Monday, November 03, 2008

Despairing of Democracy

Those who know me know that I am rather non-partisan in my politics. I like to remain independent in my ability to evaluate candidates and issues and I think partisan loyalties often obscure rather than enhance that process. If your primary concern is for your team to win, then you can be blind to that team's weaknesses and sometimes stay committed even when the team doesn't deserve your support.

An upshot of this approach is that I think I am usually able to see the merit in a given political stance, even when I do not agree with it. Politics is a messy business and the issues are rarely clear cut. Appreciating the complexity of those issues and trying to give everyone the benefit of the doubt leads to political charity and nuanced thinking. In general, these results are much preferable to the kind of bunker mentality that seems to pervade so much of our political rhetoric.

But this election is somewhat different. I simply do not see what can be said in favor of McCain. Or, more precisely, I think there are some things to be said in favor of McCain but they are so massively outweighed by the reasons to vote for Obama that there might as well be nothing to say. Political choices may not usually be clear cut. But this one is.

This leaves me in an uncomfortable position with respect to my fellow citizens. It means that I either think they agree with me, and therefore appreciate the clear merits of supporting Obama, or I conclude that they are somehow deficient: irrational? (though rationality is a slippery notion), unintelligent? deceived? myopic? pigheaded? racist? evil? ill-intentioned? None of these are ways in which I like to think of my countrymen (save for a few talk-radio hosts), to say nothing of friends and people I know. And yet I'm not sure what else to conclude in this case.

Unfortunately, this problem is ineradicable in a democracy. As long as people are allowed to make voting decisions for themselves, based on whatever criteria they choose, we always run the risk that factors other than sober-headed thinking about the common good will influence the direction a polity takes. This danger was enough for Plato to reject democracy out of hand and was a big reason for the republican controls that the Founding Fathers placed on democratic whims. (Take a quick look, for example, at Federalist No. 10.)

However, unless we want to opt for rule by philosopher kings--never, to my mind, a wholly unpleasant thought--we will be unable to avoid times where we have no choice but to rely on the collective wisdom and good will of The People. This election is one of those times and I can only hope that The People show themselves equal to the task.

1 comment:

JAK said...

Here in Ohio, for the last few days we've been getting 8-10 phone messages and 3-5 fliers per day in the mail from the Republican side. None -- and I really mean NONE -- of them state anything positive about the McCain policies. One or two are relatively benign, simply encouraging us to vote on Tuesday, and vote for McCain. All the others are negative, focusing on Obama's seemingly sinister associations with dark side characters like William Ayers, Reverend Wright, and Tony Rezko, along with Obama's extreme plan (underlying motivation unstated) to raise a trillion dollars in new taxes and wreck our economy.

It is very tiring, and it is very disheartening to see this of strategy of fear and misstatement work on so many people. Hopefully, it won't work on enough of them to matter this time.