Liberty-Lovers and Romney
Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee. And libertarians have a decision to make. If they want to make an informed decision, there are several considerations that they need to bear in mind.
First, Romney is neither a conservative nor a libertarian. He is perhaps a neo-conservative or soft liberal. That is to say, he is but another proponent of Big Government. Given his record, it is hard to come to any other conclusion -- despite the game that he is talking at present.
Second, Romney's rival is our beloved president, Barack Obama -- who is also neither a conservative nor a libertarian. But neither is he a neo-conservative or a soft liberal. Obama is a radical leftist whose chief objective is to "fundamentally transform" our country into the bastion of "social justice" for which he and his ideological ilk have always ached.
Third, come Election Day, the lover of liberty will have but one of two choices to make: he can cast his vote for either Romney or Obama. Repeat: whether he stays home, writes in, say, Ron Paul or Mickey Mouse, or votes for a third party candidate, he will be casting a vote for either Romney or Obama.
Simply put, come the day after Election Day, either a Republican or a Democrat will be the president for the next four years. No one else will. To abstain from choosing one or the other is itself a choice.
Fourth, liberty is not an abstraction that has fallen like manna from the sky. It is not an all-or-nothing thing. What we refer to as "liberty" is actually a complex system or tradition of specific liberties.
It is true that both Republicans and Democrats have done much to erode this majestic tradition of English liberties that the Founders sought to bequeath to their posterity. It is equally true that if the pioneers of the American experiment could see the extent to which the federalized structure of American government has been subverted, they would be horrified.
Still, it would be less than fully accurate to say that our liberties are altogether gone. Thus, the question the lover of liberty must ask himself is this: under whose presidency do our remaining liberties stand the best chance of surviving, Romney's or Obama's?
It is with good reason that legions of liberty lovers have long ago concluded that there is scarcely a dime's worth of difference between these candidates and their respective parties. After all, as I have already acknowledged, both parties, time and time again, have revealed themselves to be detriments to liberty. Once in power, our elected representatives, irrespective of their party affiliations, have sought first and foremost to consolidate that power.
However, while this is a good reason for refraining from lending one's support to both Republicans and Democrats, it is not good enough.
For one, even if there is "scarcely a dime's worth of difference" between our two national parties, a dime is still a dime: the fate of the country could turn on what little difference there is.
For example, let's suppose that in November, we had to reckon with two candidates, A and B. Candidate A wants to require all citizens to purchase medical insurance. Candidate B, though, wants to go much farther than this. Encouraged by the Supreme Court's majority opinion on the constitutionality of ObamaCare, candidate B is determined to demand of all citizens that they exercise at least three (or more?) times per week and alter their dietary habits. To insure that this occurs, Candidate B will not stop until every citizen purchases a gym membership and receives a government-issued debit card that he or she will use to buy the mandated foods.
Candidate A objects vehemently to Candidate B's plan and swears that as long as he is president, Americans will remain at liberty to eat whatever they want to eat and exercise or not. If, let's say, Candidate B is already the president and has already begun to implement his "health care" plan, then we can imagine that Candidate A swears that on day one of assuming the office of the presidency, he will repeal it.
Candidate A is an undesirable candidate for sure. But if he was our only viable alternative to Candidate B, isn't it obvious that he would be a far less undesirable choice than the latter? There is no question that Candidate A would slow down the erosion of what remains of our liberties, while Candidate B would accelerate the pace.
And in the real world, as opposed to some utopia, the lover of liberty knows that his choice is never really between a world replete with liberty and one utterly devoid of it. Rather, it is either between a greater and lesser degree of liberty or, more frequently, more and less tolerable infringements upon it. (Of course, theoretically, revolution and secession are options also. But since no one is calling for them at the moment, we needn't give them much thought here.)
But for argument's sake, let's just say that, substantively, there is no difference between the policy prescriptions of Obama and Romney.
From the perspective of the lover of liberty, Romney would still be a preferable choice.
The reason for this is simple: it is only the mistaken belief, shared by tyrants, visionaries, and utopian dreamers the world over, that politics is only ever a matter of politics that leads us to measure the differences between Republicans and Democrats solely in terms of policies.
In actuality, though, there is much more to it than this.
To begin with, Romney and Obama are men with very different sorts of intentions. Putting it bluntly, Romney may very well enact policies at which the lover of liberty will look aghast. But Obama definitely will. This is because while Romney is not always very clear as to what traditional American liberty entails, Obama is resolutely opposed to it. Romney is not resolved to "fundamentally transform" the land of the free and the home of the brave. Obama has already put us on notice that he indeed is.
Another crucial difference between Romney and Obama is that the former needs conservatives and Tea Partiers to win. These same people, though, have been distrustful of Romney from the outset and still haven't really warmed up to him.
Translation: Romney has every incentive to walk the line that they have drawn for him. It will not be without paying a grave cost -- a cost of the sort that President George H.W. Bush paid back in 1992 when he violated his pledge to refrain from raising taxes -- that Romney will cross his base.
Obama, in stark contrast, is not constrained by any such constituency. In fact, just the opposite is the case: his base promises to continue pulling him leftward (not that he needs anyone to do so).
There is one final reason why the liberty lover should vote for Romney over Obama.
If Obama is re-elected, that will be his last election. The incentive he has now to appear more moderate than he really is will be forever gone. Among the ways that he can give unimpeded reign to his radicalism is by his selection of justices to the Supreme Court. A single decision on his part here promises to impact the future of the country for at least the next generation and quite possibly much longer than that.
Matters are otherwise for Romney. Especially in light of John Roberts' recent ruling on ObamaCare, the Republican president, whether it is Romney or anyone else, is going to be under incalculable pressure to nominate justices who have unquestioned conservative bona fides -- i.e., justices who are staunchly against judicial activism.
When the lover of liberty considers his prospects in light of all of these considerations, he will recognize that his beloved stands a better chance of enduring longer under a President Romney than under our current president.
Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith and Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, friend him on facebook, and follow him on Twitter.