Should I Vote With My Gut?
Are Elections Really Battles of Good Versus Evil?
It’s hard to choose the most annoying aspect of each political party’s national convention: the endless parade of speeches filled with little more than political rhetoric, the repetitive chanting of inane catch phrases, or the pointless ceremony of delegates casting votes for a predetermined nominee. In my view, however, there is nothing more annoying than the crowd of delegates, and I’m not just talking about the ridiculous clothes, signs, and balloon throwing. What particularly irks me is that these people seem to truly believe that the electoral victory of their party and presidential candidate is the key to America’s future prosperity. And the only thing that eclipses the love they feel for their candidate (and themselves) is their hatred of those other guys. It’s not just that the other party has a less effective political platform. According to the party faithful, that other organization is filled with bad people.
I understand that political disagreement is inevitable, and all of us, no matter how unbiased and moderate we may try to be, will end up leaning toward one side of the political spectrum. I actually respect people who are true, consistent ideological liberals or conservatives. What I have trouble respecting, however, is extreme partisanship. A true liberal or conservative, after all, will criticize his or her political party when it fails to live up to ideological principles. So if President Obama steps up drone missile attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, a true liberal will be critical. And if President Bush supports a Medicare prescription drug benefit without coming up with a way to pay for it, a true fiscal conservative will be critical. A partisan person, however, will cut his or her party some slack in these situations, but will jump all over those other guys if they engage in the same policies. The same is true, of course, when politicians are implicated in scandals. If a member of an opposing party is accused of ethics violations, it is clear evidence that those other guys are ethically inferior. But if someone in your party is accused, it is either no big deal or it is a baseless, partisan attack. The best way to deal with inconvenient facts, after all, is to deny their very existence.
Why do so many people feel the need to go to extremes? Why can’t we just look at each candidate’s policy platform – and when possible, past history - and make a rational choice regarding who is better for the country? Do we need to frame elections into battles between good and evil in order to get excited about them? Having said all of this, I would like to say that I am different. I am a currently registered Democrat, but this is partly because I have not taken the time to make the change to independent. I also realize that neither party will have much of a Congressional majority after the upcoming election, so we are unlikely to see any major changes in the country regardless of the results. I also know that both parties have had their share of political scandals over the years.
But Mitt Romney pisses me off. He seems to be the very personification of the term politician, adjusting his belief system to the political circumstances of the moment. As governor of Massachusetts, he was pro-choice, supportive of gay marriage, and the signer of health care reform. Now, of course, he is a “true” conservative, catering to the freak show that has taken over much of the Republican Party. And I see nothing in his vaguely stated ideas that indicate that he will do anything to change the trends of the last thirty years: tax cuts (particularly for wealthy people like himself who make most of their income from capital gains), deregulation, and minor budget cuts (mostly on the poor) that do little to impact the deficit. So I foresee a future of increasing concentration of wealth, environmental deterioration, and lingering debt. I can barely stand watching this schmuck speak. He almost makes George W. Bush seem charismatic.
Is this a rational reaction? If I stop and think, do I really believe that a Romney presidency would be such a disaster? In spite of conservative caricatures, I see little evidence that Obama is some sort of a liberal reformer. The main thing that I have seen between the Bush and Obama presidencies is continuity, and I don’t expect things to change significantly if Obama wins. So why does the thought of a Romney presidency make me shudder? This could be the subject of a long blog post, and it might require some serious self-analysis to figure it out. So for now, I will merely acknowledge the fact that politics can get quite emotional, and in a complex world with complex problems, it is easier to vote with our hearts than our minds. Voting with our emotions can also provide a certain amount of emotional comfort. When we take the side of good versus evil, at least we feel that our vote is having a positive impact. Too much thinking takes so much time and effort, can lead to cynicism and paralysis, and makes those political conventions and rallies far less fun.
So do I preach compromise and restraint or jump on one of the bandwagons? Since I believe that the best place to be on the ideological spectrum is somewhere in the middle, should I really care who wins? Should I vote (and write) with my gut or my mind? A long time ago, politicians figured out that appealing to people’s emotions is far more effective than rational argument. We are programmed to follow our instincts, choose sides, and defeat the other. It’s tough to fight human nature, so maybe I shouldn’t try.