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 Voting for “Neither” 

August 5, 2004 
I recently quoted G.K. Chesterton on the flaw in a two-party system: “The democracy has the right to answer questions, but it has no right to ask them. It is still the political aristocracy that asks the questions. Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.And we shall not be unreasonably cynical if we suppose that the political aristocracy will always be rather careful what questions it asks.”

In fact, the two big parties always ask the same irksome question: Which of us do you prefer? If your reply is “neither,” you may, like half the electorate, stay home on election day.

The proof that both parties are really the same party is simple: Neither wants to repeal much of what the other party has achieved. The Republicans now promise to preserve and even aggrandize all the Democratic programs and agencies they used to oppose. One “neoconservative” journalist, Fred Barnes, approvingly calls President Bush a “big-government conservative.”

Actually, the phrase is slightly misleading, even apart from being a contradiction in terms. Bush is a bigger-government conservative, or rather a much-bigger-government conservative, for whom there are no limits on the size and scope of government. You might as well call him a totalitarian conservative.

So our “choices” are liberal and conservative totalitarianism. Both parties are one in seeking an indefinite, irreversible accumulation of power by government. They differ slightly on the immediate direction this growth should take, but there is no debate on the shared premise that government should just keep growing. When they promise “change,” they always mean more government; never that the premise itself will change.

Those who want to choose “neither” but don’t want to stay home on November 2 may want to consider Michael Anthony Peroutka of the Constitution Party. Peroutka is a pleasant, good-humored Maryland lawyer who sings and plays the guitar at his campaign rallies. No extravagant claims should be made for his singing and strumming, but his campaign theme may be sweet music to your ears: finite government.

[Breaker quote: Meet Michael Peroutka.]Peroutka doesn’t just want to halt government growth; he wants to prune away most of the jungle of laws that has already grown. The Constitution Party is dedicated to repealing the vast body of legislation, including overweening judicial rulings, that isn’t authorized by the U.S. Constitution. It wants to change the two parties’ premise.

It’s a sign of the times that a party that stands for recognizing the limits imposed by the Constitution is regarded as extremist, unelectable, radical, outside the mainstream. This is a phase new political movements always have to endure, as the “political aristocracy” tries to keep them good and marginalized. It happened to the Goldwater/Reagan movement.

Peroutka denies that he’s a “spoiler” hoping to move the Republican Party rightward. He’s not trying to spoil anything; he’s trying to restore something. And, like most members of his party, he has long since given up hope that the Republicans will ever restore it.

Everything old becomes new again, and the constitutional paradigm Peroutka wants to bring back would by now seem like a novelty. Only serious students of American history are aware that it once existed. Not only did it exist, it worked far better than most other forms of government, despite all pressures to change.

As Chesterton also wrote, “It is futile to discuss reform without reference to form.” For Peroutka, reform means a return to form. And the form lies close at hand: in the Constitution. The two parties pretend to honor it, take oaths to uphold it, and ignore it. The Republicans sometimes try, in their gauche manner, to amend it, but the Democrats have long since learned to circumvent it (especially through the judiciary) by inflating a few passages and forgetting the rest — the “living document” approach, which denies that words have objective meaning.

But no real rule of law can emerge from subjectivist interpretation, by either legislators or judges. So in a sense, Peroutka isn’t just running for office; he’s fighting for an honest political language that has become almost extinct among us. The Constitution presupposes that words do have objective meaning, and that a shared and reliable political language is one of the deepest preconditions of a free society. If you doubt that fuzzy language can lead to tyranny, look around you.

Michael Peroutka doesn’t expect to win this year. But he is confident that in the end, the truth is never offered in vain.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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