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Are You Being Tricked into Voting for the System? – Article by Sandra from The Right Side of Truth

Are You Being Tricked into Voting for the System? – Article by Sandra from The Right Side of Truth

The New Renaissance Hat
Sandra from The Right Side of Truth
June 29, 2017
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For years, we’ve been sold the idea that the political system of the United States is a choice between two very different parties. On the Left, we have the progressive-liberal Democratic Party championing forward thinking and social good, and on the Right, we have the conservative Republican Party, sometimes called the GOP (short for Grand Old Party), touting the ideas of less government and traditional values.

At least that’s what we’ve been told. These stark differences are pushed at every debate and every public event. However, what the parties rarely discuss is how similar most of their policies are in practice.

So exactly how is it that these two parties continually trick us into voting for one or the other? How is it they manage to stymy progress time and time again, thrusting us further into the past? Not surprisingly, their tactics are both extraordinarily basic and brutally effective. Here’s how they do it.

Drumming Up the Non-Issues

The favored tactic by public masters of deception is presenting non-relevant ideas to distract us from what truly matters. Every election we see it, and 2016 was a perfect example of this. Both candidates kept their audience focused on personal attacks and empty promises, constantly avoiding the real issues.

Take for example the issue of “the wall.” Democrats historically voted in favor of constructing a border wall with Mexico; Hillary Clinton, largely seen mocking Donald Trump on the topic, was quite in favor of it in the past. While the two candidates bickered over the wall and who should pay for it, there was never any real debate between the two about whether or not it was a good idea because under the surface both candidates supported it.

Yet if we return to the present, we can see very little being done in terms of large-scale action. The President—who is not a legislator—has not suddenly conjured up a solid concrete wall across the entire US-Mexico border. That it was suggested this would happen was absurd to begin with and little more than a distraction.

And it’s not the only distraction we see virtually every election. “Major” issues come up conveniently every four years regarding topics such as abortion, marriage, and military spending. Yet the moment the elections end, these issues become silent. No significant changes or votes are held because neither party ever intended to do anything in the first place.

The third-party candidates that seriously have an interest in changing our policies never receive a serious moment in the public’s eye. Debates are always between two parties, and the results are always the same no matter who wins. Alternative ideas are shut out, even when they come from within one of the major parties, as we saw in the 2012 election with Ron Paul’s repeated media blackballing despite a commanding voter base in the primaries.

The “Outsider” Candidate

Those who genuinely believe the idea that the controlling parties would allow an outsider (that is, someone with different views than the status quo) to become a serious candidate are sorely deceived. This is another tactic used to mislead the public into thinking they have a real choice.

While it pains me to use the same example repeatedly, the 2016 election is just one of the best in a long time to truly demonstrate how good these parties are at fooling us. We were fed two choices—Hillary Clinton, the “safe, regular Democrat” choice (and trust me, the party never gave Bernie Sanders a second thought), and Donald Trump, the Hollywood businessman with a mouth.

Surely Trump, with his uncouth speech and disrespect for the Republican Party, was the outsider—right? Yet in office we see him making the same choices any GOP candidate would have made. He is still pro-War, pro-Keynesian economics, and shows no major signs of instigating any promised changes.

Other than speech patterns, nothing would have been different under any other GOP candidate or under Hillary Clinton. To begin with, the president is the head of executive power; he or she does not independently pass laws nor create funding for public projects. All of these faculties fall to the House and the Senate, which are also dominated by shills that vote nearly exclusively on the party line.

The running of candidates such as Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and even Ronald Reagan are simple feints to distract us from the real issues. And the real issue is the perception that there are no alternatives. By funneling our votes into a predictable “A or B” pattern, the parties work together behind closed doors to ensure they remain in power with no challenge to their plans or wealth.

The “Thrown-Away Vote” Fallacy

Dictating how things are from above with tools such as the mainstream media or political announcement is only so effective. On many levels, people can see through the deception of public figures and come to different conclusions. How is it then that so many of us continue to fall victim to this scam?

Surprisingly, the problem is truly at the root of our culture, and it’s been instilled in most of us basically since birth. It’s the idea that voting outside of the two choices we’re given (Red or Blue) is a wasted vote. We’re taught to think voting for a third or fourth party is somehow a vote for whichever candidate we don’t want to win.

This is a logical fallacy that’s been perpetuated for decades to discourage us from breaking away from the two-party system. If enough people believe it, it becomes true to some extent—people fear throwing away their votes and thus don’t vote for anyone outside the standard parties.

But we already know from the Senate and the House that this is simply incorrect. While no third-party president has served to date, several unaffiliated or third-party candidates serve or have served in Congress. Their ideas were different, and their voter bases were small enough to avoid widespread control.

Breaking the Illusion of Choice

If we truly wish to end the illusion of choice in the voting system, we need to recognize the inherent flaws within the system. From the outset, the American system was designed to discourage the illiterate mob from having final say over major candidates. It was designed back when few citizens had a formal education, thus the Electoral College that supersedes the popular vote.

Because of this, changes need to be made within and without the current major parties. We must collectively vote out the leadership of both the Democratic and Republican parties while simultaneously pushing for third-party representation. Not just for a single party such as the Libertarians either—we need multiple parties represented because not all interests overlap.

No single party could ever hope to represent the needs of conflicting groups. Farmers do not share the same values as corporate America, and manufacturers run counter to mom-and-pop businesses just the same as the interests of the wealthy conflict with the poor. And this is totally natural!

We the voters must take responsibility by researching the issues that are important and by seeking candidates that suit our needs. That means watching documentaries, reading books and blogs, and listening to podcasts. Even entertainment venues such as Netflix—when the content is locally available—have something to offer to help us broaden our perspective.

And as might be expected, no perfect political system exists. At the end of the day, the real enemy of freedom isn’t just some evil council of political masterminds striving for world domination. The biggest opponent of choice is staring at us in the mirror. Will you overcome your fear of uncertainty? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author: Sandra is a political activist and free thinker who’s never afraid to speak her mind. Despite the seemingly hopeless situation in Washington, she’s confident that by coming together we can make real changes for the better. See her website at The Right Side of Truth.

Can We Take Back Our Election Process and Make the Parties Listen to Us? – Article by Tom DeWeese

Can We Take Back Our Election Process and Make the Parties Listen to Us? – Article by Tom DeWeese

The New Renaissance HatTom DeWeese
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The clamor is growing louder every day. “They don’t listen.” “We have no real choice of candidates.” “The system is rigged for the elite.” “There’s no difference between the two parties.”

You hear it every election. Endless talk about the need to create jobs, build the economy, make the nation a “better place to live for our families,” and, my favorite – “restore trust!”  Who’s not for those wonderful things?! The slogans work for Democrat and Republican alike. These so-called issues are interchangeable. They are, in fact, nothing more than empty rhetoric.

Meanwhile, do we hear a discussion about our money becoming more worthless every day from federal-government spending and rampant inflation? What about the destruction of our education system as it is used for behavior modification while true academics are eliminated for the curriculum? Does any candidate dare mention the hopelessness taking over our inner cities as federal welfare policies are enslaving whole generations to the ever-expanding government plantation? And of course there is the fear campaign in every city in the nation about the need to control development and population, leading to the utter destruction of private property.

None of these issues are ever mentioned in local, state, or federal campaigns. Any candidate who tries is immediately labeled an extremist!

So our political parties choose for us candidates that are “acceptable,” middle-of-the road, not rocking the boat, and not too extreme. In short, we are forced to choose the lesser of two evils. Election after election the drone goes on. And what are we to do? These are the candidates those in charge have chosen for us for city council, county commission, state legislature, Congress, and President. Yes, we have primaries to choose, but I think we all know those are pretty much rigged to assure the powers in charge get whom they want – just ask Bernie Sanders.

Is it any wonder that there are millions of Americans who don’t vote or participate in our nation’s debate because they think it doesn’t matter anyway? The “average voter” increasingly feels that the decisions have been made for them.

Those who hold conservative points of view that our nation should live within the Constitution now believe socialism is inevitable, so why bother going to the polls?

The poor think they are simply pawns in a vice grip between big money and special interests which control the elections. Why bother? Helplessness now rules the world’s greatest representative democracy. As people stay home or trudge to the polls to unenthusiastically vote for the next lesser of two evils, 93% of incumbents are routinely returned to office – year after year after year.

The instant a candidate is elected and joins the ranks of the incumbents, he/she begins the dance. Get the money for the next campaign. How? Special-interest groups, corporations, and foreign interests flood into their offices to make deals, promote their personal agendas, and show the way to fame, fortune, and perpetual office – if only the incumbents go along. They have the whole process well in hand. Campaigns become little more than big PR projects, promoted in positive platitudes, specifically designed to assure nothing negative sticks. Just get through it and keep the gravy train running.

Above all, do not talk about controversial subjects like dollar values, global trade, or immigration; just stick to issues like health care and the environment – coincidentally, two issues bought and paid for by the special interests. See how it works?

So year after year, we officially hold elections and politicians pontificate about how our going to the polls is a revered right, a valued tradition, the underpinning of a free society. And they wonder why there is such division in the nation. How did we end up in such a mess? We voted for these guys. But did we enjoy it? Are we satisfied with the results? Would we like to demand a do-over?

So is it hopeless? Is there any way to change it? Do you want the people to, again, have control of the election process and of the choice of candidates offered? Do you want to force the power elites to listen to you? I’ve got a solution.

Don’t despair. Don’t give up. There is a logical, effective way out of this. But it won’t happen by depending on political parties to lead the way. We have to take things into our own hands. We need an effective, binding form of protest to say “NO” to bad candidates. There is such a way.

Imagine going into the voting booth and looking down the list of candidates offered. None really appeal. None seem to offer satisfaction as an answer to the issues that concern you. If only there was something else you could do. A write-in won’t help. It would take such a difficult, expensive effort. It rarely works.

Then you look further down the ballot. Something new. It says “NONE OF THE ABOVE.” It’s a final choice after each of the candidates in every category, from president, to congress to city council. What does it mean?

It means you have the power to decide who will hold office – not the power brokers. When the votes are tallied, if “NONE OF THE ABOVE” gets a majority of votes over any of the candidates listed, then “NONE OF THE ABOVE” wins. And that means none of those candidates will win the office. The office will remain vacant until a new election is held. To set up another election and fill the spot would work exactly like the process provided in the Constitution when an incumbent dies or resigns, and a special election is held. Now new candidates will have to try to win the public’s support.

Fixing the election process could be that simple. You, the voter, would be completely in the driver’s seat with the power to reject candidates, forcing a new election with new choices. The political parties would be forced to provide candidates the people want — or face being rejected. They would have to talk about real issues – or face being rejected. Incumbents would have to answer for their actions in office – or face being rejected. “NONE OF THE ABOVE.” Period. The power of labor unions and international corporations would be broken.

Think of the consequences. No longer would voters have to settle for the lesser of two evils. If all the candidates are bad – none would be able to force their way into office. It would mean that powerful special interests could no longer rely on their money to buy elections. They could buy all the ads they wanted, spend millions on “volunteers” going door to door and sling their dirt, but if the voters aren’t buying, none of it will save their candidate from being rejected by “NONE OF THE ABOVE.”

Moreover, the power of entrenched incumbents who have been unbeatable because of their massive war chests and party ties would be broken. Picture John McCain or Nancy Pelosi unable to run for office because they were rejected by “NONE OF THE ABOVE.”

However, in order to work, “NONE OF THE ABOVE” would have to be binding. It would have to have the power of law behind it. It cannot be just a “protest” vote that has no other meaning.

“NONE OF THE ABOVE” is completely non-partisan. There is no way to control its outcome. There is no need for a massive campaign chest to support “NONE OF THE ABOVE,” although it could certainly be done. But the option, once permanently placed on the ballot, would always be there. America’s representative system would be restored.

To get the job done, activists in every state would have to begin a campaign to demand that “NONE OF THE ABOVE” be given a permanent spot on the ballot. It would not require a Constitutional Amendment. It would have to be done state by state. Some states have ballot referendums and initiatives using petition drives to get an issue on the ballot so the people can decide. It’s difficult and expensive to do, but popular ideas have a chance.

In other states, “NONE OF THE ABOVE” advocates would have to find a friendly state representative or senator to introduce the idea before the state legislature and then get enough votes to pass it in both houses and then have it signed by the governor. The main drawback to that effort is that, if the effort is successful, then every one of those legislators is an incumbent who will have to face “NONE OF THE ABOVE” on the ballot for their re-election. They probably won’t be too excited about the idea.

So why would they support the idea? It would be only because supporters succeed in creating a strong movement of voters who demand it. No one is saying this will be an easy process. But such movements have succeeded before. For example, local activists could begin by demanding that candidates support the measure much like they now sign “no tax” pledges. In short, they would support it because there is strong popular support, and they simply have no choice.

Of course, one of their main objections to the “NONE OF THE ABOVE” idea would be the requirement for holding a new election, should it win. “Too expensive,” our responsible public servants would say as they dismissed the idea. However, if it means getting better candidates, isn’t it worth it to hold a new election, especially considering how much a very bad candidate would cost us if he actually got into office?  The fact is, such a need for a new election would probably not arise often once political power brokers began to understand that they must offer candidates acceptable to the people rather than to the special interests. That’s all they really have to do. It’s all we want. It only takes a couple of “None of the Above” victories to see that the electorate is back in charge.

The idea of “NONE OF THE ABOVE” has been around for a long time. Over the years, most states have had some kind of legislation introduced supporting the concept. Nevada actually has it on the ballot – but it is not binding. It doesn’t force a new election. It is just a measure of protest. That’s not good enough to make it effective.

One of the reasons it has not been successful is because there has never been a serious national drive to promote the idea. However, with the growing dissatisfaction voters are feeling with the lack of quality candidates seeming to get worse every election, perhaps there has never been a better time to start a national discussion on the issue.

The best part is that “NONE OF THE ABOVE” isn’t a conservative or liberal idea. It’s not a Republican of Democrat proposal. In fact, Republican leadership might see it as a good way to break the back of big labor’s influence over elections. Equally, Democrats could see it as a way to stop the power and influence of the Republicans’ big-business money. However the parties want to look at it, the bottom line is that the voters win.

This will be a long-term process and is primarily aimed at local, state, and congressional candidates. While it should certainly be used in presidential elections as well, the real power comes from rejecting the lower-level candidates.

But all of that depends on the voters. Do you want to take back control, or are you satisfied to have your choices made for you behind closed doors? Because that’s what we have now. How’s that working for you?

Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.

The US Two-Party System Made Donald Trump’s Fascist Campaign Possible – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The US Two-Party System Made Donald Trump’s Fascist Campaign Possible – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
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Were it not for the deeply fallacious and self-defeating mindset of voting for the “lesser evil”, the rise of a demagogue such as Trump would have been impossible in the United States.

Though it may be alleged that economic fascism has characterized America’s “mixed economy” since at least the New Deal of the 1930s, the resurgence of cultural fascism would have been unthinkable even during the 2012 Presidential Election. Yet it is here in the form of Donald Trump’s campaign. Mr. Stolyarov considers what made possible this frightening resurgence of the worst tendencies in American politics. He concludes that the biggest underlying facilitator of Trump’s frightening rise is the very two-party political system in the United States and the “lesser evil” trap it engenders in the minds of many voters.

References

– “The US Two-Party System Made Donald Trump’s Fascist Campaign Possible” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
– “Why Republicans Deserved a Crushing Defeat in the 2012 Presidential Election” – Article by G. Stolyarov II –
– “Black students ‘outraged’ after being escorted from Trump rally” – Article by Lindsey Bever – The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune
– “Technically, it is illegal to protest inside of Trump rallies” – Article by Colin Daileda – Mashable –
– “Rejecting the Purveyors of Pull: The Lessons of Atlas Shrugged: Part II” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
– “Trump is Phony, a Fraud” – Speech by Mitt Romney – PBS NewsHour
– “Hating the Establishment Is Not the Same as Supporting Liberty” – Article by Jeffrey Tucker
– “On Moral Responsibility in General and in the Context of Voting” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
– “The Importance of Zoltan Istvan’s Transhumanist Presidential Campaign” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The US Two-Party System Made Donald Trump’s Fascist Campaign Possible – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The US Two-Party System Made Donald Trump’s Fascist Campaign Possible – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
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                It is disconcerting to watch as the front-runner for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination in the United States espouses a genuinely fascistic agenda – not just in terms of protectionism, economic nationalism, militarism, and the desire to centrally plan economic greatness – but also in terms of the overtly uglier sides of historical fascism: the xenophobia, racism, advocacy of torture and blood guilt, desire to silence political opponents, and incitements to violence against protesters and dissenters. Yet this is precisely what Donald Trump has done, unleashing the long-dormant worst tendencies of American politics. He has emboldened the crudest, least enlightened, most hide-bound enemies of tolerance, cosmopolitanism, and liberty to emerge from well-deserved disgrace to fuel the campaign of a cynical, unprincipled opportunist who thrives by pandering to their lowest impulses. Trump is vulgar, volatile, and unhinged. He has already turned his rallies into miniature versions of the police state he would create if elected – evicting even protesters who simply stand there with signs or clothing that express disagreement with Trump, or even individuals who attract the ire of the frenzied Trumpists for having the “wrong” color of skin or the “wrong” incidental expressions. Because of a bizarre law (H. R. 347, enacted in 2012), it is illegal to protest inside Trump rallies (or rallies of any candidate that receives Secret Service protection), so Trump is already utilizing coercive police powers to suppress dissent.

                Though it may be alleged that economic fascism has characterized America’s “mixed economy” since at least the New Deal of the 1930s, the resurgence of cultural fascism would have been unthinkable even during the 2012 Presidential Election. Mitt Romney, who seemed to me at the time to represent a paradigm of crony capitalism that inched toward overarching totalitarianism, now appears to be a gentleman and an intellectual – a voice of reason, class, and prudence in his eloquent denunciation of Donald Trump. Romney, as President, would have been unlikely to avert an incremental descent into fascism (although, in retrospect, he seems to be a decent human being), and his own candidacy was marred by manipulations at various State Republican Conventions, but, compared to Trump, Romney is a model of civility and good sense. Romney, if elected, would primarily have been the next status-quo President, overseeing a deeply flawed and deteriorating but endurable economic, political, and civil-liberties situation. Trump, however, would plunge the United States into an abyss where the remnants of personal liberty will suffocate.

                And yet the manipulations that occurred in 2012 to aid Romney paved the way for a Trump candidacy and its widely perceived “unstoppable” momentum. (Let us hope that this perception is premature!) I was a delegate to the Nevada State Republican Convention in 2012, where I helped elect a pro-Ron Paul delegation to the Republican National Convention. However, upon learning of the events at the National Convention, I became forever disillusioned with the ability of the Republican Party to become receptive to the advocacy of individual freedom. I wrote after Romney’s electoral defeat that

the rule change enacted by the party establishment at the National Convention, over the vociferous objections of the majority of delegates there, has permanently turned the Republican Party into an oligarchy where the delegates and decision-makers will henceforth be picked by the ‘front-runner’ in any future Presidential contest. Gone are the days when people like me could, through grass-roots activism and participation at successive levels of the party conventions, become delegates to a state convention and exert some modicum of influence over how the party is governed and intellectually inclined.

                The Republican Party establishment intended its rule change to prevent the ability of motivated grass-roots activists to elect delegates at State Conventions who would vote against the “presumptive nominee” and in favor of an upstart – presumably more libertarian – contender such as Ron Paul. Little did the establishment expect that this rule change would prevent its own favored candidates from effectively contesting Donald Trump’s nomination if Trump continues to win popular votes, especially in “winner-take-all” primaries, and approaches a majority of the total delegates. The most that the Republican Party elites can hope for now is that a candidate such as Ted Cruz eventually overtakes Trump, or that the remaining candidates – Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich – split enough of the delegates to deny Trump the majority and lead to a brokered convention. But as the narrative of inevitability continues to be spun in Trump’s favor and he amasses prominent endorsements and even promises from the other candidates that they would support him if he were the nominee, these damage-control plans seem quite vulnerable. Blind party loyalty, combined with a bandwagon mentality, appears to be driving the Republican establishment to a reluctant capitulation to Trump – which would be political suicide, but they are apt to do it anyway.

                If Trump trumps the old Republican Party establishment, however, this would be nothing to cheer. It would be a replacement of a defunct, cronyist, and backroom-dealing oligarchy – but one considerably tempered by satiation from its own decades of comfortable dominance and the remaining checks and balances of the political system – with a vicious, crass, completely unrestrained new oligarchy headed by Trump himself, and fueled by populistic pandering to masses about whom Trump personally could not care less. Trump asserts that he is incorruptible because he is funding his own campaign. However, the truth is that he does not need to pay anyone off for special political privileges, because he is the special interest that would be garnering the favors during “normal times”. If elected, he will simply do so without the intermediaries of the traditional political class. As Jeffrey Tucker eloquently explains,

many have fallen for Donald Trump’s claim that he deserves support solely because he owes nothing to anyone. Therefore, he is not part of the establishment. Why is that good for liberty? He has said nothing about dismantling power. […] He wants surveillance, controls on the internet, religious tests for migration, war-like tariffs, industrial planning, and autocratic foreign-policy power. He’s praised police power and toyed with ideas such as internment and killings of political enemies. His entire governing philosophy boils down to arbitrary, free-wheeling authoritarianism.

                Yet the biggest underlying facilitator of Trump’s frightening rise is the very two-party political system in the United States. Had the ballot-access laws not been rigged against “third” political parties and independent candidates, and had representation been determined on a proportional rather than a “winner-take-all” basis, there would have been genuine alternatives for voters to choose from. At present, however, every recent election season has degenerated into a spectacle of demonizing “the other side” – even if that side is just a different wing of the same political establishment. Far too many people vote for “the lesser evil” in their view, rather than the candidate with whom they agree most (who will most likely be a minor-party or independent candidate, since both the Republican and Democratic Parties are widely perceived as ineffectual and misguided once actually in power). Instead of evaluating specific candidates based on their stances on the issues as well as their personal record of integrity (or lack thereof), too many voters have learned to viscerally hate “the other” party’s brand and exhibit unconditional loyalty to their own. During the primary process, even voters who prefer the candidates who did not become the nominee will often capitulate and embrace a deeply flawed frontrunner. If too many Republican voters come to believe that Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would be intolerable choices for President, then they may come to rally behind Trump even if they personally would have preferred Rubio, Cruz, or Kasich – and that is how a fascistic campaign could elicit the support of even the many non-fascists who simply cannot distance themselves from the “R” next to a candidate’s name.

                The only way in the long term to defeat Trump and those like him (because, in the wake of Trump’s bewildering popularity, others will emerge to imitate his tactics) is to renounce the two-party political system and judge each candidate solely on his or her policies, record, and personal merits or demerits. As I pointed out in 2012 in “On Moral Responsibility in General and in the Context of Voting”,

The most reliable way to avoid adverse moral responsibility in voting is to vote for a candidate whom one considers to be an improvement over the status quo in absolute, not relative, terms – and without regard for how others might vote. Morality is not based on consensus, but on objective truth. One’s own understanding of objective truth, and the continual pursuit of improving that understanding, is the best path to moral action and the habits of thought that facilitate it.

More recently, in 2015, I explained that

voters who are caught in the expectations trap will tend to vote for the “lesser evil” (in their view) from one party, because they tend to think that the consequences of the election of the candidate from the other party will be dire indeed, and they do not want to “take their vote away” from the slightly less objectionable candidate. This thinking rests on the false assumption that a single individual’s vote, especially in a national election, can actually sway the outcome. Given that the probabilities of this occurring are negligible, the better choice – the choice consistent with individual autonomy and the pursuit of principle – is to vote solely based on one’s preference, without any regard for how others will vote or how the election will turn out.

             Had Trump been one candidate among tens of independent contenders, he would have been rightly recognized as a demagogue whose base of support is a xenophobic, poorly educated fringe. Had numerous political parties been able to compete without major barriers to entry, today’s “moderate” establishment Republicans and movement conservatives would have had no need to fight with Trump over a particular party’s nomination, since they – having little in common – would have likely fielded multiple candidates of their own from multiple parties. As it stands now, however, the two-party system has destroyed the checks that would exist in a truly politically competitive system to prevent a fascistic demagogue’s meteoric rise. Only the consciences of voters stand between Trump and the Republican nomination, as well as the Presidency. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to vote solely on principle and escape the “lesser evil” trap, lest the greater evil of untrammeled illiberalism trap us forever.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

Why Transhumanists Should Not Endorse the Two-Party Political System – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Transhumanists Should Not Endorse the Two-Party Political System – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
September 26, 2015
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“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Extensive discussions have recently occurred in transhumanist circles on the desirable strategies, tactics, and directions for transhumanist political activity in the United States. One question in particular has stood out among these discussions: Is it a wise or prudent choice for a transhumanist, especially a prominent one, to endorse a Presidential candidate from one of the two major political parties (Republican or Democratic) and to actively work to support that candidate’s election, when that candidate has not expressed strong sympathies with the transhumanist vision of overcoming human limitations through scientific and technological progress? Some transhumanists may believe that such an endorsement would gain them influence within the political mainstream, perhaps eventually leading to advisory positions and the ability to direct political elites toward decisions that are more conducive to accelerating technological progress or removing barriers to the arrival of radical life extension.

However, this expectation is mistaken. Here I outline several major reasons why, to achieve the best possible outcomes, transhumanists should stand apart from the two-party political system. Instead, transhumanists should pursue their advocacy goals – be they policy-oriented or focused on education of the general public on emerging technologies – through their own independent organizations and voices. This approach does not rule out collaboration with other, non-transhumanist institutions and individuals, nor does it prevent one from acknowledging both the merits of certain non-transhumanist candidates’ positions and the flaws of some transhumanists’ chosen strategies. However, it is imperative to avoid the perceived compulsion to subordinate oneself to the two-party political system just because it is there.

(1) The existing two-party political system in the United States is an obstacle to transhumanism and cannot be effectively used as its instrument. The two-party system is designed to preserve the very institutional status quo which puts forth barriers to technological advancement and causes the rate of progress to currently lag far behind its potential. Both the Democratic and the Republican political machines primarily exist to protect those with political connections, who might be dislodged from positions of economic privilege by dramatic technological change and the attendant reshuffling of the social order. As such, the rhetoric of the major political parties tends to be concentrated on relatively minor differences in governance styles, personalities, accidents of history, and “hot-button” issues over which elected officials have little substantive influence (for instance, abortion, religion, and gun ownership). This is a strategy of distraction, used to keep the public focused on matters largely outside of any politician’s control, thereby leaving the dominance of today’s politically connected special interests intact by default. At the same time, the fundamental questions raised by transhumanists about possibilities for dramatically improving the human condition, deliberately go unaddressed on the campaign trail. Mainstream politicians do not wish to discuss the colossal changes that could and should be wrought by emerging technologies.

(2) Current major-party candidates would never accept transhumanism anyway. Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or any of the others running with an “R” or “D” next to their names will not change by an iota if endorsed by even a prominent transhumanist. All of these candidates will disregard the transhumanist endorsement, each for their peculiar mix of reasons, but with a strikingly similar outcome. No matter how strongly a transhumanist endorses these actual or would-be politicians, their mainstream advisors will not let transhumanists into their circle. This is actually a compliment to the transhumanists, who stand apart from and above the political status quo. It is not the transhumanists who must bend to the political status quo. Rather, the political status quo is precisely what transhumanists must overcome in order to achieve their aims. The way to bypass the establishment’s grip on politics is not to join the establishment, but rather to shift the discussion and climate of public opinion so as to render the establishment reluctantly compelled to follow the currents of change, made possible by emerging technologies in a hyper-pluralist society.

(3) Endorsing an establishment candidate will alienate the transhumanist base. Instead, a prominent transhumanist would do much better to pay attention to and leverage the ideas and projects originating from the natural constituencies of transhumanism – futurists, researchers, technology entrepreneurs, philosophically inclined laypersons, and “digital natives” of the millennial generation. Through a bit of organization and creative marketing, a prominent transhumanist could harness the energies of these creative, talented, and industrious individuals into major intellectual, infrastructural, and public-awareness victories for the transhumanist movement. The impetus for a movement such as transhumanism – and, more generally, any ideological movement that seeks radical societal change – is precisely the lack of accommodation for that movement’s ideals in the current society. The energy of the movement’s base will be lost if they see its direction as one of sacrificing its core distinctiveness and ideals in order to fit within the mainstream political mold and to seek acceptance by political elites to whom the movement’s ideals are completely foreign. If Hillary Clinton or Ben Carson (or any mainstream candidate who comes to mind) suddenly achieved philosophical enlightenment and announced strong personal support for transhumanism, then this would be a victory for transhumanism and a sign that the candidate is worthy of serious consideration. But for a transhumanist to endorse a mainstream candidate without that kind of gesture on the candidate’s part is simply a signal that the candidate does not need to change in order to gain or retain the support of the transhumanist.

As an analogy, consider the very different fates of Ron Paul and his son Rand. Ron Paul – a libertarian and Constitutional conservative whose views are profoundly incompatible with those of the Republican Party establishment – only ran as a Republican to raise the profile of his educational efforts in favor of individual liberty and limited government. But he never endorsed one of his Republican rivals for the nomination, even after dropping out of the races in 2008 and 2012. He did not agree with the policy stances of John McCain and Mitt Romney, so he simply stood aside and continued to express his principled views. He remains highly esteemed in many libertarian and constitutional conservative circles today. By contrast, Rand Paul endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012, thinking that this was a stepping stone to securing the Republican nomination in 2016. However, this decision alienated Rand Paul’s natural libertarian political base (which despised Romney). At the same time, Rand Paul is still far too libertarian to be accepted by the Republican elite, in spite of all of the compromises he has made over the past few years in order to appear “electable” and palatable to establishment media commentators and pollsters. As a result, he is a minor contender for the Republican nomination, quite unlikely to win or even advance his standing.

By analogy, the transhumanist movement is extremely unlikely to show even a modicum of concerted support for a particular establishment candidate – whether Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Bernie Sanders, or Bobby Jindal. (As noted above, this is also a justified outcome, since none of these candidates would accommodate the vision and objectives of the transhumanist movement.) On the other hand, an explicit transhumanist – Zoltan Istvan – has rallied many transhumanists behind his candidacy, but he can only maintain their enthusiasm in the political arena for as long as he remains in the running. Istvan has been able to garner considerable sympathies from transhumanists who are otherwise extremely varied in their political persuasions and metaphysical worldviews. However, once a transhumanist candidate is no longer running, his supporters will go their separate ways. The libertarian transhumanists will either abstain from voting or endorse the Libertarian Party nominee (as I, for instance, did in 2008 and 2012). Many of the democratic, egalitarian, and socialist transhumanists will strongly support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. A few might even favor the Green Party nominee. If Istvan stays in the race, however, many of these transhumanists will be tempted to support him until the end. Even if they do not get to cast a ballot for Istvan, they could help with activism, crowdfunding, and publicity-raising initiatives.

(4) Endorsing an establishment candidate will be seen as a defeat for transhumanism. If a prominent transhumanist advocates for the election of a particular front-runner, this will essentially be perceived as a concession to the political mainstream and the two-party system. Transhumanism only has a chance if it remains independent of the Republican/Democratic hegemony and instead continues to be an outside voice, gradually influencing politicians to change their ways – not because transhumanists have joined them, but because the evolution of society and public opinion leave them no other choice. If instead the establishment’s favored pundits get to say, “Aha! Even the starry-eyed, utopian transhumanists recognized the futility of their lofty dreams and decided to come down to Earth and join us sensible people” – then this will be seen as a major blow to visionary transhumanist ideals.

(5) Because transhumanists do not hold primaries, nothing prevents them from remaining independent voices until the end. It is understandable that, as the electoral season unfolds, both Republican and Democratic contenders would eventually drop out to support the leading candidate of their party. Transhumanists, however, are under no such compulsion. For instance, Zoltan Istvan has no rivals for the Transhumanist candidacy, and can formally remain in the race for as long as he wishes. He does not even need to have a massive fundraising base to do so. Even if he eventually ends up with $0 for campaign purposes, he could make a few statements, write a few articles, give a few interviews now and then, to stay officially in the running and in the public eye. No matter what happens at the polls, he will then be remembered as a pioneering transhumanist candidate who never gave up or gave in. This legacy could secure his place in history, much like Ron Paul’s principled, unyielding character and actions secured his.

For all other transhumanists who are not running for office, there is absolutely no need to endorse a candidate who is the last man (or woman) standing after the primary processes of the major parties are concluded. Voting should not be about backing someone whom one expects to win, but rather about expressing one’s own ideals and aspirations for superior policy decisions and outcomes.

As I pointed out in my original endorsement of Zoltan Istvan’s campaign,

In fact, much of the sub-optimal equilibrium of the two-party system in the United States arises from a misguided “expectations trap” – where each voter fears expressing his or her principles by voting for the candidate closest to that voter’s actual policy preferences. Instead, voters who are caught in the expectations trap will tend to vote for the “lesser evil” (in their view) from one party, because they tend to think that the consequences of the election of the candidate from the other party will be dire indeed, and they do not want to “take their vote away” from the slightly less objectionable candidate. This thinking rests on the false assumption that a single individual’s vote, especially in a national election, can actually sway the outcome. Given that the probabilities of this occurring are negligible, the better choice – the choice consistent with individual autonomy and the pursuit of principle – is to vote solely based on one’s preference, without any regard for how others will vote or how the election will turn out. One is free to persuade others to vote a certain way, of course, or to listen to arguments from others – but these persuasive efforts, to have merit, should be based on the actual positions and character of the candidates involved, and not on appeals to sacrifice one’s intellectual integrity in order to fulfill the “collective good” of avoiding the victory of the “absolutely terrible” (not quite) candidate from one major party, whose policy choices are likely to be near-identical to the “only slightly terrible” candidate from the other major party. While an individual’s vote cannot actually affect who wins, it can – if exercised according to preference – send a signal as to what issues voters actually care about. Whichever politicians do get elected would see a large outpouring of third-party support as a signal of public discontentment and will perhaps be prompted by this signal to shift their stances on policy issues based on the vote counts they observe. Even a few thousand votes for the Transhumanist Party can send a sufficient signal that many Americans are becoming interested in accelerating technological innovation and the freedom from obstacles posed to it by legacy institutions.

In order to preserve the desirable role of voting as an expression of genuine individual preferences, the least constructive course of action is to vote for someone just because others might, or because that person is considered by establishment media and pundits to “have a chance of winning.” Ultimately, whether a transhumanist ends up voting for a third-party candidate, a major-party candidate, or not at all, is not so important as whether that transhumanist actually voted according to his or her individual conscience and principles.

A Vision for Transhumanist Political Involvement

Given that support of the two-party system should be a non-starter for transhumanists, what is a better way? The best approach is to gradually shape the external environment to which politicians respond, instead of playing the game of politics by the rules at which establishment politicians are adept. Conventional politicians seek to get elected and re-elected and must therefore cater to multiple constituencies, often with contradictory interests and preferences. But this does not need to be the way of politics. Ron Paul, for instance, was a pioneer of the educational campaign – the use of the publicity attached to political involvement as a means primarily to spread a message and change the climate of public opinion, rather than to win office. The educational campaign is more resilient than the conventional campaign, since it does not need to be concerned with weekly poll figures or donations from special interests who seek special favors. Zoltan Istvan has also endeavored to pursue this approach through his numerous writings, interviews, and the Immortality Bus campaign. As an incredibly energetic, determined, and active individual, he has been able to attract major publicity on a minimal budget. Istvan’s educational campaign should continue for as long as possible – ideally all the way up to Election Day 2016. His continued presence in the race would give many transhumanists a compelling reason not to acquiesce to the two-party system with cynical resignation.

But, far beyond the 2016 election season, the formation of a Transhumanist Party infrastructure in the United States creates the possibility of a much longer-range strategy for influencing public opinion toward an enthusiastic embrace of emerging technologies and the imperative of technological progress. Indeed, the possibility exists to take the concept of an educational campaign a step further. Instead of having the election of candidates to office as its primary objective, a transhumanist political party – be it the United States Transhumanist Party or a State-level affiliate – should instead focus directly on education, activism, and policy recommendations. We do not so much need politicians in office with a “T” next to their names, as we need the climate of public opinion to be favorable to the vision of the future that we advocate.

NTP-Logo-9-1-2015It is with this vision in mind that Wendy Stolyarov and I formed the Nevada Transhumanist Party on August 31, 2015. (See the officially filed Constitution and Bylaws here and a searchable version here; also join the Facebook group here, as Allied Membership is open to any person, anywhere, with a rational faculty and ability to form political opinions.) While an initial impetus for this decision was to further raise the profile of Zoltan Istvan’s Presidential campaign, the long-term benefit of establishing an infrastructure for discussion and activism among transhumanists is even more important to us. The Nevada Transhumanist Party is a State-level political party unlike any other. While we support the efforts of the United States Transhumanist Party, we are also independent from it in governance and decision-making. We will not be fielding our own candidates or funding any campaigns in the foreseeable future. Rather, we will use volunteer efforts to coordinate educational events – both online and in person – and connect individuals who are interested in the possibilities made available by emerging technologies. Over time, we will build a network of support and will encourage participation by as many people as are interested. Indeed, the Nevada Transhumanist Party Constitution explicitly embraces the concept of making alliances with others to attain specific objectives without sacrificing principles or independence. We also aim to achieve the maximum possible inclusiveness in terms of party membership, receptiveness to member input, and delegation of authority to members who are interested in undertaking beneficial projects that help advance the principles and objectives expressed in the Nevada Transhumanist Party Platform. We will enthusiastically endorse any worthwhile project that is consistent with these aims. Our goal is not to win any particular election, but rather to move toward a society in which any elected official will need to respect the transhumanist vision and do nothing to impede it, in order to attain office and remain there. This allows us the luxury of a long time horizon, consistent with the long-term vision that transhumanism itself holds for our hopefully long-lived future.

If more of us reject the notion of politics as a winner-take-all horse race and replace responses to day-to-day poll fluctuations with a steady, principled effort toward securing the long-term prospects of transhumanism, then we will have won a lasting victory against politics as usual. In the process, we might just create the better world that conventional politicians keep promising, but never deliver.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

Why Mitt Romney Will Not Benefit Liberty – Stolyarov’s Response to Steele – Part 2 – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Mitt Romney Will Not Benefit Liberty – Stolyarov’s Response to Steele – Part 2 – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
October 25, 2012
******************************

Here, I continue my exchange with Dr. Charles Steele regarding the 2012 U.S. Presidential election and the question of whether either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney have any merit as candidates or whether one can be preferred to the other. In “The Imperative of Libertarian Rejection of the Two-Party Trap”, I addressed the question of whether it can be morally legitimate to vote for a lesser evil, and concluded that it is not – particularly where a fundamentally dishonest and deceptive ticket such as Romney/Ryan is concerned. (Readers can also see the aforementioned article for a list of links to the previous installments of this exchange.) Here, I respond to Part 2 of Dr. Steele’s previous response: “Romney v. Obama: Tweedledum and Tweedledee?”.

I will first say that I have no intention of defending Barack Obama or claiming that his second term would not be “as bad” as Dr. Steele portrays. Barack Obama has, in many ways, been responsible for a massive growth of the American police and surveillance state, as well as an expansion of militaristic interventionism abroad. His economic policies have, likewise, been highly damaging to liberty and prosperity alike. Drone attacks on innocents, molestation at the airports, an escalating War on Drugs, persecution of whistleblowers, attempts to conflate Wikileaks with crime and terrorism, health-insurance mandates, bailouts and subsidies to political cronies, inflationary monetary policy, reckless deficit-spending fiscal policy, support for draconian “cybersecurity” legislation that would fundamentally curtail Internet freedom and subject billions of individual communications to monitoring by error-prone algorithms, continuing maintenance of CIA torture facilities (a.k.a. “black sites”) abroad, and the “audacity” to insists that the President of the United States has the authority to assassinate any American citizen abroad, or indefinitely detain any American citizen in the United States, based on his mere say-so – all that (and more along similar lines!) has been the legacy of Obama’s first term. I have absolutely no intention of defending Obama – except in cases where the accusations against him are simply factually untrue, or where his administration happens to have stumbled upon a decent and reasonable policy.

One important question to ask is, “Why has Mitt Romney not emphasized virtually any of the above tremendous harms of the Obama administration?” At the Free and Equal Third-Party  Debate, all four of the participants (Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson, and Virgil Goode) had scathing criticisms of Obama’s administration in some (or, in the case of Gary Johnson, most) of the areas mentioned above. Ron Paul’s criticisms of Obama were similarly severe, and similarly on target. The perceptive observer, then, is left to wonder why Mitt Romney’s campaign completely ignores the actual harms caused by Obama during his first term and instead focuses on criticisms that are trivial at best or disingenuous and dishonest at worst. Is it, perhaps, that Romney would himself perpetrate the travesties discussed above, and perhaps intensify them? Is it, perhaps, that Romney’s political base actually insists that he attack Obama for not being “tough” enough with regard to certain military engagements and infringements on civil liberties?  (One must remember that Romney himself stated during the Republican debates that he would have signed the indefinite-detention provision of the NDAA. Furthermore, Romney expressed strong support for SOPA and the Protect IP Act before reversing his stance once it became apparent that continued endorsement of these bills would be politically ruinous.)

Rather than defend Obama or contrast him favorably to Romney, I will respond to each of Dr. Steele’s points by following a general theme: that Mitt Romney is cut from the same cloth as Obama policy-wise, and is even worse personality-wise. Obama, for all of his erroneous and dangerous views and actions, at least seems to have an ideological system that he endeavors to realize, however imperfectly and however subject to political maneuvering and backtracking. Romney, on the other hand, seems beholden to no principles. David Javerbaum has aptly characterized Romney as engaging in “quantum politics” – e.g., “Mitt Romney will feel every possible way about an issue until the moment he is asked about it, at which point the many feelings decohere into the single answer most likely to please the asker.”

This, then, can be seen as my response to Dr. Steele’s point regarding the “general vision” of the two candidates. Dr. Steele wrote that “This presidential election is not so much a choice between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama as it is between two competing visions of the role of government.” I respond that the two parties do not represent competing visions, because the Republicans – by nominating Mitt Romney – have shown that they do not represent any vision whatsoever, or at the very least that their “vision” is a blank to be filled by the expediencies of the day. A left-progressive vision, however erroneous or even dangerous in some respects, is at least relatively predictable – though even many left-progressives (e.g., Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party) are themselves disgusted at the course the Obama administration have taken and strike me as a lot more honest and at least capable of doing good in certain areas (e.g., civil liberties), as compared to either the Democratic or the Republican establishments.

I certainly do not see in Romney/Ryan or the Republican establishment the barest shred of “the view that government is limited by the rights of the individual, and that most of civilization is built by free people acting in the market.” Romney’s incessant ads in Nevada about how he opposes Barack Obama’s “threats” to Social Security and Medicare are a case in point; he is just another establishment campaigner who tells various segments of the electorate what they want to hear, and portrays his rival as a terrible menace. But more importantly, the Republican establishment has shown that it not only cares little for individual rights in theory – but it is ready to trample upon them in practice, through the fraudulent and sometimes violent manner in which supporters of Gary Johnson and Ron Paul were effectively disenfranchised during the nominating process and – at the Republican National Convention – were met with a “rule change” (adopted over the loud objections of the delegates) that will effectively bar grassroots delegate selection in perpetuity. The Republican Party, by preventing even their previously most ardent grassroots supporters from rising to positions of prominence in future elections, has closed itself off from any connection with individuals or the free market. It has become the party of oligarchic elites – the party of crony corporatism and entrenched political favoritism. To be sure, the Republican Party does need its “useful idiots” to mobilize mass fervor against the Democrats and win elections. Hence, the Republican establishment fails to quell xenophobic, theocratic, and racist bigotries (e.g., the oft-repeated claims that Obama is an atheist Muslim who was not born in the United States). Even though the Republican elites are too intelligent to fall for such nonsense themselves, they are too callously manipulative and devoid of principles to discourage sentiments that may be politically useful to them.

Dr. Steele writes that “conservatives are far more skeptical of government than are progressives” – but this refers to a conservative movement that was perhaps of this sort some thirty years ago during the Reagan era (in rhetoric at least), but not at all today. While Dr. Steele asserts that “the Republican Party is the party of skepticism about government”, the Republican Party gave us unprecedented expansions of federal-government power during the George W. Bush era. Indeed, a principal observation regarding  the Obama administration’s deleterious effects for liberty is that Obama has built upon the foundation that George W. Bush created, with few material departures. Today’s Republican Party is a mix of neoconservatism, theoconservatism, crony corporatism, and pop-conservatism. Libertarianism is not a material component of the Republican agenda – other than occasional lip service to libertarians during election years – just to get their vote. Every election season, the Republican Party courts libertarians, and every time it has electoral success, it simply discards any pretense at pursuing even a quasi-libertarian agenda. When was the last time that a Republican victory has brought about any policy shifts in a remotely libertarian direction?  In the face of such repeated bait-and-switch tactics, how many times does it take to learn not to fall for them again? How many times do good libertarians need to be deceived by entrenched political elites who have no intention of diminishing the scope of their power?

Dr. Steele contrasts the Democratic and Republican platforms, but even the shreds of pro-liberty sentiment in the Republican platform were hard-won from the establishment by the tireless activity of Ron Paul’s supporters on various Republican committees. These friends of liberty were faced with procedural manipulations and threats from the establishment for attempting to introduce pro-liberty platform planks, and it is certainly salutary that they succeeded. But they were able to plant a few saplings of liberty into extremely hostile soil. The Republican establishment will never accept libertarians and will try, at every turn, to undo these hard-won gains. Attempting to accommodate the Republican establishment will turn libertarians into mere tools for specific establishment aims – as exemplified by the case of Rand Paul, who was largely ignored by Romney after achieving the useful (to Romney) goal of splitting the Ron Paul movement by endorsing Romney. Rand Paul was merely given a speech at the Republican National Convention – but that was largely it in terms of his “gains” from the endorsement. The liberty movement certainly did not gain even that much, as no policy victories were won by Rand Paul’s action. Another potential approach, that of overruling the establishment and “taking over” the party, has become close to impossible after the National Convention, and so the only reasonable course of action left to libertarians is to abandon any connection to the Republican Party and act entirely outside of its confines.

On the matter of free speech, Dr. Steele writes about the threat of Jim McGovern’s proposed “People’s Rights Amendment”, which would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. While this proposed amendment is certainly problematic, I do not see a direct connection between it and Barack Obama. Certainly, some high-profile Democrats support it, but that is no guarantee that it would pass or that Obama would endorse it if he received a second term. As an analogy, numerous Republicans have voiced support for overturning the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion (including through the means of “right to life” Constitutional amendments – and Republican candidates for President have often endorsed this course of action far more vocally than Obama has ever commented on the Citizens United decision. Yet Republicans elected to office are virtually powerless to do anything about Roe v. Wade, due to the vestiges of the separation of powers that remain. There are dire ways in which free speech is being eroded in the United States, but campaign finance is one of the least concerning areas in this respect. I am far more disturbed by the violent suppression of peaceful political protests (e.g., the pepper-spraying incident at University of California Davis in November 2011, for which the University has now offered to generously compensate the victims), as well as the overarching surveillance state which is emerging due to the domestic “War on Terror”. Internet monitoring of the sort contemplated by CISPA and the National Security Agency’s planned data center in Utah would surely have a chilling effect on free expression online. Likewise, the intimidation and harassment that some of Romney’s supporters have directed at supporters of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson certainly are not helping the cause of free speech. As someone who personally experienced such attacks, I would certainly not trust the attackers’ candidate of choice with safeguarding my rights under the First Amendment.

Dr. Steele is also concerned about the purported Democratic opposition to the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. Yet the right to bear arms is one area in which liberty has actually made progress over the past decade – and this progress has largely been untouched by Obama during his first term in office. While the Democratic platform may call for some restrictions on gun ownership, even this language is mild compared to the rhetoric of the gun-control movement in the 20th century (particularly prior to the decline of crime rates in the 1990s).  Due to Supreme Court decisions such as Heller and concealed-carry laws in various states, widespread gun ownership has been subject to fewer legal restrictions in recent times, coinciding with the continued drop in rates of violent crime. This recognition that liberalization of gun laws did not lead to crime increases, combined with the extreme strength of interest groups such as the National Rifle Association, should keep at bay any attempts to limit Second Amendment rights at the federal level – no matter which party controls the Presidency. The greatest threat to gun-ownership rights remains at the local level, particularly at educational institutions that attempt to impose “gun-free” zones where not even teachers and administrators can bring weapons that could deter potential shooters and immediately disable any who are not deterred.

Regarding PPACA/Obamacare/federal Romneycare, Dr. Steele responds to my argument that Romney would not veto it by stating that “the PPACA is much hated by the Republican base (for that matter the majority of Americans dislike it).  A repeal would be extremely popular.  It’s simply incredible to think that a President Romney would defy his party and practically 100% of his supporters in order to save Barack Obama’s hallmark program. “ Dr. Steele “can’t imagine anything else he could do that would make him more likely to lose the GOP nomination in 2016.” This assumes, however, that the political base matters to Republicans like Romney to any greater extent than as vessels for whipping up sentiment and winning elections. It is much more likely that the Republican Party strategists will rely on the perceived political amnesia of the masses and will hope that the public in 2016 will have forgotten any promises to repeal PPACA. Romney has already anticipated this behavior and publicly backtracked on his promise to repeal PPACA and stated that there are many portions that he would retain. Most likely, the worst part of PPACA – the individual mandate – which Obama initially opposed but was persuaded by politically powerful health insurers to include, will be among the parts that Romney – being the representative of corporate cronyism that he is – will retain. It is true that Romney might support some partial reforms to PPACA, but if the individual mandate remains, then these reforms would amount to a mere reorientation of PPACA in an even more corporatist direction, rather than a repeal or a movement toward a more free-market outcome. Under Romney, there might be fewer requirements and restrictions regarding the behavior of health insurers – but, in the status quo, those mandates and restrictions largely have the effect of partially (and, in the fashion of Mises’s “dynamic of interventionism”, with severe unintended negative consequences) compensating for the pernicious effects of the individual mandate. A Romney-style amended PPACA might simply enable health insurers to exploit their new captive clientele with few limitations or checks.

Dr. Steele writes that “it’s not clear that Romneycare and Obamacare really are the same thing, despite a similar basic framework. The Massachusetts bill signed by Romney was different from that which was implemented.  Romney used his line item veto on a number of the more draconian parts of the bill.  The Democratic legislature overrode these vetoes, and the bill was implemented by a Democratic governor who further altered it.  Furthermore, at the time Romney signed the bill, the situation in Massachusetts insurance markets was far worse than perhaps anywhere else in the United States.  In this context, Romneycare – at least Romney’s version of it – was arguably an improvement over the status quo in Massachusetts.  Thus when Romney argues that the reform might have been right for Massachusetts but not for America in general, he’s not necessarily being disingenuous.”

The best way to determine how similar or different Romneycare is from Obamacare is to consult the economist who designed both, Jonathan Gruber, who recently stated regarding the individual mandates of the two systems in particular, that “They are very similar […] They aren’t the same exact mandate, but they have the same basic structure.” Because the individual mandate is by far the most pernicious part of PPACA, this is enough of a similarity to make Obamacare and Romneycare fundamentally more alike than not. It is also appropriate to consider the statements made by Romney. As is typical with Romney, he vacillates on the matter of whether Obamacare does or does not resemble Romneycare, but he did praise Obama for incorporating elements of Romneycare into PPACA. In April 2012, Romney even explicitly praised the individual mandate! The distinctions that Romney makes are that (1) Romney’s plan was state-based rather than federal (as if he had a choice as Governor of Massachusetts – and besides, bad ideas have to start somewhere, and Massachusetts was Gruber’s training ground), (2) that Romney’s plan did not raise taxes (which is false; Alex Seitz-Wald points out that the penalties for failing to purchase insurance, which the Supreme Court has now ruled to be taxes, were higher under Romneycare), (3) that Romney’s plan did not cut Medicare (again, a defense of the Medicare status quo on Romney’s part), and (4) that Romney’s plan did not include price controls (but Massachusetts does impose price controls now, as Ben Domenech points out – and this may have been Romneycare’s logical evolution).

Dr. Steele also writes regarding the possibility that Obama would appoint “democratic constitutionalist” justices to the Supreme Court, which would result in the spread of “the notion that our Constititutional rights should not be considered “absolute” sense, but rather subject to international norms.” Dr. Steele believes that “Romney is unlikely to draw from this crowd, and far more likely to draw from judges with at least some sympathy for the new federalism.” While I certainly prefer the interpretation which Dr. Steele calls the “new federalism” over “democratic constitutionalism”, I see this particular clash of interpretations as too many steps removed from the outcome of a Presidential election. To be sure, the President may appoint Supreme Court justices, but that is all. How the justices subsequently rule is out of the President’s hands. Indeed, it was the George W. Bush appointee John Roberts who cast the deciding vote to uphold the constitutionality of PPACA’s individual mandate. The 2005 Kelo v. City of New London eminent-domain decision was joined by George H. W. Bush appointee David Souter and Ronald Reagan appointee Anthony Kennedy. And, as I previously pointed out, the Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders decision of April 2012 was entirely the doing of the “conservative” bloc (including Anthony Kennedy). If the “new federalism” of these judges considers strip searches without criminal suspicion or material risk posed by the individual being searched to be constitutional, then perhaps it is not that strong of a safeguard of our liberties after all. But largely, my point is that any given Supreme Court justice is too much of an unknown quantity upon appointment for one to be able to make any decisions regarding the appointer on the basis of whom he might potentially, conceivably appoint – that is, if a vacancy appears in the first place and if the Senate would confirm that appointment.

Regarding which candidate is more anti-entrepreneur, Dr. Steele writes that “Mr. Stolyarov suggests that Romney is anti-entrepreneur in practice, but it is small entrepreneurs who are most hurt by regulation.  Large established firms have teams of lawyers and accountants and frequently can benefit from gaming the rules; in practice, Obama is a greater threat to entrepreneurship.” But it is precisely the large established firms that will be explicitly favored by a Romney administration – as evidenced by Romney’s support for the various bailouts and “stimulus” plans of 2008-2009. (Incidentally, it was Romney who said during the first Romney-Obama debate that “You couldn’t have people opening up banks in their — in their garage and making loans.” This is clearly a statement of opposition to small entrepreneurship and an expression of desire to protect entrenched large financial firms from competition by innovative startups.) The only difference between Obama and Romney is that, while Obama supports subsidies to “alternative” businesses (and financial firms), Romney supports subsidies to “traditional” businesses (and financial firms) – combined with a heavy dose of mercantilist protectionism (evidenced by numerous Romney campaign flyers sent out in Nevada about how Obama is allegedly “selling out” the United States to China by endorsing foreign-made products). Romney is the candidate of politically connected Wall Street firms and large banks (who also hedge their bets by donating large amounts of money to the Democratic Party). If he is elected, these entities will be free to continue to enrich themselves at taxpayers’ expense, while socializing their losses. Bailouts and labyrinthine federal rules are key to the continuation of this exploitation of taxpayers by connected financial firms – and Romney is virtually certain to encourage the proliferation of such measures.

Dr. Steele writes that “Romney and Ryan have been willing to put forward the idea that entitlement programs as they exist are unsustainable and must be radically restructured.  Obama assures us this won’t happen.” Yet it is Romney/Ryan whose ads continually denounce Obama for “threatening” Social Security and Medicare and promise that Romney/Ryan will not take those benefits away but will rather “strengthen” those programs. Gary Johnson, when observing the first Romney-Obama debate, repeatedly pointed out that the two candidates were in competition regarding who could make more extravagant promises to preserve Medicare. I agree that the federal entitlement programs are unsustainable, but Romney, like Obama, is happy to argue for their perpetual existence as a way of gaining votes in the short term – at the expense of long-term prudence.

On taxation, Dr. Steele writes that “Obama has stated a clear preference for increases in marginal rates on higher income earners, higher corporate taxes, and an increasing number of tax breaks, this last for purposes of social engineering (a.k.a. buying votes).  Romney has endorsed a reduction in marginal rates and a broadening on the base by eliminating deductions and exemptions.  The latter approach reduces the economic distortions of taxation and also returns it to the purpose of collecting revenue, rather than shaping citizens’ behavior to match politicians’ goals.” While I certainly do not support Obama’s approach (or any tax increases at all), it is not at all clear that Romney’s approach is preferable – especially since, as Dr. Steele acknowledges, we do not know quite what it entails, and Romney keeps contradicting himself regarding its contents. What we do know for certain, though, is that Romney’s planned massive increases to military spending are mathematically irreconcilable with any sensible fiscal policy or any description of Romney’s tax plan. If fiscal responsibility is to be the deciding issue of this election, then Obama might even be preferable to Romney because while Obama’s budget plan aims to increase military spending very slightly, Romney’s plan would lead it to skyrocket. Ultimately, unsustainable foreign entanglements have led to the United States’ budget surplus from the late 1990s turning into a massive deficit. Without significantly curtailing American military spending and engagements abroad, resolving the current fiscal mess is impossible. The Economist points out that, more generally, Romney’s statements are mathematically incoherent, and his tax plan, as publicly presented, would not be able to solve the United States’ fiscal problems without significant tax increases on middle-income-earners.

Dr. Steele concluded his essay with some thoughtful caveats, and I would also like to mention a few of my own, though they cannot be said to arise from any virtues on Romney’s part. First, a Romney victory could galvanize Democrats to behave in a manner more reminiscent of the George W. Bush era, during which many of them actually opposed American foreign entanglements and expressed outrage at violations of civil liberties. As Glenn Greenwald points out, Obama’s election has led many of Obama’s supporters to become blind to the administration’s abuses of civil liberties at home and abroad. Perhaps, if the Democrats again become the party of the opposition, the old civil-liberties sentiments could be revived and strengthened (even if only to be used as a tool of political convenience against the Republicans). Second, Romney and Obama might both be mere figureheads of a larger political establishment: the “bipartisan” consensus – implemented by a federal bureaucracy whose operations do not shift due to a change in leadership, and existing to serve elites whose real power arises from connections and does not depend on particular formal titles. If this is the case, then Obama’s or Romney’s individual presence or influence in office might not amount to much at all. Therefore, the outcomes in terms of policy might be the same irrespective of which one of them wins. Third, interestingly enough, a similar irrelevance might be anticipated if Dr. Steele is correct in stating that “If elections and political processes do anything in this regard [expanding liberty], it will be simply to respond to and formalize advances made by civil society.” In that case, a politician who seeks to retain office would have little choice but to succumb to the pressures of civil society sooner or later, and the party in power does not matter so much, except possibly with regard to the timing and tone of that acquiescence. (An example of this is the recent initially reluctant but subsequently strong expression of support for legalized same-sex marriage by Barack Obama, who originally campaigned against it, but whose hand was essentially forced by the public discourse of the issue.)

Yet, with all this said, I can anticipate one major harm of a Romney victory that might outweigh all possible incidental benefits. That harm is the normalization of lying in American politics. As I discussed above and in Part 1 of my response, Romney is a different breed of politician, in that he does not have a shred of consistency on virtually any issue – and is willing to lie even when lying is not necessary to gain him political advantage. A Romney victory would convey a clear signal to the electorate and to political pundits and strategists that facts do not matter and honesty does not matter in politics. Of course it is true that many politicians today make false promises and selectively portray the truth; Romney is far from the first. But the overt factual falsehoods stated by Romney and Ryan are a different and more egregious sort of lies from the false promises, vague generalities, and dissembling characteristic of more “traditional” American politicians. A Romney victory would complete the transformation of American elections into reality shows with much rhetoric and fanfare, but no substance; it would finalize the disconnect between the basis for the people’s decisions in electing a candidate and the actual policies that candidate implements (based, presumably, on consideration of more reliable and accurate information than the nonsense disseminated on the campaign trail). A Romney victory would cement the unfortunate conviction of many on the political Right in the United States that they are entitled not just to their own opinions, but also to their own facts (which may, in Orwellian fashion, morph into their diametrical opposites based on the political agenda du jour). I am reminded here of Mises’s discussion in Human Action of the errors of polylogism. A Romney victory would create a peculiar sort of “Republican logic” or “conservative logic” that employs “Republican facts” or “conservative facts” that differ from the objective facts which, well, happen to be true. Already, the derision aimed at fact-checking organizations by many on the Right today foreshadows this unfortunate possibility – which would render the entire conservative movement (and any libertarians who ally with it) a historical irrelevancy and laughingstock, but not before it inflicts tremendous human suffering in the manner of virtually every major polylogist movement in history.

This brings me to the last point of discussion with Dr. Steele, the matter (discussed in the comments of my Part 1) of whether the Romney campaign has misrepresented the Obama administration’s approach to work requirements for welfare eligibility. I note that this is a matter on which a wide spectrum of sources are unanimous – including The Washington Post (which leans Republican), ABC News, and NPR. PolitiFact (which also leans rightward) has called the Romney campaign’s statements on this matter “pants on fire” lies.

Dr. Steele writes that “Robert Rector, one of the authors of the original reform act, has given a detailed and careful argument for why he considers the move by Obama’s HHS move a gutting of the requirements.” It seems that Rector actually originated the claim that the HHS memorandum of July 12, 2012, would “gut” welfare reform. This is his blog post of the same day, making that claim. It is clear that, akin to the dynamics of the game of “telephone”, the Romney campaign took Rector’s statements and exaggerated them further to claim that Obama’s administration has already “announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements” – when in fact no such plan has been made,  no waivers of any nature have been requested or granted, and the HHS memorandum specifically cautioned against dropping work requirements. Rector (unlike the Romney campaign) at least provides some details for his interpretation, but it appears to be one remote hypothetical possibility among many, at best, and it is at odds with the explicit statements of the Obama administration that work requirements will not be dropped. Another of the authors of the TANF program, Ron Haskins, stated to NPR that “There’s no plausible scenario under which it [the HHS memorandum] really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform.” The NPR article perceptively observes: “So why continue beating this drum? Partly because people believe it.” This is a prominent illustration of the cynical and manipulative conduct of the Romney campaign. Facts do not matter to Romney and Ryan; the public appeal of any particular message – even if it is factually false – does.

Dr. Steele also writes that GAO has declared that contrary to what the Obama administration has argued, HHS has overstepped its bounds in this matter and by law must submit the proposed changes to Congress.” Yet the GAO letter does not comment on the practical effects of the HHS’s waiver authority on work requirements. It simply states that the HHS’s attempts to exercise such authority constitute a “rule” under the Administrative Procedures Act, and that this “rule” must be submitted to Congress for its approval. Perhaps it must. Yet this is not, per se, support for the contention that Obama has “gutted” welfare work requirements.

Furthermore, the American Conservative Union article linked by Dr. Steele states that “No state has submitted a waiver request. Nor have any been approved. The GAO report has effectively blocked all Sebelius-led changes to TANF work requirements, but what would have it have done [sic]? The specific changes would vary from state to state, depending on whether a state requests a waiver and whether HHS approves the proposed new methods.“ This is precisely the opposite of the Romney campaign’s contention that the Obama administration “gutted” welfare work requirements. First, no actual waivers have even been granted, so any “gutting” is hypothetical only. Second, if any waivers are to be granted, the specific changes would vary by state and would largely depend on what a particular state requests. Again, it is entirely unwarranted to leap from the ability of a state to request a waiver of certain specific methods to the presupposition that the waiver would entail an elimination of work requirements altogether (which elimination is contrary to federal law in any case).

To conclude, I reiterate my question of why Romney is even emphasizing this non-issue so strongly – when there is a myriad of actual atrocious infringements of liberty by the Obama administration which could be used to legitimately denounce Obama’s first term? The only reason that suggests itself is that Romney would commit more of the same infringements, and any differences with Obama are superficial only.

The Imperative of Libertarian Rejection of the Two-Party Trap – Stolyarov’s Response to Steele – Part 1 – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Imperative of Libertarian Rejection of the Two-Party Trap – Stolyarov’s Response to Steele – Part 1 – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
October 21, 2012
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Here I offer the first installment of my response in an ongoing exchange with Dr. Charles Steele regarding the merits (or lack thereof) of various candidates in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election, as well as the question of whether or not it is justified for a libertarian to prefer Mitt Romney over Barack Obama.

Incidentally, this weekend, I had the opportunity to vote early in Nevada and to cast my vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee for President. My hope is that, in this election, Gary Johnson will beat all records in terms of the total votes received by a Libertarian candidate. (See the historical record of votes received by Libertarian candidates here.) This would send a strong signal to the establishment that Americans who love freedom are displeased and outraged at the directions in which both major parties would like to take the country.

For the benefit of my readers, I provide below a list of links to prior installments of this exchange in chronological order.

* “Rand Paul’s Endorsement of Romney Versus Ayn Rand’s and Murray Rothbard’s Historical Grudging Endorsements” – My initial post of September 3, 2012, and a comment by Dr. Steele.

* “Is Mitt Romney Truly a ‘Lesser Evil’?” – My article of September 6, 2012

* “Is It Evil to Vote for a Lesser Evil? Steele’s Response to Stolyarov – Part 1” – Dr. Steele’s article of October 2, 2012

* “Romney v. Obama: Tweedledum and Tweedledee? – Steele’s Response to Stolyarov – Part 2” – Dr. Steele’s article of October 17, 2012

I begin by addressing Dr. Steele’s response in Part 1 to the philosophical argument regarding the impropriety of voting for a lesser evil. In my next installment, I will discuss in greater detail the specific differences between Romney and Obama that Dr. Steele addressed in his Part 2. Dr. Steele stated that most of his questions are not rhetorical, so my purpose here will not be to disagree with any real or perceived implications of such questions – but rather simply to elaborate upon my answers to them and my related views and understandings of the present political situation.

Dr. Steele writes: When we vote, we vote under conditions of uncertainty about what the candidates will do should they win.  Two reasonable people might differ in their expectations over what opposing candidates might do if elected, even if the candidates are truthful.“

I respond: It is true that people vote under conditions of uncertainty. However, a candidate’s historical record of adherence to his or her promises is a decent indicator of whether this candidate will adhere to his or her promises in the future. Furthermore, a candidate’s record of intellectual consistency can serve as a decent indicator of whether that candidate will flip-flop on issues in the future.

Dr. Steele writes: And candidates are often less-than-truthful about what they will do if elected; sorting out what is and isn’t true is not necessarily straightforward.  Consider a presidential election between A and B.  If candidate A wins the election and what subsequently transpires is counter to what the voter in good faith expected, what is the voter’s moral responsibility?

I respond: This is precisely why it is essential not to support candidates with a record of being untruthful, disingenuous, or prone to reversals of their positions. With a candidate like Gary Johnson or Ron Paul, one knows what one is getting, because these men have not materially altered their views or policy recommendations over the course of decades. This is true, also, of certain politicians with whom I have many fewer ideas in common but whom I nonetheless respect for their integrity and consistency – such as Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, and Ralph Nader. Furthermore, these men have histories of actually trying to put their views into practice. The extent of their success may be outside of their full control (because it is subject to the responses and often the resistance of others), but at least they try honestly, and this is apparent to anyone who studies their records.

Sometimes it may also be acceptable to give an untried candidate (for instance, a young and seemingly intelligent and honest politician with little experience in office) a chance if he or she presents a well-supported impression of competence, knowledge, productivity, and integrity. However, in the long term, the records of those people will also speak for them more clearly than their initial presentations, and they are deserving of continued support only if they show through their deeds that they actually meant what they promised.

 On the other hand, a person such as Mitt Romney has a record of repeatedly changing his rhetoric to directly contradict statements he made in the past. Romney is, in essence, a political “weather vane” – seeking to reflect what he and his political handlers consider to be the predominant attitudinal currents of the particular time and place. Furthermore, Romney has a decidedly un-libertarian policy record as Governor of Massachussetts, a candidate, and a private citizen (in his advocacy of bailouts, Medicare expansion, indefinite detention of Americans, and ever-expanding military interventions abroad). Romney’s problem, furthermore, is not so much that he pursues a non-libertarian set of principles (as some respectable politicians might), but that he does not appear to act on any set of universalizable principles whatsoever. Mitt Romney at time X is quite willing to pursue the opposite set of views and policies from Mitt Romney at time Y. Moreover, RomneyX will deny the existence of RomneyY’s views, and vice versa.  Thus, reasonable observers should not expect him to keep his word, or for his word to be worth much in terms of an indicator of his actual views and planned behavior.

Observation and experience have taught me that honesty and dishonesty are fundamental character traits of individuals. Some people find it extremely difficult morally and even inconvenient practically to lie, as it requires the invention of an entire parallel reality that must continually be kept up in order to prevent others from detecting the lie. Others make lying (in either a blatant form or in the form of half-truths) a way of life. People who achieve a measure of material success by means of lying or presenting false impressions will tend to escalate such behavior until it becomes a pervasive, personality-swallowing, and ultimately self-defeating compulsion.  Occasionally, good people may justifiably lie in order to protect themselves against hostile forces that would use the truth as a tool to unjustly and illegitimately harm the truth-teller. However, such situations are rare in the normal course of events, and good people would lie in such situations as an uncomfortable emergency measure of self-defense whose recurrence it is hoped to avoid.

The mark of a compulsive liar is that he lies even when he does not have to – when telling the truth would be fully consistent with his best interests and even his public image. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan both have shamelessly distorted facts in their campaign speeches, advertisements, and debate performances. Due to the Internet, these distortions can be readily identified, and the facts can be brought forth to correct them – but Romney, Ryan, and their handlers do not appear to be cognizant of this reality. When their untruths are pointed out to them, they either continue to assert them with a straight face (as in the case of the Romney campaign knowingly using false statements in its advertisements regarding Obama’s non-existent elimination of the work requirement for unemployment-benefits eligibility) or they deny that they made such statements in the first place despite video evidence to the contrary (as in the case of Ryan denying ever expressing praise and admiration for Ayn Rand, or Romney repeatedly asserting that his tax plan either does or does not reduce the tax obligations of the highest income-earners and expressing bewilderment that anyone ever thought that Romney had said the opposite of the assertion du jour). What is astounding is that Romney/Ryan would not have lost an iota of public support by accurately and transparently representing both their own intentions and Obama’s record in office. There are numerous valid criticisms of the Obama administration – enough to occupy any challenger’s time. There is no need to invent facts or engage in distortion in order to address Obama’s genuine blunders in the realms of economic policy, foreign policy, and infringement of civil liberties. Likewise, a full representation of Romney/Ryan’s actual proposed policies would have been far more salutary than a vague set of incoherent and mutually contradictory generic assertions that try to mean everything for everyone.

In short, the problem with Romney and Ryan is not so much what they stand for, but the fact that they can stand for anything and nothing and that integrity and consistency cannot be expected of them based on their campaigning tactics and policy records. More generally, even a halfway-decent judge of character will be able to distinguish between a person of integrity and a habitual liar in politics. All that is needed is a look at the facts – precisely what the habitual liars in politics consider unimportant.

Dr. Steele writes: Further, we also don’t know and will never know what B would have done.  Does that matter?  Might not a vote for what proved to be A’s bad policies have prevented B’s worse ones? In many cases these issues are small, but not always.  And certainly in times of major institutional transitions, or economic crises, or other important changes, they are likely to loom large.”

I respond: This presupposes that A and B are the only genuine alternatives. In fact, since voting is ultimately the result of an aggregation of individual decisions, the conceivable alternatives are numerous, if only people would see them that way. One might consider two-party politics in the United States to be a sort of collective reverse prisoners’ dilemma – in the sense that the political situation would be much better if people simply did not care about how others plan to vote and would simply vote their conscience – based solely on their independent evaluation of the views and records of the candidates running. It is only because voters try to anticipate one another’s preferences and adjust their own accordingly that the two-party oppression of the status quo has come about.

Over the years, the difference between the “greater” and “lesser” evil has become ever harder to distinguish, either in magnitude or in the identity of the “greater” and “lesser”. This is because the strategists in the two parties know that they do not need to present candidates that differ materially in practice anymore. All they need to do is to put up a show and engage in polarizing but utterly vacuous rhetoric – in order to get the electorate to think that enough of a difference exists to justify voting for one wing of the establishment or for the other. The reality behind the scenes is that we are governed by an elite “bipartisan” consensus where there exist occasional minor policy changes because of the shifting dynamics among the myriad pressure groups comprising the elite. However, the fundamental assumptions of that consensus – including massive corporate welfare, systemic restrictions on upward economic mobility for most, the cartelization of much of the economy, various boondoggles for special interests (including military interventions, “homeland security,” and the War on Drugs), and the need to obtain elite permission to make major innovations that depart from the status quo – remain unchallenged within the two-party establishment. This continuity of policy despite rotations of the parties in power has been strengthening over the years. Thus, it has often and justifiably been remarked that Obama’s first term in office is essentially indistinguishable in practice from a third term for George W. Bush.

At the same time, the gulf between the elite consensus and the possibilities of emerging technologies is becoming ever wider – particularly as the elite is composed predominantly of people who do not understand those technologies and try to operate according to assumptions that only work in a pre-Internet world. The elite reaction to the hyper-empowerment of individuals through personal technology is to crack down ever harder. Hence, we have seen in the past decade and especially in the past several years both an accelerating pace of technological improvement and a flurry of bills (COICA, SOPA, Protect IP, CISPA) and treaties (ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership) attempting to restrict Internet freedom. Ultimately, this interplay of trends can result only in the amazing liberation of individuals or a more totalitarian tyranny than any which came before.

With regard to Dr. Steele’s reference to major institutional transitions and economic crises, we are indeed in such a time period, but the essence of the transition is precisely the manner in which technology tends to yank influence away from the power elites (often without an explicit design to do so) – and the essence of the economic crisis is precisely the power elites’ reaction in attempting to entrench old, failed institutions (through techniques such as bailouts, inflation, subsidies, modern-day guilds, and barriers to competition) and bar the majority of people from prospering due to the unleashing of technology’s full potential. Neither Obama nor Romney stands on the right side of the institutional transition. Especially in this pivotal time, it is imperative to side with those who aspire for individual hyper-empowerment and to reject the two-party elite.  A key part of individual hyper-empowerment is to vote independently of one’s expectations of how others might vote. Setting an example through one’s own decisions (and one’s vocal discussion thereof) can persuade increasing numbers of people to extricate themselves from the trap of pernicious assumptions created by the “bipartisan” consensus.

Dr. Steele writes: If one votes for a candidate who wins, does one then share responsibility for everything the candidate does?  When we vote for candidate A, we get the ‘entire package.’  We can’t limit ourselves to voting for her/his positions on some issues but not others.  Suppose one agrees with candidate A on fiscal policy, but disagrees on foreign policy, and conversely supports B on foreign policy and opposes his fiscal policy.  In order to decide between candidates, our voter must judge which issue is more likely to be of central importance in the next term, as well as which one is more important for the voter’s overall vision of what should be done.  For that matter, the voter might think that B’s fiscal policy is a more serious flaw than A’s foreign policy, but also believes institutional barriers (e.g. Congress) will largely block B’s fiscal policy while nothing would block A from pursuing the bad foreign policy, and hence reasonably vote B.”

I respond: While it is true that some degree of unpredictability exists with every candidate, there is a major difference between whether that unpredictability is a result of unforeseen contingencies beyond that candidate’s control (e.g., major external events that change the incentives, constraints, and pressures facing a politician) or whether it is a result of the politician simply never intending to form a strong connection between what he says and what he does. Thus, while a person who supports a particular candidate may not be morally responsible for every particular action by that person in office, that person is responsible for helping to elect either a fundamentally honest person or a fundamentally dishonest one. By knowingly electing a fundamentally dishonest person, one essentially writes a blank check for that person to do as he pleases in office, without much connection to any particular intellectually coherent platform or set of ideals.

With regard to weighing the importance of various policy issues, I agree that this assessment may differ based on a voter’s factual expectations as well as his subjective assessment of various areas’ relative significance. However, a fundamentally dishonest politician cannot be expected either to have the same priorities as any given voter, or to fulfill his promise to address particular issues he represents as priorities. In essence, the credibility of a dishonest politician like Romney in communicating particular priorities has already been shattered, and he is therefore an almost unknown quantity in how he would address issues. I say that he is almost an unknown quantity, because whatever Romney does is likely to be strongly biased toward preserving the perverse dynamics inherent in the status quo – i.e., the political trend toward totalitarianism and the further entrenchment of the pressure groups that predominate in today’s “bipartisan” consensus.

Dr. Steele writes: How much difference does one’s vote make, anyway?  The quote from Mr. Stolyarov suggests that if candidate A wins, a person who voted for him shares some responsibility for what transpires.  But suppose A wins with a very large margin of the vote.  In that case, there’s nothing the voter could have done to stop what transpires.  What is her/his responsibility then?

I respond: While any given voter’s moral responsibility may be minor in this case with regard to any particular outcome, there is still some moral responsibility in the sense that the voter permitted himself to be one of the masses who supported the winning candidate despite strong initial indications that the candidate is  dishonest, prone to engaging in deleterious policies, or both. The greater moral responsibility is not even so much for casting one’s vote a certain way, but for abrogating the independence of thought and fortitude of character needed to cast a vote based on an assessment that does not take into account what “everyone else” is doing. In other words, the moral responsibility is for allowing the pressures of social conformity to determine one’s decision even though the conformity does not entail an element of physical compulsion and the individual is fully free in theory and practice to make an entirely independent decision based on principles. In the United States, there is unfortunately a widespread entrenched mentality of supporting “the winning team” – irrespective of whether that “team’s” agenda is in one’s best interests. All too many Americans are so frightened of “losing” in any area where they have invested time and effort, that they align themselves with their very destroyers simply to avoid being in the minority.

Dr. Steele writes: Conversely, suppose instead A loses, so nothing transpires from the vote and presumably no moral responsibility attaches to the voter.  How does anything differ in these two cases, with respect to the voter’s culpability?  I can’t see that the voter has behaved differently in the two cases; shouldn’t moral responsibility be the same?  Perhaps not, but then why not?  And how would the responsibility differ in either case had the voter instead stayed home and not cast a ballot?

I respond: As a consequentialist, I do not believe that a person can have moral responsibility for hypothetical events; only actual harms count. Therefore, a person who voted for a losing candidate can have no responsibility for the decisions and actions of the winning candidate. However, voting for a losing candidate from one of the two major parties may per se be an imprudent action even if there is no moral fault arising from it – because this action shows that one continues to fall into the two-party trap and to expect a decent outcome from supporting one party or the other, despite a long train of disappointments and broken promises going back for decades.

As an analogy, consider two people who drive at extremely fast speeds on the highway. One person causes an accident, and the other does not. The second person may simply have been lucky in that his reckless behavior did not cause an accident, so I do not think that he should have any criminal or even moral culpability. The first person, on the other hand, is morally culpable because his behavior actually resulted in harm to others. However, it can be said that the second person was greatly imprudent and should improve his behavior and assumptions about the world in order to minimize the risk of causing harm in the future.

That being said, the behavior that a person exhibits while campaigning for or against a particular candidate can result in moral culpability irrespective of the outcome. For instance, the disgraceful, dishonest, and sometimes outright violent ways in which supporters of the Republican establishment have treated supporters of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson render the establishment supporters culpable no matter whether or not Mitt Romney wins the election.

As a general rule, people only have moral responsibility for their active decisions which result in harm to others. Because one part of this two-part test is contingent on external circumstances and events, it is quite possible that the same motivations and even the same physical movements by two different individuals may result in different degrees of culpability (or even culpability in one case and lack thereof in another). Furthermore, inaction, while it may be sub-optimal or even callous at times, does not rise to the level of immorality. A person who does not vote therefore cannot be held morally responsible for the actions of the winning candidate. However, he may also justifiably consider it sub-optimal or imprudent not to vote if he could have had an incremental impact in averting some of the negative consequences of the winning candidate’s victory. For instance, some libertarians believe that they should not vote because they do not want to “legitimize the system” in any way. I do not agree with their view, but adherence to it is not immoral, and libertarians of this persuasion maintain their integrity by behaving in a manner consistent with their view. However, the outcome would have been superior if these libertarians had supported Gary Johnson or Ron Paul – signaling to the establishment that the discontentment with the status quo is more widespread than originally anticipated.

Dr. Steele writes: Similarly, in every presidential election in which I’ve voted, I voted in Montana.  In none of these was the vote close enough for mine to have mattered, but that’s irrelevant.  Montana’s three electoral votes simply do not matter for the national outcome, so no matter what happened, my vote had no connection at all to what subsequently transpired.  Does this mean that I’m exempt of all moral responsibility when I vote in a presidential election?  Why or why not?

I respond: Except in extremely unlikely circumstances, no person’s single vote can make the difference in the outcome of a national election. Thus, one’s vote practically matters only to the extent of contributing to the “pool” of votes for a particular candidate. What is more important is the signal that one’s vote sends with regard to whether one is willing to morally sanction an establishment candidate or whether one is willing to voice one’s independent preferences no matter what the social or media pressures might be. Whether one votes in a “swing state” or in a state whose electoral votes are unlikely to make a difference is not so material to this question. Ultimately, one can only control one’s own behavior, and this behavior should be based on adherence to objective principles, rather than the expectation of what others faced with a similar choice are likely to do.

Dr. Steele writes: It’s clear, then, that Mr. Stolyarov is not committing the Nirvana fallacy.  But I still find his point quite problematic.  It is not always obvious what constitutes ‘incremental good/evil’ on net, or how we identify an overall reduction in liberty.  Let’s simplify this case by assuming there’s only one voter and no uncertainty about what candidates will do if elected, so that there are no disconnects between the vote cast and the political consequences.  Again, the voter faces a choice among presidential candidates, but now her/his vote determines the election and s/he knows exactly what political consequences will transpire. If A’s positions on issues X and Y reduce liberty, and his position on issue Z increases it, how is the voter to weight A’s net effect on liberty?  (Assume for sake of argument there are no other issues.)  Is A automatically disqualified because of his position on X and Y?  Or could his position on Z conceivably be sufficiently beneficial for liberty to outweigh the harm done on the first two?  I would think so, and I suspect Mr. Stolyarov agrees.  (Again, I should note that in some cases any reasonable person should be able to weigh these relative harms and benefits and get the same answer.  But in some real world cases reasonable persons might strongly differ.)

I respond: I agree that it is difficult sometimes to evaluate the net effect on liberty of an honest candidate who espouses mixed principles. For instance, if someone like Dennis Kucinich had run for President, I would be greatly concerned about most of his stances on economic policy, but I could see tremendous benefits for civil liberties (in particular, with regard to “airport security” and the misguided “War on Terror”) and foreign policy if he were elected. Which are more important? Because I so greatly care about the physical integrity of my person and property while traveling (much more than I care about my monetary holdings), I am more likely to focus significantly on the civil-liberties aspect. However, an extremely wealthy businessman (who, in this example, earned all of his wealth legitimately) might be able to afford to travel in his personal airplanes and might therefore not care as much about airport security as he does about his economic opportunities. He might justifiably weigh the benefits and costs differently than I do.

However, all of these sophisticated and reasonable discussions about how to weigh relative benefits and harms disappear when the candidate running for office is fundamentally dishonest and has a record of continually shifting his positions and violating his promises. In that case, attempting to anticipate relative benefits and harms is akin to using a wooden ruler to measure the spatial position and diameter of a tornado.

Dr. Steele writes: But also, doesn’t it matter against whom A is running?  If candidate B is worse, much worse, on all three issues, should not the voter choose A over B, regardless of whether the net outcome from A is positive?  (I would think so.) Alternatively suppose instead candidate B drops out of the race to be replaced by C, and C is superior on all three issues.  Shouldn’t that lead our voter to reverse himself and support C?

I respond: The problem with choosing A over B in a situation where both bring about incremental evils is that this concedes the premise that it is sometimes acceptable for a person to actively participate in an incremental evil, if the alternative is perceived to be even more evil. This is precisely the attitude that, when shared by sufficiently large numbers of people, allows politicians to commit evil in the first place, by creating a false dichotomy in the eyes of the people between a moderate amount of increased evil and a more significant amount of increased evil. My view is that one should compare not two hypothetical futures, but any proposed future and the status quo. If a given proposed future is a marginal improvement over the status quo, then one should support it, despite possible imperfections. However, if the status quo is superior to both of the two “mainstream” proposed futures, then one should refrain from supporting either and seek a third way. The people who vote for third parties are attempting to voice support for such a third way. The people who refuse to vote at all are, implicitly, preferring the status quo over either major candidate’s vision of the future. Either of these non-mainstream approaches is preferable to actively embracing a future that is worse than the status quo.

Dr. Steele writes: In our one voter example, suppose candidate A will take the nation slowly towards a totalitarian state, and B will take it very rapidly.  Would it not be preferable to choose A over B, to buy time for countervailing processes to act? All of these examples suggest – at least to me – that a voter might reasonably and morally vote for a candidate who will minimize damage to liberty, even if the voter has only reasonable expectation of this.”

I respond: I do have some sympathy with this argument, as – especially in a time of rapid technological advancement – enabling innovation to occur more freely for even a few years can make a tremendous difference to how free people are in practice. However, in practice, I do not see the two parties as taking us to totalitarianism at different rates. Rather, I see them as taking us toward marginally different flavors of totalitarianism at the same galloping pace. The Republican totalitarianism is more theocratic, militaristic for purposes of “national glory,” and focused on corporate cronyism toward “traditional” industries (including large financial firms). The Democratic totalitarianism is more politically correct, militaristic for purposes of “humanitarian” intervention, and focused on corporate cronyism toward “alternative” or “emerging” industries (as well as large financial firms). Both forms of totalitarianism entail extreme violations of civil liberties, though the Republican form is likely to be more targeted toward minority groups of whom many among the Republican base disapprove, while the Democratic form is likely to attempt to inconvenience and burden everybody in an egalitarian manner. Both forms of totalitarianism are fundamentally hostile to meritocracy, the enrichment of young people through economic opportunity, and small-scale technologically based institutions rising in a competitive market to replace the politically connected “legacy” institutions. Most significantly with regard to the opportunity for countervailing forces to emerge, the elites of both the Republican and Democratic parties are hostile to Internet freedom and willing to side with totalitarian guilds, such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), to support draconian infringements on indivduals’ use of the Internet. They only subside or backtrack in their support when confronted with massive public outrage.

In this unfortunate situation of competing totalitarianisms, a valid defense of a divided government might be made. If enough friction can be introduced between the two wings of the elite, then neither wing may be able to fulfill its totalitarian vision. In some respects, this is a reason why the march to totalitarianism was slowed somewhat after the election of a Republican House of Representatives in 2010, creating a disconnect with the Democratic Senate and the Obama administration. It has certainly been more difficult for federal legislation of any sort (including the destructive sort) to be enacted in 2011-2012 than in 2009-2010.

Dr. Steele writes [regarding my strategic argument of sending a credible signal of refusing to play along with the establishment]: Maybe so.  I certainly hope so.  But note that this is a strategic argument and quite different from the argument about a voter’s moral responsibility.  I find the moral argument to be unhelpful in this discussion.”

I respond: I see the two arguments as at least somewhat interrelated, in that a voter’s perception of his moral responsibility may constrain and shape his practical choices in terms of strategy. For instance, if a person is held captive by a totalitarian regime – does he choose to appease his captors or to escape? If he believes that he has a moral responsibility not to give into his captors, then he will be more likely to plan an escape and to succeed. In the same way, it is more likely for Americans to escape the two-party trap if they believe that they have a moral responsibility to do so and set up their strategies for doing so accordingly. While the moral and strategic arguments are technically separate, embracing one may aid in the efficacy of implementing the other.

Rand Paul’s Endorsement of Romney versus Ayn Rand’s and Murray Rothbard’s Historical Grudging Endorsements – Post by G. Stolyarov II

Rand Paul’s Endorsement of Romney versus Ayn Rand’s and Murray Rothbard’s Historical Grudging Endorsements – Post by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 2, 2012
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A September 1 post on the Facebook page of The Capitalism Institute reads: “I fully understand the hatred of Romney by libertarians who believe he’s a liberal in sheep’s clothing. That’s perfectly understandable. What I don’t understand is the notion that Rand Paul has somehow become an enemy of the liberty movement in the eyes of many because he endorsed Romney. Murray Rothbard once endorsed George Bush, Sr. Ayn Rand once endorsed Nixon.”

Yet I see Rand Paul’s endorsement of Mitt Romney as qualitatively different from the endorsements by either Ayn Rand or Murray Rothbard in previous election cycles. I think Ayn Rand unfortunately fell into the “lesser of two evils” trap when endorsing Nixon.

In particular, the following statement of Ayn Rand’s (quoted from this article by ARI Watch) is interesting: “If there were some campaign organization called ‘Anti-Nixonites for Nixon,’ it would name my position. The worst thing said about Nixon is that he cannot be trusted, which is true: he cannot be trusted to save this country. But one thing is certain: McGovern can destroy it.

Rothbard’s endorsement of Bush, Sr., was also grudging. Rothbard wrote this: “Yes, gulp, I’m down to the grim, realistic choice: Which of two sets of bozos is going to rule us in 1993-1997? No one has been more critical of George Bush than I, but yes, dammit, I am working my way back to the President.

If Rand Paul had explicitly stated that he was an “Anti-Romneyite for Romney” or stated that no one has been more critical of Romney than he – then I would have had more respect for his approach to this matter. At present, though, his comments after his endorsement of Romney have not at all highlighted Romney’s weaknesses or areas where Romney and Rand Paul disagreed. If Rand Paul had merely endorsed Romney to support “the lesser evil” in his mind, then I would still not share his opinion, but his mistake would be understandable. His actual endorsement of Romney, however, was not so grudging or reserved. Furthermore, he may have seen some (as of yet unrealized) personal political advantage from it, whereas neither Ayn Rand nor Rothbard had any personal political ambitions.

Additionally, since 1972 and even 1992, the two major political parties have come far closer together, to the point where Obama and Romney are virtually indistinguishable in their policy stances, even though they try to augment minutiae through volatile (and often outright deceptive) campaign rhetoric. Therefore, the contrasts that Ayn Rand drew between Nixon and McGovern – and those that Rothbard drew between Bush, Sr., and Clinton – cannot be drawn between Romney and Obama.  Voting for either party can no longer help “save” the country from the other (if it ever could, which I also doubt), because the same perils would befall us either way.