Confession: I am actually unsure about who I’m going to vote for this election. Has Obama been a capable president? For the most part, it seems that he has been, and if he has not been, I would want to know by what criteria we can judge that. What reasons do I have as an undecided voter not to vote for Obama? The conservative web magazine, The National Review Online, offers 689 of them. The number alone might make a person think twice about their Obama support, but quantity does not imply quality. It becomes clear after a quick skim that the list is meant to entertain and inflame conservatives rather than to inform undecideds (who are not the target audience). On the moderate left, political consultant Chris Weigl has made a list of 218 reasons why one should vote for Obama. In a sense, this list does not provide reasons either. It lists 218 of Obama’s accomplishments and allows these actions to speak for themselves. Our president has not just been sitting idly by allowing the economy to sink. He’s been doing things. Could Romney do better? At this point it’s hard for me to say. One candidate’s a Republican, the other’s a Democrat. If all other things are equal, which would be better for the country? Fundamentally, is this the first question we should be asking?
Earlier today, I was listening to a political podcast, Slate’s Political Gabfest (episode title: The Teeny Little Bounce Gabfest), and about 20 minutes in, one of the commentators, Emily Bazelon, raised what seems to be a crucial common-sense question:
“What I always find puzzling about the independent voters, is that it means, right, that there’s no issue on either side that is so galvanizing to you that you can’t imagine identifying with it, or that there are different things on different sides but that they don’t add up to one package that you can imagine identifying with… and I just never quite get that because the differences are really stark.”
As an undecided voter, her criticism rings true. And I’m forced to ask myself: is there something wrong with me? Is it wrong that I’m unsure about the extent to which private sector solutions are better/worse than public sector ones? That it’s hardly ever clear to me whether a piece of legislation is necessary/beneficial for society or whether it’s wasteful/harmful? That sometimes interventions seem good and just and other times foolish and imperialistic? That traditions could somehow be important for social stability, but that they may also lead to persecution? My lack of clarity troubles me almost as much as the majority’s certainty. I ask myself, are these questions really so hard to answer? And part of me also wants to ask others, are they really so straightforward?
If one belongs to a party, then the answer to the question about which candidate is better is clear. No more questions need to be asked. But if one has no partisan commitments, and if one goes into every issue with a kind of intellectual uncertainty, then the wisest procedure seems to be to weigh as many arguments/counterarguments on the scale as one can, and carefully (and honestly) attempt to discern which side carries the most weight. What do we think, people?