In September of 1992, as the presidential election pitting George H. W. Bush against Bill Clinton loomed, libertarian theorist and all-around political junkie Murray Rothbard wrote a piece, “Making Our Way Back to the President,” in which he explained the key difference between voting for (i.e. politically supporting) a candidate, and “rooting for” one:
“Whom should we cheer for on Election Day? Whom should we hope wins the election? Voting is a matter of personal conscience, and can be for one of many minor candidates or for no one at all; rooting on who should win is a different problem, because regardless of who you or I vote for, or whether we vote at all, one of the two major candidates is sure to win in November. Whom should we hope wins, or are all the considerations so equally weighted that we should be indifferent? Regardless of our hopes, no minor candidate will win, and the office of President, alas, will not be declared vacant. … In 1992, I am indifferent to whom one votes for, but I’m definitely rooting for Bush over Clinton.”
The reason? Well, wrote Rothbard, “he ain’t Bill Clinton.” Irrefutable, to be sure. Reason number two:
“Bush has by far the most pro-American policy on the Middle East since Jack Kennedy: he is the only president since Kennedy not to serve as a lickspittle for the state of Israel, the only one not to function as an abject tool of the powerful Zionist lobby, AIPAC, which somehow escapes being a registered agent of the State of Israel. The greatest credit, of course, goes to secretary of state James Baker, who formulated the policy and maintained it under the most vicious pressure. But Bush deserves credit for picking Baker and backing him up: further, with only a little stretching, Bush-Baker can take credit for the Israeli election that deposed the little monster Shamir, and brought in a more rational government in Israel. Bush-Baker stood firm on denying the $10 billion loan guarantee until Zionist settlements are slowed down on the Arab lands of the West Bank.”
Reason number three: Bush the elder resisted calls to intervene in Bosnia, where Bosnian Muslims and their American supporters — including the usual gaggle of neocons — were raising phony cries of “genocide” and demanding war in the name of “humanitarianism.”
Reason number four: Bush had “reconciled” with Pat Buchanan, who ran on an anti-interventionist platform in the primaries, and had been invited to speak at the GOP national convention that year.
While I sometimes disagreed with Murray when he was till living, I find, in retrospect, that I was mostly wrong: if you follow the above link to that issue of the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, you’ll find my dissent, which Murray was good enough to publish, and his rebuttal, which pointed out, ever so gently, that I just Didn’t Get It. And, as I realize now, I didn’t: there is a difference between giving political support to and actually voting for a political candidate, and rooting for same, the subtlety of which eluded me at the time. Reading my remarks and Rothbard’s rebuttal, all these years later, it’s clear Rothbard had the superior argument.
Okay, so now that I Get It, the answer to my “rooting” conundrum in this presidential election year is all too clear. If we apply the general principles enunciated by Rothbard in 1992, there’s only one conclusion to draw….
Let me preface this by saying: voting for any of the two major party candidates for president this year is clearly impossible for anti-interventionists, whether they be of the left or the right. The reason is because the voter who casts his ballot for a candidate who then unleashes, say, a horrific and unjustifiable war, must take full moral responsibility for the consequences, i.e. the deaths, the damage to our liberties, etc.
In debating whom to root for, therefore, we aren’t talking about whom to vote for: rooting for a candidate is quite a different matter.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way — and bearing in mind that Antiwar.com (and this columnist) never have and never will endorse any candidate for any office, let us return to the question: whom to root for?
If we apply Rothbard’s criteria, excerpted above, the answer is clear: Obama, of course.
I can hear the groans, the boos, the cat-calls even before this edition of Behind the Headlines is written and posted: What???!!?? The drones! The wars! The attack on civil liberties!!! Raimondo — have you gone nuts?
I would advise these cat-callers to calm down, and remember: rooting isn’t voting. And I would ask them to consider the arguments Rothbard made in favor of rooting for Bush (the elder) — because they limn, to an amazing degree, the issues that frame this presidential election.
Under relentless pressure from the government of Israel and its powerful amen corner in the US, President Obama has resisted calls to go to war with Iran and stubbornly pursued the diplomatic route. While it’s true his resistance has none of the Jim Baker-esque in-your-face style that characterized the George Herbert Walker Bush administration’s well-known disdain for the Israel lobby, the sad truth of the matter is that the Lobby’s power has increased exponentially since those relatively halcyon days, especially within the President’s own party. That’s why Obama, as a candidate, has groveled and crawled before Israel’s fifth columnists, insisting — against all the evidence — that the US and Israel are on the same page when it comes to policy in the Middle East.
However, the reality is that it’s just not so — as Bibi Netanyahu has spent the last six months relentlessly pointing out. Bibi wants war with Iran: Obama wants negotiations. The Lobby, in response to their leader’s call, has been beating the war drums so loudly that the voices calling for peace and reason have been drowned out — and yet the President has refused to comply with his marching orders from Tel Aviv. He deserves a lot of credit for that — at least, so far. Of course, he may be playing us all, and waiting for just the right moment to launch a war — say, after the November election. Yet this possibility seems to me unlikely, for the simple reason that war with Iran would spell instant economic catastrophe for the US as the price of oil triples and expenditures veer completely out of control.
On the issue of the “settlements,” the Israelis have been implacable, while the President at least made an attempt to rein them in. Unfortunately, Obama backed down: his request for them to cool it had no teeth in it — no threat to hold back on “aid.” That’s because, as I’ve said, the Lobby’s power is much greater now, and Obama, alas, is a politician who must bow to pressure coming from within his own party — not least of all from the Clintonites, who control the foreign policy apparatus and are in the Lobby’s back pocket.
And while Bosnia’s Muslims are no longer in the headlines, there’s another war-to-save-the-Islamists on the horizon this election season: Syria, where our professional “humanitarians” have been calling for US intervention in order to save al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists from Bashar al-Assad’s torture chambers. It’s true US tax dollars are going to subsidize these terrorists, who are causing tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities to flee Syria, but the administration is holding back from giving them all-out support. Romney, on the other hand, would have no such compunctions.
There’s a reason why Netanyahu is brazenly intervening in an American election in an unprecedented manner, doing everything he can to diss Obama and boost Romney — and it has nothing to do with pursuing peace or American interests in the region. Take a look at Romney’s foreign policy team: it’s the same old neocons who brought us eight years of bloody misery under George W. Bush. With Romney in the Oval Office, the neocons would return to Washington in triumph, empowered to unleash a new string of wars that would make Iraq and Afghanistan look like child’s play.
Lastly, but certainly not least, we have Romney’s relationship to the budding anti-interventionist movement in the GOP. Back in the days of Bush I, that movement was just beginning to form: the Buchanan campaign, for all its faults, was the necessary precursor to Ron Paul’s recent challenge to the party Establishment. Unlike Bush I, however, Romney never reconciled himself to the insurgents, in this case the Paulians: instead, he made an attempt to co-opt them by securing the support of Paul’s overly ambitious son — and pushing through rules changes in the party’s nominating process that would nip future Paulian-type insurgencies in the bud. In addition, the Romneyites purged Paul’s delegates in a number of states, in spite of their being duly elected — and, to add insult to injury, they refused to count Paul’s votes in the official roll call, making him an official “un-person.” How low can you go?
With Romney confirming my early prediction that the Republicans are deliberately throwing the election, the neocons are on their way to completely discrediting themselves politically. With that accomplished, Republican politicians such as Rand Paul, Justin Amash, and others coming up in the ranks, who question the war-all-the-time “foreign policy” dogma that has dominated the GOP since the cold war era, will have much more space to advance their previously heretical views. In the context of the past decade, the first order of business for any pro-peace political movement must be the utter destruction of the neocons’ political machine, which means ending their influence in the Republican party. With Romney defeated — in a landslide, I predict — the way will be opened to the further growth and development of the Paulian movement.
Now, remember: by no stretch of the imagination is rooting for a candidate the same as voting for him. The very idea of giving political support to Barack Obama, who has not only continued but in many ways escalated the worst aspects of his predecessor’s administration, is a non-starter to anyone who values peace and/or liberty.
On the other hand, the reason to root for him over his opponent is simple, and very similar to Rothbard’s rationale for rooting for Bush I: he ain’t Romney.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
My libertarian readers may be grumbling, at this point: but what about Obama’s domestic policies? Isn’t he driving us over a fiscal cliff and setting us up for a “socialist” welfare state with Obamacare, etc.?
Again, I refer to the Rothbardian strictures when weighing the pros and cons of presidential candidates, and Murray was very clear about this: foreign policy was the main determinant. The President, after all, has minimal control of what comes out of Congress, and his role in determining our course on the home front is very far from omnipotence: Bernanke has more actual clout than Obama does. When it comes to foreign policy, however, the President wields absolute control. He can take us to war on a whim.
Secondly, and this is really the key argument, a candidate’s foreign policy views are the key to understanding his entire philosophy of governing. In spite of all the guff about “smaller government” and “deregulation,” the Republicans forget their rhetorical commitment to “freedom” in the abstract when it comes to allegedly protecting the “national security.” Should we be locking people up without trial and in secret, including American citizens? The neocon-led “small government” Republicans say yes, yes, a thousand times yes. That’s because their love of war trumps their alleged love of liberty.
Not that Obama hasn’t gone beyond even Bush II’s depredations against the Constitution, as Glenn Greenwald has been so good about underscoring. The difference is that, rhetorically, the Obamaites are forced to pay lip service to civil liberties, for purely political reasons, quite aside from their actual record. To the neocons, disdain for civil liberties in wartime is a matter of high principle, to be flaunted on every possible occasion: for today’s liberals, i.e. Obama supporters, it’s their secret shame.
This contempt for human freedom applies not only to matters like government spying on citizens, but also inevitably carries over to the economic realm: in spite of the Republicans’ formal commitment to “less government,” the expenditures required to carry out their foreign policy of perpetual war ensure the expansion of the size and power of government, and its growing involvement in every aspect of our lives. Our interventionist foreign policy — and the even-more-interventionist policy championed by Republican hawks — means more money in Washington’s pocket, and less in the pockets of ordinary Americans. It means power continues to be transferred from the people and the states to the lords of the District of Columbia. Maintaining our overseas empire means more money-printing, more inflation, higher prices, the death of the American dollar — and the death of the ostensible Republican agenda of “less government.”
Rothbard understood this: that’s why, back in the day, he joined the League of Stevensonian Democrats, and actively campaigned for Adlai Stevenson for President, based on the candidate’s support for a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Rothbard argued that the warmongering Republicans, given the opportunity, would soon turn the cold war hot. And indeed it did hotten up considerably, with both parties competing to see which one could warmonger more relentlessly and effectively. With the “isolationist” Robert A. Taft and his followers cheated out of the 1952 nomination by the Eastern (i.e. Wall Street) Establishment, Rothbard and his fellow “Old Rightists” were justifiably bitter, and aligning with Stevenson, the prototypical liberal “egghead,” underscored the dilemma of politically homeless libertarians of that era. In any case, you can read all about it in my biography of Rothbard, An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard, published by Prometheus Books in 2000, and still in print.
For Rothbard, who forged an independent libertarian movement at a time when libertarianism was often confused with conservatism, the State’s ability to dominate and tyrannize over its subjects was epitomized by its ability to commit mass murder. For him, this was the symbol and summation of all that statism represented, and had to be opposed to the bitter end — even if it meant aligning with the hated lefties and other “subversives” who were the cold war’s Muslims.