Monday, October 4, 2010

What to do when "the Lesser of Two Evils" or "Pretty Good" are the only options

When choosing between "the lesser of two evils" or "pretty good" are your only options, what do you do? This is the question that many Americans will have to answer before they decide to go, or not, to the polls in November.

For some people the answer is simple. Voting is a privilege that must be exercised whenever you get the chance. However, for others the answer is as complicated as Donovan McNabb's relationship with Philadelphia sports fans.

Should you cast a vote of faith, believing that your candidate will represent the best interest of his/her constituents? Or, should you cast a vote in fear, an "anti-something" vote, believing that if the other candidate is elected your city, state or country will go to hell in a hand basket? Or finally, do you do the unspeakable and not vote at all because you've lost your faith and will not cast a vote based in fear?

Oh, I can hear the politicos now saying that the last option is just "more whining", "irresponsible", "a slap in the face of everyone who fought so hard for the vote", "playing into the hands of the enemy" and/or "just plain silly". Maybe, they're right. But just maybe, refusing to vote for "the lesser of two evils" or just "pretty good", is the only way an eligible voter can send a message that there has be a better way. Life isn't always black & white and neither is the relationship between a candidate and the electorate.

As NY Times op-ed columnist, Thomas L. Friedman reminds us we are voting in a time when "pretty good" just may not be good enough to address the problems that we are facing. In his article, Third Party Rising, Friedman writes:

"President Obama has not been a do-nothing failure. He has some real accomplishments. He passed a health care expansion, a financial regulation expansion, stabilized the economy, started a national education reform initiative and has conducted a smart and tough war on Al Qaeda.

But there is another angle on the last two years: a president who won a sweeping political mandate, propelled by an energized youth movement and with control of both the House and the Senate — about as much power as any president could ever hope to muster in peacetime — was only able to pass an expansion of health care that is a suboptimal amalgam of tortured compromises that no one is certain will work or that we can afford (and doesn’t deal with the cost or quality problems), a limited stimulus that has not relieved unemployment or fixed our infrastructure, and a financial regulation bill that still needs to be interpreted by regulators because no one could agree on crucial provisions. Plus, Obama had to abandon an energy-climate bill altogether, and if the G.O.P. takes back the House, we may not have an energy bill until 2013.

Obama probably did the best he could do, and that’s the point. The best our current two parties can produce today — in the wake of the worst existential crisis in our economy and environment in a century — is suboptimal, even when one party had a huge majority. Suboptimal is O.K. for ordinary times, but these are not ordinary times. We need to stop waiting for Superman and start building a superconsensus to do the superhard stuff we must do now. Pretty good is not even close to good enough today. "

He continues:
"We have to rip open this two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions; financial reform, without worrying about losing donations from Wall Street; corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far left; energy and climate reform, without worrying about offending the far right and coal-state Democrats; and proper health care reform, without worrying about offending insurers and drug companies."

But how do we achieve this ideal political landscape? How does the American public send a clear message that these are the types of candidates that we want and we won't settle for less? I certainly don't know. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if it is even possible.

All that I do know is that I, and millions like myself, will have to make some decision before November. And whether we choose to vote or stay home, vote Democrat or Republican, the decision will not be as cut and dry as the political parties and the pundits will try to spin it.

Whatever the outcome, the November elections should not be treated as a referendum on the Obama presidency by the voters. Nor should the results be spun that way. Instead, the results of recent primaries, and this Fall's general elections should be analyzed on the basis of the statement that they are making about our current political system. Maybe then we'll all learn something that will make our political system better and move past just "pretty good".

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