As the federal government shutdown drama wrapped up, I asked if the Tea Party just wants to watch the world burn. Motivating that question was an observed division among activists on the Right between those seeking to work within the system to elect majorities and those seeking to “fight” at any electoral cost.
The latter faction claims exclusive title to principle. Over and over again, leading up to and during the shutdown, we were told that a vote for a continuing resolution which did not defund Obamacare was “a vote to fund Obamacare.” In other words, we were told that you cannot claim to oppose a policy on principle if you take an action which acquiesces to it.
As logical as it may sound on first pass, that premise deserves to be challenged. If universally applied, it establishes a standard which precisely no one can meet. No elected official, including Tea Party darling Senator Ted Cruz, can claim to have never taken an action which supports an institution or policy violating their principles. No resident of this country can either.
As a libertarian purist, if you’ve received and spent federal reserve notes, if you’ve paid a tax, if you’ve driven on public roads, if you attended or sent your children to a public school, if you’ve dialed 9-1-1, if you’ve claimed unemployment, if you’ve watched television or seen a movie or turned on a radio, if you’ve flown, if you’ve bought a product produced and distributed under our American system of coercive regulations – if you’ve lived in this country, then you have supported institutions and policies which violate your sacred principles.
A common attack upon the integrity of Ayn Rand cites that she took social security and Medicare benefits. She was a hypocrite, critics charge, because she railed against such programs throughout her career. Missed in such criticism is acknowledgement of the fundamental difference between acting as an individual under the system in which you live and condoning the specific rights-violating policies and institutions which make up that system. Being philosophically opposed to the way things are does not create some obligation to act against your own interest in a futile attempt to keep your hands clean of the system.
You do not condone taxation by paying taxes anymore than you would condone robbery by handing over your wallet during a mugging. We each live under a persistent state of coercion, effectively with a gun to our head. That shifts the spectrum of rational choice. We choose how best to proceed under the coercive conditions we find ourselves persistently in. Beyond that, we can only advocate for change. So you take your social security benefits while arguing against social security. You send your kids to public school while arguing against the horrors of public education. You maintain that robbery is wrong while choosing to yield your wallet rather than be shot. These actions do not make you a hypocrite. They make you rational.
Any elected official has acquiesced to the system simply by running for office. That does not mean that they consent to the status quo. Acquiescence is the acknowledgement that things are the way they are. Consent is condoning how things are. If you really think being principled means doing nothing which acquiesces to the system, you’re obligated by that interpretation to stop living in this country while its coercive policies remain. Fortunately, that is not what being principled means.
Applying this observation to the rhetoric surrounding the defund strategy, we must acknowledge that a vote for a continuing resolution no more consents to Obamacare than it consents to any of a dozen other horrendous policies routinely perpetrated by our government. It merely acquiesces to political reality. Changing that reality requires more than “brass ones,” “intestinal fortitude,” or a willingness to “fight.” To change political reality, you have to persuade the public and win not just a single race but the governing majority necessary to go forth and craft law.
Cross-posted at PJ Media, where comments are welcome.