Is There a Libertarian Argument for another Four Years of Barack Obama?

Daniel J. Mitchell
|
Posted: Nov 01, 2012 12:01 AM

From a rational perspective, the logical choice is not voting. After all, the odds of your vote making a difference are infinitesimally small.

But that’s if you view voting as an “investment” choice – i.e., you taking time and effort to do X in hopes of getting Y in return.

The other view is that voting is a “consumption” choice – i.e., something we do for enjoyment, like eating a hamburger or going to a movie. You recognize your vote almost surely won’t matter, but you do it because it gives you pleasure to vote for someone (or, in my case, it gives you pleasure to vote against someone).

Now let’s consider libertarians, conservatives, and other advocates of small government. Regardless of whether they’re investment voters or consumption voters, what should they do this election?

You could take an online test and see which candidate matches your views.

Mike Godwin of Reason, however, says you should vote for Barack Obama. Though he starts out by suggesting that most of us should vote for the Libertarian candidate.

…if you’re a Libertarian who’s not in a swing state – you live in California, maybe, or Texas – there’s no compelling reason for you to cast your vote for anyone other than Gary Johnson.

But then he argues that voters in battleground states should prefer Obama over Romney.

…you should give some thought to voting for Obama as the lesser of the two big-government, Harvard-educated evils. …Romney seems perfectly capable of adopting a liberal government program when it suits him. While Romney officially opposes Obamacare, it’s scarcely different from the health-care reform Romney presided over in Massachusetts.

I suspect most supporters of limited government won’t disagree with his assertion that Romney is squishy, but then Godwin goes off the reservation.

…there actually is a libertarian argument for Obamacare. …a truly universal system is the best option for maximizing health-care efficiencies. And if we can preserve some aspects of competition among insurers (which Obamacare, mimicking the health-care plan proposed by the GOP to counter Bill Clinton’s efforts at health-care reform, attempts to do), that’s all to the good. But there’s an even stronger libertarian argument for Obamacare. Namely, it frees more Americans to take better jobs without worrying about losing the health care plan they had in their old jobs. Worker mobility is one of the things that reliably fuels free enterprise, and workers will be more mobile under Obamacare than they would be under Romney’s semi-dismantled version of it.

I obviously disagree, but Godwin isn’t being crazy. Indeed, he’s basically echoing the pro-mandate position that was advanced by my former colleagues at the Heritage Foundation.

This is a reasonable position if you start from the premise that there’s no way of unwinding most of the existing government policies that have prevented markets from operating in the healthcare sector. That’s not my view, so I’m merely saying Godwin has a legitimate point, not that he’s right.

Getting back to his pro-Obama argument, he closes with discussion of social issues.

…let me underscore three points where Obama is surely closer to libertarians than Romney is. One of these is abortion rights, self-evidently. …Another is immigration. …A third quasi-libertarian position is Obama’s late-arriving but still-welcome stance on gay marriage.

I don’t find these arguments compelling. Libertarians are not monolithically pro-life or pro-choice. But to the extent there’s unanimity, they agree that Roe v. Wade was a nonsensical decision and that the issue should be decided by state legislatures. Which sort of makes them allies with Republicans, even if they don’t necessarily agree with how states should handle the issue.

I’m also more skeptical of immigration amnesty than the average libertarian, largely because I agree with Milton Friedman about the risks of combining open borders with a welfare state.

And I also think marriage should be a private institution with no role for government, though if you read the details of the article, it appears that Godwin has the same perspective.

“Me, the choice of libertarians?!?”

To summarize, I don’t find Godwin’s arguments convincing. If he really wanted to convince conservatives, libertarians, and other supporters of small government that Obama was the right choice, he should have argued that Romney would be another big-government statist like Bush. That’s a very compelling argument, as you can see from this list of Romney transgressions.

He even could have made the argument that keeping Obama for an additional four years would be the best way of laying the groundwork for a Reagan-style victory in 2016 with a presumably small-government advocate like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, or Paul Ryan at the top of the ticket. That would have caught my attention since my first political decision was to favor Carter over Ford in 1976 in hopes of paving the way for Reagan in 1980.

By the way, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong to vote for Romney, Obama, or Johnson. My job is to focus on policy, not politics. But it is the silly season of politics, so I can’t resist making some observations.