Don't Vote As I Vote
Everybody's got a reason for voting, and they all stink
Something of Barack Hussein Obama's gassy, orotund manner seems to have rubbed off on his fans this endorsement season. The news media endorsement has never been a genre known for its pith or saltiness, but this year's offerings have been particularly solemn and heavy. The New York Times reported from a "battered and drifting" United States that its endorsement choice had "met challenge after challenge" in a "grueling and ugly campaign." Breaking with a three-decade non-endorsement tradition, the Los Angeles Times pronounced that it is "inherent in the American character to aspire to greatness." The Washington Post burst in, sober as a judge, to praise this year's winner's "supple intelligence, with a nuanced grasp of complex issues and evident skill at conciliation and consensus-building." Even The New Yorker, a magazine with no past endorsements under its belt, announced that "America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness…a leader temperamentally, intellectually, and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled world."
Having worked on endorsements at both large and small media, I don't make light of the work that goes into them. In my experience, journalists go to great lengths to compensate for their own biases, look at the facts with fresh eyes, and interview as many relevant parties as possible prior to making an endorsement. At the presidential level, this is all wasted effort, the end result of which is always an endorsement any attentive reader could have predicted. (In all the cases quoted above, Obama got the nod.) But I respect the effort. The reason endorsements don't matter (and this election, like all others, has generated its own raft of "Do endorsements still matter?" thumbsuckers) is that everybody, even endorsement writers, votes according to a set of beliefs and prejudices that is not transferable to any other person. The only reason this isn't obvious is that they only give you two choices in an election.
I'm probably going to vote for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) this year, and my reason is particularly indefensible. It's a straightforward case of reverse racism. For most of my life (beginning, I think, with a broadcast of that paean to racial harmony Brian's Song), I have figured that America should have a black president, and that if such a candidate ever came along who wasn't a complete disaster, I'd vote for him. That moment has arrived, yet it's full of irony: Usually I throw away my vote by betting on some third-party forlorn hope, but this year Obama's lock on California makes my vote especially superfluous and irrelevant.
And the candidate himself comes quite close to being a complete disaster. Obama has taken positions and even—with the slight peevishness of a man who knows he's been singled out by destiny and doesn't see much point in going through the usual channels—documented and supported them. To the extent we can piece together a portrait of the candidate, it's awful. He's a strident anti-trader and industrial-era dead-ender, persuaded that protecting decades-gone jobs in the Midwest is a national responsibility. He will try to enact some version of universal health care. On most issues where he's not worse than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)—foreign policy, wiretapping, finance—he's just as bad. He may or may not be friendly with too many anti-American jackholes, but he's definitely too friendly with jackholes in general. His budget projections are fanciful. Worst of all, for at least the next two years he will almost certainly have the support of the majority party in Congress.
And yet in a dream, in a Nixon-era fog of progressive uplift, I'm ready to vote for him. And I'm pretty sure my reasons for voting for Obama are no dumber than your reasons for voting for whomever you're voting for.
For example, Obama soars through the Better Guy to Have a Beer With test. I don't trust the Better Guy to Have a Beer With test because in polling George W. Bush, a teetotaler, always won it. But in Obama's 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father, the first-person narrator repeatedly sits down with another character and orders a beer. Sometimes the reader is even told what the other character ordered. He keeps up the beers even after giving up some other intoxicants. (As both a drunk and a partial believer in the secret-Muslim theory, I was on the lookout for any evidence of halal behavior from the austere politician.) I believe Dreams from My Father has at best a novelistic relationship with fact, but it is an indication of how the candidate wanted to present himself 13 years ago. The book's revelation—that all the male figures in the narrator's life turn out to be, to one degree or another, self-indulgent fuck-ups—even gave me a sense of generational kinship with the sixties-born author. And if there's anything dumber than racial profiling, it's generational solidarity.
Is voting out of racial/role model skylarking any dumber than voting for a candidate because she's a she? It probably is, because the differences between genders appear, to my amateur's eye, more striking than the differences among races. (I might feel differently if I had taken the Walloon's hatred of the Frisian with my mother's milk.) There are solid, compelling reasons to vote for a candidate just because she's a woman. In fact, the sacred scrolls of my religion enjoin me to beware the beast man, to shun him, for he will make a desert of his home and mine. I look forward to the day when women run everything, I was hoping Hillary Clinton would pull a late-primaries pile-driver on Obama, and if there were any hope for Cynthia McKinney (a twofer!) I'd be right there for her now.
But this goes back to the chicken/egg wasted-vote argument. Is it better to make a statement by voting for an outsider or to make a less audible statement by jumping in for a major party win? Is this not the country that made national fetishes of the Cowboys and the Bears, the Lakers and the Bulls, teams whose only attraction was their predictable dominance? It's enjoyable to be on the delivering end of the beatdown once in a while!
This year, Bob Barr has promised a credible run by the Libertarian candidate, and by temperament and party affiliation I should be all for him. I certainly hope he stays with the party and runs again in the future. And while I believe he is a mostly reformed character, I spent too much of the 1990s wishing for a chance not to vote for Bob Barr to miss the opportunity now.
But this is starting to sound like the to-be-sure section of an endorsement, and my point is that endorsements are so meaningless they might be said not to exist at all. I don't lament that this article will not change anybody's mind; I rejoice in it. Because I'm pulling the lever for a man who was both born to be and bred himself to be the Optimized First Black President: boring, charismatic, thoughtful, handsome, slick—in all respects the guy of my long-held dreams, except that I always figured he'd be a Republican or a war hero. That's not a logical reason to vote for anybody. But then (unless you've got a solid promise of a kickback with a specified dollar figure), the math argues that there are no logical reasons to vote at all.