Stephanie Zvan has a word for people who are looking at the potential candidates for the Democratic Party — and the Democratic Party itself — and are thinking that they can’t bring themselves to vote for them:
You really want a name from me? Fine. Let’s go with “complicit”.
The whole structure of her post is that if people who might normally support the Democrats don’t do it regardless of how they feel about the party itself right now and about the candidates themselves, they will end up letting the Republicans win, and the Republicans are worse. And if that’s the case, then the things that the Republican candidate does will be on their heads, and that blood will be on their hands.
What I really want to know is how much blood you can take with your choice to abstain and still feel clean while you’re doing it. If I’m going to be among your sacrifices, I want to know how much I count for. How much do any of us count for?
How many coat-hanger abortions and arrests for miscarriages are you willing to condone in order to feel pure when you won’t vote because our president didn’t call people to account for torture? Where is that balance?
How many people can be sold into dangerous prisons while you feel virtuous for abstaining from the party of the mayor who brought us the cover-up of a police shooting? How many Syrian refugees can remain in danger while you righteously declare “a pox on both their houses” over decisions from two wars ago? How many people will be denied access to their hospitalized partner while you point fingers at the Democrats who participated in obstructing same-sex marriage for a time? How many people can go hungry and ill now while you beat your chest about events of the 1990s? Just how bad can income inequality get while you lovingly stroke your conscience over Wall Street?
How much blood will you allow to be spilled because voting is impure?
So the return question has to be: if they’re supposed to vote for a particular party no matter how much they despise what that party’s done because the other party is arguably worse, or even definitely much worse, where does that line get drawn? At what point does the first party become so bad that they don’t deserve votes anymore? How dirty can the hands of that party get before the argument of “They’re better than the alternative!” loses its power?
And, most importantly, if this is the attitude, how can people go about cleaning up that party while its opponents are still so much worse than they are to those people who want to support that party?
This is a little speech I give to my students:
“Politicians usually like their jobs, and they really really like getting elected. So if you honestly believe that none of them have any principles, and the only thing they want is to get elected, then act that way!
When you vote, you aren’t just voting for a candidate. You’re also voting for your demographic. Pollsters are going to notice not only who you vote for, but who you are.
If you were a politician whose only concern was getting reelected, and you had to cut a few million from the budget, and you knew that only 30% of 18-14 year olds vote, whereas 70% of 60 pluses vote — would you want to cut student aid, or prescription medicine benefits? Wonder why the aged get coddled? It’s because politicians don’t dare cross them, if they want to keep their jobs! If your demographic voted the same way theirs does, do you think the states would only be paying the pitiful part of your tuition that they do now?
The budget is a big pie that gets cut up every year. If you don’t vote, you’re saying ‘Hey politicians, I don’t want my piece! Give it to someone else!’
So, let’s presume that the party is ignoring the concerns of your demographic. Is voting for that candidate anyway going to make them any more likely to try to appease your demographic? Of course not; it just means that they’ll know that they can count on your demographic voting for them, and so don’t even have to try to woo you away. Sure, they care about your voting numbers if you indicate that you’re a significant percentage of their support, but they only try to appease your demographic if they fear that if they don’t, you won’t vote for them or support them. If it’s known that your demographic might either not vote for your party or, even worse, might vote for another party if you don’t get what you want, then the party has to care about ensuring that your needs are at least addressed, and might even have to keep their promises if you’re known to have long enough memories.
So, at a minimum, not voting for the party if they refuse to address your concerns actually has more weight than voting for that party regardless. Why is it that this can be ignored? Because depending on the demographic — young people get this the worst — it’s too easy to do what Zvan does and see not voting as apathy
You’re choosing to see us all ruled by “Eh, whoever the rest of you feel like because voting makes me feel dirty.”
Which means that while they ought to be able to see that there are a lot of registered voters in that demographic, they have no reason to think that pandering to your interests will get them any votes. So, arguably, the best way to influence this sort of change is to vote against the party that you like better. If you can’t vote for a party that does represent the interests if your demographic — no matter how little chance it has of winning, vote for the party en masse that no one thinks your demographic ought to vote for, and then make it abundantly clear why: that you’d like to vote for the first party, but they are taking you for granted, and you’re trying to wake them up.
That being said, this shouldn’t be necessary in today’s world, and with the demographics that we’d be talking about. With the advances in social media, people who are refusing to vote out of protest can make that clear, and can make it clear that they are politically active and so would vote if only the party that should command their loyalty would only smarten up, and most of them are doing just that. If political parties are ignoring that, it isn’t because it won’t work, but because the parties are behind the times … and, eventually, at least one of them will wake up and smell the available votes.
But I want to return to the name of “complicit”, because if the candidate and party put forward has done things and is promising things that a voter finds unacceptable, and they vote for them anyway, then it is they that are truly complicit in ensuring that those things come to pass. Saying “Well, the other candidate would do worse things” is small comfort to being directly and deliberately complicit into legitimizing those actions by voting for them knowing that that was the case, knowing that they broke serious promises, knowing that they showed a complete and even dishonest disregard for issues that you consider critically important. If you vote for them regardless, you vote explicitly to continue that pattern, and that blood is directly on your hands.
So, the question to Zvan is: how much blood of others are you willing to have on your hands in order to benefit yourself? The others are saying that no candidate is acceptable and they can’t bring themselves to legitimize either. You are willing to legitimize the one group because you think that the other is worse for you. While a choice not to choose is still a choice, it’s not morally equivalent to choose to refuse to participate in what you see as a fatally flawed system as it is to choose to support what someone considers an immoral political candidate. We should all, above all, refuse to support that which we see as immoral. The people their “high horses”, it seems to me, are saying just that, and while I may or may not agree with them, considering that this is voting I have to respect their opinion on the matter. Why won’t you? How much of their moral fiber are you willing to demand they sacrifice … and how much are you willing to sacrifice to help them?