An open letter to Ron Paul fans on the limitations of radical political candidates

Dear Ron Paul Supporter,

Do you honestly believe that your candidate has a chance in hell of winning the primaries, much less the general elections?

I could cite results from every reputable polling organization that show Ron Paul with less than 3% of the vote, but I have a feeling that you will find some reason for their bias, and point to the online polls that Ron Paul forums enthusiastically and systematically flood as evidence of his imminent triumph.  Dr Paul himself has repeatedly stated that his campaign is about the message – a message that most news commentators cannot understand, much less inform the public about.  Online communities make for good news quips, but the “archaic” gold standard, or the question of whether Ron Paul is an isolationist is far beyond what news commentators can be expected to understand.

Despite this, it is undeniable that the success of Ron Paul’s campaign has been a surprise to just about everyone, and tapped into some hidden resource that few suspected of existing.  Perhaps it really is the power of the Internet, coupled with public discontent with the presidential administration and congressional incompetence.  Perhaps people are really uniting around a leader who offers radical new ideas rather than yet another personality cult.  Even if his current support base is just a fraction of what is to come, does it really amount to anything?

When the election is over a little less than a year from now, will any of it matter?  Ron Paul will probably face defeat in the first few primaries, and if he chooses to run on the Libertarian ticket, he will get the usual 1-3% of the vote.  What will all the millions he raised and all the hours his volunteers spent mean then?  Even if by some miracle, he were to win, it would be of little
practical consequence.  Like all politicians, presidents wield their power by cutting deals and compromising left and right.  Without willingness to compromise on all his principles, President Paul will be lucky if he is not impeached in the first week.

I am not saying that Ron Paul is the wrong candidate to support.  I am questioning the premise that radical political ideologies can or should be advocated through political campaigns.  This fact has been aptly demonstrated by the pathetic failure of the Libertarian Party over the last 30+ years.  The Left has been much better at recognizing the failure of explicitly Marxist political movements early in the 20th century, and successfully shifted the focus of American politics by establishing a firm foundation in academia and then infiltrating both major

Whatever your particular political philosophy, it is not even that likely that Ron Paul is a great match for it.  Whether it is his anti-immigration views, his promise of saving social security, his blame-America foreign policy, his borderline theocratic positions, or his support for the state as such, he is unlikely to be a perfect fit for anyone.  Much of his success is in fact due to moderating or hiding the most radical aspects of his libertarianism, such as masking his support for free trade by his opposition to free-trade agreements, or his scapegoating of “illegal aliens seeking the fruits of your labor” as part of his plan to save Social Security.

An educational movement does not need to hide its radical views.  Sure, you might not raise five or six million dollars in a day, but the resources you do have will be spent on spreading ideas, rather than a name and a number in the polls.  Even an extra million votes is not going to make a bit of difference in the general election, but a thousand more students motivated to spread rational ideas on liberty can change the world.

I am not telling you to remove that Ron Paul bumper sticker.  Just recognize the inherent limitations of radical political candidates in a two party democracy, and consider supporting educational organizations that will never have to compromise or hide their principles in order to spread their message.

[Follow up post.]

Voting is not a right

The next time you hear someone going on about the “right to
vote,” remind them than voting is not a right – it’s a coercive power wielded by
the voting minority over a society.  Rights
denote the extent of action men may take without initiating force against
others.  Voting is force, the power to compel others at the point of a gun.  Media campaigns that attempt to “rock the
vote,” are advocating putting guns in the hands of more people, usually those
least motivated to make informed decisions about whom their ballots target.  The ultimate purpose of the democratic process is to redistribute the moral responsibility of the group with the most guns to the entire electorate.

Voting is the worst kind of political apathy

Most economists agree that from a cost-benefit perspective,
the cost of voting far outweighs any material benefit. For example, in a
presidential election, your vote is one out of 120+ million. Your chance of
casting a tie-breaking vote is infinitesimally small, so small that you could
win million-dollar lottery jackpots
thousands of times before casting a
tie-breaker. This is especially true in states dominated by a single party,
such as Texas, New York, or California. Even in the 2000 Presidential election,
your Florida vote would only have changed Bush’s 537 vote margin to 536 or 538.   Politicians do care about their margin of
victory, but from the perspective of the individual deciding how to best invest
his limited resources, his impact is so infinitesimal that it does not have any
practical value.

Furthermore, even if your candidate does win, all you “win” is a bag of mixed promises
which are not always likely to be kept, and even less likely to be actually
achieved. In the 2006 general elections, the Democrats were sworn into power
due to public discontent with Bush’s policy in Iraq. Despite Democratic
promises and their congressional majority, they have not enacted any of their
promises. Whatever the reason, it is clear that electoral victory alone cannot
guarantee the achievement of campaign promises, and certainly not from their
power as individual politicians. Even the president has relatively limited
power in a democratic system.

Some might argue that if everyone else evaluated voting in this manner, things
might be different.  But the fact is that
people do continue to vote by the tens of millions.

None of this is to say that electoral victories are meaningless
or inconsequential, or that political activism is not important or practical.  Interventionist governments have a tremendous
impact on our lives, and thanks to technologies like the Internet, we have more
opportunities than ever to engage in intellectual and political activism.  However, of all the means we have to
influence the political process, voting is one of the least effective, second perhaps,
to swearing under your breath as you give away half your income to the state.

As a form of political activism, voting is not only ineffective,
but is in fact a form of apathy. The value of any single vote is so
infinitesimal that the sense of self-importance and influence in the political
process that people get from participating in the electoral process is entirely
illusory. Yet the illusion of participation excuses many people from taking
real steps to influence policy by arguing for their ideas, writing letters, or supporting
advocacy organizations.  The people who really
make a difference are those who take far more intellectually challenging and
uncertain measures than punching one of two buttons – they attempt to change
the intellectual and philosophical climate of their society.

If you vote because of the psychological benefit it
provides, such as a feeling of having met one’s patriotic duty, there is
nothing I can say to you.  But if you
actually want to influence the political state of the country (and given that
sad state, that is more crucial now than ever) it would be far more productive
of your time to donate the resources you would have spent researching
candidates, going to the polls, and even donating to candidates in more
efficient ways. 

Washington lobbyists are very expensive, yet they can be
more influential than the votes of millions of individuals, and they will argue
for your cause regardless of which candidate is victorious.  Ultimately however, the fate of any society
is shaped by the fundamental ideas of its intellectuals.  All the votes in the world are meaningless
next to the fundamental ideas about society that shape policymakers actions. 

If you are concerned with the threat of theocracy, your
enemy is not George W. Bush, but the aspiring theocrats teaching the next
generation of policymakers, cashing in on the void left by the destruction of
reason and science by modern philosophy. 
If you are concerned with the threat of the welfare state, your enemy is
not Ted Kennedy, but the intellectuals teaching the next generation of leaders
that they do not have a right to their own life. 

Politicians are rarely capable of coming up with original
ideas – they depend on the intellectual elite of a society for their
initiatives.  As intellectual elite changes,
so do the ideas they feed to politicians.