Bookbyte Blog

A sample ballot for the 2012 presidential election

This article from The Atlantic is surely one of the most hotly debated articles I’ve seen lately. In it, writer Conor Friedersdorf declares flatly that he will not vote for President Obama because of moral objections to (a) drone strikes in Waziristan, (b) the President’s “kill” list, and (c) how Libya was handled. In a follow-up, Friedersdorf shared some of the responses he received from the article, particularly framed around the question of having certain issues be “dealbreakers” for candidates.

Here’s the binary decision: Are there certain issues that will make you refuse to vote for a candidate or, not, because every vote is a compromise already?

Friedersdorf insists that the first is true, not simply because it’s the stance he’s taken, but because he believes that everyone draws their own personal moral lines in the ground. But the examples he gives are of situations that would never happen:

“If two candidates favored a return to slavery, or wanted to stone adulterers, you wouldn’t cast your ballot for the one with the better position on health care.”

That’s probably true. But it’s doesn’t change the fact that, for better or worse, most people at some point will support something they find morally reprehensible with a vote. Obviously not all people are neatly categorized as either Republicans or Democrats. Even once you add in Libertarians, Socialists, the Green party, the Constitution party, or the Modern Whig party (yes, that’s a thing), you can’t possibly encompass the full spectrum of political and moral opinion. And just because someone calls themselves a Republican, Democrat, or whatever, doesn’t necessarily mean they subscribe to every platform of that party.

So people will indirectly support things they find vile, as long as it’s something vile that we, as a society, have still marked as up for grabs. The most contested social issues are ones where both sides feel they have the moral high ground: abortion, gay marriage, gun control, capital punishment, etc. While many people will draw their moral lines in the ground over one of these issues, many more people ignore them all together. For some of those people, it’s because they have no interest in getting bogged down in moral debate. For others, it’s the belief that the candidate ultimately doesn’t have that much of an impact on moral issues.

Martin Sheen playing President Bartlet on "The West Wing"At this point, I’d like to turn the article over to conversation. What do you believe is the purpose of voting? Is it strategic, made to help whoever you think would be the most capable leader to win? Or is it to take a stance, to say “This is what I believe,” and strategy be damned? (Even if casting a vote for what you believe is by writing in a vote for Martin Sheen or Oscar the Grouch.)

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