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{November 2004}

I have a confession to make: I voted Libertarian on Election Day. I voted for a third party in an election that was supposed to be a turning point for the country. Given a choice between two candidates with dramatically different visions for America, I rejected them both.

Yes, Libertarian vote totals are always insignificant. Yes, some of their ideas are nutty, and yes, some of you would argue that voting for a third party is throwing your vote away. Those points are well taken.

But if I had to agree on every issue before I voted for a candidate, I’d never vote at all. And as for throwing your vote away, well, you’re right. I voted for a minority party candidate, and now I’m stuck with a president I didn’t vote for.

Of course, so are the 56 million people who voted for Kerry.

For people who believe in both freedom and responsibility, the two-party system asks us to make an impossible choice. Democrats are good on free speech and personal freedom issues, but they champion programs that are both fiscally irresponsible and socially harmful. Republicans understand the importance of individual responsibility in civil society, but many are hostile to personal freedom.

Should I vote Democratic or Republican? Do I support freedom or responsibility? Why not ask which of my children I love more? Libertarians at least have the guts to say that both are important. They are the only people articulating a principled vision of what that means for America.

Happily, libertarians have done reasonably well in non-partisan contests. Libertarians are proud to be serving in elected or appointed offices across America. But, barring the emergence of a Libertarian billionaire who can buy TV time, I’ll never see one (or any third party) win a partisan election. The game is rigged, but that’s just too bad. It’s the way it is.

But all is not lost. Democrats and Republicans have one thing in common: they want power. To do that, they must convince people to vote for them. So while alternative parties may struggle, their ideas don’t have to. If enough people articulate a new political vision, there is a good chance that competition for votes can make that vision part of the mainstream.

Many planks of the early Socialist Party platform are now articles of faith among Democrats today. (To America’s detriment, I believe.) Vouchers and social security privatization are now mainstream within the Republican Party (To America’s credit, I believe). Who can say what else might be possible, if enough people raise their voice?

I can’t say for sure which major party is more receptive to this combined vision. In my political fantasies, Republicans tell social conservatives that they’ll have to weaken the connection between their religion and their politics. In return, they’ll get lower taxes, vouchers, and social security reform. Democrats might tell the party faithful they’ll have to give up monopoly schooling and start cutting entitlement programs. If they agree, they’ll get a freer, more prosperous society where personal choices and civil liberties are truly valued.

So far, based on highly unscientific polls of my friends, I think conservatives are a little more sympathetic. It’s easier to convince them of the benefits of freedom for all than to persuade liberals that letting politicians redistribute wealth isn’t such a great idea.

But I could be wrong, so I hedge my bets. I’ve had some success with the ACLU as a free speech activist, but I’m also affiliated with a conservative think tank. And why not? Why should I be stuck with two points of view if I think neither has all the answers?

Mr. President, I didn’t vote for you, but you were lawfully elected and I’ll support you now. Still, if you really want to be a uniter and not a divider, you could do worse than reach out to people like me. Cut taxes, sure, but cut spending too. Push hard on social security privatization and vouchers. Don’t let any one religion dominate the national agenda, even if it’s your own. Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists count too.

If you want to be a uniter, start with freedom and responsibility. They’ve been apart far too long.