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A Matter of Priorities
War and civil liberties are more important than economic issues.

by James Leroy Wilson
May 18, 2005

Alternative political movements have a near-impossible time attracting followers and support. This is because, when two people can agree on almost everything, they will divide on the one item of disagreement. For example, let's say the Libertarian Party platform was summarized in 20 points. A voter agrees with 18 of them, but can not go along with, say, its positions on abortion and immigration. The problem is that those are the two biggest issues with that voter, with abortion #1. He thus votes Republican because, for all his faults, "at least Bush is pro-life." Or another believes that the liberation of the world can be accomplished through war, and that we are in a "clash of civilizations" with radical Islam. He thus shuns the Libertarian Party for its dovish leanings and supports the President.

And then there are those who AGREE with a Libertarian position so strongly, that they vote for one of the two major parties that most closely supports it. That's why the NRA consistently supports Republicans instead of libertarians, and "peace activists" favor the Democrats. It is appears pointless for a single-issue voter to vote third-party, because the best chance to advance his cause is within the two-party system. Advancing one cause is easier than building a new movement.

It is easy to find fault with single-issue voters. After all, if "pro-choice" is your single issue, or if tax cuts is your single issue, we still wind up with $400 billion deficits, an internal passport unanimously supported by the Senate, and an endless, unwinnable war on Iraq. Pro-lifers must acknowledge that abortion rates do not go down under Republican administrations, and that they can't or won't effectively intervene in a case like Terri Schiavo‘s. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are authoritarian; the natural impulse of members of Congress is to centralize more power and burden us with more laws. Single-issue voters usually see little or no progress on the one issue they do care about, and they hold politicians unaccountable on every other issue.

But on the other hand, single-issue voting does make sense. The thinking goes, if a politician is wrong on this one issue, it doesn't matter what else he stands for. In other words, the issue must be so important and the stakes are so high that every other issue revolves around it. That's why it was tempting to support Howard Dean in the Democratic primaries last year. He, along with Dennis Kucinich, was opposed to the war on Iraq, but Dean was not as socialist.

I felt, and still feel, that withdrawing from Iraq is the most important issue of the day. An antiwar candidate who is wrong on most everything else, may be preferable to any pro-war candidate. The war is a moral stain and a fiscal drain on America, and I believe that we will not reverse other negative developments over the past dozen years if we don't reverse the trend of starting unprovoked war. And ending the war, as opposed to, say, ending abortions, is an easily attainable goal which the President and Congress can achieve. No federal judge or state legislature can throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings.

The single-issue voter at least has is priorities (or at least his priority) in order. In evaluating a politician's record, scorecards are often used by various ideological organizations. The problem is, each issue tends to carry equal weight. It is silly to say of a Senator something like, "Good on taxes, immigration, trade, education, health care, Social Security, the environment, and the deficit. Bad on war and civil liberties. Over all, pretty good." That's like saying, "Aside from its poor record of protecting our lives and our rights, the government is doing a good job." Government is good at everything except its primary function?

The three enemies of the classical liberal political tradition are the Imperial State, the Police State, and the Welfare State. They are intertwined, such that those who want a welfare provision like free health care will inevitably promote police-state crackdowns on tobacco and fatty foods. Those who crusade against recreational drugs will inevitably promote wars on countries where those drugs are produced. And those who believe in wars to "liberate" the world tend to socialize the entire economy and crackdown on liberties at home.

But we can still say that one is worse than another. War is the greatest evil, and crackdowns on liberty follow. Socialism and the welfare state are also bad, but there are degrees. A country that is over-taxed to fund a safety net, is not as bad as a country in which production quotas are dictated by the State. And in an imperfect world, I'd rather be over-taxed as long as the Bill of Rights is preserved, then give up the Constitution in exchange for a tax cut.

In 2006, 2008 and beyond, I will evaluate candidates first on issues related to war and foreign policy, and second on issues related to the Bill of Rights. Other issues remain vitally important, and those who call for less government, lower taxes, and balanced budgets will still be favored by me. But it is a matter of scale; some issues are more important than others. It is better to be wrong on CAFTA than on the Patriot Act; on pseudo-private Social Security accounts than on the War on Iraq; on oil drilling in Alaska than on McCain-Feingold.

Despite disagreements on economics, entitlements, and the environment, a coalition can develop around the theme "Anti-war, Pro-Bill of Rights." My hope is that such a coalition will form within the grassroots of either party (although the Democratic Party is now more likely). If President Bush and his Congress's assault on the Constitution is not undone soon, America as we know it will be lost forever.

About the Author:
James Leroy Wilson blogs at Independent Country (

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