It’s depressing to be a libertarian. We usually spend election night with our few friends in a watering hole or in our parents’ basement listening to Rush albums. Libertarians are smarter than voters who blindly vote Democrat or support the Republicans who do more preaching about limited government than actually practicing it — that’s what we tell ourselves. Instead of embracing the candidate who most closely represents our ideals of limited government, free-market economy and personal responsibility, we cast third-party ballots. Driven by stubbornness, we refuse to vote for the lesser of the two evils. But at least we stick to our principles — or do we?
Libertarians are like know-it-all teenagers. It isn’t until we grow up and experience life that we come to accept the reality that America is a two-party system and the only way to implement change is by winning elections. That means our ideals have to be embraced by one of the two major parties, and that is where we get the libertarian wing of the Republican Party.
Still, too many libertarians have decided that there is no difference between the two major parties. Others believe that social conservatives still control the GOP and that Democrats despise capitalism and want to bring European-style socialism to our country. Therefore, they continue to vote for their third party — often becoming part of the problem instead of the solution.
In 2010, true libertarian ideals emerged inside the GOP. The self-proclaimed party of limited government, with the help of Tea Partyers, elected a new wave of free-market idealists. Millions of Americans woke up one morning to the harsh reality that government-controlled health care had arrived. Government was growing at an unprecedented rate, the deficit was out of control and the economic theories of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman were trumped by the Keynesian school of thought.
But this may not be good enough for libertarian ideologues who won’t cast a vote for the GOP unless it embraces legalizing drugs, closing our military bases and eliminating the Transportation Security Administration.
Most polls in America have the race for the White House within a few percentage points. On the day I wrote this commentary, Rasmussen had Mitt Romney up by 4 percentage points, while Gallup has President Obama leading by 2 points. The Rasmussen poll shows that 4 percent are supporting another candidate.
Last month, pollster John Zogby revealed that in a survey conducted in tandem with The Washington Times, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson received more than 5 percent of the vote. That number may seem minuscule, but as Mr. Zogby pointed out, “Sometimes, 5 percent is bigger than 5 percent. It’s bigger than it appears, especially in the battleground states, where it’s very competitive.”
History tends to repeat itself, especially when it comes to politics. Twenty years ago, many disappointed conservatives could not vote for George H.W. Bush in his bid for re-election. Nineteen percent of the voters cast ballots for independent Ross Perot. Mr. Bush lost to Bill Clinton by less than 6 percentage points. In 2000, Al Gore wasn’t liberal enough for 97,488 Floridians who cast ballots for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. George W. Bush won the state by 537 votes and became president of the United States.
Disgruntled ideologues always help elect the candidate that is furthest from their ideals.
The election of 2012 promises to be no different. Under Mr. Obama, America has experienced relentless expansion of the federal government. Policies that limit economic freedom and promote an entitlement society will be the current administration’s legacy — an ideology that represents the very antithesis of libertarian philosophy.
Mr. Romney is obviously not an ideal candidate for libertarians. His record as governor of Massachusetts does not inspire limited-government advocates to jump for joy. But there is little doubt that he would not be the big-government advocate that Mr. Obama has been.
Mr. Romney understands that free-market capitalism is our nation’s only hope if we don’t want an 8 percent unemployment rate to be the new norm. He understands that our nation prospers when government gets out of the way of American ingenuity and — dare I say — exceptionalism.
Simply put, he believes in the power of a free people — not bloated and intrusive government.
Libertarian voters will have a choice this November. They can vote for Mr. Romney, stop the expansion of government and give the marketplace an opportunity to repair our nation. Or they can cast third-party ballots and spend election night in self-righteous consolation about their roles in granting the government greater power.
But they stuck to their principles! No, they didn’t.
Paul Miller is a principal of Pauliegroup LLC, a Chicago-area new media and political consulting firm.
By John Solomon
How the government's punishing of the exposure of official wrongdoing can linger for years