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If Ron or Rand Paul were running as the GOP nominee against Barack Obama this year, I wouldn't even try to make a case for libertarians to vote for the Democrat. And if you're a Libertarian who's not in a swing state—you live in California, maybe, or Texas—there's no compelling reason for you to cast your vote for anyone other than Gary Johnson.
Regardless of your preferences, you're going to be looking at the inauguration of Mitt Romney or Barack Obama come January, so if you're a voter in swing state, you should give some thought to voting for Obama as the lesser of the two big-government, Harvard-educated evils.
On some issues of course, like foreign policy, it's hard to find daylight between Obama and Romney, although Obama clearly has more mastery of the details of being a head of state. Both guys are willing to deploy American military forces abroad even when there is little compelling reason to intervene. And Romney seems perfectly capable of adopting a liberal government program when it suits him. While Romney officially opposes Obamacare, it's scarcely different from the health-care reform Romney presided over in Massachusetts. And Romney's proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act seem designed to capture the inefficiencies of such a system while dispensing with the efficiencies (he would limit the risk pool, which will push individual premiums higher).
That's the libertarian argument against Romney's proposed revision of Obamacare, but there actually is a libertarian argument for Obamacare. (Bear with me!) Yes, a truly libertarian system would allow everyone to opt out, including emergency rooms that could opt out of caring for an insurance-free deadbeat who crawls in after a car crash. Given that health care in the U.S. doesn't work that way—we require virtually all American emergency rooms to provide care regardless of ability to pay—a truly universal system is the best option for maximizing health-care efficiencies. And if we can preserve some aspects of competition among insurers (which Obamacare, mimicking the health-care plan proposed by the GOP to counter Bill Clinton's efforts at health-care reform, attempts to do), that's all to the good.
But there's an even stronger libertarian argument for Obamacare. Namely, it frees more Americans to take better jobs without worrying about losing the health care plan they had in their old jobs. Worker mobility is one of the things that reliably fuels free enterprise, and workers will be more mobile under Obamacare than they would be under Romney's semi-dismantled version of it.
Defending the Affordable Care Act to Reason.com readers is tough, of course. I doubt I've convinced many readers here. But let me underscore three points where Obama is surely closer to libertarians than Romney is. One of these is abortion rights, self-evidently. (If you don't know about Romney's current opposition to abortion rights, you shouldn't be voting.) Another is immigration. Despite his horrible record so far in office, Obama wants to sign the DREAM Act, which needs to get past a GOP filibuster. Obama believes the American economy benefits when immigrants work here, create jobs here, and pay their taxes. Romney is all for cherrypicking educated foreign workers, and hooray for that, but he now heads a GOP that is much more focused on policing the borders than rolling out any sort of Welcome mat.
A third quasi-libertarian position is Obama's late-arriving but still-welcome stance on gay marriage. Yes, of course, a truly libertarian system would take no position on marriage of any variety – to get there, though, we'd have to undo centuries of American law favoring traditional marriages, which is an interesting project, all right, but not one likely to be tackled anytime soon. Obama's position – in essence, to end legal discrimination that favors heterosexual relationships over homosexual ones – is the position most in line with liberty interests.
And what are my views, exactly? It's no surprise to long-time Reason readers that I tend to vote for the Democrats, but according to the online quiz at isidewith.com, which correctly indicates I'm most in line with Obama (88 percent), I'm also pretty close to Gary Johnson (74 percent) on a range of policy issues. Where am I with regard to Romney? A bleak 24 percent: "no major issues" in common. I suspect many libertarians are in that last category.
"The Libertarian Case for Gary Johnson," by Nick Gillespie
"The Libertarian Case for Mitt Romney," by Robert Poole