I’d like to add my comments to this essay, ‘Vote for the crook. It’s important.’, by Fred Clark.
In the fall of 1966, when I was a sophomore at Cornell, there was an election for Governor of Maryland. My parents and my brother and I lived in Montgomery County, a suburb of Washington, DC. This was a turbulent time in American politics. Lyndon Johnson was the president. The Vietnam War was going on amid significant protests. In 1964 Democratic legislators (not from the South) and moderate Republican legislators (there were such people then) worked with President Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The former dealt with discrimination by private citizens and businesses. This is the one that says “if you have a restaurant or hotel open to the public for business, you cannot refuse to serve any member of the public because you don’t like his or her race.” There was also the Fair Housing Act of 1965, which said that if you were to sell your house, you could not refuse to sell to an otherwise qualified buyer on account of that person’s race. Back in those days, entire neighborhoods of white people had enforceable contracts that attached to their deeds that banned the sale of their house to a black person. Banks cooperated in this by refusing to loans funds to black people who wished to buy houses in “white” neighborhoods, and there were other egregious practices.
In the Democratic gubernatorial primary that year, a fine Democrat, Carlton R. Sickles (so Wikipedia tells me) lost to George P. Mahoney in a primary with 8 candidates. Mahoney a Baltimore paving contractor ran on an anti-integration platform. His slogan was “your home is your castle, protect it.” This was an early example of a dog whistle in politics. He opposed the Fair Housing Act, and argued that no one should interfere with the right to contract. If you didn’t want to sell your house to a Negro, which is how people would have said it back then, no one should make you.
As a result, many Democrats in Maryland, which was a Democratic state in those days, voted for the Republican candidate, the elected executive of Baltimore County. They didn’t like him much, but voters opposed to segregation felt it essential that Mahoney not win. That Republican candidate was Spiro Agnew, and he won the election for Governor. My parents were among those life-long Democrats who voted for a Republican for the first time in that election. Agnew went on to infamy.
Fred Clark, in his essay, gives some other good examples, from both Democrats and Republicans, of people doing the right thing in elections such as this when a manifestly unqualified, even dangerous, candidate manages through quirks in our election system to become their party’s candidate.
My young independent-minded correspondent replied to my remarks above:
Interesting, because I’m having a very similar discussion with my father about the philosophy of voting. He, of course, is in the reverse position, of thinking Hillary would be a bigger disaster than Trump, so he’s resolved to vote for Trump even though he doesn’t like him, just to try and keep Hillary out of the White House.
It’s amazing to me how pervasive this approach to voting is. Many folks who dislike both major candidates are resolved to vote for whoever they think would be the smaller disaster, just to keep the bigger disaster out. To me, this approach seems to have the philosophical underpinning of the Ends Justify The Means. I’ve always been skeptical of this approach, and the more I think about it, the more I wholeheartedly reject it. So far, I’ve come up with what I think are a couple of fairly solid reasons:
1) The Ends Justify The Means has been shown, in general, to be a morally questionable way to make decisions. At the heart of it is a willful decision to violate one’s conscience over fear of some future outcome. (And while we can make educated projections, the fact remains we simply don’t know the future.)
2) On a more pragmatic level, the failure to acknowledge third-party candidates and boxing oneself inside the two-party system does nothing to change that system, it only supports it. If someone is truly dissatisfied with both major candidates, it is simply illogical for them to support it by voting for the “lesser of two evils.” (The short-term chances of a third party candidate winning an election are irrelevant to the specific point I’m making here.)
Of course, I’m only talking about people who are truly dissatisfied with both major candidates, and my argument is that those folks should think more deeply about why they feel forced to choose one. I wouldn’t waste my time trying to convince someone whose heart is set on Clinton or Trump because they truly believe that candidate would make a good president.
My argument also begs the question, “How low will we go?” If David Duke were running against Adolf Hitler (in a ridiculous scenario), would you vote for one just to try and keep the other out? I sure as heck wouldn’t.
I think my argument is summed up well by a quote from Gary Johnson: “Vote for who you believe in. That’s how you’re going to change things.”
Never at a loss for an opinion, instead of David Duke and Adolf Hitler, consider a real conundrum faced by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 when the Germans turned on their erstwhile allies (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty) and invaded the Soviet Union. Both Churchill and Roosevelt hated Hitler, the Nazis, and Stalin and the Bolsheviks. At that time, the United States was not at war. Roosevelt and Churchill agreed that the Germans were the greater threat to Western Civilization, even though the Soviets were really terrible people with a terrible economic and political system. Thus began the Allies attempts to provide aid to the Soviets. It wouldn’t have made sense, I think, for them to say, “I hate them both. It makes no difference who wins.”
The United States confronted a similar problem during the horrendous Iran-Iraq war, World War I style conflict, that lasted from 1980 until 1988. This was a year or two after the Iranian revolution. We didn’t know which nation we found most distasteful, and many said that it was just fine for the war to run on, bleeding both nations. But Iran was bigger and more populous than Iraq, and we feared they Iranians might win. Thus the famous photograph of Donald Rumsfeld, special envoy from President Ronald Reagan, shaking hand with Saddam Hussein, in 1983:
For myself, I agree with Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s decision in WW II. But, the Iraqis had started the Iran-Iraq war by invading Iran, and they were using poison gas against Iranian soldiers. I think that aiding the Iraqis, as we did, was unwise and immoral.
With this, I turn to the contest between the Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, and the Democrat Hillary Clinton. It’s hard for me to see this as somehow similar to choosing between Hitler and Stalin. Hillary Clinton is a standard American politician, somewhat left of center, but not much, and Donald Trump is a strange, abnormal personality completely unfit for the office, and a racist, a bigot, and a bully to boot. I can see, however, that some people would like an effective alternative.
Is voting for a third party candidate a good answer? In this election there are two who have come to notice: Gary Johnson, of the Libertarian party, and Jill Stein, of the Green Party. I’m all for making a statement, and it is through our votes that we citizens express our opinions. The morality of the matter, it seems to me, depends on the situation in your particular state.
Consider New York State. Polls show Hillary Clinton significantly ahead of Donald Trump in that state. Thus, a voter who chooses to vote for Gary Johnson will express his or her view, but won’t change which major candidate will win New York’s electoral college votes. Go for it, I say. Make your statement. The same goes, for example, for California, whose voters will largely support Clinton, and for Texas, whose voters will support Trump.
What about one of the swing states, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or a dozen others? These states are closely divided politically and have shifted from one party to the other in recent presidential elections. In these states, voting for a third party candidate may will determine the outcome of the race between the two major party candidates, so not voting for one or the other is not much different than voting for one or the other. Your vote will be helping to decide between them, but you feel morally clean because you didn’t vote for either of them.
Some analysts believe that Ralph Nader voters tipped key states, such as Florida, to George W Bush and away from Al Gore in the 2000 election. He only won a per cent or two, but that was greater than the difference between Bush and Gore in Florida.
Of course, everyone must make this choice for themselves, but I believe that we have a moral duty to participate in our elections, and to make sure that an ignorant, belligerent, and dangerous buffoon does not win.
Read Fred Clark’s essay.