Who ordered the scrambled brains?

Irreverent. In every sense.

On Candidate Evil

My friend Jeff posted these thought-provoking articles recently: Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama, and It’s a Party, But Not a Game: Why I’m not voting for Obama.

First, drone wars. Whether it’s laziness, willful blindness or lack of media coverage (or just me reading not reading the right news sources), the depth of this issue caught me by surprise. Until reading this, it’s been a while since I thought much about it, but just a cursory reflection exposes serious problems: messier operations that kill more civilians, terrorizing foreigners, no chance to take prisoners, shady politics required to permit use of drones in foreign countries, less risk to soldiers leading to less media coverage (we gotta get NewsCopter 9 on the front lines!). I can only assume from the fact that this is not (or no longer) part of the national discourse that the vast majority are ignorantly blissful, and that the fourth branch of government is broken (nothing new there).

The President using military force in Libya was a sad demonstration of his lack of integrity. I don’t mean to make apologies for his contradiction, but the “Arab Spring” (hate that term, might as well call it the Arab Enlightenment or the Arab Unbarbarization) was profound and legitimately unprecedented. Still, he should have “owned” his contradiction in the face of the public.

Regarding the main idea, of having candidate policy “deal-breakers”. I agree that the vote fraud at the DNC convention, the continuation of the PATRIOT act, and the use of drones are evil, so I admit that a vote for Obama is a vote for the lesser of three evils. Still I prefer him to Johnson. Superficially I don’t like flat tax or the repealing gun control, but on top of that, I have no reason to assume Johnson won’t end up with his own evil policies. Yes I am in fact saying that Obama has a known, predictable degree of evil, and that this is better than an unknown degree of evil. But it begs another question: if I do agree the above are evil, should they not be “deal-breakers” that force me to abstain entirely? No easy answer here so, Bam! Cognitive dissonance. It took me a while to formulate this.

First, the deal-breaker idea attaches deep moral meaning to voting, meaning which I think is overstated. The ideal democratic system is the one which can faithfully discern the will of the electorate, and quickly transition society to the optimum (most acceptable, least rejected) state. The better the system is at the first potint, discerning the will, the more meaningful the vote becomes. I don’t hold our system to be remotely good at discerning the will, therefore voting is not as morally meaningful as one might initially think it is. The fundamental problem is the reliance on first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting, which entrenches a two-party system. A two-party system makes over-simplification of issues and limitation of choice routine. Worst, for issues on which the established parties agree, FPTP (along with some other voting systems) has no controls against outright tyranny. It doesn’t really matter that in this election there are candidates with no apparent evil policies who you can morally support; participation in any American election condones a greater evil, the tyrannical potential of FPTP (aka the “tyranny of the majority”). Powerful examples of this have been the struggles of both the African-American and the LGBT communities for equality. So how do we reconcile the tyrannical potential of FPTP with our general appreciation for democracy? We acknowledge that this system produces choices that are necessarily crude, and that therefore political expression mustn’t be constrained to the voting booth.

(This pertains to the second part of my definition of ideal democracy, the ability of the system to act quickly based on the stated will of the people to transition society to the preferred/optimum state. American government is inefficient at this as well–think earmarks, and lobbying and special interests–so we already know that to change society, we must not rely on government. Expressing ourselves, and working through NGOs are as much part of American politics as is the government and politicians are.)

So all that proves is that evil exists in all candidates in all elections. Then why not abstain? Because usually that entails greater evils. Since abstention is a choice, it is effectively a candidate as well. As a candidate, it must be looked at with the same skepticism. How do you determine if the “abstention candidate” supports evil policies? The abstention candidate aligns itself with the candidate most likely to win. If the race is a virtual tie amongst the “real” candidates, the abstention candidate aligns itself with the more evil of them (given there is a discernable difference). Why? Because if you didn’t abstain, you would (I assume) vote for the lesser of the evils, which would break the tie in his/her favor.

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