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A real choice for 2008

Ben Linskey | Thursday, October 2, 2008

For the next few months, Americans will be bombarded with campaign ads and news reports emphasizing the supposedly stark choice they will face in the voting booth on Nov. 4. The basic storyline has already been set: on the right, conservative John McCain will pursue a course roughly contiguous with the Bush administration’s policies; on the left, liberal crusader Barack Obama offers a platform of sweeping change and reform. Accompanying such policy disputes will be the usual array of personal attacks and incendiary allegations: John McCain is too old, Barack Obama is too inexperienced, McCain is out of touch, Obama is a radical, and so forth.

While this constant stream of formulaic polemic can quickly become numbing and tedious to the average voter, it’s worth a closer examination. Are the candidates really as different as they claim? Behind the Democrats’ and Republicans’ war of words lies a seldom-examined truth: on virtually every issue, Barack Obama and John McCain share the same essential philosophy on the role of government in American life. More government, they agree, is the solution to virtually every problem facing Americans. The differences between the candidates are matters of degree, not substance.

This year’s presidential election presents voters with a striking example of what Texas Representative Ron Paul has called “the false choice of American politics.” John McCain, to take just one example, advocates the continued, long-term presence of American troops in Iraq; Obama would prefer to move those troops to Afghanistan. Both candidates share the common belief that the United States armed forces should maintain a constant presence throughout the globe, policing the American empire and using military force to intervene in local conflicts. The idea that the proper and exclusive role of the American military is to defend the territory and citizens of the United States, an opinion once widely held in this nation, is given no consideration. Other major issues are totally ignored by the candidates. The federal Social Security program, for instance, is on course to collapse within decades, yet nary a word has been uttered about the subject by McCain or Obama. Likewise, neither candidate has addressed the urgent problem of the rapidly increasing national debt.

A survey of the Republicans’ and Democrats’ platforms and campaigns and the media coverage they have received might lead one to believe that an overwhelming consensus exists among Americans in favor of an ever-expanding federal government. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. When Ron Paul launched his GOP primary bid last year, Americans responded with overwhelming enthusiasm, donating millions of dollars and plastering highways and street corners across America with campaign signs. There is only one plausible explanation for this tremendous, unprecedented showing of support: Americans are eager for a candidate who espouses a policy of limited government and gives voters a real choice. Predictably, however, the major parties and the media attempted to muffle Paul’s message, writing off his principled ideology as kookish and bizarre.

There is nothing strange or dangerous about an ideology of limited, constitutional government, however. It is the governing philosophy espoused by our nation’s founding fathers, and it is alive and well in the 21st century. Though the two major parties attempt to silence debate, presenting statist, big-government plans as the only viable solutions to the challenges our country faces, libertarianism, a political philosophy of strictly limited government, remains a vibrant and growing force in American political life. Thanks to the Libertarian Party, Americans will have a real choice in this year’s presidential election. Presidential nominee Bob Barr, a former U.S. congressman from Georgia, is mounting a strong challenge to John McCain’s and Barack Obama’s promises of ever-expanding government. Bob Barr has put forth viable proposals to lower taxes for all Americans, bring American troops home and out of harm’s way, protect our civil liberties, dramatically cut wasteful spending, and end government meddling in Americans’ personal lives. These goals have strong support – despite extremely limited media exposure and a dearth of funds, Barr registered the support of 5 percent of Americans in the latest Zogby poll.

The Republican and Democratic parties know that Bob Barr and the Libertarian Party present a real threat to their continued domination of American politics. Barr has the potential to swing a number of states’ highly contested electoral votes from McCain to Obama, making the Barr campaign of vital import to the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. Despite Bob Barr’s strong support and electoral significance, however, he will likely be denied the opportunity to take the stage and debate with the two major-party candidates in the coming months. In the final analysis, nothing is more important to the Republican and Democratic parties than preserving the two-party system and suppressing real alternatives to their tired, failed policies. However, 2008 has already been a landmark year for libertarians, and it’s clear that Americans are anxious for real, meaningful change.

Like it or not, the Libertarian Party and candidates committed to limited government will be a strong force in American politics in the coming years. Americans will have a real choice when they go to the polls this year, and no amount of political maneuvering can silence the voices of the thousands of citizens who are sick and tired of a government that ignores the Constitution and tramples on our most cherished liberties. Want four more years of needless war, rapacious taxation, and intrusive government? Then go ahead and pull the lever for Obama or McCain. But if you want true change, there’s a real choice in November: Bob Barr and the Libertarian Party.

Ben Linskey is a sophomore majoring in political science and philosophy and is co-president of College Libertarians. He can be contacted atblinskey@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.