Can you vote by not voting? In a presidential election year in which the critical issues have been how much personal behavior the federal government should regulate and how much private wealth it should transfer and consume, rather than whether it should do so, many folks who are fed up with what George W. Bush and Barack Obama have brought us and fear more of the same from Mitt Romney are seriously suggesting that they will express their profound objection to big government by not voting for anyone for president.
On the other hand, I know many good freedom-loving people who are fed up with big government but view Romney as the lesser of two evils from whom they expect a turn away from the path of government sector growth and private sector shrinkage on which President Obama has taken us.
The president has stated in his campaign for re-election that he underestimated the weakness of economic forces, and he now knows that no one could have corrected them in the past four years. Essentially, his best argument is that he has consumed his first term learning what to do to correct our economic woes, and he needs another four years in office to put into effect what he has learned. He wants to borrow more and spend more and transfer more wealth.
What he fails to realize, of course, is that you cannot correct a problem essentially created by too much government borrowing and spending with more government borrowing and spending. The president's values are Wilsonian: Personal freedom and private property can be subordinated to the common good; the federal government knows better than the free market how to bring about prosperity; killing is such an effective tool of foreign policy that the decision to kill cannot be vested in a Congress that can't produce a budget; and the Constitution is merely a guideline to be consulted from time to time. I am sure he believes that our rights come from the government and not from our humanity.
Romney does understand that only private enterprise can produce wealth, while the government merely transfers or consumes it. I believe him when he argues that the degree of federal involvement in the free market distorts the market, gives certain parts of it a false sense of stability and expectation, and ultimately costs more than it helps. The cost is in tax dollars taken from those who could otherwise employ those dollars for investment, thus impeding prosperity and jobs. And the cost is in government borrowing that is never repaid but merely rolled over, and in the debt service that now exceeds half a trillion dollars annually.
Romney is right to condemn the $5 trillion increase in the federal government's debt during the Obama administration, but he's curiously silent on his running mate's voting record: Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican candidate for vice president, voted to authorize the debt increases sought during the Bush and Obama years.
The case for Romney would also be far more appealing to libertarians and others who fear the size and scope of the federal government if he were not such a clone of George W. Bush on foreign policy. Hasn't he learned that the hundreds of thousands of lives lost and the $2 trillion the federal government borrowed and spent on war and nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan have not made a single American one iota more free or safer?
Now back to voting. Can one morally vote for the lesser of two evils? In a word, no. A basic principle of Judeo-Christian teaching and of the natural law to which the country was married by the Declaration of Independence is that one may not knowingly do evil that good may come of it. So, what should a libertarian do?
If you recognize as I do that the Bush and Obama years have been horrendous for personal freedom, for the soundness of money and for fidelity to the Constitution, you can vote for former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. He is on the ballot in 48 states. He is a principled libertarian on civil liberties, on money, on war and on fidelity to the Constitution. But he is not going to be elected.
So, is a vote for Johnson or no vote at all wasted? I reject the idea that a principled vote is wasted. Your vote is yours, and so long as your vote is consistent with your conscience, it is impossible to waste your vote.
On the other hand, even a small step toward the free market and away from the Obama years of central economic planning would be at least a small improvement for every American's freedom. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That is Romney's best argument. I suspect it will carry the day next Tuesday.