For the first time in my life, I’ll be voting for a Democratic candidate for a major public office. I’m not happy to do so, nor I am I particularly excited about the public policy consequences if my chosen candidate is elected. I have been, and will remain, a libertarian who believes in open markets, a free society, a peaceful foreign policy, and good news for the poor. Oddly enough in this strangest of election seasons, the best way to advance such beliefs and to safeguard many of our hard-won liberties is to vote for Hillary Clinton for President.
Unlike the candidates for president in this election and unlike so many other people I hear from in the media or in my normal social life, I refuse to be fearful or pessimistic about the world in which we live. Over the past few decades while most politicians and commentators have preached doom, the world has steadily grown more prosperous, more peaceful, and more free. Poverty has dramatically declined. Crime has greatly fallen. Violence and war are at all time lows. More people live under liberal, representative governments than ever before. There is greater access to technology, medicine, information, and to each other than in any time history. Such progress is overwhelmingly due to technological growth and free people pursuing their own interests. The mistakes of people in government and industry, though many, have been greatly outpaced by human creativity, ingenuity, and hard work. Any candidate for public office, any citizen who offers commentary on the world, and any movement that strives for social change should recognize the world for what it is and why it is changing. Humanity’s long history of poverty, disease, and violence is vanishing. It wasn’t an act of heroism, a noble set of policies, or our religious devotion that has allowed us to escape such horrors. Humanity is doing it by being, well, human. And I have faith that, despite our best efforts, we will continue to be.
I believe human progress by innovation and creativity is natural and inevitable, but setbacks through war, a loss of freedom, and self-destruction are always possible. Political involvement should acknowledge our very real and dramatic progress, but it too should recognize the fragility of the results. The greatest threats to the limitation of progress remain those who oppose technological innovation and oppose human freedom, but the greatest threat to end or reverse progress are those who would bring us to unnecessary violent conflict and war.
It feels strange, as a libertarian who believes in open markets and peaceful foreign relations, to be voting for a person for president who I have long criticized for being in opposition to open markets and for being in favor of a more interventionist and aggressive foreign policy. It also feels strange to be siding with a group of people, Democrats, who I have also long criticized for expressing a belief in ending poverty and ending wars yet have consistently empowered and defended politicians who have enacted economic policies that hinder the economic hopes of the world’s poorest people and who continue to champion war throughout the world. A large part of me would be much more comfortable voting once more for a libertarian whose values better reflect my own on issues of such consequence and part of me would be much more comfortable standing alongside an electorate that not only declares that they want peace and good news for the poor, but actually votes for it. But this election is sadly different.
This election season is different, and not just because the Republican candidate lacks both the qualifications to hold the office and the decency, but also because the Republican candidate and my much preferred Libertarian candidate also lack the basic competency. It is not enough to find a candidate whose conclusions agree with yours on a set of of policies in order to vote for them. We must also find a candidate who arrives at their conclusions in a responsible and competent way. Arriving at a conclusion in responsible and competent way is more important than agreeing with a candidate on policy choices. We’re not only voting for candidates on today’s policy concerns, we’re also empowering them to decide on issues tomorrow that could be radically different. Candidates who arrive at conclusions in incompetent or irresponsible ways cannot be trusted to make new decisions tomorrow when they no longer need your vote to gain power. Neither can such candidates be relied upon to reasonably enact such proposals or to continue to hold such positions after the election. Regardless of a candidate’s position, it is impossible to make a responsible and competent vote for someone who did not arrive at their conclusions in a responsible or competent way. Those who do are incompetent, irresponsible, and immoral voters.
As much as I agree with Gary Johnson on a number of issues, I cannot vote for him. In many ways, his campaign has been refreshing and encouraging. Like me, he’s a libertarian, but he’s not angry about it, nor does he buy into so many of the foolish conspiracies that seem to be appealing to third party voters of all types, particularly among self-professed libertarians. Johnson’s campaign has focused on issues and policy more than most campaigns, and he’s attempted to speak to and gain support from both progressives and conservatives by framing himself as a pragmatic, centrist libertarian, rather than a ideological one, who addresses the failings of both parties on issues of which their constituents are concerned. He’s also shown a tendency to be a genuine human being, which voters claim to want, but punish at polls.
Unfortunately, Johnson fails the basic levels of competency and responsibility in terms of foreign policy, the area in which the president has little to no checks on their power – due in large part to Democratic and Republican presidents unnecessarily seizing such power and Democratic and Republican legislators gleefully relinquishing it in order to avoid responsibility and blame. While I find his foreign policy vision of a less military involvement and less foreign entanglements appealing, can anyone honestly say that he has come to this conclusion through deep knowledge and involvement in foreign affairs? Does he show a basic curiosity about the world beyond the United States? Has he shown a mastery of the issues or the ability to identify and to defer to those who have such skills? Has he shown growth in knowledge or expertise on foreign policy, his area of greatest weakness, since he ran for the office of president four years ago? If no, then how is it possible to successfully implement his desired foreign policy vision in a complex and dangerous world?
The United States is currently engaged in five different wars with airstrikes in at least seven different countries. The United States is engaged in a number of security agreements and alliances with numerous countries ranging from preventing Chinese expansion in the South China Sea to preventing growing Russian influence in Eastern Europe and Western Asia to countering extremist militants in the Middle East, to fighting drug trafficking and violence in the Americas, and to limiting threats posed by rogue nations like North Korea. Reshaping our involvement in these efforts will not be simple and would radically change the political and economic interests of every country involved. It would require extraordinary creativity and flexibility in diplomacy as well as our military and economic efforts.
Gary Johnson is not up to the task, and in attempting to do so, he is just as likely to create more problems than he solves. Perhaps it would be possible for someone to have the right vision, surround themselves with the right expertise, and, over time, build the necessary expertise through overseeing the process. But after Johnson defended himself over his “Aleppo Moment” by claiming that his lack of knowledge of the outside world was a virtue rather than a weakness, it should have become obvious to everyone outside the strictest of ideologues that he’s not that person. A party that calls itself “The Party of Principle” should reject any leader who claims that ignorance is a virtue, particularly on issues related to war and peace at the hands of the state.
As much as our own internal biases want to fight against believing it, competence and responsibility are not partisan. No party is necessarily competent or incompetent. No group necessarily implements its goals in responsible ways. Bad and good policies alike can have horrific outcomes when implemented by incompetent people who believe they can plan for a future that they can clearly see, but who have little interest in seeing the world as it actually is.
Your policy preferences, no matter how noble or wise, are not immune from being ruined by incompetent and irresponsible leaders, especially when they have come to agree with you based on weak reasoning. Such politicians cannot be trusted to implement such a vision, they cannot be trusted to apply it to future issues, and they cannot be trusted to alter their vision as they receive new information or if the circumstances change. As much as I like him, I cannot trust Gary Johnson to be my president.
Hillary Clinton is not my favorite politician. When she’s elected president, I will criticize her when she calls for more aggressive intervention into Syria through no-fly zones and more direct intervention, when she supports an ever-growing and costly regulatory burden on American citizens that punishes the poor and favors the rich, when she placates her base through symbolic gestures on immigration but fails to actually liberalize international flow of labor, and when she continues to take the same lukewarm “managed trade” position that every American president has taken since World War II. I will oppose such policies, but I will be content knowing that I voted for a person who will have a basic level of competence and responsibility in carrying out her chosen policies. I will be sure that there will be an intelligent and capable person carrying out establishmentarian goals, which while not perfect, is a far better outcome than an unqualified and incurious person carrying out new, and often, radical ideas with little ability or desire to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of such changes.
To libertarians who continue to support Johnson despite his many flaws, I encourage you to take the advice that you have so often given to Democrats and Republicans. If you keep voting for them due to the letter next to their name rather than their policies and competence, you’re going to keep getting the same low quality candidates that you deserve. It’s time that libertarians demand more than just ex-Republicans with name recognition and imagined broad appeal. We deserve better. We deserve someone who can not only set forth a vision, but who can actually defend and understand it. We will only get there if you vote for it, and if you stop supporting libertarian candidates who fall short. Unless we actively engage in vetting candidates on more than just how well they flame against the other two major parties, there’s more disappointing Gary Johnson types ahead of us, and the best choice for libertarians will still, sadly be, someone from another party.
Until such a time comes, I’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton, and will gladly live in a world growing freer, safer, and more prosperous under her leadership.