L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 295, October 31, 2004
The Nightmare After Halloween
Here and Now
Special to TLE
There's nothing like death to bring home the truth behind some old sayings. A few days ago, I attended a memorial service for the daughter of an acquaintance of mine. She was just 27, dead as the result of a car crash. Her parents buried her on what would have been her 28th birthday.
As I waited for the service to begin, this young woman's sudden death reminded me that we might all be best served to remember that we should "seize the day" given that any one of us could be "here today, gone tomorrow." And that, in turn, reminded me of something even more important: Today is all any of us have got. Regardless of the number of todays each of us is given, tomorrow never comes.
Of course, it's impossible not to look to the future in some ways. There are things that simply cannot be managed day-to-day. One of those things involves the selection of those who will be charged with the administration of a country. Even so, there are important factors to think about when considering "this election" versus "the next election."
There are any number of independent voters who are largely ambivalent toward this year's major party candidates. Yet about half are lining up in Kerry's camp, and most of the rest are standing sturdily behind Dubya. Even those who are admitted Democrat or Republican voters aren't thrilled about their party's candidates this year. But the money keeps pouring into the campaigns, the signs continue to go up, and myriad volunteers are still calling around and asking for votes. Why?
Those who previously backed a third party candidate be he Michael Badnarik or Michael Peroutka, David Cobb or Ralph Nader, have also started to talkagain, without enthusiasmof voting for John Kerry or George W. Bush. Why?
In almost every case, the classic "lesser evil" explanation crops up more often than not.
John Kerry will sell us out to the United Nations. He'll lose the War on Terrorism. He'll raise taxes. We'll go broke over his entitlement programs. He'll take our guns away! We must keep George W. Bush in the White House if we wish to preserve America and her interests.
George W. Bush is stuck in the quagmire of Iraq. He's taking our civil liberties away from us in the name of the War on Terrorism. His loyalties are entangled with "big oil," not with the good of the country. We must get George W. Bush out of the White House if we wish to preserve American freedom, even if it means we have to put John Kerry there for a little while! (Bizarrely enough, even many Democrats acknowledge a Kerry presidency likely wouldn't be good. But, they say, "Anybody but Bush!)
Third party voters say that this year they're voting for John Kerry or George W. Bush because George W. Bush or John Kerry would be the worst possible thing that could happen to us in this country. They say that they'll vote their conscience in the next election, but that this time around they have to vote for one of the major party candidates. They don't have the statistical room, they say, to vote for their candidate. Besides, they'll tell you, they don't want to "waste" their vote.
Many voters from all parties have, at one time or another, used the same arguments. But none of them have grasped one salient fact: like "tomorrow," the "next election" never comes. All we've got is today and this election.
I understand "the lesser evil" argument. I'm just not so sure it should apply to people of conscience. I suppose if there were only two choices and you had to pick one of those two no matter how you felt about either of them, then you'd have to vote for the evil you considered to be the least. But there aren't only two choices. In almost every state, there are at least three. In some, there are significantly more than that. The only barrier to you choosing a greater good rather than a lesser evil involves the constraints you've placed on yourself.
I also understand the idea of the "wasted" vote. But consider for a moment those who live in states where the presidential balloting is a foregone conclusion. For example, unless hell freezes over, California will go to John Kerry (in fact, given the California mentality, I suspect California will go to John Kerry even if hell posts record low temperatures on November 2). Now, if you're a Californian who genuinely thinks George W. Bush is the best candidate for president, then vote for him. But if you prefer Michael Badnarik, then why wouldn't you vote your conscience? It's not like you doing so will swing the electoral votes over to the "other guy" there!
To vote for George W. Bush when you don't care for him and you already know he's going to lose in your state is a truly wasted vote. At least a vote for Michael Badnarik there will send a message at the same time it will let you get a good night's sleep with a clear conscience on Tuesday night! Messages and the knowledge you did the right thing aren't indicative of a waste, are they?
In fact, messages and doing the right thing are so important to me that I'm voting for Michael Badnarik myself. And I'll tell you right now: I live in one of the so-called "battleground states." Every individual vote cast for either Kerry or Bush will likely matter in my state. And you know what? I'm still voting for Michael Badnarik. I'm voting for him not because I think he'll win, but because I think he should win. Isn't that why we accept the responsibility of voting? Surely we don't engage in the election process just to vote for the politicians we think are the least corrupt or who we can almost stand to have in office!
Here's something else to think about: So many say they're worried about the greater and lesser evils. Well, how about the silver lining to all those clouds of evil? If you're voting for George W. Bush solely so John Kerry won't win, consider the bonus to us all if Kerry does take the presidency: no more John Ashcroft! And if you're voting for John Kerry just to get George W. Bush out of the White House, imagine if you will the delight of all on Wednesday morning when we discover a Bush win means that our First Lady won't be Theresa after all!
The bottom line is that our founders gave us a Republicif, as Benjamin Franklin said, we can keep it. If we do want to keep it, we need to start voting as the founders knew we must. That means with some knowledge of the candidates and issues. It means with an even-handed dose of pragmatism seasoned by optimism. It means voting according to our conscience rather than as a result of scare tactics or cynical rationales. And it means doing so not in the "next" election, but in this election, and in every election. After all, we should none of us "put off 'til tomorrow what you can do today."
A final note to those of you who don't vote based on principles you hold against voting: I respect your views and admire your decision to adhere to them. I believe that if all of those who do vote would stick to their principles as you do to yours, we'd likely see an improvement in the quality of candidates and officeholders over time, and we'd certainly see more legitimate election results almost immediately.
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