The Lesser of Two Evils

I've been seeing a lot of libertarians reluctantly endorsing Barack Obama on the grounds that they really don't like John McCain. I think it's important to keep in mind that the relevant question is not whether John McCain or Barack Obama is the better person, or even who would make a better dictator, but rather who would do the least long-term damage given the current political context. It grieves me that it's comes to this, but damage control is really the best we can hope for right now.

With that in mind, I think that John McCain is the least-bad choice. A Democratic Congress—which we are likely to have for at least the next few years—with a cooperative president is almost guaranteed to raise taxes and spending significantly, and Obama is likely to nominate left-wing judges who will fail to oppose further expansion of the power of the Federal government to regulate the economy. McCain is likely to put up at least some resistance to the Congressional agenda, if not nearly as much as I would like.

Furthermore, Half Sigma once made what I think is a valid and important point: The damage done by Republicans tends not to last as long as the damage done by Democrats (That's a link to the front page—I can't find the specific post). Generations later, we're still paying for the folly of electing Roosevelt and Johnson, but the damage done by Nixon has mostly been rolled back by now.

I could be wrong. Clinton was voted in with a cooperative Democratic Congress, which prompted a backlash that led to 12 years of Republican domination of Congress and a golden age of fiscal restraint, which ended abruptly when Bush took office. Speaking of which, Bush may be an exception to Half Sigma's Law, as I don't see Medicare Part D going away. It is worth noting, though, that he did this with a same-party Congress.

So it's a tough call, but I believe that John McCain clears the very low bar of having slightly less potential than Barack Obama to do permanent damage, given the givens.

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Gridlock Trumped by SCOTUS

Six words: John Paul Stevens Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

That is all..

--KipEsquire, A Stitch in Haste

I suppose for obvious

I suppose for obvious reasons the SCOTUS concerns give me the biggest heebie-jeebies. On the other hand, President Obama's nominations would at least declare the Constitution dead and end the whole damned farce, rather than keep us all dangling in this endless twiglight.

Also, my guess is pro-Obama libertarians just think Obama is more cool than McCain, and want in with that crowd--they're right, of course.

While it is true

that Obama is indeed cooler than McCain, I dont have any illusions of being invited to any extra parties because of it.

Mostly, its because McCain doesn't stand for anything other than Teddy Rooseveltism, "my way or the highway", and other such intense personalizations of human events that sets anyone against him on the side of demons. Obama's got a lot of bad ideas but he has at least signalled ex ante a modicum of restraint in principle, unlike McCain. I can't honestly say what McCain's governing vision would be, because I dont think he knows either and he certainly hasn't told us.

And at least with Obama we wouldn't have people associating big government with a supposed "limited government philosophy". I seriously wonder about the intelligence of journalists who proceed from the assumption that the Bush white house is now or has ever been motivated by such a philosophy...

Have you stopped hating America yet, Brian?

I stand by and underline my ad hominem.

I look at Republicans as people generally wanting the same things I want, but who aren't very good at bringing it about. Democrats don't even want what I want.

I grant McCain may not be a limited government type, but I don't look at the election as electing the man--or, perhaps, not as solely that--but as electing the party. Take Bush's appointment of Harriet Miers--ridiculous move, and probably the man's character is to blame--but his party rose up and forced a better result, even after its prime representative made such a blunder. I doubt the base would be more restrained should McCain stray far. Plus McCain the man comes with a Cabinet of men and women who will probably be truer to the party than he is (he's exceptional for a reason).

As to associating big government with a "limited government philosophy"--it would take a moron to not see the difference between the philosophy and the contrary actions of those who espouse it. Such morons surely exist. Such morons surely are legion. But my guess is the moron vote is irrational enough that we won't have much luck predicting its swing one way or the other, and so shouldn't bother pandering to it.

Of course, the coolest points belong to people like me, who forget to vote entirely.

And at least with Obama we

And at least with Obama we wouldn't have people associating big government with a supposed "limited government philosophy". I seriously wonder about the intelligence of journalists who proceed from the assumption that the Bush white house is now or has ever been motivated by such a philosophy...

This is the best reason to hope Obama wins, just as gridlock is the best reason to hope McCain wins.

But is it sustainable?

This is the best reason to hope Obama wins

But this reason can be applied to every election cycle for as long as libertarian-ish ideas have any sway at all. As long as they have sway, they are going to be associated with some politicians more than with others. By the above argument, we should always favor the politician with which libertarian-ish ideas are least associated.

So, should we libertarians forever hope that the politician least friendly to freedom wins the elections, in order that we can avoid being associated with his government's disasters?

As a temporary tactic to ensure an eventual victory I can understand this, but I don't see how the reasoning will ever apply any less than it does now, so it seems to recommend perpetual desire for maximally tyrannical government.

It is not at all clear to me

It is not at all clear to me that Republicans are more friendly to freedom than Democrats, regardless of how much libertarian rhetoric Republicans may co-opt. Part of the hope is that if Republicans lose big now, they may give up on their strategy of appropriating libertarian rhetoric, and move on to something else. Whereas if Republicans win, they will take that as a sign that libertarian talk coupled with anti-libertarian action is a successful strategy, and we will get more of it.

Bailout litmus test

Micha, weren't you the one who proposed opposition as a bailout as a libertarian litmus test? Apply this to the Republicans in the House just now.

True, and that speaks well

True, and that speaks well of those Republicans. On the other hand...

3:00pm: It's interesting to read the gnashing of teeth on conservative blogs like National Review's "The Corner." They are upset about it going down. Why? Because it will make the GOP look bad and perhaps even destroy whatever's left of McCain's candidacy. All I have to say about that is this: Ha Ha!

This just shows how little establishment conservatives really care about markets. It's about winning elections period. You cast your fate with the statists like McCain and the GOP generally, you deserve whatever you get.

More general principles

This just shows how little establishment conservatives really care about markets. It's about winning elections period.

True, but this reflects a general tragic truth about politics. As Don Boudreaux reminds us:

One of America's greatest economists is my colleague James Buchanan, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize. Jim's life work shows that government officials seek office, not truth - and that success at their venal endeavor too often requires not merely ignoring sound economics but positively fleeing from it as if it were a fast-expanding cloud of anthrax spores.

Graft and earmarks?

"Apply this to the Republicans in the House just now."

... or are they holding out for graft and earmarks for themselves too.

I don't think so

Some of them might be, but a lot of them are saying that their constituents rang their phones off the hook - as Jonathan describes. I find that credible.

Of course this can be used to argue that they're not committed to liberty after all, contrary to my previous suggestion, but only to re-election. But personally I don't care whether they are themselves committed to a libertarian stance, or are slaves to a constituency that is (in at least this case) committed to a libertarian stance.

Libertarian stance

"or are slaves to a constituency that is (in at least this case) committed to a libertarian stance."

Oh, I don't think it's a libertarian stance that motivates them to call. They are just pissed that the fat cats on Wall Street are screwing them. Meanwhile they were just fine with using the rigged system to use their houses as ATMs, and don't see their culpability in all this.

To make a comparison between

To make a comparison between the two parties, you need to look at the potential behavior of both. "Republicans are insufficiently libertarian" won't swing it alone.

Republicans were more responsible on FM/FM

Well in the one case of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac the Republicans behaved much more responsibly. They actually tried to do something about it four years ago. Four or more years too late but at least something. Meanwhile the Democrats blocked the attempted fix.

And Palin is?

Palin is also the least bad choice? Vote for McCain, get Palin.

Palin

Rather, vote for McCain, and maybe get Palin for part of his term. It's possible that it simply won't come to that. And again, while I'm sure Palin would make a lousy dictator, the real question is not how good or bad a dictator she'd make, but how much damage she can do facing a hostile Democratic Congress, and what kind of judges she's likely to appoint (and get through a hostile Democratic Senate).

For the record, I'm not one of those libertarians who reflexively prefer Republicans. I preferred Kerry over Bush in 2004 due to the damage Bush was doing with a cooperative Republican Congress. My preference is, from least-awful to most-awful:

1. Republican Congress/Democratic President. A Republican Congress won't give a Democratic President big spending bills to sign and take credit for. This worked out quite well during the Clinton Administration. On the other hand, the judges he appointed have left much to be desired. Granted, Democrats controlled the Senate at the time, but the votes against Breyer and Ginsburg were in the single digits, so I don't think we can consider a Republican Congress adequate protection against bad judicial appointments.

2. Democratic Congress/Republican President. A Democratic Congress will pass a bunch of big spending bills, and a Republican President will probably sign some of them. Republican Presidents generally appoint less-awful judges than Democrats do.

3. Republican Congress/Republican President. We've all seen this one in action.

4. Democratic Congress/Democratic President. These have historically been the most disastrous, though obviously some (Roosevelt and Johnson) were more so than others (Kennedy and Carter).

Granted, the theory behind these isn't terribly rigorous, and there are very few data points for empirical verification, so I could be way off base, but this is my best guess.

I used to vote Republican

I used to vote Republican because creeping communism/socialism was a greater threat to my freedom than creeping fascism. I no longer believe this is true and so will be voting Obama this time around.

PS - Have you people seen what the conservatives on the SCOTUS have done to the 4th amendment?

Please do not use fascism in

Please do not use fascism in its communist meaning. The best example of American fascism is F.D. Roosevelt, not Bush. Call Bush imperialistic, tyrannic, oppressive, but "fascist" is not accurate.

He's pulling a Godwin

"but "fascist" is not accurate."

I think he put an extra "o" in his name.

Re: 4th

What's got your blood up in particular?