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Post-election thoughts on "wasted" votes and civil liberties

Updated on November 20, 2012

As people who have read my previous hubs on third parties may have been able to glean, I did indeed vote for libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson this election. I couldn’t in good conscience vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, despite being told by people that my vote for Johnson was a vote for Obama. Johnson did achieve a libertarian milestone in that he received the highest vote percentage of a libertarian candidate since 1980 (1%. Of course, it should have been much better). I will devote most of this hub to responding to people who claim I “should” have voted for Romney, because the wasted vote syndrome is so widespread, and was out in full force during this election.

Why my vote for Johnson was NOT a vote for Obama

So many people have fallen for the “wasted vote” logic that they will hold their nose and vote for the “less bad” candidate so the “other guy” won’t win. I was dismayed to hear so many libertarians using exactly this logic in justifying their decision to vote for Mitt Romney. People said Barack Obama was about as far from a libertarian as you could get, and “had to go.” Indeed, Obama was pretty far from being a libertarian, but then, so was Mitt Romney. The website actually categorizes him as a “populist-leaning conservative,” using the Nolan chart as a model. The last time I checked, a “populist” is about as far from libertarian as you can get. Both candidates were awful. I’m not convinced things would have been any better if Mitt Romney had won. In fact, on some level, they may have been worse. At least with Obama, we’ll likely have a lame duck president who won’t be able to do much of what he wants to do because of the Republicans in congress. Under Mitt Romney, we may have had another Republican majority government. And we all remember what happened the last time we had a Republican majority government, don’t we? (No child left behind, Medicare part D, war in Iraq, etc.) Do we really think it would be any different had a big government republican like Mitt Romney won?

Mitt Romney paid lip service to reducing the deficit, yet couldn’t bring himself to say what exactly he would cut, aside from PBS (yeah, that will really solve the problem). Given Romney’s disturbing history of excessive flip flopping, I didn’t really trust him with power because I couldn’t tell what his “real” position was on almost anything. This flip flopping has been documented by youtube videos and articles all over the net. When he was governor of Massachusetts, he claimed to be for campaign finance reform and even wanted to ban Super PACS. Now, well I’m sure we all know what his position is now. Almost everything, from stimulus spending, to both bailouts, to abortion and the Second Amendment, he has expressed different positions about at different times. I’ll accept that sometimes people change their position, but this many times? I’d prefer my candidate for president to be honest and straightforward, thank you. Pandering may be inevitable to some extent; that’s how politics works. But you can only be allowed so many flip flops before people began to question your character.

One thing Romney actually appeared to be at least somewhat honest about was foreign policy. He wanted to increase defense spending even higher than Obama has (despite what people think, Obama has actually spent more on defense than even Bush did). That’s a deal breaker for me. One of the biggest wastes of money our government is currently doing is our interventions overseas and our desire for never-ending foreign wars. Our military budget should be cut before we can seriously consider cutting Social Security. At least Social Security helps some people. Overseas, we are just throwing money down the drain on nation building and making enemies. And a war with Iran is absolutely the last thing we need to be seriously discussing on foreign policy. Also, jacking up the military budget like Romney claimed he wanted to do seemed indefensible from a fiscal responsibility angle, which Romney was running on. And to top it off, Romney’s proposals for “reforming” entitlement spending (When he even mentioned it at all), seemed rather vague and not bold enough to solve the problem of our debt. So I voted for Johnson.

Some libertarians suggested Romney would have been better on Supreme Court appointments. Perhaps. Given that Romney has spoken in favor of campaign finance reform (as noted previously) and hasn’t exactly been too die hard about the Second Amendment, I’m not sure I’d be willing to bet that he would appoint justices who would uphold Heller or Citizens United. Furthermore, it’s not necessarily true that conservative justices are always better than liberal justices from a libertarian perspective. On national security issues, conservatives are generally worse, as well as on criminal justice abuses and separation of church and state issues. Still, libertarians tend to be originalists and will often side with conservative justices sometimes regardless of their personal feelings on say, the death penalty or gay marriage. Regardless, better court appointments wasn’t something I was willing to be confident enough about to vote for Mitt Romney.

Which brings me to one final point. I have never been a single issue voter, and it is actually a rather foreign concept to me. Regardless of how passionate I may feel about certain issues, I like to take the whole picture into account when voting for a president. Johnson would have been better on the economy, better on civil liberties, and better on national security than any other candidate. That’s what’s important to me. “Strategic” voting is lame, which just inevitably compromises your principles. I understand that people want their vote to “matter” and have some tangible effect in the real world, but I like to look at who agrees with me the most, and if our electoral system were truly just and fair that would be the only thing people thought about. And since I would prefer a system where more than two parties had a real opportunity to be heard and get elected, I also felt my vote was a protest against the existing system. Sure, my guy didn’t win, but when the “electable” candidates were like being forced to choose between a douche and a turd sandwich (to quote south park), I’d rather vote for who I feel is better and be glad I didn’t participate in a corrupt and bs. system.

But that’s all over now. We know the election results, and Obama won. What does that say for the future? And why did Obama win?

It’s not all bad news. We’ve had referendums that legalized recreational use of weed and gay marriage, eminent domain reform was passed in some states, and a ballot initiative approving the creation of charter schools was passed in Georgia.

But what made the Republicans lose? Was it social issues? Did people just want ‘free stuff? Good question. Regarding social issues, I will discuss here how I think that voting for Democrats based on social issues is misguided.

Democrats are not necessarily “better” on civil liberties

There are many people who may have voted for the Democrats purely because they liked their positions on abortion and gay marriage. Some are suggesting that Republicans will have to change their social positions or face demographic death. They may be on to something. But I’ll point out something that people haven’t been discussing much.

Why does everyone act like abortion and gay marriage are the only “cultural” or civil liberties issues that exist? They’re the most popular, but hardly the most important. I think free speech issues and the Second Amendment are far more important than those, and conservatives tend to be better on them. Democrats have basically given the finger to civil libertarians in the party (think the ACLU) and don’t offer much to people like me who support almost all personal freedoms, not just the ones liberals support. It’s nice that Democrats support abortion and gay marriage, but they generally don’t support the right to bear arms, are supportive of restrictions on political speech (campaign finance reform) oppose school choice (if you consider that social) and are more supportive of tobacco regulations and bans on smoking in public places more than conservatives are. Last I checked, those were civil liberties, or culture war issues. And whatever happened to genuine liberal support for marijuana legalization or opposition to the death penalty in the Democratic party? I’m not saying the base of the party doesn’t endorse those views. Many do. But for the most part, their “leaders” don’t. It’s not surprising, then, that the ACLU expressed support for Gary Johnson for president this election cycle and not Barack Obama. He was actually more supportive and consistent in his support for individual freedom than any other candidate. These issues are supremely important to me, and I would like someone who is consistent on them. The schizophrenia of both parties on civil liberties issues has always struck me as a little bizarre. They can be consistent on the economy. Why not social issues too?

I have quite a bit more to say on the election in general, but I will end this hub here. My previous hubs have been all way too long, and I really need to pace myself a little. I may be turning off some readers with my excessively long hubs. I guess I just have a lot to say.


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    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Thanks, Brad. Sometime soon I will read your hub on campaign finance, and I intend also to read the actual Citizens United decision to learn more about it.

    • Brad C. L. profile image

      Brad C. L. 5 years ago

      To be honest, and this is going to sound bad, I'm not thorougly familiar with the basics of our election law. I should have paid attention more in my political science class (This was one of the few times in college where I didn't read the textbook. I had a job at the time). I only recently, after the last election, was made aware about the electoral college and how sometimes those who win the popular vote don't win the election. I'm not sure I really have a well formed opinion of that or the law you describe. My gut feeling is that it is somewhat odd that those who win the popular vote don't win the election, and seems kind of unfair, but then, I don't know enough about it to feel confident in commenting further.

      Regarding citizens united, I did a hub giving my opinion on the campaign finance controversy a couple of months ago, and don't really feel like reiterating my opinions about that. I will say that that my support for citizens united is more complex than merely saying corporations are people and money is speech. Those slogans are kind of simplistic, and don't capture my opinion.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Hi, Brad. The concept of the National Popular Vote bill, from what I've read about it, is for individual states to pass a bill promising that that state will assign all of its electoral college votes to whichever candidate for President gets a majority (or the most??) of the popular vote. Some states have already passed the bill. If enough states pass it, then the occasional situation of the candidate with the most votes losing the election would not happen anymore. Also every vote would count and not, in some situations, only those in "swing states". In the recent election, President Obama handily won both the popular vote and the electoral college vote, but there could be a situation in which the swing states gave a candidate the needed electoral college votes before he or she went on to lose the popular vote. That would not happen if enough states passed the National Popular Vote bill. Constitutionally I guess states have the authority to do what they like with their electoral college votes. Ask Google for more details and to check if I understand it right.

      I'll give the gun rights controversy some thought. Maybe I'll think aloud in a hub.

      Citizens United says that corporations are persons and money is speech, both of which are dubious positions. Do they make sense and ring true for you?

      Although I do like an anonymous quote I came upon: "That money talks I can't deny; I heard it once -- it said good-bye."

    • Brad C. L. profile image

      Brad C. L. 5 years ago

      Hi, B Leekley. No, I don't have a blog. this is pretty much the only place I express my opinions on the internet. I read blogs a lot, but don't comment much. I suppose we could have a dialogue here, if you want. I don't see any contradiction in favoring civil liberties and also citizens united. Political speech is a civil liberty. I see more of a contradiction with those who support some civil liberties, but not others, like liberals who support abortion rights but oppose gun rights, or conservatives who support gun rights but not gay marriage rights, etc. Anyway, I wouldn't say I'm 100% consistent on everything, but the lack of consistency in civil liberties support from both major parties has been something that has always puzzled me. I could go on, but I'll stop here. I've never heard of the national popular vote bill.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up and Interesting. I campaigned for President Obama even though I think he is far too conservative and more of a moderate Republican than a Democrat. I'd like to see progressives (meaning politicians with good sense and admirable values) elected to all branches and levels of government. I'm curious about your positions, for which you argue very well. Do you have a blog, where I could ask questions in a perhaps lengthy dialogue? Like how can you logically favor both civil liberties and Citizens United? What is your opinion of the National Popular Vote bill? And more.

    • cprice75 profile image

      cprice75 5 years ago from USA

      Using the argument that voting for a person with no chance of winning is a wasted would mean that voting for Romney or Obama in certain states would have been a wasted vote. Because of the Electoral College, individual votes matter in relatively few states. In Florida and Ohio, a few votes can switch the election. I live in North Dakota. Romney won by about 20% over Obama. In that instance, voting for Obama was a wasted vote if one uses the normal argument. The converse would have been true in a place like DC that went about 90-10 for Obama. In DC, voting for Romney was a wasted vote using that line of thinking. I looked at the wide margin as a chance to voice disapproval of the status quo because I knew that the 3 electoral votes were going to Romney regardless of my vote.

    • Brad C. L. profile image

      Brad C. L. 5 years ago

      Mandy M.S.: Yeah, i really object to excessive military budgets and irresponsible wars, and don't really object as much to a social safety net, so I can see where you are coming from. And I do think a collapse is inevitable at this point, until we get someone who is fiscally responsible on spending, including overseas wars.

    • Brad C. L. profile image

      Brad C. L. 5 years ago

      To Ib radmasters: A few things. You seem to be making some unwarranted assumptions about me. This is typical of people who are loyal to a party. You don't have to tell me that Obama has been a failure. I don't like his stimulus, I don't like his bailouts. In fact, the only thing I really like about him is his positions on abortion and gay marriage, and that is small fries. But I just didn't feel like voting for Romney as an alternative, considering how dishonest and flaky he was, in addition to his irresponsible positions on military spending and vague plans about reducing the debt. I don't owe my votes to anybody. If the republican party wanted my vote, they should have picked a better candidate. And I didn't put up Romeny as an "ideal' republican. He is typical of the big government clowns who the GOP have put up the last decade, but I would have considered voting for mitch daniels, had he been the nominee. More importantly, I'm not a republican. And Romney really wouldn't have been the lesser of two evils for me, because he would have increased the debt. At least with gridlock, spending will be held back for a bit.

      It's certainly true that Johnson had no chance of winning, but that's a self fulfilling prophecy, isn't it? People always say nobody will vote for the third party candidate so they won't either, even if they agree with them the most. the more people buy into this logic, the more we will get the same crap over and over. And it always strikes me as odd that the same people who desire a third party refuse to vote for one, still caught up in the bs. system of voting against the other guy. You really think my or your one vote really matters in the grand scheme of things? Especially since I live in Maryland, which was hardly a swing state. A wasted vote is for someone you don't believe in, and that's what a vote for Romney would be for me.

      That is all.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 5 years ago from Southern California


      It would take a hub to write all the comments I have against the items you mentioned in your hub.

      Flat out, you didn't vote in the 2012 election. A Libertarian in that election had no chance at all. You knew that your candidate wasn't in the race, and yet you voted a throwaway vote.

      Mitt Romney's own party didn't agree with him, but you still want to cast him in with your icon of a republican. You put down Romney for not giving the details of his economic plan, but Obama didn't even have a plan, much less details.

      Also, he didn't implement one other than his failed $800 billion stimulus package. Verification of that failure was the Federal Reserve Board saying that until the economy shows signs of recovery they were going to invest $40 billion a month into MBS until the economy showed signs of recovery.

      Obama spent this entire year pandering for votes back and forth across the country, when he wasn't playing golf. He could have implemented his plan this year, but he really doesn't have a plan.

      If you think that Romney was a poor choice, then you have to realize that the Libertarian party was a worse choice. The Libertarians may have some good ideas, but they don't have recognition by the voters as a viable party, or a party that resonates with the people.

      So you would rather have the country reelect a president that FAILED the country and couldn't even meet his election promises. So now in 2012, he has new promises and you don't care.

      The US has had the Democrats and Republicans providing presidential election candidates of the lesser of two evils for the last one hundred years. The Libertarian party is like Saturday Night Live politics,

      I would like to see a third party, but there are too many blind loyal democrat, and republican voters. In fact, I would like to see the structure of congress changed from its gridlock dem/rep of today.

      For example, if a democrat win then the republican voters are not represented, and vice verse. Additionally the independents have no representation in either case.

      For the senate, I would add an additional senator. Then I would fix the party of each senator. One D One R and One I. So most of the people in the country would be represented. The country has grown to over three hundred million so the increase in the size of congress wouldn't be unreasonable. So at every election, all three parties would be representing their voters. This would also promote more concessions between the parties because of the I senator.

      The same would be true of the house. Again, the size of the country today almost demands an increase of representation, and more diverse than it is today.

      For the Presidency, the president would be the one getting the most popular voters, and the second place would become the VP. This is independent of their party. So unlike today, the D and R and I would be represented in both Congress and the Executive office.

      The problem with this plan is the life long attachment of most voters to cling to their party, like it was a marriage, until death.

    • Kyricus profile image

      Tony 5 years ago from Ohio

      I voted for Gary Johnson also, and have voted libertarian, not only on the national ticket, but locally for at least 8 years.

      No vote is wasted except those not cast, and those cast for the same parties and same people, and expecting a different outcome than what they've already given us.

    • Mandy M S profile image

      Mandy M S 5 years ago

      I WOULD have voted for Ron Paul had he been on the ballot, but I couldn't vote for Mit Romney. I am for a small government, but I feel if a government HAS to be large, it's largeness should go towards people not corporations and war. I had hope for Ron Paul, but now I think it will take a collapse to make the change happen. I wish they hadn't bailed everyone out in 2008. We would be rebuilding our sunken boat stronger and better than before instead of trying to bail water out of our sinking ship. Oh well, we all know it can't go on forever. Who is the next Libertarian star?