Friday, July 09, 2004

Unfashionable Libertarians for Not-Bush

Virginia Postrel is one of the smartest libertarians around, but she’s got a big blind spot about the 2004 election. First, she makes the mistake of focusing on the presidential candidates’ platforms, instead of the dynamics of their interaction with Congress:
Vote for Kerry if you must, folks. But don't pretend you're doing it because Bush's economic policies are insufficiently free market or fiscally responsible. Kerry wouldn't be any better on economics. He'd be worse.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The pro-Kerry argument is not his platform. The pro-Kerry argument is gridlock. Tyler Cowen expands on the point.

Second, Virginia accuses Jacob Levy – and by implication, other libertarians – of supporting Kerry to be politically fashionable:
[first post] But all rationalizations aside, I have a sneaking suspicion that Kerry-leaning libertarian hawks (now that's a small demographic!) are simply kidding themselves in order to stay on the fashionable side of politics.

[second post] Jacob Levy claims geeky fashion sense and a messy office as a defense against my suggestion that his Kerry infatuation is a sign of trying to be cool. Sorry, Jacob (whom I like very much). Bad aesthetics is no excuse. Artists aren't the only ones who fashionably hate George W. So do academics.
This is at once bizarre and insulting. Libertarianism is a small, largely unknown ideology. Nobody’s a libertarian to be popular. Libertarians who “out” themselves often run a risk to their academic careers – a risk that is hardly mitigated by supporting one Democrat in one election. Bill Clinton was much more fashionable and popular than Bob Dole or the LP’s Harry Browne – so where were all the pro-Clinton libertarians in 1996? It is only now, in the light of the catastrophe that is the Bush administration, that libertarians have begun to express nostalgia for Clinton.

No, when a libertarian vocally supports a Democrat, there’s clearly a reason. In this case, it’s because George W. Bush has been a miserable failure, by both libertarian and common-sense standards.

Now, there’s a legitimate question about whether libertarians should vote for Kerry or the LP’s Badnarik. On that question, I’m torn. But realistically, since Badnarik hasn’t the slightest chance of winning, we might as well ask who is the lesser of the two major-party evils. To me, the answer is clearly Kerry – not because of his platform, and not because I want to be popular, but because the GOP doesn’t discover its limited-government principles until there’s a Democrat in the White House.

So how do we put one there? Whether you vote for Kerry or Badnarik, you’re still subtracting votes from Bush – so far, so good. The argument for voting Kerry is that each vote is a two-vote swing (one less for Bush, one more for Kerry), while voting Badnarik is only a one-vote swing (one less for Bush, no more for Kerry). But libertarian votes cast for Kerry will be indistinguishable from the votes of all the anti-trade, anti-market, pro-tax, nanny-state left-wingers. On the other hand, votes for Badnarik – especially in a key state – can easily be interpreted as “people who might have supported Bush if he weren’t a total disaster.” I think that’s a message worth sending, which is why I’m leaning slightly toward Badnarik.

UPDATE: Virginia Postrel's initial accusation of popularity-seeking seems directed only at Kerry-leaning libertarian *hawks*, so maybe her point is that Bush is clearly better on the war & terrorism issues. Not being a hawk myself, I'm unsympathetic. In any case, her second post strongly indicates that she thinks Bush would be better on economic issues as well.

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