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Two Third Parties

Sorry, you hard-core anti-voters, but I am voting this November 2. It's not that I'm voting because I feel that I must. Or because I think it's my duty. And certainly not because I think the system we live under has any legitimacy, moral or otherwise.

I am voting instead to register my protest. I am voting to tell the government off. And nothing does that quite like two things. The first is the Libertarian Party Platform, which advocates not "good government" brought about by "honest and ethical politicians," but which rather advocates almost no government at all. The second is its nominee, Michael Badnarik. An unknown. Better to place your vote in an unknown than to get a celebrity candidate who won't do much better. William F. Buckley, in one of his rare insights, said he'd rather be governed by the first three hundred people in the Boston phonebook than by Harvard's faculty. Badnarik fits that mold. No fame, no money, no experience in government. Such a person ought to be President.

In this case, however, we lucked out. Badnarik at least knows what the Constitution says. He's taught courses on it. But when you're two Yale Skull and Bonesmen, what the Constitution actually says is not an obstacle to your ambition. To have actually read the document, and to have a conscience, probably hurts your future. If either man cared about the Constitution, the one wouldn't have voted for the Iraq "resolution," and the other wouldn't have gone to war against Iraq without an explicit Congressional Declaration of War.

Now, this is where the deal gets complicated, where the Libertarian ends up speaking out of both sides of his mouth. To a libertarian, liberty, as Lord Acton put it, is the highest political end of man. Not Constitutions or Declarations, not what some "Founding Fathers" wrote. Liberty is more important than mythology. If George Washington was right about foreign entanglements, it is because he was right on that topic, and not just because he was George Washington. The same goes for the opinions of Jefferson, Madison, Mason, or anyone else. It is to the extent that they were right about liberty that we should heed them, but we shouldn't bow before their words on the basis of their names and legends.

Libertarians, then, do not honor the Constitution just because it is the Constitution, or because they think it is perfect, and certainly not because they think it has divine inspiration, as Gary North recently discussed. But, for better or for worse, it is our rulebook, our standard for government. And if the powers-that-be won't play by their own rules, bad judgment and abuse are the only logical outcomes.

Acknowledging that utopia is impossible, I'd settle for a return to the limits of the Constitution, flawed as it is. Even if we had tariffs and a post office (which is the case today). Even if some or many states had laws I don't like (which is also the case today). The typical American would be far freer vis-à-vis the federal government, and the President would be restrained by Congress's Declaration of War powers from policing the world. That's a deal I would take in a heartbeat.

So why won't I vote for the Constitution Party's Michael Peroutka instead of the Libertarian Michael Badnarik? Well, I would vote for Peroutka if he was on the ballot in my state and Badnarik was not. All I know is that Badnarik's on in my state, and that's good enough for me. There are three reasons why I prefer Badnarik to Peroutka.

  1. A feeling, perhaps unjustified, that the Christians who support the Constitution Party hold up the Constitution and the authority of the Founders almost as an authority in themselves. That is, that that Party has an undue allegiance to uninspired pieces of paper and the moral example of deists. This leads to,

  2. An unjustified sense of nationalism. The national charter, the Constitution, is supposed to make me feel a greater kinship towards, say, the people of rural California, or urban New York, states I've never visited, as opposed to the people of Saskatchewan, where I spent most of my childhood. To be honest, I don't give a rip if an American loses his job because his wages were artificially too high and people in a third world country can do the job at a lower price. If "outsourcing" prevents someone in Mexico or India from outright starvation, I'm not going to shed crocodile tears for temporary economic problems and job losses for Americans just because they're Americans. If we actually had a free market, they wouldn't be out of work for long. And in any case, why should I have greater compassion for a stranger who is a "fellow citizen" through the accident of history, than some poor guy who, by the accident of history, happens to live in a foreign land? Why should compassion and economics be nationalized? I agree with the Constitution Party (and the Libertarian Party) that the USA should pull out of all trade agreements that impinges on its sovereignty. But I also agree with the Libertarians that we should open our borders to all trade, and if tariffs were our one revenue stream for the federal government (to the extent it would exist) that it would be uniform and not protectionist.

  3. Government can not prevent cultural decline. Only cultural renewal can stop cultural decline. As far as immigrants go, I would never let any become a citizen or enjoy any supposed "benefits" like Social Security or minimum wage. But immigrants don't care about any of that. If you talk to Moslem, Pakistani cab drivers in Chicago, you will find out that they just want to make honest dollars and provide for their families. They are not a threat to America's demographics or culture. And neither are Mexicans, or Asians, or Bosnians. These people come to work and make a better life for themselves, not to conquer or destroy the culture.

That's the ultimate challenge to the Constitution Party. Since it is an explicitly Christian Party, I don't know if it is ready to concede that no civil power can possibly protect Christendom. The State, perhaps, may competently punish violent evil-doers, but how much more can it do? What does the Book of Deuteronomy say about immigrants? Or trade? As I read it, it seems to take the side of freedom, and nothing Jesus says would suggest any other interpretation.

Most importantly, isn't it the role of the Church to preserve our cultural heritage? In other words, it is often said that this was once a Christian nation, and now it is not. Who's to blame? Darwin? Freud? The Supreme Court?

If the Church once had a dominant place in the culture, and now does not, there is no one to blame but the Church itself. And spiritual renewal, leading to cultural renewal, are the only means to reverse the trend. The culture is in decline, but it is Christians who allowed that to happen by transferring responsibilities of the Church, and of the family, to the State.

The reasons for this are long and complex and I can not do them justice in this piece. But the long and the short of it is that the Constitution Party still sees some redemptive work on the part of the State to restore "America" as an entity, as an ideal. I side with the Libertarians because I think they understand that the State has only a negative, punitive role in society and that cultural renewal lies in the unity and fellowship of the Church, the cooperation of families, and the industry and volunteerism of individuals.

October 18, 2004

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