Conor Friedesdorf at the Atlantic explains why he will not vote for Barack Obama. In short, Obama is terrible on civil liberties, and in particular his drone war in Pakistan morally disgusts Friedersdorf (with good reason). On the other hand, djw at LGM figures such a stance to be misguided, for the reason that voting is always a choice among evils. To him, if you believe Obama to be less bad than Romney but still egregiously bad, you need to vote Obama, and then do whatever you can to raise the importance of issues on which Obama is bad. Voting for a hopeless protest candidate only serves to help elect someone who is even worse than Obama (as any Floridian who voted Nader surely knows). This conversation has continued on, with nearly everyone else at LGM, Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber and many other leading lights of the left-wing blogosphere weighing in in posts of varied merit and interestingness, which I will not link simply to save myself some time.
My own view is that voting itself is entirely symbolic. Once you’re inside the voting booth, it’s fine to be cognizant of the fact your vote doesn’t at all matter, and so it doesn’t make sense to be swayed by “practical” considerations. The substantive aspect of voting is a lot like karma, though. I don’t believe it exists, but it’s to my obvious disadvantage to dissuade other people of its existence. And so intending to vote, or saying you will vote is not like actually voting, I would say. If I alone vote for Nader, that makes no difference, but if I tell people I’m going to do it, and that helps create a situation where many people feel comfortable with it, then that’s a problem.
There’s a bit of a liar’s paradox embedded in the previous paragraph. If I tell people it’s okay to vote third party, but it’s not okay to admit that it’s okay to vote third party, what have I really said? Conor Friedersdorf’s situation is even more complicated: by speaking out about Obama’s drone war, he’s both dissuading people from voting Obama (what djw sez you shouldn’t do) and, to a greater extent, raising the importance of the drone issue and people’s awareness of it (what djw sez you should). Whether, if we are djw, we view this action positively or negatively, would I guess mostly depend on what the reaction to Friedersdorf’s piece was.
Another place where djw’s maximalist logic breaks down is when you consider a multi-party majoritarian contest like we have in Canada for example. In my riding, certain parties may not stand a chance. And yet overall, they are quite viable, and voting for them is not a protest vote. What to do then? It’s a mess.
I just have to go with my previous advice: vote for whomever, but when talking to people, don’t encourage voting for hopeless candidates.
Writing this post has been difficult, because by its internal logic, I should be telling people the opposite of what I believe. Luckily, the amount of readers of this blog is low enough that I don’t have to worry about the contradiction.