My default position is not to vote. As other, more illustrious people than myself have repeatedly argued, not voting is itself a political statement. Voting, on the other hand, is the act that every supporter of intrusive government points to to prove that you aren’t really oppressed–after all, you have the opportunity to change your rulers every four years! The more people who refuse to buy into this charade, and who refuse to believe that choosing who will be the one to tax, wiretap, and body-scan you actually makes you free, the better off we will be.
That said, I did vote this year, as I have most years, mainly on the belief that when you have a good-hearted person running for president, and when that person’s policies, though imperfect, would radically improve the country, then it is the neighborly thing to do to support him. In 2008, that meant that I voted for Chuck Baldwin (of the Constitution Party). This year, I voted (early) for Gary Johnson.
When it comes to his philosophical understanding of libertarianism, Johnson is certainly no Ron Paul. As the linked interview shows, he opposes the gold standard and is generally unfamiliar with some of the the twentieth century’s greatest libertarian thinkers. He also indicates support for the kind of “humanitarian” wars popular among Democrats of the Clinton-Obama stripe. Moreover, because I am someone who came to his current positions largely through reading Hans-Hermann Hoppe, I am skeptical of Johnson’s support for open immigration.
Still, on serious issues like ending the war on drugs, the TSA, and the drone wars, as well as on his general stand against taxes and regulation, a President Gary Johnson would be a great improvement for this country and for all the overseas victims of the Bush-Obama foreign policy of perpetual war. Of course, I wish there were a more consistent libertarian running for president. But I think that the genial Johnson’s positives clearly outweigh his negatives.
Indeed, I had the relatively easy decision of only having to decide between voting for Johnson or not voting at all. Every other option is totally unpalatable.
Though Chuck O’Shea makes a reasonable lesser-of-two-evils argument in favor of Mitt Romney, his argument rests on the false premise that his vote actually makes a difference–that is, that voting for Mitt Romney is a strategic means of advancing conservative ends.
In fact, the only way that Chuck’s vote will actually make a difference is if the election in his state hinges on a single vote, which itself will only matter if his state has enough electoral votes to affect the electoral-college outcome. I don’t know of any election where this has actually happened. Even in the infamous Florida recount of 2000, George Bush still won by 537 votes, which means that no single voter switching from Bush to, say, Pat Buchanan would have changed the election in any way. And even if the upcoming election were decided by Chuck’s one vote, however unlikely that may be, then surely there would be a recount–which never leads to the same tally as the original count. The same argument applies to the so-called “Obama cons:” voting “strategically” for the lesser of two evils is a pointless exercise based on the false notion that your own vote matters. When you realize that it doesn’t, then it makes no sense to vote for someone unless you can give your positive support to their policies. “Strategic” voting is no strategy at all.
At the same time, I believe that we should hold the minor parties to the same “don’t vote for evil” standard as the major parties. We should not get caught up in thinking that they are somehow noble just because, unlike Romney or Obama, they actually live according to principle. Thus, Ron Paul’s position in 2008 that his supporters should “pick any” of the third-party candidates makes very little sense. Sure, I am willing to accept that Jill Stein is more consistent than Barack Obama and would be a great improvement over him in terms of civil liberties and foreign policy. But her economic policies would be much, much worse. Sticking to your principles is only admirable if your underlying principles are themselves admirable.
(As an aside, I also don’t buy “The Lancastrian’s” position that, because Stein wants to run a federal regulatory state with local implementation, that somehow makes her a Jeffersonian localist. Rarely does the federal government act by a classic command-and-control economy, at least in this country. Very often its policies are carried out with a great deal of state help, as is the case with Medicaid, or through subsidies or tax incentives to favored industries. Does the Lancastrian believe that Medicaid also represents “the definition of subsidiarity?” If so, then conservatism has fallen pretty far since the 1960s.)
On the same note, Virgil Goode supports protectionism and wants to continue the drug war (just at the state level, where most drug-related prisoners are incarcerated anyway). And despite his non-interventionist turn in recent years, when Goode was a congressman and his positions actually mattered, he voted as a lockstep Republican for war in Iraq, the PATRIOT Act, and the Military Commissions Act. I’m skeptical of a 66-year-old man who just so happens to suddenly see the light once his political career is over. If anything, Goode is eerily similar to the 2008 “Libertarian” presidential candidate Bob Barr, who then went on and endorsed Newt Gingrich for president in 2012.
Therefore, given the failings of all the other candidates, I see no choice for those of us who support peace and freedom. If we decide to vote at all, it can only be for Gary Johnson, who, though imperfect, has certainly done enough to earn our votes. Intelligent people can come up with all kinds of clever arguments to show why conservatives should really vote for any given candidate. But at the most practical level, Gary Johnson is the only candidate whose policies would do more good than harm.