With the presidential election in the U.S. only a merciful week away, I finally have to confront an issue that’s been troubling me for months: I can’t decide who to vote for.
I’m not your typical undecided voter, however, at least not in the way most news organizations, political analysts or polls typically think of this elusive species. My indecision is not whether to choose Romney over Obama or vice versa. No coin-flipping for me. That’s because one candidate is unacceptable. At the same time, it’s become difficult to distinguish between the two candidates or their parties on key issues, which makes the choice not as automatic as it once was. I will vote, but for who?
This situation is causing me a lot of anguish.
I’ve voted in every election since I became eligible to cast a ballot back in 1978, even eagerly participating in primaries, special elections, and school bond votes, becoming in the process what The Onion satirically called a “democracy nerd.” Hey, I like voting! I want our children to like it as well, so I’ve dragged them along to polling booth after polling booth over the years. I’ll take them again this year, even though they’ve been pretty well bitten by the democracy bug by now.
Voting isn’t the issue. Who is the issue.
It used to be simple: I voted for Democrats. For years, I enthusiastically voted a ‘straight ticket’ at state and federal levels, including every contest for the White House. It wasn’t a matter of voting against Republicans – I liked voting for Democrats. I supported their positions, which were closely aligned with my values. This streak extended to 2008 when I eagerly voted for Barack Obama. In 2012, my friends and colleagues are voting for Obama again, so the decision should be a no-brainer. Except it isn’t – and whenever I voice my hesitation, I get funny looks. So I’ve been keeping quiet, even at home. When the kids ask about the election, I sidestep my indecision – or else deflect their questions to Gen, who plans to vote for the President.
On one level, there is no indecision. I won’t vote for Romney or any other Republican. A vote for them is a vote for Wall Street and the plutocracy, not to put a fine point on it. Pretty much everything I’ve worked for and believe in runs contrary to the platform of the current Republican Party (it’s certainly not Richard Nixon’s party anymore). Then there’s the character issue. Romney has changed his position so many times I’ve come to doubt that he has any heart-felt convictions, which I find equally objectionable. I have no indecision: voting Republican is repugnant to my values.
But so is voting for the Democrats, to be frank. If the Republicans are the Wall Street Party, the Democrats are the Business-as-Usual Party. Hope? Change? Reform? Didn’t happen – and not simply because Republicans in Congress were obstructionists. Deep down, Democrats support the Status Quo just as much as Republicans. That’s why the hard decisions keep getting kicked down the road by everyone. This is bad news because every signal that I hear sends the same message: Business-as-Usual is the worst-case scenario for us and the planet. The only real difference between the two parties on this score is the timetable: the Republicans would bring on the worst-case scenario faster than the Democrats, and probably with a lot more enthusiasm. Events would unfold more slowly under the Democrats – but the result will be the same in the end.
Mr. Romney is frequently described in the media as being “pro-carbon” and his campaign supporters often carry signs with the tiresome slogan “Drill, baby, drill!” Romney has stated many times that as President he would accelerate current energy production patterns considerably, especially carbon sources (oil, coal, and natural gas). Thanks for the warning! But how is this different than the Democrats’ position? As Obama made shockingly clear during the second presidential “debate” his energy philosophy is also “Drill, baby, drill” but with some wind and solar thrown in. Obama calls it an “all in” policy and tried to contrast it with Romney’s plans – except there’s no real contrast at all.
Here is Obama in his own words: “We’ve opened up public lands. We’re actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration and my – the previous president was an oil man.”
I can’t support this.
Worse, neither candidate mentioned a word about the deleterious consequences of accelerated oil-and-gas development – aka climate change. In a historic silence, none of the candidates for President or Vice-President said a word about global warming in any of the four televised debates. It was historic because in every other campaign since 1984 someone has said something about their concern over a warming world. This year, everyone maintained a conspicuous silence despite summer-long headlines about the severe drought, declining arctic sea ice, and record-breaking temperatures. So, what’s the difference between Republicans and Democrats on this topic? The former denies the science of climate change, while the latter refuses to discuss it in any detail. The net result is the same: no action.
It’s much the same on other issues. While both candidates for the presidency like to talk about the “stark” differences between their visions, I’m having trouble finding them. Take substantive reform of Wall Street, for example. Or a push-back against the Citizens United ruling. Or farm policy. Or wars of aggression. Any differences between Democrats and Republicans on these issues are more of degree than kind – degrees of Business-as-Usual, in other words.
I feel anguished because I want vote for someone, not against someone else. I can’t vote for Romney, but I can’t endorse Obama with my vote either. There are other options, of course. There’s the Libertarian Party at one end of the political spectrum, and the Green party at the other. Neither excites me. I’m a centrist – a radical centrist, I suppose. I support the profit motive, but I support regulation too. It’s a Goldilocks thing – not too much of one, not too little of the other, everything just right. I’ve sometimes referred to myself as a “liberal libertarian” – which means I consider myself a progressive on social issues but conservative when it comes to the role of government, especially when it behaves ineptly or secretively. This means I can’t go to either end of the political spectrum.
If there were a Radical Center Party, I’d sign up. But there isn’t one. A few years ago, I wrote that what we needed was a Commonwealth Party – a political party that focused on the common wealth of local communities, including local culture, history, renewable energy, foodsheds, soil, water, wildlife, arts, education, and a sense of place. I suggested that such a party could concentrate first on city and county governments, because the Status Quo might be easier to overcome at those levels. I stand by that ideal, but there isn’t a Common Wealth Party to support either.
So what’s a poor voter to do?
Right now, I’m considering a vote for Abraham Lincoln. Or Thomas Jefferson. Maybe Theodore Roosevelt. To all of my friends, that’s the equivalent of tossing my vote straight into the garbage can. They’ll be especially mad at me if the dreaded Romney wins. I don’t look at it that way. I consider my vote to be precious and I want someone to earn it. Messers Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt have earned it; none of the current crop running for high office have. Not voting is not an option, however. Enough Americans have already dropped out of our political process, either as a result of exhaustion, cynicism, or disenfranchisement. I won’t be one of them, despite my feeling that our political system is broken. But who should I vote for?
I’ve got seven days to decide.