Summary: As the 2012 election approached, many politically active people were busy stumping for their preferred party and its candidates. Alas, too many became wrapped up in "party politics," attacking the opposition as entirely without merit and ignoring the defects on their own side. They lost sight of what really matters – the principle of individual rights. The result was – and is – ever-worse violations of our rights by politicians of all stripes. It's time for advocates of liberty to reverse that trend. This talk was given to Liberty on the Rocks Flatirons on 13 August 2012.
Question: How can people improve the quality of politicians in office? Although it's easy to condemn all politicians, some are better than others. How can we get more of the better politicians into office? Should people committed to rights run for office? Or should those people work to elect better (but still mixed) politicians? Or should they try to convince established politicians to embrace rights? What's the best strategy for effective political change?
Question: To what extent are voters responsible for the actions of politicians? Suppose that a candidate announces his plans and actions for next term before the election. Are the people who vote for that candidate morally sanctioning and/or responsible for those actions, for better or worse? For example, you vote for a candidate who supports de-regulation and ending social welfare programs, even though he's completely against abortion in all circumstances, even when that might result in the woman's death. Since you, as a voter, knew his position when you voted for him, aren't you partially responsible for any deaths of women caused by his anti-abortion policies?
Question: Aren't politicians like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul allies in the struggle for liberty? Although I'm an atheist and a novice Objectivist, I've always wondered why so many advocates of individual rights oppose candidates and movements that seem to agree with us on a great many issues. Despite their other warts, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are the most likely men to promote our causes. The notion that they evangelize is dubious. And even if true, are there better alternatives today? I've also seen this attitude towards Libertarian candidates and their party. Ronald Reagan was the only President who advanced the ball towards free markets in the last fifty years, and yet people condemn him because of his position on abortion and because of his religious/political partnerships. I've never understood this. Shouldn't we embrace the advocates of free markets out there today, even if not perfect?
Question: Should voters attempt to "buy time" for liberty by voting for Republican candidates? Often, supporters of free-market capitalism are told that they need to "buy time" in order to advocate for liberty – meaning: they should vote for Republicans to stave off disaster and allow time to persuade the public of the nature and value of freedom. Does the debacle with the rollout of ObamaCare contradict this claim? ObamaCare has suffered from widespread attacks, not just from the right wing, but also from many mainstream media outlets and average citizens. These backlashes have forced the administration to issue substantive revisions of the law, and its political backers appear to be running scared. In this case, a statist policy has gone into effect, the public has felt its harmful effects, and that public has turned against the statist policy and its supporting politicians. After this, I am more optimistic about Americans, as well as less inclined to support Republicans at the federal level. Given the utter failure of free market advocates to turn back the regulatory state, might the public need to learn more lessons like that of ObamaCare, just as much as they need to be educated about abstract philosophy? Does support for Republicans in the federal government, who will at best maintain the mixed economy – where the positives caused by freedom can cloud the negatives caused by controls – actually result in a perpetual solidification of the status quo? If so – and combined with some of the GOP's irrational theocratic tendencies – should people actively (or passively) support keeping the Republican Party as the minority party in the near future by refusing to vote for or support its candidates?
Question: How should I educate myself so that I can cast informed votes in elections? I'm 25, and I've never voted in any local, state, or national election. I have good reason for that, I think: I've never been able to educate myself sufficiently on the candidates to be certain of who to vote for. Also, as a marketing student with a passion for advertising and public relations, I don't think I could vote until I'd seen the inside of a campaign team as a member of it, so that I have a personal understanding of how much the candidate presented is real or idealized. I know that that is unrealistic, because I wouldn't know which candidate to work for. Instead of that, what steps could I take to inform myself, without consuming too much time, so that I could vote in the next presidential election?
Question: Will Obama's second term further damage American culture and values? I'm not as worried about the tax hikes, foreign policy, and other concrete policies of Obama's second term as I am about the cultural change that his administration will instill in society over the next four years, just as it did over the last four years. The next generation of liberals – college age kids, that is – are little socialists who repeat the phrases like "social justice" and "fair share." Is such cultural change a genuine problem? If so, what can be done to combat it?
Summary: Can a political party based on principles of individual rights win elections? Perhaps so – and Paul McKeever has a strategy for doing so with the Freedom Party of Ontario.
Question: When would creating a political party advance the cause of liberty? At the moment, creating a new political party might not make sense in the United States because the Republicans and Democrats dominate the elections and the media. But when would be the right time to do so, if ever? In other countries, even tiny parties are discussed in the news, and they can win a few seats. Under those circumstances, does it make sense to create a political party advocating for individual rights? If so, what would be a good name for such a party?
Summary: Many people support restrictions on spending in elections, particularly by corporations, in the name of "transparency" and "accountability." Institute for Justice attorney Paul Sherman takes a very different view. He argues persuasively that any restrictions on campaign spending are violations of freedom of speech. He has successfully argued that view in courts across the country.
Question: What should we think of the results of the 2012 election? Many free-market advocates are despairing over the election results, particularly the re-election of President Obama. They claim that America has sunk to a new low in re-electing an openly socialistic and egalitarian hater of America. Do you think that such despair is warranted? Also, how can intellectuals, activists, and others effectively promote individual rights over the next four years?
Summary: Many people believe that voting is a crucial civic duty, and people often argue vociferously about who to vote for, particularly for US President. Are such arguments a waste of breath? Does your vote actually matter?
Summary: Many people on the political right regard America as steadily decaying since the founding era. Yet in fact, America has improved in many ways – not just in technology, but also in its culture, economy, and laws.
Summary: Questions on any and all topics were welcome!
Question: Is it moral or practical to vote for third-party candidates? The Founders created a two-party political system. With features like geographic representation, first-past-the-post voting for Congress, and the Electoral College for voting for President, the Founders clearly wanted parties consisting of large umbrella groups of wide geographic and ideological interests. As a result, the United States has always had two and only two dominant political parties. Corrupt election laws, passed by these parties, now guarantee that except in rare instances (such as Jesse Ventura, of all people) only members of these two parties can be elected to office. Given these facts, what is the purpose of voting for third party candidates? Unlike the two major umbrella parties, all third parties are composed of ideological kooks of many persuasions. Isn't a vote for a third party candidate thus immoral (for supporting kookdom) and impractical (since they can't win)? Wouldn't it be better to try to improve the two existing parties, or not vote at all?
Question: How important are a political candidate's views on abortion? Why should we be worried about a political candidate's bad views on abortion if their views on other issues like economics are generally good? After all, as US President, Mitt Romney couldn't outlaw abortion even if he wanted to. But a good or bad President could have a tremendous good or bad effect on our economic liberties. Conversely, President Obama wants to keep abortion legal but that positive pales in significance to his terrible negative views on economics. Shouldn't a candidate's views on economics be more important at present than their views on abortion?
Question: What should we do if the Supreme Court upholds ObamaCare? The Supreme Court of the United States will be determining the constitutionality of ObamaCare in a matter of weeks. While it is likely that at least part of it will be struck down, the court might uphold some or all of it. If that happens, what should liberty-loving Americans do? Would we have any recourse? Would it be time to break out the pitchforks and torches?
Question: Should I support Gary Johnson for US President? What's the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Johnson deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election? Also, should supporters of Gary Johnson vote for him on a Libertarian Party ticket?
Question: Should I support Ron Paul for US President? What's the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Paul deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election?
Question: Should I support Newt Gingrinch for US President? What's the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Gingrinch deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election?
Question: Should I support Mitt Romney for US President? What's the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Romney deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election?
Question: What's your view of the upcoming 2012 election? By what standards do you judge the presidential candidates?
Question: When is it morally right or wrong to support political compromises? The marijuana legalization initiative for the 2012 Colorado ballot also specifies open-ended taxation that circumvents the protections of TABOR (the Taxpayer Bill of Rights). It specifies that the first $40 million raised goes to government schools. Both of these taxation items are compromises added to get voters to accept the marijuana legalization. Is it ethical to support more taxation to get more freedom from drug laws? Is it okay to circulate petitions to get this on the ballot so the voters can decide? More generally, when if ever should a person support political compromises that uphold some rights but violate others?
Question: All the candidates are nearly perfectly horrid, just in different ways. Why should I even bother to vote?
Question: Is it wrong to "vote with your wallet"? A liberal friend of mine recently said that he won't vote for political candidates based on his own economic interests – for example, that Candidate A promises to raise taxes on his income bracket, while Candidate B promises to cut taxes for that bracket. He votes based on his agreement with the total political program, not its effects on his paycheck. What's right or wrong with his approach?
Question: Should it be legal in a free society to buy votes? It doesn't seem that the practice would violate anyone's rights, so shouldn't it be legal for a person who wants to hold office to pay willing voters to cast their vote for him?
Summary: What does a principled political candidate say and do? Stephen Bailey – the Republican candidate for US House of Representatives for Colorado's Second District in 2010 – gives us a good example in this discussion of his principles and prospects.