Point Austin: Vote Your Brain
In a crazy political year, the choices for sane voters should be obvious
We can all breathe a little easier this week after presidential pretender Donald Trump stayed in character Monday night and made a fool of himself before an international audience. Congratulating himself for lack of preparation, he chided his opponent for "staying home" to study rather than remaining on the campaign trail. Came the Hillary Clinton zinger: "I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. Do you know what else I prepared for? I also prepared to be president."
Readers may recall other personal highlights of debate night – there were also plenty of lowlights. Trump's angry filibustering and his persistent interruptions and browbeating of both Clinton and moderator Lester Holt provided yet another national embarrassment. It's hard to comprehend that a major political party should have nominated a candidate so intellectually, emotionally, and ethically unqualified for the presidency, and that roughly 40% of likely voters seem determined to ignore the obvious. PBS commentator Amy Walter noted that the recent tightening of the polls reflects not some shift in the overall public perspective on the candidates – rather, primarily a grudging acquiescence of Republican voters to their party's nominee.
That insight reminded me of a recent op-ed by James Glassman, a Republican who served in the George W. Bush administration, writing of his attempts to persuade his friends that Trump is simply "unfit to be president" and they should vote for Clinton. The common response he received is revealing: "They won't vote for Mr. Trump because he's a threat to the republic, but won't vote for Mrs. Clinton either because she'll raise taxes." ("Save the Republican Party: Vote for Clinton," New York Times, Sept. 6.) Destruction of representative democracy, or higher taxes? To some folks, that's a tough choice.
Let's Try Two Parties
The good news is that Trump's reflexive, grandiose misogyny and bullying could well energize more Democratic opposition, motivate prospective Clinton voters, and move some undecided voters (especially women) into the Clinton column. I'm under no illusions that Trump's corrosive boorishness will have much effect on his 40% base; it's precisely the "great temperament" he exhibited and boasted of that draws so many authoritarians to his side, whipped into macho, nativist frenzies (and occasional violence) by his denunciations of Mexicans and Muslims, by his portrayals of American life and institutions as terrorized and desolate, by his bludgeoning prescriptions, for every contemporary ill, of "law and order" and "winning."
These arguments are no doubt familiar to most Chronicle readers, although a significant number might well be swayed by left/libertarian notions of "a pox on both their houses," lingering bitterness over the Democratic primary, or a conviction that Texas votes don't matter because it's not a "swing" state. But if Texas is ever going to become a "swing" state – or more simply, an actual two-party state in which progressive policy positions gain some effective traction on the Capitol floor – progressive voters need to turn out in substantial numbers and vote for Democratic candidates.
If you need any further justification, consider two recent and shameless decisions that embody state Republican power and Democratic helplessness. The ruthless decision to slash Medicaid funding for therapy for severely disabled children, now sustained by the state Supreme Court, will remain in force; and yes, women and their doctors will be required to cremate or bury "fetal remains" as though they were born children – the latter policy so unnecessary and punitive that it amounts to theocratic oppression. Yet seemingly sane people will continue to insist there is "no difference" between Republicans and Democrats.
One inevitable refrain is that "voting your conscience" requires choosing the Libertarians or Greens. That sounds seductive – if voting were an exercise in moral superiority. But for progressives, the Libertarian platform – abolishing Social Security, ending minimum wages, eliminating gun laws, no limits on campaign cash, abolishing public education, and market-worship in general – should be self-disqualifying. The Greens, nationally and in Texas (where they have periodically been kept on life support by Republicans), are scarcely a party at all, valuing rhetorical purity over political engagement, and currently featuring a presidential candidate who is also unable to distinguish between Republicans and Democrats.
The U.S. electoral system is undeniably rigid and frustrating. But on the whole, the best political strategy is to vote not with your conscience but with your brain. On the national ballot, this year, one needn't be a Democrat to understand that a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote against belligerent racism, and in support of education, health care, Social Security, rational gun laws, a reasonable Supreme Court, and simply sane governance. On the state ballot, in virtually every race, a vote for Democrats is a vote for public schools, higher education, health care, women's rights, defense of Planned Parenthood, immigration reform, fair districting, and an end to the domination of Texas politics by a hard-right, reactionary minority without serious interest in the common welfare.
For most folks, that shouldn't be a tough choice.