Blogs > Liberty and Power > Kerry or Badnarik?

Nov 1, 2004 6:29 am


Kerry or Badnarik?



[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

FERRIS: Are you going to be as impractical as that?
REARDEN: The evaluation of an action as"practical," Dr. Ferris, depends on what it is that one wishes to practice.
FERRIS: Haven't you always placed your self-interest above all else?
REARDEN: That is what I am doing right now.


      -- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
While I hear a lot about"undecided voters" on the news, I don't personally know anybody who is undecided between Bush and Kerry. I do, however, know quite a few people who are undecided between Kerry and Badnarik. I certainly can't blame anybody who ends up choosing Kerry as a means to unseating the most dangerous president of my lifetime. But as the last grains of pre-electoral sand are running out, I think it's worth explaining once more why I'm voting for Badnarik rather than Kerry.

Two recent posts (see here and here) from Robert Bidinotto offer a convenient foil. Bidinotto argues that those who support Michael Badnarik (or, as Bidinotto mistakenly calls him,"John" Badnarik) are forgetting that"the 'perfect' is the enemy of the 'good'." (Whenever anybody invokes that phrase, some compromise of principle always seems to be in the offing.)

Bidonotto aims to be making a case for Bush over Badnarik, rather than for Kerry over Badnarik. That’s because Bidinotto assumes, first, that a Bush victory would promote libertarian values better than would a Kerry victory, and second, that a vote for Badnarik"is a de facto vote for Kerry." I think the first assumption is clearly false; if we look at results rather than rhetoric, Bush comes out as objectively far more anti-liberty than Kerry. I'm not sure the second is true either; certainly I would vote for Kerry over Bush if I had to choose between the two, and this is likewise true of most of the Badnarik supporters I know -- so it's not obvious that most Badnarik votes would otherwise have gone to Bush. (It's true, though, that Badnarik, bless him, is specifically targeting Republican voters in an attempt to hurt Bush.)

But Bidinotto's argument is worth addressing apart from these two assumptions. For if his argument, with those assumptions, makes a case for supporting Bush over Badnarik, then the same argument, without those assumptions, makes a case for supporting Kerry over Badnarik. Thus Bidinotto's argument counts, objectively, as an argument on behalf of Kerry; those of us who plan to vote Libertarian tomorrow thus need a reply to Bidinotto's argument in order to justify voting for Badnarik rather than Kerry.

Bidinotto's argument, briefly, is this: When faced with a choice between voting for a lesser evil (whether you think that's Bush or Kerry) who can win, or endangering that candidate's chances by voting for a principled libertarian (which describes Badnarik, whatever his personal eccentricities) who cannot win, Bidinotto thinks that the principled choice is to vote for the lesser evil, whereas to risk hurting the lesser-evil candidate by supporting the one who can't win is moral fanaticism. For Bidinotto,"the difference between a man of principle and a fanatic .... comes down to whether you primarily view moral principles as means to your ends (values), or whether you primarily view moral principles as ends in themselves." Badnarik supporters, he suggests, are moral fanatics who" cast purely symbolic votes for Principle," thereby expressing their"moral commitment to the platonic Ideal" -- but insofar as this choice helps to get the worse of the two viable candidates elected, it counts as"an objective sell-out of our lives, our security and all we hold dear, for the sake of a subjective feeling of smug self-righteousness." Those who hold principles, not as ends in themselves, but as means to achieving values in real life as far as possible, will vote for the least bad viable candidate.

This argument doesn't sway me, for two reasons. First, as an Aristotelean I cannot accept Bidinotto's dichotomy between principles as means and principles as ends. And I'm surprised that Bidinotto accepts it; for he himself has previously argued (see his article Survive or Flourish? A Reconciliation) that principles adopted as means to maintaining our lives become constitutive parts of the kind of life we aim to maintain. Hence on Bidinotto's own neo-Aristotelean view, the principled person cannot regard her principles merely as strategies for advancing some independently specifiable mode of life, but must regard adherence to those principles as part of the mode of life to be advanced. (The quotation from Rand at the top of this post arguably expresses the same idea; Bidinotto is in effect condemning Badnarik supporters as impractical, and the proper reply is Rearden's: that depends on what it is that one wishes to practice.)

Second, even if one were to adopt a purely strategic attitude toward one's principles, Bidinotto's conclusion still does not follow. The strategic point of acting on principle is to think long-range, rather than sacrificing significant longterm gain for the sake of some slight but immediate advantage. As I wrote in a piece titled Thinking Beyond the Next Election: A Strategy for Victory:

In playing chess, a sure way to lose is to spend your first few moves capturing as many of the opponent's pieces as possible. It’s much more important to let those juicy-looking pieces go than to allow them to distract you from your main mission of building a strong presence at the center of the board.

I think the same lesson applies in politics. In crafting our strategy we need to plan several elections ahead, not just one. ... If we plan ahead only as far as the next election, then it's absolutely true that a vote for a candidate who loses is an ineffective vote.

But if we think ahead four years, or eight years, or twelve years, then a vote can do more than just elect a candidate. A vote can help to build a vote total which, even if it is a losing vote total, can, if it's big enough, draw more attention and support to the losing candidate and his party or cause.

This has two beneficial effects: First, it increases the good guys' chance of winning in the future. Second, it forces the major candidates to move in our direction in order to avoid precisely that.
Bidinotto considers this sort of argument, but only to dismiss it by asking:"Does anyone believe that Ross Perot had any enduring impact on the major parties, or on ensuing debates about economic policy? And will anyone be talking about Ralph Nader's views two weeks from now?"

Well, who cares what anybody is talking about two weeks from now? That’s short-term thinking again. What matters is what gets talked about four years from now; 2000 could be dismissed as a fluke, but if Nader makes the Democrats lose two presidential races in a row, I find it hard to believe that they won't scramble their hardest to win back Nader voters in 2008. Indeed, fear of Nader may already have influenced the Democratic nomination process by making more conservative candidates like Lieberman, Gephardt, and Clarke too risky. (As for Perot, he sacrificed much of the influence he could have had through his own erratic behaviour, and through not running a second time.)

There is historical precedent for the strategy I favour. As David Friedman points out in his book The Machinery of Freedom:

I believe the answer is that we should learn from our enemies; we should imitate the strategy of the Socialist party of 60 years ago. Its presidential vote never reached a million, but it may have been the most successful political party in American history. It never gained control of anything larger than the city of Milwaukee but it succeeded in enacting into law virtually every economic proposal in its 1928 platform -- a list of radical proposals ranging from minimum wages to social security.
And it did this precisely by forcing the Democrats to move leftward in order to keep voters away from the Socialists. No doubt there were, in every election year, left-wingers who told the Socialists"This election is too important! You must support the Democratic candidate to prevent the even-less-socialistic Republican from getting in." If the Socialists had listened, their influence would have been zero; there would have been nowhere for socialistically inclined voters to go, and so the Democratic Party would have gone on taking such voters' support for granted and never thrown them so much as a bone.

My argument is not intended as a criticism of those who think, not unreasonably, that the Prince President is so egregiously horrific that this election really is a case where preventing his re-election immediately is worth the setback to any longterm LP strategy (especially if they have doubts about the LP's longterm viability anyway). These are trade-offs that each individual must judge for herself. (I would note, however, that those who do not live in a swing state still have no good reason to vote for a major-party candidate.) It's also not intended as a criticism of those who are so disgusted with the electoral process that they prefer not to vote at all. While I don't buy the argument that voting is inherently immoral (see my counter-argument here), nor the argument that voting is pointless unless a single vote is likely to determine the outcome (I believe in an imperfect duty to contribute to public goods, so the fact that something would be good if lots of people did it is a reason, albeit a defeasible one, to do it), there is nothing inherently obligatory about voting (since the duty to contribute to public goods is imperfect, we can pick and choose which public goods we contribute to -- which is also why I'm not a vegetarian, but that's another story) and the whole process is pretty distasteful. My argument aims merely to explain my reasons for supporting Badnarik, and to show that Bidinotto's arguments against those reasons do not succeed. (And Bidinotto should be relieved that I'm not persuaded by his arguments, since if I were, I would be voting for Kerry.)

One final topic: Bidinotto also condemns the Libertarian Party for promoting"a philosophical package-deal that links free-market economics with absolutely [loathsome], Leftist positions on other vital issues, such as criminal justice and foreign policy -- positions which the L. P. now insists are integral aspects of 'libertarianism.'" I won't take the time now to defend those particular positions (I've defended the anti-punishment position here and here, and the military non-interventionist position passim), but I do want to make two points.

First, there is nothing specifically"Leftist" (in Bidinotto’s sense) about these positions, which were being defended by libertarians and classical liberals long before being borrowed (and mangled) by statist socialists. William Graham Sumner, for example, analysed the connection between imperialism and plutocracy in such articles as"War" and"The Conquest of the United States by Spain"; does Bidinotto think Sumner was a"Leftist"? (For that matter, as Chris Sciabarra reminds us, Ayn Rand adopted an anti-interventionist position with regard to Korea, Vietnam, and both World Wars. Was she a"Leftist"?)

Second, the LP does not enforce any"party line" with regard to these positions. They may be in the LP Platform (actually the anti-punishment position isn't, strictly speaking), but Libertarian candidates have never been, and are not now, bound by the Platform; Badnarik's own running mate, for example, is (regrettably) a pro-interventionist and a supporter of the"war on terror."

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More Comments:


Roderick T. Long - 11/12/2004

For answers to those questions, see my arguments here:

http://praxeology.net/anarcres.htm#RTL


jeremy Paul Koelmel - 11/12/2004

You want no government? I think some people should understand what no government would mean. It wouldn't work because some things need to be governed. How would we form laws and keep civil order? I mean it probably would be amasing if it worked but so far we aren't evolved enough to have everyone listening the the rules with out reinforcement. With out one government any single systems would fight for superiority like the local police. Then some one would win a monopoly and take over. Plus what about an army? For defence? Government is extremely important, but I think a limited government, or a government you can trust is much better. Badnarik would get my vote because he supports a government that can be trusted and he will take away some governing factors like over marriage that the government doesn't have a right to. Also he makes weed legal and guns which reduces criminal offence.


Marcus Macauley - 11/3/2004

Arthur:
In Response to your argument that voting for Kerry will send a message to the world that we oppose Bush...how does voting for Kerry send any stronger message to the world than voting for Badnarik (or Nader or Cobb et al), which is 1) against Bush and 2) anti-war/imperialism (unlike a vote for Kerry)?

I respect the many positions people take on the election and what is most strategic/principled/whatever, but the argument that voting for Kerry will send an anti-Bush message any different than voting for someone else, seems very weak to me - especially as Kerry, among the candidates, is as close to Bush as you can get.

I see a vote for Kerry as a vote for war, a vote for the Patriot Act, and basically a vote for everything that Kerry has supported in the Senate.

Which means I feel as uncomfortable writing Kerry a "blank check" (in the form of a ballot) as Kerry SHOULD HAVE felt when he wrote Bush a "blank check" (in the form of voting for the resolution giving Bush power to unilaterally make war anywhere for any reason).

My uneducated guess is people around the world are gnerally smarter and more politically aware than Americans (largely because of media bias, among other factors), and will recognize that Kerry is more similar to Bush than different and that the American people are more asleep than awake.

Anyway, we should all search deep within our hearts and make the decision that feels right - no matter what anyone else says.


Charles Johnson - 11/2/2004

"If you don't vote for what you truly want,(limited govt.), you'll never get it."

But I don't want limited government. I want no government. So building the Libertarian Party is for me (as it is for many others) just as much a strategic move as voting for some worse statist. (Indeed, this is the case even if you are (just like Badnarik) a committed minarchist Constitutionalist. "Limited government" isn't on the ballot; Michael Badnarik is, and the argument for voting for him is, at the strongest, that he would do the most to advance the cause of limited government if elected.)

Given that, there are some good reasons to think that if you are in the particular circumstance of, for example, living in a swing state where a handful of votes may determine the outcome, there may be good reasons to think that a vote for Kerry is the wisest course of action available. (As Roderick argues, the case is much less strong insofar as these considerations aren't in play--if I were still living in Alabama rather than Michigan, I wouldn't hesitate to put in a ballot for Badnarik.)


D Frank Robinson - 11/2/2004

I appreciate the lively debate about which strategy of voting achieves the greatest 'public good'.

I am in a situation in which the debate not relevant. Unlike the 49 or states where a choice among three or more candidates is possible, I have no such choices on my ballot.

I voted this morning in Oklahoma. I voted against nine state referendum questions, against the retention of seven judges, and against the incumbents for three county offices.

I refused to vote for any candidates for federal office, nor did I vote for either of the candidates for state office. Effectively, by undervoting I cast a selective NOTA ballot. The motive was protest (or spite) on principle. The ballot access law in Oklahoma is the worst in the nation.

If one chooses not to vote in any election for or against anything or anyone, I have no quarrel. Everyone has the right to nulify themselves politically just as they have the right to seceed or commit suicide. For others, like me, who have not yet reached that conclusion, we choose to do whatever seems prudent to cause as much as we can to rage symbolically against the Force of the State - as it exist in Oklahoma. We, libertarians in Oklahoma, are in litigation against the State. One our cases is before the U.S. Supreme Court another is working its way through the courts. We hope to join the rest of you in the future in debate strategies of voting. For the present we are essentially bound and gagged.


Roderick T. Long - 11/2/2004

My colleague Charles Johnson raises a good question: regardless of whether we vote for Kerry (his reluctant preference) or Badnarik or Leo the Circus Bear today, what form should our political activism take after the election? Charles suggests paying more attention to getting referenda on the ballot; see his case here:

http://www.radgeek.com/gt/2004/11/01/the_day.html


Jake C Witmer - 11/2/2004

I am so very glad that Roderick Long wrote his post, arguing as an objectivist (or at least Aristotelian who quotes Rand) in favor of voting for Badnarik. A week ago when I called the objectivist center, I talked to an intern who advocated voting communist before voting libertarian, since "It's not time yet for a political movement" and "We can't advocate political positions or we'll lose our nonprofit 501(c)3 status".

These are cowardly arguments in favor of compromise, and I'm glad to see them shot down. To those objectivists who are not already simpering cowards afraid of losing their "permission to speak freely" 501(c)3 status, I suggest reading John Ross's book about freedom: "Unintended Consequences", and reading Vin Suprynowicz's article on the Badnarik vote here:

http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2004/Jun-27-Sun-2004/opinion/24127406.html


Marcus Macauley - 11/2/2004

Arthur:
In Response to your argument that voting for Kerry will send a message to the world that we oppose Bush...how does voting for Kerry send any stronger message to the world than voting for Badnarik (or Nader or Cobb et al), which is 1) against Bush and 2) anti-war/imperialism (unlike a vote for Kerry)?

I respect the many positions people take on the election and what is most strategic/principled/whatever, but the argument that voting for Kerry will send an anti-Bush message any different than voting for someone else, seems very weak to me - especially as Kerry, among the candidates, is as close to Bush as you can get.

I see a vote for Kerry as a vote for war, a vote for the Patriot Act, and basically a vote for everything that Kerry has supported in the Senate.

Which means I feel as uncomfortable writing Kerry a "blank check" (in the form of a ballot) as Kerry SHOULD HAVE felt when he wrote Bush a "blank check" (in the form of voting for the resolution giving Bush power to unilaterally make war anywhere for any reason).

My uneducated guess is people around the world are gnerally smarter and more politically aware than Americans (largely because of media bias, among other factors), and will recognize that Kerry is more similar to Bush than different and that the American people are more asleep than awake.

Anyway, we should all search deep within our hearts and make the decision that feels right - no matter what anyone else says.


Steven Donald Boekowski - 11/2/2004

Dear Mr. Long:
I'm voting for Badnarik. If you don't vote for what you truly want,(limited govt.), you'll never get it. It seems many of the Kerry supporters are making the same mistake the Bush supporters did four years ago: wanting to avoid electing the other guy so bad they didn't examine their candidate close enough. Both major candidates, to me, represent out of control government.
How can a true libertarian vote for that?
Thank you.


Roderick T. Long - 11/1/2004

I flip-flopped because I hadn't previously thought of your reason (wanting as crushing a Bush defeat as possible) as a reason for voting for Kerry even in non-swing states. While that reason doesn't sway me from my choice, it seems like as good a reason as any other. Since no one's individual vote is going to decide the election, it comes down to which public good (i.e., for present purposes, a good achievable only by sufficient collective action, not a good whose consumption is in any interesting sense collective) one chooses to support -- where building the LP is one such good, and handing Bush the greatest posisble defeat is another. Since, as I said, it's morally optional which public goods one chooses to support, there's not much more to be said either way here.


Roderick T. Long - 11/1/2004

If by "reasonable position" we mean one that an (overall) reasonable person could hold, then I agree that the pro-Bush argument is a reasonable position in that sense (since I know people who buy that argument and who nevertheless are reasonable people on balance). If by "reasonable position" we mean one that a strong case can be made for, however, then I don't agree; I think the evidence that Bush's policies only exacerbate the causes of terrorism is overwhelming.


Joshua D Holmes - 11/1/2004

Prof. Long,

There are some libertarians who are voting for Bush because they think that the most important issue is destroying Islamic terrorism, and that neither Kerry nor Badnarik will be up to the task. The argument goes that Islamic fundamentalism is the most dangerous anti-liberty ideology today, and that putting it down, by force, discredits it and opens up the countries under their heel to liberty and democratic reforms.

I disagree with this entirely (I'm staying home this year), but I don't think it's an unreasonable argument.

- Josh


Arthur Silber - 11/1/2004

Drat, I was looking forward to a good intellectual engagement, whereby I might be persuaded to change my mind -- largely because you had said parenthetically that in your view there was no good reason for voting for a Major Party candidate in a non-swing state. I call flip-flop! :>))

In any case, I don't view my arguments for Kerry as decisive myself, as I indicated toward the end of my essay. About the only position I cannot understand (except in general socio-cultural terms) is one whereby a person with self-declared libertarian or even libertarian-ish beliefs supports Bush with any degree of enthusiasm or liking. That one entirely baffles me. Almost any other decision strikes me as at least arguable, as I also indicated.


Roderick T. Long - 11/1/2004

I won't try to dissuade you, Arthur. Your reasons for supporting Kerry strike me as good. I don't think they're decisive, but then my own reasons for supporting Badnarik are likewise, I think, good but not decisive.

David Boaz reminds me that Perot did run twice. Sorry -- I plead brain meltdown. But he also reminds me that Perot's charts and graphs may have had an influence on getting the budget balanced.


Arthur Silber - 11/1/2004

I thought of one factor that I should add, one of particular importance to me. As you know, I have written a great deal about Alice Miller's work, and its many applications to contemporary events (a link to the summary of my many entries on this subject is to the left on the main page of my blog, and titled "The Roots of Horror"). As I explained in Part I of my essay explaining my decision to vote for Kerry, I consider Bush a particularly awful example of the (negative) principles that Miller discusses: in particular, of the "unconscious desire for revenge," a desire which I think informs and underlies many of Bush's actions, including virtually all of his foreign policy decisions. (This same desire, and its causes, also underlie the ardent support for Bush on the part of many people, in my view, including many self-identified "libertarians" and "Objectivists." How they square their support for Bush with his actual record is quite beyond me, but perhaps some psychiatrist somewhere can explain it - although I think Miller's work goes a long way toward making it graspable.) For the reasons I explain toward the end of Part I, I do not think Kerry falls at all into the same category. To me, this is an enormously significant difference between the two men -- and the factors that appear to motivate Bush make him a unique and unbelievably dangerous President, and I think the dangers could well increase a great deal in a second term (especially when reelection is no longer a consideration). This is almost a determinative factor in itself for me -- but when you add to this all the other issues which I discuss in my essay, the prospect of a second Bush administration is just too terrible to contemplate.

One other thing, too: I want the popular vote total for Kerry to be as great as possible, not only as a domestic rejection of Bush and all that he represents, but also as a signal to the world that a significant proportion of Americans rejects Bush's politics of destruction and revenge. For some reasons that Justin Raimondo discusses in his column today, I think this message is one of special importance as well.

So...I wanted to mention these additional reasons for my decision, too. I still remain open to opposing views, should you care to try to dissuade me from my apparently ill-advised course. :>))


Arthur Silber - 11/1/2004

First, a personal thanks, Roderick. You know why. :>))

I agree with everything you say, with one exception, which you no doubt anticipate if you've seen my posts explaining my decision to vote for Kerry. I live in California, definitely not a swing state. But in addition to the other reasons I provided in my two posts (noted in an entry below), I will vote for Kerry because I want Bush to be not only defeated, but defeated crushingly, if at all possible. I say this because of how singularly dangerous I consider Bush to be. In addition, it is possible -- given the many peculiarities of how the electoral/popular vote combinations might play out -- for Kerry (or Bush) to win the electoral vote, but lose the popular vote. In the event Kerry does win the electoral vote, I would also like him to have as large a popular vote as he can amass. And if he should lose the electoral vote, I want Kerry still to have as large a popular vote as possible, just to minimize the "mandate" Bush can claim (or which the irresponsible, usually mistaken but still influential media will ascribe to him).

You may well disagree with those reasons -- but those are my reasons for voting for Kerry, even though he certainly doesn't need my vote in California. But if you have counterarguments, there's still time to convince me. :)

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