October 25, 2004

Voting by Process of Elimination

Like most people this election cycle, when I consider how I might cast my vote for President of the United States, I think first of those I cannot vote for. This is significant, because voting should ideally be an affirmative act, where each voter embraces a candidate or viewpoint and votes to endorse that candidate or viewpoint.

If our votes were meant to be a statement of negation, our system would look much different. Instead of casting a single vote for the person to hold each elected post, we would get a list of candidates and strike through each one who was unacceptable to us. The candidate who got the least "unacceptable" votes would presumably take office. Such an effect would hard-code pessimism and negativity into our system, and would reframe the political debate into one which is even more poisonous than we have today. Why? Because most people know who the major party candidates are; the obscure ones whose records and views are less known might slip under the radar. But better-funded candidates would have the ability to attack every other candidate, no matter how obscure. Dark horse candidates with fewer resources would lose that battle almost every time. Even so, in times where the major parties have failed to nominate inspiring candidates, the act of "protest voting" would allow third parties a much greater shot at influence than our current first-past-the-post system.

Even worse, the complexity of a negative voting system would make butterfly ballots seems straightforward. (Even Tim Russet gets confused sometimes. In the Florida debate between U.S. Senate candidates Betty Castor and Mel Martinez, Russert asked about a proposed state constitutional amendment which would cap attorney's fees in medical malpractice cases; he mistakenly said it capped damages.)

Fortunately, we have a system of voting for, not against, candidates. But in choosing who to vote for, most of us are deciding who to vote against. I find myself in the same position.

Eliminating Badnarik

I believe in libertarian ideas of government: more personal freedom and lesser governmental burden on every citizen. But I cannot vote for the Libertarian Party candidate, Michael Badnarik, because of stances both he and his party have taken.

Badnarik is not a serious candidate, and two of his personal stances are reasons why. Before securing the nomination (as a third-place long shot going into the convention; the delegates ultimately decided that the two most popular candidates were unacceptable to each other's supporters - another strike against negative voting) Badnarik's website described his views on prison reform. He advocated that prisoners be confined to bed rest and be deprived of exercise to make them more docile. Even law-and-order libertarians ought to recognize that imposing physical and emotional weakness, even on convicts, is a stark conflict with the philosophy of individual respect at the core of libertarian thought. Some may argue that convicted criminals have forfeited the right to that respect; even so, Badnarik's proposal is hardly the well-thought out position of a serious candidate.

Second, Badnarik stated, in a recent speech at American University, that "taxes are theft." That is not a libertarian position, it is an anarchist position. Although taxation in some amounts and in some forms may be immoral, there can be no government if there are no taxes at all. We must somehow pay for those limited functions of government which are both necessary and proper. To claim differently is to abandon the libertarian view entirely. If Badnarik really believes what he said, then he is not a libertarian. If he does not believe it, we cannot trust anything else he says.

The Libertarian Party, by nominating a non-serious candidate, has taken itself out of the running for my vote. Until they nominate a serious candidate (not necessarily one who is likely to win votes, but one who takes the race seriously) I will not vote again for a Libertarian Party presidential candidate.

Furthermore, there is one part of the party's philosophy which I find deeply troubling, and that is its approach to foreign policy. The Party espouses, in effect, an isolationist viewpoint, and their core principle of foreign relations would be "leave us alone and we'll leave you alone." I think this approach is provably false. In today's global society, the United States cannot avoid having global interests. From military alliances to climate change to free trade, the United States must be engaged in almost every corner in the planet. Our interests in those engagements will almost always create friction with somebody, often somebody with the power to inflict great harm on us unless we prevent it. To pretend that we can protect ourselves by withdrawing is folly. Because our national defense is probably the most important issue in this election, and because the Libertarian Party is so wrong on it, I cannot vote for Badnarik or his party in this presidential race.

Eliminating Kerry

This one was an easy decision. Substantively, Kerry is incoherent and advocates inconsistent positions not just over time, but even in the course of a single debate. There is almost no issue in which anyone could say with certainty what a Kerry administration would do. The few things I am confident he would do, I disagree with. The few things I agree with, I doubt he would actually do.

On the most important front, foreign policy, Kerry is a disaster. Three examples highlight this. First, his plan for Iraq is to persuade our allies to take larger shares of the burden of nation building. Those allies, especially France and Germany, have already rejected the Kerry plan. Kerry's Iraq plan is literally a non-starter. Second, Kerry's plan for North Korea is to exclude our allies from the disarmament talks. There is no principled reason for this except it allows Kerry to act differently from Bush. Unfortunately, Kerry's plan is a return to the approach of the Clinton administration which left us in this mess in the first place. Third, Kerry amazingly advocates delivery of nuclear material to Iran. This is a nation that produces about 4 million barrels of oil per day, with proven oil reserves of almost 95 billion barrels. Iran's nuclear power plant at Bushehr, scheduled to go online next year, has 1000 megawatt capacity, or the equivalent of only 40 thousand barrels of oil - just a drop out of Iran's daily production. So what possible need can Iran have for nuclear power, except to enable their development of nuclear weapons?

While some libertarians think that a Kerry administration is the lesser of two evils, I cannot use my vote to endorse a candidate whose administration would rarely, if ever, act in a way I want our government to act. So Kerry is out.

Eliminating Bush

This one is more difficult. There is no shortage of ways in which Bush has let down both conservatives and libertarians. Even those of us who agree that invading Iraq was a proper response to the information we had at the time, as I do, have to recognize that the nation-building effort has failed in many ways. I agree with the core philosophy that America must proactively engage in the world in order to accomplish the primary purpose of government: protection of its citizens. But this administration is bungling its handling of the war on terror, despite a good start. We still can't find Bin Laden. The Patriot Act is being used to fight domestic crime instead of terrorism. We're torturing prisoners in Iraq, and not terrorists but petty criminals and car thieves. This administration may be working hard, but it's not working smart, and as a result, we're traveling swiftly down a pavement of good intentions.

As if foreign policy failures weren't enough, Bush has made significant domestic policy errors. He has abandoned free trade when he wanted to pander to swing states like Pennsylvania. He's failed to put a brake on runaway spending, even discounting the need for additional security needs. He's just signed a tax bill that creates countless new tax breaks for niche corporate interests - one that even Treasury Secretary John Snow condemned - instead of focusing on true tax reform. Finally, the Bush administration cannot be described as coming anywhere close to a libertarian philosophy on the role of government in the lives of American citizens. We are clearly less free than we were on September 10, 2001, and those measures that have reduced our freedom have rarely resulted in any appreciable increase in security here at home.

These points only scratch the surface. But when all things are considered, I cannot justify endorsing a second Bush term. Kerry would be much, much worse, but Bush simply isn't good enough for me to support him.

Who's Left?

Nader? Please. Other third party candidates? I don't know of a third party that has a serious candidate espousing views I believe in. I am almost certainly going to have to write someone in. I want someone who's strong on national security without being a proponent of big government or of measures that erode my liberty. I have a couple of ideas, but I'm also open to suggestions. Contact me if you have any.

Posted by wasylik at October 25, 2004 02:44 PM | TrackBack