The election is on Tuesday. If you’re like most voters, as I am, you haven’t really had time to dig down into the details of everything on the ballot and perhaps you’re waiting for that 11th hour block of time to sit down and sift through it all.
Experience tells me, it’s not going to happen.
We can rest easy though. Because there is no absolute or minimum viable level of detail one can absorb to ensure one makes the perfect voting decisions. No one’s going to run the table on their ballot. It’s not a tournament bracket.
The reality is that the world is a complicated place with nearly endless variables. And we’re distilling decisions about complex entities into a “this” or “that” prediction as to the right direction into an uncertain future. When we think about it, it’s quite a credit to the law of large numbers that any effective pattern arises at all.
It does though. And in that pattern lies the fate of our accountable government.
For political ideologues it’s pretty straight forward activity. There is no choice. The only variable for them is whether or not they care enough to vote. For the rest of us though, it gets a little messy. It’s enough to make one not do it.
I’ve found, over the years, like most vague, yet important decisions, a set of first principles helps. Some consistent truths to bounce off what little I know about an issue or a candidate to keep me honest.
Two days out, I thought it might be worthwhile to share.
In no particular order, here’s what I think about when I vote:
1-Voting is an expression of the direction I want the various governments in my life to take. It’s not an expression of my identity. Faith, family and military service are my core personal identifiers. Most would consider them conservative. I do not expect my government, a government that serves 320M diverse people in 50 states in as many as 8 identified regional cultures to reflect my personal identity, above others, in their choices.
2-For city or county politics, I lean left unless I have a reason not to for a given candidate choice. If there is a group closest to my day to day problems, it’s the teachers, police, firefighters, civil servants and infrastructure in my city and county. I’d like to have an energetic, dynamic group that takes action to solve problems.
3-In state level politics my preference depends on the characteristic of the state. If I’m in a deeply liberal state, which I presently am, I tend to want as many reasonable conservative representatives as I can get in the state legislature. State pensions and budgets are the biggest risk areas for poorly legislated states. There’s little risk to get them wrong in a liberal state by pushing too conservative on those issues and little risk for stupid political nonsense bills like banning people from bathrooms without a birth certificate because, well, it’s California. It’s never veering off the “right” side of the road.
4-For governors, unfortunately, executive branches in the age of Trump are limited in their approach to conservative leadership. For me, there’s likely no GOP governor votes, for now, unless they’ve gone out of their way to distance themselves from the current message and tone of the White House. As best as I can tell, that hasn’t and won’t happen. Which is unfortunate because conservative state executive branches used to be the grown-up adults who forced states to make hard decisions with their resources. We’ve lost that check, for a bit.
5-For the U.S. Congress, I think it’s fair to say that some level of Democratic control is required to check the current executive branch and the risk to a recession of western liberal values that it presently represents. I’d like a less energetic Federal Government under current direction. That voting for Democrats gets us that is commentary in its own right.
6-For President of the United States, my criteria is simple. I’m looking for the leader of the free world. I’ve made my position clear about the present administration in a book. You can buy it here. (LINK)
7-When it comes to voting on initiatives, I believe in two drop dead no brainers. The first is in favor of investing in government spending on infrastructure. The second is in opposition to any law that keeps one American from doing common things other Americans can legally do; getting married, using the bathroom without a birth certificate, voting. For other issues, if I know enough, I vote. If I don’t, I don’t. I use the ads that invade my television viewing as a signal to research an issue and to otherwise ignore. If I haven’t researched an issue, I clearly don’t care and shouldn’t vote on that issue.
8-In evaluating individual candidates, I put a premium on the individual character, capability and experience of the candidate over party and position. As stated earlier, the future is uncertain and there are cases to make for reasonable approaches to both liberal and conservative sides of government. Believing that one side is so right, when the reality is that future events are so unknowable is not realistic. Willing to choose a low character, untrustworthy candidate to support that belief seems like a recipe for future fragility.
9-I don’t vote for indicted candidates. An indictment means a grand jury was presented with evidence, true under penalty of law, and that jury believed someone’s done enough wrong to warrant a criminal trial. It’s not a light weight accusation. I’ll let you know if that principle ever gets hard to hold. It hasn’t yet.
10-I don’t vote for any candidate that shoots or blows anything up in a commercial. It’s not that I don’t enjoy shooting things or watching things blow up. I do. But it’s a type of signaling for signaling sake to a specific group that doesn’t represent me. My old teammate and former Missouri governor Eric Greitens was a Rhodes scholar with a PhD from Oxford and a best-selling author. That should have been the focus of his message. He couldn’t resist shooting and blowing something up in a commercial though. Then he resigned in disgrace in a flurry of legal problems. That he was willing to lead with the message he did, was a screaming alarm bell for any of us that knew him that perhaps he’d been overcome by the type political nonsense that leads to shooting and exploding things in television ads.
11-If a candidate doesn’t have anything better to say than pointing out that immigrants sometimes commit crime, they’re off the team. I know what whistle they’re blowing.
12-If I’m supposed to vote for a candidate because they’re a veteran, I’m going to need to hear more. I served with men and women I wouldn’t send to get me a cup of coffee. That one served is proof that one served. A data point, but not a case alone.
13-If a candidate has a soft spot for Confederate monuments or any other monuments from government’s whose entire existence came about to wage war on America to uphold the institution of slavery, I’m going to have to pass.
14-If a candidate makes the voluntary choice to use the word socialist to describe themselves, I can’t vote for them. And yes, I understand what socialism is and what it isn’t. I’ve done the work. It’s another sort of signaling for signaling sake. Making it a foundation of a platform is not what 2018 America needs from its representatives. It’s diverging, not converging. We need convergence.
15-I can’t vote for anyone who is accused of a crime that has responded with anything other than, “This accusation is false and I’m calling for and will cooperate with an immediate and thorough investigation by law enforcement.” This includes accusations of sexual assault. It’s not a hard thing to say. And there is no material risk in saying it. Remember the politician who went to jail for something he/she didn’t do? Me neither.
16-I don’t like bullies or people who pretend to be one. If I can feel cruelness in a candidate’s message, I’m out. Politicians are not weapons to wield against fellow Americans I disagree with. They are people who mostly sit at desks, sign things and give boring speeches about things that affect people I both agree and disagree with. Cruelty is a choice. That one is willing to scare or intimidate other Americans for what amounts to entertainment value, is a clear signal they should not be given agency over the future of others.
Sixteen is a pretty long list. Seventeen is probably too many so I’ll stop.
Now go forward and do your democratic duty.