This year, I am voting for Hillary Clinton.
I am voting for Hillary Clinton even though I disagree with her on a whole range of domestic policies, even though she urged that same unconstitutional intervention in Libya, and even though she favors the NSA’s program of mass surveillance. I am voting for her even though I live in California, the safest of blue states, and could easily vote for a candidate I like better, Gary Johnson, without increasing the chance that Donald Trump, the candidate I like least, will win the White House.
I am voting that way to practice what I preach.
Because I believe voters who live in states that Trump could possibly win, and think of themselves as classical liberals, libertarians, constitutional conservatives, or civil libertarians, should also vote for Hillary Clinton, and should not feel bad doing so, even knowing that we’ll fight like hell against many of her policies.
I believe Bernie Sanders progressives should vote for her, too.
I want her to know that my vote confers no mandate for large swaths of her agenda. And I want you to know why I am approaching this election so differently than four years ago, even after urging the Democrats to nominate anyone else this cycle, and even though I am generally sympathetic to the impulse to cast protest votes. There are ways in which it is still hard for me to vote Hillary Clinton this year. Yet I am confident in the case for doing so—and I think many of you will be, too.
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Why “hold my nose” this year when I haven’t before?
One reason that my thinking has changed is tactical. After Obama broke so many promises on civil liberties and executive power, big progress on those issues was unlikely. In 2012, I thought there was at least a chance that if enough voters showed that they cared about his reversals and misbehavior, there was a way to reinvigorate the fight against the civil-liberties abrogations adopted after 9/11—that Johnson would lose the election, but win lots of supporters, showing politicians that there are civil libertarian votes to be won, perhaps even inspiring a Rand Paul or a Russ Feingold to make civil libertarians part of a winning coalition in 2016.
What actually happened could hardly be more different.
Gary Johnson got less than 1 percent of the vote in 2012, advancing the civil-libertarian cause not at all. None of the Democratic or Republican primary candidates focused on civil liberties this cycle. And Rand Paul, who raised war powers and civil liberties most in the GOP primary, got almost zero support as a result. Then Gary Johnson, having mounted a new third-party bid against the least likable major-party candidates in a generation, still fell far short of the polling threshold needed to get into the debates, and seems unlikely to win more than 5 percent of the vote, even as a little known former CIA agent has an outside shot at winning Utah.