Towards A Good Samaritan World

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mickey Kaus wrote a post about a possible third-party McCain run, and asked for reader feedback. This was mine:

"Mickey,

I’m enjoying your informed speculation about a possible McCain run. Here’s something else to think about:

Bill Clinton won in 1992 and 1996 because Ross Perot picked off a lot of Republican votes. He never got a majority. He got 43% in 1992 and 49% in 1996. And this probably affected his own sense of mandate, and helped to motivate his drift towards the right and his embrace of selected conservative policies.

If McCain ran in 2008, on a Reform platform for example, that would be likely to take just enough votes away from the Republicans to put the Dem candidate over the top, but without any real mandate. The Dem president would also be forced to work with a Republican Congress.

A lot of libertarians look back to the mid-1990s as a fairly good time, and some hope for a Democratic president for the sake of gridlock that will prevent the expansion of government. I think this is misguided. The 1990s formula is unlikely to repeat itself because of certain lessons that both parties learned. Republicans learned that fiscal conservatism benefits the country but not the Republican Party. Democrats learned that a Democrat president can be politically successful by selling out ideologically, and while they pretend for political advantage to be delighted with the results, they don’t want to repeat the experience. Dems put partisan interests before ideological interests in the 1990s, while Republicans put ideological interests before partisan interests. Now the pendulum has swung the other way in both parties. Dems have the knives out for moderates and compromisers, while Republicans are oozing into all the nooks and crannies of the mushy middle.

So a re-run of the 1990s looks unlikely. Elect a Dem, and we’ll see, not a compromising Dem facing off against ideological Republicans, but an ideological Dem facing off against compromising Republicans. But the exceptional circumstances of a strong McCain third-party challenge might change that! If a Democratic president elected were elected with an even smaller percentage of the popular vote than Clinton in 1992, say 40%, and if the other 60% of the vote went to, say, McCain and Frist, then it would be very hard to pretend that there was a mandate for resurrecting the old paleoliberal agenda. Though on the other hand, we should never under-estimate the sophistry of Democrat spin-mongers… But even if the new Dem president did try paleoliberal stunts for a couple of years, the public would punish him in the mid-terms, and he’d probably see the light.

This is a great scenario because, as you’ve pointed out before, the best hope for the Democrats is to be re-invented from above after putting a guy (or, more likely, gal) in the White House. And libertarians desperately need an opposition that plays the role of disciplining the Republicans, rather than that of making them look good by comparison.

What McCain needs, in order to run, is not a realistic chance of winning, but, rather, an argument to trick himself and his fans in the media into believing that his candidacy would be something other than a huge ego trip. That’s where you come in! No one could possibly be as ingenious at crafting this rationalization as you!

Keep up the good work!

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