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Voting as Self-Defense

...and why a major-party candidate isn't out of the question.

by James Leroy Wilson
December 11, 2003

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Voting as Self-Defense_James Leroy Wilson-... and why a major-party candidate isn't out of the question The right to vote is, for me, a form of self-defense. This goes back to the Magna Carta, the first document of Britain’s “unwritten” Constitution (which, ironically, has for the most part been written). The idea of a council or a legislature was originally not to dictate laws or control the life and wealth of the people, but to protect the citizens from the King’s desire for more and more of their taxes to enrich his treasury.

In today’s world, I think the principle still holds. Compared to the Kings, Lords, and other nobility in medieval Christendom, modern elected politicians and government bureaucrats exert far more power over our lives, impose many more regulations, and confiscate much more of our wealth. The modern democratic republic is a greater threat to my life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness than King George III ever wanted or imagined himself to be.

But to defend myself is to assert, with my vote, that which British lords imposed upon King John: the right to be left alone, and to defend the liberty of all by establishing some sort of council that checks the executive powers of tax-collecting and war-making. I vote to protect my liberty and property, not to sacrifice other people’s liberty and property for my personal benefit or my idea of the “public good.”

But where does that leave us? The two major parties in the USA seem to be completely indifferent to Constitutional rights and individual liberty. No other party seems to stand a chance in the near future. To vote for one of the major party candidates seems to be a vote for tyranny and fraud; but to vote for any principled third-party opposition appears to be ineffective at best. That’s why people see it as their moral obligation to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” - that is - willingly impose evil on this generation and its effects on future generations. This is supposedly the best we can do. Pessimism is the only option left.

But is all hope lost? I think not. I think there’s a message that cuts across all party lines. Rural voters would endorse it, the black and Hispanic urban poor would also, as would the country-club elite, and the liberal academic elite. It is one message, yet in three parts. The message itself is freedom, which goes not only back to America’s founding documents and revolution, but to the very heart of progress and civilization. Yet, this message is in three parts:

1. Personal liberty;
2. Economic opportunity;
3. Fiscal responsibility (on the part of government).

Ask any member of any party, if they are not in favor of these three things. This agenda cuts across all party lines. Who is against personal liberty? No one, and no party. Except for Congress and the President. Who is against economic opportunity? No one, and no party. Except for Congress and the President. Who is against fiscal responsibility? Okay, maybe some people, and a few parties, don’t care about the government’s finances because they don’t know the laws of economics or what money is. But, of course, Congress and the President are even more ignorant and more irresponsible. Even then, the vast majority believes in fiscal responsibility.

If so many people support these three basic, common-sense ideas, why are all three losing ground in the USA?

The answer is simple, really. Few mainstream politicians have actually articulated this vision. But a politician can run on either the Democratic or Republican ticket with these themes. And can effect moderate, incremental changes that will increase liberty and prosperity in the long run.

It took the British “Levellers” and “classical” liberals two centuries - from the mid-17th to mid-19th centuries - to restore civil rights to Catholics and Jews, abolish slavery, and establish free trade with other countries. Much as I’d like for the restoration of freedom in the USA to come more swiftly, wishes do not make dreams come true.

So, it is not out of the realm of possibility that I’d support a Democrat or Republican. If a candidate is strong on a couple of pro-liberty issues, and merely moderate - instead of enthusiastically pro-government - on other issues, I can see the possibility of my vote, if not enthusiastic support.

For example, if a candidate is firm on decriminalizing medical marijuana, is anti-Patriot Act, an anti-spending deficit hawk, and would perform no worse than the other candidate on other issues, I could see some merit in voting for him or her if a third-party candidate stands no chance.

And much as I think the United States should withdraw from the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, declare neutrality in all foreign conflicts, and unilaterally eliminate our tariffs and immigration laws, I see that working with the UN and the WTO on behalf of peace and free trade is superior to unilateral aggression and increased tariffs. Some evils are, indeed, far less evil than others. Hard-core Austrian School thinkers might think that Milton Friedman’s Chicago School of economics is watered-down socialism. But I’d rather have a politician in office that believed in watered-down socialism than Keynesian socialism.

No, I’m not suggesting that it is perfectly acceptable to vote Democratic because they are slightly more agreeable on “peace” issues, or that Republicans are better since they are slightly more agreeable on tax issues. A libertarian’s vote for George W. Bush in 2000, for instance, was a waste; voting for him again is downright foolish. It is never good to vote for a politician who will only make everything worse, just because we think that the other candidate will be even more worse.

Rather, I’m suggesting that a candidate of either party who is a genuine reformer on one, two, or more issues, and who isn’t any worse than anybody else on the other issues, may earn my vote. That is, if I have confidence that a candidate will actually be able to do some positive good - as opposed to merely being less bad - in the areas of liberty, economic opportunity, and/or fiscal responsibility, then perhaps I would have to take advantage of this opportunity.

The Dragon, the Federal Leviathan, will not fall dead in one election. But there are bi-partisan opponents to policies such as the War on Drugs, the Patriot Act, and the Iraqi invasion. Over time, through strategic voting of Republicans and Democrats (or of libertarians joining either party and running themselves), we may put the dragon on an increasingly shorter leash so that it won’t be able to reach places it had reached before.

The conquest of freedom over tyranny will come in many forms. Those who care about personal freedom must not be beholden to one minor political party, or one statement of doctrines, if they can find allies and build coalitions. Incrementally, issue by issue, the forces of tyranny can be exposed and defeated, just as they had been in the past. Not by compromising on goals, or voting for the lesser of two evils, but by supporting those conscientious reformers who advance the cause of individual liberty, economic opportunity, and fiscal responsibility.

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Everett Wilson from Chetek Wisconsin writes:
December 11, 2003
In the light of the column, I would like to see James Leroy address and critique Howard Dean's Common Sense article on Dean's home page.

Puddleglum from Southern Ettinsmoor, Narnia writes:
December 12, 2003
(paraphrase) Who is against these things? no one and no party. Except Congress and the President. Um, you forgot to mention the Supreme Court. I know that you were referring primarily to elected officials and that justices are unelected, but they have moved out of the realm of interpreting and questioning the validity of laws and into the realm of legislating through their interpretations. This is similar to kings of old who freely and arbitrarily reinterpreted laws they created to suit a passing whim. How ironic that so many died in the American Revolution to free us from one king and now we must suffer under nine.



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