In four days, legions of young people born between 1990 and 1994 will follow in Lena Dunham’s footsteps, losing our electoral virginity in a cascade of curtains, levers, buttons, and beeps. And although I whiled away countless middle school evenings dreaming of my civic “first time”, my twenty-year-old self could not be less excited for the big day.
Living in Cambridge, I will probably have to deal with weeks of Barack Obama As Sexual Experience, professors and punks alike dumbly smiling on the street, their heads held high for no reason other than that the Messiah has come again. This is not to say that I’d prefer a Republican victory: I have little patience for light beer, prayer circles, or live ammunition.
But for me, there will be no post-electoral bliss. I am voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president—a former governor of New Mexico who is just as accomplished as he is unassuming. More, he is absolutely certain to lose.
Some of my more establishmentarian friends have dismissed my choice as an irrational act of desperation: I’ve already come to the conclusion that one of the two major-party candidates is the lesser of two evils, so why be so vain as to throw away my vote? Besides, they continue, given my taste for taxing trans fat, pairing eventual budget cuts with eventual tax increases, and strictly regulating gun sales, I barely even qualify as a libertarian.
Whether Democratic or Republican, the sanctimonious finger-waggers have it all wrong. The semi-democratic nature of our presidential elections, which are decided by the vestigial, eighteenth-century Electoral College, means that unless you live in one of a handful of swing states, a vote for your establishment candidate of choice is no less frivolous than a vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. Given that I live in Massachusetts and hail from New Jersey, it makes no sense to cast a compromise vote for a major candidate: my states’ electors will inevitably line up behind Obama, so why not just vote for the guy I like most? For the approximately 80 percent of American voters in states that are out of play, there is nothing irrational about voting outside the two-party framework.
In representing the Libertarian Party, Gary Johnson stands a principled ideologue—the result being that as an economic centrist, I have my share of differences with his policy vision. And though he calls for a quixotic, often indiscriminate 43 percent cut in federal spending, it is worth noting his support for nationwide marriage equality, marijuana legalization, an end to gratuitous military adventurism, liberal immigration policies, and strict protection of civil liberties from the meddling of the executive branch.
But unlike Ron Paul before him, Johnson is more a lifestyle libertarian than he is a constitutionalist. That is to say, his belief in limited government is one driven primarily by open-mindedness and creativity, rather than by custom. Quite unlike your average former Republican governor, he is almost never seen without his trademark peace sign t-shirt. He has smoked medical marijuana, climbed Everest and Kilimanjaro, competed in a number of triathlons, and cohabitated with an unmarried long-term partner.
Accordingly, he has no religious compunctions about abortion, same-sex marriage, or female sexuality. On the grounds of personal liberty and creative expression, he opposed the Bush-era PATRIOT Act, the Obama-era National Defense Authorization Act, and the ill-fated step toward internet censorship popularized as SOPA. Uniquely among politicians, his unwillingness to moralize about drug use has led him to become one of the greatest crusaders against a drug war that has cost tens of billions, plunged entire Latin American countries into chaos, flooded the prison system, and reified racial inequalities that most politicians cannot be bothered to acknowledge.
In sum, on issue after issue for which Obama and Romney support the same, broken status quo, Governor Gary Johnson represents a clarion call for realistic policy reform. And even though I’m not much of a libertarian poster boy, I recognize that under circumstances where my vote has in absolutely no chance of making an arithmetic difference, it is worth attempting to make a difference principle. In the coming orgiastic frenzy of either an Obama or a Romney win that will functionally amount to very little, I plan to assume the sacred role of spoiling everyone else’s unthinking fun.
To that end, I’m giving my electoral “first time” to Gary Johnson. This Tuesday, I hope you’ll lie back, think of liberty, and follow suit.
Joshua B. Lipson ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, is a near eastern languages and civilizations concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.