Four years ago I blogged up a storm before, during, and after the election. This year will be different, because I am on vacation. I’m out of DC and won’t get to experience the [joy/agony] of [victory/defeat] with my a city full of polticos who will no doubt be [gloating/crying] for [weeks/months] about how the world is going to be [saved/destroyed] [in spite of/thanks to] those [evil/moronic] guys on the other side of the aisle.
So instead, here’s a disjointed series of my final election-related thoughts, and then I’m going to go enjoy me some great outdoors.
Heresy #1. This is not the most important election of our lifetimes. I suppose it might be the most important presidential election of a generation if you define generation very narrowly. But with the benefit of historical perspective, we can look at 1964, 1968, and 1980 all as more defining than I expect this election to be, and my guess is I haven’t yet seen what I will ultimately consider the most important election of my lifetime. There’s simply not enough difference between the two major candidates to make that case, at least not until we see what the next four years actually bring.
Heresy #2. There is no “change” candidate, and there is no “maverick.” Remember when you got all bent out of shape about the expansion of executive power? Think anybody’s gonna worry about curbing executive power in the next adminstration? You know those healthcare and energy plans McCain and Obama have? Think they’re gonna look anything like how they look today after 535 congressmen have their way with them? Remember when you got all bent out of shape about that war? Think either candidate is going to strongly defy the advice of the generals on the ground? Sure there is some difference between the candidates, and of course the issues may change, but in four years we’re going to yet again learn (or more likely, yet again observe and ignore) a very important lesson: you don’t change Washington, it changes you.
Heresy #3. I have serious, serious problems with populism and elitism. Populism is way worse, in my view, because although individuals are generally resourceful and resilient when it comes to their own affairs, they are really really dumb when it comes to making choices for others. Few serious people prefer a democracy over a republic, and with good reason. This would seem to be a case to support a candidate who was some kind of demigod, who we could all trust to understand the world around us better than our feeble attempts to grasp it. Except that I have a problem with elitism too. I believe a trained monkey could execute the actual duties conferred on the chief executive as per the Constitution — and in fact, a trained monkey would be a pretty awesome president because Congress would take back all the governing authority that overreaching presidents have stolen from it over the years. This would actually seem like a pretty good case to support a President Palin… except that she’s a populist, the likes of whom I hated on in my previous point. So never mind.
Heresy #4. Although I am pro-change, I’ve decided I am anti-hope. Being pro-change means you want things to be different, and it amazes me that a candidate can actually win an presidency pretty much by using the word “change” over and over again. Best. Marketing. Ever. But I’m anti-hope, because I believe the emotional tide of public opinion can be very dangerous, and all else equal I think people ought to be generally skeptical of any government but especially skeptical of one armed with the power of hope. Too much hope for government means too much faith in government which rarely makes us better off.
Heresy #5. I love negative ads. (Since I’m anti-hope, this shouldn’t be altogether surprising.) Vanderbilt political science professor John Geer is all over this with his research, by the way — negative ads are the ones that actually tell you stuff about the candidates’ records. If we’re going to have laws regulating political ads, there oughta be one requiring that all ads be negative so we can get down to the red meat. Plus, really crappy negative ads are way funnier than really crappy positive ones.
Heresy #6: I think my new favorite voter is the single-issue voter. I used to think this voter wasn’t sufficiently nuanced to grasp the important differences in the specific policies, temperament, leadership style, etc. but I recently changed my mind. The single-issue voter is where it’s at, because they know what’s important to them and they stick to their guns (or if you prefer, religion, stance on abortion, position on the war, or general ideological bent) and they don’t keep changing their most important issue depending on who they’re talking to. And a real single-issue voter picks their candidate without regard for party, which is rare and worthy of respect. Conversely, a fake single issue voter says an issue matters and then picks something else when a party they don’t like adopts it, which is crap.
Heresy #7: I think my least favorite voter is the bait-and-switch voter – which probably includes most voters. By bait-and-switch, I mean essentially choosing a candidate to support for particular conscious or subconscious reasons, and then picking up alternate justifications as they go along. Example: people who say “I was considering voting for [McCain/Obama] until I heard about [position/incident] but now there’s just no way I can support them.” Sure, this happens sometimes with truly undecided voters, but 90% of the people who do this are not really undecided and are just experimenting with retroactive justifications in order to try and win debates at the bar.
Heresy #8. Truly undecided voters are possibly the most clever voters of all, but they are probably morons. And I say this having spent nearly the entire election as one of them. What’s left to say about either of the candidates? Undecideds are in many cases voters who are leaning in a direction but are afraid of or unwilling to reveal that they made a decision, for any number of plausible reasons. The rest of the undecideds — the truly wishy-washy – are putting way too much mental energy into this thing. Each of you only has one freakin’ vote, and you’ll probably cancel each other out in most cases anyway. One caviat: you have to be able to justify your vote in bar room conversations for years to come, so maybe it does matter that much for intensely selfish reasons. But you undecideds who don’t get into bar room conversations, I don’t know what you’re all worked up about.
Heresy #9. Building on the previous point, I think which candidate’s supporters/opponents a voter has to put up with on a daily basis matters more to his or her life than any action by the candidates themselves. Some people are bandwagon voters: they don’t want to contradict the group they have to interact with, and they don’t want to have a target on their back if they vote differently than their social group and things turn out badly. My preferences, on the other hand, are decidedly contrarian: the more vocal or annoying a group gets, the less I want to support their guy. The problem with this position is that like most people, I have to understand that my opinions are highly subject to the people I hang around with and the political makeup of my region, which means than even though this is a particularly salient rationale it’s also sort of a tragic one.
Heresy #10. I wish we wouldn’t pressure people to vote. I’d rather voting were more like driving: virtually all citizens of a certain age are legally allowed, and most people do, but we don’t rebuke people who have a decent reason for not driving and we do admonish people who suck at it. I’m not saying we should take away anyone’s voting rights, but it does seem dumb to try and bully or chastize people who don’t feel informed, engaged, opinionated, or affected enough to vote otherwise, or who are conscientious objectors. If the state of our freedom was really such that we would lose the right to vote if we chose not to exercise it, I suspect this would be the least of our worries.
Finally — yes, I voted, so those of you who believe I am going to hell, the gas chambers, or the gulag for considering otherwise can breathe a sigh of relief. I submitted my absentee ballot for the state of Tennessee. I am not voting in a swing state, and although I am increasingly sympathetic to certain arguments against voting, I happen to like knowing what people are going through when they vote and I do enjoy exercising my right to do so. For arguments for or against voting, including some interesting stuff about voting libertarian, or not voting at all, go read through the this recent exchange at Volokh.
I hope you all have a very pleasant election day, free of shouting or gloating or crying. Expect large font sizes in the newspaper headlines tomorrow. I’m off to enjoy the rest of my vacation.