I have never in my life voted for a winning candidate in a presidential election. For that matter, I’ve also managed never to vote for a congressman, senator, or governor who went on to win. Yet, with very few exceptions, I’ve voted in every election I’ve been eligible for since my early twenties. How have I managed to consistently vote for people who never went on to power? Simple. I’ve always voted libertarian whenever I have the choice.
Libertarians come in a lot of different stripes. Some, to be blunt, are flat out crazy, anti-social conspiracy theorists who I’d be frightened to encounter alone on the street. This, I should note, is also true of certain segments of Democrats and Republicans. If I was handcuffed to a chair and forced to listen while a North Carolina Republican legislator explained how vital it was to pass a law protecting public restrooms from people of the wrong gender, I might well chew my arm off to escape. On the flip side, I’ve encountered the loony opposition as well, far left wingers who view any straight white male as too privileged and bigoted ever to be truly worthy of further participation in public life.
But, to focus on my own bedfellow lunatics, I’ve met libertarians who oppose public funded roads, sewer systems, and parks, and who view me as suspect for appreciating such things. I’m also not sure I’m prepared to get on the libertarian train of legalizing every drug imaginable, allowing people to carry machine guns and hand grenades, and allowing industries to produce and sell any dangerous substance they wish, constrained only by the fear of lawsuits.
With so much deviation from libertarian dogma, what keeps me in the fold? One simple rule: Never grant your friends a governmental power you wouldn’t want controlled by your worst enemy. Suppose you are of a socialist bent and believe that the rich should be taxed to the last penny in order that income be distributed fairly. To do this, you create government tax collection agencies with broad powers and the legal teeth needed to take a bite out of undesirable CEOs. The problem is, one day those CEOs will vote their friends into power. The powerful agencies you rooted for may now be refocused to protect the wealth of those CEOs, perhaps by making the tax bureaucracy so complicated and draconian that smaller competitors get squashed by avalanches of tax forms. Or, let’s say you’re of a more authoritarian conservative bent, and want to grant the president broad powers in times of emergency to arrest and detain anyone who’s a danger to the country, holding them without trial, keeping them as long as necessary because, you know, safety first. Now that you’ve established that the president has such power, and that the president alone gets to define such emergency situations, how are you going to feel when someone of an authoritarian liberal bent comes to power who declares that gun crime is a national emergency, and people discovered possessing guns can be held without trial?
Think these extremes can’t happen? Welcome to 2016! Look, I’m not saying that either Clinton or Trump are evil or crazy. But, as far as Trump goes, one can’t help but feel that life under his administration would be a little like life under Dungeon Master in AD&D. What’s the policy of the day? Let’s roll a dice and find out! Natural twenty! Today we give everyone free health care, except for Muslims, who we’ll deport. Why did we just send the army into Syria? Alas, we rolled a one on the military action saving throw.
As for Hillary, I’m not worried she’ll govern by rolling dice. I also don't think she'd do anything so daring as to try to seize guns. My bigger concern is that she and her husband left the White House, in her words, “flat broke,” and are today millionaires many times over. It would be highly illegal for the president to be given multiple checks for $100,000 by the financial service industry in order to make sure he’d sign legislation favorable to them. However, if he does happen to sign legislation favorable to them then leave office, it’s perfectly okay to be paid the same fees many, many times over for making speeches. And if your wife also wants to say a few nice words, here’s some more large piles of money to show our gratitude. What’s that? She might run for president herself one day? No problem. We won’t write any checks while she’s actually in office. At least, not to her. To her charitable foundation, certainly, of course. But not to her. That would look unethical.
So, voting for Clinton looks to me to be a vote in favor of politicians who view public service as a surefire path to wealth. It seems like a thumbs up for corruption. On the campaign trail, she might have a few tough words to say about Wall Street, but it’s all part of the dance. If and when legislation regulating Wall Street comes out of her administration, it will be two pages of politically popular reforms, and 9000 pages of complicated loopholes written by lobbyists that basically say it’s all right to loot taxpayers for all they’re worth.
On the other hand, voting for Trump is, in the politest phrasing possible, just deranged. You do know he gets to hold the launch codes for our nuclear arsenal, right? I could almost justify voting for him as a vote for limited government because I suspect he’ll make so many enemies that absolutely nothing can get done in congress. But I also know that there are nations around the world also commanded by other narcissistic strongmen with bad hair like North Korea that, on day one of a Trump administration, will decide to see just how crazy Trump is. I honestly don’t want to find out.
And here’s the even scarier part: Clinton and Trump are only the harbingers of worse to come. Whichever one wins will be the template for someone even more hideous. If Clinton wins, it will prove that politicians can be flagrantly bought and sold and the public just won’t care. If Trump wins, it will mean that every internet troll typing mean things in comment sections today will realize that they, too, can be president.
My lifelong embrace of the libertarian party looks pretty wise all of a sudden, doesn’t it? Assuming Gary Johnson is our nominee, he’ll be the sanest, least corrupt option. A win by him would also be a chance to break out of the present trap of forever choosing between evils.
Alas for Mr. Johnson, he’s doomed. After all, I’m voting for him.