Those who follow me on Facebook or Twitter know I try to keep up with politics, though mostly for entertainment value. But while I make plenty of snarky comments at the expense at the absurdities of Conservatives, Liberals, Democrats, and Republicans, few people actually know what I actually believe. Shockingly, some people have even inquired to know as to whom I’m planning to vote in the upcoming election. To that end I would like to share why I intend to vote for the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in the 2012 presidential election.
Let me stipulate two points at the outset. First, I am not writing as a “Rabbi” – that is I do not purport to represent my religion, denomination, synagogue, or any other religious organization with which I am affiliated. Second, this is not an endorsement.[1. Not that mine would make any difference.] I am not interested in advocacy nor do I intend to influence how people will vote, be they already decided or undecided. I am writing as a private relatively informed registered independent citizen with the intent to share a perspective. Nothing more, nothing less.
I suppose the first reason why one would vote for a candidate is that one agrees with his positions, and for the most part I do agree with the Libertarian ideology of limited government,[2. It’s important to stress “limited” does not mean “zero”] fiscal conservatism, social liberalism, and general freedom for individuals to make their own decisions and live with the consequences.[3. I am not about to defend the Libertarian ideology in general or from the Jewish vision of an ideal society. I will just say that I do not believe than any grand vision of what one considers a “just” or “moral” society can be legislated effectively, at least not with unjust or immoral unintended consequences. Anyone interested in my vision of an ethical Jewish society should please listen to my class series on Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law.] I do disagree with Gary Johnson on matters of foreign policy which I find naive. I doubt anyone would agree 100% with any candidate, though I happen to be more aligned with Gary Johnson than any of the other candidates.
Still, my reasons for voting for Gary Johnson are not just ideological, but strategic. It is a near certainty that Barack Obama will carry New York State, in which case the votes of people like myself will have no impact on the results of the election.[4. Were I living in Ohio or Florida I would have a different evaluation of my vote.] The weight of a single vote on the electoral college varies state by state but each vote matters equally towards the popular tabulation.[5. Though due to the sheer number of votes cast, each individual vote is essentially negated in the margin of error] But while the popular vote does not determine the winner of the election, it can still have an impact on national politics.
Currently the US political discourse is defined exclusively by its two dominant political parties: Republican sand Democrats. Other parties are denied a seat at the debating table. As a practical matter this partisan exclusion is necessary to ensure non-fanatical parties or those controlled by crackpots. The sheer size of Republican and Democratic parties indicates that their positions, policies, and ideologies are considered legitimate by a significant subset of the American population. While both parties have their extremists, ideally their positions would be tempered by more moderate voices. From what I understand the threshold for this popular legitimacy is 5% of the popular vote.
Even if one does not agree completely with the Libertarian agenda, I believe it is important for them to to gain legitimacy in this country. A casual observer of US politics can easily see how adversarial our discourse has become. I believe that this is in part due to the binary nature of the two-party system; you’re either with one or against the other. To put it another way, many vote not in favor of one candidate but in opposition of another. In this system neither side needs to uphold its own views, but rather do so just a little be better than the other. Candidates do not need to convince voters, but only to scare them. A legitimate third party could very well force the political discourse back towards positions rather than personalities and perhaps compel a more productive rhetoric.
If course, this could be accomplished with the ascendancy of any of the so-called (and misnamed) “third-parties,” in which case why support Libertarianism? Aside from the practical matter that it already enjoys a great deal of popularity, in many ways it represents a moderation and synthesis of ideas currently popular in both the Democratic and Republican parties (though perhaps with more consistency). Ron Paul is perhaps the most prominent Libertarian, though he has demonstrated that he is not quite the one to lead this cultural revolution. In case you have not heard him directly, here is Gary Johnson’s appearance on The Daily Show.
In the words of our President, it’s time for a change.
A real change.