Several years back I was accosted at a street festival by a local politician who was running for state representative. I'm not sure if they were already an incumbent or not, but they asked me what they could do for me up at the capitol. I told them they could leave me alone. I told them to not pass any more laws and to get rid of the ones they had. They assured me they were big advocates of 'limited government'. What they were really advocates of was big campaign contributions from corporate welfare hopefuls. They were handily elected and proceeded to busy themselves with 'bringing home the bacon' and 'making friends' because after all, that's how you get things done. Life marched on.
A few years later, with Obamacare looming, a friend of mine decided to cast his hat into the ring and challenge the incumbent. This fellow was a true blue liberty advocate, a reader of Mises and Hayek. In fact, this guy was the guy who loaned me Tom Wood's book on nullification. We were excited, and my whole family got behind this campaign. It was a heady beginning. He told me that his plan was to run for one term, make a bunch of people mad, and then return home. The incumbent was status quo, and our friend was a dangerous outsider. Not everybody involved in the campaign was excited about his libertarian roots. From the beginning I saw that his extremism was a source of heartburn for the people that were trying to actually get him elected. As the campaign wore on he was asked to tone down the rhetoric by his campaign advisers while the small crowd of crazies from the living room encouraged him to continue fighting the good fight.
What happened next may have been the worst thing to happen to him. He won. He did fight the good fight for a while, but the wheels of the well-funded machinery began to wear at him in the state capitol. The things he wanted to get done were blocked and stymied at every turn by 'conservatives' who weren't advocates for liberty, but they were advocates of 'limited government'. His chances of repealing things and nullifying things grew more and more minute . I specifically remember a heartbreaking conversation we had when he told me that the Republicans in my state would never allow Obamacare to be nullified, and it was a waste of time to try. I thought something that I did not say. I thought 'well then why are you running for re-election?'.
Speaking of re-election, the former incumbent financed a primary opponent against him, and he squeaked out a victory. Somewhere in the middle of that he experienced some minor legislative victories (however you define victory), and began to be liked in the capitol. The people that opposed him and blocked him in the beginning began to advise him and endorse his ideas. I told him in the grocery store one day that he was no longer the dangerous outsider; he was the incumbent. Along the way he pushed for funding to help bring home some bacon for his district. he began to talk about the importance of a politician providing jobs for the community. He fell out with the local Tea Party group that he had been an early member of. He broke a campaign promise to vote against a tax increase, claiming he had inside information about how necessary the tax was. He began to attend Republican dinners and fundraisers. He began to prepare to run for a third term.
The old incumbent and some well-heeled friends of theirs mounted yet another establishment pro-corporate welfare candidate against him in the primary. He was put in a position to prove all the good things he had done in his first two terms. This is measured by how much money you bring back home, because its hard to argue for all the things you prevented from happening after all. He sent out slick multi-colored mailers saying how he has been endorsed by all the GOP hierarchy in my state. I'm sure he'll do well in the primary, and I'm supposed to go vote in a couple of hours but I don't know what I'm going to do. I refuse to vote for his opponent, but my friend has become , unfortunately, the lesser of two evils.I say that knowing that, in all probability he will read this.
Please understand that all of this breaks my heart. I really like the guy. We love his family, and I'm sure he thinks he's stayed by the stuff. I know the typical wisdom is that you do what you have to do to get the job done. The typical thinking is that without powerful friends, without playing the game you can't get anything accomplished. I'm sure he would make the argument that it takes a lot to get there, and it takes a lot to stay there. I'm certain the case could be made that he wasn't elected to represent just the libertarians, but the whole district..
My point in all this is not that my friend got caught up in pragmatism, but rather that politics is a horrible filthy, comprising business. You have to go day in and day out and deal with people who have made it their life's work the practice of acquiring power over other men. What are the odds they won't get any power over you? They charm and manipulate for a living. What are the odds you can carry that fire in your bosom and not get burned? How can you hope to escape without selling off at least a portion of your soul?
If government isn't the answer, then getting involved in government cannot possibly be the answer. Those of us that truly want liberty cannot worry and fret ourselves with running for office. The odds aren't that you will convert the machinery to the cause of liberty; the odds are that you will be converted. You will be assimilated, and you might not even realize it. If you feel yourself in any danger of 'playing the game', your only hope is to resign and run as far away from the halls of power as you can. Let lesser men seek power over other men, we've got a world to build.