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We conservatives are not in an ordinary political situation.
I mean to make a much more informal and homely point: it is wrong to think of a vote Leading Contender B. Although, as fellow conservatives, we think very alike on nearly everything in political life, the national disaster of the choice between Trump and Clinton has produced diametrically opposed conclusions.
One close friend says that the harm Hillary Clinton would do, building on Barack Obama’s eight years, would be so incalculably awful that the risk of an inept, foolish, and thuggish Donald Trump presidency is worth taking in order to prevent Clinton’s victory.
The question—“If your vote were decisive, what would you do?
”—invites us to think of the civic function of voting that one vote each of us casts.
” It was an earnest question, and I gave an honest answer.
But then I felt obliged to object to the question, and I want to elaborate upon my objections here.We could well remember when 19 percent of the electorate voted for Ross Perot in 1992, securing him zero votes in the electoral college but arguably delivering a victory for Bill Clinton over George H. Bush’s squeaker victory in Florida over Al Gore in 2000.Didn’t these people know that the perfect is the enemy of the good? “Not making the perfect the enemy of the good” is not the right adage for calculating what to do in our present predicament.Neither prospectively nor retrospectively, therefore, can we ever say that we alone are burdened with the whole responsibility of decision in a close election.But the secrecy and the rough simultaneity of our ballot-casting are just what enable people to frame the question my colleague asked me.Even the current trend toward early voting by mail or “absentee” balloting does not alter the personal experience each of us has of not knowing the exact weight of our own ballot in the final outcome.If it turned out, in a particular election, that the result hinged on a single vote, even then we could not say that our own single vote was truly determinative as the “tie-breaker,” for this would also be true of that turned on a choice between the victor and the runner-up.A one-vote margin of victory in any election—let alone a nationwide presidential election—is an exceedingly rare occurrence that most of us will never experience.But more importantly, we all vote more or less simultaneously, and we do so with secret ballots.The voter who did not much like either Nixon or Humphrey as ideal could put their policies and probabilities in the balance and choose the lesser evil because in truth each man had much good that could be said of him.Now, however, we really do have two to choose between—or to decline choosing.