Weld outshines Johnson in CNN town hall

Former gov belongs on the top of the Libertarian ticket

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR Bill Weld is a typical political alpha male. Always has been.

He proved that by once jumping headfirst in a not-so-clean Charles River as a display of his political machismo.

Weld has also burnished his personal profile of being a “manly man.” While governor, he boasted endlessly of his affinity for hunting. He favored great quantities of grog, particularly amber-colored liquids.

So it was intriguing seeing Weld sitting shotgun as the vice presidential candidate on CNN’s Libertarian Party town hall meeting last night.

Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, sits in the driver’s seat as the party’s presidential nominee. But in terms of persona, rhetorical style, and unrestrained moxie, Weld actually brings more to the ticket.

Perhaps the two should switch positions.

That takes away little from Johnson, who is brainy and highly articulate. His speech is folksy, conveying an honesty that would be appealing to any voter with a political sensibility.

Another of Johnson’s traits is that he is disarmingly deferential. He publicly concedes that he doesn’t have all of the answers. He is tentative in the thoughtful way a discerning voter would appreciate. He is dispositionally demure.

Yet, Johnson possesses a firm grasp of public policy and understands the economy. When campaigning, Johnson explains lucidly the arcane notions of libertarianism, its claims for individual freedoms, modified forms of laissez-faire capitalism, and cultural acceptance.

But where Johnson can seem tentative, Weld oozes undeniable confidence. Where Johnson’s worldview can seem fuzzy, as he undertakes the nuances and complexity of life, Weld’s weltanschauung is clearer, polished, brighter — seeming more complete.

The stark differences between the two could not have been clearer after Shetamia Taylor, a civilian victim of the shooting of Dallas police last month, asked the candidates if they believed that “black lives matter?”

Johnson confessed his ignorance on race in halted, laconic language, almost stuttering his words:

“What it has done for me is that … my head has been in the sand on this. That’s what it done for me. And that … I think we’ve all had our heads in the sand. And let’s wake up. This discrimination does exist. It has existed. And for me personally… ‘slap … slap wake up.’”

Nearly three generations after the Civil Rights Movement, it’s difficult to witness a candidate for president of Johnson stature being caught so off-guard about a question of race.

Clearly, some Democrats and Republicans differ vastly on race issues. But these days, their answers on how to deal with prejudice are clear, ideologically vetted, and well-rehearsed.

Weld’s answer to the question, however, showed wisdom and awareness.

“I think we have a national emergency in the number of male black youth who are unemployed without prospects,” he said. “They’re four times as likely to be incarcerated if they have intersection with law enforcement as white people are. Their educational opportunities are not there. We have to get them into education and just concentrate the power of the government [by] trying to make sure that jobs are available for them. It’s a national emergency. When there’s a national emergency, the government has to respond, libertarian or no libertarian.”

Weld’s answer was sweeping and full of policy potential. It also conveyed that he has thought on race deeply, knowing facts, figures, and social context with authority. Weld is also generally less diplomatic than Johnson when the moment and opportunity warrant.

When asked about Republican nominee Donald Trump, Johnson spoke in banal, non-accusative terms.

Weld simply and sardonically said that Trump has a “screw loose.”

Their respective performances were splendid, giving the nation a clear sense of the Libertarian perspective.

They are likely to continue climbing in the polls, finding eventual entry into the fall presidential debates. (The presidential debate commission has said candidates must reach 15 percent support in national polls to be included.) If Johnson and Weld qualify for the debate stage, it will be interesting to note how their individual messages resonate, especially in light of how Weld articulates his policy beliefs with greater cogency.

Meet the Author

It’s too bad the macho man from Massachusetts is not topping his party’s ticket.

Kevin Peterson is founder of the New Democracy coalition, which focuses on civic literacy, civic policy, and electoral justice.