The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Enemy’s Enemy

In his essay, Graham Vyse makes a case that libertarians should support an as-yet unchosen Democratic presidential nominee as a way to show support for basic norms and institutions and as a rebuke to Donald Trump and the Republican Party that has debased itself and enabled him. We may agree on some of the problems, but his solution is flawed.

As an individual voter, your vote sends a message. It may be a small message among the millions of others, but so are the price signals sent through the marketplace every time a person buys something. If enough people send the same small message, it is amplified to the point that even politicians can hear it.

What message do you send if you vote for a generic Democrat who, as Mr. Vyse concedes, are at odds with libertarians on “guns, healthcare, education, and the economy”? At best, it sends the message that you are opposed to the President. In practice, it will be interpreted as a mandate for all of the Democratic policies that the candidate holds and libertarians oppose.

This is not a new argument. In 2007, at the tail end of a Bush presidency that brought us torture, new wars, a massive expansion of government healthcare, and increased national debt, Democrats sought to persuade libertarians that they should vote for Obama as a temporary fix to send a strong message that what Bush and the Republicans had done was beyond the pale. They made the same caveats that Mr. Vyse does, that he didn’t have many libertarian positions, that many of his positions were opposed by libertarians, but this election is too important not to punish the Republicans for their errors.

Obama won and brought us more new wars, illegal surveillance, a massive expansion of government healthcare, and increased national debt. When there was pushback, he said “elections have consequences.” That wasn’t the message that libertarians were trying to send with their votes, but their message got drowned out.

If you vote for a candidate who most closely aligns with your own values, the worst thing that can happen is your preferred candidate loses. The vote totals will still send a message about the strength of support for that candidate and their positions.

If you vote for a candidate who does not align closely with your values because there is another candidate in the race who aligns with your values even less, the worst thing that can happen is that they win. Elevating something terrible because there was someone worse running perpetuates the cycle and sends a signal to the two old parties that they need only find candidates who are slightly less bad than the other one and then whip up fear.

There are Democratic candidates who hold libertarian positions. Andrew Yang wants to decriminalize all drugs. Tulsi Gabbard wants to bring American troops home from foreign wars. Julian Castro wants more open immigration. They should be praised for those small steps and encouraged to adopt more libertarian positions.

However, the Democratic establishment is pushing candidates who don’t hold any of those libertarian views as well as pushing gun control, trade restrictions, and expansion of government healthcare. Maybe Joe Biden is slightly less creepy or corrupt than Donald Trump, but that’s no reason for a libertarian to vote against their own values.

Your vote is valuable. It sends a message. Make sure the message you send is clear.

Or as our 43rd President put it, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.”

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Nicholas Sarwark says that now more than ever, the Libertarian Party is the best home for people with libertarian views. The two major parties are both thoroughly populist and win elections only by promising increasingly unlibertarian policies. Strategically, striking out on our own makes sense, he says, because it amounts to negotiating from a position of relative strength.

Response Essays

  • Matt Nye says that the Republican Party is the true home of libertarians, one where they will find an undeniable gift: electability. This the Libertarian Party has never provided, making it largely a wasted effort. Nye is candid about the GOP’s ideological shortcomings and its venality. But, he says, the Libertarian Party hasn’t exactly been pure itself.

  • Graham Vyse argues that libertarians need to focus on the immediate danger of a second Trump administration. Donald Trump’s authoritarian tendencies have remade the Republican Party, he argues, and not for the better. The time has come for libertarians to unite with their former enemies on the left, at least temporarily, to defend a minimal form of liberalism against an extraordinary threat.