Gary Johnson and ‘Moral Equivalence’

Hillary’s little helpers in the “mainstream” media are frothing at the mouth over Gary Johnson: at first, they didn’t get how this election is being defined by Donald Trump and therefore thought the third party campaign of Johnson and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld would cut into Trump’s vote and perhaps deliver the election to the First Woman President. Now that the reality has set in, and it’s clear Johnson-Weld may very well wind up Nadering Hillary, the knives are out. The latest is a New York Times piece with a rather interesting headline: “Gary Johnson Equates Syria Deaths Caused by Assad and West.”

It’s interesting because it assumes that this is somehow extraordinary. After all, isn’t a dead person murdered by Assad just as dead as one murdered by the “well-meaning” “liberators” and “defenders of human rights” in Washington, D.C.? Not in the moral universe of the New York Times, which has abandoned all pretense at being a news organization when it comes to reporting on this election and is brazenly campaigning for Hillary Clinton. And so we are told:

“Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential nominee, drew a parallel on Wednesday between the Syrian government’s targeting of noncombatants in that nation’s civil war and the accidental bombing of civilians by United States-backed forces.

“Attacking Hillary Clinton over what he criticized as her overly interventionist instincts, Mr. Johnson pointed to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as civilian deaths caused by the American-backed coalition, and said Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, bore at least partial responsibility.

“But when pressed four times on whether he saw a moral equivalence between deaths caused by the United States, directly or indirectly, and mass killings of civilians by Mr. Assad and his allies, Mr. Johnson made clear that he did.

“’Well no, of course not – we’re so much better than all that,’ Mr. Johnson, a former New Mexico governor, said sarcastically. ‘We’re so much better when in Afghanistan, we bomb the hospital and 60 people are killed in the hospital.’”

From the context it’s clear that Johnson wasn’t just talking about the allegedly accidental bombings by the US that have recently occurred, but also about the policy of regime change Washington has been pursuing in Syria – a policy championed by Hillary Clinton. That’s what the phrase “civilian deaths caused by the American-backed coalition” indicates, and yet the Times piece leads off with something quite different. (I asked one of the reporters who covered this story – Maggie Haberman – to release the transcript, but received no reply.)

The reality is that Washington’s Syria policy of arming, funding, and training “moderate” Islamist rebels has led to the deaths of untold thousands. This is exemplified in the grisly case of a 12-year-old child who was beheaded by US-supported “moderates” near the city of Aleppo. Mrs. Clinton was the leading voice in the Obama administration for expanding US aid to these monsters, and it was under her watch that the rebel group responsible for this atrocity received US taxpayer dollars and assistance. Her ally in the internal debate over aid to the rebels, Gen. David Petraeus, even advocated allying with al-Qaeda.

The idea that the tens of thousands killed by Hillary’s Hellions in Syria carries less moral weight than Assad’s many victims is simply war propaganda of the crudest sort: what kind of theology could possibly sanction such an unbalanced view? Yet this is how the moral compass of the political elites operates, and has always operated. When Madeline Albright made her infamous remarks to Leslie Stahl about the US sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, her answer — “The price is worth it” – aroused no cries of condemnation from the moralists over at the New York Times for precisely this reason.

The propagandistic nature of this “news” report is further exacerbated by the addition of irrelevant items, such as an  account of an attempt to ambush Johnson by asking him to name the leader of North Korea and references to his “Aleppo moment.” These are referred to as “gaffes,” which really indicates the inability of the Times’s copy editor to do his or her job: a gaffe is the inadvertent utterance by a politician or government official of something that is true albeit inconvenient to mention. A “gaffe” doesn’t mean what Ms. Haberman and Alexander Burns, the authors of the piece, think it means

Indeed, as Brian Doherty notes in Reason, rather than hurting Johnson this incident is bound to help him, since what he said, after all, is uncontrovertibly true. And it is especially appealing to the young people who have rallied to Johnson’s banner, and whose allegiance Mrs. Clinton has wooed to no effect. Indeed, it is this poaching on what the Clintonites consider to be their territory that has provoked the massive artillery fire aimed at Johnson, complete with attack ads, coming from Camp Hillary.

That it is left to me, of all people, to defend Johnson against this fusillade is ironic, since I have been one of Johnson’s most vocal libertarian critics. Of course, my friends over at Reason magazine will defend anything Johnson says or does, and that goes for his running mate, Bill Weld. And yet where does Governor Weld come out in all this? Isn’t it the role of party’s vice-presidential candidate to defend the top of the ticket, come hell or high water? Why has Weld deserted on this front while his running mate is under fire?

As the Boston Globe reports, Weld is too busy attacking Trump:

The Libertarian vice presidential candidate, William F. Weld, said Tuesday that he plans to focus exclusively on blasting Donald Trump over the next five weeks, a strategic pivot aimed at denying Trump the White House and giving himself a key role in helping to rebuild the GOP.

“Weld’s comments in a Globe interview mark a major shift in his mission since he pledged at the Libertarian convention in May that he would remain a Libertarian for life and would do all he could to help elect his running mate, Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico.

“But things have changed. Johnson has committed several high-profile gaffes in recent weeks that revealed apparent weak spots in his foreign-policy knowledge. Meanwhile, Trump had seemed to be surging back into contention after he fell well behind in the polls in early August.

“While Weld insisted he still supports Johnson, he said he is now interested  primarily in blocking Trump from winning the presidency and then potentially working with longtime Republican leaders such as Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour to create a new path for the party after the election.”

Digging the knife in deeper, the Globe reveals that there’s apparently no limit to Weld’s treachery:

“At one point, Weld strategists researched Libertarian Party rules to see if it were possible for him to take over the top of the ticket. The rules state the vice presidential nominee automatically assumes the presidential spot if there is a vacancy. But Johnson, peeved at the suggestion, flatly rejected the idea.”

I’ve always said that Weld is a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton, whom he has described as “a good friend,” and it turns out that I was absolutely right. What I never imagined, however, is that Weld would have the temerity to try to pull off a coup d’etat and steal the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination away from Johnson. The man makes the Borgias look like a Boy Scout troop.

What happened is that Weld, who was counting on money coming in from Democrats eager to undermine Trump, suddenly discovered he was on board a train headed straight for Trumpville: instead of draining votes away from the Republicans, polls show it is the Democrats who are taking it on the chin, especially among that much-vaunted demographic known as the “millennials.” What to do?

His friends started leaking to the media that Weld was considering dropping out, but that soon proved to be a no go: it would have revealed him for the duplicitous cretin he undoubtedly is. So he announced to the Globe that he was going to ignore Mrs. Clinton – not that there was anything new in that – and concentrate solely on fulfilling his assigned role as the third party adjunct of the “Stop Trump” movement.

It is beyond ridiculous for Matt Welch, former Reason editor-in-chief, to echo Weld’s claim that the Globe’s reporting is “made up.” Reporters who make up stories, including quotes, don’t stay in the business long.

What’s clear is that Weld is a liar. When the Libertarian Party of New York stupidly nominated him as their gubernatorial candidate, he pledged he’d run even if he didn’t get the GOP nomination as well. Without even blinking he reneged on his promise, just as he’s now telling the Globe that he’ll ditch the LP to “remake” the GOP after what he assumes will be a Trump defeat.

In short, even as Weld slimes Trump for supposedly not having the “character” to be President, it’s clear the man has no morals. I can’t say it any better than did the heroic Kennedy of “Kennedy Nation” on the Fox Business News channel last [Wednesday] night, and here is the whole interview for your delectation:

Kennedy makes a vitally important point in noting that the anodyne slogan ‘fiscally conservative, socially inclusive” is a mantra that has nothing to do with what actual libertarians believe, and that Weld is using the party to further his own personal agenda.

His agenda, I would argue, involves electing his “good friend” Hillary Clinton to the highest office in the land. That the Libertarian Party has enabled him to further this goal using the hard-earned money and credibility of LP activists is a fraud that the party leadership – including especially Johnson, who insisted on Weld as his running mate – will have to answer for.

The Johnson campaign has been a disaster for the libertarian cause in more ways than I care to count, but I would like to believe that Gary is a sincere person who has done his best. I can hardly say the same for the sinister Weld.

The lesson of all this is that opportunism doesn’t get you anywhere: you may get a few more votes than usual, but in the end that means very little if the cause itself is undermined and the principles are subverted beyond recognition. This kind of ‘pragmatism” is, in reality, not very pragmatic at all. Instead of looking to the Johnson campaign as a model to follow in years to come, libertarians would do well to look to its antipode: Ron Paul’s principled and yet very widely supported campaigns under both the Libertarian and Republican banners.

As we go to “press,” Democratic vice-presidential candidate and annoying ankle-biter Tim Kaine is taking Johnson to task for being “incredibly disrespectful to the troops” – the kind of talk we heard from Bush era Republicans back in 2003. Yet polls show Johnson has far more support than trigger-happy Hillary among our enlisted men and women. And no wonder: Hillary and Kaine would put them in harm’s way for no damn good reason. They are sick and tired of the recklessness exhibited by the likes of Clinton & Co., they remember what happened in Libya and Iraq, and they want no part of it.


You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].