Both candidates are eager to admit that this election is a choice between two visions of America. Many of my libertarian friends, however, would reject that proposition. They would instead suggest that the two candidates actually represent the same vision of bloated and over-reaching government, constantly seeking to invade our lives on matters either personal or economic at the expense of our individual liberties.
As reasonable as this idea sounds, it fails to account for the immeasurable importance of signaling to the current administration that this country rejects its basic understanding of the government’s proper role, even if it votes into office a candidate who represents a vision of America only slightly less desirable. It also ignores the fact that, in our current system of government, attempting to spin off a third party instead of developing a stronghold within one of the two current parties is a losing strategy in the long term.
Randy Barnett argued as much in this morning's Wall Street Journal. Barnett is one of the most important legal minds in such matters, and he argued against the Affordable Care Act during the run-up to the Supreme Court hearing. Assuming that Republican victories are more likely to benefit libertarian-minded voters, most of his argument is based on the practical importance of embedding a strong libertarian faction into the GOP in order to help them win elections.
But there is also an important impact that this strategy will have on shaping policy among both parties. Each will understand that these swing voters — who some estimate to make up approximately 15% of the total voting population — could move quickly back and forth between parties if either move too far from the principles of liberty and peace. In recent years, we've seen more libertarian-minded voters trend toward the Republican Party based on economic and regulatory issues. But it could easily swing the other way as the economy eventually recovers, and social and foreign policy begins to reemerge as key issues in future elections.
I am sympathetic to the tendency of libertarians to cast their vote for Gary Johnson in this election, but I continue to believe that it is the wrong strategy to promote freedom in the long run. Of course, as Thomas Jefferson is famously quoted for having said centuries ago, “the course of history shows that as government grows, liberty increases."
That trend certainly doesn’t look like it is going to abate anytime soon, no matter who we vote for in this or future elections.