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Lesser Evils

March 2, 2000

As a rule, conservatives support the presidential candidate of the Republican Party, and more often than not with reluctance. To vote for a smaller, purer conservative party, the saying goes, is to “waste” one’s vote and help ensure a Democratic president. Safer to settle for an imperfect Republican president, a Nixon, a Ford, a Bush, a Dole, who at least has a chance of winning.

But even when such a Republican wins, conservatives wind up gaining nothing and feeling betrayed when the president they supported raises taxes, imposes wage and price controls, and otherwise capitulates to liberal pressures.

The argument for staying within the two-party system is the old argument for choosing the lesser evil. It may not be satisfying, but it has the seeming merit of being “realistic,” rather than “utopian,” which is considered a conservative virtue. After all, it’s an imperfect world and is likely to remain so.

This attitude allows Republicans to take conservative support for granted, since the conservatives, by their own admission, have “nowhere else to go.” So Republican presidents ignore their conservative base and concentrate on appeasing liberals; and the federal government continues to expand even under “conservative” presidents like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

In life we sometimes do have to choose the lesser evil rather than a positive good. This is the basis of armed robbery. Forced to choose between your money and your life, you give the mugger your wallet. But though you walk away with relief that your life was spared, you’d be a fool to feel it was a profitable transaction for you.

For conservatives who vote Republican, every election is like that. They never really win; that is, they never advance toward a freer society and a more limited government. They merely stave off Democrats who would blow their brains out in favor of Republicans who settle for taking their wallets. Yet they feel victorious when the Republicans win — a truly irrational assessment of their situation.

This year conservatives have a chance to vote for what they really should want: a full restoration of the Constitution, limiting the federal government to its few allotted powers and abolishing the personal income tax. This, in a nutshell, is what the Constitution Party stands for. Its presidential candidate is Howard Phillips, founder and leader of the Conservative Caucus; I have the honor to be his running mate.

[Breaker quote: The case 
for a third party]Howard has always been among the most far-seeing American conservative leaders. Among many other distinctions, he was the only conservative to warn that David Souter would promote abortion if he was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice; not even President Bush, who nominated Souter, realized this. But Souter was being pushed by Senator Warren Rudman, a pro-abortion Republican who is now John McCain’s closest advisor. Rudman urged Souter on Bush precisely because he knew how liberal Souter really was, as he later admitted in his memoirs.

That episode taught me to listen carefully when Howard sounded an alarm. He learned long ago that Republicans can’t be trusted; in the end, they differ from Democrats only in the velocity with which they seek to centralize power. Sometimes they mean well, but they eventually succumb to, or are simply outsmarted by, liberal Democrats.

Restoring the Constitution — restoring the original balance between the states and the federal government — is the aspiration that defines true American conservatism. Most Americans understand the principle of separation of powers among the three branches of the federal government, but they have largely forgotten the even more basic division of powers between the states and Washington, which has been all but destroyed by countless federal usurpations of power that have made the Constitution a dead letter since the 1930s.

But does the Constitution Party have a prayer of winning? Not this year. But we can build for the future, attracting a few conservatives who know that their votes are “wasted” only when they are cast for the feckless and futile Republican Party — the “lesser evil” that achieves no lasting good. In time, we trust, more and more conservatives will come to their senses and realize that the Constitution is not a utopian hope, but an absolute necessity for a free and healthy America.

Joseph Sobran

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