Monday, August 09, 2004

Who is Stax?

Two comments from Stax, the most recent one exhorting me to check out the libertarian candidate for President, Mike Badnarik. I know a Heavy-T, a Giant, a Boz, a Moshe, a Mog, a Lime, the Cheetah, a T-Bob, a T-Cal, a Dusty Eggs, a G-No-Money, a BFX, and a Head, but I don't think I know a Stax.

Could it be that the Hatcher has attracted a regular reader through the mind-boggling randomness of the internet? Have I managed to snare, and keep caught in my web of unsupported and poorly worded opinions, someone outside the list of involuntary subscribers? Is it possible that there others out there, less willing to out themselves by posting a comment, as voluntray readers of Ideas Hatched ?

Or is it that Stax is a pseudonym for someone on my list? Fess up, Stax. I gots to know. If I don't know you, I must say right off that my opinion of you could not be higher, and I would be more than willing if necessary to even bump off one of my so-called "friends" from the current distribution list to include a person like yourself, who has demonstrated refined taste and sensibility.

Stax, by now I've either scared you away for good, or you are even sicker and more attention starved than me. Perhaps I should seem less desperate for unsolicited readers in the future, and pretend like each is one of many, but for now, I feel like I need to pay careful attention to retaining Stax as a reader. And Stax wants me to consider the libertarain candidate. So I will. Stax, will you stay? Please.

Stax views the choice as one of voting on the basis of principle versus tribal loyalty. Very astute, because there is much to be said for the tribal loyalties held by the partisans of the left and right. Look at the comparative political situations of George Bush and Tony Blair. Blair, a liberal who joined forces with Bush to depose Saddam, faces the "liar liar pants on fire" in its most extreme forms from the British right, whereas Bush clearly faces this from the US left. Why aren't US liberals supporting a policy embraced by their favorite UK prime minister? Why do the conservative Brits suddenly find a recommitment to beneficent imperialism objectionable? Simple - neither is in control in their own country. Their tribal loyalties blind them to the more dangerous foe. This is why the extreme left-wing doesn't blink when they paint a Hitler mustache on Bush, despite the irony that his greatest sin in their eyes is deposing the would-be Hitler Saddam.

It puts me in mind of the Monty Python film the Life of Brian, and a scene wherein various anti-Roman groups had inadvertantly launched a plan to take a strike against the empire on the same night, found that their plots were entangled, and began to fight with each other. Before the fight reached a fevered pitch, one of the participants spoke up loudly to say that the two groups, though they disagreed on much, were united by a larger cause - a common enemy. He didn't name the common enemy, but someone from the opposing group did. Rather than name the Romans, he named another organization that, like these two, was opposed to the Romans. And everyone agreed and decided to work together. The British right and American left are united by the common enemy - the Bush-Blair alliance - not the fight against terrorism.

But I digress. I actually did vote for the libertarian candidate back in 1996 (Harry Brown, I believe). I lived in Minnesota at the time, so a vote cast for Dole wasn't going to do much good. But Stax raises an interesting question that also faces those Dems who prefer Nader to Kerry: does principle require not considering the probable consequences of your vote? OK, the probable consequence of your vote is precisely nil. But assuming that there is some impact, if you knew that a vote cast on principle would lead to the election of the candidate that least conforms to your views, is that the principled vote to make? I guess an argument can be made either way - my guess is that Stax is not indifferent to Bush and Kerry, but thinks that the potential short-term cost would be countered by a long-term benefit.

And certainly there is a troubling self-fulfilling logic to considering the likely consequences of one's vote, as this requires a guess about how other people would vote. The same calculus figures into the money-raising efforts of candidates, so that in the end the parties put forward the candidate that they think other people will vote for (Kerry) rather than the candidate they probably prefer (Dean). Perhaps if people didn't make such calculations, we'd have an exciting four way race with Ralph and Mike Badnarik each having a real shot at winning. Or, even more interesting, people might use the logic that they'd prefer to vote for Bush, but by not voting for Badnarik, they'd be increasing the chances that Ralph got elected, and they'd never to be able to buy a Corvair again!

Here is a solution I think everyone would embrace - don't tell us whose running. When we show up in the voting booth, hand us a brochure that has the platform of the previously undisclosed candidates, and let the chips fall where they may. No boring debates, no freak-show conventions, no TV advertisements, no seemingly endless speculation on current polling data, and no blogs dedicated to politics. Sure, no doubt Congressional Democrats would argue that the need to read the brochure amounts to a poll tax, but maybe we could bring in International observers from the UN (maybe the Chinese contingent, or Saudi Arabia, or Syria, where they know a thing or two about fair elections) to read the brochures aloud.

Under that system, Stax, Badnarik can count on my vote. In the meantime, I'm voting against John Kerry.

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