Thursday, July 01, 2004

Bush, context, voting, etc.

Cf. previous post for the Air Marshal's opinion.

If I misrepresented the Air Marshal's opinion, I apologize, but I have to ask what, then, the charge of naiveté referred to, if not what I said in the quoted text.

1. If it's a specific charge relating to the discussion about Kerry's service record, then my contention stands. Based on the Air Marshal's post, however, I think it's safe to say it's not a specific charge.

2. If it is, as the Air Marshal claims, a charge with more general implications about how I've blogged the issues, then it's still specious because this blog hasn't looked with unadulterated favor on Bush. I can cite posts where I've been critical, and posts where support for Bush-- when it appears-- has been grudging at best.

My point with the above is that the charge of naiveté is simply inapplicable to me and my stance. I reject it strongly and completely.

The Air Marshal's right to ask for more context, though, and one of the things he mentioned during our IM discussion hit the nail on the head: he and I are probably centrist reflections of each other, with him skewing a bit more Kerry-ward and me skewing a bit more Bush-ward, but neither of us really being strong, partisan advocates of either Kerry or Bush.

The Air Marshal strongly supported the war last year; his views have modified themselves somewhat, now moving anti-Bushward and even questioning whether our current efforts are worth it. I was against the war, but my own position has evolved to take into consideration things like (1) the duplicity of Old Europe and (2) the ineffectuality/corruption of the UN-- points the Air Marshal and others in the pro-war camp convinced me of in 2003, as the months wore on.

As I watch Kerry's campaign from a distance, I'm not convinced he's going to be a satisfactory replacement for Bush. I suspect that, with him in office, the world might decide to view us more kindly and this might grease some diplomatic wheels, but this is largely because Kerry will be perceived as more pliable whereas Bush-- whatever the actual reality may be-- looks more stubborn and intractable. What I fear is what we will lose under Kerry as the nation adopts a more docile, apologetic, "reasonable" footing.

But I'm not dogmatically wedded to my opinion. A lot of thinkers are arguing that, in truth, not much will change if Kerry makes it into office: he probably won't argue for an immediate pullout in Iraq, and given Bush's lameness regarding North Korea (in deed if not in word-- all praise to John Bolton, though), Kerry won't represent that much of a change. I'm not entirely swayed by this school of thought, but I'm still pooling data.

Switching gears a bit:

Regarding the issue of voting proactively-- there is, I think, a deep divide between me on one side and both the Air Marshal and the Maximum Leader on the other about what voting represents. For the Maximum Leader, voting is the prized duty of a responsible citizen participating in his country's government (see here for a glimpse of the ML's larger worldview). Voting is the moment where we, each of us, incarnates what democracy is all about. I haven't asked the Air Marshal his specific opinion on this, but I suspect he's not far from where the Maximum Leader stands, and both probably view voting the way Dr. Vallicella does-- as always being a "lesser of two evils" matter.

Maybe they're all right to view voting this way, and maybe herein lies the Hominid's naiveté. Against my own cynicism, I assume that it's possible to find a candidate whom one actively likes (though perhaps not every single election). This candidate might not be one of the two main choices, and here the debate becomes complex because we broach the issue of "wasted votes."

Do wasted votes exist? It seems to depend on whom you ask.

Some argue that, as long as you get out there and vote, your vote can't be wasted. Others argue that a vote for a third-party candidate is wasted-- look at the numbers! Your vote gets buried! I suppose that, if you view voting that strategically, then yes, in terms of numbers, your vote is being wasted. But doesn't this get a bit silly, assigning such value to votes? Let's say Kerry wins the upcoming election. Are all the GOP votes therefore wasted? I suspect the GOPers would argue, "No; I did my duty, and my vote represented a valiant try." How does one assign such weight to votes? Valiant try? Wasted?

My contention is that what matters is one's state of mind when voting. That, along with the actual vote we cast, are the only two things we can control. To my mind it's useless to worry and speculate about the larger context. If the booze-drunk hick or ideology-drunk hippie steps into the voting booth with little idea of the issues and the people (and you and I both know this will be happening all over the country), I'd say that that vote is wasted-- but as I contend in the previous paragraph, I can't seriously impute the notion of "waste" to the vote once it's been cast. At that point, it's a numbers game: a mindless vote has the same weight as a mindful vote. A post-voting assignation of value is done purely to comfort oneself or deride others.

The assumption of a vote's possible "usefulness" springs from the hope that, by siding with one of the two major parties, one will be part of a larger movement that can effect change. From this perspective, siding with a third-party candidate is truly useless, because as we all know, American elections boil down to GOP and Dem choices-- no third-party candidate will ever make it into office.

I question this defeatist thinking. Jesse Ventura, much to everyone's surprise, became governor of Minnesota on a third-party ticket. Although it probably will go nowhere, there's been a lot of intense discussion about a Kerry-McCain "dream" ticket, one that crosses Dem-GOP barriers. I also see the current ideological watering-down (Bush for Big Govt, Arnold as quasi-social liberal, Lieberman and Edwards as defense hawks) as a sign that party boundaries are in flux. Things we thought impossible prove to be possible.

So-- cast a vote in hope or in despair? Maybe the Anyone But Bush crowd experiences a mixture of both: hope that Bush will be booted, despair that Kerry isn't better than he is. I like the idea of being hopeful when voting. Along with hope, I add the notion of proactivity: vote because you genuinely want someone in office, not because they represent the least horrible choice.

I should mention that Keith Burgess-Jackson has addressed the issue of voting and uses the phrase "all things considered" to describe how we (should?) arrive at our voting choices. To my mind, this isn't the same as "lesser of two evils." When we say "evils," we've already made a negative assessment, chosen the truly cynical path. "All things considered" acknowledges that our chosen candidate may have his or her negatives, but these are outweighed by definite positives. If people can't come up with more than flaccid praise for Kerry, then to my mind this isn't strong enough justification to vote for him (the same applies to Bush). If we add to this picture a caricatured notion of Bush the Evil One (and some folks on the left have been working very hard to paint this picture)... then a vote for Kerry is made on possibly-false premises: one's vote is (possibly) a response to a caricature.

For me, the most honest and self-consistent approach would be to vote for whom I like, not whom I hate the least. There's a risk in this approach: it might mean not voting for anyone at all, if I'm to remain honest to the principle of proactivity. If you feel that (a) you should vote even when all the choices are bad, AND (b) that you should vote only for one of the offered choices and not stray outside the menu, then you'll reject my position as facile, impractical, etc. But if political winds can change, if ideological lines can blur, if third-party candidates can win large states, and if we generally agree that voting in the spirit of hope is a good and important thing, my point of view is not only plausible but quite possibly better for the conscience.

[NB: To make it clear: I'm presenting my opinion about voting, not proselytizing. Being biased is perfectly fine. Honesty demands recognition of bias, especially in fuzzy matters like politics. We don't arrive at our conclusions in these matters objectively and scientifically. The Air Marshal's previous post might be implying something about my fairness since I don't take up as much space bashing Bush as I do in bashing Kerry. So I'm unfair. I don't think this can be helped: when you choose an alternative, you choose it over other alternatives. It would be dishonest to conclude that Kerry or Bush is objectively a better choice for president than the other: Kerry hasn't served as president yet, and we don't know all the ins and outs of what goes on in the Bush Administration. We make the best judgments we can based on what we're allowed to know, and what our orientations are. All of this puts us in the realm of opinion, bias, etc. Sure, we "marshal facts" for our arguments, but we do so selectively. The Air Marshal himself hasn't taken this tack, but I'd reject anyone's attempt at an objective, once-and-for-all claim about either Bush or Kerry.]

Here's something fun:

"Senator Kerry's been in Washington long enough to take both sides on just about every issue."

"A deficit reduction promise from George W. Bush is not exactly a gilt edged bond."

As George Bush and John Kerry try to define their differences, Jesse Ventura says they're both the same--

Jesse Ventura, Former Minnesota Governor:
"It's like if you walked in to the grocery store and you went to the soft drink department and the only two things you could buy was Coke and Pepsi... There's no choice."

Ventura doesn't blame Bush and Kerry... he raps the Republican and Democratic parties, comparing them to gangs...

[Go read the rest. It's short. You'll get a chuckle if you hate Ventura; if you don't hate him, you might find this sound-bite of an article (text-bite?) thought-provoking.]

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM: It occurs to me that it's hard to maintain these two propositions at the same time:

1. The American electoral system, i.e., representative democracy, works.
2. The only choices we have are shit candidates. (Another way of phrasing this might be, "The people I'd like to see in office never run for office.")

If the system is churning out only shit, then in what way is it working? I contend-- here again, this is against my own cynicism-- that it's better to drop (2) as often (or always) false. The candidates aren't as bad as they're made out to be, unless we swallow the propaganda about them wholesale and deliberately overlook their positives.


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