Election 2012

The Libertarian Case for Mitt Romney

He will be significantly less bad than Barack Obama.


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This is one of three related articles, each making a specifically libertarian argument for the Democratic, Republican, or Libertarian presidential contender.

Should libertarians like me declare a pox on both major parties' houses by voting for the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson? Or should we opt for the Republican Mitt Romney, who I think would be significantly less bad than the Democratic incumbent, Barack Obama?

Over the decades since I first became eligible to vote, I have often faced this choice in presidential elections. Sometimes I voted Libertarian, and other times I voted Republican, depending on the circumstances. This year, as a resident of Florida, there is no question that I will vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket. If I lived in a different state, my choice might be different. 

My prime consideration in deciding how to vote in 2012 is the future of liberty. I've considered myself a libertarian since my college days, when I was good friends with Dave Nolan, an MIT classmate and subsequent founder of the Libertarian Party in 1971. While I did not attend the first LP convention, I participated actively in the LP's first 15 years, as a delegate to state and national conventions and once or twice serving on the national platform committee. Most of my professional career has been devoted to advancing liberty, building a national magazine and a national think tank devoted to that end.

In Gary Johnson, the LP has the most credible and best-qualified candidate it has ever run. After building and running a successful business, he was elected governor of New Mexico, winning as a Republican in a traditionally Democratic state. He reduced numerous taxes and vetoed countless bills that threatened personal or economic liberty, and was re-elected to a second term in which he did likewise. In short, he has demonstrated the ability to apply libertarian principles in the executive branch of government, and he did so in a manner that led to him being re-elected in a state that seldom elects Republicans. 

Unfortunately, Gary Johnson has no chance of being elected President in November. If the two major-party candidates offered the kind of Tweedledum and Tweedledee choice that libertarians rightly disdain, I would proudly vote LP this time around, hoping for a powerful vote total that would send a message that many voters are fed up with politics as usual.

But in fact—and despite Gov. Romney being a long way from libertarian—the differences between a Romney administration and another four years of Obama have major implications for liberty. They really do reflect two different conceptions of the role of the federal government, with the former focused largely on getting government out of the way of entrepreneurs and investors and the latter intent on government management of the economy. To be sure, a Romney administration might not govern consistently with its market-friendly rhetoric, but I cannot imagine it being less market-friendly than the current administration.

The most important policy issue of this election is fixing the looming insolvency of the federal government. The Obama approach would basically accept the federal role in ever-expanding entitlement spending and would increase taxation to whatever fraction of GDP it would take to eventually reach budget balance. The other approach is to ratchet down the federal government's role over time, reducing it to its historic share of peacetime GDP. The plan put forth by Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, is a start on this project. The other side seems committed to making America into something like a European social-democratic welfare state. That, by itself, would be enough to determine my November choice.

Another crucially important issue is the Supreme Court. It is likely that the next president will fill one or more vacancies on the Supreme Court, if either Kennedy or Scalia steps down during the next few years. Despite many losses for liberty, recent years have seen many 5-4 decisions that would have gone the other way if one of these justices had been replaced by a liberal Democrat. Many of these decisions protected personal or economic liberty. A Supreme Court less supportive of individual liberty, property rights, and economic freedom would have far-reaching consequences for decades to come. 

Yet another other critically important issue is political appointees to the numerous executive branch agencies. In my work on federal policy issues over the past 30 years, I have worked with appointees of both parties, some good and some bad. My assessment is that a Romney/Ryan administration would appoint far more market-friendly people to key agencies like the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission, and more. These people's decisions have enormous consequences for the economy. It is at this level that rules and policy details are written, and the implementation of policies is often as important as the policies themselves.

I have left for last the final reason why I will vote for Romney in November. I live in Florida, which is a swing state. Depending on who's counting, there are between seven (Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia) and 11 (adding Iowa, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) swing states. It the votes in these places that will very likely tip the balance to either Obama or Romney. Were I still living in California (which will go solidly for Obama), my vote for Johnson would "send a message" without affecting the final outcome. But since I live in Florida, I will vote Romney.

I hope my libertarian friends in swing states do likewise.

Related Stories

"The Libertarian Case for Gary Johnson," by Nick Gillespie

"The Libertarian Case for Barack Obama," by Mike Godwin

"Who's Getting Our Votes?: Reason Writers' 2012 Presidential Picks"

NEXT: Mike Godwin on The Libertarian Case for Barack Obama

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  1. Reason is obviously in the tank for Romney.

  2. Robert Poole: Did The Jacket force you to write this article, or did you do it voluntarily?

    1. This year, as a resident of Florida, there is no question that I will vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket. If I lived in a different state, my choice might be different.

      Why would which state he lives in matter? Florida won’t be decided by one vote either, and if it is, his vote will be canceled out by a hanging chad.

  3. Shouldn’t you be shilling for Total Information Awareness, Poole?

  4. There should be no words here, because there is no “libertarian” case “for” Mittens.

  5. Pragmatism is the enemy of the libertarian movement.

    1. No. Wayne Allan Root is the Enemy of the People.

      1. WAR came to my LP state convention a couple of years ago. Didn’t seem to understand the Fed. At. All.

        Just sayin’.

  6. Is this a joke too?

  7. Well said Robert, a libertarian salutes you.

    Willard is what this economy needs to start growing for real. We dont need a liberatarian revolution, just someone businesspeople can trust so that they make investments and hire more people.

    1. Which isn’t going to happen when a serial liar and unpredictable technocrat who is Obama lite takes over the reins of govt.

      But hey, whatever floats your boat.

      1. If Obama is Bush III and Romney is Obama lite, would that mean Romney is really Bush II again?

        1. Whoever is our next president will oversee George W Bush’s IV term.

      2. The O’Bomb will turn us all to dirt farmers before he starts WW III, Mittens will reverse the sequence.

  8. “He will be significantly less bad than Barack Obama.” There is no evidence for that whatsoever, especially given that Obama will be a lame duck dealing with a GOP House from Day 1.

  9. the former focused largely on getting government out of the way of entrepreneurs and investors Big Business and the latter intent on government management of the economy partnering with Big Business to manage the economy

    There, I fixed it for you

  10. Republicans: “Send America’s sons and daughters to die in foreign lands, just keep your hands off my money and my guns!”

    1. So you’re saying…50% good, 50% bad? Considering the current guy, that ratio ain’t bad…

    2. You know the draft doesn’t exist anymore, right?

      1. Republicans don’t care that thousands of American troops are dying or that many more thousands of foreign civilians are dying in our current wars and conflicts. They only care about what’s best for them. And this, from a party that considers itself “pro-life”.

        Democrats aren’t any better. Neither of these political parties care about anything but keeping the other out of office.

        1. Democrats aren’t any better. Neither of these political parties care about anything but keeping the other out of office.

          HOLY CRAP! Thanks for letting us all in on that big secret.

        2. It’s insightful observations like this that keep me coming back here day after day.

          1. Great! I’m glad we can all agree on this. Thanks in advance for your vote for Gary Johnson.

        3. So, what you’re saying is that I should castigate myself over a bunch of people who applied for, trained for, and do a job whose basic description is kill or be killed for your employer?

          As Lisa pointed out, there is no draft. These are all employess of the US government. Like mailmen, only with ordinance.

          1. Nation building is not part of the job description. Neither is being used as a pawn in a politician’s election hopes.

            Your lack of compassion for these children is disturbing.

            1. Nation building is not part of the job description.

              Anyone who enlisted prior to the Vietnam War is off the hook. Since then, yeah, I’d say nation building has pretty much been an understood “part of the job”.

              If what you’re trying to actually say is that Republicans are more militaristic than Democrats, set about presenting your case. Save the emoting for Emotion magazine.

  11. “This is one of three related articles, each making a specifically libertarian argument for the Democratic, Republican, or Libertarian presidential contender.”

    Democratic FTW

  12. Here’s this libertarian’s case for Romney:

    1) Obama is so freaking hostile to capitalism!

    2) We cannot move public policy in a libertarian direction so long as every piece of legislation requires Obama’s signature.

    3) We can turn against Romney like an abused pit bull the moment he steps into the oval office.

    Libertarian support for Romney isn’t about support for Romney. It’s about opposition to Obama. There are different flavors of awful, and Obama’s flavor is especially awful.

    The End.

    1. Historically, government spending has grown more under Republican presidents than under Democrat presidents.

      1. Then, when they screw up the economy, guess what gets blamed…the free market to which Republicans pay lip service.

      2. Presidents don’t create spending bills.

        1. No, but they sign them

          1. or don’t sign them.

      3. You mean for the new deal?
        or maybe the great society?
        Or maybe obamacare?

        Give me a break, I?ve heard that revisionism before. Where we are today Obama is for more government and Romney is for less government

        1. Romney is not for less government. That’s a load of crap. And there were a good number of Republicans who supported the New Deal and Great Society, though not as much as the Democrats. And there’s Bush, who added Medicare Part D, NCLB, and ran up big deficits, with help from both parties in Congress. Spending also exploded under Reagan, though the Democratic House deserves blame for that as well, just as the Republican Congress of the 90’s deserves a lot of the credit for slowing the rate of growth of spending under Clinton.

        2. “Where we are today Obama is for more government and Romney is for less government”

          Actually where we are today Obama is for more government and Romney is for less of more government.

          Sort of like the difference between being immersed in liquid hot “magma” and simply being sprayed with it.

      4. I find that hard to believe except as a statistical fluke. I look at this:


        I see a big spending jump when Roosevelt takes over, then steadily increase from 1932-1980 (4 Dems vs 3 Reps), then fall from 1980 to 2000 (2 Reps vs 1 Dem), then rise slightly under Bush II and skyrocket under Obama.

    2. If you would check records instead of just listening to campaign rhetoric and bloviations, you would note that Mittens is just as hostile to free markets as the O’Bomb is, and more likely to involve is in WW III (see previous post)

      1. and more likely to involve is in WW III

        Of the two candidates, only one has started a war without congressional approval. Just sayin’

    3. This was more convincing than the article. And shorter. Still didn’t convince me though.

    4. I’m kinda of the same mind, but my thinking is along the lines of a “Fabian” libertarianism.

      The LP has gone, and will go, nowhere. Let’s face facts. The only party that even pretends to welcome us is the Republican party. Let’s take advantage of that and, just as the hard Left commandeered the Democrats over a period of decades, commandeer the Republican Party to libertarian ends. We’re not going to have our voices heard in any other way.

  13. They really do reflect two different conceptions of the role of the federal government,

    Yes, one wants to control your life and your property, whereas the other wants to control your property and your life. Totally different, contrary ways of thinking.

  14. Were I still living in California (which will go solidly for Obama), my vote for Johnson would “send a message” without affecting the final outcome. But since I live in Florida, I will vote Romney.

    A message that they don’t have to care about winning your vote because you’ll only change if it doesn’t matter?

  15. This is why I won’t vote for Bob Poole.

    Voting for the lessor evil (if one is actually lessor) crowds out the good.

  16. Poole’s calculus is reasonable, but I find his conclusions questionable.

    On Supreme Court judges, while I will miss Anthony Kennedy terribly when he is gone, I don’t think of Scalia as being particularly libertarian-friendly. Republicans have been arguably better on justices,but they were also the ones who tried to give you Bork and excessively deferential majoritarians.

    On shrinking the government, Romney’s bona fides are hardly exemplary, and the Republican track record is nothing to write home about. Romney is likely to try to make the government do more things more efficiently, rather than try to make the government actually do less.

    In terms of the bureaucracy, Romney would definitely tilt more business-friendly, but I’m not sure he would be more free markets friendly and private property friendly.

    Finally, when you look at Romney, you see a George Bush with perhaps more brains and possibly less spine, not another Reagan. The republicans would control the patronage, but they wouldn’t try to change the game.

    I loathe Obama, and I would think long and hard about voting for a third party if I lived in a swing state. That said, most of the damage Obama did during his first term was enabled by democratic majorities in both houses – without that, I’m not sure he is dangerous enough to warrant limiting myself to two evils.

    1. I don’t think of Scalia as being particularly libertarian-friendly.

      Less so than, say, Ginsburg? Or Breyer? Or either of Obama’s picks? I think you’d have a really tough time making that case. Aside from pot legalization he’s come down on the side of liberty far more often than not. To the extent he doesn’t it’s usually out of deference to the constitutional text given his originalism.

      Then there’s Clarence Thomas, who I’d take 9 of in a heartbeat.

      On every other issue you’re right that the difference is mostly at the margins. But on SCOTUS I’d be crapping my pants a lot less with any given Republican in office than any given Democrat, and I’d take my chances with a ripe summer squash over Obama.

      1. You are absolutely right about the ripe summer squash…

  17. In a followup article, I’ll be arguing how drinking warm piss is significantly less bad than eating warm human feces…

  18. This about sums it up for me exactly, except I do live in CA, and have already voted for Gary Johnson. I really don’t like Romney, but I can’t see how he could be worse than Obama.

  19. There are only two rational ways for a libertarian to vote in a rigged system like ours:

    1. protest vote, OR
    2. vote for gridlock.

    A vote for Johnson satisfies #1; a vote for Obama satisfies #2.

    A vote for Romney just shows you’re an imbecile.

    1. No, it doesn’t.

      Obama has been ruling by executive order. What he can’t do with congress, he’ll do on his own.

      He’s enacting cap & trade through the EPA. He’s likely going to try something similar with gun control – he already tried to use the EPA to ban lead bullets

      1. I’m sorry, I fell over because my eyes rolled so far back into my head.

        1. You shouldn’t. He’s right. And soon, th EPA is going to put the kibosh to the fracking industry, thus causing NG prices to soar again.

  20. There is no libertarian case for Obama or Romney. They are the same. Your case for Romney applies to Obama as well since you are going to get the same out of each of them.

    I understand the point behind this “series” but this was just painful to read. As was the case for Obama.

    If you read this and Obama’s with the mindset of comedy, they are actually quite humorous.

  21. Anyone that believes a Romney administration with a Republican congress is going to be less fiscally irresponsible than four more years is a fucking moron. And I mean that in the clinical sense of IQ < 70. Who ties your shoes Poole? I bet you wear the kind with Velcro.

  22. That’s right Robert Poole, put Republican President bullet in Republican Congress gun, place next to head of America, pull trigger.

  23. I think it’s generally easier to correct things when Republicans screw up than when Democrats screw up. The legislation and bureaucracy generated by Democrats seem to result in more of a burden overall.

    1. You mean like the PATRIOT ACT?

    2. Oh you must mean No Child Left Behind

    3. Oh Oh I know. You mean big bureaucratic agencies with massive off-budget budgets that keep growning and live on forever like TSA.

      1. Bush was a disaster for the Republican Party. I could see that in the 2000 campaign.

      2. Like social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. No Child Left Behind will not bankrupt the nation.

  24. Put aside the many issues where libertarians disagree with neocons and social conservatives (war, defense spending, the PATRIOT Act, NDAA, abortion rights, the War on Drugs, gay marriage), and it’s still debatable whether a Romney victory will even be good for economic conservatives.

    He’s flip-flopped on every position he’s ever taken. He will almost certainly govern from the center, since that’s the easiest path to reelection. If his policies succeed, the media will say, “This is because he abandoned free market ideology.” If his policies fail, the media will say, “This proves free markets can’t work without more government regulation.”

    On top of that, the GOP House will feel compelled to go along with whatever Romney proposes, like the Republican Congress rolled over immediately when Bush pushed Medicare Part D.

    Given all that, maybe continued gridlock under Obama would be the less bad choice…

    1. Maybe, maybe not. Elect enough fiscal conservative/libertarians and his bad bills will not get through the Senate. Think Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Mike Lee, Cru, etc.

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