Monday, October 15, 2012

rationalizing Romney

My buddy Mike writes an open letter to his Canadian conservative friend Skippy, in which he explains why he feels he needs to vote for Mitt Romney this election. Mike's reasoning amounts to a game-theory approach to voting: a vote for the libertarian Gary Johnson (whom Mike likes and whom Skippy, as a Canuck political hound unable to vote in US elections, favors) would amount to a "wasted" or "throw-away" vote, especially with Virginia's current status as a swing state, so in order to make a difference, however minimal, it's better to vote for Romney-- to be a molecule belonging to a much larger wave.

I respect my old friend's pragmatism, even though I disagree with it. For me, voting is a matter of conscience, not calculation: no vote is wasted as long as it's done with the full weight of one's personal conscience as impetus. If one feels that Gary Johnson is truly going to be a better choice than Mitt Romney, why not simply vote one's convictions?

The counterargument, of course, is that pragmatism is a value, and thus influences one's conscience. So in essence, Mike is acting according to his value system by choosing "the lesser of two evils," as he puts it. I would still disagree, though, mainly because I feel that the injection of too much sophisticated thinking into one's voting choices is evidence that conscience and calculation are mutually exclusive: one wanders away from one's conscience when one overthinks one's choices. At bottom, conscience is less about the head and more about the heart.

Like Mike, I'm not happy with either of my major choices for president. But I know that, when Election Day comes, I'll be voting for the person I think best fits the job, whether or not that person has a chance of winning the election.



Charles said...

I think the US should adopt the French system. That would allow people to vote their consciences without having to worry about not making a difference.

But I imagine the apparent American disdain for anything French (or any sort of real change, for that matter) makes this little more than a pipe dream.

Malcolm Pollack said...

I agree with the sentiment here, Kevin, but one has to face two salient facts:

First, Gary Johnson will not be elected president.

Second, a vote taken away from Mitt Romney and given to a third-party candidate is in every practical sense a vote FOR Barack Obama.

Imagine that the election is a huge teetering stone, standing in a narrow saddle between two steep valleys. It will come smashing down into one or there other; there's just no place else for it to fall. There are a great many people standing on each side, pushing.

If you care at all which valley it topples into, you'd better make your choice, get on the appropriate side, and help push. Pushing it sideways accomplishes nothing, and effectively gives the other side a one-man advantage.

It's that simple: a vote not cast for Romney is a vote for Obama.

Kevin Kim said...

What a Manichaean image! If the two villages are taken together to constitute one large, two-part community, a two-valley community that considers itself one, then by your reckoning disaster must befall half the community. Ouch.

Is that really the case, though? In reality, conservatives feel that a vote for Romney is a vote to benefit the entire country, not just half of it (all that "47%" rhetoric notwithstanding). I'm not sure your analogy works.

Another salient fact is that none of us can predict the future, which makes game-theory approaches to voting-- and claims based on such theory-- rather suspect. I think there's plenty of room for conscience, and I'm not particularly interested in reinforcing the stultifying two-party system under which we labor.

Malcolm Pollack said...

Manichaean, perhaps, but if there's one thing both sides will agree on here it's that this election really does represent a starkly binary -- and absolutely critical -- choice.

You're right that conservatives think everyone will benefit from "right"-ing our course, but that doesn't make the choice itself any less stark. Each side believes that for the other side to win will be a disaster for the nation. Perhaps the teetering-rock metaphor was not a very good one. The point was that you've got people pushing on both sides, and there are only two ways it can go.

Only if one thinks this election really doesn't matter all that much can one justify a third-party vote, it seems to me.