L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 298, November 21, 2004
Give people what they want: more government!
Special to TLE
In the presidential election just past, voter turnout hovered around 60%. That was, say those who should know, the highest voter turn-out America has seen since the 1968 presidential elections. Unfortunately, Libertarians still only garnered about the same number of votes as they did in the 2000 election. Libertarians were the only major party advocating a true adherence to the Constitution and Bill of Rightsand for the record, the other third parties didn't fare well this year, either.
Along with good voter turn-out, the Libertarian party had an excellent candidate this time around in the person of Michael Badnarik. (If you don't know a lot about Mr. Badnarik, you're missing out. Keep your eyes and ears open for news on the 2008 election, and let's hope he decides to run again.) So what happened?
After some reflection on those who won and who almost won, I think I have an answer: Libertarianism, at least as presented by Michael Badnarik, is rational. Voters this year (don't be offended ; you're probably an exception to the rule) weren't.
Voters in 2004 were highly motivated not to cast their ballot for a man they hoped would win, but rather against a man they hoped wouldn't. John F. Kerry, voters were told, would institute socialized medicine and raise taxes. George W. Bush, said the opposing campaign, would reinstate the draft and was systematically destroying the economy by exporting jobs. Although one poll reported by CNN the day after the elections purported to show that fully 70% of those who voted for John Kerry didn't really like him, they voted for him anyway because they didn't want Bush to win. And of those who voted for George W. Bushincluding a disheartening number of third party membersmany claimed they were doing whatever they could to keep Kerry out of office.
What do we learn from this? Well, although mudslinging still seems to alienate many voters, negativity doesn't necessarily do so. If it makes people worry or even makes them a little afraid, that may be enough to swing just that many more votes your way. So negativity properly channelled (no mud, lots of fear) is a tremendously powerful force. Logic in the face of such strong emotion is simply ignored, misunderstood, or comes in a distant second or thid place to some perceived clear and present danger.
That's why I've decided that when I discuss politics with party-line Democrats and Republicans in the future, I'm not going to make any attempt to appeal to their minds with rational arguments and facts. Instead, I'm going to scare them or disgust them. Oh, there's no need to lie. I'm just going to come at the truth from another direction and in a different way. Consider:
Appeals that the USA PATRIOT Act damages civil liberties have largely fallen on deaf ears. Even many of those who agree that freedoms are harmed under the Act are willing to accept the loss of liberty if they're safer as a result. But what if we change our tack? Instead of telling people the PATRIOT Act curtails freedom, why not hit them with the fact that it won't keep them safe?
There's no argument that the PATRIOT Act has been successful in nabbing a few people who have committed crimes unrelated to terrorismsomething, by the way, the Department of Justice promised it would not use the PATRIOT Act to dobut where are the terrorists it's caught? And what about those it's mistakenly fingered, including an Oregon lawyer and an Idaho grad student? Meanwhile, our bordersviewed by many experts as a significant danger where terrorism is concernedremain ridiculously porous, and the PATRIOT Act does nothing to address that genuinely frightening fact.
Railing against invasive airport security from a privacy and/or Fourth Amendment standpoint hasn't changed airport procedures appreciably. Most passengers seem content to be searched, even by hand, if it means their flight will be terrorist-free. So how about if we remind them that repeated tests of security procedures have resulted in the repeated success of people getting prohibited weapons or other materials on board? Draconian security is, as far as I'm concerned, still inexcusable. But draconian security that doesn't work is even worse.
Two years after 9/11, Boston's Logan International Airportthe departure point for three of the hijacked planesstill had such poor security that weapons easily passed through when officials conducted tests. After assurances the government would do better, more testing just last month showed that there are still major security problems at our airports. And matching checked bags to passengers as is now required to help ensure bombs aren't stowed aboard is rendered meaningless by suicide bombers who fully intend to die when the plane explodes.
The MATRIX database has been pooh-poohed by many as being a negligible risk to their privacy (although privacy advocates are almost universally opposed to the program). People say that the information is out there anyway, so what difference does it make if the government collects it? Well, the problem is that the errors already out there in various and sundry databases containing our personal information will be compounded by the merger and, of course, made even more difficult to correct. But that logical argument contains much less urgency then pointing out that a recent study showed fully 79% of credit reports had errors on them, and that 25% had errors so serious that people could be denied credit or jobs over them.
Since everyone should order their own credit report once a year anyway as a prophylactic measure against identity theft, suggest that people order theirs and then point and laugh as they try to get errors corrected. Don't let them see you do it, though, because at the height of their frustration you'll pounce on them again regarding MATRIX.
The truth of the matter is that logical, thinking citizens will always gather the facts, review them, and make a decision based on what they believe is the right thing to do. Almost universally, the truly informed and responsible citizen will decide in favor of freedom, at least assuming he or she isn't been scared out of rationality. So my suggestion to Michael Badnarik, should he choose to run again, is this (the advice, by the way, holds true for the rest of us in our own smaller venues and causes, too):
Forget sensibility. Too many voters you need to reach have become largely insensible. That's not because they're stupid (well, okay, in a few cases it is, but those are people who will always vote for Ted Kennedy no matter what anyone else says or does). No, it's because they've been browbeaten into a party line, or because they've been told scary things so many times they've become afraid on an almost daily basis. Don't worry about logic. You've already got many of the logical voters behind you. Instead, step up to that microphone and scare 'em. Scare 'em good!
Scare tactics worked for George W. Bush and John F. Kerry, didn't they? And neither of them (just ask the opposition!) were particularly good candidates. There's no reason the same tactics can't work for you. After all, there's no shortage of really scary stuff to talk about, thanks to George W. Bush, John F. Kerry, and the far too many currently in government who are just like them.
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