Bill Weld

Are Attitudes About Discrimination and Guns More Important Than Policy About Spending?

Conservatives continue to write off Johnson/Weld for being insufficiently anti-left.


Robert Tracinski at The Federalist pushes back at Reason's Nick Gillespie, in the context of Gillespie's own pushback against people on the Right (including Tracinksi) slamming Libertarian Party candidates Gary Johnson and William Weld for being insufficiently libertarian.

Gage Skidmore/Foter

Tracinski accuses Gillespie of just having a reflexive desire to brush off conservatives and their concerns.

The interesting part, though, is when Tracinski makes aspects of his own priorities crystal clear:

Johnson actually dismissed the entire concept of religious liberty as meaningless, which strikes me as kind of a big deal for supposed libertarians. Weld called the AR-15 a weapon of mass destruction. Those are two issues that are of direct practical import and at the center of today's political debate. I'm a lot more interested in that than in Johnson's promise to submit a balanced budget, which in the current context is frankly unrealistic.

Let's look at Tracinski's concerns, which he thinks for unstated reason are of more "direct practical import" in a presidential aspirant than spending, taxing, and debt.

It is true that Johnson has a defective conception of the scope of discrimination law and religious liberty, as has been laid out here at Reason by Scott Shackford. And within that defective conception, to my read and I suppose Tracinski's, Johnson values preventing imagined harm over people's rights of conscience and of association.

Johnson isn't always the best at digging deep into even his own thought processes, but I'm pretty sure from conversations I've had with him that the root of his stated attitudes about discrimination and religious liberty is, in the first place, that he thinks leaving business people the right to discriminate against anyone for any reason they want will lead to harms he doesn't want to see happen. And in the second place, he thinks the hill of the right to discriminate against anyone for any reason in a way that contravenes existing civil rights law is a terrible political position for a Libertarian to be in.

Whether he's right as a matter of either existing law or practical politics or libertarian principle about any of that is a somewhat interesting question, but almost certainly irrelevant to his actions as president of the United States. At best we know he's unlikely to take executive action to overturn any kind of existing anti-discrimination law, even if he doesn't really fully understand its parameters.

Now to Weld and guns. Despite the obvious fact that Weld is less of a fan of, or less comfortable with, the widespread existence of guns in our culture than a Tracinski or a me, Weld did acknowledge to Nick Gillespie in an interview for Reason that to try to ban them now would create an instant 30 million or so felons.

The context strongly implies he is not interested in creating those felons. So, seeing Weld on guns as a dealkiller is just a matter of one's sense of the personal stances and attitudes of the candidate, who as vice president clearly was not about to be passing legislation banning any kind of weapon or restricting American weapon rights in any manner anyway, not about what would actually happen to America if he were vice president.

I, too, am quite unhappy that a Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate says things like what bothered Tracinski about guns. But again, that's internal libertarian movement amour propre, not an actual worry about how a Johnson/Weld presidency would affect the country.

So we have Tracinski very explicitly saying that merely knowing that these guys have attitudes about those two issues that are signficant "progs v. right-winger" culture war considerations that rub him the wrong way is more important to him than something that is actually a core part of the president's role—proposing budgets, and in Johnson's case a budget that might actually rein in government's size and scope and perhaps stave off the various problems associated with ever-ballooning debt.

You know, the sort of basic "keeping government within its means, not mortgaging our children's future" stuff that used to be a core part of the basic conservative message.

Even though like so many things in our constitutional divided powers republic, spending is not something our president controls, it's something he has far more influence and say in than in his personal attitudes that the kind of anti-discrimination law we've had for many decades is not something he's interested in rolling back, or that the vice president is uncomfortable with guns.

Tracinski is explicit that the attitude stuff related to culture war issues about discrimination and guns is more important to him than spending or budgets or the growth of government. This might indicate that Gillespie was right all along that people worried Johnson isn't Libertarian enough—especially in the context of choice between him, Trump, and Clinton, though I would never want to state or imply that anyone has any obligation to vote for any candidate who make them uncomfortable for any reason—are less than serious about libertarianism or even conservatism in its best sense. They just want a guy who shares their predilections on a couple of issues that mark them firmly as "not left."