“The best,” Milton Friedman liked to remind us, “is often the enemy of the good.”
Last week I expected one of my readers to cite the great economist against me. On Wednesday I had offered six (count ’em: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6) reasons why conservatives might cheer a Mitt Romney defeat next November. Readers of my Common Sense squib objected.
On Thursday I offered for their consideration former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, whose Republican bid was squelched by media and GOP insiders, and is now seeking the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination. Still no great support from my readers. On Friday I took a step back and tried to explain where I was coming from. Accolades from those commenting on the ThisIsCommonSense.com website were few and far between.
The basic point from my readers is that Obama is awful, and must be stopped. Sure, Mitt Romney is a slippery candidate with few principles. Sure, he won’t likely be very good. But at least he’d be better than Obama, who would have another four years at the reins, ruining the country.
They could have quoted Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman at me. My preference for candidates like Gary Johnson and Ron Paul may, indeed, be support of “better” and “best.” But since they cannot win, voting for them — and encouraging others to vote for them — allows a horrible candidate, the current president, to continue to wreck the nation.
The “best” thus becomes the conquistador of the “good” (Mitt Romney).
It’s an arguable point. And my readers ably argued it. My initial counter to their barrage? That this is the usual trap we are all-too familiar with. Conservatives and libertarians are perennially scolded to accept some mediocre-to-bad candidate, like George Herbert Walker Bush, Robert Dole, George Walker Bush, John McCain, and now Romney, and just choke down the bile and realize that with the Democrats in charge, things would be worse.
But that “choke on it” gambit doesn’t quite work — for reasons understandable in terms of Friedman’s adage. For, you see, most of these candidates were not and are not “good.” They may be “better” in some sense than the Democratic alternative, but they were and are quite bad. The Bushes proved disastrous, I think, especially George W. Bush, whose record of leadership was lacking where he might have heroically stood against outrageous folly (scant vetoes of congressional horrors), and proved persistent when he was wrong (civil liberties, increased spending, increased debt, pushing for two simultaneous and expensive land wars in Asia, with one of them based on disinformation). He also pushed an under-funded new entitlement, and his fellow Republicans by and large went along . . . with few cries of “socialist!” or “traitor!”
Additionally, consider that since President Eisenhower’s time the problem of out-of-control government spending has not been partisan. The numbers show that united GOP government has splurged our tax dollars at a greater clip than divided government.
You see, the trouble isn’t about “best” versus “good.” What we get in modern presidential elections — and in too many congressional races — is bad and worse and worst.
Sadly, in national politics, the bad is not the enemy of the worst. The bad gives aid and comfort to the worst.
Indeed, bad Republican candidates — “big-government”/neo-conservative/made-on-Wall Street/“compassionate conservative” candidates — help the agenda of the absolute worst, the dirigiste-prone mockers of laissez faire, the socialists of the chair, the sub rosa totalitaires. Bad Republican candidates increase the size and scope of government each outing, each time they get elected. Further, by pretending to be for fiscal conservatism and limited government, these fake conservatives enable the witless, left-leaning media to blame “the free market” for the disasters caused by policies that they otherwise would have praised.
This means that the answer to any and every crisis is more government. When Obama’s stimulus failed, the great progressive intellects said that it was because Republicans wouldn’t allow it to be big enough. When the policies of the Bushes’ failed, they said it was because we’d had too much “free market” deregulation, etc.
We always lose. Those of us who truly desire limited government (and know what it is when we see it) always get the short end of the stick.
So, I’m having great trouble piling on with the Mitt Romney support. He looks like just another Republican insider to me. And all we get from them (other than a few decent Supreme Court justices like Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito) is bigger deficits, more debt, and less freedom. Mitt Romney might be different. Sure. And I might win the lottery (if I bought a ticket).
I wouldn’t count on either.
So I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done. I will support candidates that I can believe in, and not get sucked up in the bipartisan swindle that is today’s national politics. The best candidates for our attention do not scuttle the good. They scuttle the bad. That is our history. It’s time to face up to it.