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09/10/2004 Archived Entry: ""The Case for Conscientious Non-Voting" Part I"
Cartoons! Tony Auth's "Wrong Choice in November"; two from Ben Sargent -- "The Mogul" and "Property of the Republican Party"; Walt Handelsman's "Pat Down"; Nick Anderson's the Same Ring"; and, Tom Toles' "Government and Religion.
An encouraging aspect of today's political scene -- and, trust me, I search for reasons to feel motivated to continue slugging away for personal freedom -- is how many good websites and writers are springing up and available for the price of seeking them out. Today, I highlight two of them.
First, the Price of Liberty, a website maintained by Ed Ward who states its organizing theme: "The price of liberty is far more than simple vigilance. The price includes the integrity to accept complete personal responsibility for our lives, safety, property and welfare. The price that so many find hardest to pay, however, is the integrity to leave everyone else alone to do the same."
Second, a welcomed display of hubris entitled "The Case for Conscientious Non-Voting" by a libertarian named Joey King from whom I hope to hear/read much more. McBlog is running the piece in two parts, today and tomorrow. With Joey's permission, I urge people to repost and reprint the article...crediting the author, of course.
Joey King: WARNING: The following words may defy everything you have ever read about the Libertarian Party. If I offend anyone, I am truly sorry; but at least hear me out. This has not been an easy column to write.
In the US, it is election time again. The airwaves and newspapers are filled with article after article on apathetic Americans who don't exercise their right to vote. The chattering class will bemoan (as they always do) the lack of citizen participation in the electoral process. Actually, voting totals have been rather consistent over the last 30 years. About 30% of citizens don't vote in presidential elections. Non-participation is far greater in off year elections. I concur with the pundits that this group of non-voters is largely made up of apathetic people.
I once heard George Carlin say something to the effect that, "those who vote, can't bitch." That struck me as odd at first. He went on to say that only the non-voters can complain because they are being forced to live in a system, which was bought, sold, and paid for by a collusion of corporations, politicians, and religious institutions. He opined that voting only gives the appearance of legitimacy.
I pondered Carlin's statement for a number of years. I had been raised in a household with the opposite sentiment, "only those who vote can bitch."
Could it be said the LP strategy for the last 32 years has been hypocritical? Libertarians are a group of people who claim to advocate the reduction of government in our lives. Yet, we are trying to use the political process to decrease the overall level of politics. Am I the only one who finds that strange?
It strikes me as odd that an entire movement filled with people who see the value in a mass of citizens refusing to pay taxes, has never tried to encourage conscientious non-voting. Hell, the consequences for conscientious non-voting are zero, and the results could be positive. The Feds can put you in jail for not paying taxes.
I have been a proud member of the Libertarian movement for a number of years. In the last two years or so, this contradiction in the party's strategy has become more striking to me. In the late-60's I am given to understand, there were two schools of thought among Libertarians who subscribe to the non-aggression principle. One group's philosophy went like this: get enough Libertarians elected and change the system.
The other side argued that in order to avoid corrupting ourselves, we should boycott the political system as much as possible. These folks believed that liberty could only be achieved without politics. In other words, teach the masses to peacefully live without government.
The "reform the system" group founded the Libertarian Party, and the "non-participatory" folks went in other directions. Since I became aware of the non-participatory argument, I have considered its possibilities of success.
To paraphrase Ben Franklin, "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a definition of insanity." With that in mind, I have to ask, "do the presidential campaigns of the LP fit Franklin's definition of insanity?"
Let's look at recent history. Harry Browne received 382,869 votes in the 2000 presidential election. In 1980, Ed Clark received the most Libertarian votes in a presidential race with 921,199. I have never been one to fret over the "wasted vote" syndrome, but many people don't vote Libertarian for that reason. I think it is safe to say that whoever wins the LP presidential nomination this year will receive fewer than 1,000,000 votes in the election.
Let's assume that 10% of the 382,800 people (38,280) who voted for Browne would be considered "activist" Libertarians. Also consider that there are approximately 1,000,000 voting precincts in the US. Would the LP have fared better in 2000 by planning on having 3 activists show up at 12,762 large polling places around the country (38,280 divided by 3 equals 12,762)? Those activists could have encouraged others to boycott the election. What effect would that have had on the election? It is safe to say that it would have had more effect than the Browne campaign.
Recently, the LP ran a full-page ad in USA Today criticizing the drug war. What if that full-page ad would have ran 3 days prior to the 2000 election, and encouraged a nationwide boycott of the election? That would have had more of an effect than the Browne campaign.
At some point, if enough voters don't participate, and those non-participants are conscientious non-voters, the mainstream press will pick up on the sentiment and momentum for change will be inevitable. At precisely what point the mainstream press picks up that sentiment is difficult to say. I am certain that if the vote totals were half of what they were last time, the media would notice.
We have all heard the old axiom that it is never wise to play another man's game because you'll usually loose. Is our current strategy of running candidates in actuality playing another man's came and trying to win? It is certainly hard to argue otherwise. Tell me a better way to gain national attention and decrease the overall level of politics: a) run a presidential candidate that won't get a million votes or b) organize an election boycott and significantly decrease the total number of votes cast?
I must give the folks at the Free State Project (FSP) credit, because they are attempting to do something different. The people who founded the US government essentially did the same thing: flood a relatively small area with enough liberty-minded folks to make a change.
Conscientious non-voters could make a difference in the other 49 states too, as long as they are vocal and not apathetic.
Conscientious non-voting has worked for other groups who say that politics, in and of itself, is detrimental to humanity. The Amish community comes immediately to mind. People in other countries have been successful using a strategy of boycotting the polls.
Abraham Lincoln said something to the effect that no man had the right to govern another man without consent. I am no longer certain I agree with his sentiment. From a moral standpoint, is it possible to give or receive a consent to rule others? Why does one need to be ruled in the first place? Would it be moral for a Libertarian to win office with a majority of votes, but a minority of persons within a given district?
While the goal of the LP to reform the political system by participating is to be applauded, we can't say we have been very successful after 32 years. Sure, we have had some small successes (there are certainly more social issues that are trending Libertarian for example). Some state and local races have gone our way, but we have not achieved the electoral success we would like. How long should we continue with limited success before changing strategy? Would our ascension to power corrupt us as it did the Russian Communists in 1917?
Will the Headlines in Nov 2004 be:
1. "President Bush Reelected"
2. "Democratic opponent upsets Bush"
3. "New President Won't have Mandate as Libertarians Lead Nationwide Boycott of the Polls."
One last thought, we have said that young people show the greatest potential to become Libertarians. I agree; but since 58% of the young did not vote in 2000, don't we have a better chance of cultivating a conscientious non-voter movement with the young than trying to get older folks to vote for us? Poll after poll shows that these young non-voters are socially conscious, but don't vote. Surveys show that they try to work out solutions without politics. Yes, we need to cultivate this group of folks!
It has been a long, painful, thought process for me to come to this conclusion. I am not knocking anyone for voting 3rd party. I am just simply saying that the Libertarian movement needs to seriously consider the alternatives to politics; that is what we are about. I will never advocate apathy; but I am seriously considering conscientious non-voting this year, if for no other reason than to protest the LP's "do the same thing again" mentality.
To my knowledge, there has never been a voter revolt in US history and we cannot be certain of the outcome of such an event. However, we can be certain that "politics as usual" will be the result of the 2004 election if we do as we have always done.
I will be writing more on the theme of victimization and victimhood later today in a separate blog entry. These are interesting times for me.
Best to all,