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A Coda On Voting Dealbreakers


I’m happy to leave most of any response to RAF’s post to djw later in the week. Instead, in lieu of a too-long comment I’ll just offer a few quick clarifications:

  • I’ve read Downs; I don’t particularly care who any particular individual votes for.   What motivated me to enter this discussion was not Henry saying that he would be reluctant to vote for Obama but rather his assertion that “it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not.”  If his post had just said “Obama is clearly preferable to Romney but I’m reluctant to cast my meaningless vote for him anyway” I probably wouldn’t have said anything, because it does indeed not really matter.    Similarly, Russell’s strategic vote for Stein in Kansas won’t matter.
  • Having said that, the “but my personal refusal to vote won’t affect the outcome anyway” defense doesn’t really wash when you’re writing a lengthy essay about your decision for the Atlantic Monthly.   When you’re addressing this argument to a large audience, you’re 1)presumably trying to persuade people, and 2)presumably making an implicit assumption that your individual decision represents the best collective decision of like-minded people.  And it’s fair game to point out that your argument is transparently wrong on that basis.
  • Would I strategically vote for Stein if I had the franchise in my non-swing state?   Well, no.  First, because I think third parties are either irrelevant or actually counterproductive to social change at the national level.      And, second, even if I believed in any “dealbreaker” apart from “the other guy isn’t as bad,” I continue to insist that singling out Obama as simply too evil to support in the context of an American presidential election is extremely odd.   Of RAF’s parade of dealbreakers, well, one (his administration’s requirement that institutions that accept taxpayer money to perform secular functions treat their employees equitably) is a positive good.   The other five are various degrees of bad, but also represent far, far less evil than one would have had to swallow to vote for LBJ or FDR, the two presidents of the last century who could plausibly be said to have a longer record of progressive accomplishments than Obama.  The dealbreaker argument can only be squared with a willingness to absent yourself from national electoral politics in the United States altogether, which…well, I’m not sure what this is supposed to accomplish.
  • Finally, it should be noted that my calculus that Obama is vastly preferable to Romney is based on my own left-liberal calculus.   On this measure, Romney is vastly worse than Obama in countless respects and better on nothing, so directly or indirectly supporting the former’s election can be supported only on “heighten-the-contradictions” grounds I consider grotesquely immoral.    But to an (admittedly bleeding-heart) libertarian like Jacob Levy or a left-communitarian like Russell, the calculus might be different.
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