Washington. -- Understandably, you are wondering: Isn't there a fourth choice?
There is, and he is the only presidential candidate foursquare against the U.N. Moon Treaty, whatever that is (it can't be good). Standing foursquare against things is the Libertarian Party's specialty.
Its platform calls for government to cease and desist from almost everything except the repealing of laws (Social Security, the Post Office, you name it). And the platform concludes with a flourish:
"Our silence about any other particular government law, regulation, ordinance, directive, edict, control, regulatory agency, activity or machination should not be construed to imply approval."
"Machination." A nice touch, that.
The Libertarian presidential candidate, Andre Marrou, 53, has limited experience in elective office -- a two-year term in Alaska's legislature -- but it ranks him above Ross Perot. Unfortunately, Mr. Marrou's scary certitude makes even Mr. Perot look like Hamlet.
Mr. Marrou says the Libertarian Party "certainly" will become the next major party, and that a Libertarian president and congress is "inevitable." He has the future figured out, as fanatics generally do.
He is balding and bearded and has been called a "cheerful Lenin." He isn't. Cheerful, that is. There hangs about him the acrid aroma of strange incense burnt at silly altars. There is, in fact, some Lenin in the clanking rhetoric by which he expresses his encompassing ideology, his life in the familiar 20th-century abode, the well-lit prison of one idea.
The idea is that "government power is opposed to individual liberty." Must we still debate such sophomoric notions? One's spirit sags at the prospect of plowing all the over-plowed intellectual ground from late-night college arguments, long ago when we smoked French cigarettes and thought Italian movies were deep. But plow we must.
So, here goes: Police and armies that keep bad people at bay, and roads that make practical the freedom to travel, and education that makes people competent for life in a free society, these are not "opposed to individual liberty." Besides, liberty, although very important, is not the only value. There are also justice, domestic tranquillity and a good five-cent cigar.
The Libertarians' extremism (they oppose laws setting minimum drinking ages, or banning concealed weapons, or restricting immigration, and so on) makes them unelectable, so their extremism also makes them safe recipients of protest votes. If you wonder why a million people may pull the Libertarian lever to endorse dismantling government, consider just four facts from a large universe of annoying facts:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics divides the economy into nine sectors. In seven of them, June employment declined, on a seasonally adjusted basis. There was a small gain in the transportation and public utility sector, and a healthier (so to speak) gain in the government sector. In sickness and in health, government grows.
When Jimmy Carter became president in 1977 there were 2.8 million employees of the federal executive branch, excluding the military. After more than 11 years of the Reagan-Bush "attack on government," there are 2.9 million, and state and local government employees have increased from 12.4 million to 15.4 million.
The Democratic Party is convening in New York, where two weeks ago The New York Times ran this correction: "An article yesterday about the New York City Board of Education's adoption of an AIDS curriculum for elementary schools referred incorrectly to the policy on references to anal intercourse. Such references were deleted for the fifth grade but retained for the sixth."
And speaking of family values, Republicans, those guardians thereof, have given Murphy Brown's baby a present: a quadrupled national debt.
The Democrats' contribution to happy families is to say that there is government spending, and there is government "investing." The basic difference is that Democrats like the latter and Republicans like the former. For example, there is defense spending and there is investing in cities. Soon I expect to have the following conversation with my 11-year old daughter.
Me: What? You've spent your allowance already?
She: Heaven forfend, dear father, I've invested it.
Me: You call a Guns N'Roses CD an investment?
She: Of course, and if you don't call it that, your analysis is hopelessly pre-Clinton. Mr. Clinton says that spending on education is investing. And if you think I am not learning things from Axl Rose, you have not been listening to his lyrics.
Actually, Bill Clinton is making the worst of a good point. Not all public spending is equal in its social yield. Unfortunately, all recipients of public funds are equally ingenious in arguing that what they get (farm subsidies, Amtrak subsidies, art subsidies, you name it) is a wise "investment." And Mr. Clinton's patently political semantic sleight-of-hand diminishes confidence that economic rather than familiar political reasoning would govern spending-investing decisions in a Clinton administration.
All of which makes the Libertarians' frivolousness especially regrettable. Once upon a time there were politically serious third parties -- Bob La Follette's Progressives, Norman Thomas' Socialists -- which, by working at the margins, expanded first the nation's political discussion and then the nation's agenda. No more.
George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.