Lee Wrights: Voting for the lesser of two evils

by R. Lee Wrights

BURNET, Texas (Aug. 3) – It never ceases to amaze me how many citizens can vote for a candidate who doesn’t represent their views merely because he’s not as bad as the other guy, and then complain about the results. This phenomenon reminds me of a joke that circulated after the 1964 presidential election. That campaign was particularly vicious and decisive, especially the debate over the increasing American involvement in a far-off country called Vietnam and the fight against the “Communist Menace.” While President Lyndon Johnson pledged, “We are not going to send American boys nine or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves,” Sen. Barry Goldwater countered by saying he’d make “a damned swamp out of North Vietnam” if they didn’t quit their aggression.

The joke goes like this: “You know, they told me that if I voted for Goldwater, there would be riots in our big cities and a massive war in Vietnam. Well, I voted for Goldwater, and, by golly, they were right.”

However you want to justify or rationalize it, when you vote for the “lesser of two evils” you’re not just betraying your principles but also abandoning all hope of ever having a government that respects and defends liberty and freedom. When you vote for a candidate who doesn’t represent your views in order to stop another candidate who doesn’t represent your views, you end up with a government that not only doesn’t represent you views, but is run by people who have no incentive or motivation to even consider what you might think. If you maintain you’re choosing to support one evil in order to avoid a greater evil, you’re basically admitting there is no evil you would not support in the interest of a “greater” good.

“If we move in mass, be it ever so circuitously, we shall attain our object; but if we break into squads, everyone pursuing the path he thinks most direct, we become an easy conquest to those who can now barely hold us in check.”- Thomas Jefferson

Consider any other aspect of your life. If there were only two plumbers, electricians or car repair shops in your city, and both overcharged you, provided shoddy service, used substandard parts, and didn’t guarantee their work, would you still hire the one that was least bad? Or would you find a serviceman in a nearby town to hire, even if you had to wait several days for service? Some of you probably would do what I’ve done and learn to do the work yourselves.

In either case, you reject the idea of choosing from the “lesser of two evils” and find or make your own, third choice. Why then do we tolerate lousy performance, broken promises, and shoddy service from the two parties whose only reason for existence is to expand the power of government and reduce the rights of individuals? As Pat Buchanan observed, “The Democrats and Republicans are two wings on the same bird of prey.”

The men who framed the Constitution did so with a profound understanding that government was “a necessary evil.” They knew that just by the very act of drafting a document to establish a federal government they were actually choosing the “lesser of two evils.” Therefore, they took great care in what they wrote and the government they established, setting it on the firm foundation of natural and unalienable individual rights, while granting it only limited, specific and enumerated powers. The writing of the document was a compromise and the document itself was full of compromises. Nevertheless, the framers believed that the “blessings of self-government” could be secured for posterity through this “lesser evil.”

It’s easy to claim that voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil, but that’s not the worst outcome. It’s not always possible to vote for someone you agree with on every issue. There is no such thing as a perfect candidate – even a Libertarian candidate. It may be pragmatic to vote for a candidate you agree with on most issues, some issues, or at least on key issues.

The key word here is “for;” you want to vote for a candidate, not against a candidate. This doesn’t mean voting for someone who has no principles you agree with, or who is unquestionably willing to compromise any of their principles at the drop of a hat in order to get elected. This is the underlying misconception about voting for the “lesser evil.”

To begin with, it’s habit-forming. The winning “less evil” candidate you voted for could turn out to be just as bad, or worse, than the candidate you voted “against.” Remember that once in office, a politician has to “get along” in order to “get things done.” Your vote contributes to his false sense that he’s won a “mandate from the people.” He has no reason to pay any attention to any views that don’t match his own. So we shrug our shoulders, say “Oh well,” and in the next election do it all again in the hope things will turn out differently. After a while, you become desensitized to the constant disappointment of the lesser evil we choose being no better than the greater evil we feared.

The most pernicious consequence of voting for the “lesser of two evils” is that it adds credence to the dishonest assertion by establishment party apparatchiks that the Libertarian Party is not “viable.” The reality is that if all the people who reluctantly voted for the “lesser of two evils” voted for their principles instead, not only would several third parties be viable, the cumulative effect would build like a tsunami that would eventually sweep away the calcified political establishment.

In summary, here are The Top Ten Reasons Not to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils:

10. Change doesn’t come from the top, nor does it happen right away. Change comes from the bottom, from the grassroots, from the masses of people expressing their voice through their vote, over time.

9. The lesser of two evils usually isn’t.

8. It won’t change the mind or actions of the “lesser evil” candidate.

7. It’s interpreted by the candidate you select as an endorsement of all their views.

6. It helps winning a candidate falsely claim a “mandate from the people.”

5. It encourages the practice of the “politics of fear” rather than the politics of freedom.

4. It reinforces the false claim that third party (Libertarian) candidates are not “viable.”

3. They don’t deserve it.

2. It is in your self-interest and best for your own self-defense to vote for principle, regardless of the possible outcome; in the end, it is the only thing that matters.

1. You’ll sleep better.

“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”
– Thomas Sowell

R. Lee Wrights, 53, a libertarian writer and political activist, is seeking the presidential nomination because he believes the Libertarian message in 2012 must be a loud, clear and unequivocal call to stop all war. To that end he has pledged that 10 percent of all donations to his campaign will be spent for ballot access so that the stop all war message can be heard in all 50 states. Wrights is a lifetime member of the Libertarian Party and co-founder and editor of of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Born in Winston-Salem, N.C., he now lives and works in Texas.

Lee Wrights for President
Contact: Brian Irving, press secretary
press@wrights2012.com
919.538.4548

80 thoughts on “Lee Wrights: Voting for the lesser of two evils

  1. AroundtheblockAFT

    Unfortunately, we live in a “winner take all” political system. We still have to patronize the Red or Blue plumber even if we’d rather have the Green or Liberty plumber. Fortunately, whomever is the “winner” doesn’t know if you voted for her/him or not. You are always free to write or speak with her and say your support is contingent on certain voting patterns. Organize enough support that can be withheld – as votes for Libertarians, for instance – and the office holder may listen if she’s a mere power seeker or if she’s intellectually open enough to consider other viewpoints. Generally, I think we libertarians do not make enough use of our “balance of power” potential to restrain the “lesser of two evil” winners.

  2. Robert Capozzi

    1 around, what might that look like? Give us a thought experiment… please….

  3. Melty

    “R. Lee Wrights, … is seeking the presidential nomination because he believes the Libertarian message in 2012 must be a loud, clear and unequivocal call to stop all war. ”

    I agree with that whole-heartedly. The Party failed to carry that message when it mattered most – the first few post-jumbo-jet-fiasco years. Now the party’s on message cuz we got Benedict & Hinkle. Wrights for prez n we’re on the up & up.

  4. NewFederalist

    “@1 Around. Liberty’s color’s yellow.”

    Yellow seems to equate with being a coward. Let’s go for gold instead!

  5. AroundtheblockAFT

    #2, well off top of head, Ron Paul as a third party candidate. Get enough votes to deny the GOP candidate the victory. Tell the GOP that if they continue to run turkeys, then the Obamas of the left will continue to win. Of course, the price of refusing to vote for the lesser of two evils is that the most evil will probably keep winning.

  6. R. Lee Wrights

    Re: #6

    As long as we continue to vote for the lesser of two evils, evil “always” win. Nothing else has a chance to win but – evil.

    If one of the choices offered is not “no evil at all,” then there really is no choice at all.

  7. AroundtheblockAFT

    Lee, of course you are correct. But the reality is the most evil will always win if enough voters can’t stomach voting for the second most evil.
    So we have to live with that or devise strategies to keep moving the lesser of two evils closer to “no evil” so more and more of us can at least stomach him or her.

  8. Gene Berkman

    Since even alternative party candidates get votes from people that don’t totally agree with them, we all engage in “lesser evil” voting.

    Voters will generally vote for a major party candidate they don’t agree with, not just to defeat the “greater evil.” They also vote for a major party candidate because they have heard the name, and are less afraid of what they don’t know about the candidate.

    Since most voters don’t know much about any third party candidates, they are afraid to vote for someone who might turn out to be a more evil candidate. That is why third party candidates get so few votes.

  9. Tom Blanton

    The men who framed the Constitution did so with a profound understanding that government was “a necessary evil.” They knew that just by the very act of drafting a document to establish a federal government they were actually choosing the “lesser of two evils.”

    As it turns out, the framers chose the greater of two evils. The situation that exists now wouldn’t exist if the Articles of Confederation wasn’t replaced by the Constitution – which has completely failed to restrain government.

    The ugly truth is that our super-human God-like framers intended to create a more powerful centralized government. So, apparently they didn’t think government was particularly evil at all.

    We’ll all be better off once people develop a profound understanding that government is an unnecessary evil. Unfortunately, in these times, evil is as American as apple pie. It is the one thing America truly excels in.

  10. Robert Capozzi

    7 rlw: If one of the choices offered is not “no evil at all,” then there really is no choice at all.

    me: “Evil” is a subjective term, one that I’d be surprised if most voters would assign to Ls, actually. No welfare, no alliances, no drug laws to protect the young and the weak willed. Or they might say, “utopian.” Uni-dimensional “principles” seems unlikely to reap significant buy in with the current populace.

    What to do?….

  11. LibertyDave

    @9 The argument that all voting is “voting for a lesser evil” is a fools argument to excuse either throwing away your vote or for not voting at all.

    When I vote, I have never voted against someone. I all ways vote for someone. If I thought that everyone listed on the ballet was evil then I use the write in option to vote for someone I believe isn’t evil.

    By voting for someone instead of against someone I am stating what I want instead of what I don’t want.

    If you don’t ask for what you want you end up getting something else.

  12. Robert Capozzi

    13 tk, what’s wrong with vacillating? We all do it all the time, near as I can tell!

    Since you ask, I don’t find the “lesser of two evils” case a strong one. It’s especially so when applied to individual candidates. I suspect large percentages, for ex., voted FOR Obama, not because he was “less evil” than McCain. There’s a sanctimonious vibe I get from this “lesser of two evils” argument, one that may resonate with true believers, but few others.

    Few expect “perfection” or “morality” from pols. They want a range of things from them…likeability, a reasonable “moral compass,” a sense of balance and reasonableness, and a general agreement on which direction they would nudge the country/state/jurisdiction.

    Just my opinion, but if the LP is to get traction, I would lose the personalizing and vilification of individuals. I’d replace that with a critique of both parties as institutions, hopelessly lost in special interest-land. Align with the GENERAL interests, and the clear failure of the status quo.

  13. Robert Capozzi

    revising…

    Align with the GENERAL interests, and make the self-evident case that the status quo has failed.

  14. Concerned Chuck and Hetro Harry

    News flash! How many people actually read a news release from a second-tier third party candidate? A recent study has found only socially retarded third partiers who have delusions about their own important do, and still only a small fraction of those. Would Lee Wrights win an election to the city council of his own city running on a major party ticket? Dream on! This guy is a dope, a real loser. Alan Keyes is the Libertarian Party’s only hope.

  15. eric sundwall

    We need an eyeball popping ‘anarchist for dictator’ gonzo wrenching campaign with horns and dancers. To be transitioned into a a tea for two setting on Charlie Rose. Two million bucks, one million votes. Raise the fist of defiance and go home and fix the kitchen sink. Link the cool videos made on FB and keep ballot access as the main party function.

  16. Robert Capozzi

    Few could pull that off without looking like Charles Manson. Penn Jillette might be interesting for what ES prescribes. Jesse Ventura, to some extent.

  17. Kleptocracy and You

    F. Lee Wrights can introduce over a million people to the LP in a positive way. I say great and thank you for your efforts!

    Libertarians have quietly become America’s best organized and most significant third party. Unlike flash-in-the-pan parties organized around cults of personality like Ross Perot’s and Ralph Nader’s, Libertarians have organized at the grass roots for the long haul. They are fast approaching the point where they may force the major parties to reckon with Libertarian ideas. – Bob Ewegen, The Denver Post

    For more information, or to arrange an interview, call LP Executive Director Wes Benedict at 202-333-0008 ext. 222.

    Now you can get a Bumper Sticker Variety Pack with the Magnet Back already applied at the special price of $24.95 – save $15.00!
    http://www.lpstuff.com/shop/index.php?_a=viewProd&productId=869

    (Can’t you spare a dollar a day for liberty!?) LP Membership Center- https://www.lp.org/membership

  18. eric sundwall

    @RC – 19

    me: not sure where the Manson part comes from, but yes, agree that Jillete could pull it off. Ventura not so sure. Expect another half million vote yawner otherwise. I’ll certainly pound out my share of sigs regardless.

  19. Robert Capozzi

    21 es, playing the “wild man” in politics is very difficult…Manson being the symbol of wild men for me. A comic like Jillette can deliver an outrageous message with impact. Someone like, perhaps, Ernie Hancock, comes to mind as someone who is in the wild-man direction but who probably could not pull it off at a national level. As I recall, he’s prone to making bomb-throwing statements, ones that Jillette might pull off as a comic, but with Hancock, they seem shrill to me.

    I admire Hancock on many levels, btw, I just don’t think folk like him make good LP prez candidates. And I don’t mean to single him out, he just comes to mind as illustrative of the “eyeball popping ‘anarchist for dictator’ gonzo wrenching campaign with horns and dancers” school of L-ism.

  20. paulie

    Ron Paul as a third party candidate. Get enough votes to deny the GOP candidate the victory. Tell the GOP that if they continue to run turkeys, then the Obamas of the left will continue to win. Of course, the price of refusing to vote for the lesser of two evils is that the most evil will probably keep winning.

    The two assumption here seem to be, as far as I can determine:

    1) Ron Paul would pull more votes that would otherwise go to, e.g., Romney than votes that would otherwise go to Obama
    2) Romney (or other Republican nominee) is a lesser evil than Obama

    I don’t believe either 1 or 2 is correct. I think Romney (or any other likely Republican nominee) is just as or more evil than Obama. I also think that Ron Paul could pull just as many, or perhaps even more, votes from those who are disappointed in Obama’s continuation of the “War on Terror” at home and abroad, and of corporate bailouts, as he would from those disappointed with the warmongering and corporate-government collusion by the “weak tea” Republicans.

    Our message should be there is no lesser evil.

  21. Melty

    Agreed. Paul’s the strongest candidate the Repub Party’s got. He’s best for swing vote. That’s why Demcrat Party fears him most.

    There is no lesser evil. It is all evil. Paul’s all good. Other than him, the only lesser evil(lesser good?) I can think of is Gary Johnson.

    I, too, vote only for, and never against.

  22. JT

    CC and HH: “Would Lee Wrights win an election to the city council of his own city running on a major party ticket? Dream on! This guy is a dope, a real loser. Alan Keyes is the Libertarian Party’s only hope.”

    I forgot which elections Keyes has won in his long political career. What are they again?

    Paulie: “Our message should be there is no lesser evil.”

    I totally agree. If some *Libertarians* even believe there’s a “lesser evil,” then how can the LP possibly hope to counter the wasted vote syndrome in millions of voters? It can’t. If you concede that, then you’re reinforcing the idea that people should vote for whichever major party candidate is better (even if not good). An election has to be framed as a choice between the Democratic/Republican candidates who aren’t substantially different from each other, and the Libertarian candidate who’s substantially different from both of them.

  23. Robert Capozzi

    25 m: I, too, vote only for, and never against.

    me: Me, too. So I rarely vote. Whether both are true for most, I’m not sure. A lot don’t vote a lot of the time, but it appears that many vote in part against and not for. Many vote based on a relative basis…I mostly agree with her, I hardly agree with him.

  24. Don Lake, FYI, not necessarily a unilateral endorsement

    I vote against all the time. In 1972, even as an ROTC scholarship cadet, and knowing of Thomas Eagleton, still voted Bomber McGovern instead of Trickie Dick.

    McGovern was a kreep, but Nixon, even B4 water gate, was the Anti Christ!

    PMA, Positive Mental Attitude, a terrific tool for living or just an excuse for thinking less?

    Negative voting is an important part of the process! Under the ole California AIP I voted LP constantly.

  25. Brian Holtz

    When we say that the incumbent parties aren’t substantially different from each other, we undercut our message that Libertarians combine the best of both Left and Right. One way to present that message is with an interactive JavaScript Nolan quiz:

    When we say that the incumbent parties are too alike, we should include specifics, as in these two videos:

  26. Darryl W. Perry

    When we say that the incumbent parties aren’t substantially different from each other, we undercut our message that Libertarians combine the best of both Left and Right.

    When people use terms like “Left and Right” – it perpetuate the false left/right paradigm of divide & conquer.

  27. eric sundwall

    @RC 22 – Manson never ran for office . . . Ernie lost me when he started playing Morpheus clips at the 2010 Manhattan LP meeting.

    Stanhope came the closest in 2008 to the gonzo possibility. Anything less at this point will be predictably oriented was my main point.

  28. Brian Holtz

    Saying that there is such a thing as Left and Right does not perpetuate the myth that there is no Up or Down.

    On the other hand 😉 , denying that there is a Left that differs from the Right is a great way to limit your audience to pretty much just the choir.

  29. Michael H. Wilson

    Instead of left and right as we usually see them how about a line where we have coercion on one end and non coercion on the other? Coercion vs. Peace.

    I don’t see how we build a society based on peace, dignity and mutual respect by resorting to coercion.

  30. Brian Holtz

    Darryl, the answer to your question is in my two videos above.

    Michael, the point of the Nolan Chart is that Left and Right are just two different tendencies to coerce, and that Up/North is the direction for those who find both tendencies distasteful.

    If you think that taping the “coercion” label onto things is a political silver bullet, let’s see if it works on you. Read this short essay, and see if it gives you the geolibertarian realization that appropriating ground rent is coercion.

    There are no silver bullets in libertarian outreach. A silver bullet that works on every werewolf is exactly what the next werewolf wants you to think you have.

  31. JT

    Brian, you’re saying that Libertarians should say the incumbent parties are substantially different from each other and too alike?

  32. Brian Holtz

    I’m saying that the Left and Right each want to protect you from a certain set of your own choices. The substantial overlap between those two sets is identified in the two videos above. The substantial difference between those two sets can be seen using the “View the positions of” menu of the quiz above.

    Different audiences have different tolerances for oversimplification. For audiences with higher tolerance, or less time, there is always the bumper sticker approach:

  33. Robert Capozzi

    42 bh, yes, it’s important to distinguish between “POVs” of R and D voters and leaners from how Rs and Ds govern. We know that Rs don’t dismantle the welfare state and Ds don’t dismantle the warfare and surveillance state. In fact, they often exacerbate the state that their supporters have a POV about, eg, prescription drugs by Bush, Libya by Obama.

    Many Ls try to play politics by attacking the anti-L POVs and the policies designed to answer that POV. That’s how the R and Ds do it, so should we, seems to be the attitude, and is often done in the L community with a near-hysterical tone. This doesn’t make us a lot of friends or fellow travelers, and of course it alienates the bases.

    Instead, we COULD say we want those things too, but we want them to be done privately, peacefully. The incessant attacking is exhausting. Pointing in another direction (upward) COULD actually attract the disaffected and disappointed to a better way, a L way.

    Predicting meltdown and prescribing extreme changes may be more satisfying, and COULD be a setup for a future massive realignment. But, then, a hitter MIGHT hit a home run every time to the plate, too. Both have very remote odds…

  34. JT

    Brian: “I’m saying that the Left and Right each want to protect you from a certain set of your own choices. The substantial overlap between those two sets is identified in the two videos above. The substantial difference between those two sets can be seen using the “View the positions of” menu of the quiz above.”

    Okay, I don’t have an issue with that. But the two incumbent parties aren’t equal to “Left and Right.” Democrats and Republicans aren’t substantially different in what they actually do in office, regardless of the rhetoric of some politicians in each party.

    Libertarians, by contrast, represent an obvious difference. In the U.S. electoral system, which favors two main choices, it’s good for the LP to position the 2 incumbent parties together and the LP as the main alternative.

  35. Robert Capozzi

    44 jt: Libertarians, by contrast, represent an obvious difference.

    me: Actually, no, it’s not obvious, since no L has been elected the federal office. Voters have no way to gauge the gap between rhetoric and behavior for Ls. I do agree that underscoring that the BEHAVIOR of Rs and Ds is indiscernible in the main, as both have been horribly corrupted, mostly by special interest pandering.

  36. JT

    Capozzi: “Actually, no, it’s not obvious, since no L has been elected the federal office. Voters have no way to gauge the gap between rhetoric and behavior for Ls.”

    By obvious, I didn’t mean obvious from voter perception. I meant obvious by the specific proposals that Libertarians espouse. Democrats and Republicans speak in vague generalities and have already proven they can’t be trusted to significantly move social policy, economic policy, or foreign policy in a libertarian direction.

    Regardless, I think given the unfortunate reality of the U.S. electoral system, it’s just good marketing to do what I said above. And you can do that without framing it as the status quo vs. no government. There’s a lot of room there to position the LP as representing a clear, substantial reduction in government across the board vs. the status quo or more government, which is what we’ve already seen from the Democrats and Republicans when they’re in control.

  37. Robert Capozzi

    47 jt: By obvious, I didn’t mean obvious from voter perception. I meant obvious by the specific proposals that Libertarians espouse.

    me: Yes, Ls certainly do differentiate, but I contend the differentiation is largely in a vacuum. Voters generally have no perception of an L position, since voters don’t generally hear our message at all.

    This to me feels like going through the motions without actually engaging voters. It’s a “safe” strategy, perhaps even comforting in a sanctimonious sort of way. And, yes, while L candidates don’t generally run on a “smash the state” agenda, it’s my contention that the LP’s center of gravity is still swung too far in that fringe direction.

    It’s one thing to reframe the debate, it’s another to completely change the subject to one’s own comfort zone. Ls IMO remain in a kind of theoretical cocoon. If the cocoon worked, I’d be for it, but I see no evidence that it IS working.

  38. Brian Holtz

    JT) Democrats and Republicans aren’t substantially different in what they actually do in office (JT

    Minimum wage. Abortion. Marginal tax rates. DOMA. Mandatory health insurance. Prayer in public schools. Partial Social Security privatization. Family medical leave. Etc. Etc.

    To see how differently the donkeys and elephants vote, take a look at the data, e.g.
    http://ontheissues.org/Senate/Barbara_Boxer.htm
    http://ontheissues.org/Senate/Orrin_Hatch.htm

    Sure, it’s often the case that one party can limit how much of the other party’s agenda gets implemented, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t pushing an ideology. And yes, neither party is working to move policy in an overall libertarian direction. But denying there are substantial differences is not a silver marketing bullet to be included in all Libertarian outreach. There is a market segment to whom we should emphasize the similarities between the two incumbent parties, and there is anothe segment to whom we should say we combine the best of the differences between the parties.

    For a guide to polling data about how libertarian Americans are, see http://libertarianmajority.net/libertarian-polling .

  39. JT

    In several of the issues you mentioned, Brian, I either don’t consider the difference substantial or see much beyond rhetoric and no action. And I wouldn’t extrapolate ideology from Sens. Feinstein and Hatch to Democrats and Republicans per se.

    Holtz: “But denying there are substantial differences is not a silver marketing bullet to be included in all Libertarian outreach.”

    A) I don’t think anything is a “silver marketing bullet.” B) I don’t deny that there are some issues in which there’s a difference between (at least most members) of each incumbent party. But overall, I don’t see a substantial difference between the 2 incumbent parties. And that’s what I was referring to when I said: “In the U.S. electoral system, which favors two main choices, it’s good for the LP to position the 2 incumbent parties together and the LP as the main alternative.”

  40. Brian Holtz

    The point of my Boxer/Hatch links was to point toward data about how important policy issues are often decided by close to party-line votes. That’s why I also listed a bunch of important policies whose implementation has hinged on party lines. If we disagree about the historical record here, then we can let readers investigate for themselves.

    JT) But overall, I don’t see a substantial difference between the 2 incumbent parties. (JT

    Yes, but you’re already a libertarian. It’s important to get libertarians to vote Libertarian, but we also need to cultivate the libertarian leaners who currently vote for one incumbent party out of loathing for the other. Telling them the incumbent parties are the same is a good way to get them to ignore the rest of our pitch.

    That’s why I like The Advocates For Self-Government and their diamond-chart quiz. I wouldn’t replace it with an are-you-a-statist-or-libertarian quiz.

  41. JT

    Holtz: “That’s why I also listed a bunch of important policies whose implementation has hinged on party lines. If we disagree about the historical record here, then we can let readers investigate for themselves.”

    Oh, we don’t disagree on that. All I meant was that a few of those policies either weren’t close to being implemented or weren’t substantially different from what the other party proposed, IMO.

    Holtz: “It’s important to get libertarians to vote Libertarian, but we also need to cultivate the libertarian leaners who currently vote for one incumbent party out of loathing for the other. Telling them the incumbent parties are the same is a good way to get them to ignore the rest of our pitch.”

    Not the same, but not nearly as different as they think overall.

    It’s a sad truism that our electoral system is configured in a way that leads to an X vs. Y mindset, but it does. The LP has to be considered the X or Y to really break into the system, especially on the national level (not a silver bullet, just one necessary condition).

    Holtz: “That’s why I like The Advocates For Self-Government and their diamond-chart quiz. I wouldn’t replace it with an are-you-a-statist-or-libertarian quiz.”

    I like it too. But “Democrat” and “Republican” aren’t two of the areas. Neither party stands for considerably less government than now in the social, economic, or foreign spheres.

  42. Robert Capozzi

    JT , bridging on BH, people, don’t generally vote for “parties,” they vote for individuals who more closely represent their values as they perceive the candidates. Voters perceive a difference generally, even if you don’t.

    Convincing voters their perceptions are incorrect AND their values are incorrect is a MIGHTY tall order.

  43. Brian Holtz

    JT) “Democrat” and “Republican” aren’t two of the areas. (JT

    If you score the Democrats and Republicans on the quiz @31 (or on the WSPQ), they will fall into the left and right sides of the diamond chart, respectively. That’s why it’s shaped like a diamond, and not a thermometer.

    JT) a few of those policies either weren’t close to being implemented or weren’t substantially different from what the other party proposed, IMO (JT

    1) I repeat: “it’s often the case that one party can limit how much of the other party’s agenda gets implemented, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t pushing an ideology.”

    2) Policy questions like abortion, marginal tax rates, school prayer, and SS privatization are considered by many many Americans to have massive impacts on their lives — even if you don’t see much difference in the outcomes. (If the Democrats raise marginal tax rates and uncap FICA contributions, are you going to pay my family the tens of thousands of dollars a year it will cost us? If one of my daughters wants an abortion after the Republicans outlaw them, are you going to perform the procedure?)

    Bob, voters’ perception of candidates below POTUS are mostly determined by party label (and name recognition), not individual candidate evaluations. That’s pretty much the point of political parties.

  44. JT

    Capozzi: “JT , bridging on BH, people, don’t generally vote for “parties,” they vote for individuals who more closely represent their values as they perceive the candidates. Voters perceive a difference generally, even if you don’t.”

    Well, a great many people do indeed vote for candidates of one incumbent party or the other. A great many people don’t even know who different candidates are (except for President) beyond perhaps their names (sometimes).

    What I said about parties goes for candidates too though. X vs. Y.

    Holtz: “Policy questions like abortion, marginal tax rates, school prayer, and SS privatization are considered by many many Americans to have massive impacts on their lives — even if you don’t see much difference in the outcomes.”

    That’s true.

    Holtz: “If the Democrats raise marginal tax rates and uncap FICA contributions, are you going to pay my family the tens of thousands of dollars a year it will cost us?”

    No.

    Holtz: “If one of my daughters wants an abortion after the Republicans outlaw them, are you going to perform the procedure?”

    I could try, but the result probably would be unsatisfactory to you and her.

    Bottom line: I wouldn’t expect the LP to ever gain control of the House and/or Senate and/or Presidency within the electoral system we have now without framing the political alternative in millions of peoples’ minds as X vs. Libertarian. It’s not going to come about by expecting millions of people to become political analysts, weigh all the issues for each party’s candidates, and be cured of the wasted vote syndrome in an X vs. Y vs. Z context.

  45. Brian Holtz

    I’m not asking voters to become issue analysts. I’m just asking voters to signal what direction they want America to go: Left, Right, or Free. The way to beat the Wasted Vote Argument is to convince people that voting is about signaling, and not about changing election outcomes.

    If in the near future the Democrats and Republicans start having policy differences that you consider “substantial”, would you then start agreeing with the Wasted Vote Argument?

    For my full dissection of the Wasted Vote Argument, see here.

  46. Robert Capozzi

    bh and jt, yes, there still is such a thing as party line voting. There still is some of that the further down the line one goes. But there also is a fair amount of changing from R to D or D to R, especially with independents. A lot of that has to do with the prez candidates, although sometimes there are state or district dynamics at play.

    All one needs to see this is the progression between 06, 08, and 10 House results…significant swings.

    It appears that large segments of the electorate sees some kind of difference in the candidates AND what their respective parties putatively represent.

    If one’s frame of reference is the moon, there surely is no difference. A tighter lens reveals differences, both directionally to very large percentages.

  47. Robert Capozzi

    55 bh: I’m just asking voters to signal what direction they want America to go: Left, Right, or Free.

    Me: Yes, that’s the more insightful and appropriate point, at least in a political context. I would say we’re living through what appears to be a time of inflection points, not unlike the 30s. Upheavals trigger seminal events. Theoreticians provide guideposts; politicians provide the means. Theories create motivation and justification; legislation creates mechanisms for change. Theorists generally make poor engineers, engineers generally don’t generate theories, they apply them.

    Herein lies the challenge for L-ism and the LM. The theorists have hamstrung the engineers by setting the bar of “principle” too high. Engineers have to get their hands “dirty” by applying the increments of the theory. Theorists (from the grave!) continue to carp that the engineers are sell outs, opportunists. This position is not “radical” enough…we must in all we do “challenge the cult of the omnipotent state.”

    Someone forget about the notion of “division of labor.” Ultimately, Lenin was a failure!

  48. JT

    Holtz: “The way to beat the Wasted Vote Argument is to convince people that voting is about signaling, and not about changing election outcomes.”

    Good point, but I don’t think that can be done as long as millions of people hate/fear incumbent party X while thinking incumbent party Y is more or less acceptable.

    Holtz: “If in the near future the Democrats and Republicans start having policy differences that you consider “substantial”, would you then start agreeing with the Wasted Vote Argument?”

    If either incumbent party actually started eliminating some programs, cutting all income tax rates AND overall spending more so (in absolute terms), standing firm against foreign invasion and occupation, honoring civil rights protections, and reducing business mandates, I’d vote for that party’s candidates and encourage others to do so.

    Capozzi: “It appears that large segments of the electorate sees some kind of difference in the candidates AND what their respective parties putatively represent.”

    They do, and that’s a problem for Libertarians, which is my point.

    Capozzi: “If one’s frame of reference is the moon, there surely is no difference. A tighter lens reveals differences, both directionally to very large percentages.”

    There are some differences. Most (not all) are insignificant, IMO.

    Capozzi: “All one needs to see this is the progression between 06, 08, and 10 House results…significant swings.”

    Those were still largely votes along party lines, I think, even if some people had switched the party they were supporting. Frustrated and want the Democrats out of power? Vote Republican. Frustrated and want the Republicans out of power? Vote Democrat. Vote X and get rid of Y. Vote Y and get rid of X. Don’t think it will make much difference and consider the option X-Y vs. Z? Vote Z.

  49. Brian Holtz

    BH) If in the near future the Democrats and Republicans start having policy differences that you consider “substantial”, would you then start agreeing with the Wasted Vote Argument? (BH

    JT) If either incumbent party actually started [acting libertarian] I’d vote for that party’s candidates and encourage others to do so. (JT

    That wasn’t my question. You’re not answering for the case in which you come to believe that the Ds are trying to implement leftist policies, and the Rs are trying to implement rightist policies. (My chart @31 explains what I mean by leftist and rightist policies.)

    An antidote to the Wasted Vote Syndrome shouldn’t depend on convincing people there’s no left/right divide between the two incumbent parties. A better antidote would leverage that widespread belief. Maybe the difference between us is that if a voter really does lean Left or Right instead of Free, then I’m not very interested in them voting Libertarian.

    I agree with your point to Bob about House elections. The House changing parties is not strong evidence that people are voting for candidates rather than parties.

  50. JT

    Holtz: “JT) If either incumbent party actually started [acting libertarian] I’d vote for that party’s candidates and encourage others to do so.”

    Some Libertarians don’t consider what I said “acting libertarian.” I do and obviously you do as well.

    Otherwise, I guess I didn’t read your question the way you meant it.

    You asked: “If in the near future the Democrats and Republicans start having policy differences that you consider “substantial”…”

    I said substantial policy differences to me would have to be one party wanting to reduce government in those various areas. One party doing what I said above would also yield substantial policy differences. But you evidently meant if Democrats wanted to substantially (according to me) reduce government in the social sphere and Republicans wanted to substantially (according to me) reduce government in the economic sphere. Okay.

    “…would you then start agreeing with the Wasted Vote Argument?”

    The Wasted Vote Argument, as I understand it in this context, is the argument that Libertarian candidates can’t win major elections, and if you vote for a party’s candidates who can’t win major elections than you’re just throwing your vote away, so therefore voting Libertarian is just throwing your vote away.

    You’re asking me then: If the Democrats wanted to do what I said above and the Republicans wanted to do what I said above would I agree that voting Libertarian is just throwing one’s vote away?

    No, I wouldn’t agree with it. But millions of other people would, because many of them care about social freedom far more than economic freedom and many of them care far more about economic freedom than social freedom.

    Fortunately, Democrats don’t seriously reduce government socially, and Republicans don’t seriously reduce government economically, so it’s easier to frame the alternatives the way I think we should.

  51. Robert Capozzi

    Jt and bh, sure, some segment of independents may vote in an alternating party line fashion. Bases not coming out, retirements, stronger top of tickets are all factors. No doubt some pay little attention other than which party do I vote for this year.

    If I get a chance, I’ll see if studies have been done on just how straight party line most voters are, at least in each cycle…

  52. JT

    Me: “Fortunately, Democrats don’t seriously reduce government socially, and Republicans don’t seriously reduce government economically, so it’s easier to frame the alternatives the way I think we should.”

    I shouldn’t have said this is fortunate, because it isn’t. I should have simply said it makes it easier for Libertarians to re-frame the alternatives.

  53. Robert Capozzi

    62 jt, if it’s “easier,” then why do you suppose that the reframing has been ineffective?

  54. JT

    Capozzi: “62 jt, if it’s “easier,” then why do you suppose that the reframing has been ineffective?”

    I’m saying easier than otherwise, but I’m not saying it’s easy.

    For one thing, I don’t think there’s been a concerted, well-funded effort to do exactly that.

    For another thing, most media outlets promulgate the belief that there’s a fundamental ideological battle between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

    For another thing, re-framing in the way I suggested is just a necessary condition–not a sufficient one–for widespread partisan electoral impact.

  55. Brian Holtz

    JT) many of them care about social freedom far more than economic freedom and many of them care far more about economic freedom than social freedom. (JT

    I already said that if a voter really does lean Left or Right instead of Free, then I’m not very interested in them voting Libertarian. What I want are the votes of people who lean Free, even if they believe that Ds are pushing Left and Rs are pushing Right. My argument doesn’t require changing their belief about what Ds and Rs are doing; it just asks them to vote their conscience.

    JT) most media outlets promulgate the belief that there’s a fundamental ideological battle between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party (JT

    And what you seem to be promulgating is the belief that voting L might very well be a waste if one believes there is an ideological difference between D and R. I want those who lean Free to vote L no matter what they think the Ds and Rs are doing.

  56. Robert Capozzi

    bh and jt, my quick search indicates that split-ticket voting is increasing, but the academics seem hesitant to offer a definitive conclusion about why that’s the case. They cite a growing propensity to vote R for prez and D down ticket, sometimes vice versa. It might be worthy of more research.

    64 jt: I’m saying easier than otherwise, but I’m not saying it’s easy. For one thing, I don’t think there’s been a concerted, well-funded effort to do exactly that.

    Me: Yes, thank you. Clearly it’s not easy, else it’d have happened. I have a theory about why a well-funded effort hasn’t come to fruition. Getting large numbers and large donors to fund theory disconnected from practice isn’t working. Humans tend to be practical, not given to quixotic efforts, charming as they may be on some level. You may have a different theory….

    Jt: For another thing, most media outlets promulgate the belief that there’s a fundamental ideological battle between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

    Me: I do, too, although I don’t think it’s “fundamental.” I do observe that right and left thinking differs, yet L thinking is dramatically different from both by comparison. The Rs and Ds give lip service to their differing ideologies, but the EFFECT of their efforts are largely indistinguishable. I respect that you don’t actually see a difference in their philosophical stances, but I don’t agree. I do agree that their behavior is much closer than the media would have us believe. Ls generally have philosophical stances that are QUITE different from Rs and Ds, and essentially we have no track record, only rhetoric.

    jt: For another thing, re-framing in the way I suggested is just a necessary condition–not a sufficient one–for widespread partisan electoral impact.

    Me: ADR, but I don’t agree that your conclusion is “necessary.” Unfortunately, I know of no way to test your or my analysis…too many variables, no thought experiment laboratory. So, we’re down to best guesses, yes? Ah, the human condition!

  57. JT

    Holtz: “And what you seem to be promulgating is the belief that voting L might very well be a waste if one believes there is an ideological difference between D and R.”

    I’m not. I’m saying that most voters today do think it’s a waste based on the belief that the incumbent parties are very different from each other. Those people then hate/fear one party and continue settling for the other in order to just help defeat what they consider to be a horrible alternative and stave off imminent disaster.

    I don’t blame those people, because within what I consider a narrow scope, the incumbent parties are very different from each other. But that’s why I think the LP needs to draw it back and focus attention on the bigger picture, thus drawing public perception of the two incumbent parties close together.

    Capozzi: “Me: ADR, but I don’t agree that your conclusion is “necessary.””

    I know. If you did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. That’s my view though. I realize that nobody’s obligated to agree with me.

  58. paulie

    When we say that the incumbent parties aren’t substantially different from each other, we undercut our message that Libertarians combine the best of both Left and Right.

    Not necessarily.

    Actually, the Democrats regularly sell out the left – especially, but not only, what is good on the left – and the Republicans regularly sell out the right – especially, but not only, what is good on the right.

  59. paulie

    We know that Rs don’t dismantle the welfare state and Ds don’t dismantle the warfare and surveillance state. In fact, they often exacerbate the state that their supporters have a POV about, eg, prescription drugs by Bush, Libya by Obama.

    Exactly.

  60. paulie

    Many Ls try to play politics by attacking the anti-L POVs and the policies designed to answer that POV. That’s how the R and Ds do it, so should we, seems to be the attitude, and is often done in the L community with a near-hysterical tone. This doesn’t make us a lot of friends or fellow travelers, and of course it alienates the bases.

    Instead, we COULD say we want those things too, but we want them to be done privately, peacefully.

    Agreed on that, as well.

  61. paulie

    Minimum wage. Abortion. Marginal tax rates. DOMA. Mandatory health insurance. Prayer in public schools. Partial Social Security privatization. Family medical leave.

    Democrats and Republicans have both by and large long since supported the minimum wage. They occasionally still quibble about how fast it should go up, but IIRC it has gone up under both Democrats and Republicans.

    Republicans pay lip service to ending abortion, but how many of them are really treating it as what they claim it is, a holocaust going on in our country today? Are they doing anything like blowing up the tracks to the death camps, setting themselves on fire, or even filibustering every bill in Congress until the issue is dealt with? A tiny handful of people is really that zealous about the issue, and many others are single issue voters against abortion even if nothing else. It seems to me that the Republicans would like to perpetually keep getting their votes by paying lips service to ending abortion while actually doing very little about it.

    DOMA is still being enforced under a Democratic administration. Nor did it end when that administration had a Democratic congress last term.

    Mandatory health insurance used to be an issue pushed by Republicans, and was first signed into law by the governor who is now a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, before recently being adopted by Democrats.

    That’s about all I want to take time to address right now, but it does seem that Democrats and Republicans frequently sell out their constituencies, usually with little consequence because they keep arguing that the other guys are worse still.

  62. paulie

    neither party is working to move policy in an overall libertarian direction. [..] there is a market segment to whom we should emphasize the similarities between the two incumbent parties, and there is another segment to whom we should say we combine the best of the differences between the parties.

    I agree with that. And I also believe there is no lesser evil between them.

  63. paulie

    If you score the Democrats and Republicans on the quiz @31 (or on the WSPQ), they will fall into the left and right sides of the diamond chart, respectively. That’s why it’s shaped like a diamond, and not a thermometer.

    It depends on which Democrats and Republicans you mean. And the shape of the quiz isn’t dependent on the existence of the two largest US political parties or where they fall on the quiz/map.

  64. paulie

    it’s often the case that one party can limit how much of the other party’s agenda gets implemented, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t pushing an ideology.

    Yes, but I think it goes beyond that. I believe the corporate status quo leadership of both major parties had no intention whatsoever of allowing either party’s ideological red meat that they throw out to their supporters from ever becoming law or policy. They only find it useful to keep the rubes fighting each other down at the bottom rather than ever looking up at the top of the pyramid of power to find it resting on their backs.

    In other words, much of the rhetoric is only allowed to be thrown out because it has no chance of being acted on any time soon, if ever.

  65. paulie

    If in the near future the Democrats and Republicans start having policy differences that you consider “substantial”, would you then start agreeing with the Wasted Vote Argument?

    Not necessarily, since both want to make substantial areas of policy worse, and it is still not clear that one would be on balance better than the other even if they did live up to their throwaway rhetoric.

    However, it can still be useful to point out that much of their rhetoric is (perhaps intentionally) deceptive as well. It gets some people thinking, which in some cases can lead to breaking free of their attachment to their party.

  66. paulie

    An antidote to the Wasted Vote Syndrome shouldn’t depend on convincing people there’s no left/right divide between the two incumbent parties. A better antidote would leverage that widespread belief. Maybe the difference between us is that if a voter really does lean Left or Right instead of Free, then I’m not very interested in them voting Libertarian.

    Me neither, but in some cases that lean itself is at least partially a function of party loyalty. Taking myself as an example, I would say that my attachment to Democrats’ economic positions was less firm than my fervent attachment to the peace and civil liberties stands they paid lip service to. It was when I came to realize that the peace and civil liberties stands were mostly empty rhetoric that I felt more comfortable entertaining economic arguments that were not aligned with what had up to that point been “my side.”

  67. Alan Winter

    I appreciate this similar, though far more cogent, breakdown of the insanity of ‘lesser evil’ than the one I’ve been making to my Democratic party friends the past decade. I only wish Libertarian economic ideology was as consistent with liberty and freedom as are other planks in the Lib platform. Defending predatory capitalism/refusing to regulate human greed are about 200 years ahead of human development; being dominated by predators is freedom and liberty only for the predators.

  68. paulie

    You must be assuming that big government is the best way, or even the only way, to regulate predatory behavior. Libertarians disagree, and see big government as itself predatory, and far more likely to reinforce, buttress, abet and protect predatory behavior by corporatists than to curb it.

  69. paulie

    http://praxeology.net/aotp.htm

    Those who see government power and corporate power as being in conflict, and those who seem them as being in cahoots, each have a point. The alliance between government and the corporate elite is like the partnership between church and state in the Middle Ages: each one wants to be the dominant partner, so there’s naturally some pushing and shoving from time to time; but on the other hand the two parties have a common interest in holding down the rest of us, and so the conflict rarely goes too far. The main difference between “left-wing” and “right-wing” versions of statism, as I see it, is that the former generally seek to shift the balance a bit farther in favour of the state (i.e., toward state-socialism) while the latter generally seek to shift the balance a bit farther in favour of corporatism and plutocracy. (In the U.S., the reigning versions of liberalism and conservatism are arguably both more corporatist than state-socialist; but the liberals are still a few notches farther toward state-socialism than the conservatives are.)

    But whether the special interests who are the primary beneficiaries of state power are mainly within the state apparatus or mainly outside it, the actual application of state power remains much the same. Hence it is a mistake to suppose that the corporatist-plutocratic version of statism is in any interesting sense less statist than the state-socialist version.

    Read more at the link above.

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