Ronald Reagan supposedly gave some advice to George Bush in 1988 when Bush was gearing up to run for the presidency. I can’t find the exact quote, but it was something like this: “Unless you’re the incumbent, always run on change. People always want change.”
Politicians can promise change every single election and never have to modify their basic message. Why? Because nothing substantially changes. Especially in the U.S. system, positive change is very difficult, because the system is designed to slow change down.
Even when there is change, you’ll always find it tending — over the long term — to be in the direction of government taking more and more power. For those who would like to roll back the power of government — libertarians and some conservatives — that’s a problem. (It’s actually a problem for left liberals at times, too, at least the ones who want more individual rights in some social areas.)
The weight of the evidence suggests that voting doesn’t produce change very often — and it never seems to produce change that actually reduces the size of government. Yet for some reason, some libertarians and all conservatives seem bound and determined that if they will just find a way to win this election — for whatever pathetic statist the Republicans have nominated — things are going to be different this time.
I posted the cartoon above on my Facebook page Sunday and it provoked a discussion that threatened to get heated at times. Most of those commenting agreed with the sentiment and understood the view that voting — for anyone — is the wrong approach. Several people, though, were clinging strongly to the notion that voting was the only way to change anything.
I’m not going to rehash the entire discussion here, but I do want to briefly lay out the reason that many of us have consciously chosen not to vote anymore.
First, we believe the entire statist system is immoral, and we refuse to give legitimacy to the system by participating in it. If you believe you are held captive by an immoral system, why would you give your stamp of approval to one or the other of the candidates to be your overseer? They might use slightly different rhetoric, but they’re both in complete agreement on this point. Both sides believe that government has the legitimate authority to give you orders and demand that you obey them.
If I favor one candidate over the other, I am saying that I want that candidate to rule me — and that I believe it’s morally acceptable for my chosen candidate to rule others. Since I find that morally repugnant, I can’t choose any candidate. By the very fact that they’re running for office, they’re asserting the willingness to control others and they’re admitting that they believe whoever is elected does have that right. To me, that disqualifies any candidate on that ground alone.
Second, there’s absolutely no reason to believe there is any chance of reducing government through the electoral process. The thing that many of my Republican friends like to point to as their great success was electing Ronald Reagan in 1980. I was an enthusiastic Reagan supporter back then, too. I assumed he was serious about abolishing the parts of government he promised to abolish. Somehow, he never got around to doing those things.
The federal government grew tremendously during Reagan’s eight years as president. My conservative friends have an excuse for that, too. They tell me Reagan would have cut the size of government, but Democrats in Congress wouldn’t let him. If you look at actual spending — and if you look at how little he even attempted to cut — you’ll find that that’s a flimsy argument. Reagan could have unilaterally dismantled departments such as energy and education — which Carter had just created — but he never even tried.
So Reagan didn’t perform as the myth suggests he did — and he’s been out of office for 24 years. What about all these other elections when we’ve been told that if we’d just vote for Bush I or Bush II or Dole or McCain or whoever, everything would get better?
If you believe that voting is going to make us free, you’re simply repeating the mantra you’ve been given by our civic religion. There’s no evidence of this. The evidence is that voting rarely changes anything, but on the rare occasions when it does, it only works to increase the size of government.
If you want to keep voting, that’s your business. I think it’s immoral and counterproductive, but that’s your decision. If you do choose to keep voting, though, please don’t tell those of us who don’t vote for principled reasons that we’re just apathetic or that we’re responsible for your favored candidate not winning. We aren’t apathetic and we don’t have any interest in electing the benevolent overload you happen to favor.
If you want to vote, think long and hard about why you’re doing it and then do whatever you want. But please don’t criticize those of us who choose not to. We’re making what we see as the moral and pragmatic choice — even if you don’t yet understand why.