Third Party Love & Hate

A couple of posts at Breitbart’s “Big Government” site have resulted in thousands of comments  and intense debate between libertarians and conservatives, and between libertarians themselves over the merits of supporting a third-party/independent alternative to Mitt Romney. Having been involved in third-party politics myself at one point in my life, I am sympathetic to the cause. But given the stakes this November, I’ve decided to hold my nose and vote for Romney, as I’ve already posted here at TAC.

I must say, however, in response Kurt Schlichter (the author of the aforelinked pieces) that I regard this as a highly personal choice, and not one that I am willing to guilt others into making. On many of the issues that matter to me and other Ron Paul supporters, Romney is absolutely abysmal and nearly indistinguishable from Obama, whether we are talking about civil liberties, constitutional protection of the lives of American citizens (even the bad ones), foreign policy, monetary policy, and a host of related issues. Those who prioritize such issues cannot be expected to give Romney their vote. There was also the disgraceful treatment of Ron Paul and his delegates by the GOP at the RNC this year. Schlichter would have us basically forget all about it.

With that said, however, when Ron Paul stopped actively campaigning for the GOP nomination, his candidacy in effect came to an end. There certainly is something bizarre about a pledge to vote for a man who by the looks of things would like to settle into a well-deserved, hard-earned retirement from public life. I always suspected that Paul didn’t really want to be president. Some see this as a positive trait, and it can be in certain contexts, but men also need leaders. If that makes me sound fascistic, so be it. Human nature is what it is.

So people who accept the reality that Paul is unable or unwilling to capture the nomination and the Presidency are then faced with other options. I’ve explained my choice, but many others are considering Gary Johnson, and Schlichter is addressing them as well (as well as Virgil Goode, the Constitution Party candidate’s supporters). Aside from the fact that Johnson is pro-choice and therefore unsupportable for Catholics, I don’t begrudge anyone the right to support either of these men as an alternative to Romney.

The role of third parties has never really been to win and wield political power in the United States. Their role has been to apply pressure to one of the major parties, to force it to move in directions that will prevent it from losing votes to the more principled alternative. Communists and socialists (and lately Greens) have done this to the Democratic Party over the years, and libertarians and groups such as the Constitution Party have done it to the GOP as well. I can’t say I’ve measured their effectiveness empirically, but theoretically I think these parties play an important role in the American political process. If a major party loses an election because some third-party siphoned votes from it, it gets what it deserves, having strayed too far from its original principles, or at least from the express wishes of major swathes of its constituency or the cadres of political activists who are responsible for bearing and popularizing its message.

Schilchter’s threats of libertarianism’s impending doom if libertarians refuse to support Romney are also hollow. He asks, “remember the Greens?”, invoking the Green Party’s alleged responsibility for costing the Al Gore the 2000 election and their current irrelevance. Even if the Green Party is dead (I’m not so sure it is), there are still plenty of socialist, communist and other far-left groups operating in the United States who offer ideological and, sometimes, electoral alternatives to the Democrats. The same will be true of the right, forever and ever, as long as the Republic exists. Besides, few small-l libertarians have anything to do with the capital-L Libertarian Party. That party could disappear and it wouldn’t have an impact on libertarianism’s potential as political force.

I suppose in the end I’m a bit torn. I understand the need for ideological purity and the bitterness felt over the unjustifiable abuse dished out to Ron Paul supporters by the GOP at the convention. I also believe that major parties should be pressured and feel the heat from time to time, that they do not deserve to operate with absolute impunity, sans accountability or consequences in the form of lost votes from their natural constituencies.

On the other hand, I do not want to see four more years of Obama. And not enough Paul/Johnson/Goode supporters appear willing to acknowledge the substantive differences – if not between Romney and Obama as candidates – between party platforms and likely courses of action when it comes to legislation, appointments, executive orders and other things. There is no doubt that Obama is at least marginally worse than Romney. There is also no doubt that Romney needs all the votes he can get. If a crushing Obama victory was universally expected, it wouldn’t matter whether someone voted for Romney or one of the alternatives. But this one looks like a close one, and so it really does matter this time, at least if you live in a battleground state.

I don’t view voting as a sacred ritual that binds one’s soul to the party or the candidate one votes for. I understand the feelings of those who don’t want to vote at all, or who only want to vote third party as a matter of principle, but at the same time, there’s no reason to view your vote as anything other than an exercise in pure political pragmatism. Since that is how I view my vote, correctly I think, I have no problem in giving it to the not-Obama. And it is worth considering that, at the very least, Romney doesn’t believe that your unwillingness to pay for something that someone else can’t pay for with their own money constitutes some kind of aggression or act of oppression against them, as Obama does. This insane philosophy really must be defeated in November.