or conservation, which is fundamental to human happiness. Natural resources are so vast that no single individual or business is going to protect them; they don't have an incentive to.
The creation of a Water Resources Authority to clean up the Boston harbor happened partly because of a suit I filed when I was US Attorney in 1983 against the State of Mass, saying this harbor is too damn dirty. That's one of the things I'm proudest of in my tenure as US Attorney. One of the things I'm least proud about is that I chickened out and never filed the suit against Ohio for public nuisance on account of the air blowing Northeast on the prevailing winds to Massachusetts. It is unlikely to have been approved in Washington, but it would have been interesting to try.
….In the Western part of this country, the property rights advocates think the government is riding roughshod over them. By and large I come down on the side of government assertiveness in that area.
There goes the Bundy Ranch vote, I suppose.
He's also proud of being for family leave legislation, which is "just government enacting support for the way the workforce has changed."
Weld sounds like a proto-"libertarian paternalist" when he says:
It's healthy for government to be a kind of moral catalyst, using the bully pulpit of high office. I am not talking about organized religion or being preachy. I mean moral suasion….Government can contribute to a shared sense of purpose on the part of the citizenry; that's its highest and best application.
He applies this idea in very vague terms to his sense of our role in the international arena, and fortunately doesn't openly say he's looking for reasons to use military force overseas.
He goes on to list some of his problems with government. These include: too much administrative bloat in education and health care, any kind of wage and price control, and regarding health care Weld wisely states: "It's not good for government to tell people that the world owes them a living and that things are free."
He states he's mostly for the idea of privatizing or ending government monopolies which have "proved to be a disaster" but adds the caveat that "I think transportation and corrections are not the first two areas that I would go looking for massive change."
He's terrible on campaign finance:
We need a complete ban on soft money, which is sort of an enveloping problem, and a ceiling on the amount of money that can be spent on a given race. The problem is the Supreme Court case, Buckley v. Vallejo, which says that any limited like that is unconstitutional, because money is speech…
Some libertarian pluses:
• "Managing people's sex lives is something that I don't think is a good role for government. I extend that to the abortion issue, I extend that to the so-called gay rights issue, I think this is a freedom principle and consistent with the analysis in the economic area as well."
• "Opposing the free flow of goods or people is a bad idea."
• "Telling people that we know better is one of my least favorite exercises of government. Government is the people, so the government, by definition, can't know better than the people."
Now, the above quote appears only slightly later in this speech than his praise for government moral suasion, a sign that in libertarian terms he hasn't forged a completely consistent and developed sense of what government is for.
That's often something Libertarians want or expect from their candidates, so while Johnson may be right that doubling up on "serious political credentials" might be a plus in the general election, it's by no means obvious it will be in the political battle that comes first: getting 50 percent plus one of the delegates at the Libertarian National Convention in Orlando over Memorial Day weekend to pick him, and then pick Weld.