Truthdig followed along on Wednesday as Fusion hosts Jorge Ramos and Alicia Menendez questioned Libertarian Party presidential nominees Gary Johnson and William Weld about “a range of issues affecting the rising American mainstream.” Below is a running notation and commentary on the discussion. * * *

Editor’s conclusion: Libertarianism sounds like a good idea, and many who claim the ideology are sincerely interested in defending otherwise-defenseless groups and individuals from predatory or indifferent government.

But in this forum hosted by Fusion, presidential candidate Gary Johnson and running mate Bill Weld revealed the limitations of their commitment to civil liberties — even if the journalists who questioned them did little to highlight the discrepancy.

“Gov. Johnson, you’ve voiced your support for same-sex marriage, saying it’s a matter of freedom and liberty,” said Fusion fellow Anna Sterling. “But under the guise of religious freedom — as you mentioned earlier, Gov. Weld — there’s been a wave of legislation across the country that’s essentially legalizing discrimination against LGBT people. How do you reconcile these two issues?”

Shifting in his chair, Johnson replied: “Well— uh— by rec— I’m opposed to that legislation. I am outright opposed to that legislation, recognizing exactly what it is that you’re saying, that it is discriminatory against the LGBT community. And we refuse to be a part of any sort of discrimination. And, yes, that is happening. It’s happening! Stop!”

So there you have it. Johnson and Weld dislike discrimination, but they’re not going to use the power of government to stop legislation that fosters it.

Unless, of course, those being discriminated against are capitalists. We favor free markets, the candidates said over and again. But putting aside historians’ findings that states made modern markets possible (in part by codifying the right to personal property), the question remains: If government regulations on the activities of capitalists disappeared tomorrow, what would stop the world’s obscenely wealthy from using their money to pursue monopolies? And what would prevent the whole arrangement from evolving in the course of time into a privatized totalitarianism? Isn’t that what the Koch brothers plainly want?

For that reason we might start calling big name, latter-day “libertarians” what they really are: capitalists. Particularly, capitalists who seek to occupy government so they can prevent the public from acting to restrain those who seek personal advantage at the expense of everyone else.

Alexander Reed Kelly

11:23 a.m. PDT When asked to make their final pitch, Johnson says, “You’re gonna get a partnership here. … We’re gonna be fiscally conservative and socially inclusive.”

Weld affirms, “We’re fiscally responsible and socially inclusive, and that’s not represented by” the other parties.

“Honest Johnson and Brainy Bill,” Johnson adds.

After the forum, journalists got a chance to ask the candidates questions.

“What’s the story with the sneaks?” Menendez asks before the inquiries, referring to Johnson’s choice of sneakers as footwear. “Just a certain irreverence,” Johnson responds.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership? “They’re absolutely wrong,” Weld says, speaking of Clinton and Trump, who claim to oppose it. “It’s not gonna kill jobs. We’re gonna get high-wage jobs and lose low-wage jobs,” he says. We shouldn’t “rip up the treaty,” but revise it.

Johnson says, “To our understanding, this enhances the cause of free trade.” Weld claims the treaty protects the environment. Major critics disagree.

A plan to address police killings of black Americans? Johnson says, “Black lives do matter. … yes, all lives matter.” But whites “are not being shot at six times the rate of blacks.”

Do the two have a plan in place that could address the problem, though? Weld says, “The root of the problem is in the educational system. … I would focus on that so it’s more likely that the black males would be employed.”

“Don’t discount the bully pulpit,” Johnson adds.

But what would they do about police departments? Training, Weld says, suggesting that police officers could be retrained not to kill black Americans.

A Department of Justice investigation recently found that privately operated government prisons were drastically less safe and more punitive than other prisons in the federal system. Specifically, inmates in private prisons “were nine times more likely to be placed on lockdown than inmates at other federal prisons and were frequently subjected to arbitrary solitary confinement,” as The Guardian reported. Considering “the high human cost of private federal prisons,” a reporter asks, is it worth privatizing to save taxpayer money? Johnson simply contradicts the Department of Justice findings and asserts that the same types and levels of abuse exist in public prisons.

Policy for Syria? Take in more Syrian refugees? Johnson says “we should.” When pressed for a clear response to the country’s present humanitarian disaster, Johnson says they never would have gotten the U.S. involved in supporting “regime change in Syria” in the first place.

“Why did Johnson say he’d use drone strikes against ISIS at the CNN town hall?” a Twitter user asks, adding that drones are inherently anti-libertarian. “You can’t say never to anything,” Johnson responds. “I think these drone strikes are killing thousands of innocent people and that needs to be taken off of the table.” Drones should be used so innocent civilians are not killed, he suggests.

10:56 a.m. PDT How do you reconcile states’ rights with defense for sexual freedom and other forms of civil liberties, which libertarians claim to hold sacred? Johnson emphatically says he dislikes the trampling of individual sexual freedom, but he would not use federal government power to protect it.

In other words, if groups eager to discriminate get hold of state government, tough luck.

Hate crimes? Prosecute the action, not the thought.

Johnson and Weld say they eat genetically modified food.

Is Trump a racist? “Based on what he has said, yes,” Johnson replies. “What kind of question is that?” Weld adds.

10:48 a.m. PDT Should the Voting Rights Act be restored? Yes, Weld replies. How do we make voting more participatory? Let’s “make it as easy as possible to be able to vote,” Johnson says.

Are the elections rigged? “Elections aren’t rigged,” Johnson responds. What about gerrymandering? “Sure,” he says. And “Guess what? You can’t do anything about it.” It’s part of the two-party system, he adds.

How can climate change be solved without government intervention? What “we would be open to,” Johnson says, is a “carbon tax.” Weld confirms that he would leave the halting of climate change up to “the market.” Johnson adds, “We want to do away with incentives across the board.” Weld says, “Natural gas is a much cleaner” fuel, a claim scientists contradict.

The two do not appear to have a clear plan to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions or tackle climate change. They are eager not to use the word “tax,” but are open to “incentives.”

10:38 a.m. PDT Weld doesn’t favor “legislative bans on guns” to stop mass shootings, although he doesn’t favor extending access to guns to people on a “government watch list.” Johnson adds he hasn’t heard reasonable suggestions when it comes to using Congress to regulate access to firearms.

Is it appropriate to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism”? Johnson wishes Obama would have clarified his use of those words or not used them at all. A debate about the use of these words is needed, he adds.

“We favor free trade — no ifs, ands or buts,” Weld adds. “Broadly, we’re probably the most inclusive [party] of all countries, races and religions in the world.”

“How can libertarian policies protect against market influences on government policy, like the military/prison industrial complex?” a user of Twitter asks. The two talk about “crony capitalism … government interference in the marketplace. … When government gets involved in the marketplace, it skews. It’s favoritism,” Johnson says.

The hosts do not ask the candidates how a so-called “free market” could possibly be sustained without government influence, given that capitalism spontaneously functions to create monopolies by concentrating wealth, and that monopolies enable their possessors to craft government policy in their favor.

10:27 a.m. PDT Between the segments, one of the candidates perpetuates the simplistic myth that Bernie Sanders wants to make everything “free.”

10:25 a.m. PDT Has the Obama administration failed on marijuana? “If we are elected, we will de-schedule marijuana,” Johnson says. “We do appoint the establishment heads [of the Drug Enforcement Administration] … and we would be hiring the surgeon general. So that would be one of the requisites of becoming surgeon general.”

How would they tackle the drug war? Johnson clarifies: De-scheduling marijuana will be left to the states. Would they work with Congress to push federal legislation or leave it entirely to the states? Leave it to the states, Johnson replies. “Our support for states’ rights, that’s tantamount.”

Should the federal government be involved in student loans? No, Johnson says. Because the government guarantees student loans, tuition is high. “Tuition today would be half of what it is” if the government had never gotten involved in financing education.

How should students pay for college if they can’t afford it? Johnson simply replies that government should get out of education, implying that if that occurred, costs would be reduced. Weld concurs. Weld adds that costs could be saved if students learned on their own at computers, outside of “brick-and-mortar” schools. He suggests studies show students learn just as well in that manner.

Would they enact policies to create tuition-free public universities? Again, states should decide, Johnson says. Weld adds that students can pay for college by working through college. The jobs would “have to be there,” and government “should focus on that.” How this would take place, however, is left unexplained.

On abortion and the Supreme Court: In their selection of justices, Johnson and Weld would not favor a “litmus test” prioritizing abortion.

10:12 a.m. PDT “We’re as pro-immigration as we could possibly be,” Weld says.

10:11 a.m. PDT Should Bernie Sanders supporters support the Libertarian ticket? Everyone should, Johnson says. About millennials, Weld says the generation cares principally about personal freedoms. Johnson says they lead in the polls among those voters.

10:09 a.m. PDT Ramos asks whether they would consider joining with the Green Party to combine polling percentages and enter the presidential debates? Johnson scoffs at the idea, citing a difference in the parties’ platforms. He believes the Libertarian Party has a statistical chance of gaining the 15 percent needed to enter the debate.

10:04 a.m. PDT An introductory video clip casts the candidates as super-hip champions of personal freedom. Johnson begins by saying Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is “about big government.” She has supported “regime changes” that strengthened Islamic State and will be “very hawkish” when it comes to military policy. He supports the Trans Pacific Partnership and promises a very strong national defense.

Weld says Trump has a minimal grasp on the issues. He “just hasn’t thought it through enough” when it comes to foreign policy, although he possesses “brute intelligence.” * * *

Join Truthdig at 10 a.m. PDT on Wednesday as Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson and his running mate William Weld participate in a live stream forum moderated by Jorge Ramos and Alicia Menendez.

The discussion will cover “a range of issues affecting the rising American mainstream,” writes Fusion.

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