Vote Your Conscience

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

“While our hand carries the good intent to
what seems to be its consummation, the fruit of
evil grows from the seeds of noble thought.”
— Hans Morgenthau

I had what I believed to be the worst job in the world. I’m not squeamish about work,
and am happy doing most any work, whether
manual or otherwise. But after I graduated
with a B.A. from Florida State University, I
found myself in a world personal chaos. The
year was 2000, and I was employed by the
Florida Democratic Party during the coordinated
campaign with the DNC to elect Al
Gore President of the United States. My job:
convi n ce young people to vo te for Gore .
Let me step back for aminute . I have alw ays
in my adult life ded i c a ted my pers onal and
profe s s i onal ef forts to wort hy social and po l i tical
causes. Causes for pe ace , for ju s ti ce , a n d
for equ a l i ty; causes for a progre s s ive worl d .
Grassroots movements thrive among the
networks of interconnected individuals with
many organizational associations. I was one
of those individuals in Tallahassee and Florida
at large. I was in countless organizations,
associating with countless friends with whom
work and play melded together as our tireless
efforts wore on. I loved these friends as much
as I did the good work we were doi n g.
Nearly all the organizations I was involved
with planned to hel p, ei t h er direct ly or
covertly,Ralph Nader garner votes in the election
in Florida. My job with the party was to
travel thro u gh o ut the state and convi n ce
these people they were wrong. To become, in
essence, the enemy to the people I loved.
I was a philosophy/political science double
major as an undergraduate (which is probably
why I had so much time to be active).
Requ i red co u rses for ph i l o s ophy majors
almost always included a course on ethics. Of
course, poli sci undergrads had to take a
course on electoral behavior and U.S. institutions.
These courses allowed me to work for
the Democratic Party in the 2000 election
wi t h o ut significant internal moral cri s e s .
The progressives I worked with that I now
had to rally to supporting a center candidate
were not stupid. They would not buy any
lines about Al Gore being for “economic justice”
or “individual liberty”. I had to be honest,
both with them and with myself, about
the stakes at hand.
In political science, one of the first things
you learn is that the two-party system in the
U.S. is a function of individuals not “wanting
to throw their votes away” by voting for anyone
else but one of the top two most likely
winners. Many of us don’t like this, since we
end up with two candidates at the top, fighting
for the support of the median voter in the
electorate (who, incidentally, is likely fairly
conservative). So what do we, as progressives,
do? We vote our “conscience”. We rail against
the system in the most democratic way possible:
our vote. But what does that mean? “Vote
your conscience?”
The biggest forum I attended for my job
was a community meeting with a Green and
Republican representative, and me. It was an
auditorium with a few hundred people. My
arguments were stark. “If I made the choice,
Ra l ph Nader would be my Pre s i den t .” I
opened with. That got everyone’s attention.
“But I don’t have that choice.” Hisses and
boos. It was clear there were lots of Greens in
the house. Good. That’s whom I was there to
speak to. The forum quickly broke down
because of poor facilitation, and there was
roughly an hour of exchanges between audience
members and myself. The Republican
representative left a half-hour in.
I could only repeat the same line of reasoning,
over and over, about the potential
large-scale electoral effects of a strong Green
showing in Florida. There was nothing else I
could say to these people, many of whom, I
thought, viewed me with greater disdain than
they did the Republican. I left more than a
few of the public forums I had participated in
with wet eyes because of my tre ach ery.
We knewfrom the po lling that it was goi n g
to be a close race . The nu m ber of u n dec i ded
vo ters was rel a tively low, and the Greens were
our best hope of e s t a blishing a safe margi n .
“This isn’t local govern m en t . This isn’t even
Con gress we’re talking abo ut ,” I ’d say.
I had, until Nader started polling well,
been volunteering for the Green Party to help
with local el ecti on s . Convers a ti ons I had
about the Presidential campaign made me
unwelcome by some. “Local elections are different,”
I tried convincing them. They didn’t
understand what I was so afraid of.
“This is to pick who controls the daily
operations of the federal government. Think
of the environmental destruction, death, and
suffering that will occur if this oil tycoon is
elected to the Presidency.” My words were
eerily prophetic, though I’d happily give a
limb for them to have been overs t a ted .
What is an “et h i c a l ” vo te? If you are a Progre
s s ive , is it ethical to vo te for a 3rd party cand
i d a te for the Pre s i den tial el ecti on in a swi n g
s t a te? One is also taught in civics co u rs e s
( a l t h o u gh it’s fairlyobvious) that ch a n ge in the
U. S . t h ro u gh federal govern m ent happens in
i n c rem ental step s . The U. S . govern m ent was
de s i gn ed by the fo u n ders to be slowen o u gh to
s tymie radical ch a n ge (wh i ch sounds bad now,
but rec a ll late 1920s Germ a ny ) .
As a functi on of this ch a racteri s tic of Am erican
govern m en t , a f ter 4 ye a rs of Bu s h , activi s t s
wi ll be spending dec ades undoing the damage ,
on all fron t s , f rom the co u rtrooms to the
s treet s . How long wi ll it take to get back to
wh ere we were in 2000? I won’t men ti on the
po s s i bi l i ty of 8 ye a rs of Bu s h . So the “progre ss
ive” acti on of vo ting for Nader in Florida in
2000 perhaps hel ped us take ‘ x ’s teps back , a n d
to the ri gh t .TheGreen hopewas theDem oc ratic
Pa rty would “ w a ke up” and retu rn to thei r
roo t s . We’ve seen some candidates in the prim
a ry that exem p l i f i ed this. But at what co s t ?
Kn owing what we know now, I won der,
h ow many of my old Florida Green fri en d s
would find their vo te ethical? Forsaking everything
el s e , this Pre s i dent has had a very direct
hand in the deaths of tens of thousands of
i n n ocent human bei n gs , and hu n d reds of
thousandsmore indirect ly thro u gh his po l i c i e s .
As a philosophy major, and a quasi-utilitarianist,
ethically, I tried making the case in
2000 that the potential for mass injustice—
should Bush be el ected — o ut wei gh ed the
Green’s ethical obligation to “vote their conscience”.
I was rebuffed time and time again:
the injustice will exist under either candidate,
so why not make a statement? I was nearly
swayed to quit my job about a half dozen
times. Now, of course, I am saturated with
guilt that I had not worked harder.
G ore and Bush weren’t stark ly differen t
en o u gh in the 2000 campaign for me to have
the ef fect I needed . But the Pre s i dency is an
of f i ce of con ti n gen c y. Som ething happen s , a n d
s/he must re act . Th ere is no way to campaign
on that. I tri ed making that case. “We don’t
k n ow what wi ll happen in the next 4 ye a rs .”
I thought my fri en d s’ repe a ted claims that
Bush and Gore were indisti n g u i s h a ble were
d i s i n genu o u s . At very least, the worlds they
would rule over wo u l d ’ve loo ked differen t . O n e
bet ter than the other. Not gre a t , but bet ter.
Th ey, in tu rn , s awme as I sawmys el f on occ as
i on : as a sell – o ut ; a cog in the partymach i n e s
that were warping Am erican dem oc rac y.
What if? What if I had gotten 600 more
Greens to change their minds? Demanded
more money from the Party for my activities?
I’d still be a sell-out, but I’d be so in a better
world, I think. Of course, Gore lost the election
and Bush stole it, but I did have a very
real opportunity to make a difference, and it
passed me by.
It wei gh ed heavi ly on my con s c i en ce every
m orningI got the news ofwhatBush had don e
the day before .What a terri ble job I had had .
So I decided to move to a non-swing state
until after the 2004 election. Don’t forget to
vote your conscience.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.