Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, the Libertarian Party candidates who are threatening to be spoilers in the November presidential election, have been campaigning on the themes of fiscal constraint, social freedom and limited involvement overseas.
As they try to lure voters away from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the two former governors from New Mexico and Massachusetts have stressed downsizing government, balancing the budget, legalizing marijuana, abortion rights and avoiding further foreign entanglements.
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The preamble to the Libertarian Party’s 2016 platform that Johnson and Weld are running on sounds eminently sensible and reasonable. It calls for a world in which all individuals are “sovereign over their own lives” and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.
But as polls increasingly suggest that Johnson and Weld could play a decisive role in determining whether Clinton or Trump prevail in a handful of key battleground states, the Libertarian Party’s platform is coming under closer scrutiny. Paul Krugman, the liberal New York Times columnist, lamented this week that many voters turning to Johnson and Weld haven’t the slightest clue as to what their party stands for.
While some of the platform falls well within the boundaries of traditional conservative doctrine – such as shuttering some federal departments and rewriting the federal tax code -- other elements are harder to imagine a wealthy country in the 21st century enacting.
Here’s a sampling:
* Eliminate public schools in favor of private education or home schooling. “Education is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality, accountability and efficiency with more diversity of choice,” the platform states. “Recognizing that the education of children is a parental responsibility, we would restore authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government.”
* Abolish Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a raft of other crucially important programs that were not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. “Retirement planning is the responsibility of the individual, not the government,” according to the platform. “Libertarians would phase out the current government-sponsored Social Security system and transition to a private voluntary system. The proper and most effective source of help for the poor is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.”
* Abolish the Internal Revenue Service and repeal the federal income tax because all persons “are entitled to keep the fruits of their labor.” The tax system would be replaced by some sort of national sales tax or value added tax that has yet to be defined.
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* Adopt a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and henceforth forbid the government from incurring additional debt that would burden future generations. Future budgets could be balanced only through deep cuts in government spending across the board, and not by raising taxes.
* Eliminate virtually all kinds of environmental regulation, from governing air pollution and global warming to guarding against dangerous chemicals in drinking water. Instead, the platform insists that controls can be achieved outside the government system through lawsuits filed in the courts. The Libertarians would essentially abolish the Environmental Protection Agency and cut through reams of government red tape, and then leave it to corporate polluters, land owners and environmentalists to slug out their differences in court.
“Competitive free markets and property rights stimulate the technological innovations and behavioral changes required to protect our environment and ecosystems,” the platform states. “Private landowners and conservation groups have a vested interest in maintaining natural resources. Governments are unaccountable for damage done to our environment and have a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection.”
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* Libertarians support the maintenance of “a sufficient military” to defend the U.S. against aggression, but they oppose “entangling alliances” with other countries or attempts to “act as policeman for the world.” That would mean, among other things, pulling back from NATO and other global alliances and ending military and economic aid to Israel and scores of other U.S. allies.
Johnson and Weld present themselves as the voice of reason in contrast to the cacophony of the dueling Republican and Democratic rhetoric. The two veteran Republican politicians also say that while they are running as the standard bearers of the Libertarian Party, they don’t necessarily subscribe to everything in their party’s platform – such as literally getting rid of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“We’re not looking to eliminate Medicare,” Johnson explained Sunday evening during an interview with Steve Kroft of CBS’s 60 Minutes. “We do believe in a safety net. But there has to be reform for Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security … And if we’re going to put our heads in the sand, if we say we’re going to do nothing in any of these areas, it’s a fiscal cliff.”