'But Whom Will You Root For?'

Our lunch conversation, as usual, had wandered finally to the upcoming presidential race.

"All right," said my exasperated friend Ron, a conservative Republican, "I guess I'm resigned to the fact that you won't vote at all in November. But you're a politics junkie! Surely you'll be rooting for someone!"

And it dawned on me that, yes, despite 32 years of persistent nonvoting, I've usually rooted for one of the major presidential candidates, always seeing one potential master as slightly less odious than the other. Likewise, for purely strategic reasons in the struggle for liberty, there's typically been a reason to cast, if not a vote, then a hip-hip-hooray for one lying nitwit over another.

In September 1992, when Bush the Elder was defending his throne against Clinton the Pretender, the great Murray Rothbard discussed this issue of rooting vs. voting in the sorely missed Rothbard-Rockwell Report. He wrote:

"…whom should we cheer for on Election Day? Whom should we hope wins the election? Voting is a matter of personal conscience, and can be for one of many minor candidates or for no one at all; rooting on who should win is a different problem, because regardless of who you or I vote for, or whether we vote at all, one of the two major candidates is sure to win in November. Whom should we hope wins, or are all the considerations so equally weighted that we should be indifferent? Regardless of our hopes, no minor candidate will win, and the office of President, alas, will not be declared vacant. …

"In 1992, I am indifferent to whom one votes for, but I'm definitely rooting for Bush over Clinton."

It was strictly a question of strategy, Murray said. "Under whose reign," he wrote, "will we have a better chance to build up the paleo-movement…?" The proper strategy in that election, he believed, was to vote for Bush – or not – but in particular to root for Bush to pull out a victory so that, first, the socialistic hordes would be held back a while longer and, second, an organized paleo-right could be positioned to ride to power in 1996 on the back of a crumbling Bush Administration.

Murray Rothbard defended the act of voting. But he also appreciated the problem many libertarians have philosophically with electing politicians to abolish politics. He understood the discomfort many of us have with slogging to the polls and casting votes for lesser evils. Most important, though, Murray recognized that whether or not we vote, we can't help but want to root for somebody, even in something as morally bankrupt as a political election. It's in our nature. So…

In 1972, I rooted for McGovern over Nixon, because Nixon was…heck, he was a criminal.

In 1976, I rooted for Carter over Ford, to punish Ford for pardoning Nixon.

In 1980, I rooted for Reagan over Carter, because Carter had to be punished on general principle.

In 1984, I rooted for Mondale over Reagan, because I loathed the neoconservative hawks surrounding Reagan.

In 1988, I rooted for Bush over Dukakis, because Dukakis was, well, Dukakis.

In 1992, I rooted for Bush over Clinton, because Hillary was, well, Hillary.

In 1996, I rooted for Dole over Clinton, because, gee, four more years seemed just too awful.

In 2000, I rooted for Bush Lite over Gore, because Gore was Clinton without the, uh, charm.

As usual, I will cast no ballot on November 2. But what is unusual this election year is that, for the first time since coming of voting age, I will root for no one. As my friend Butler Shaffer pointed out here a few weeks ago, the choice is between one Yale graduate, pro-war, pro-Patriot Act, pro-expansive state member of "Skull-and-Bones" and another Yale graduate, pro-war, pro-Patriot Act, pro-expansive state member of "Skull-and-Bones." As Butler remarked, "It's like getting to choose between emphysema and lung cancer!"

To paraphrase Rothbard, all the considerations this election year are so equally weighted that I am absolutely indifferent to November's outcome.

Is anything sadder than a man who will not vote – and cannot even root?

September 15, 2004

Wally Conger [send him mail] is a marketing consultant and writer living on California's central coast. He has been a non-political, anti-party activist in the libertarian movement since 1970. His blog of unfinished essays and spontaneous eruptions can be found at wconger.blogspot.com.