It’s time again for what’s becoming a quadrennial visit into the world of social studies. Four years ago in Teaching and Practicing the Civics of Voting, I argued that the merits of not voting should be discussed in lessons about elections and said, “Without knowledge of the options on the ballot or facing only bad options, I won’t vote.”
This time around, I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like to be a student assigned the task of writing an essay about whom I supported as a candidate and why. I’ve also been trying to imagine what a teacher would think if they received an essay like this:
My Strategy for Deciding on a Candidate
I’ve spent a fair amount of time deciding how I’ll pick candidates when I become eligible to vote and have landed on a two-step process to guide me. The first step is to determine which candidates are fit for the office by judging their health, disposition, competence, and morality and ethics. The second is to decide whom among the fit is closest to my ideology and has a chance to win.
A candidate must be physically and mentally healthy enough to hold office. For me, most candidates pass this test. I would have to know that one had a terminal illness, for example, or an out of control addiction, to disqualify them. A disability would not, nor would something chronic that they showed they could manage. Even if I knew a candidate suffered from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, I could still consider them fit if they were open about it and how it was being managed and it didn’t appear to pose a threat to their ability to function.
A candidate must also have a positive, moderate, and stable disposition. I look at someone and ask, are they generally optimistic? Are their emotional reactions proportional to events? Do they self-regulate their behavior? One-off exceptions wouldn’t disqualify a candidate for me, as long as they really were exceptions. Sadly, it often seems that the goal of political parties is to find the most negative, immoderate, and unhinged candidates they can find.
The next qualification is competence – in their previous work has a candidate demonstrated the skills necessary for the office they seek? For high offices, such as president, the skills include the ability to manage the large and complex executive department, to work with allies and adversaries in Congress to pass legislation, and to negotiate with foreign leaders to create a more stable, peaceful, and just world without compromising the safety and interests of our own country. Additionally, communicating to the country in direct terms, with neither condescension nor solicitousness, would definitely indicate competence.
Finally, only moral and ethical candidates are fit for office. Clearly, no one is perfect and looking at someone’s life through the media microscope will always reveal something ugly in a candidate’s past. But that’s different from habitual lying, cheating, abusing others, breaking rules, maintaining double standards, and the like. And that’s what would make a candidate unfit.
I want to make clear that in this first step, I don’t measure candidates relative to each other and keep some kind of score. Rather, the task is to measure each candidate individually, according to my subjective judgement, and give them a pass or fail. Failure in even one of the above categories removes them from my consideration.
The second step in the process involves looking at survivors’ ideologies and party platforms to determine if any are within the margin of error of my own libertarian-conservative leaning. And here, unlike the fitness test, candidates are measured relative to each other. I’d like to follow the Buckley Rule and vote for the most conservative candidate who has a chance to win. But I would make an exception and still not vote for a fit candidate whose policies are too far to the left for me.
Now I know people say not voting is not a viable option. Liberals say that not voting is the same as voting for a Conservative; Conservatives say that not voting is the same as voting for a Liberal. But that’s a bunch of baloney, if I’m the tiebreaker and decide not to vote – no one wins.
Others, again from both parties, like to argue that THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION OF OUR LIVES, and to not defeat the opposition amounts to NATIONAL SUICIDE. So, in spite of their candidate’s (often admitted) troubling health, pettiness, incompetence, and immorality, he or she MUST win.
All that makes me think of 1) The idea, I believe by Thomas Sowell, that we don’t elect candidates, we elect systems; 2) The concept that a “winning” system accumulates the means to continue winning; 3) The thought from Rabbi Milton Steinberg that any good that comes by chance from a corrupt system is rotten at its core and unsustainable; and 4) The cliche that when you sleep with the devil, you don’t change the devil, the devil changes you.
And so absent a fit candidate whose ideology I can support, I will not vote because to do so debases the country, the process, and myself.
I think if I were the student’s social studies teacher, my only suggestion would be to analyze current candidates according to their process and ask if who, if any, meet their criteria. But maybe not. The student would probably tell me to get real.