You’ll notice that around election time many more of my posts become constructed around arguments I’ve had with strangers in bars (I maintain that this is not my fault; trouble finds me, not vice versa).
So I was back in Ohio this past week, and somehow got into an extended conversation in a Cincinnati bar with a kid who claimed he was going to vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, which elicited a range of raving, drunken responses that I will attempt to summarize with a bit more cogence than I had the patience for at that bar.
First of all, I don’t necessarily want to savage libertarians the way I would your standard sound bite-memorizing Fox News Republican. Right now libertarians are some of the only people talking about the unflinching and expanding drone war in the Middle East and Northern Africa. They are the only political faction who has even a remotely sane idea about drug policy (liberals who think the Democratic Party will attempt to make a serious move in ameliorating the drug war are deluding themselves). Hell, I even like Gary Johnson quite a bit.
As my friend Dave, who will vote for Obama for the second time this fall, once put it to me, “Of course I’m a libertarian. Everyone should have the maximum ability to exercise his or her individual freedom as long as it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s freedom. The only thing is most people who call themselves libertarians totally don’t understand that second part.”
By which he means as soon as your greenhouse gasses are imperiling my planet or your credit default swaps are causing a crisis in the economy we share, we got a problem.
More to the point, though, modern libertarianism appears mostly to just be a fashionable way to express a protest vote against the two major political parties. From "end the Fed" Ron Paulites who want to go back to having banking crises every eight years to billionaires who just want to lower their own estate taxes, Libertarians always seem to think they’ve stumbled upon a secret magical, philosophy that no one has ever considered before (and that has proven, over and over again in the history to be disastrous; see: Gilded Age excess, 2008 financial crisis, climate change). Similar to their ideological opposites, communists, they then argue that, well, it’s just that no one’s ever tried the philosophy in its purest form. If deregulating most of Wall Street and having fairly weak environmental regulations churns out chaos and crisis, we just need to go further! If money buys off government and creates crony capitalism, well, then surely the answer is to deregulate further and let more money into the process!
Okay, that was me going off on a rant. Back to the Point:
My point to this kid was that there is about to be a fairly radical change in national policy depending on who wins this election, and this kid, an Ohioan, whose vote counts roughly 1,745% more than an American anywhere else in the country other than maybe Colorado, Virginia or Florida, is going to walk into a polling station and essentially perform the equivalent of writing in “Mickey Mouse” on his ballot.
Yes, I’m sure voting for Gary Johnson makes one feel very hip and cool, but in our two-party system there will always be a measure of compromise in casting one’s vote. It’s supremely unlikely that your brain will ever run for president. That third-party vote is little more than a method of opting out. Whether it’s Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or Ross Perot, the vote always says more about the voter’s ego than it does about what they actually believe or what principles they might claim to hold dear.
We have two corporate-backed political parties in this country, and that sucks, but one of them believes in scientific reality and mainstream economics and labor rights and racial and religious pluralism while the other has a highly shaky to disastrous record on all those issues. As ever, it’s important to see the world the way it is and not the way you wish it to be, and I say that as someone who as a 17 year-old tried to convince his parents to vote for Ralph Nader in the 2000 election.
We all saw how that turned out. I’m still waiting for my “Hip, Rebel of Democracy Award” on that one.