Sunday, October 17, 2004


The know nothings: undecided ninnies and third-party poopers

Can you believe these guys get to decide the election?

[Part II of IV]

Let me make it real simple for you. Whether you like it or not, this election is a referendum on the Bush presidency of 2001-04. If you approve of Bush's presidency, and want to return him to the White House, vote for anybody but Kerry. If you disapprove of Bush's presidency, and want to send that signal, you have no choice but to vote for Kerry. I'll explain below.

If you believe the polls – and I've already voiced my skepticism – somewhere between 5 and 10 % of likely voters are still undecided in this presidential election. To us partisans, that seems somewhat incredible. But there it is.

What are you guys waiting for? Various wags, like The Daily Show or Larry David suggest alternately that you folks can't make their minds up about anything (can't even choose what chair to sit in at the focus group session) or who simply like the attention that comes from stubbornly holding out.

I see it a bit differently. According to pollsters, the great majority of undecideds (which may include some "persuadables" who line up with Bush or Kerry in trial heat polls but who may change their minds before election day) have reservations about re-electing Bush or even firm beliefs that Bush does not deserve to be re-elected, but they have yet to find reasons to vote for Kerry.

This is the "know nothings" version of the foolishness shared by our entire country about electing a president. You are waiting for Kerry to say something convincing, or perhaps to show some personality that would make you "bond" with him. But the president is not running for the job of "your friend," and running for president is not an oral exam – whatever candidates might say on the campaign trail, there are stronger indicators of what their respective administrations will do. You can look at Bush's last administration to see what he would do; and you can look at Clinton's administration, modify it somewhat by information derived from Kerry's voting record and his web site, and come up with a decent guess about a Kerry administration. This isn't an exact science. Nor is it rocket science.

There is also a more well-informed version of this undecided phenomenon, one that is shared by the "third-party poopers" – yes I mean you 3% or so who now say you're voting for Nader (who is "emerging as the threat democrats feared").

You may be a perfectionist when it comes to politics. You are "sick and tired" of having to vote for "the lesser of two evils." You have a personal report card for politicians – like the voting report cards of advocacy groups (e.g., Senator Smith has voted the way we want 70% of the time) – and you just can't stomach the idea of voting for someone who unless you agree with his or her positions at least 95% of the time. Your motto, when it comes to politics is, "always let the best be the enemy of the good."

How about just getting over yourself? Clearly you've noticed that politics is imperfect, but not all saints check out of the real world just because it's imperfect. We live in a country of close to 300 million people, and guess what: not all of them share your views, but all of them will be governed by the president who gets elected whether you like it or not. Our democracy functions because there is compromise and accommodation among some of these 300 million people.

Well, you say, none of this means you have to vote for Kerry. But here's the flaw in your reasoning. You'll agree with me that elections are a key part of what keeps our system of government democratic. Presidential elections, while an imperfect and blunt instrument, send signals to would-be presidential administrations about what policies people want, and what policies people really don't want but the administration can nevertheless get away with. The only surefire way to send the clearest possible signal of disapproval is to vote in a way that will defeat an incumbent administration that you believe has governed badly.

That's where your vote for Nader, or your decision not to vote, falls on its face. Let me illustrate with some numbers. If you're an undecided leaning against Bush, or a pro-Naderite, say you agree with the Bush administration about 25% of the time. You probably agree with what a Kerry administration would do somewhere between 50%-75% of the time, but you are withholding your support from Kerry because he's waffly about gay marriage, or he's not warm and friendly, or because he doesn't say that corporations are evil.

Now, you'll recall that George w. Bush was "elected" president in 2000 with 48% of the vote, and 500,000 fewer votes than Al Gore. The Bush administration went on to conduct the most partisan, divisive, "winner-take-all" presidential administration in modern memory – appointing a far right-wing cretin as attorney general, passing the USA Patriot Act, pillaging the environment, cutting taxes for the rich, invading Iraq, all the things you disagree with. Can you express your disapproval of these things by voting for Nader or staying home?

Suppose in 2004, Bush "wins" again with 48% of the vote, with Kerry also getting about 48%, and Nader getting his 3% (and 1% voting for "other"). What do you think a re-elected Bush will do? Become the "compassionate conservative, uniter-not-a-divider" he promised in 2000? Will Karl Rove go, "whoa, that was close. I guess we didn't get a mandate of approval for the last four years. We better clean up our act and be more bi-partisan."? Will Dick Cheney say, "hey, Nader got 3% again -- I guess we should give more voice in our new administration to people who believe corporations are evil."

Even you, you undecided or Naderite, are not that stupid.

Here's the point: if you vote for anyone but Kerry, Bush will be re-elected -- and the Bush administration will interpret his re-election as approval of the last four years of Bush policies. So you're not just "throwing away your vote." The way they think -- George w. Bush and those who pull his strings – a vote that does not lead to Bush's defeat is a vote of approval for "w" and all he's done the past four years.

And it won't just be more of the same, because in this next four years, Bush doesn't have to worry about getting re-elected. As Karl Rove is thinking right now about the next four years, "you ain't seen nothin' yet."

I'm sorry, Mr./Ms/Mrs. Undecided -- it's not a perfect system, but that's just how it is.

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]