Bill Weld

Why Weld Worries Libertarians, In Recent Bloomberg Interview

When the Libertarian vice presidential pick says libertarianism means "fiscally conservative, socially liberal" he seems to mean that in the most restrictive sense of those terms in modern American politics, and won't step outside them.


People into internal Libertarian politics know that many Party activists started off wary and worried about the libertarian bona fides of their vice presidential candidate William Weld, former Republican governor of Massachusetts.

William Weld Facebook

A recent lengthy interview with Bloomberg News shows some of the reasons. Weld's vision of government is ineluctably one within the narrow boundaries of what a normal American politician is able to believe, albeit one who indeed generally cares about overwhelming government spending and doesn't want government exhibiting social conservative prejudices.

It is true—I've heard about it from people in the movement who met Weld way back in the '90s—that he always has liked to think of himself as "libertarian." (As always, Weld namechecks his love of F.A. Hayek for his libertarian cred.) He definitely likes not having to self-identify as Republican because it locks him in with a bunch of social conservatives he clearly has no respect for. But he doesn't always mean by it what most libertarian movement types mean, doesn't have a consistent and rigorous vision of what it is proper for government to do, and clearly worries far more about existing political realities than most libertarians do.

Thus, as he tells Bloomberg, he's now (after consultation with his running mate Gary Johnson, the first governor to openly support legal pot) for marijuana legalization and has endorsed a Massachusetts ballot initiative that would legalize it. But as far as the principle of drug legalization, he doesn't even want to discuss it. When he sees how much more damaging than marijuana that alcohol is, "he can see the logical argument" for legalizing weed.

But anything further is just "conjectural at this point." He was federalist enough to say he could see devolving the whole matter of drug laws to the states, but also has a "wait and see" attitude about the states that have already legalized marijuana, as if his mind could be changed on its value.

He's asked about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a bit of regulation not at all on the national radar screen these days, clearly as an attempt to see how far he goes in believing government should stay out of private business. Well, not all that far, as Weld explains; he supported both it and the Family Leave Act which he admits one could "also say was an intrusive federal step" but that he let "hearts and flowers" turn his mind, "family makes my heart go pitter-patter" and he did support both ADA and family leave and sees no need to rethink either.

He credited Obama for opening up relations with Cuba and for his executive orders softening some applications of immigration law. And he was contemptuous of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for what he sees as their opposition to trade deals he wholeheartedly supports, from NAFTA to TPP.

Weld still seems, as he always has, a relatively decent Republican politician, but not quite the movement's idea of a Libertarian one.

That said, he yesterday posted something encouraging about the Patriot Act on his Facebook page:

I do not believe the Act was or should have been intended to permit the government to spy on U.S. citizens without any more predication than a desire to amass a dossier of information. Such a practice would be reminiscent of activities undertaken by the FBI in its early days at the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, and would not be consistent with the observance of civil liberties that we all have a constitutional right to expect.

I have long viewed the protections of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution against unreasonable searches and seizures as being among the most important provisions of the entire Bill of Rights.

In this respect, we need to be vigilant to ensure that a law purportedly intended to undergird our safety does not instead end up by undermining our liberties."