What's the Difference?


Column by Paul Hein.

Exclusive to STR

Let’s pretend that something quite momentous and unprecedented will happen in the next election. First, there will be two candidates for president. No surprise there. Now for the incredible part: both candidates will actually take their oath of office seriously! No, really! I know it’s unthinkable, but think about it anyway.

We know the Constitution is rather toothless in preserving our freedoms, but even so, if those who swear to adhere to it actually did so, life in these United States would change dramatically, and for the better. Besides, you cannot jump from crypto-fascism to freedom in a single bound, like Superman leaping over those tall buildings. A Constitutional government would be a step in the right direction--toward anarchy in a future beyond the lifespan of most of us.

So: For whom would you vote? Would it matter?

Now let’s consider another alternative, not at all unprecedented, but an absolute certainty. In this situation, there are, again, two candidates for the presidency. Neither of them will give a rap about the Constitution. Both have been bought and paid for by special interest groups who will dictate the policies to be implemented and the procedures to be followed.

So: for whom would you vote? Would it matter?

What’s more, would it matter who voted? What if only men could vote, or only women, or both, or adults of either sex plus children of at least 18 years? Regardless of who voted, the next president would be either an oath-adherent constitutionalist, or a constitution-be-damned tyrant.

If I should happen to mention, in the course of conversation, that I do not plan to vote in the next national election, the reaction of my listeners is often one of shock, almost always accompanied by the declaration: “Well, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain about the government!” When that happens, I ask, “Have you ever traveled on an airplane?” If the answer is “yes,” as it usually is, I ask “Did you vote for the pilot?” Of course, they hadn’t cast a vote for the pilot, the co-pilot, or any other member of the crew. For that matter, they’ve never voted for the driver of the bus, the engineer of the train, or the captain of the boat. In fact, they think my question is silly.

But why is it silly? Because the airline, or bus line, or railroad, or cruise company would not knowingly hire a pilot, driver, engineer, captain, etc., who wasn’t qualified for the job. When you see the uniformed pilot, with four stripes on the jacket sleeve, walk into the cockpit, it matters little, if at all, if it’s a male, female, black, white, or yellow. He or she wouldn’t be in charge if not capable of doing the job. If the bus driver was drunk, and drove his bus into a ravine, causing you injury, would you be precluded from suing the company because you didn’t vote for the driver? If a person assigned certain responsibilities fails to perform accordingly, you are certainly entitled to complain, whether you voted for him or not.

My wife and I were on a river cruise, years ago, when the captain of the ship received word that his wife was in labor. He left the ship at the next port, and his second-in-command took his place. Were we filled with apprehension? Of course not. The cruise proceeded without a hitch. Although we had probably been told the name of the captain and his first mate at some time, we had forgotten them. It didn’t matter.

In the upcoming election, there will be a great concern about who gets the job. Partisan arguments will be heated. A similar concern will be shown about the electorate. Will every qualified person get to vote? Will the election be rigged? Will certain votes not be counted?

But, again, if both candidates would actually limit themselves to the somewhat minor responsibilities of the presidency as outlined in the Constitution, why would any of these things matter? Equally, if both candidates were going to ignore their oath of office, why would the election matter?

Voting is like being given a choice of illnesses: tuberculosis, or diabetes? “None of the above” is not a viable option, at least on the ballot. Except that in an election, there is a “none-of-the-above” option: it is staying at home on Election Day. To those who complain that if you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain about the atrocities of government, it might be pointed out that if you DO vote, you share some responsibility for those atrocities. And with history as a sure and reliable guide, you can be reasonably certain that whoever is elected at the next election, the atrocities will continue.

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Paul Hein's picture
Columns on STR: 150


Samarami's picture

Your take on voting is absolutely on target. If you believe you are going to suffer only one of a number of illnesses, and that you have a choice, or vote, as to which illness, then you will probably do well to go ahead and vote for the "good" sickness -- and against the "bad" one. Engaging in politics is indeed playing one sickness against another.

What will make a difference is the extent to which you declare yourself sovereign -- and believe in your own choice of liberty. If you believe psychopaths grouped into that abstraction we call "the state" have jurisdiction over you, you are correct. If you believe they do not, you are also correct.

Of course if a dangerously-armed badge-carrying loon in costume pulls you over, he has "jurisdiction" at that place and time -- just as does the armed robber who accosts you on a dark street. You have an advantage with the free-market robber, however. S/he knows s/he is a robber.

I always believe a man with a loaded gun. And a woman (L-rd have mercy!)

You do, in fact, "vote" for the pilot or bus driver -- except to the extent that nowadays transportation is incestuously connected to agents of government, and in many cases IS government (AMTRAK). I often end my comments with "abstain from beans" (don't vote) -- a short essay in which the late Robert Le fevre taught that we place legitimate "votes" whenever we select one product or service over another in the free marketplace.

Your article is well-taken, Paul. Sam

Paul's picture

"Besides, you cannot jump from crypto-fascism to freedom in a single bound, like Superman leaping over those tall buildings."

Hmmm, I have at least some reservations about this statement (putting on my conventional political hat for the moment). For example, New Zealand made a significant jump in the direction of liberty a while back, by goring everybody's ox at the same time. If they had done it piecemeal, the usual interest group politics would have arisen to stop it. It's one thing for people to recognize that the system cannot go on as it is; another thing entirely for one interest to be singled out for the sacrifice.

However, maybe this is picking at nits, since "going actually Constitutional" surely qualifies as at least as large as the improvements in New Zealand. About the only drawback I can see, is that ordinary people would resume their belief in the government religion, which is looking pretty shaky at the moment. So I'm not sure in the end that Constitutional government would look better for anarchists.

"But, again, if both candidates would actually limit themselves to the somewhat minor responsibilities of the presidency as outlined in the Constitution, why would any of these things matter?"

True, as far as that goes. But your argument has a flaw here. What if one candidate would adhere to the Constitution, and the other would go Hitler? Then it surely would make a difference, as you have already admitted that Constitutional government is way better than the current situation. Then voting makes sense, and even I would do it. This assumes their positions are evident and they are not lying.

Of course the reality is that a true Constitutionalist will never become President. But it is certainly within the realm of possibility that one candidate is substantially worse than the other, and that that information is reliable enough. Doesn't voting make sense then? Don't we expect people to act in their own interest?

I cannot bring myself to condemn voting per se. Sometimes it makes sense to support a better candidate, assuming it's possible to detect that he actually is. Sometimes it makes sense to support the worse candidate, if you think the situation is not recoverable conventionally and that a societal reset is in order. And sometimes it makes sense not to vote, if both candidates are odious or you can't detect which one is better - or even if you can, that the need to be independent of the system, or to condemn the whole system trumps any difference you can detect.

I happen to think the latter happens with overwhelming frequency, so in effect I am a non-voter, and encourage others not to vote. The election is usually between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

From LeFevre's article: "When we express a preference politically, we do so precisely because we intend to bind others to our will."

I like LeFevre's article, but I think this is largely wrong. To whatever extent one can determine the intentions of others (not much), the dominant reason seems more to be some variation of "less harm to me" than of "I want to screw my neighbor". It would be interesting to add an "opt out" vote in an election, anyone voting that way getting to opt out of the laws passed by the winner of that election. I bet a lot of people would take it.

Also, intentions hardly matter, do they? Who cares what people intend? What matters is what they do.