Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bad Advice Corrected

National Review Online's page today is a litany of scaremongering. You see, the Democrats seem likely to win a seat or two here and there - propelling them to a majority in Congress - and NRO is doing what it can to rally the troops in the Republican camp. Peter Ferrara warns us that if the Dems take over we'll have a lot of loons (Kucinich, Pelosi) in charge of key committees etc. Somehow this is supposed to ensure that small-government conservatism can never make a comeback ever (I'm not making this up - click the link and read it for yourself). Richard Barker wants us to believe that the 90s weren't really good times for the economy because there was also some corruption and corporate dodginess going on. All that's vanished, you see, in the recent recovery, which means that we really have it better now than we did then. Thomas Sowell seems to think that if the Dems win they're going to pull out of Iraq and completely flub the volatile North Korea situation. For the sake of our children's future - you should vote Republican. Etc. etc. etc.

The interesting thing about this list of arguments is the tone they take with their target audience. They aren't the normal pre-election "let's cross our fingers and hope for the best - because our opponents offer the worst" commentaries. No feel-good articles written with a wink to fellow travellers, these. Rather, they're warnings to former allies not to jump ship.

In an odd way, that the Republican commentators feel the need to take this tact with their own base (National Review Online readers are, one presumes, mostly "the choir") is the best reason I've heard that their base should indeed turn on their party and vote against it for once.

I'll make no bones about it: I'm a Libertarian, but I have a definite preference between the Two Highly Similar Parties, and that's for the Republicans. The Democrats are...well, silly. They flat-out suck at foreign policy, have goofy ideas about the environment, don't seem to particularly like the United States (more accurately, they think overt patriotism is a sign of intellectual simplicity - as though appearing sophisticated were more important than supporting history's greatest political experiment), support ridiculous economy-killing entitlement programs, and don't even bat an eye over philosophical absurdities like Affirmative Action and Title IX. It's not that their hearts are in the right place and they just go about things wrong: their hearts are in the wrong place. But I have two problems with concluding from that that I should vote Republican.

The first is that, even if the Dems win, it's not like they're headed for a crushing dominance over both chambers of Congress like they had in the 70s. Please - at most we're talking a handful of seats. It's just enough to frustrate President Bush - not enough to turn back the clock of civilization and make the US New Sweden.

Second and more important, though, is that "we're better than them," however true, is not a sufficient basis for an electoral mandate. In fact, it's the worst possible basis. Again, it's not that I don't get that government by the Dems would be a disaster (geez, if history's any indication...FDR, Johnson, Carter, the 70s? No more, thanks, the world's had enough...). It would be. But here's the problem: the Republicans are only useful if they're offering a serious alternative, and right now they're not at all. George Bush is the American Ted Heath in a lot of ways. This was the "Conservative" Prime Minister of Britain from 1969-1974 who tipped the coutnry over the economic edge. Sure, Labour created the context that made it possible, but it was Heath who instituted actual price controls, Heath who really started playing with the money supply, etc. The Conservatives at the time were just "a little less Labour." Would it even be fair to say that Republicans are "a little less Dem?" As far as I know, spending is growing faster than ever, the debt is out of control, nothing is being done about the impending Social Security crisis, and the more frightening looming Medicare Crisis has been made worse. They're doing, all things considered, a pretty good job on foreign policy (please, let's not trade too many barbs here: America's foreign policy position is more difficult than it's ever been, and I really don't see any great light from the Dems here), but that's about all I can say for them.

Now, of course there's no reason to believe any of this will get better under the Democrats (and lots of reason to believe it will get worse). But it's difficult to see what will motivate the Republicans to change, to go back to being the party of (slightly) small(er) government that they used to be, if they can count on votes from fiscal conservatives because "the Dems are worse.". It's like feeding a dog whenever he begs for food. If conservative stalwarts flock to the polls every time their leaders tell them it will get worse under the Dems, then the end result is that there just isn't a conservative party in any meaningful sense of the term. Right now, the Republicans are spending most of their time coutring the middle - that ever ellusive "swing voter." And why not? That's a natural thing for a party to do; having gained power, the logical next step is to consolidate it. You consolidate by eroding your opponent's base. Fine - but what gets ignored in the process is the people who put you in power in the first place. No one voted for Bush in 2000 hoping for a budget this grotesque. "Compassionate Conservatism" wasn't supposed to be Canada with an American flag. And certainly no small-government supporters cast balots for Republicans hoping to set up loopholes in the law that allows the government to spy on them and possibly suspend habeas corpus in anticipation of "emergencies."

Clearly, the Republicans are broken and need fixing. One thing that I can assure you with a great deal of certaintly won't help the problem is giving them your vote for free.

Democracy is a system of negotiation. If you want something, it's on the table - but you have to fight for it. You get what you want by cutting deals - not by trusting things to "just work out." So long as small-government conservatives can be trusted to pull the lever for the Republicans against the Dems, the Republicans have no real motive to reach out to them. Just like you don't bother with the flowers if the happy ending is a sure thing, the Republican Party isn't going to court libertarian-minded voters unless those voters insist on being courted.

So I officially do not care which of the major parties wins this election. The way I see it, our possible outcomes are these:


  1. The Democrats gain a small majority because small-government conservatives stayed home on election day - fine. So things will continue to suck for two more years. There's a possible silver lining in the form of gridlock - but I don't really believe in this outcome. Bush has never felt the need to veto a pork bill before - is he really gonna start now? Of course, it would be nice if he would - in which case, a Democrat win is actually a gain (because Bush sure isn't using his veto to keep spending sane now). But let's say he doesn't. What happens next is that the Republicans will have to make some better promises in 2008. And they'll be more likely to keep them too - because they'll have felt the force of the voter threat.

  2. The Republicans win and things keep spiraling - The good news is the Dems lose, and things are slightly less sane than they otherwise would have been. But of course, the long-term problem of how to get the Republicans back to their small-government roots remains.



I don't see either of these as particularly attractive. I suppose if I had to choose I'd go with (1): let's take a risk on the Dems in the hope that it pays off in terms of more vetos and a shift back to the right (to re-engergize the base) from the Republicans in 2008. But I personally choose none of the above.

The best thing anyone who cares what's happening can do at this point is VOTE LIBERTARIAN! True, the Libertarians aren't going to win (and given that it's Schansberg in this district, I'm not sure that's a bad thing). But that's not important. What's important is that small-government voters give the Republicans a shock. Voting for the Dems is a plausible way to do that, but it has the serious drawback that your vote goes to help the Democrats claim they have a "mandate." No one in the commentariat knows that these particular votes for Dems were cast by believers and these others as protest votes. At the end of the day, it all gets tallied up as "Democrat voters," which is not something I want to be. The next-best thing to do is just stay home. That way, even though you didn't support the Republicans (and thus possibly "enabled" the Democrats), at least you didn't become part of any lefty mandate. The Republicans will still have to come a-courtin' in 2008, which is what we ultimately want. But I think voting Libertarian is actually better even than just staying at home. Imagine what would happen if the Republicans lost an election that coincided with an upswing in the Libertarian vote! That would signal in no uncertain terms (a) that erstwhile-supporters-turned-dissenters were serious in their demands (b) exactly what those demands are. True, I guess some Republicans might worry about Libertarian support for legalizing marijuana. They wouldn't want that to be seen as one of their demands. But I think there's little danger of anyone taking it that way. The people who count - the policy planners in the Republican Party - would definitely see a mass-defection to the Libertarians for what it was: a demand to return to Ronald Reagan Republicanism.

Well, such is my humble advice. I myself do not really care how this election comes out. I vote Libertarian no matter what.

1 Comments:

At 7:22 PM, Blogger THIRD WORLD WAR said...

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