Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas speaks at the University of California...

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas speaks at the University of California at Berkeley, Calif. (April 5, 2012) Credit: AP

In politics, as in children's after-school specials, kids willing to do anything to gain acceptance with the popular crowd generally end up with no friends at all. The moral is always the same: better a few geeky compadres you can trust than a bunch of A-list acquaintances who don't have your back or share your values.

If libertarians kept this in mind during general elections, they'd be far better off. But these wallflowers at the political dance are easily seduced.

Recently, at the North Carolina Republican Convention, former Minnesota governor and potential Republican vice-presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said, "It's important that the coalition of conservatives consist of economic conservatives and social conservatives and tea party conservatives and libertarian conservatives and security and defense conservatives and more. And no one group can win the swing states, or most states, by themselves."

So Pawlenty argues that libertarians, who believe in legalizing drugs, gambling and prostitution, getting government out of marriages and bedrooms entirely, bringing all our troops home and forgoing all military adventures, should vote for Mitt Romney. If Mitt wins and follows the policies he (this year, at least) touts, these libertarians could end up jailed for dope, shot dead in suburban Tehran, or denied the right to marry their same-sex boo. But hey, anything for a fellow "conservative," right?

Democrats will woo libertarians with promises that Obama really believes in peace and civil liberties. Guantánamo, drones, wiretapping, and kill lists are just ways he lets off steam.

If you say you'll be pulling the lever for the libertarians or any other third party come November? Cue the chorus from both sides of the aisle: "Go ahead, throw your vote away." But that's advice best ignored.

You can't influence these parties by voting for them. You can only change the Democrats and Republicans by defeating them.

The game is rigged. Third parties must pursue guerrilla politics. The major parties, private organizations that by rights should be treated like the Greens, Libertarians, or even the Rent is Too Damn High Party, for that matter, have made themselves departments of the government, and gotten that government to pay a lot of their bills.

Ron Paul seems to have figured out how to use the Republicans, rather than being used. Paul claims to be GOP, while voting against his party mates' bills. Since he's a "Republican" and has support, he gets to participate in debates and the media runs stories about him.

But in 2008, after his try at the GOP nomination, Paul made a point everyone who craves change should pay attention to by announcing his general support of four third-party candidates: Cynthia McKinney (Green Party); Bob Barr (Libertarian Party); Chuck Baldwin (Constitution Party); and Ralph Nader (independent).

He did not support John McCain, "conservative" or not, because he didn't believe in McCain's policies. If everyone who abhors the coziness of politicians and big-money contributors and the shared corruptions of the Republicans and Democrats refused to vote for a major party, the total numbers would shock. And in the following election, when people saw the way the tide was pulling, they'd be even higher.

If change is what you want, you can't keep voting for the status quo when November rolls around. As things stand right now, the third-party votes, no matter which off-brand ticket they go to, are the only ballots that won't be wasted.

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