The more I think about the coming presidential election—it's not unreasonable to ask why I think about it at all—the more I am convinced that the best contest for libertarians would be Hillary Clinton versus Jeb Bush. Why? Because all we libertarians would need to do is point to the ballot and ask, "Here's our argument against politics. Need we add anything?"
What could better illustrate the bankruptcy of the political system than that race? What better way could there be for us to capitalize on the presumed disillusionment, especially among young people, with the Obama years? You wanted hope and change? Here's what it got you.
The stale politics personified by these two uninteresting, dynastic power-seekers couldn't be better suited to driving home our point that the status quo is too firmly entrenched to be challenged effectively from within. I'm not saying that's a timeless law of nature, but it seems to be the case at present. If someone knows a way to change that quickly, please let us know.
A Clinton v. Bush contest would have all the excitement of a snail race. Again, that's good for the advocates of liberty. Is anyone really going to be excited about these two? I guess a few people will think having a woman elected president is worth any cost. But really—Hillary Clinton? She's so obviously opportunistic and void of principle, so ready to say whatever she needs to say to assemble a winning coalition. When she tries to sound like a progressive, I feel I'm watching a Saturday Night Live sketch. She has none of her husband's ability to feign sincerity. Does anyone really believe what she says? I think the only honest statement that could come from her would be, "I want power. Now!"
And Jeb Bush—I can barely conjure up a mental image of him; that's how memorable he is. What does he believe in? It's a silly question. He believes he ought to be president.
I realize the bar is low, but the other candidates in the race would be more interesting, even if in a screwball way. Bernie Sanders against Rand Paul would have more spectator value—maybe. It would depend on which Rand Paul we got. Rand Paul in an anti-interventionist mood, tearing into the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president for perpetual war and execution by drone without due process (with Americans among the victims), would be a welcome sight. But the pressure of coalition politics will keep that Rand Paul under wraps, even if a hint is dropped now and again. No wonder his father looked despondent at the campaign kickoff.
On the Democratic side, I fear we won't get 100-proof Sanders. He is in a position to go after Clinton from the left on both foreign and domestic policy, but indications are that he will confine his assault to the domestic side. I'd love to see him spell out Clinton's record of support for war—she helped make Libya, Syria, and beyond the disasters they are today—and her suspicious reticence about the civil-liberties violations committed by the Obama administration. [She was willing to criticize George W. Bush on that count.] But what if Sanders calculates that the public doesn't care enough about foreign policy or surveillance, and instead focuses entirely on economic issues, where from a libertarian perspective he's a mess?
That would be a shame because Clinton should be seen for the hawk she is. She is vulnerable on the domestic side, of course: her notorious ties to Wall Street are juicy targets for someone like Sanders, and she deserves to have this dirty linen put on full display. But Sanders is boxed in by his modest—yes, modest—agenda, which calls merely for more regulation by Washington bureaucrats rather than a radical elimination of the deeply rooted government privilege that characterizes the American political economy. [Markets do regulate themselves when privilege is absent.] He seems unfamiliar with the principle of regulatory capture. How many failures of "reform" must we experience before people like Sanders finally get the point? Sadly, a great opportunity will be lost to teach Americans that the problem is the corporate state—the long-standing government-business alliance—and that the solution is the radically freed market, not better regulators. We can empower bureaucrats or liberate people. It's not really a tough choice.
I suppose Rand Paul would make "crony capitalism" part of his campaign too, but we can't expect him to propose a thorough rooting out of corporatism. Further, since he supports increased military spending, he encourages expansion of the trough at which major corporations feed. So at best his message would be murky and uninstructive. Another opportunity forgone.
So I'm leaning toward the position I opened with. Let's have the two stalest, most forgettable people imaginable run for president in 2016. Suffering through that race will either convince people that needed radical change won't come from the electoral system, or if that is too much to swallow, it will convince them that the candidate gatekeepers must be exiled so that fresh thinking—read: libertarian ideas—can have a shot for a change. Wouldn't a few months of Clinton and Bush be worth it?
This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog.