Two days until the election. I know a lot of people are sick of the hype. If you’re sick of it, please read no further. I just want to record my thoughts on the election before it goes down, for my own sake at least.
I predicted a Bush victory six months ago, and I’m sticking by that. Of course, I have no crystal ball; I don’t really know what will happen. But this prediction has proved to be a good psychological coping mechanism.
The Bush presidency has been far worse than I could have imagined, mainly because of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, which Noam Chomsky called a “gift to the hard jingoistic right.” The attacks gave Bush huge popular support, and he squandered it on an unjust war. The U.S. government often does bad things, but the war in Iraq is the most massive and blatantly unjust action I’ve witnessed yet.
All of which makes this election seem like the most important of my lifetime. Of course, this is only the seventh presidential election of which I have been cognizant. I don’t remember the Vietnam era.
So obviously, I’m against Bush. That much is simple.
So who to vote for on Tuesday? This is where things get complicated.
I’d prefer to vote for a candidate who reflects my values, like David Cobb of the Green Party. He can’t beat Bush, though. There’s only one man who can: John Kerry.
I don’t like the fact that Kerry supported the war on Iraq when even I, a private citizen, could see that it was unjustified. I don’t like the fact that he supported the Patriot Act which tramples on civil rights. I don’t like the fact that he has supported so much of the Bush agenda.
I can’t support Kerry on his merits. But perhaps I should vote for him for strategic reasons. I know many people who don’t like Kerry but are voting for him anyway. Most of these people seem to regard themselves as making a realistic and pragmatic choice in difficult times. They are going to choose Kerry not based on his merits and his record, but as a strategic or tactical vote. They are voting for him because he is not Bush, and he is the only candidate with a realistic chance of beating Bush. He may not be much better than Bush, but at least he’s a little better, and even a little difference makes a big difference, if you follow me. This is the well-known “lesser of evils” strategy which dominates American politics today.
I used to despise this kind of thinking, but I’ve become resigned to it. Until our electoral system changes, strategic voting and lesser-evilism are here to stay.
In fact, I’ll go one further. Suppose Kerry is not even a little better than Bush; suppose he is, on balance, exactly the same — better in some ways, worse in others; or suppose he is actually worse. We won’t really know unless he takes office, of course, but this is a thought experiment, so just suppose. Even if Kerry makes a worse president than Bush, our first premise in this tortuous train of logic is still intact: He is still not Bush. If you are deep into the “Anybody But Bush” mentality, then this alone provides all the justification you need to vote for the man. Let us further assume that presidents in their second term are always more powerful and capable. A second Bush term would validate all the terrible things he’s done in the first term, and presumably he’d escalate his campaign to destroy America. But a first term by somebody else — anybody else — would mean a weaker president, less capable of damaging the country.
I’m not saying I accept this logic, but grant it for the sake of argument, because it takes the issue of Kerry’s merits off the table completely, and allows us to focus on the question:
Should I cast a strategic vote for Kerry? If we grant all of the above, the answer would seem to be “yes.”
But if I’m going to be all strategic about my vote, all pragmatic and realistic, I really need to consider the electoral college. It’s abundantly clear that all of Louisiana’s electoral votes will go to Bush, and exactly zero will go to Kerry. And in most states this is true, either one way or another. There seem to be only a few states where the outcome is in question.
From the perspective of lesser-evilism and ABB-ism, the strategic value of my vote only holds true if Kerry wins by a very narrow margin indeed. If he loses, I’ve wasted my vote. If he wins by a big margin, he didn’t need my vote after all.
Some people, like my friends David Bryan or Michael Homan, seem to justify voting for Kerry in hopes that he’ll win the popular vote, even if he loses the election, but I find this a remarkably uninspiring argument.
I feel confident in the fact that, in Louisiana at least, neither Kerry nor Bush will miss my vote. However, every single vote matters very much to third party candidates. They are not running to win; they are merely running to show.
Therefore I have concluded that the most strategic vote of all is a vote for a candidate who represents values I truly believe in. If anyone happens to read this who lives in a state where the outcome is assured, then I encourage you to vote your conscience, and don’t fall for this strategic claptrap.
I especially detest all the anti-Nader hype that people are wasting each other’s time with. Yes, right here in Louisiana people are arguing about this, just like everywhere else. But Nader, or any third-party candidate, is so far from making a difference here in Louisiana that it’s laughable. He’ll be lucky to get 1% of the vote. Meanwhile, registered Democrats are gonna hand Bush our state on a platter.
Of course, all of the above comments apply only to the majority of states, where one candidate or the other has the election locked. Things are pretty cut and dried here. People who live in the so-called battleground states are facing the more interesting dilemma. I don’t envy them.
Postscriptum: It will be no surprise if the results of this election are contested. In a way, I’m hoping for another debacle, because electoral reform will only happen when people are pissed off. But eventually a winner should emerge. If Bush wins, we’re screwed. If Kerry wins, it will be no great triumph. We’ll still be screwed. I think there’s a great danger that, with Kerry as president, many Americans who got worked up about this election will think the battle is over. But it won’t be. The battle for the direction of America will continue.
Finally, for an excellent analysis of the evils of the electoral college, and why Colorado is a state to watch during this election, see the Black Commentator article “Black Vote Smothered by Electoral College.”