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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why I shall (probably) vote for Obama [UPDATED!]

Having just written a post about why I'm disappointed in Obama, I'm now going to write about why I shall (probably) vote for him, and not Mitt Romney, Jill Stein or Gary Johnson.  (There are other 3rd party candidates, but Stein and Johnson are the only ones on the Illinois ballot, and I don't know much about the others anyway.)

I'll repeat what I and others have said before.  One individual's vote will not decide the election.  I'm under no illusions that my vote means anything.  And a not too rational part of my psyche tends to believe that the Chicagocracy might (accidentally, of course) neglect to count my ballot if it contains a vote for president for someone whose last name does not rhyme with "Oh bomb, hah!"

Having gotten that out of the way and ignoring what to some might be the logical takeaway (i.e., don't waste the time voting, then), I'll mention the two reasons I'm aware of for voting that don't involve whatever value comes from representing myself to the people at the polling place (i.e., my neighbors) as someone who votes and therefore as a respectable citizen.  Here are the two reasons:

  1. It still is one vote and it adds to the message of total votes.  What's more, if I vote for a third party, the "marginal utility" of that vote is magnified (a little bit) in that it's one more chunk on the pile in advocacy for the  type of change I really can believe in.
  2. As Jason Kuznicki suggested at the League, how we vote--because it's essentially a private act--is more of a decision of how we choose to affiliate ourselves.  (Read his post here, it's possible I'm misrepresenting somewhat his argument, but I think I'm capturing its spirit.)
Reason #1 above might justify, even to the point of encouraging, me to vote for either Stein or Johnson over Obama or Romney.  If I vote for Stein or Johnson, I'll get more bang pop! for my buck.  Reason #2 is perhaps as good an argument as I can find for voting my conscience, seeing it as a way of affirming my commitments with the universe, or whatever.

I don't wish to deride #1 too much, but it is unclear what politicians will take away from the votes that Stein or Johnson will get.  A vote for Stein might assure the Democrats they're doing the right thing, from their strategists' point of view, that is, they can claim that whatever support Stein wins demonstrates that the Democrats truly are the party of the center.  A vote for Johnson would probably be interpreted as disaffected Republicanism, and I don't think the GOP will look at it as a repudiation of their position on civil liberties or foreign policy or the drug war.  Rather, the GOP (just like the Dems) will interpret it and spin it how they want to.  That's the cynic in me speaking.

Jason's point is more provocative, even if I'm not completely understanding it or accurately representing it.  (I've never met him personally, but I can tell from his writing that he's much smarter than I am, and when I read his posts, I usually sense I'm not fully getting all that's in them).  It also allows me to consider each of the candidates more seriously.  So here's my rundown.

Romney.  I simply cannot vote for him.  I really do believe he will be at best Obama-lite on foreign policy or at worse Bush-lite.  I'd prefer the Devil I know to the one I don't on that score, at least when it comes to someone who until very recently adopted what I believed to be a war-mongering stance against Iran, Syria, and even Russia.

I do admit that he probably would operate as more of a centrist on domestic policy than his primary rhetoric would have me believe.  But I believe that the one, low-cost (for him) way to appease the social conservative faction in his own party will be to appoint social conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

When it comes to health care I think Romney is a gamble (of course, I realize the ACA itself is a gamble and that my bar for success is quite low).  At least from the time of his convention speech onward, he has changed his "repeal Obamacare" talk to "repeal and replace Obamacare" and even to "repeal the bad parts of Obamacare [the mandate] and keep everything else that people like."

I suspect that's what he sincerely would like to do, but I think there are three scenarios in which a president Romney "reforms" the ACA.  The first two would depend on a a GOP-dominated Congress (defined as a GOP majority in the House and a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate) winning enough votes from the other side of the aisle to pass something.  This something will be either a repeal of the ACA with a replacement along the lines that Romney is suggesting, or a repeal of the ACA with the promise of a "bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission" to look into further reforms of health care, whose conclusions will be both more respected and more ignored than the conclusions of the Simpson-Bowles commission.  I think the latter is at least a possibility, and I don't trust Romney to veto it and insist on the former.

The third scenario does not require a GOP-dominated Congress.  All it does is require him to appoint as Secretary of Health and Human Services someone who is hostile to the law and frustrate, or even "suspend," its implementation.  That may or may not be legal, but there are a lot of shenanigans that he could do.

Since there is no real reason why I might vote for Romney, the choice comes down to Obama, Stein, and Johnson.  Again, the "marginal utility" argument for voting for a 3d party might or might not work, but that isn't something I'm going to look too much at.  My main concern is Jason Kusnizki's argument about who I affiliate with.

Under that argument, I would like to believe I would choose to affiliate with Stein or Johnson.  They are pretty good on civil liberties and ending, or putting us in the position to see the end of, the state of perpetual war.  At least one or both of them also promotes some policies that I like, such as curtailing the war on drugs.

But it's not a slam dunk, either.  I read Johnson's platform several months ago and at the time decided he engaged too readily in starve-the-beast type of reforms.  Now that I've reread the platform (see it here), I think he either sounds less extreme or has changed the platform to accommodate people like me.  (That is, I'm sure that one day, he was reading my blog, decided my critiques of libertarianism were spot-on, and then ordered a change in platform.  Such is the influence of Pierre Corneille!)  Still, he wants to repeal the ACA and the principal solution he has to the problem of "uninsurable" people is what strikes me as the x-factorish "simple block grants to the states, where innovation will create efficiencies and better care at less cost."

I'm lukewarm about some of Stein's prescriptions.  They seem to follow the mantra of "if only we enact a law that mandates what we want, then that's what we'll get."  I admit that I haven't looked over her platform as thoroughly as I have Johnson's.  But she seems too.....optimistic about what the state can do without things going awry.

Which brings me to Obama.  Should I affiliate with a president who has what some call a "kill list"?  Maybe not, although I confess that from my standpoint much of that talk strikes me as academic or, in some ways, overwrought.  The "strikes me as academic" stance ought to offend anyone who cares about such issues, but I really do suspect that whatever the "kill list" refers to is an organic continuation--even if it's a continuation that worsens things--from past policies dating back at least as far as Harry Truman and probably further.  A president Johnson or Stein would, I am sure, on their first day issue several executive orders renouncing all sorts of practices.  One month later, however, when the actual authorizing statutes come up for consideration for repeal, or when other statutes are offered to criminalize certain executive actions that otherwise met some (if arguably specious) standard of legality, they would demur to whatever committee is working on it in Congress.  Six months later and after daily counterterrorism and national security briefings, they would note that while they support "the spirit" of the pending legislation, they would advise against a rush to action and offer to issue another executive order that offers a super-duper promise never to use such tactics in exchange for withdrawing the pending legislation.  Eighteen months later (if not sooner), in their first bona fide national security crisis, they'll quietly rescind the super-duper-promise executive order and order an attack against a person who is a clear and present danger to some U.S. military base that they have theretofore declined to dismantle per their campaign promises.

That's a very cynical view of things, and it ignores the main gist of Kuznicki's argument that we are choosing to affiliate with the pure of heart.

But I'm not.  I want Obama to win.  However satisfactory it would be for me to vote for Johnson, I admit that I'm rooting for Obama, although I also admit the country will be an interesting place if the Libertarian or Green party gets 5% of the vote and qualifies for federal funds, provided they have an organizational structure in place that'll prevent a fight-over-money that we saw with Perot's party-child.  In short, I fear that affiliating myself with Johnson (or Stein) would be hypocritical.

Anyway, that's probably why I'll vote for Obama.

UPDATE:  I voted for Gary Johnson.

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