Monday, October 04, 2004

The Next President of the United States: Difficult Choices Ahead

Although I have been trying to write this for some time now, ever since jamesofthenorthwest asked me about my thoughts on the issue, I've been struggling with how, exactly, to articulate succinctly the issues and questions that arise concerning the election of our next president. Well, yesterday at trapaza, I was asked the question I'd have preferred was left silent: "Father, who should we choose when voting for president?" As it was asked, and answered, I guess now there's no point in delaying the discussion here, as well. You'll forgive me, I hope, if I take a little bit more time than was available at the table... Let me also emphasize here, as I did there, that I am not speaking as anyone other than a citizen (who happens to be a priest); in other words, this is my opinion, offered as nothing more than that, and binding upon absolutely no one.

Personally, I'm not thrilled about the choices available this year, much as was the case in the 2000 elections. To me, there's no candidate to support who is "head and shoulders" above the others. In some ways, this would be a wonderful year to express our dissatisfaction with the two major political parties by voting for a third-party candidate -- except that the question of who will lead our nation over the next four years is a crucial one.

If the election had a clear favorite, as was the case in 1984, when President Reagan had a commanding lead over his Democratic opponent, Sen. Walter Mondale, we could have the luxury of opting for a third-party candidate, or even of not voting at all. But this election appears, for now, at least, to be extremely close -- the kind where, "every vote counts." (Not entirely true; but I'll have more to say about that later.) In good conscience (except as noted below), I cannot "throw away" my vote by staying home, or by voting for a candidate who has no chance whatsoever to win, when the likelihood of the votes cast for the nominees of the two major parties will be separated by only a narrow margin.

Unless something catastrophic happens between now and November 2nd, I'm going to be voting for the re-election of President George W. Bush. To be honest, I don't agree with everything he's done, or every position he's espoused. (The war in Iraq immediately comes to mind.) I don't think that history will count him among the foremost and finest of the American presidents; and I do wish that he were more articulate, especially after last week's debate. On the other hand, I find myself thinking, and saying, that I believe him when he speaks; that is, I think he says what he believes, and acts on what he says. In short, I think I can trust him. I am much more comfortable with the thought of President Bush as the leader of our military than I am of having Sen. Kerry as the commander-in-chief. I don't trust Sen. Kerry to do anything other than say whatever he thinks people want to hear in order to gain the office he seeks. His record in the U.S. Senate disturbs me; his actions in his 1971 testimony before Congress make me think he cannot be trusted. I cannot reconcile his self-portrayal, on the one hand, as qualified to be C-in-C because of his military service, with his betrayal of his comrades-in-arms as "war criminals" in that 1971 appearance. Please don't misunderstand me: I was strenuously opposed to the war in Vietnam, and was an active protestor against the war following the deaths of four students at Kent State University in 1971. But my disagreement did not extend to the vast majority of those in the armed services; only to the leaders of our government. My instincts tell me that Lt. John Kerry was positioning himself then for political office; and, as I listened to him in the debate last week, I heard him saying things that echoed the anti-Americanism of that time. It boggles the mind: I think he clearly distrusts the very nation he says he wants to lead as its president. Well, he will not get my vote!

Ralph Nader made some significant contributions to safety issues back in the 1960's and 1970's; and some of his efforts to build local political action groups have borne fruit to this day. However, what little I know of his positions on issues doesn't excite me. I will also confess that his running mate, Peter Camejo, now a politician of the Green Party, counts against Mr. Nader, as Mr. Camejo has already received my vote, as a write-in candidate for President of the United States, when he was the 1976 candidate of the Socialist Workers Party. (Yes, I've confessed, and repented!)

I've been asked more than once, what about the Constitution Party, and its candidate, Michael Peroutka? I hope the people considering this as an option will take the time to read through the position papers posted at the website of the Constitution Party. There are several positions that describe my point-of-view; but others, frankly, are not what I believe would advance the cause of governing America. However, if I felt that my best choice would be a third party, I'd probably opt for the Constitution Party, as opposed to the Libertarians, or the Green Party, or an independent candidate, such as Ralph Nader. Where's Ross Perot when we need him? Pat Paulsen? (The perennial candidate of the STAG Party...)

Let me say this about "every vote counts." Not entirely true. Oh, yes, my vote and your vote are "equal"; and each counts the same. But, as many people were surprised to learn in 2000, we don't elect our president by direct popular vote. Rather, when we vote for a candidate, we are technically voting for a slate of electors who are pledged to go to the Electoral College. It is these electors who actually choose the President of the United States. These voters are not selected on the basis of the total national vote, but by the total of the votes cast in each state. As a result, a candidate can have the most votes on a national basis, and not be elected, because of the results of the electoral vote. OK, brief civics class warning here! Each state has a number of electors equal to the number of congressional districts in the state, plus one for each Senator. Nationally, there are 435 congressional districts, and 100 Senators (2 per state -- but that's another lecture!), so there are 535 electoral votes. In order to be elected to be President, a candidate thus needs 268 votes in the Electoral College.

OK, here's the point: If you live in a state that clearly favors one candidate over another, you can opt to cast your vote for a third-party candidate, or not vote at all (as a protest -- but it's a really weak protest), and not be "throwing away" your vote. For example, in the 2000 election, Idaho was solidly in the Republican column; as I recall, by an almost 3-to-1 margin. It would require a significant number of "protest votes" to have changed the outcome of the election there, and cause Idaho's electoral votes to have gone to the Democratic nominee. Another example: as a conservative-leaning voter in San Francisco in 1996, my vote would have been swallowed up by the overwhelmingly liberal populace voting there. As a result, I stayed home; and my vote would have done nothing to reverse the tide of support for the Democratic candidate in that year. So, if you live in Idaho, and want to cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate without increasing the likelihood of Sen. Kerry being elected, you can probably do so without fear. (I have no idea of the polling numbers in Idaho.) On the other hand, if you live in California, and you want to cast a protest vote without causing the re-election of President Bush, you can probably do so. (Again, I have no idea of the support either candidate has there.) To be honest, if the margin in Arizona was 3-to-1 for the President, I might cast a vote for the Constitution Party; but that's not the case; and if a vote for a third party candidate becomes a vote for Sen. Kerry... I'm voting for President Bush.

Well, folks, there it is. Remember, this is my personal opinion and endorsement, and should in no way whatsoever be construed as a "priestly directive" or admonition or anything binding upon anyone. Oh, and if my views change, I'll be sure to let you know!