Let’s assume you’re a US citizen, and let’s assume you care about the country. And let’s assume you plan to vote for the president this year — either because you think your vote might affect the outcome, or because you think it’s your civic duty as a citizen of a democracy.
Who should you vote for?
Well, the original field of 10,000 candidates has been winnowed down to just two that have any realistic hope of winning: Barack Obama and John McCain. Since one of the two will win, it should be simple enough to figure out which one would be better.
But in fact it’s not that simple.
Jack McBama or Baron O’Cain?
So that this three-part article doesn’t grow into 100 parts, let’s take just one measure — foreign policy — and compare the two candidates on it. Foreign policy is the most important part of their platforms, because (a) as president, this is where they wield the most official power, and are most likely to get their own way, and (b) it’s what most affects the world overall — which, let’s face it, is much more important than what happens just here at home. If the US were a rational country like New Zealand or Jamaica, we would mind our own business, and we could put our own interests first when we elect our leaders. But since we have troops stationed in nearly every country in the world, are fighting multiple wars and police actions, and are pouring money into various factions and governments everywhere in order to influence policy and public opinion, we have a moral obligation to consider the interest of the rest of the world first.
Let me just be clear: there are other essential issues at stake here. Our choice of president influences how our children will be educated, the reproductive rights of women, our freedom of religion and assembly, where and how we’ll be under NSA surveillance, and so forth. The choice of president should NOT influence these things — none of these matters are enumerated in the Constitution’s list of presidential powers — but the executive branch has been on a major power grab since the days of the Roosevelts, and now its fingers are everywhere. Nevertheless, for the sake of the main body of humanity, foriegn policy must come first.
Speaking of troops everywhere, and multiple wars, and money used to influence foreign nations — is any of this wise policy? It’s idiotic.
- It’s expensive — and we’re deep in debt and can’t afford it.
- Stationing troops in other nations, even with the blessing of that nation’s government, frequently creates resentment and a sense of occupation among the population. 90% of Osama Bin Laden’s beef with the US was the fact that we had troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. What on earth were we doing there in the first place?
- The major war in Iraq was a huge mistake. If you don’t agree with that, you’re probably not reading this blog, so I won’t belabor the point.
- The major war in Afghanistan was a huge mistake. Yes, Bin Laden was probably there when we first invaded, but I’m sorry, it’s just stupid to invade a whole country just to get one man, or even one man and his 100 best friends. If the US were to do anything offensive at all, it should have been a precision tactical strike. Even better, we should have used a carrot instead of a stick: offer a tremendous award for Bin Laden’s head — say, one billion dollars. That would have been a whole lot of money, but considerably cheaper than the hundreds of billions that the war has cost us so far.
- We send a lot of money to foreign governments so that they will be friends with us. Unfortunately, far, far too much of this money is used by these governments to buy weapons and influence their internal politicians. Not enough of this money is used to actually help the people of these nations; instead, it serves simply to prop up corrupt regimes. Even the money that does reach common people hurts them as much as it helps them. Given the choice, would you rather be handed a free fish, or be taught to fish for yourself? In the same way, most disadvantaged people would rather be given a job than a handout. There are fantastic charities and companies that do exactly that, but the US government is not among them.
So clearly, when choosing between Obama and McCain, we should choose the candidate that will bring ALL our troops home and end our bribery of foreign regimes. Which one will do that?
Neither one, of course. As far as I can tell, the only real difference between them on foreign policy is that McCain will continue both stupid wars indefinitely, and Obama will end one war “responsibly” and ratchet up the other one indefinitely. Everything else will remain status quo.
So this apparent “choice” between them boils down to this: would you rather we unjustly kill more Iraqis, or unjustly kill more Afghanis? It’s not much better than a choice between Stalin and Hitler. Technically I guess Hitler killed fewer people than Stalin, but that doesn’t mean I’d jump up and vote for him. There’s GOT to be a better choice.
On the Fringe: Nader, Barr, McKinney, Baldwin
There ARE viable candidates running for president, though at this point they only appear in the media under headings like “Style”, “Living”, and “News of the Weird”. And largely because of this media blackout, plus the draconian ballot laws put in place by the two major parties, none of them will actually win. Voting for one of them can only serve to be a “protest” vote, or a principled vote in order to educate the rest of the public about the causes pushed by the candidate, or to increase the ballot access of the party. In all cases, one has to wonder whether there aren’t better ways to promote these causes. When the Greens or Libertarians run candidates again and again, and always, always lose, the main message that sends to the electorate is that Green and Libertarian ideas aren’t popular (which isn’t really the case, but that’s a topic for another post).
But for a moment, set aside the fact that voting for a third party candidate is probably a waste of time. After all, one should vote for the person most in line with your beliefs, right? It’s the principle of the thing. And most of these candidates have very reasonable positions on the wars and foreign entanglements of the United States.
Voting Your Conscience
What would happen if everyone voted for their REAL candidate of choice? The candidate that they really agreed with the most? This is what the framers of our Constitution expected you to do, after all. They figured that if you thought that your Aunt Mabel would be the best doggone president this country has ever seen, you would write her in.
The framers expected there to be wildly divergent opinions about who should be president. They figured that folks in New York would probably vote for a New Yorker, and folks in South Carolina would probably vote for a South Carolinian… They apparently did not anticipate the rise of political parties at all — at least, not parties that crossed state lines. Their expectation was that only very, very rarely would any individual ever get enough electoral votes to become president.
And this is what would happen if everyone voted with their true conscience. There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs, and they’d probably be pretty evenly split between the six candidates who are on the ballot in most of the fifty states. Maybe McCain and Obama would get more than the others, but certainly no one would pass the magical number 270 and get a majority.
Now, according to the Constitution, if no one gets the necessary number of electoral votes, the election gets tossed to the House of Representatives. The framers figured that the House would wrangle and fight for a while, and then probably choose one of their own. That way, the president would always be a political insider (which was an important point to the framers, who were, of course, all political insiders). In other words, the president would be a lot more like a Prime Minister (who is chosen by the leading party in Parliament). The president would be little more than a tool of the legislative branch.
The upshot is that if everyone voted for whoever they REALLY thought should be president, then most likely Nancy Pelosi, or Bob Hastert, or someone very much like them, would be president today. Gods bless Nancy, but she’s not who I want in the White House.
And this goes to a much more fundamental point. The Constitution is a seriously flawed document. The system it describes is a thousand times better than what’s actually operating in Washington, but it still has a number of things about it that bother me on a very deep level. The political cronyism I just mentioned is just one issue, and a relatively minor one.
In the next post in this series I’ll lay out my problems with the US Constitution, and explain how those problems inform the way I plan to vote.
(By the way, if you enjoy thinking about politics and history, and considering alternatives to war, you might enjoy my short story, Virginia Dare, available for free download here.)