Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 400, January 7, 2007

"Clumsily, the world's thinking mammals move towards liberty."


Voting Our Conscience
by Jean Alexander

Credit The Libertarian Enterprise

I celebrated the outcome of our last election. Celebrated and reveled in the message I had trouble believing we could deliver. Voting one's conscience seemed to have gone out of style. Anger, fear and blind obedience to one's party seemed the rule. I was surprised. Now my question is, can voting one's conscience return to vogue? Can we avoid merely shifting to the "other" party but rather look at issues and candidates individually, for what they stand?

I have been frustrated by party politics for far too long. At the national level and in my previous home states of California and Oregon the system wide rhetoric, talking heads, and banter about commercials seemed to drive the elections. Yes, some individuals closely evaluated the issues, the candidates, and voted based on reason or with their conscience. But often people voted along party lines. Either not thinking, deferring to the "expertise" of their representatives, or rationalizing a need to support the party for some issues they didn't like in order to achieve some ends they did, both sides of the equation seemed to forget what was important to them, morally and ethically.

My Canadian friends politely ridiculed our country in recent conversations. Electing Bush once was bad enough. But electing him a second time, if we did, seemed unreal to them. Their viewpoint was refreshing in light of continued news reports supporting not only our troops but our defense and homeland security policies. The reverence for a war against, at this point, unknown enemies which reduces our rights and freedoms is out of place. Compared to military conflicts in recent history our desire to question our leaders and hold them accountable seems beyond diminished. Where did our common sense go? Where are the morals?

I'm a small "l" libertarian. I've been voting my conscience for years. My votes are throw-aways in light of the big picture. I don't care. I can't support the Republicans for the fiscal conservatism I like and they used to represent. I can't support the Democrats for the socially liberal policies I admire. I'm not willing to support special interest to business and a psychotically hawkish defense posture or increased funding of a bloated and inefficient education system and programs designed to spread our wealth evenly to all. And while many people would choose to support different issues than I do, I know that most compromise their vote to support some ends they want, turning a blind eye to the ends they don't.

My husband took action recently in our new home state of New Hampshire. The Military Commissions Act and it's quietly passed sibling the Warner Defense Act chilled us to the bone. He had a handful of signs made. Simple signs. Bright colors. A simple message: "He voted for Torture" and an arrow. He (and some friends) placed these signs next to signs promoting candidates who voted for the Military Commissions Act and caused some consternation to local republicans and candidate campaigners.

A republican friend, still singing the party song, was outraged. I couldn't imagine how the message could be lost. We love our Republican candidate no matter what choices he makes on our behalf? Where is the line that would make them be appalled? If the means include torture and inhumanity, the end is not freedom, not anywhere, not for anyone.

I made some calls on behalf of a friend who was running on the Republican ticket. He was running for local office here in New Hampshire and, like me, is a fiscally conservative, socially liberal, small "l" libertarian. The call list I had been given was only of independents and republicans. One gentleman I talked to was for me the snapshot of our country this election. He very politely explained to me that, while a Republican, he has not supported any Republican candidate because of Bush and his policies. It didn't matter that my friend also didn't like Bush and his policies. It just mattered that he was Republican. I understood his angst. He was voting his conscience. I had to applaud that.

But while I applaud our country for ousting a party that had gotten way too big for its britches I can't celebrate for long. For I fear that acting on party lines isn't gone. Voting our conscience is the right thing to do. But we seem to be a country of pragmatists. We're picking lesser of two evils or compromising somewhere to achieve something weighted as more important. The political process going completely over to the Democrats isn't a solution, just a different problem. Talking heads are saying the parties' solution will be to take a centrist stand. Perhaps. But we will still be compromising I fear.

What will it take for us to evaluate issues and vote our conscience? How is it that we've forgotten to do that? State of Fear, not the most stellar work of Michael Crichton but maybe the most important, had a message that I think our country has forgotten. Use your brain. Politicians and the media and a host of others have agendas. Don't take their word for it. Look at the facts yourselves. And if you can't look at the facts, at least don't blindly believe what you're told. Decisions we make at the polls have costs and ramifications that can be significant.

My husband and I took a stand two years ago and moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project. I don't know if the plan will work but the signs are good and we are optimistic. But, if nothing else, we are acting on our consciences. We are not blindly following. We are staying informed and voting based on reason and morality. We teach our children that being involved with government is a responsibility. We teach them that asking questions and demanding accountability are important. We are teaching them to vote their conscience and use their brains. I hope it catches on.


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