Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Nobody Isn’t Partisan

Jerry Stratton, October 30, 2004

In 1996, there was little difference between the Republican (Dole) and the Democratic incumbent (Clinton) on the issues. In 2000, there was a difference between Bush and Gore, but the differences fell along minor party lines.

Now, in 2004, the differences are still not as big as they look. Those that exist are purely partisan: Kerry appears to be choosing some positions purely on the basis of his opponent’s stand. On other positions, he is trying to avoid having to deal with them.

On most core Democratic positions, Kerry has been running on “Anyone But Bush”, a very flexible campaign slogan that allows him to capture votes without actually standing for anything the Democrats want. He “firmly” opposes gay marriage. He supports the Big Brother intelligence czar, expanding faith-based initiatives, and making this “one nation under God.”

He can do that, because he only stands to gain conservative voters. Liberal voters will vote for him no matter what he stands for, because they are committed to “Anyone But Bush”.

Intelligence Czar

This year, some Democratic and Republican stands on issues seem to amount to little more than seeing what the other side stands for and taking the opposite stance. Partisanship in this election so clearly trumps what the parties supposedly stand for we had Democrats, including Kerry, arguing in favor of a “Big Brother” intelligence post, and Republicans arguing in favor of civil liberties.

For some reason, Bush chose to oppose the Big Brother post, so that left Kerry with the option of staying silent or supporting it. He chose to join the debate and support Big Brother.

Unfortunately, not all Republicans chose to give up “principle”, so given the Democratic support for Big Brother, it became inevitable. We will now have our intelligence czar. All that remains to be seen is how well Republican George Bush can hobble the Big Brother post that Democrats want—or if he’ll even want to once he gets it.

The same thing happened in the primaries. When John Kerry was running against other Democrats, he differentiated himself by choosing to support the ouster of Saddam Hussein by whatever means necessary. Once he’d won the Democratic nomination, that position no longer served to differentiate him from his opponent. So, he changed the position to oppose the ouster of Saddam Hussein by military force—and also to support an escalation of the occupation of Iraq.

With most politicians, their positions are no more than a means of differentiating themselves from their opponent. It’s all about debate. If you want to win the debate, you have to stake out an opposing argument. It doesn’t really matter what the argument is. In politics, you add, “as long as it doesn’t lose me any votes.”

Gay Marriage

Which candidate came out in support of gay marriage? Not Kerry or Edwards, but Dick Cheney. There’s not a chance in Hell, Arkansas he’s going to push for it—and he’s been honest about this—but he does appear to believe what he said.

According to the Kerry web site, “John Kerry firmly believes that marriage exists only between a man and a woman.” The only “gay issue” that Kerry/Edwards are raising is the specter of a gay family—Cheney’s—in the White House. They know such tactics, which would have activists screaming if Republicans did them, won’t alienate their voters, but might alienate the Republican base from Bush/Cheney.

(Although after their disastrous attempt at tarring Cheney with a gay daughter, Kerry does appear to have designated his wife as gay tolerant.)

Why didn’t John Kerry choose gay marriage as a means of differentiating himself? For the same reason that neither he nor most other Democrats choose ending prohibition as a means of differentiation. These are not means of gaining votes. He feels that these constituents are already his regardless of his stand on their issues. And regardless of how cynically he uses them.

I’ve already written about how Democrats feel that people who oppose prohibition will vote for them no matter what, and how Republicans feel that people who oppose prohibition would never vote for them even if the Republican were to oppose prohibition also. But the same goes for gay marriage and other rights.

He expects, probably correctly, that he would lose more votes by supporting gay marriage than he will lose by opposing it. He expects that there are people who oppose gay marriage who would choose to vote against him if he supported it. And he expects that those who support gay marriage will still vote for him even though he opposes it.

As long as he’s right—as long as gay marriage supporters vote Democrat no matter what the Democrat supports—gays will not secure the right to marriage nationally, because no one will have to cater to their votes.

Faith-based initiatives

“Together we can make this one nation under God...”

That’s John Kerry, not George Bush. Also, according to John Kerry’s web site:

John Kerry strongly supports churches and faith-based groups that partner with government to provide important and needed services to their communities. A Kerry-Edwards administration will value the role of faith in inspiring countless acts of justice and mercy across our land by offering financial support for faith-based organizations...

John Kerry will strengthen the role of faith-based organizations in meeting challenges like homelessness, youth violence, and other social problems...

According to John Kerry, faith-based initiatives will increase under his administration, not decrease. Again, it is pure politics: Kerry knows beyond any reasonable doubt that those who oppose faith-based initiatives will vote for him anyway. He has already hooked them under the “Anyone But Bush” platform. He doesn’t need to cater to them with any actual policies.

Limited government

Some libertarians are arguing that Bush has been so bad on limited government that voters who support limited government should vote for John Kerry. And certainly, George Bush has been bad on these issues.

But to vote for John Kerry instead? This is an argument I cannot understand. Voting for somebody who is worse on an issue in order to make a statement on that issue is like amputating your arm to heal your hand. It cannot work. If the votes show that the public supports big government, politicians will take notice only by jettisoning any limited government leanings that they are now pretending to.

There are several better choices, including both Nobody and the Libertarian party. Voting Libertarian, or Nobody, lets the politicians know that you are willing to let their party lose rather than vote for a big government Republican. It lets them know you are a swing voter. Voting John Kerry when you are disappointed in George Bush’s limited government record only says that you either don’t care about over-reaching government, or that you love it and want more.

Stuart Benjamin wrote on the Volokh Conspiracy that:

If limited-government types vote for Bush and he is reelected, then the obvious conclusion for any savvy political strategist is that Republicans can take these voters for granted and thus ignore their interests. The reality of politics is that you are always working at the margins—trying to increase turnout of your base or add swing voters. If I am a political strategist who knows that a group of voters will stick with my candidate no matter what, I’d be foolish to recommend that he respond to their concerns in any way.

A very succinct argument for voting third party or voting for Nobody. But Benjamin goes on to say:

The only way to send a message to future Republican candidates is for Bush to lose in part because of the defection of limited-government types. And, if we don’t send that message, I fear that we will be in the political wilderness for a long time.

Voting for John Kerry does not send that message. The only message sent to the Republicans if John Kerry wins is that John Kerry represented voters better than George Bush did. And if they want to win the next election, they had better co-opt John Kerry’s positions. That cannot be good for limited government adherents.

Nobody wins

In early 2004, Common Dreams opinionist Linda O’Brien wrote that:

We’re not at the point of nominating a Democratic candidate yet. Until that time, we do no one, least of all ourselves, any favors by refusing to say what we feel. If that’s “pragmatism,” I want none of it. It’s what we’ve received from nearly every member of Congress and nearly all of the media for the past three years. It’s part of what got us into this mess.

And concludes by saying that “It’s too soon to be that pragmatic.” I believe that it is always wrong to be that pragmatic, because if you believe in issues rather than people, it is never pragmatic to vote for a candidate who does not support your stand on the issues.

The conventional wisdom is that voting third party means you lose. But this is only true if you care more for parties than for issues. If your “losing” vote for a third-party candidate causes mainstream parties or candidates to support your issue in order to court your vote, isn’t that a win? And if voting for a mainstream candidate simply because you’re scared to vote on the issues important to you means that both mainstream candidates ignore your issue, that sounds a lot like losing to me.

There will be no drug law reform if drug law reformers vote for drug warriors. There will be no gay marriage reform if gay marriage activists vote for candidates that oppose gay marriage. There will be no limited government if limited government activists vote for big government candidates. It doesn’t matter who they’re voting against. All that matters is who they’re voting for.

There are probably candidates who agree with you on your important issue or issues running for office. Vote for them. If there is nobody you can vote for, vote for nobody. But voting for someone who stands against you on your important issues, just because you want to vote against someone else, only ensures that candidates do not need to address your needs, before or after they are elected.

Decide what you stand for. And then vote for the candidate who stands with you.

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