Two Choices for President

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People across America are frustrated, even infuriated with the choice between Bush and Kerry. Both politicians support war and economic policies that destroy prosperity. Both would push the country in the wrong direction. Is this situation hopeless? Wendy McElroy and Charles Hooper offer us two alternatives. McElroy make a great case for not participating in the democratic process by not voting at all. Hooper suggests that you should vote, but vote for a third party candidate like Michael Badnarik. Both represent principled positions, but neither one would put a good politician in the White House. Who is right? What do we do?

I believe that our situation is not hopeless, but that our hope lies not in the political process, but in convincing the people that the political process is the problem. To that end the Bush/Kerry dilemma is a good teaching tool: would Wal-Mart offer a choice between toothpaste that contained harmful bacteria and one that contained deadly parasites? That’s the choice between Bush and Kerry. Would Dell sell computers that didn’t work or that people couldn’t afford? That’s what government is — it doesn’t work and people can’t afford it. If we are to have hope for our future, we must turn our efforts to changing people’s minds, the battle between ideas, and the cause of liberty.

What about the choice between Bush and Kerry? Do we ignore voting as suggested by McElroy, or do we participate with a protest vote as suggested by Hooper? I actually think that they are both right and for the same reason. Not voting is a perfectly fine alternative for either reasons of principle, or if you simply have something better to do that day. Casting your protest vote for third parties allows you to declare your principles and has the practical effect of signaling the major parties important issues (like Ross Perot’s concern about the federal deficit spending and the national debt).

More than any of these reasons, they are both right because incumbent politicians and the major parties hate it when you either don’t vote or when you do vote for third parties and independents. As a former third party politician and political appointee I can tell you that these are the things they fear the most and work hardest to suppress. When people fail to participate in the political process by not voting it undermines their credibility and their authority. When you vote for third parties and independents you make your declaration that the incumbent platforms are failures and must be replaced.

So if you really want to stick it to Bush or Kerry, or Bush and Kerry, adopt either one of these strategies. Not voting is easy, but make sure you tell all your friends, family members, and coworkers that you are not voting, and why. Voting isn’t that hard either. Vote for third party candidates and independents in races where they are running. Vote against all incumbents (there are a few exceptions), and don’t vote in races where a candidate is running unopposed. Voters in swing states may want to consider voting for one of the major party candidates on the theory of voting against the incumbent (especially one who has done a really bad job), or on the theory that gridlock is a good thing for the people (e.g., a Democrat President and a Republican Congress) because less legislation will be passed. These are just optional strategies, as I would never "endorse" Kerry or Bush for anything, including dogcatcher.

Mark Thornton [send him mail] is an economist who lives in Auburn, Alabama. He is author of The Economics of Prohibition, is a senior fellow with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and is the Book Review Editor for the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. He is co-author of Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War.

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