As debates go, last night was a bloodbath. Mitt Romney somehow (maybe it was the chipotle?) transformed himself into a master of disputation. He looked confident, spoke well, maintained eye contact, and kept the incumbent on his heels all night.
That said, did he persuade me last night that he’d make a great leader for our country? No. But today I want to do something that may surprise you… and it’s sort of surprising me, too. But because I really do believe what I said in my last post, I have to be willing to question my convictions and make sure that something as important as my vote can be done with integrity. So I’m looking at reasons why an enthusiastic Ron Paul supporter might want to vote for a man whom Paul himself refuses to endorse.
I’m going to do this by way of interacting with a post Dan Phillips published yesterday, which represents the more persuasive arguments I’ve yet read in favor of voting for Romney despite my many objections to his positions on the role and size of government, the economy, foreign policy, etc. Phillips is brash and condescending, but the points he makes are worthy of reflection. I encourage you — especially those of you who, like me, are conservative Christians who throw up in your mouth a little bit at the thought of voting for Romney this Fall — to read his post. If our convictions are based on a true foundation, they can stand up to this kind of questioning:
This election’s choice: Romney, third-party (= Obama), or don’t vote (=Obama)? by Dan Phillips
Now, let me take this article in sections:
Reasons for voting third-party
Phillips’ analysis of reasons why many Christians choose to vote third-party is pretty accurate. The promise of immediate “fixes” to the ailments of government is alluring but impractical. What he calls “incrementalism” is indeed what is needed. Those who think a third-party candidate could instantly reverse decades of decay are kidding themselves. That said, guys like Gary Johnson and Ron Paul are talking about making incremental rather than drastic changes. More on this later.
Also in this opening section is a link to a clip from a John MacArthur sermon that shouldn’t be missed. He’s a pastor who never talks about politics, but his comparison of the 2012 Democratic Party platform to the “unrighteousness” described in Romans 1:18-32 is incisive and damning. Whatever options are before us as Christian conservatives this Fall, Obama cannot be one of them!
Why a third-party vote this year is foolish and irresponsible
Here Phillips raises six points:
- The “Lesser of Two Evils” Argument — In one sense, this is absolutely correct. All political candidates are fallen and fallible, and that must be taken into consideration. At the same time, is there a difference between saying “the lesser of two evils” and “the lesser of two sinners“? I think so. As someone who has used that phrase before, perhaps I should clarify. I’m a firm believer in the power of the free market, and do consider economics to be a serious ethical issue. So when I say “the lesser of two evils“, what I really mean is “the lesser of two big-government Keynesians“, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring.
- Politics Is the Art of the Possible — Phillips is right that in this Fall’s election, there are only two teams on the field. No third-party candidate has a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming president. And I’m willing to concede that the consequences of one side’s victory are more catastrophic than the other’s. The real problem is that I’m tired of playing this game! However, the point is well taken that this is a Republic, and the likelihood of a viable third party is not in our near future… which is why I applaud the efforts of the “Tea Party” and those such as Ron and Rand Paul who have focused their efforts on bringing reform to the GOP rather than trying to go it alone.
- Third-Party Candidates Will Accomplish Nothing — First off, since when does winning an election mean campaign promises are going to be kept? Obviously the President can’t do things on his own, which is why the executive must be willing to work with his legislature (something Romney does have in his favor) to accomplish anything. But it’s unfair to say that third-party candidates can’t do this. Gary Johnson has a great track record of getting things done in a bipartisan manner while Governor of New Mexico, and Ron Paul has shown that it is very possible to work with people on both sides of the Congressional aisle.
- All Third-Party Candidates Are Immature, Fools, or Liars — This is true if we accept the presupposition that the only purpose in running for office is to win. But it’s often in a “losing” effort that the seeds are planted for future victories (see the Republican Party of the 1850’s, for example). I can’t speak for others, but I think most third-party voters understand that their candidate has no chance of winning. Those who believe strongly enough in a message are willing to invest in its propagation even when they know most won’t receive it… yet.
- I Want to Make a Difference, not a Gesture — When I’m being totally honest with myself, this is what gives me the most pause. What is my motive for wanting to vote third-party? Is it because I genuinely believe I can make a difference, or is it really all about me? Ultimately, though, this comes down to strategy. Assuming I believe that making a difference and making a gesture are not mutually exclusive, what is the best way for me to make a difference? I have one vote, and one voice. Am I best serving the “cause” by voting a particular short-term outcome, or by consistently advocating for better policies? Can I have it both ways? These are tough questions.
- Abortion and Supreme Court Justices — I share Phillips’ concern here. Typically I think the “this is the most important election EVER” rhetoric (which we hear every four years) is totally bunk, but with three SCOTUS members entering their 80’s in the next four years (and another in his late 70’s), this really is a potentially momentous election, as the makeup of our nation’s top court could radically change very quickly, and for a long time. There’s no guarantee Romney would make great appointments (John Roberts, anyone?), but we already know Obama won’t.
So what about not voting?
Is Phillips guilty of a little fear-mongering here? Maybe, but he’s right. Staying on the sidelines is the worst decision you could make (unless you like Obama, in which case not voting is perfectly acceptable). Get involved!
But I’m voting my conscience!
While I agree that Christians often over-use the “conscience card”, and that the conscience can be wrong (1 Tim. 4:2, etc.), I also contend that there is a proper use of the conscience. I believe that people can act with wisdom and obedience to God’s Word, arriving at different conclusions with a clear conscience, without sinning. That said, as of this moment there is not a single name on the presidential ballot for which I could vote with a totally clear conscience… which is why I’m still in the process of informing my conscience.
Romney’s pro-life credentials
There are many reasons I don’t like Mitt Romney, but this isn’t one of them. Sure, he hasn’t had the most consistent past in this area, but that doesn’t mean his conversion to the pro-life cause isn’t genuine. And I actually agree with Romney that putting abortion laws back in the hands of the states is the best strategy to fight abortion.
But he’s a Mormon!
This is the stupidest reason not to vote for Romney. Phillips is exactly right about seeing Romney’s Mormonism as an opportunity for evangelical Christians to explain the true gospel in contrast to Romney’s views.
Where does this leave me?
Still somewhat undecided, for a couple reasons:
- None of the third-party candidates are particularly appealing. Politically I have most in common with Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, but his stance on abortion rules him out in my book — it’s one of the reasons I liked Dr. Paul so much. Pro-life libertarians are a rare breed, but he has been 100% consistent in saying that being pro-life is essential to liberty for his entire political career. The only other third-party candidate that even remotely comes close to matching my political convictions is Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party… a singularly unexciting man who has many policy issues I don’t share.
- I still haven’t forgiven the RNC for their blatant disregard for grassroots voters and party rules. The GOP will continue to employ those type of shenanigans as long as it feels enough disgusted conservatives will vote for them anyway.
- There are still some things that Mitt Romney could do that would win me fully over into his camp. If he gave assurances that the libertarian-leaning wing of the GOP would have some input in his administration (how about Ron Paul for Treasury Secretary and Andrew Napolitano for Attorney General?) voting for him would be a lot easier.
What it finally comes down to for me is this: Is this election really the most critical election of my lifetime? I’m not convinced that it is. For the GOP to change into a truly conservative party, it will have to lose another election to see that guys like Romney, McCain, George Bush (take your pick) and Bob Dole aren’t going to cut it. A Romney win in 2012 puts a “real” change off by at least 8 years… years which will see our national debt continue to skyrocket beyond its already unsustainable levels. Can we afford that?
On the other hand, change can come much quicker in the Legislature than in the Oval Office. As liberty-minded citizens continue to get more and more active in local, state, and Congressional races, the people can begin to wrest power back from the federal government. Perhaps Rand Paul is the future of the Ron Paul Revolution… endorsing an awful Republican candidate in the hopes of having greater influence on the party down the road. At the very least, Romney would be less hostile to liberty than the alternative, if only marginally so.
If Ron Paul had decided to run as an Independent, he’d have my vote in a heartbeat, and my conscience would be totally clear regardless of who won the election. As it stands, though, I can’t quite rule Romney out, much as it sickens me to say so. But if I do vote for him, don’t expect me to be happy about it. He may get my vote after all (still doubtful), but he won’t get my endorsement.
Blech… I need a shower.