Friday, February 22, 2008

Primary Options

Yesterday on the Crunchy Con blog, Rod Dreher posed some interesting thoughts about primary voting, and what the best thing for Texas voters (and others who can vote in either party's primary without having to register as a member of that party) is in regard to the upcoming primary.

As Rod puts it, voters have several options:
  1. Take a Democratic ballot, and vote for Obama, with the purpose of derailing Hillary;
  2. Take a Democratic ballot, and vote for Hillary, because she'd be easier for McCain to defeat;
  3. Take a Republican ballot and vote for Huckabee (or, I'll add, Ron Paul) which would essentially be a Republican "protest vote" that would have the purpose of letting the party leadership know a) that we actually like those candidates, and/or b) that we're not keen on McCain
And to those options I'll add two more:

4. Take a Republican ballot and vote for McCain as a show of unity or strength for the Republican party; and

5. Stay home on primary day to avoid supporting either party.

Does it surprise anyone that I'm leaning toward "5"?

Don't get me wrong. There could be a pretty good case made out for any of these options; of course, some people object to taking Democratic ballots on the grounds that they have to check a little box at the bottom of the form saying they'll support the Democratic candidate in the general election, and they know they won't be doing this. My answer to this is that no one except a die-hard partisan can, in good conscience, check that box on even the Republican ballot, since the whole point of the primary is that we're selecting candidates, and it's very likely that someone we find ourselves unable to support in the general election will be the nominee; yet if you don't check that box you can't participate. If political parties want truly closed primaries, they need to follow those states that only permit registered party voters to participate in primary elections; if they're testing allegiance with a statement beside a little box, then to me, there's an understood codicil to every checkmark which reads "I reserve the right to change my mind."

Other than that, as I said, there are reasons to take any of the five actions; but there are serious objections, too. To me these objections are as follows:
  1. Voting for Obama in the primary means that you are supporting the candidacy of the most rabidly pro-abortion candidate who has ever run for President. Even if you are doing so with your fingers crossed, so to speak, and even if you only want the Clintons to go away forever (a noble desire with which I have much sympathy) you are overlooking the old saying which begins, "Better the devil you do know..." Obama is the devil we don't know, because the devil is in the details, and the details are what has been studiously missing from his campaign. It may be in the end that he makes the Clintons look like a couple of amateur dishonest con artists, while he ends up looking like the villain of this movie.
  2. Voting for Hillary, on the other hand, on the grounds that McCain will more easily beat her than he would Obama is a bit of a fool's game, as far as I'm concerned. McCain is not all that strong of a candidate; to assume that he will have a much easier time defeating Hillary than Obama is to assume that it might be possible for him to have an easy time defeating either one of them. It may be that he won't; and do you really want your primary vote to be among the reasons we get stuck with the shrill voice and bloodthirsty tendencies of Lady Macbeth for the next four years?
  3. I have the second-strongest leanings in this direction. It seems like the most honest--if most meaningless--thing to do, in many ways: to show up and support the candidate you actually like the best. I like both Huckabee and Paul, but for different reasons; in choosing only one of them I would probably choose Paul on the grounds that his positions are closer to mine than Huckabee's are. From a moral standpoint this is certainly very satisfying, but from a practical standpoint registering a protest vote this far into a primary is even more futile than registering a third-party or write-in protest vote in the general election (which I have done in the past). At least in the general election one's third-party vote means that someone who was willing to go and vote didn't like the choices offered by our stifling two-party system; within a party primary, though, the meaning is diminished somewhat. There is no way that either Huckabee or Paul could still secure the nomination, and even if one of them were to achieve a relatively strong primary showing in a state or two there is no guarantee at all that this will translate into a realization by the much-fractured Republican party that we are dissatisfied with the all-but-certain nominee. The truth is that if either Giuliani or Romney were still in the game, a vote for a stronger pro-life/pro-family candidate might indeed be needed to offset any chance that the pro-choice or more "moderate" wing of the party might prevail in future elections, but as that threat has thankfully been removed, there's little to be accomplished (aside from personal satisfaction) in showing up on primary day to vote for the lion or the unicorn.
  4. This option doesn't appeal to me at all, but I thought it should be included for the sake of those voters who are already much more concerned with the general election than the conclusion of the primary season, and who therefore think that McCain needs large numbers of Republican primary voters to support him, to show that however disappointed we might be with his candidacy we're going to do whatever it takes to keep the Democrats from moving in to 1600 Pennsylvania. I could see former Romney supporters, for instance, reaching this conclusion; but as I never was one I see no reason to rally for the sake of party unity and strength just yet.
  5. As I said, this is the option I like best. In states I've lived in before where one has to declare party affiliation I have just about always registered as an independent, and thus someone not even eligible to vote in those states' primaries. Quite frankly, I think our two-party system is poisonous to liberty, and though I understand how things evolved this way that doesn't mean that I approve of it. I was certainly prepared to vote in this year's Republican primary, though, because while no one on the field of nominees was the kind of candidate I could wholeheartedly support, there were some who were completely unacceptable to me, and others who I found reasonably worth supporting. But because of the way the primary system is structured, by the time we Texans have our turn it's all over but the shouting. A vote for any of the Republican candidates thus becomes a vote in favor of the Republican party in general, and I'm not at all sure I can give them that support in good conscience, particularly in light of the fact that McCain will take the nomination barring some extremely odd set of unforeseen circumstances.
The reality is that Texas voters, and voters in the remaining primaries, will be weighing these and similar options from now until a candidate has officially captured the requisite number of delegates to secure the nomination. As I said, I think any of these options could be taken, but my current tendency is to think I'll be sitting this one out.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind.


molly said...

Love it, much food for thought.

Marilena said...

man, am i glad we don't have primaries in canada! all we got are the same old same old, and is it no wonder canadians don't care about voting? its boring!

Anonymous said...

I had considered not voting but I want the party we usually affliate with to see my "other" vote whether it is write in or an independent. I am not sitting at home this time.