Quick Note to Objectivists on Participation in the Electoral Process

January 4, 2012 by  

A well known Objectivist, and one I greatly admire, recently commented on his facebook fanpage that:

This Repub field and the results from Iowa just prove that it’s still much too early for politics. Lots of educational work still to do…

It was an echo of a comment expressed by Ayn Rand shortly after the failure of the Goldwater campaign in the 1964 presidential election, and that sentiment got a few nods from the fanpage’s presumably Objectivist fans. That is not unexpected: many Objectivists, on the basis of what Rand wrote, and on the basis of what they think she meant by it, routinely state that “it’s too early” for participation in politics, or that “it’s earlier than you think”.

As I see it, Rand did not intend that Objectivists vacate participation in electoral or party politics, and I find it a galling cop-out when Objectivists poo poo any invitation to get involved in electoral politics. The usual response is that now is the time for education, as though education and electoral politics were mutually exclusive exercises, and as though most Objectivists are actually involving themselves in teaching in lieu of political action. The truth, for perhaps 99% of Objectivists, is that they are not involved in either. Too many, in a manner not unlike the libertarians, are in practice just curling up in a ball, navel gazing about ideal societies, re-reading Atlas Shrugged, and moaning “what a pity”. Well, something’s a pity, alright.

When time permits, I intend to write a more detailed piece about what Rand wrote, and what she meant by it, in context. In the interim, I below reproduce my response to the Objectivist gentleman’s recent facebook comment. I’ll just add that his comment was no more qualified or detailed than the quotation of it I make above. Accordingly, I cannot know, from that comment alone, whether or not he was implying that Objectivists should not participate in electoral politics. My response is less a response to his views on the subject, and more a response to those Objectivists who would take his statement to be confirmation that they can and should continue to remain uninvolved in electoral politics. And now, without further ado, my reply:

I disagree. Contrary to popular belief, most people do not vote for candidates they like: they vote instead for whoever is most likely to beat a front-runner they are told they shouldn’t like. What we’re all witnessing is not the popularity of any candidate’s policies or morality, but a prevalence of strategic voting based upon perceptions of who is “leading” or “out in front” in a “race”. Consequently: election results are *not* an indicator of the explicitly identified political or moral positions of the public. They are, instead, an indicator of the majority’s political/economic incompetence and of low self-esteem: a voter follows the crowd, figuring that the crowd must understand and know something that he does not.

Knowing that, the principal tools in any election – prior to voting day – are: push polls and journalistic spin. Policies, talent, insight etc. are not what wins an election (or, as former Prime Minister of Canada Kim Campbell once insightfully quipped: “An election is no time to talk about policies”). On voting day, the principle tool is: an army of people, on the ground, getting people off of their butts and into the voting booth/process (aka, “Get Out The Vote” or GOTV).

Experts run – and win – elections not by crafting clever policy, but by conjuring up worries and doubts…much like filling the public’s minds with fears that Reardon metal “could” crack under strain, or that “it cannot be ruled out” that it will twist or warp, etc.. Similarly, one needed merely state that Goldwater “might” start an atomic war, or that it cannot be ruled out. One airing of one commercial might even suffice:

Democratic Party Election Commercial, 1964

The role of a candidate or political party is not to educate that public – that much is true. But – as Yaron Brook (head of the Ayn Rand Institute) himself indicated in his interview with Amy Peikoff – Objectivists should not leave elections to non-Objectivists; they should not vacate the field. They should acknowledge the nature of the customers we call voters, acknowledge the way they vote, stay honest but not off-putting, and – as a defence of their own life, liberty, and property and for the defence of that of those they value – they should attempt to win seats. The alternative – leaving political activity to the evil – is akin to handing ones would-be murderer ones own gun, similar to offering up ones wrists and ankles to a slave master’s chains, and tantamount to unlocking ones own home to assist would-be thieves.

Fight, god damn it.


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