This has been a presidential campaign of percentages: the 1 percent, the 99 percent and, more recently, the 47 percent. Here is a column for the 4 percent: those who still haven’t decided. As a philosopher, I don’t propose to tell you who to vote for, but to offer a rational framework for making a decision. Also, I’m assuming that your indecision isn’t because of ignorance of the candidates and their views. You’ve been following the campaign, have an adequate knowledge of the candidates’ records and views, but still haven’t been able to make up your mind. So how can you decide?
A first suggestion is to avoid the fallacy of the most recent information. You already know a great deal, pro and con, about Obama and Romney, and it hasn’t led you to a decision. How could a few further facts — a last-minute gaffe, a change in the unemployment rate, a new attack ad — make a decisive difference? Don’t privilege the tiny sliver of data that comes in during the next few days over the substantial body of information you’ve accumulated over months and even years.
If this is right, then you can’t make your decision through an assessment of the candidates’ competence in governing. If their past records and actions over the long campaign haven’t convinced you that one will be more competent, deciding the question from what happens between now and the election will commit the fallacy of the most recent information.
Similarly, there’s no reason to think that you will learn of some further detail or nuance of Obama’s or Romney’s policy positions that will make all the difference. You know what their positions are. The question is which to prefer. Answering this question requires a view of what is at stake in this election. Since foreign policy is on the back burner for most voters, I’ll focus on domestic policy.
Mitt Romney has recently been insisting that the choice in this election is between the Status Quo (Obama) and a Big Change (Romney). Democrats like Paul Krugman might well agree, since they think the choice is either to preserve or to reject the New Deal. I think we can combine these two analyses in a way that avoids the partisan presuppositions of each and provides a helpful framework for deciding how to vote.
There is a sense in which the New Deal is the issue in this election. In response to the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt introduced the New Deal as a system of governmental activism to achieve social and economic goods. After the Second World War this system gained wide acceptance. Even Republicans like Eisenhower and Nixon initiated programs (the federal highway system, the Environmental Protection Agency) in the spirit of the New Deal.
Beginning in the 1960s, Democrats extended the original New Deal’s social commitments to issues of civil and personal rights for women and various minorities. Many Republicans had little sympathy for this “expanded” New Deal. Further, with Ronald Reagan, many Republicans began to oppose not only the expanded New Deal but also the original New Deal’s approach of solving social and economic problems through government spending and regulation. The striking success of the Tea Party in the 2010 Congressional elections established this opposition as Republican orthodoxy.
Many Democrats see the current Republican Party as committed to “dismantling” the New Deal. Logically, however, Republicans can claim that their program does not renounce the New Deal’s goals of prosperity, security and even equal rights for all citizens. Rather, they can contend, they intend to achieve these goals in a fundamentally different way: through the private sphere rather than government action. Democrats may well argue that this new approach won’t work, so that the practical effect will be simply to abandon the New Deal. But whether this is so is an empirical question on which a logical analysis of our political choices must remain neutral.
We can, therefore, following Romney, see this election as a choice between the status quo and fundamental change. But the status quo is not, as Romney suggests, merely the policies of the Obama administration. A vote for Obama endorses what has been the governing structure of our society since the New Deal: a free-market system balanced with government regulations, tax-funded social programs and legislative and judicial guarantees of civil rights — all to protect citizens from the excesses of the private sphere.
The current Republican Party is committed to replacing this structure with one that seriously reduces the role of government. The idea is to rely primarily on the private sphere to regulate itself and to solve social problems through increased production and wealth. Although a President Romney might resist his party’s base, there is a good chance that, willingly or not, he would mostly follow the official party commitments. Therefore, a vote for Romney may well be a vote for a major change in the longstanding role of government in our society. This is the new American revolution urged by the Tea Party.
Thinking in terms of the above framework reverses the standard polarity of the two parties. Those who are conservative in the traditional sense of resisting abrupt major changes in established institutions should vote for Obama. Those who support a fundamental change should vote for Romney. Oddly enough, Obama’s hopes for a second term may turn on the support of conservative voters.
(via Who Should You Vote For? - NYTimes.com)
fair enough, but there are other parties beyond the hegemonic two major “political” parties, right? e.g. green party? hmph.