The Big Dig Libertarian

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During the past decade, Bill Weld has endorsed Republicans and Democrats for elective office. Now he is running as neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but as the Vice Presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party.

As recently as the 2014 election cycle, the former Massachusetts governor stirred controversy when he supported Democrat Michael Day over Republican Caroline Colarusso for state representative in Stoneham and Winchester. Weld’s endorsement proved decisive as the liberal Democrat candidate won by 500 votes out of 18,000 cast. Never having exercised himself to build the Republican grassroots during his 1990s governorship, Weld returned to the Bay State from several years in New York, only to further chip away at his erstwhile party’s meager legislative presence.

It was a precursor of things to come. Since then, Weld has repudiated the GOP and joined the Libertarian Party. He now describes himself as “a lifetime Libertarian.” So much for remaining loyal to the political party that twice nominated him for governor and conferred plum Justice Department titles upon him during the 1980s. The ex-Republican has accepted the second spot on a Libertarian ticket topped by presidential candidate Gary Johnson, a former GOP governor of New Mexico. Together, they have been elected to four gubernatorial terms as Republicans, the party from which they have defected.

Johnson has the greater claim to the Libertarian mantle; he proved his bona fides running for president four years ago on the Libertarian line, netting about one percent of the vote. The Libertarians expect to be the only third party on the ballot in all 50 states, a significant achievement in itself. Fielding their strongest ticket ever, Libertarians hope to benefit from dissatisfaction with the major party choices of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Weld has more-or-less ping-ponged his way into the Libertarian Party. As recently as four years ago, he heartily endorsed Mitt Romney for President. And four years prior to that, Weld embraced Barack Obama.

Appearing on Chris Matthews’ Hardball on MSNBC in 2008, the turncoat Republican opined that candidate Obama possessed “a first-class political temperament,” showed “a deep sense of calm and deep intelligence,” and “reached across the aisle” in the United States Senate. Noting problems left by the Bush Administration, Weld said that “Obama set out a real good set of prescriptions,” and “his platform is outstanding.” Summing up, Weld described Obama as a “once in a lifetime talent.”

Cornering Weld into endorsing the entire Democrat ticket, Matthews, a former Carter Administration speechwriter and Chief of Staff to Speaker Tip O’Neill, asked whether the former GOP governor also favored running mate Joe Biden. “I do,” answered Weld. Repeating himself, he doubled-down, “I do.”

A sympathetic observer may cut Weld some slack on the Obama flirtation. After all, Obama was the “hot new thing” in 2008. Since the beginning, Weld’s career path has zigzagged with the times: investigating Richard Nixon in Watergate, latching onto Reaganism, jumping on-board the anti-tax movement, craving an ambassador nomination bestowed by Bill and Hillary Clinton, and even somewhat ridiculously proclaiming his love of The Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones, themselves the “big new things” of previous eras.

But giving old-fashioned liberal Democrat warhorse Biden an unconditional rhetorical bear-hug demonstrated Weld’s clear lack of seriousness about fiscal restraint. Weld exhibited a comfort level with the kind of colossal public sector bloat that Biden has embodied more consistently than anybody in politics since the 1970s.

Nowhere is Weld’s own appetite for big government more palpable than his over-the-top eagerness for the Big Dig. Under Governor Weld’s watch, the Big Dig exploded from a $3 billion federally funded boondoggle to a feeding frenzy that satiated every special interest group: mass transit advocates, environmentalists, green space tree huggers, and countless big labor and big business lobbyists. No one was left wanting, except for state and federal taxpayers who were sent the bill. Estimates of the total cost associated with the project swell to nearly $25 billion, if no further tunnel disasters strike and all the bonds are paid by 2038. In a sense, Weld’s Big Dig enthusiasm prefigured President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s “shovel ready” stimulus spending of 2009. The difference is Obama and Biden never claimed to be economic conservatives.

Not content with one Big Dig, Weld more recently returned to the scene of one fiscal crime to push for another. Joining former Democrat Governor Michael Dukakis, the original Big Dig enthusiast, Weld lobbied for a North-South rail link connecting North and South Stations. Digging deeply into the pockets of unsuspecting taxpayers, this Weld-Dukakis smaller Big Dig would cost taxpayers an estimated $3 billion, but that’s before Weldian cost overruns and environmental “offsets” kick in. Then the sky – or $25 billion – seems to be both former governors’ limit.

Weld has long fancied himself an economic conservative and social liberal. Of the latter claim, no one can dispute. He vocally supported the gay agenda long before most liberal Democrats dared. And his endorsement of abortion extends from the moment of conception to the moment of birth. Taking his advocacy one step further, he has long favored forcing pro-life taxpayers to fund abortion through the Medicaid program, a contradictory stance for any libertarian. Today, he strongly opposes efforts to expand religious liberty or to protect the right of free association, each of which one might expect a libertarian to support. Following his most recent political apostasy, Weld proclaimed himself “free at last” of the GOP’s “aanti-choice, anti-marriage equality, anti-social freedom positions.” Perhaps by “anti-social freedom,” the former Reagan Administration Justice Department appointee is referring to the GOP’s opposition to legalizing drugs, the preferred of the Libertarian platform.

Even Weld’s frequently self-proclaimed fiscal conservatism is open to much debate. Running for governor, he did strongly oppose tax hikes, and he made some initial attempts to control the state bureaucracy. Ultimately, his administration increased spending, introduced costly “education reform,” and must be held accountable for the financial fallout from the Big Dig, which will burden state taxpayers for decades. And echoing since 2008 is the question whether someone who championed Barack Obama and Joe Biden can ever be taken seriously as a fiscal or economic conservative?

One can be certain that no social conservatives or pro-lifers will be voting for the Libertarian Johnson-Weld ticket in November.  Weld sneers at these conservatives’ “anti-choice” positions, and he chafes at “carrying the Republican party’s positions around on my back for the last 30 years.”

Economic conservatives, on the other hand, may be enticed. Before so doing, they might review the costs of the Big Dig and such ancillary projects as the Rose Kennedy Greenway and the Green Line extension. Deemed the most expensive public works project in American history, the Big Dig serves as an ominous warning. It’s easy enough for a politician to claim the label “fiscal conservative.” It’s tougher to prove, when you leave behind a monument to government extravagance and red ink.

Joseph Tortelli

Joseph Tortelli

Joseph Tortelli is a freelancer writer. Read his past columns here.