Reading a great post on Campaign for Liberty today definitely got my thoughts rolling. If you want to read a great piece on the old argument about voting for “the lesser of two evils”, than give Adam de Angeli’s piece a read:
I recently read a member post that argued that one must sometimes support the lesser of two evils. The author explained it with a metaphor, by saying that, on the one hand, if offered two unhealthful foods, one could refuse to eat either of them, but if being forced to choose between an unhealthful food and poison, one would have to take the unhealthful food to avoid the poison. Likewise, he argued, having no choice but John McCain or Barack Obama, he should have voted for John McCain rather than the third-party candidate.
It is a popular, understandable belief; an intuitive tactical judgment. But upon close examination, it is principally due to this belief that our politicians get away with betraying us.
Indeed, it is essential for success that we defeat acceptance of the lesser of two evils. Therefore, let us examine what’s wrong with supporting the lesser of two evils.
The common counter-argument that everybody is fond of is the saying, “the lesser of two evils is still evil, and I cannot support evil.” It’s glib, and weak. It does not stand up to the original argument. One could respond, “so cut off your nose to spite your face, but if tyranny is inevitable I prefer to minimize it.” That would be a valid counter-argument.
Therefore, let us discard the “I just can’t support evil” rebuttal. It’s useless, and it is used in place of much more important observations.
Another potential counter-argument, much rarer but noted by C4L political trainer Michael Rothfeld, is that it demoralizes people to be told they must choose between bad or worse, and we shouldn’t be working to demoralize people. We have all met people who refuse to be involved in politics because “the whole business is just dirty” or something like that. It truly is depressing when the candidate on “your side” is almost as bad as his opponent. As Rothfeld says: “If you’re telling someone they need to support John McCain to stop Barack Obama, or to support George Bush to beat Bill Clinton, who’s the fool there?”
This is an interesting argument, but it also performs rather poorly against the lesser-of-evil argument. It doesn’t tell us anything we don’t know, or contradict the argument. Yes, it is demoralizing when you have to hold your nose to vote. That notwithstanding, one would argue, wouldn’t it still be preferable to have a lesser evil? The author of the post mentioned the Scott Brown election. Even though Scott Brown’s a neocon, he reasoned, isn’t that better than a Ted Kennedy?
A third potential counter argument is that you cannot achieve your political goals by rewarding those who vote against you. John McCain had an atrocious record of campaigning against gun rights. Had he won the election, what kind of message would have been sent to Republicans around the country? That they can be bad on gun rights and the people who care will vote for them anyway.
Rothfeld notes an example: Following the Columbine massacre, the NRA “A”-rated governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, introduced a set of anti-gun bills and a ballot initiative against gun shows (1). When a reporter asked Owens whether the move would alienate his conservative base, Owens arrogantly laughed, “what are they going to do, vote Democrat?”
This argument addresses the major problem with supporting the lesser evil: it leads directly to unaccountability. In this way, this argument is pretty tough. However, it still does not directly address the major argument about the lesser of two evils, which is that less evil is still preferable. Even if it does demoralize us, even if it does send a bad message to politicians, even if it is morally offensive, it is still pragmatic.
However, this third potential counter-argument is one aspect of the larger, vital argument, and the one that must be made whenever the “lesser of two evils” argument is made:
It just isn’t true at all.
Is Barack Obama really so much worse than John McCain? I see nothing in John McCain to suggest it. On every major issue, John McCain is with Barack Obama. Both are utterly pro-war. Both staunchly backed the massive bailouts. Both vote routinely for expanding government. Both demonstrate utter disregard for privacy, for property, and for individual liberty. Both share the same Gun Owners of America rating (F–).
Indeed, the major difference between Obama and McCain is not their policies, but their party affiliation and the public’s reaction to them.
And that is why, one could argue, John McCain had to lose.
If McCain had won, there would have been no rejection of neoconservatism, no repudiation of the Bush years and the immense harm he inflicted on our country and around the world. The Republican Party and the Republican politicians would see that they could get away with everything.
There would have been no tea parties. Where were all the principled conservatives during the Bush years, when he doubled the size of government, passed a prescription drug bill that increased the obligations of Medicare by $8 trillion (2), and signed the tyrannical PATRIOT Act?
Like a forest fire rejuvenating the soil for future growth, or like a recession to correct market distortions for future prosperity, a down-and-out Republican party is one that is ready to listen to us and learn what must change for them to bounce back. They aren’t shrugging us off anymore, and that’s a positive change.
Let’s look now at the Scott Brown victory. Is a neocon better than a Kennedy? Hardly, if you ask me. More important, however, this comes on the heels of the victory in New York’s 23rd district for a weak candidate, and victories elsewhere that portend a Democrat bloodbath in November. In Michigan, a special state Senate election saw a statist Republican take a seat from a Democrat. What message is this sending the Republican Party?
The message these victories send to the Republican Party is, “we don’t need to change anything, just let them wail under the Dems for a year and come running back into our arms.”
I don’t think the Republican Party has been in the wilderness nearly long enough yet. Let the Democrats have the reins a little longer, so they won’t be able to blame the hardship of the Obama years on “just cleaning up the mess that was left for us.” Let them see how hollow Obama’s rhetoric of hope and change truly was. Let them learn what you get when you settle for “anybody but Bush.” For their part, the Republicans need to be shown that an ideological change on their part, and a renewed commitment to principle, will be required for them to return to power. And only then may the conservatives take power and send the socialists into the wilderness.
Turning now to a race in Michigan, there is a Secretary of State election coming up. All of the candidates on both sides are lousy on Real ID, as is the retiring incumbent, a Republican. It’s certain that no matter who wins the election, the next Secretary will be bad on Real ID. So what is more beneficial to us, having a Democrat or Republican win the election? Well, if the Republican wins, it is, first of all, yet another signal to the GOP that they can take our support for granted. And second of all, if we go after the next Secretary of State on the Real ID issue, what relationship with mainstream conservatives is preferable: them resenting us for attacking a Republican who is surely saving Michigan from ACORN, or them happily joining us in clubbing a Democrat over the issue?
Rothfeld quotes an Ohio legislator, Ron Hood, putting it this way: “It’s not the devil in horns and a tail I fear; I know to run from that guy. It’s the devil in a suit quoting scripture that I worry about.”
Really, which do you prefer: an out-and-out socialist like Obama, or a crypto-socialist like George W. Bush?
Yes, the coming years are going to be rough under Obama. They would have been rough anyway. But being in the minority is sometimes a good thing. This is the best climate for political organizing for liberty in the last decade. This is a fertile climate for developing resources and building our movement.
What, then, is left to say of the “lesser of two evils” argument? Rothfeld calls it “the biggest lie in politics.” Politicians use it to keep the base in line when they betray them. Parties use it to keep the herd from leaving the ranch. But sadly, it is an appealing argument, and many well-meaning and political activists will accept it, without realizing how embracing it actually sets the cause back.
When people make the argument, never hold them at fault for it. It’s a perfectly understandable belief, just one that must be corrected. And it is one that all groups geared toward liberty should avoid making.