Author’s note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 1996
issue of the
North Carolina Constitution Defense Association News, a gun-rights organisation.
The points made herein are obviously intended to be generalisable
to elections other than 1996 and to issues other than gun rights.
As gun-rights activists, we all know that the political party with the strongest, most consistent, most uncompromising stand on gun rights is the Libertarian Party.
We all know that Bob Dole (along with a great many other Republican politicians) has betrayed us on gun issues again and again, and will continue to do so if he wins the coming election.
Yet most of us plan to vote Republican this November.
There’s a plausible-sounding justification for this. After all, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole are arguably the only two candidates with a realistic chance of winning. So one of them, it’s reasonably safe to assume, will be President for the next four years. And while Dole is bad on gun rights, Clinton is worse. Therefore, the argument goes, it’s vital to get Dole elected. A vote for Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate, simply helps to split the pro-gun vote between the Republicans and the Libertarians, and so makes a Clinton victory more likely. To prevent this catastrophe, we’re told, gun-rights defenders must hold their noses and vote for Bob Dole, the lesser of two evils.
I agree that this argument might be a good one IF we think ahead only as far as the next election. But that’s the assumption I want to call into question.
In playing chess, a sure way to lose is to spend your first few moves capturing as many of the opponent’s pieces as possible. It’s much more important to let those juicy-looking pieces go than to allow them to distract you from your main mission of building a strong presence at the center of the board.
I think the same lesson applies in politics. In crafting our strategy we need to plan several elections ahead, not just one. Our enemies have long-term strategies; so should we.
If we plan ahead only as far as the next election, then it’s absolutely true that a vote for a candidate who loses is an ineffective vote.
But if we think ahead four years, or eight years, or twelve years, then a vote can do more than just elect a candidate. A vote can help to build a vote total which, even if it is a losing vote total, can, if it’s big enough, draw more attention and support to the losing candidate and his party or cause.
This has two beneficial effects: First, it increases the good guys’ chance of winning in the future. Second, it forces the major candidates to move in our direction in order to avoid precisely that.
As things stand, Dole and Clinton are taking us down the same path; the only difference is that Clinton wants to move a little faster. A vote for Bob Dole is still a vote to continue moving down that “road to serfdom.”
For me, the choice comes down to this:
1. I can throw my vote away for the short-term gain of electing a pro-gun-control Republican to replace the only slightly worse pro-gun-control Democrat now occupying the Oval Office;As I see it, the second strategy is the only one that has a credible chance of turning back the tide of gun control in this country. Every time the Libertarian vote totals increase, publicity for the LP (Libertarian Party) increases, and resistance to the idea of a third party declines; and every time publicity for the LP increases and resistance to a third party declines, Libertarian vote totals increase. Hence the LP’s slow but steady growth of late, including unprecedentedly high vote totals in recent local elections nationwide, and unprecedentedly high levels of national and local media coverage these past few weeks. (The real breakthrough will be when the level of votes-plus-publicity gets high enough to get a Libertarian candidate in the national debates; one encouraging sign is that nationally syndicated Washington Post columnist David Broder, no Libertarian, is calling for the inclusion of Harry Browne in the debates this year.) To me, working to accelerate that trend seems a better investment than trusting the GOP once again.
2. I can leverage my vote for the purpose of giving the Libertarians as big a vote as possible this year, in order to help raise the Party’s publicity profile and build its strength for the long term, so that we'll be in a position to elect Libertarians in droves in 2000 and 2004 and 2008.
“I believe the answer is that we should learn from our enemies; we should imitate the strategy of the Socialist party of 60 years ago. Its presidential vote never reached a million, but it may have been the most successful political party in American history. It never gained control of anything larger than the city of Milwaukee but it succeeded in enacting into law virtually every economic proposal in its 1928 platform – a list of radical proposals ranging from minimum wages to social security.”One of my aims in voting for Harry Browne instead of Bob Dole is to help the LP do to the Republicans what the Socialist Party did to the Democrats.
– The Machinery of Freedom (2nd ed.), Open Court 1987, p.228.
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