Why I Will Vote for the Candidate Who Doesn’t Address All My Needs

This is a two-part guest post from my dear friend Kelly McCullough, one of the few people I really enjoy arguing politics with. He was also one of the people I had in mind a few days ago when I observed that it was a joyful thing to watch good writers who normally keep mum on politics reach their breaking points.

This was from Kelly yesterday.

Refusing to vote for the lesser of two evils is fundamentally anti-democratic.* It’s also stunningly bad tactics. Politicians cater to the people who vote. It’s a shockingly simple concept that seems to be lost on a number of people on the left.

The way that the conservative movement pushed the Republicans so far to the right is simple. They showed up. They did it for primaries and caucuses, they did it for local elections, they did it for off year elections, and they did it by supplying people from their own ranks to run for local offices because those local politicians of today are the national politicians of tomorrow. And they did it by making sure that that the politicians knew that they would be there for every election.

Every single time the Democrats lose an election they move to the right because that’s where the voters who showed up are. Not showing up doesn’t create more progressive Democratic candidates it creates more conservative ones.

We are in the mess we’re in now with so much state control in Republican hands, and gerrymanders because conservative Republicans reliably show up and Democrats as a group don’t.

I’m not particularly sympathetic to the claims that Democrats don’t show up because the candidates don’t inspire them either, because the way to get candidates that inspire you is to show up and elect them in caucuses and primaries, and if no one on the ballot at that level agrees with everything you want done, then run for office yourself.

Getting your views represented in the halls of government is work. Sometimes, it’s the kind of work that means you have to do it yourself. I did.

*It’s anti democratic because it says that your purity of heart in waiting for the perfect candidate is more important than all the harm that will be done if the greater evil is elected. Democracy is about making the best governing choice at every level for the common good. It’s not about you, it’s about coming to a governing consensus. Sometimes that means you don’t get everything you want, but you compromise to get some of it. Sometimes it means that you don’t get anything you want personally, but you do it to protect the rights and gains of others because that’s important.

I haven’t followed all the discussions where this was shared, but Kelly asked me to look over this follow-up today. I asked him whether I could turn this into a guest post, and he agreed.

I will vote for the candidate who is better on maintaining abortion rights because, even though I’m a man who has had a vasectomy and will never need an abortion, somewhere out there is a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy who doesn’t have the time or energy to vote, and her needs are important to me.

I will vote for the candidate who is better on gay rights because, even though I am a straight guy, there is a gay individual out there who is too depressed or too busy to vote for the candidate who will do best by them, and their needs are important to me.

I will vote for the candidate who is better on caring for the needy because, even though I am middle class and don’t have to worry about my next meal, there is a single mother out there who needs food aid who is too busy taking care of her child to make it to the polls, and her needs are important to me.

I will vote for the candidate who is better on racial justice issues, because even though I am middle aged white guy who doesn’t need to worry about racial profiling, there are people of color who won’t or can’t vote for one reason or another, and their needs are important to me.

I will vote the candidate who is better on immigration issues, even though my ancestors have been in this country since the Mayflower, because there are refugees and new immigrants who cannot yet vote in our system who are in need of a voice in how they will be treated, and their needs are important to me.

I will vote for the candidate who is better on religious tolerance because even though I am…oh wait, I’m an atheist. Yeah, that one is easy.

I will vote for the candidate who is better on economic issues because, even though I am one of the people who has been able to make slow advances under the current system, there are people out there who can’t get ahead or who have lost ground who may not have the time to both vote and put bread on their table, and their needs are important to me.

Sometimes voting for that candidate means voting for the lesser of two evils because there is no better choice, but I will not turn away from that vote to claim a right to only vote for a candidate who serves all my needs. And I do that because, when everything is done and my race is run, I want to be remembered as the person who opposed the greater evil and not the one who let it happen because I had the right to walk away and know it probably wouldn’t hurt me.

I heartily endorse all of this, including the dive into overt politics. If you prefer cat pictures and solid fantasy books, you can usually find that at Kelly’s website. Oh, and yes, he is one of those atheist politicians we don’t talk that much about because he’s working quietly at the local level.

Why I Will Vote for the Candidate Who Doesn’t Address All My Needs

12 thoughts on “Why I Will Vote for the Candidate Who Doesn’t Address All My Needs

  1. 1

    Two comments, the first is a bit trite but ‘the world is run by people who show up. ‘ If you can’t clear that first hurdle, well you don’t get your say.

    Second, and even more important when you vote, at least in every state I know about, your name gets recorded. When you call your elected representative you had better believe that they will look you up on the voter list. Who do you think’s opinion matters more to them, the person who showed up to vote in every election, state, federal and local, even that special election they had for dog catcher, or the someone who hasn’t made it to the polls in the last 3 years? I have worked with enough lobbyists and talked with enough elected officials to be sure this is as near to universal in politics as anything is.

  2. 2

    Why is it that whenever the left wants to guilt trip people into voting they have to flat out lie about why people give up on voting or what happens when Democrats do get elected? Not only do leftists turn out to vote they get shafted whenever they do. It’s become such a consistent pattern I’m at loss as to why manipulative types like this think they can get away with this bullshit. Look at Chicago or New York or Baltimore. Look at how often “left” mayors will immediately turn on the constituents who elected them when they start protesting. de Blasio ran on a campaign promising to curtail police powers but what happened when protesters marched chanting “I can’t breath”?

    Frankly speaking, fuck you. Get off you’re god damn high horse.

  3. 3

    I am one of those people who may not be voting, and I do it for very specific reasons that I have yet to see seriously addressed and this piece seems to continue the trend. Full disclosure: I’m not yet done assessing the candidates so I’m still unsure what I will do.

    Before I get to them there is the issue of strategy and interference. Pressuring the party that is closer to your interests to adopt them via a threat of not voting is a valid strategy. Your candidate losing is the consequence and I freely admit that I too will put up with that consequence. I feels awful, but it’s still valid and that should be acknowledged.
    What I mean by interference is that as a white male I acknowledge that others stand to lose more and so I am very selective about how bring this up. I don’t casually go into discussions with this issue, I wait until posts like this come along or until it’s directly relavent in some way.

    Basically I have a have something of of a “litmus test” in the form of a small collection of issues that a candidate must support with solid policy and assurances if they wish my vote. It does not have to be every issue, but some of them need to be in there in substantive form. This is fair because political parties and politics is about compromise and if I seem to be getting nothing I have no incentive to vote. That witholding of my vote is entirely strategic.

    I admit that this seems harsh, but I feel that my issues are that important given the state of the country and both parties. 1) The torture issue (the fact that Obama is complicit under our obligations means something), 2) whistle blower protections (we need a means of rooting out problems in the system and D’s politicians have been as bad as R’s on this one IMO), 3) criminal consequences for people in the economic sector, no matter how powerful they are, who break the law and engage in activity that crashes economies, 4) criminal consequences for politicians that don’t do their jobs for political reasons (like the justice department refusing to go after powerful people in the economic sector).

    There are plenty of other things I want, including the things that tend to get democrats angry at me for my position. But attempts to characterize things as me wanting a perfect candidate are simply not true. These are things that I believe threaten our political system as they are problems in both parties. At the very least I need to see a willingness from democrats to be able to go after their own. Looking the other way when a member of one’s psychological in-group is a problem is a problem at multiple levels in our society. I go after my own family on social media when it comes to issues that don’t directly pertain to me. This is not too much to ask.

  4. 5

    julian, the flip response to that is “Get in the trenches, because if anyone’s on a high horse, it’s the people who don’t want to have to do the work.” The more analytical answer is that Kelly already addressed that. Expecting that you can show up, cast one vote, and have only your interests represented from there on out is absurd and, yes, anti-democratic.

    Brony, the thing about that threat is that it feels like a threat when you make it. It doesn’t feel like a threat to the politicians. If you don’t vote (and otherwise stay involved in the process, but at least vote), they were never counting on you anyway. It’s like boycotting a brand you never supported as far as they’re concerned.

    If you want to be an effective threat, get involved early enough to recruit and support better candidates before your primary or caucus. Or work on building a real third party. We’ve had local elections in Minneapolis that came down to the Democratic candidate versus the Green candidate because the Greens were running a decent enough organization at this level to attract candidates who were competent but not embedded in the system.

  5. 6

    so I typed up way too long a response. Let me just say 1) it’s not anti-democratic to have principles or to refuse to vote for people complicit in torture or police cover ups 2) plenty of people “get involved early” and then get spit on when they start feeling disillusioned with the voting process 3) making third parties viable is not a quick process and in the mean time there’s still the question of what to do with incumbents and the ppl the party wants in power 4) the left’s inability to court voters does not translate into a weakness of character or lack of commitment on their part. Stop the projection.

  6. 7

    1. So vote write-in.

    2. This is a very vague assertion. I’m not sure what you’re saying happens here.

    3. No shit it’s not quick. None of this is quick. Quick is a fantasy. And not participating in some way turns “not quick” into “never”.

    4. Dude, you’re the one who used the examples of single votes for mayors and then giving up on voting because those mayors weren’t all that. If you have a different argument to make, go ahead and make it. Come up with an example in which not voting shows commitment to changing the process instead of rage-quitting.

  7. 8

    Dude, you’re the one who used the examples of single votes for mayors and then giving up on voting because those mayors weren’t all that.

    ‘weren’t all that’. ok I can’t even really be mad here because they defenitely aren’t all that.

    I’ll meet you half way. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing (complaining about people like De Blasio and growing increasingly disdainful of him, the op, you, and the rest of the US left) and you can think of as a useless indolent lump because of it. Fair?

  8. 9

    Stephanie Svan @3
    >”It doesn’t feel like a threat to the politicians.”
    Because the politicians did not write this piece. Had they done so things would have been characterized differently.

    >”If you don’t vote (and otherwise stay involved in the process, but at least vote), they were never counting on you anyway.”
    I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to the person who still thinks that they will fix something. I have no faith in the system that exists. No faith in the parties that exist.

    If someone like you can not give me something solid related to the items I posted I will simply continue to foment anger at the system in general as I do when the opportunity arises. Obama belongs in prison based on the torture issue. That does not happen without a culture. A democratic culture. I have no faith in that.
    How does this end? With the whole system cracking I imagine. That is why I spend my energy fighting kinds of belief, thought, action and word at the general public level. That is likely to always be a threat. People only last so long.

  9. 10

    There’s some legitimacy, I think, in saying “no one is owed our vote, they have to earn it”. That’s fine as far as it goes.

    But how far does it really go?

    There is a problem, I think, on the left in the US, where some leftists make the mistake of believing that because no one is owed their vote, that means that they should encourage people not to vote for candidates who do not pass an arbitrary level of ideological purity.

    That kind of thinking works on the right, where authoritarianism rules, and where the extremists can be counted on to embrace whatever social-dominance-oriented avatar of toxic masculinity steps forward to promise them enough blood and vengeance and cruelty to sate them. But the left is supposed to be better than that. The left is supposed to recognize that people are people, have flaws, and need to operate in the real world.

    And in the real world, when left-leaning people don’t show up to the polls, right-wingers dominate and convince the national parties to tack rightward. And it makes sense. Why would any party court people who don’t vote? So the supposedly liberal party says “the left can’t be counted on, so we shouldn’t bother to try to court them”. Sure, they’re not owed your vote…but it’s a two-way street. Voting is a kind of engagement. And if your part of the electorate is never engaged, then the politicians won’t be engaged with you.

    And this has real consequences: national policy becomes more right-wing, and as a result, people suffer and die. A lot.

    “But the liberal party does bad things too!” you might say. Yes, because no group of people is perfect. If you hang around waiting for perfection, you will never stop waiting. And in the meantime, more people will suffer and die.

    So, let me ask this: how many people have to suffer and die before you come down off that mountain?

  10. 11

    I am favoring Sanders. I think he’d make the best president of the current ragtag collection. But he also has his blind spots. On my 100 point scale, I’ll give him an 85.

    I’m not particularly fond of Clinton. She’s too bellicose, too much a creature of Wall Street, and I have a knee-jerk opposition to political dynasties. Score her a 40.

    ALL of the Republican candidates are toxic insanity. -100. Some are worse than others, but I don’t care — they are all intolerable.

    Next year I’ll go into the voting booth and see some names on a card in front of me. I hope I’ll get to vote for that 85, but I may not, because of the way politics worse. I might have to choose between a 40 and a -100. It’s really not a difficult choice.

    Just to make it harder, though, let’s say that on my way to the polling station, I meet Donald Trump, and he give me a delicious hot cherry pie, and says, “VOTE FOR ME!” I also meet Hillary Clinton, and she spits on me and tells me my vote can go to hell.

    There in the curtained booth, I still face the same two choices. Maybe my evaluation of the 40 has gone down to 20, and maybe my opinion of the -100 has crept up to -99 (it is a really good pie), but I sill know which way I’m going to vote.

    Not voting is not a choice, because there are lots of people who think that guy I’d give -100 to is a peach. Part of the game is that I also have to vote against certain candidates, even when all I have is one vote.

  11. 12

    I think this analysis is flawed. Chomsky was closer to the mark when he said that the demands of the elite push the whole ideological system to the Right. Voters going AWOL is a symptom not a cause here.

    Left-leaning voters should be hard on potential candidates. The only way they will learn is if cardboard cutout Republicans like Hillary lose, and if people like Sanders keep pushing rather than fold to those endorsed by Lloyd Blankfein.

    PZ Myers #11:

    I also meet Hillary Clinton, and she spits on me and tells me my vote can go to hell.

    You would vote for a politician who had verbally and physically assaulted you? If anything displays the serf-like obedience of the American populace, it’s this.

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