In a world of politics devoid of principle, is picking the “least bad” the best we can do?
In the Wall Street Journal last week, James Taranto interviews Jeffrey Bell, the author of “The Case for Polarized Politics.” Cutting against the prevailing wisdom on the relative electability of Rick Santorum, Bell makes the point that Republicans tend to win on social issues arguments and lose on economic arguments:
Social conservatism, Mr. Bell argues in his forthcoming book, “The Case for Polarized Politics,” has a winning track record for the GOP. “Social issues were nonexistent in the period 1932 to 1964,” he observes. “The Republican Party won two presidential elections out of nine, and they had the Congress for all of four years in that entire period. . . . When social issues came into the mix—I would date it from the 1968 election . . . the Republican Party won seven out of 11 presidential elections.”
This may be true. It certainly seems compelling. However, it also makes me sad.
Ultimately, this seems to be good evidence for the idea that the worst ideas of the Republican Party are the most attractive ideas to Republican voters, and that the worst ideas of the Democratic Party are the most attractive ideas to Democratic voters. Also, and most depressingly, the swing vote seems to be irredeemably stupid.
Not that anything about the depressing nature of politics surprises me at this point, but it raises an interesting question. Given the choice between Barack Obama, who we know is a terrible president on all fronts, and Rick Santorum, who would at least have a chance to be merely mediocre on a few issues, whom do you pick? Do vote Libertarian? Do you run away screaming? Move to Canada?
In other words, from a small-“l” libertarian perspective, is bad the best we can do?
Make no mistake about it: even on traditional pet issues of the left like civil liberties and war, Obama is nobody’s friend. Neither would Santorum be, but we would know that going in. Is it better to roll the dice on a Santorum budget than take the inevitable reaming that would come from four more years of Obama? Perhaps more importantly, would it be preferable to get another Samuel Alito over another Sonia Sotomayor?
I go back and forth. On the one hand, the tea party groundswell of the last few years might serve to keep Santorum at least relatively honest on economic issues. On the other hand, Santorum may be a conservative Trojan horse, who like George W. Bush before him gets elected on lower-spending rhetoric and therefore gets a pass from his Republican base when he balloons spending. Like we saw with George W., the latter circumstance could easily set the stage for a disastrous follow-up act.
Without a crystal ball, I am not sure that there is any way of knowing this for sure. My hope is that we do not end up with the Hobson’s Choice of Santorum vs. Obama, but I am not so sure we will be that lucky.
I have not made a decision. Have you? Feel free to let me know in the comments.