I won’t be voting for Ron Paul next year, but that’s only because I won’t be voting for anyone. Despite the fact that I don’t want to give my sanction to a system I feel is illegitimate, my sympathies are with Ron Paul and his supporters. If he were to do well, I’d be happy. If he were to win, I’d be giddy. What’s the source of this apparent contradiction?
For me, it’s a matter of being consistent with principle rather than pragmatism. I’m not going to criticize others who come to different conclusions, but I can’t give my stamp of approval to the majoritarian system by participating in it. When someone votes, he tacitly acknowledges that the winner of the election has the right to govern (or do whatever the rules ahead of time stipulate). I can’t agree to that.
Many of my more pragmatic libertarian friends will say I’m being unrealistic. They say that since someone is going to be elected and will control the machinery of government, we may as well influence the process. I definitely understand that argument, because I felt that way in the past.
I grew up believing in our civic religion just as much as anybody else in American society. I’ve gone from being an enthusiastic cheerleader for the system all the way to believing it’s morally wrong. That didn’t happen overnight, but it’s been in stages. I’ve been through the “Libertarian Party stage” and the “make the GOP more libertarian phase.” But once I reached the point of confronting the moral dimension of the state — the issue of the wrongness of one group holding power over everyone else — I couldn’t be pragmatic anymore. Not in good conscience.
I’ll admit that it makes it easier to sit this out because I know Ron Paul can’t win. I know a lot of people are spending a lot of time convincing themselves that he might, but I think those arguments are sheer fantasy. If he ever becomes a legitimate candidate, a few well-placed TV ads about drugs and prostitution will be enough to sink him. Logic and swing voter behavior don’t go together very well. I spent years learning how to influence voters for various campaigns, and I don’t think there’s a chance in a million that he could get past the messaging that would come from consultants much more skilled than I ever was.
Do I think it would be a good thing if Ron Paul were elected president? Of course. Not only would it provide the most entertainment possible — watching the Establishment fall all over itself to oppose him — but there’s even a slight chance that he could make a tiny difference in the short run. If nothing else, it would be enjoyable watching jaws drop at having a president speak the truth.
But that’s not going to happen. Barring bizarrely unlikely outcomes, we are going to be stuck with Barack Obama or some establishment Republican politician as the winner in 2012. (Which it is depends largely on how the economy performs between now and the election, in my opinion.)
I like and admire Ron Paul. I would be joyful if he won. But, ultimately, he’s participating in a process that confirms the legitimacy of the state. I just can’t go along with that anymore. If your moral calculus says that the best thing for you is to work to elect him, I’m not going to criticize you for coming to a different conclusion than I do. I hope you’ll grant the same favor to those of us who make a principled choice to sit it out.
My emotions are with Ron Paul and his supporters, but my principles and my logic will keep me from voting for him.