Independently minded conservatives may have no obvious candidate in this election, which pits two major-party exponents of the welfare-warfare state against one another, as well as a handful of minor-party contenders. Obamacare or Romneycare? Guantanamo or double Guantanamo? In this symposium, 29 of our writers confront the choice and explain their reasoning.

None of the perspectives below represents an official endorsement by the magazine or its parent organization — these are solely the opinions of the individual authors. Since 2010, The American Conservative has been published by The American Ideas Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization that does not endorse candidates or specific legislation.

W. James Antle III Bill Kauffman
Andrew J. Bacevich William S. Lind
Doug Bandow Daniel McCarthy
Jeremy Beer Scott McConnell
Bradley J. Birzer Noah Millman
James Bovard Robert P. Murphy
Peter Brimelow James P. Pinkerton
Marian Kester Coombs Justin Raimondo
Michael Brendan Dougherty Sheldon Richman
Rod Dreher Gerald J. Russello
Scott Galupo Steve Sailer
Philip Giraldi Sean Scallon
David Gordon Stephen B. Tippins Jr.
Paul Gottfried John Zmirak
Leon Hadar

W. James Antle III

I would like to vote for Mitt Romney. If Romney’s foreign-policy statements throughout the campaign had been closer to what he said during the final presidential debate—a far cry from realism or non-interventionism, but showing some basic awareness that the country does not need or want a repeat of the Iraq War—that’s what I would certainly do.

Not with any real enthusiasm, mind you, but without feeling particularly conflicted about it. Much like voting for Bob Dole.

As a Massachusetts native, I go back a long way with the GOP nominee. In the first election where I could vote, I chose Romney over Ted Kennedy. I voted for him for governor eight years later. He did a good enough job that I would have voted to reelect him, and I did support his lieutenant governor, the even more liberal Kerry Healey, when she ran in his place.

Romney balanced the budget and held the line on taxes, as promised. He also showed the qualities I came to dislike—flip-flopping, creating Romneycare, abandoning the state to the Democrats when it suited his presidential ambitions. But overall, he did a better job in Massachusetts than Barack Obama has done as president.

I haven’t been able to vote for the last two Republican nominees, though I haven’t voted Democratic either. I’d like to return to the GOP fold.

Yet I can’t help but think back to 2000. I planned all year long to vote for Pat Buchanan. I supported him in the Reform Party’s mail-in primary. Yet the closeness of the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore brought me back to the GOP. Twelve years and two wars later—one that went on too long, the other unjust from the start—I wish I’d stuck with PJB.

Gary Johnson is the only candidate who opposes both Obamacare and an Iraq-like war with Iran, my litmus test issues. I am troubled by his libertine positions on abortion and immigration, however. Virgil Goode is better, but seems to be a Romney-like prevaricator on foreign policy. Settling defeats the purpose of voting third party.

So I’m still tempted by Romney. But like thousands, perhaps millions, of other Americans, if I don’t vote for him, Bush will ultimately be to blame.

W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a contributing editor to The American Conservative. Follow him on Twitter.

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Andrew J. Bacevich

The most important thing about the 2012 presidential election is that on November 6, it will finally end.  With that, the fever will break, the hysteria will subside, and something akin to normalcy will return, at least for a brief interval.

We must hope and should pray that the balloting itself produces a decisive outcome, in contrast, say, to 1876 or 2000. Yet whoever wins, rest assured of one thing: the results won’t match the hype. Whether the next four years oblige us to put up with a President Obama or a President Romney, the Republic will survive.

As the concluding presidential debate made crystal clear, when it comes to foreign policy the choice is between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Regardless of who may sit in the Oval Office, the post-Cold War U.S. penchant for militarized meddling is likely to persist. At most, it will take modified form, both Obama and Romney backing away from further intervention with ground forces, while singing the praises of missile-firing drones as instruments of targeted assassination. Not much perhaps, but let us not sniff at this modest retreat from the follies of the past decade.

When it comes to the actual determinants of the nation’s future, which are cultural and economic, the choice is between clichés and cluelessness. Face it, folks, the candidates in this contest don’t quite rise to the intellectual standard of John Adams vs. Thomas Jefferson or even Woodrow Wilson vs. TR.

For the record, I voted (once more) for Obama. But in terms of importance, I rate that decision on a par with choosing between fish or chicken when dining out. When all is said and done, it’s the size of check that matters. My guess is that regardless of who wins the bill is going to be a doozy. Just thinking about it is enough to kill my appetite.

Andrew J. Bacevich is currently a visiting fellow at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

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Doug Bandow

There’s a lot to be said for the saying “don’t vote, it only encourages them.” But democracy really is better than autocracy, so I vote as long as there is a candidate or ballot issue on which I feel strongly enough to have my vote end up in the total. Of course, casting a ballot won’t make any difference, but I get small satisfaction in voting against a wasteful bond initiative or for a principled minor-party candidate.

So I will vote on November 6. Now, I’ve been told that I shouldn’t actually announce my selection lest it be held against my employer’s 501(c)3 status.  That seems an extreme interpretation of the law, as long as I don’t use my position as a Cato Institute scholar to advocate that others do the same. I have greater respect for private than state authority, however, so I will eschew making such an announcement.

Let it be said, though, that the time is well past for voting for the lesser of two evils. The one thing that should be obvious is that whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama wins, in four years government will be more expansive and expensive. Washington will have started more foreign wars and invaded more domestic liberties. More people will have gone to prison because they prefer to smoke marijuana rather than tobacco. There’s no difference in the direction being taken by the RepubliCrat duopoly. Only the speed in going. Why bother voting for a big-spending war-mongering statist over another big-spending war-mongering statist?

Thankfully, there is a good alternative on the ballot, someone who has fought spending as governor, advocates peace, and wants to stop jailing pot smokers. Vote for him and you don’t need to shower after going to the polls. I shan’t mention his name or indicate that I’m voting for him—it’s important, after all, to keep the IRS at bay.  But I can trust in the intelligence of TAC readers.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

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Jeremy Beer

I’m sick of these holier-than-thou purists who say they won’t vote for Romney because he was once pro-choice and still supports various exceptions, or because he once invested in a company that made money by incinerating aborted fetuses, or God knows what else. Some pro-lifers even want to drag completely unrelated issues into the conversation — “torture,” preemptive war, even economics!

If you’re pro-life, Catholic, and of a conservative disposition, isn’t it obvious that the Mormon/Randian ticket is the only choice? I mean, the only pragmatic choice? This is politics, people! It’s all about compromise and getting your hands dirty. And I, for one, refuse to compromise my pro-life beliefs and dirty my hands by refusing to compromise my pro-life beliefs and dirty my hands. Even if that dirt is really blood.

Anyway, just do the math. Practically speaking, fighting abortion — and being pro-life! — is all about overturning Roe v. Wade. Nothing else matters. So, just multiply the percentages attached to the following outcomes to see that you have a moral obligation to vote Romney/Ryan on November 6: Chance that Supreme Court justice retires/dies in next four years (15 percent), times chance that President Romney appoints a justice he believes would vote to overturn Roe (50 percent?), times chance that said justice would actually vote to overturn Roe (40 percent? cf Republican appointees Souter, Kennedy, O’Connor, Stevens, etc.), times chance that Court takes up a case that challenges Roe during term of new appointee (generously, 20 percent), times chance that new appointee remains key swing vote in said case when taken up (again, generously, 20 percent).

Dude, that’s a .12 percent chance that electing Romney would result in the end of Roe! How can you ignore that, you purists? Did you say something about Iran? Syria?

There you go again, changing the subject. Some of us prefer to be practical.

Jeremy Beer is co-editor, with Bruce Frohnen and Jeffrey O. Nelson, of American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia.

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Bradley J. Birzer

Every republic has an expiration date. Whether that date comes sooner or later depends on many complicated factors, but none more important than that a significant portion of the republic’s population behave virtuously. If the American republic even exists anymore, it does so in the most tenuous of fashions.

The task of any real conservative or libertarian in 2012 is to decide if and what we can preserve, praying for as much stability as possible for the lives of our children and grandchildren.

It is telling that our republic, founded without political parties and without the desire to have them, has devolved over the past two centuries into a Leviathan, controlled, at least openly, by two powerful interest groups, each with its own core constituency and its desire to expand its own power beyond where it now exists.  Enough is never enough for our two political oligopolies and their supporters, it seems.

Still, even if the Constitution of the United States deserves a proper burial to honor its brief but hollowed history, I am by temperament incapable of not voting. The first presidential election in which I was old enough to vote was 1988. I voted for Ron Paul then, and I’ve never missed a vote since, despite the many arguments presented by friends claiming that my vote is either inconsequential or implicitly condones corruption.

That decided, how to vote, then?

For me, there’s never even been a possibility of voting for Obama. The Democratic Party history is one immersed in slaughter: removal and abuse of the American Indians, the desire for a national police force to return escaped slaves, and the concentration of loyal Americans of Japanese descent into camps.

Obama has embraced this wretched tradition. Indeed, no president has overseen a loss of civil liberties more dramatically than the current one since Franklin Roosevelt disgraced the once august executive office. Not only did Obama fail to close Gitmo and reverse Bush’s policies promoting “national security,” he’s not-so-slowly Gitmoizing the entire United States. As the great Robert Higgs has argued, if you don’t believe we are living in a police state, you must be blind.

I find nothing overwhelmingly attractive about the current Libertarian Party presidential candidate, and the Constitution Party’s tendency toward theocracy scares the willies out of me.

So, I’m left with a corporate wind-up Ken-doll, Mitt Romney. I might still offer a write-in candidate. But, if I do decide to vote Romney, I will do so with extreme reluctance, reciting the mantra, “Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Justin Amash belong to this party.  It can’t be all bad.”

Bradley J. Birzer is the author of American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll.

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James Bovard

If I vote, I’ll either select Gary Johnson or write in Ron Paul. This election has almost guaranteed that America will have at least four more years of bad government.

Obama’s economic policies are a disaster, and pissing away a few more trillion dollars won’t make America prosperous. “Hire more teachers” is perhaps the most wearisome refrain of the entire campaign. Obama’s faith that expanding government payrolls will make us all rich is sufficient proof that he has learned nothing from the lamest of recoveries.

Romney would be the most pro-war draft-dodger to ever win the presidency. (I am surprised the Obama team did not make better use of that 1966 photo of Romney at the Stanford pro-war rally.) His saber-rattling towards Russia is appalling, and he seems likely to seize any pretext to start bombing Iran. His de facto disavowal of all his prior foreign-policy declarations in the final debate with Obama was weasely even by Clintonite standards. If he wins, I expect he would perpetuate most of Obama’s failed economic and social policies.

Both Obama and Romney apparently believe that the president is entitled to do as he pleases, the law and the Constitution be damned. This election has made clear that few Americans give a damn even when the government claims a right to assassinate Americans or to detain them without charges in perpetuity. The NSA and Patriot Act surveillance scandals never showed up on either campaign’s radar. Americans cannot expect to have good presidents if presidents are permitted to make themselves czars.

Is American democracy in a death spiral? The belief in American exceptionalism blinds many people to the growing political decay. Perhaps the follies of both Obama and Romney will help Americans recognize that no politician will be able to redeem Leviathan. But that lesson should have been stark many elections ago.

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy.

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Peter Brimelow

It’s touching how earnestly Americans deliberate over presidential candidates. In most states, it just doesn’t matter — the presidential contest is not close.

But this is liberating. You can act as a single-issue voter to Send Them a Message (in the immortal words of George Wallace — whose American Party candidacy in 1968 did send a message that the South, and the white working class, were fed up with the Democratic Party). You do this by voting for a minor party that has a key position at odds with the bipartisan majority-party consensus.

The bland jellyfish who run the generic, content-free major-party campaigns don’t have beliefs, but as marketing professionals they know a market niche when they see one. Recent example: the right-to-life movement, which has terrified the GOP that it will bolt if not paid at least lip-service. (Of course, getting more than lip-service is another story. But lip-service is a start.)

I happen to think that the most important single issue facing the U.S. is its post-1965 immigration disaster, both legal and illegal. The bipartisan Permanent Government is literally electing a new people.  Within 30 years, the U.S. will be majority non-white and will cease to exist as we’ve known it.

So in 2008, I wrote in Chuck Baldwin — of the Constitution Party, which advocates an immigration moratorium — amazing local polling officials, who didn’t realize it could be done. It’s thrilling — you get to get see your vote! Baldwin got 64 votes here in the Connecticut Berkshires, 311 statewide.

Alas, in 2012 the Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode did not qualify as a write-in. So I will vote for the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, who is useless on immigration but okay on foreign policy.

Only if the GOP is utterly discredited can we get back to the full-scale Patriotic Third Party that Pat Buchanan presaged in 2000.

Peter Brimelow is the editor of VDARE.com and author of Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster.

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Marian Kester Coombs

The Stupid Party vs. the Evil Party, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, “not a dime’s worth o’ difference between ‘em.” It’s true: both the Dems and the GOP are about growing government, the Dems faster and furiouser, the GOP with half-apologetic restraint. For those whom pollster Scott Rasmussen terms the political class, confiscating our income is like the pro forma remorse felt by the Walrus and the Carpenter: “‘I weep for you,’ the Walrus said,/’I deeply sympathize.’/With sobs and tears he sorted out/Those of the largest size.”

Only the Libertarians see clearly how to escape the death spiral of tax-and-spend, and — even better — really want to escape it. The clients of the two major parties — the military, the entitlement crowd, the public sector unions, the big banks — conspire to keep spending high by pretending the world will end, and threatening to end it, if a single dollar is lopped off their automatic budget increases. They create a vision of Navy SEALs having to go mano a mano with frail old ladies. Taxpayers finally just give up in disgust.  ”Two paths”? No, more like the high road and the low road, and they’ll both get to bankrupt in the morning.

But I will vote for Mitt Romney, in spite of all. The “narrative” of this election, its human story, has once again drawn me in, and I am ready, indeed anxious, to be fooled again. America is again “at a crossroads”; the “fiscal cliff” approaches; we are again asked “What sort of America do you want?” God knows. Whatever America we can get.

Marian Kester Coombs blogs at mariankcoombs.blogspot.com.

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Michael Brendan Dougherty

I won’t vote. Yes, I want to see Barack Obama’s presidency ended. He has been a bad disappointment, though not a disaster, on foreign policy. Obamacare is a rolling nightmare, the failures of which will inevitably be used to justify its expansion.

His “contraceptive mandate” shows that in his governing vision there is no room for actual pluralism: institutions that have the independence to define their mission in ways that conflict with the priorities of the state. I find an American left that dropped the battle for daycare but picked up the battle to make chemical infertility a positive right utterly warped.

If the story of this election is that Obama didn’t need an agenda beyond trolling social conservatives about rape and contraception, that is going to be bad for the causes I care about. Also, I can’t be sure he wouldn’t involve us in a war with Iran.

Then there is Mitt Romney. His family life, his personal charity, his piety, and his business acumen speak well of him. His “flip-flopping” and evasiveness reveal him to have as low an opinion of mass democratic deliberation as I do. And a man who said in the last debate, “we don’t want another Iraq” is obviously no John McCain. Mitt Romney would reverse the stupid mandate. He would appoint judges who are bad on civil liberties, but better on social issues.

But I think that the party he leads and his cadre of advisors make him significantly more likely to go to war with Iran than Obama. I won’t risk having the deaths of scores of thousands of Iranians and many Americans on my conscience. I don’t think he’ll double Gitmo. But I don’t think he’ll stop the drone wars, either.

So I hope Obama loses. And I hope Romney doesn’t take us to war, but the risk of that is too great to give him even something as piddling as my vote.

Michael Brendan Dougherty is TAC’s national correspondent. Follow him on Twitter.

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Rod Dreher

I have no enthusiasm, one way or the other, for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Having spent the final weeks of the campaign abroad, I find the passions these two unimaginative, uninspiring, utterly conventional politicians inspire to be baffling. No matter which one wins in November, America is condemned to muddle through.

As a conservative, I find the Romney candidacy especially frustrating because it demonstrates that the GOP and movement conservatism have learned exactly nothing from the disastrous Bush years. The one thing Obama has going for him is that he would be somewhat — but only somewhat — less aggressive than a Republican administration that will surely be mobbed up with neocons. For me, voting for Romney on foreign policy depends on the extent to which I believe he lacks the courage of his stated hawkish convictions. On the other hand, he may lack the backbone to stand up to his advisers. It’s a risk.

As a religious and social conservative, Obama’s assault on religious liberty — the HHS mandate, I mean — has been deeply alarming, chiefly because it reveals a characteristic secular-liberal hostility to faith and the faithful. In the next four years, the Supreme Court is likely to rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. When the case comes before the court, it’s vital to have a majority of judges who are acutely sensitive to the enormous burden religious institutions will have to carry if same-sex marriage is constitutionalized. Given the profound and ongoing shift in popular culture in favor of gay marriage, it may be unrealistic to expect even a conservative court to maintain the status quo. Social conservatives should at least expect the court to establish a secure firewall protecting religious liberty against same-sex civil rights claims. President Romney will almost certainly nominate justices sympathetic to religious liberty; President Obama almost certainly will not.

Is it more dangerous to run a greater risk of war or a greater risk of a significant contraction of religious liberty? That’s the question on my mind as I decide my vote. Believe it or not, it’s actually a comfort to know that living as I do in a state that’s a lock for Romney, my vote won’t matter at all.

Rod Dreher is a TAC senior editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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Scott Galupo

Throughout the GOP primary that began an epoch ago, the eventual nominee faced a succession of hopeless cast-offs, lunkheads, and glorified green-room gamers whom the media came to dub “Not-Romney.” I can testify to the need for this character. In 2008, I shamefully donated money to Sen. John McCain in order to stop this transparently preposterous impersonator of a conviction politician. In this year’s Virginia primary, I plumped for Rep. Ron Paul. I have written copiously here and, previously, at U.S. News of my loathing for Romney. It is visceral and, according to my long-suffering wife, possibly irrational.

Why? Here it is: Mitt Romney’s national ambitions represent little more than a nihilistic pursuit of power for power’s sake. No one knows for sure how he would govern because he very likely doesn’t, either. He has been on both sides of nearly every issue of substance not merely throughout his career, but sometimes during this campaign. Yes, all politicians trim, hedge, occasionally even change their minds. With Romney it is a characterological defect. His utter lack of intellectual honesty — indeed of any recognizable intellectual core whatsoever — is not something that should be rewarded even in a political system as shallow and dysfunctional as ours.

The alternatives to Romney are lousy. Obama’s Eisenhoweresque realism on fiscal policy and war are tempting, but he is captive to the worst elements of the feminist left. More than that, his political capital is exhausted. If he ekes out a win, we’d likely have to endure four years of lame-duckery.

In ’08, I voted for the Libertarian Party candidate, Bob Barr. This year, I plan to do the same on behalf of former Gov. Gary Johnson. His crash-austerity economic program is a joke, but it stands no chance of ever becoming law. He is pro-choice, but sympathetic toward the immediate pro-life agenda. In the end, I’m the kind of voter — Republican-leaner in a critical battleground state — whose support Romney needs. Whatever happens Nov. 6, I will derive satisfaction from the infinitesimal harm I will cause to his campaign.

Scott Galupo blogs for TAC’s State of the Union. Follow him on Twitter.

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Philip Giraldi

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are both big-government types who only differ in terms of how they will bankrupt us – through social programs or through Pentagon spending and wars.   Neither has a coherent plan to do anything about the economy, largely because the situation is so grave that the types of intervention the government is capable of are essentially ineffective even if they do benefit certain constituencies.  Regarding health care, I believe the American people has dire need of a system where access is not denied due to preexisting conditions (i.e. if you’re actually sick you can’t get health insurance) or where insurance is tied to one’s job, but Obamacare with its mandates, minus any attempt at controlling costs, is not the solution.

So for me it comes down to foreign policy.  I believe that Obama’s targeted-killing program and drones are basically an attempt to render constant warfare acceptable by making it largely invisible with no boots on the ground and body bags coming home.  As the killing by my government is both illegal and immoral, I consider it and its authors despicable.  Romney, on the other hand, is so ignorant of foreign policy that he will likely be guided by his neocon handlers, nearly all of whom favor pre-emptive war on Iran, a country that does not threaten the United States and which has provided no casus belli.  So Romney will mean major war almost for certain plus a continuation of all the malignancies that Mr. Obama has introduced, confirming in everyone’s minds that the U.S. is truly a rogue nation.  A bad deal either way, but Romney will be worse.

If Obama is leading comfortably in polls in Virginia on election day, I will vote for Gary Johnson or will write in my hero Ron Paul.  If the race is tight, I will vote for Obama to keep Romney out.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

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David Gordon

I am not going to be voting this coming Tuesday. Obama has proved a bitter disappointment to all those who hoped that he would rein in the warmongering of George Bush. To the contrary, Obama has continued our senseless war in Afghanistan and now seems bent on war with Iran and Syria. Thousands of troops and “contractors” remain in Iraq. In blatant disregard of moral decency and international law, he has ordered drone strikes that kill innocent people (“collateral damage”) and has claimed and exercised a supposed right to have American citizens killed at his own discretion.

Romney, amazingly, criticizes Obama for not going far enough. We must increase the defense budget, he says, even though our spending on armaments exceeds that of all other industrialized nations combined. He thinks that Obama has not acted with sufficient ferocity against Iran, and he and Obama vie with each other in avowing their unconditional commitment to continued Middle Eastern entanglements on the side of Israel.

In domestic policy, though Romney promises to repeal Obamacare, his own proposals require intrusive government control of healthcare. He proposes no fundamental reform of our inflationary monetary and banking system. He is one more in the long list of Republican candidates who want government to dominate the economy even as they declare their devotion to the free market. Concerning Obama and the free market, it is not necessary to say anything at all.

Why not support Gary Johnson instead?  I do not think he has broken sufficiently with the dominant statist assumptions of contemporary politics, though to his credit he has taken steps in this direction. Those who favor a noninterventionist foreign policy will view with misgiving his statement that “Our military should remain the most potent force for good on Earth.” In domestic policy, he supports the so-called Fair Tax. The “fairness” of a punitive national sales tax escapes me.

There is only one nationally prominent political figure who champions a completely free market and noninterventionist foreign policy. I would enthusiastically support Ron Paul, but sadly he is no longer a candidate.

David Gordon is a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and editor of The Mises Review.

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Paul Gottfried

I’ve recently heard friends say that they won’t vote for either candidate put forth by our indigenous version of the Mexican Institutional Revolutionary Party. And I really don’t blame these refuseniks. They’ll vote for a third-party presidential candidate if one shows up unexpectedly on the ballot. Otherwise they’ll leave the space provided for a presidential choice blank, if they vote at all.

Virgil Goode Connie Ma/flickr/cc

Originally I intended to support the candidate of the Constitutional Party, Virgil Goode, mostly as a protest vote, but also because I agree with Goode’s party more often than I do with the authorized parties. Now this will not be an option. The Republicans have spent a fortune keeping the CP from getting on the ballot by hiring lawyers to challenge every name on every petition CP officials submitted. This was done to force those on the right to vote for the candidate of the Fox All-Stars and the Weekly Standard, a very rich man but without firm views except for his unwillingness to put distance between himself and Bibi.

All the same, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Barack no matter what. Because of his executive order amnestying loads of illegals, his bullying of religious institutions into paying for their employees’ contraception, his attorney general’s perpetual shenanigans, and because of all the brainless movie stars and fashionistas behind him, I am totally put off by Obama and his gang. And just about everything the opposition says about his gross mismanagement of the economy and his use of bailouts to reward Democratic special interests seems incontrovertibly true.

But not everything comes down to my dislike for Obama. Romney most certainly does not represent for those of us on the Old Right an attractive non-Obama.  During his second debate, it was impossible to find any social issue on which he disagreed with his leftist opponent. Equally troublesome, despite his recent appearance of being moderate on foreign policy, there is no reason to believe Romney would not return to his neocon handlers as soon as he won the presidency.

Clearly neither the Rep nor the Dem is my cup of tea. Still that does not prevent me from taking sides internally. Although I could not possibly vote for either candidate without turning green, I would be happier if Obama lost.

Paul Gottfried is the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College.

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Leon Hadar

If the choice is between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, I believe that the Republican presidential candidate would be much worse on most policy issues, and especially on national security and foreign policy — areas where modern presidents can make a huge difference. Romney is surrounded by the same neoconservative foreign-policy advisors that helped lead George W. Bush — who like Romney had no understanding of history and world affairs — into the disastrous and costly Iraq War (which Romney supported). Taking into consideration Romney’s confrontational rhetoric on Iran, Russia, and China, his close personal and political ties to Israel’s Likud leaders, his admiration for Dick Cheney, and his calls for increasing the defense budget, I am worried that U.S. foreign policy under a Romney presidency would be replica of W.’s — as opposed to that of Obama, which recalls the more realistic approach of President George H.W. Bush.

And I do not believe that you can reduce the power of the government in economic and social affairs and reduce the budget deficit, as Romney is promising to do, while at the same time launching new military wars (against Iran) and trade wars (against China) and increasing the defense budget. Something’s gotta give, and I do not have any doubt what Romney would do in this case.

I would have voted for Jon Huntsman and considered voting for Gary Johnson. But I am not impressed by Gary Johnson or his positions on domestic and foreign policy to the extent that I would vote for someone who cannot get elected as president. That is why I will vote for Obama, hoping also that a defeat for the Republican presidential ticket will ignite a serious debate on the future of the GOP and bring about changes in the leadership and direction of a party that seems to be currently dominated by the strange triumvirate of Dick Cheney, Rick Santorum, and John Galt.

Leon Hadar, a Washington-based journalist and foreign policy analyst, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.

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Bill Kauffman

Obama and Romney are a dire and dreadful dyad. I’m voting Libertarian this year. Gary Johnson is antiwar, anti-surveillance state, and anti-bailouts. Unlike the smug lightweight in the White House and the neocon-encrusted corporatist—both placeless men, as our rulers usually are—New Mexico’s Gary Johnson regards the Bill of Rights as a palladium of liberty, not an anachronistic nuisance. I had some good talks with him in 2008 when Campaign for Liberty’s Rally for the Republic boarded several of its speakers in Excelsior, Minnesota — where local myth has it Mick Jagger was inspired to write the lyric about standing in line at a drugstore with Mister Jimmy, who wants a cherry red soda. I wish Gary Johnson emphasized radical decentralism more than lifestyle freedoms, but hey, you can’t always get what you want.

Bill Kauffman’s “Home Plate” column appears in TAC every month.

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William S. Lind

The great clay god Democracy again offers his devotees sound and fury, signifying nothing. Obama and Romney both bow to the same party, the Establishment party. Whichever wins, nothing of importance will change. Washington will still attempt to rule the world. The Fed’s presses will keep on rolling. The national debt will continue to rise. Free trade will reduce what islands of the middle class endure. Overreach will remain Washington’s policy in everything, until we totter and fall. This time isn’t different.

There are nuances. Obama’s support for feminism (including abortion and more women in the military) and the oxymoron of gay marriage and his outright assault on the Catholic Church reveal the cultural Marxism he shares with the rest of the Democratic Party. Romney’s positions on the cultural issues will be, well, one thing today and another tomorrow. Obama’s cultural Marxism is genuine. The only thing genuine about Romney is his phoniness.

In foreign policy, Obama should have ended the Afghan War and didn’t. Our men are still dying there solely to cover his political backside. But he has shown prudence in not getting us into other wars. Libya was a partial exception, but the Europeans dragged him into that. Some of Romney’s foreign-policy advisers are neocons, and he is a close friend of Netanyahu. Both suggest a higher chance of another dumb war we can’t pay for under Romney.

The Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, and the Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode would each make a better president than Obama or Romney. Johnson is better on defense and foreign policy, Goode on the cultural issues. Neither has a chance. Brave New World has conditioned its “free” voters to overlook any candidate but those of the single party. The Soviets were never so clever.

Like all false gods, Democracy can’t deliver. In comparison, the divine right of kings sounds downright scientific. So to it on election day let us turn. “We beseech Thee, O Lord, once again to grant us a Godly monarch.” Pray it before voting, or not voting. You might add a request for an Austrian Hapsburg. He knows them well. They are accustomed to ruling over ramshackled, polyglot, decaying empires. Erzherzog Karl should feel right at home.

William S. Lind’s “On War” column appears in TAC every month.

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Daniel McCarthy

Four years ago I wrote in a vote for Ron Paul. This year I’ll be doing the same for his son, Sen. Rand Paul. There are three things I hope to communicate by this. First, the Republican Party should take heed: there are individuals who would like to vote for the party but cannot do so as long as its foreign policy continues to be the nigh exclusive domain of neoconservatives and other militarists. Conservatism does not mean war; quite the opposite.

Second, Ron Paul supporters who have achieved so much in the last five years–propelling the Texas congressman into the top tier of Republican candidates in this year’s early contests and helping to elect not only Senator Paul but congressmen such as Justin Amash and (as looks likely) Thomas Massie–should continue the fight to transform the GOP. Even a longshot major-party contender of the sort Paul was in 2007/8 stands to gain greater attention and accomplish more than any third-party candidate. Working within a major party does not have to mean accepting whatever the party bosses prescribe: write-in the kind of Republican (or Democrat) you want to see.

Finally, I hope to convey to Rand Paul and other reform-minded Republicans that there is a constituency out there that doesn’t expect perfection but won’t settle for the lesser evil. Some of Senator Paul’s positions seem ill-advised to me (see James Bovard’s review of Government Bullies for examples), but he clearly represents an evolution in Republican thinking on war and civil liberties. He’s not alone in bidding for the party’s future: former Utah governor Jon Huntsman tried too hard during the primaries to outflank Romney from the militarist side on Iran, but otherwise he sounded very much like a common-sense conservative. Romney himself, should be become president, may find he has to look to fresh perspectives on the right if he hopes to avoid the mistakes of George W. Bush. A vote for Rand Paul is an arrow telling the GOP which way to move: forward as well as back to a prudent conservatism.

Daniel McCarthy is editor of The American Conservative. Follow him on Twitter.

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Scott McConnell

I’m voting for Obama without qualm or hesitation. I was never really taken with him, and have not become enthusiastic over the past four years. But his temperament is steady and his results are, actually, better than decent: his policies put the brakes on the financial meltdown spooking Wall Street (how quickly they forget) and the auto bailouts have worked out. The verdict is out on Obamacare, but it if turns out badly, it will be modified or repealed.

Romney exudes the smugness of a man who never had to fight for his identity or place in life: a big supporter of the Vietnam war (while securing, naturally, multiple draft deferments); a fortune made from financial manipulations in the deregulation era. It is impossible to imagine him ever wondering about the viability or fairness of a system in which he can make a quarter of a billion dollars chopping up and “harvesting” (to use Bain’s term) American companies while the incomes of most of his fellow citizens stagnate.

Worst of all, Romney is very likely to ignite a war with Iran, home to the largest educated middle class in the Mideast. He has stacked his campaign with neoconservatives and exhibits a startling affinity for the views of Bibi Netanyahu. The real Romney denigrates the culture of Palestinians, either from ignorance of the conditions the occupation imposes on them or from racial or religious malice.

The tenacity of the neoconservative hold on the GOP continues to amaze: in no American political party since the Progressives of Henry Wallace have the sympathizers of a foreign state played so critical a role. Between neoconservative intellectuals and the Christian Zionists, the GOP is now wedded completely to Israeli perspectives. Romney will bomb Iran to ensure Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly, while cheering from the sidelines as Israel completes a full-blown apartheid complex on the West Bank. The consequences to follow such events even Romney’s beloved Wall Street will find hard to stomach. And unlike a misconceived domestic initiative, wars and their blowback cannot be corrected by new legislation in Congress.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.

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Noah Millman

Back in 2008, I described myself as an “Obama-skeptic for Obama.” I remain a skeptic, and I remain a supporter of the president as the best among compromised alternatives.

The decision not to support Mitt Romney was an easy one. Romney has conspicuously refused to challenge Republican Party orthodoxy on any matter, and that orthodoxy has proved catastrophic in both foreign and domestic policy. Regardless of what Romney actually believes, he shows every sign of being easily bullied by true believers.

On economic policy, I agree with economists Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs that the Great Recession was ultimately caused by financialization and growing economic inequality. The administration’s approach to these long-term problems has been far from perfect — I’m particularly unhappy with how solicitous he has been of the major banks – but in broad strokes he has been aimed in somewhat the right direction, while the Republicans have been rowing the opposite way.

The president’s major domestic accomplishment, Obamacare, was not an unprecedented infringement on individual freedom, and I applaud the principle of universal participation in the healthcare system established therein. It’s a far-from-perfect law, but it is a reasonable and conservative first stab at universal coverage.

President Obama has been a modest disappointment in foreign policy, more committed to maintaining American hegemony and more willing to use force than I had hoped. But the American ship of state will be slow to turn, and at least he takes foreign policy seriously, which is more than can be said for his opponent. More disappointing has been his record on civil liberties and executive power, where he has entrenched and extended the pernicious precedents established by his predecessor. But Romney would be no better.

I considered voting for Gary Johnson as a protest for these reasons. But Johnson’s economic ideas would be catastrophic if put into practice. My preferred way forward is to cultivate cross-party alliances between legislators favoring a more restrained foreign policy and a limited executive.

President Obama has not been a “transformative” president, but I never expected him to be that. He’s been a Democrat. Compared to the major party alternative this year, that’s enough.

Noah Millman is TAC’s theater critic.

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Robert P. Murphy

I will not be voting in the upcoming election, or indeed in any future presidential elections. As an economist, I am used to analyzing behavior “on the margin.” Going to the polls carries a definite cost, primarily in terms of the loss of time that could have been devoted to other activities, but there is hardly any benefit at all. The only way your individual vote “makes a difference” is if the election is close enough in the Electoral College that your particular state has enough votes to swing it one way versus the other, and if the popular vote in your state is decided by a margin of exactly one. In that case and that case only, your vote makes the difference between Obama versus Romney being the next president. In all other scenarios, whether you vote for one or the other, vote third party, or just stay home and watch TV, the next occupant of the White House is the same.

Now a lot people bristle when they hear this type of cold-blooded analysis. They demand: “What if EVERYONE acted like you?!” But that’s the beauty of my approach: I want everyone to stay home on principle, because it delegitimizes this crooked system. There is no way that the establishment media and party bosses will ever let the American voters have a genuine choice in their presidential elections. In our current farce, there is hardly any noticeable difference in philosophy between the two candidates. Obama isn’t a peace candidate, and Romney isn’t a champion of laissez-faire. We are never going to be able to vote our way to rational, humane politics.

The one trump card the ruling class gets to play, whenever Americans are sickened at the bloated welfare-warfare state that is the furthest thing from what our Constitution authorizes, is to say: “You get to vote in new rulers every four years.” The fewer Americans who “vote for the lesser of two evils” in a pointless act that has no real influence on the outcome anyway, the harder it is for the rulers to play this card.

Robert P. Murphy is author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism. His blog is Free Advice. Follow him on Twitter.

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James P. Pinkerton

I’m voting for Mitt Romney, and here’s why.  

For starters, on the economy, unemployment is too high, growth is too slow, and Barack Obama is too “green.” I also think that lower tax rates are a better idea than higher tax rates, and I further believe that it’s more likely Romney will embrace the challenge of reigniting economic growth across the whole of the country–including, yes, the Keystone Pipeline.

And as for foreign policy, while I have not been a fan of regime-changing and nation-building, it doesn’t seem as if the real Mitt Romney is a fan, either.

Meanwhile, the most important national security issues, long term, tend to hinge on technology, as opposed to, say, moral clarity. For example, missile defense–whether we have it or not–is a more important variable for our national security than whether or not we are loved, or feared, by this leader or that leader. Or whether we are loved or feared by this or that belief system. Leaders and systems have a way of coming and going, but technological superiority remains as an enduring guarantor of security. Knowledge is power. That was the story of the industrial revolution over the last three centuries, and it will also be the story of the information age for a long time to come.

In the meantime, I am still waiting for someone to explain what Obama meant in March of this year when, amidst a discussion of missile defense, he said to then-Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, “After my election, I have more flexibility”–although I have a hunch. We should be building up our peace through strength, not negotiating it away.   Real missile defense will protect not only the U.S., but also our allies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

To cite a second technological example, drones in the sky are proving to be more effective at fighting terror than boots on the ground. Obama is no enemy of drones, of course, and yet to keep that technological edge relative to other rising powers, we need the strongest possible economy.

Thus on both counts, economy and security, for me, it’s Romney.

James P. Pinkerton is a contributor to the Fox News Channel and a TAC contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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Justin Raimondo

Although I’m not actually voting this year, I am indeed rooting for Obama. More precisely, I’m rooting against Romney. The reason is simple: Romney means war.

Granted, we have no guarantee of peace if the president is reelected. The chances are roughly 50-50: that’s a lot better than the 100 percent certainty of war with Iran if Romney wins.

I don’t think we’ve ever had a candidate more in thrall to a foreign leader than we have in the person of Mitt Romney. Here is a candidate for the White House attacking his opponent for not visiting Israel when he was in the Middle East – as if the president of the United States is some sort of vassal. It is truly astonishing to hear Romney criticize Obama for saying he wanted to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel – forgetting that the U.S. and Israel are different countries. Or is that not true anymore?

We are in the midst of a campaign by Israel and its amen corner to drag us into another war in the Middle East, an attack on Iran that would be devastating in its human consequences. And they are rallying behind Mitt Romney. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has broken with all precedent and made no secret of his preference for the Republican candidate.

The great danger is that Americans are so sick of that man in the White House that Romney will triumph. I can imagine no greater disaster.

Justin Raimondo is editorial director of Antiwar.com and author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative MovementFollow him on Twitter.

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Sheldon Richman

A vote is a terrible thing to waste. Therefore, I will stay at home on Nov. 6 and conserve my precious possession. I think it was Gordon Tullock who pointed out that I have a better chance of being hit by lightening on the way to the polls than of affecting the outcome of an election. So, being the safety-conscious type, I have yet another reason not to make the dangerous trek to the polling place on election day.

Still, I could have a preference for which of the major contenders I’d most like to see lose. But here things get tricky. For every reason I come up with for preferring that Romney lose, I can come up with an equal and opposite reason for preferring that Obama lose. For example, Romney is a Republican, and Republicans, despite the fact that nearly all of them are champions of plutocratic corporatism, inevitably speak free-market lingo. Therefore, if the economy goes south during a Republican administration, the media—which can’t distinguish rhetoric from reality—will blame the free market. And the public will believe it. George W. Bush’s free-market anarchism gave us the Great Recession, right?

So score one for Obama—except, as we’ve learned this past four years, when a warmongering Democratic progressive occupies the Oval Office, the peace and civil liberties movement evaporates. It wouldn’t have done so had McCain won. As the heroic Glenn Greenwald points out, the progressives’ priorities during the Bush 43 administration—anti-imperialism and the Bill of Rights—fell off the agenda the day Obama, the soon-to-be Nobel Peace Prize-winner, was inaugurated. Healthcare and the economic status of the middle class were all that mattered. Too bad for the distant and impoverished brown people who live under constant threat from Obama’s drones. Too bad for the people still being held in Guantanamo, despite having been cleared for release. First things first.

There are several other pairs of offsetting arguments, but you get the point.

Thank goodness my one vote wouldn’t have counted anyway. Staying home does have its advantages. As two of my favorite philosophers—Herbert Spencer and George Carlin—suggested, only nonvoters have a right to complain after an election.

Sheldon Richman is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America’s Families.

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Gerald J. Russello

When neither candidate is worth voting for, the only possible option is not to vote. As much as I believe Romney is a decent man, Republicans, and conservatives, will be fooled, once again, by their hopes of what could be rather than what is.

In the last presidential election we were faced with a choice between leftism and incompetence disguised as “hope and change” and an old Washington hand recast as a “maverick.” This year, admittedly, Romney is better, just, than McCain, and Obama has demonstrated there is little beyond his (often tired) rhetoric — the rest is driven by a leftist agenda no conservative (I almost said “no American”) could support. Yet, as people like Daniel Larison have shown, there is little difference between Romney and Obama in the use of government power. Romney’s calls for smaller government are incompatible — indeed, impossible — with his dedication to the expansion of American commitments abroad. Both of them, aided by the media and the mostly supine electorate, treat the president as problem-solver-in-chief, one of our severest cultural maladies.

The arguments about the Supreme Court, increased spending, and the like, although once appealing, I now believe to be simply wrong. Ronald Reagan stopped being president in 1988 – how did the last 23 years work out for us, with two Bushes in between? Politics is only part of our culture; we have to take the rest back ourselves and forget Washington.

Conservatives need to focus on getting people elected to school boards, justices of the peace, water commissions, and not be sucked into the same centralizing whirlwind where both political parties want us.

Gerald J. Russello is editor of The University Bookman.

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Steve Sailer

Do you remember the 1996 presidential campaign, when Bob Dole was played by Norm MacDonald on “Saturday Night Live”? MacDonald would end his “Weekend Update” segments with the self-interested plea “Hey, vote for Bob Dole” in the increasingly desperate hope that Norm would have a steady gig for the next four years. (A few months after Dole lost, the comedian was indeed fired from SNL.)

The rise of Barack Obama is one of the funnier things that America has ever done to itself. So far, though, few have allowed themselves to get the joke. If Obama loses, expect the question of how such a moody, low-energy loner became president to be immediately shoved down the national memory hole of that-which-we-shall-never-mention-again.

Unfortunately for me, after more than a half-decade researching his life, I still have plenty of good Obama material left. I know how Norm MacDonald used to feel.

Steve Sailer’s blog is isteve.blogspot.com.

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Sean Scallon

I do not concern myself over questions about “wasting” my vote. My ballot is only accountable to yours truly. It is a ballot marked by conscience and belief, not by electoral calculation.

Thus, I cast my ballot for president for the Constitution Party’s candidate, Virgil Goode. I do so supporting the bulk of the platform of the Constitution Party, or at least its best intentions. And I believe that as a former congressman, Goode is qualified for the office he is seeking and capable of doing a good job in it.

If I can convince others to join with me, then a vote for Goode will not be “wasted” at all but an important step in establishing the Constitution Party as it was originally envisioned when it was formed over 20 years ago. Back then it was known as the U.S. Taxpayers Party and was seen, fairly or not, as a vehicle for Pat Buchanan, later co-founder of TAC, to run for president as a non-major party candidate. Buchanan ultimately did make such run, but as a candidate of the Reform Party instead. The decision, unfortunately, turned out to be a bad one for all involved. The Reform Party eventually fell apart despite Buchanan’s candidacy and the Taxpayers Party, renamed the Constitution Party, almost did the same due to sectarian infighting.

But the candidacy of Virgil Goode provides the opportunity to create the kind party originally conceived. A party of the “conservatism of the heart” that Buchanan promoted while on the campaign trail. Fair trade, control of immigration, strong national defense without compromise of national sovereignty, protecting U.S soldiers’ lives from unnecessary foreign entanglements, and restoring the balances of power between the different branches of government — all these ideas can make the Constitution Party the true home for those Buchanan Brigades of yesterday and the Tea Partiers of today.

Sean Scallon is the author of Beating the Powers That Be: Independent Political Movements and Parties of the Upper Midwest and Their Relevance for Third Parties Today.

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Stephen B. Tippins Jr.

As I see it, there are (only and always) two reasons to vote for the Republican presidential candidate. The first is simply that any viable third party candidate is usually a libertarian.

The second is that, while the GOP may have wedded itself to an ideology – one that that rarely reflects any genuine conservative thought – it has also managed to wed itself to the lesser of two jurisprudential evils. The judicial appointments of recent Republican presidents, for example, have been leagues better than the appointments of presidents Clinton and Obama. This is especially important when it comes to filling the vacancies within our supposedly least dangerous branch. Say what you want about the presidency of George W. Bush, but he at least left us with Chief Justice Roberts, who, in turn, responsibly bridled the Commerce Clause.

Granted, not all Supreme Court nominations prove perfectly predictable. For instance, Republicans are forever baffled about the libertarian streak that runs rampant through the opinions of Justice Kennedy. But for the most part, Republican nominees reliably advocate “judicial restraint” and “strict constructionism.” Now, I don’t really know what those terms mean (Chief Justice Marshall: “What do gentlemen mean by a strict construction?”) nor do I subscribe to them, but they invariably make more sense than the jurisprudence espoused by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor, who seem to view our Constitution, and the culture that birthed it, as quaint.

I know I’ll never see a conservative run for office, perhaps any office. But like the last team left in the Calcutta, sometimes you just have to pony-up and bid on what you can get. And sometimes you wind up inadvertently bidding on John Roberts and you hit the jackpot — although you’ll probably just end up blowing your winnings on fast food or lottery tickets or a federal education program or a house you can’t afford or another foreign crusade…

I’ll cast a vote for Mitt.

Stephen B. Tippins Jr. is an attorney practicing in Buford, Georgia.

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John Zmirak

This year I will be voting against Barack Obama—and because I live in a swing state, that means voting for the very imperfect Mitt Romney, and a straight slate of New Hampshire Republicans. If I lived in Texas or New York, where my presidential ballot would be less than a lottery ticket, I might write in a “conscience” vote. But since my state is in play, I’m compelled to vote for Romney in self-defense. The Obama administration is already attacking civil society, liquidating private institutions that don’t comply with its utilitarian hedonism.

First they came for the Catholics—threatening Catholic schools, hospitals, publishers, everybody—with fines of $100 per employee per day if those religious institutions won’t flout their Church by paying for contraception. Who’s next? Baptist colleges that won’t perform gay “weddings”?

What we’re seeing here is more than religious intolerance. The Democrats want to shrink, attack, and confiscate institutions in the private sector—massacring the “little platoons” Burke spoke of that constitute civil society and build up ordered liberty. The aim is to fragment us into naked, atomized individuals shivering with every wind that blows from Washington, D.C. Think of an issue—any issue—where you might differ from the feds. Want to join a group that pushes back against Leviathan? President Obama believes it’s constitutional to cripple your group with fines until it closes. The “soft-totalitarianism” which Paul Gottfried has warned against is on the verge of an historic victory next Tuesday. Once fed, this shark will soon grow hungry again.

Fight them, please. Your conscience and your liberties are also on the president’s “kill list.”

John Zmirak is author of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism.

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