Random Thoughts on Election 2008

[I wrote this essay on Election Day 2008. While I still agree with many of the things I wrote here, I very soon ended my years-long flirtation with libertarianism. After seeing how the Republicans treated President Obama, after seeing the increasing and steady takeover of the GOP by the nincompoop faction of the party, and after seeing the Libertarian Party put forth one horrible presidential candidate after another, I became a Democrat. And now I cannot see any circumstance in my lifetime that would convince me to vote otherwise. –JCS 3/19/2022]

Meanwhile… I was one of many who received a mass email from Ed Kagin (who is, among other things, National Legal Director for American Atheists and a co-founder of Camp Quest for kids) with the subject line “Vote For the Least Undesirable Candidate Candidate [sic] Who Can Win,” and the simple message, “In the election tomorrow, we must do the unimaginable to prevent the unthinkable.” 

Who Can Win, Indeed?

I understand the logic behind the former statement, but frankly have no idea what he means by the latter. It’s “unimaginable” to vote for Barack Obama? I don’t get it. Anyway, I gather that what Ed wants is for us not to “waste” our votes on minor party candidates, like that Ralph Nader fellow who “lost” the election for Al Gore. (I’ll refrain from a lengthy analysis of how it was Al Gore who lost the election for Al Gore and that Ralph Nader was perfectly within his rights – indeed obligated by his conscience – to run on a platform he could believe in. But I digress…)

As to the advice “vote for the least undesirable candidate who can win,” I have to disagree with Ed. If Ed followed his own logic, he would run to the polls in Kentucky (where he is a resident) and cast a vote for John McCain, as he is the only candidate with any likelihood to win. (Obama trails McCain in Kentucky 41% to 54.5%, which in political terms might as well be 4.1% to 94.5%.  Fifteen points has effectively no chance of being overcome.)

I believe that elections are the ultimate opinion polls – bellwethers, if you will – and are not entirely about winning or losing. If I never vote my deepest convictions, and instead vote for the major party who only half-assedly approximates my political desires, what incentive do they ever have to change? Answer: Zero. In fact, it only gives the Dems/Reps every reason to continue their deadlock on the political system, and enables them even more to continue their corrupt and infuriating policies that serve to keep so-called third parties off the ballots and out of the debates. There is no excuse for making third parties jump hoops for ballot access while the Dems/Reps get a pass, as there is no excuse why a nationally known figure and experienced politician like Bob Barr should be kept out of the debates.

No, even if I go down swinging, and even if the worst possible candidate wins as a result, I can say I voted my conscience. I’m not going to tick off a particular name just so I can say I voted for the winner. 

Why I Voted the Way I Voted

Barack Obama seems like a fine man: good education, cool head, savvy politicker, and first and foremost nothing like that incoherent mess we call George W. Bush. I believe he will govern with more moderation than the shrill Republican attacks would have us believe; in fact, he’ll probably govern with more moderation than would suit most Democrats. I think he’ll be a serviceable president, but nothing like the messiah-like figure seen by his most ardent supporters. But the facts are that he has virtually no record to run on and no major achievements (other than getting elected) to which he can point. That said, when I go the polls, I remind myself that I do not agree with the overall agenda of his party. I’m glad for Barack Obama – if America is going to finally “get over” race; if we are finally going to elect a black president, we could do a lot worse. Nonetheless, I do not agree with the big government policies of the Democrats and their persistent mission creep away from the Constitutional restrictions on federal power, and so I can’t in good conscience vote for them – not while I have a choice. 

Don’t think I’m making excuses for the Republicans. My problem with the Republicans (aside from their being co-opted by paranoid religious nutjobs who are obsessed with abortion, gay marriage and the “Holy Land”) is that while they SAY they’re for less government and strict adherence to the Constitution, once they’re in power they do the exact opposite. If they would get back to their pre-religious-whacko roots of restrained government, a hands-off stance on people’s personal lives, and no-nonsense foreign policy, maybe there’d be hope.

So…  I’m caught between Democrats whose primary goals (despite all good intentions) make violation of the Constitution into official public policy, and the Republicans who can be counted on as lying, scheming theocrats who trash the Constitution despite their rhetoric and generally behave very un-Christ-like. In other words, I’m trapped between Republican defacto unConstitutionalism and Democratic official unConstitutionalism.

What Was This Election About, Anyway?

In the end, this presidential election came down to this: Who’s the farthest from George W. Bush? Let’s recap. The Bush administration was such a travesty that no one closely associated with him would dare throw his or her hat into the ring for the nomination. They have all effectively committed political suicide. And so, in the primaries (where Republicans and non-Republicans alike can affect the result), the Republican farthest from Bush won: John McCain (the guy who once labeled the televangelists “agents of intolerance’). Rudy Giuliani might have been farther still, but for whatever reason he never got any traction. With the nomination clinched, there was some hope that McCain would run for the center and try to win the election by wrestling his party away from the zombie-like clutches of the Moral Majority. But no, John McCain – a man with a long and honorable career serving his country; a man who did indeed buck his party on a number of important issues – decided the best way to win was to embrace the very factions that have nearly ruined the country and have made us a laughingstock to other civilized nations. He sought the endorsement of televangelical pinheads like John Hagee, and since he couldn’t pick a Bush insider as a running mate, he chose Sarah Palin. Plucked from Alaskan obscurity, Palin is the embodiment of the jingoistic End-of-Days narrowmindedness we’ve all come to know and loathe. She’s George Bush with a uterus. Such is the tragic downfall of John McCain: he loses the presidency by throwing away everything he believes in and embracing the worst elements of his party (he probably would have lost anyway, but at least he would have met defeat with honor).

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama won, in the final analysis, because Hillary Clinton voted on the initial resolution to empower President Bush to go to war with Iraq. Had Senator Clinton never voted for the war, she would have been the Democratic nominee, period. Even though she was an ardent opponent to Bush in every other way, her “support” for the war was a taint she could not wash away, and the voters punished her for it. 

I voted Libertarian. 

Libertarians (with a small “l”) are often caricatured, but are in fact as diverse a group as Republicans and Democrats. There are libertarians of various stripes. There are libertarians who are scarcely recognizable from anarchists; there are libertarians who want to strip government down until there’s nothing but the court system and the National Guard; and there are more pragmatic libertarians like me who believe that there are nonetheless certain tasks the government must do to ensure a stable, modern society in this highly technological era. There are libertarians like me who believe that government does not exist to right every wrong; that the government works best when it operates under very tightly defined constraints; that there are certain social ills that are best addressed by society, not government; and that it is no more government’s job to rescue citizens from failure or misfortune than it is to punish them for success. There are libertarians like me who believe the government should be an instrument of, not a surrogate for, civilization. There are libertarians like me who believe that the president is not a role model, and he’s certainly not the Great Symbolic Daddy to the child-like citizenry. The president is not supposed to be the guy (or gal) with whom we most identify, or with whom we’d like to have a beer (or a latte or a pinot). I do want my president to be well-presented, well-educated, and thoroughly experienced, but they cannot be the only criteria on which we base our selection. What the candidate will do with his education and experience is equally important. 

Final Thoughts

Later tonight, I’ll lift a glass or three in salute to Barack Obama, who surely enters the Pantheon of American History as one of its most memorable figures (for his skin-tone if for nothing else), taking office, fittingly, in the year that marks the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator; the man considered by most scholars as our greatest president after George Washington. And to bring us full circle, Lincoln was born in Ed Kagin’s and my native Kentucky. It’s fascinating to ponder what Lincoln might think were we able to bring him back for a day, to show him a president-elect who is half black and half white, born in what Lincoln would have called the Sandwich Islands to a mother from Kansas and a father from Africa who was never a slave. I think Lincoln would be satisfied. I also think that, upon his return to the afterlife, he’d kick William Seward’s ass.

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