In 42 days, there’s an election to determine who will wield executive power in the world’s most powerful nation. Ours.
Lots of power is on the line. And with power comes fear. And with fear being such a powerful motivator, the polls will no doubt be crowded. Unfortunately, fear-based voting has its problems. For everybody.
I’ll spare you the chapter and verse on why you ought be scared out of your wits by the thought of four more years with Barack Obama as president. His sorry record is common knowledge and I’m confident that your genuine terror at such a prospect, like mine, is a pre-existing condition.
But who do we want to replace Mr. Obama?
Frankly, I find Republican Mitt Romney more than slightly terrifying, too. Not only do I disagree with many of his positions, I also doubt that we can count on Mitt to sincerely defend the policies on which we actually agree . . . at this fleeting moment.
My preferred candidate is Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential nominee and former GOP governor of New Mexico. Johnson is much more serious than Romney about cutting spending and reining in the awesome and out-of-control power of the federal government. He has a better record — that is, he has made substantive cuts in an actual government, and did so in a state that tends to vote Democrat. His success at this garnered him a second term. Judged by his own performance and his own standing, he’s the most practical candidate the Libertarian Party has ever offered to the American voter.
And boy, do we need his kind of savvy. Now.
Let me speculate as to your response: “But Gary Johnson can’t win! A vote for Johnson makes it more likely that Obama will be re-elected.”
True, Johnson polls at four percent, despite being ignored by the media. The likelihood that he could garner an additional 47 percent and win the presidency is no likelihood at all. And yet, there is a strong chance that at four percent — or even three or two or just one percent of the vote — Johnson becomes a “spoiler,” taking enough votes away from Romney to re-elect Obama.
So, the argument goes, don’t waste your vote on a candidate who can’t win — especially since the result could be a victory for the most frightening candidate.
Yet, it is not as simple as that.
Electing the lesser of two evils won’t result in anything worth celebration. The truth is, Mitt Romney will almost certainly expand government. Like Richard Nixon did, as did George W. Bush. Look at Romney’s proposals, and you see scant hope for truly shrinking government. At best he’ll merely slow the rate of government growth (and even that’s unlikely). That may be better than Obama’s plan of increasing the size and scope of government (which Bill “the era of Big Government is over” Clinton says is what made the ’90s so great), but it’s not much better. Indeed, at a time of increased financial instability and a dangerous, looming debt load, any increase in the size and scope of government would be disastrous and irresponsible. If Romney inflicts that on us with my vote, my help, I’ve accomplished the opposite of my purpose. I would have helped expand government, when I think our oversized, overspending empire is the number one threat to our posterity.
I certainly don’t want to do that! I’m just trying to defend my freedom.
Moreover, if in people’s minds Romney becomes the candidate of limited government and free markets only to implement big government policies, his failure will be trumpeted by the statist echo chamber as a failure for our ideas.
To the degree we voters accept limited choices of bad and worse, we disarm ourselves, facilitating a system where we don’t just waste our vote, but have it used against it — even when our candidate wins!
So what to do?
Long term, we should consider helpful reforms to our election system such as instant runoff voting, wherein by ranking our choices we can vote for the person we honestly most support without ending up electing the person we least support.
But our election process won’t be overhauled — or even timidly tweaked — in the next six weeks. So, how best to navigate the present voting trap to best cast a ballot for freedom, for less government?
Freedom voters who live in the 40-plus states that are obviously uncompetitive — whose outcomes we know in advance, either as pro-Obama or pro-Romney — have it easy. They can vote for Gary Johnson without fear of risking adding practical weight to the re-election of a very bad president. They can send their stronger, clearer message for freedom and against omni-oppressive government without effecting the outcome of the contest.
Those who favor Johnson but live in swing states, however, require a more novel course of action. In those states, where a single vote might approach making a difference, voting for the best could (just possibly) help defeat the better and elect the bad. The best would become the enemy of the good, as Milton Friedman liked to warn us.
In this situation, there must be a way for these freedom voters to send their message without inadvertently boosting Obama over Romney.
There is, but it requires an alliance between Libertarians in swing states and libertarian-leaning Republicans in uncompetitive states. Libertarians want Johnson to get as many votes as possible even if he can’t win. Republicans need every vote possible for Romney in swing states. The solution? Swing-state libertarians can trade their vote with one or more uncompetitive-state Romney supporters. And like in all honest exchanges, both gain. In this case, Johnson gets more votes (because smart libertarians can trade their one vote for numerous others) and Romney wins more states.
Maybe free trade and free markets are even better than we thought. Let’s apply the benefits of trade to elections. If you’re a Republican in, say, hopelessly blue California or in deep-red Oklahoma, call a libertarian friend in a swing state. Or log in and comment at ThisIsCommonSense.com, and let the swapping begin!
September 23, 2012
This column first appeared on Townhall.com.