Thursday, August 28, 2008

Must one vote for the lesser of two evils?

Democrats traditionally argue that one ought to vote for whoever their candidate is, just because the consequences of voting for a Republican are so much worse. But while this might be true in some cases, it’s clearly false as a general principle. Here’s an example:

Suppose we have a choice between two utterly evil candidates — they both promise to light the constitution on fire on their first day in office, imprison all the poor people, and start six new wars solely for their own personal amusement. By week 10, each promises to have conducted at least one major genocide.

One of those candidates, however, also promises to increase the funding given to cancer research by one dollar. Am I obliged to vote for that candidate? I’d suggest the answer is pretty clearly no.

Obviously, this isn’t the case in the present election, but I think it is a counterexample to the general proposition that one must vote for a candidate who comes with a lot of negative baggage just because the other candidate is worse. The arguments for voting for the lesser of two evils will have to be a lot more nuanced than that — and maybe those arguments can be made, but I’d like to hear them explicitly.

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