Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Plea to Primary Voters and Caucus-Goers

In the coming days and weeks, voters and caucus-goers will determine which two individuals represent the Republican and Democratic parties in the November general elections. While I certainly have my share of differences with each of the candidates in each race, as well as my preferred candidates in each race, my purpose in this post is not to tell you who is best or worst.

Instead, I am writing to ask that voters and caucus-goers who may read this ask themselves some deeply important questions as they go to the polls. These questions are not specific to any one issue, yet they implicate all issues.

The questions voters of both parties should ask themselves are:

1. Am I voting for the candidate who most represents my stated political philosophy or for the candidate who most represents my chosen party? Isn't there a difference between Progressivism and the Democratic Party, and between conservatism (of whatever stripe) and the Republican Party.

2. For that matter, what is the philosophy from which my political beliefs all flow? Is it a defined conservatism, a defined Progressivism, a defined libertarianism, etc.? Or is it simply a belief that whatever the Republican or Democratic Party talking heads say is conservatism or Progressivism?

3. Is my goal in casting my vote to do what is best for my chosen political party or for my core set of values?

4. Isn't there an important difference between bi-partisanship for its own sake and principled bi-partisanship geared towards building a coalition that achieves common goals?

5. Isn't there an important difference between ideology and partisanship? Am I comfortable with the idea of allowing my chosen political party to dictate my ideology?

6. Is it possible that people of different ideologies have similar goals? If so, isn't bipartisanship a worthwhile endeavor? If not, then am I falsely equating my political party with an ideology?

7. When my chosen candidate rails against "special interests," how are they defining those interests? Are they defining them to mean only interest groups that disagree with the candidate, or do they realize that anyone who opposes or supports a given policy is a "special interest"?

8. Am I supporting a candidate who will represent all Americans, just the Americans that support them, or just the Americans in their party's establishment?

Some will read these questions and think they are a screed for Obama and, perhaps, McCain. They are not. Indeed, supporters of a number of other candidates, many of whom I find personally unappealing, may be able to answer these questions with a clear conscience.

Instead, they are honest questions intended to draw out the differences between principled ideology and partisanship. They are a call to voters to be more concerned with their own ideology and less concerned with what their chosen party claims to be an ideology. In that way, my plea is essentially for a stronger commitment to ideology- in both parties, and a weaker commitment to defining one's positions in reference to the political party one is part of.

But most importantly, these questions are a call for voters to elect candidates with an independent mind rather than on their ability to conform to party orthodoxy. What should matter are the candidates' primary goals, not their specific modes of achieving those goals. If you think that a candidate's mode of action is intended to undermine the stated goal or is intended to primarily serve another goals, then ask yourself if you have a sufficient "anthropology of ideology" to come to that conclusion.

More than anything else, I hope that voters will recognize the difference between partisanship and ideology, and that bi-partisanship is a good thing if it advances ideological goals.