The Contrarian has written an essay that he would like to share with the RTFLC readership. I’ve agreed to loan him my soapbox.
The views expressed below do not necessarily reflect my own and I reserve the right to argue for or against them in the comments. Please address any feedback to The Contrarian.
Black and Against Obama By James Quentin Clark
I’m a twenty-something Black guy and I’m voting for Mitt Romney. I understand that this is unusual, so I’d like to fully explain my reasons why. Trust me; read on and you’ll have something interesting to think about.
The first dumb assumption that people make and occasionally explicitly state is as follows: You are Black. Obama is Black. Why would you not support him?
This is racist reasoning and it holds back the Black community in this country. It is the exact opposite of what Dr. King advocated in his “I Have a Dream Speech”, wherein he advocated a society where people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. To support Obama unthinkingly after simply observing his skin tone is to apply caveman irrationality to a choice affecting the future of a modern technological society.
Other groups get this sort of presumption, but none as bad as Blacks. Women and other minorities are often taken for granted by democrats as natural enemies of republicans. Democratic spokespeople like Eva Longoria feel they can openly ridicule women and non-Whites who vote republican as a result. Still, if you are a woman, Hispanic, or Asian and vote for Romney, it’s only a subset of your community that sees you as a sell-out or traitor.
The virulent backlash against actress Stacy Dash after her endorsement of Romney points to just how ingrained is the notion that being Black requires supporting democrats. I could go on a long tangent here on the roots of this type of thinking and irrational anti-concepts like “Oreos”, but I shall refrain. Suffice to say White people are lucky to not have to deal with it. It is understood that White people are diverse in their thinking; some are liberal, some are conservative, some are socialist, some are capitalist, etc. We don’t get to presume political viewpoint based on pale skin.
So what is my deal then? For one, I’m not a republican. I have voted for democrats, republicans, and third parties in the past. I am an independent voter.
I am also not a religious conservative. Though I am pretty old-fashioned in my personal life, I have no problem with gay marriage or abortion (though I don’t like the legal reasoning applied in Roe v. Wade). In fact I agree with Obama on a number of social and civil liberties issues, like closing Guantanamo Bay, humane immigration reform, and marijuana legalization. It is unfortunate that reality has not matched his 2008 campaign rhetoric on all of these issues.
I am not a libertarian ideologue either. Obama’s economic policies, properly implemented, can reduce unemployment, and a large welfare state is a workable model as demonstrated by several European countries. What’s more, Obamacare can achieve its stated goal of insuring more people, covering people with pre-existing conditions, and leveling the insurance market playing field.
In short, I believe that Obama could be right about everything (though most likely he is not). All of his policies could achieve their desired effects, and everything he predicts could come true. I still would not support him.
I am what you might call a “values voter”, though not in the sense that most people understand. It isn’t that Romney shares my particular set of superstitions; rather it is that my core values lead me to certain views about society, and my vote is based on which candidate is more aligned with those views.
I believe this is the only rational way to vote given how mendacious and artificial our electoral system has become. Noam Chomsky once said that the way to control what people think is to narrow the range of discussion on important issues to a tiny spectrum, but then to allow for passionate argument within that range to create the illusion of meaningful debate. The democrat and republican parties in collusion with the media have successfully accomplished this, effectively crowding out dissenting voices from third parties and agitators like Ron Paul and Dennis Kuccinich.
Our political system was not spawned on us from some vacuum. It is a consequence of our culture and education system. This means that, even if we were to elect philosopher kings to all higher offices, they would not get very far as they would find that their constituents demand much of the graft, bureaucracy, and corruption we claim to oppose. Government is as big as it is because we demand it, and as corrupt as it is because we tolerate it. Thus the real hard goal, which could take a few generations to accomplish, is to educate our populace – to reform the culture from the ground up. I am proud to say that both my livelihood and my hobbies contribute to this hard work. Only by improving our culture will we get the right people to even attempt running for office in the first place. Until then, two years and five billion dollars worth of campaigning at its best yields us Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
And what sort of choice is that anyway? In too many important ways, the two parties are two sides of the same coin. Yet this does not, as many cynics believe, imply that elections don’t matter. We need to care about the guy in the Oval Office because that individual sets the tone of our political culture and influences the legislative agenda.The efforts of grass roots reformers – the people doing the hard work of trying to educate and fix the culture – can be amplified or diminished based on this legislative tone and the decisions of the Supreme Court.
Thus I base my vote on one question: which candidate will do less harm to the work I am doing now to create the sort of society in which I wish to live? The alternative that most people choose is to base their vote on specific issues.
People who vote based on issues tend to fall into one of two groups; Fixers, and Ideologues. Fixers take a non-ideological approach toward figuring out their vote. They may be registered to one party or another, but they are not married to them. Undecided and independent voters come from this group. They approach the task of voting as though it were a puzzle to solve. One candidate is the right answer and the others are wrong. If they select wrong and the wrong guy is elected, they think, the country will deteriorate.
Ideologues, by contrast, are often very partisan and rarely “undecided”. They subscribe to an ideology, like liberalism, conservatism, socialism, or capitalism. This gives them the right answer to begin with unlike the fixers, and so rather than try to figure out the right policies to match with a candidate, they try to match a candidate to their ideology, the ideology of course dictating the right policies. For ideologues, elections are about working to establish their ideology.
The Fixer approach is impractical because candidates are not merely the sum of their campaign promises. At best, once elected, a president is able to accomplish a fraction of their agenda, and only after months of compromises, repackages, and backroom dealing. This is why “single issue voters” are so foolish. You have no way of knowing whether or not the candidate will accomplish something tangible, compromise in some unforgiveable way, or flat out change his position, as Obama did on gay marriage.
Furthermore, Fixers are misguided because elections are not puzzles. There is no right or wrong answer out of context. The question is not “who is the right answer?” but rather “what sort of society suits me?”
Ideologues are even more misguided for the simple fact that modern presidents are militantly anti-ideological. Consider all the Commanders in Chief since World War II. Not one is a consistent proponent of contemporary liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, or any other “ism”, save possibly pragmatism. The partisan, a lower form of ideologue who substitutes a political party for an ideology, forgets the liberal Barack Obama’s record on Guantanamo Bay and marijuana, the conservative George Bush’s record on spending, all of Clinton’s compromises, Reagan’s love of interventionism, Nixon’s magic eight ball domestic policy, and so on and so forth.
This is not to say that presidents do not advance ideologies. The problem is that the manner in which they may advance an ideology is completely unpredictable. For one, a president’s ability to willfully advance an ideology is largely a function of their congress. What’s more, modern presidents necessarily have to present themselves as non-ideological centrists in order to get elected. Pursuing an openly ideological agenda can cost a president a second term and his party’s control of congress. The president’s actions may also end up redefining their party’s ideologies in undesirable ways, as many religious liberals and non-interventionist small government conservatives well know.
So how do we vote based on the larger question of society? For me, the question of “what sort of society suits me?” is best framed as a dichotomy between freedom and security.
When I say security in this context, I mean both physical security from foreign and domestic threats, as well as material security in terms of public welfare, healthcare, and other tangible goods. Much as politicians wish to argue the contrary, we cannot have a perfect balance of both freedom and security. A flawlessly administered government can have a lot of both, however in practice we have to live with tradeoffs. If we want the freedom to own guns we have to live with less security from gun violence. If we want the freedom to make our own healthcare decisions then we have to live with less security of being insured and covered for all emergencies. Of the two, freedom is more demanding, requiring an educated populace and personal accountability as an ingrained cultural norm. Security grants “freedom from want” and less inequality, but has the tradeoff of requiring individuals to tolerate authorities making decisions on their behalf.
The ideologue claims that only one side of the dichotomy is “right”, (anarchy, communism, socialism, libertarianism, etc.) or that some particular mixture is “right”, (liberalism, conservatism, etc.) but this still ignores the question of values – the “ought” regarding an appropriate society. This is a basic problem with subscribing to an ideology. No ideology has a perfect reference to reality. If we study history objectively, we can conclude that some ideologies more accurately describe reality than others. In practice however, ideologues tend to subordinate reality to their dogma, endlessly rationalizing and contorting their minds to make the facts fit.
The capitalist ideologue is wrong to say that socialism cannot work; it works fine in places like Norway, so long as you are willing to take all of the tradeoffs – the loss of freedoms and high taxation – that go with such a system. Finland’s socialized education system works splendidly for that society and could work in the United States too, so long as our students, teachers, and parents buy into their culture and tolerate fewer freedoms, such as the freedom to have private schools. Cuba famously has near 100% adult literacy. It also outlaws homeschooling. Similarly the socialist or liberal ideologue is wrong to say that capitalism is fundamentally broken; places like Hong Kong and Singapore show that private enterprise serves the people just fine. In other words, so long as the people accept the system and all of its tradeoffs, it can work swimmingly.
When I think about voting or any work with political implications for my homeland, I think in terms of the larger question of the society I want to see for myself and my children. My values, derived from my education, observation, experience, and reflection, heavily center on freedom. I do not want society to take responsibility for my income, my welfare, my relative wealth compared to others, my health insurance, my retirement, or my education. Individual responsibility for these values is the basic state of all humans, and it requires an act of faith beyond my capabilities to trust the artifices of man’s society to remove this responsibility. I intend to raise my children to have the same sense of personal accountability. My wish is to live in a society where this belief is taken for granted – where the idea that it is appropriate to depend on government redistribution and central planning is seen as immoral.
My preference is of course subjective, however there is also a practical reason for opposing a security-based society. Such a political system demands vast bureaucracies at local, state, and federal levels, staffed by hundreds of thousands of government employees. It requires that those bureaucracies be properly administrated and efficiently run. Even if 100% of those government workers are supremely competent and dedicated, the system requires proper political leadership; if the wrong politicians are in office, those bureaucracies can be underfunded, ineptly restructured, improperly regulated, given unrealistic mandates, or all together scrapped in some wave of “reform.”
In other words, the security society only works if you elect the right politicians. If you aren’t careful a George W. Bush might come around with a bad idea like “No Child Left Behind”, and create new problems for large public systems like education. To make things consistently work, you need to keep electing Barack Obamas, each of whom will support the public systems reliably, maintain predictable standards and funding, and, if necessary, cut the red tape and push aside the bureaucracy in times of emergency. The security-society is ruled by men, not law.
What’s more, large centrally-managed government systems are extremely slow to adapt and difficult to reform. Unconsciously they come to make justifying their own existence a greater priority than accomplishing their stated objective. This is why when we think of the word “public” to describe schools, unions, and other institutions, we don’t generally associate innovation or accountability with the term.
In the security society, reforming or improving government-managed systems is slow and painful. Individuals only get the opportunity to directly influence the management of those systems every two years (elections). The rest of the time, the best they can do is write letters or protest. This is because the services are managed with tax dollars, which are collected coercively.
Say you oppose the pedagogical and hiring practices of your state’s education system. You could literally spend decades protesting, voting down budgets, and writing letters, with zero meaningful change. All the while the system happily takes your tax dollars (whether you have kids or not) forcing you to work to support that which you oppose.
With private systems you can immediately and at any time vote for reform and effect change by simply not using the service. Unhappy with how a bank is managing your retirement funds? Switch banks. Unhappy with a private school or insurer? Take your business elsewhere. This is of course impossible with Social Security, where the taxpayers have to hope that the right politicians are elected and that those politicians make responsible decisions with the expropriated funds.
This is the essence of my practical objection to a security-based society. By having the public sector and politically managed systems drive the economy, these societies are, ironically, less secure in a number of ways. This is not to say that the freedom-based society is without flaws. Dealing primarily with private sector service providers demands a great deal of time spent comparing and researching to find the appropriate one for your needs. We take no issue with this for things like food and clothing, where the market has provided abundance at all price ranges. What I wish for is a society that consistently seeks the same level of freedom to choose for most other activities.
This is why I am voting for Mitt Romney. Not because he will magically bring this about, but rather because he will do less violence to my efforts to move society in that direction. Barack Obama, by contrast, consciously or unconsciously, seeks to quickly push us in the direction of the security society. If your values lead you to support the security society, then Obama is clearly the man for you.
Unfortunately the vast majority of the electorate subscribes to the ideologue approach to voting. What’s worse is that a large percentage of these voters are partisans. Partisans are worse than ideologues because they do not even really care about ideas and policies but instead just support a party. Partisans are easily identified by their hypocrisy. Republicans who defend Bush’s growth of government but criticize Obama for the same thing are a good example. Sadly, a large percentage of Blacks are also partisans.
The fact that the electorate is primarily made up of partisans and ideologues explains why candidates need not even bother campaigning in the majority of states. A more responsible media could do a lot to elevate much of the population from partisan to ideologue status. A better education system could help more ideologues develop the critical thinking skills to identify where their ideology does not accurately describe reality.
But we are a long way off from seeing a strong education system or responsible media. As a result, I am left to choose between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Polls suggest that Obama will likely win re-election. If this comes to pass, it may push back the dream of a freedom-based society another generation. This will depend on a number of factors. My intention either way is to continue working toward that dream. I have lived abroad in the past, and because of concerns I have about my son’s education, I will have to consider living abroad again if Obama’s policies become intolerable. Nevertheless I am not ready to give up on what America can be.
That is my reason for voting for Mitt Romney.