Why the right’s rush to Austin Petersen betrays their principles

Ted Cruz’s loss in the Indiana primary ushered in dark days for many who consider themselves devotees of individualism, free markets and limited government . Donald Trump’s victory speech seemed like Neville Chamberlain declaring “peace in our time,” leaving ideological conservatives alienated with the uneasy  feeling that the remaining major party candidates presaged an inevitable rise of authoritarianism.

Rather than sit and brood about the death of freedom, many in the Never Trump right who had been clinging to Cruz immediately found a new champion: libertarian Austin Petersen. His message seemingly acted like a siren song upon disenfranchised conservatives.

But, should it have? Those who were with Cruz until the bitter end remained despite the dwindling prospect of success because of a belief in principles. They rejected the rhetoric which demanded they support the most popular candidate as the best path to ultimate victory, as this would have been to enslave themselves to political gamesmanship. Their support  for Cruz was contingent on his long-record of standing for the principles with which they agreed. So how, in a matter of weeks, could they properly vet Petersen?

The Petersen push reeks of desperation, an act of defiance to those trotting out the tired old argument that conservatives need to “go along to get along” and support Trump so Hillary Clinton does not win in November. This argument, of course, is wholly fallacious. Electoral politics is not a zero-sum game. Yes, there are a limited number of available votes, but the choices are not binary. A vote for Candidate X does not take away a vote from Candidate Y. This is a line of thinking which disempowers the voice and influence of influential voters.

But the right’s rush to Petersen does exactly the same.

When a politician talks about “earning votes,” suspicion should immediately result. Politicians should not care about earning individual votes. Obviously they want to win a plurality or majority of a given constituency, but they should want to do so on the basis of whether their ideas prevail in that area. Politics that focuses on vote-earning is rooted in the fallacy of the zero-sum model. Its root is in vote-getting and results in venal identity politics.

One need only look at the stagnating conservative movement to see this. Conservatism has become a platitude, encapsulated in praise offered to the greatness of Ronald Reagan. It  dos not look to how the timeless truths at the root of conservative ideas  of limited government, individualism and free markets can be incorporated into modern innovation but allows them to be defined by the actions of the past.

Conservatives are pandered to; their deeply held beliefs are boiled down to clever little quips spouted by candidates more concerned with crafting epithets that demean their competitors than articulating meritorious ideas.

Politics has become banal and fractious, something that is tolerated as a necessary evil. It should be exciting and frustrating. Political choices are a matter of personal exigency; they are expressions of the most intimate facets of individual life. They should reflect personal philosophy, not come down to supporting “the lesser of two evils.”

The difference between politics and philosophy is obvious in the writings of the Founders. They created a government  that operates independently of personal philosophy, hence their institution of a system which protects differences of opinion and fosters debate so that issues can be argued and buoyed to supremacy in society on their merits. Good government has a politics rooted in principle-driven philosophy.

Speech manifests itself in different ways. Political donations and activism for candidates are valid forms of speech, especially if one believes absolutely in a candidate. Obviously, each individual must their own discretion.

But to rush to endorse a political candidate is to surrender intellectual autonomy. To do so is to subvert personal philosophy to the ideas of another and undercut the seriousness of dialogue which ought to underlie campaigns. It is an end-run around issue-driven debate. The voter, in rushing to endorse and promote a candidate, ceases to become a voice for their own individual ideas and proclaims their judgment as inferior to a legislator. The oversight role of the voter is minimized. If philosophy is to regain supremacy as the root of politics, candidates and voters need to be less concerned with personality and more concerned with ideas.

Austin Petersen may very well be the second coming of Barry Goldwater; he certainly has a unique platform of seemingly viable ideas. But the immediate post-Cruz rush promotes reactionism and not intellectualism. It is in effect a sycophantic cry from conservatives, “The king is dead; long live the king.” It is an action that is denigrating to his seriousness, denigrating to the power of the voter and injurious to the quality of political discourse.

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