Another Perspective

The Libertarian Menace

A protest Libertarian vote this year will take you into Kook and Kerryland.

By 10.29.04

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There's a good argument, to which I'm somewhat sympathetic, for small-government types in non-swing states to vote Libertarian this year; Jeremy Lott laid out the case last week. But while I do consider myself a small-l libertarian, the big-L Libertarians cannot expect my support.

In 2000 I lived in New York, solidly in Al Gore's column according to every poll. So I pulled the lever for Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party candidate. For months afterward, I kept hearing that President Bush lacked a "mandate" because of the popular vote/electoral vote mismatch. It seemed that, the Constitution aside, the popular vote makes a political difference after all, if only by virtue of the fact that some people are willing to argue that it does. Perhaps this isn't as big a concern this year, as President Bush seems safer in the popular vote than in the electoral college, but then again some people said the same thing about Gore in 2000.

I might have gotten over that annoyance if it weren't for the trauma that came the following fall. I'd known that Harry Browne, like much of the LP, was a bit... non-traditional in his foreign policy views; in his 1996 book Why Government Doesn't Work he laid out his case against every American military action from the War of 1812 forward ("war is just another government program," he wrote repeatedly, quoting Joseph Sobran).

What I'd written off as relatively harmless kookiness in an election where foreign policy was barely an issue seemed a much bigger deal on September 12, 2001, when Browne wrote that the attacks were the result of our "insane" foreign policy, which made it "only a matter of time until Americans would have to suffer personally." His prescription was to "resolve that we won't let our leaders use this occasion to commit their own terrorist acts upon more innocent people, foreign and domestic, that will inspire more terrorist attacks in the future," and by "terrorist acts" he meant "any military response" (he went on to vigorously oppose the war in Afghanistan). Heaping ignorance upon isolationism, he rested his case in part on the historically illiterate assertion that "Switzerland isn't beset by terrorist attacks, because the Swiss mind their own business."

There's nothing inherently libertarian about any of this -- libertarians come at foreign policy from every conceivable angle -- but, because of a history too dull to get into right now, there are those believe that it is, and this sort of blame-America-firstism is the norm among LP activists. Michael Badnarik's campaign website perfectly echoes Browne.

Of course, Badnarik won't become president, so perhaps his foreign policy doesn't bother you. But if you believe, as I do, that a second term of President Bush would be preferable to a first term of President Kerry, then consider that the LP officially disagrees with you. Under "Operation Wisconsin Blue," the Badnarik campaign has openly raised money from liberals to run ads in Wisconsin targeted at conservatives, the idea being to swing the state for Kerry. "We don't want Bush to win in Wisconsin any more than you do," said a page on the Badnarik.org website (which has disappeared sometime since last week). And Jamin Raskin reports that vote-pairing websites, wherein a swing-state Naderite agrees to vote for Kerry in exchange for a non-swing-state Democrat's agreement to vote for Nader, now includes Libertarians making the same trade as the Naderites because, as Raskin puts it, they are "appalled by the Orwellian, antichoice, antigay, and repressive policies of the budget-busting Bush administration." (Only a hard-leftist uses words like "antichoice" and "antigay" often enough the he feels no need to hyphenate.)

If you're interested in registering a protest with a vote for that ideological coalition, be my guest. As for me, I'll be casting my vote for Bush, in protest of all of those fools in the other parties.

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About the Author

John Tabin is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator online.