Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Imperfect Candidate

Recent polls suggest that the two presidential nominees have the greatest "negative" ratings - that is that the percentage of those polled have a negative opinion about the candidate - of any nominees since this kind of polling began.  Both candidates, with Trump only slightly ahead of Clinton.

Sometimes, of course, poll results can be misleading.  If one asks a question, which lists four areas of concern, and all four choices are in line with the questioner's agenda, then it is easy to publish a survey result that indicates that only topics deemed problematic by the pollster matter to the public.  I recently received one such survey from my state rep asking for a ranking of the problems that concern me most and climate change was not on his list.

Also, the current climate of extremism on both sides of the fence produces so much negative publicity for Trump and Clinton that anyone watching Fox TV would conclude that Hillary is a liar, while anyone watching MSNBC would conclude that Donald is a racist bully.  Dirty laundry attracts viewers which increases ratings which attracts sponsors, which is far more important that accuracy and fairness.

In the meantime, Trump supporters wave his banners and truly believe that he can save the United States from the path of doom and destruction that we are on, while Clinton supporters equally believe that only she can navigate the complexity of being president.   And, lest we not forget, tens of millions of people voted for each of them in their respective primaries.

Is this "unfavorable" rating thing actually meaningful then?  It certainly makes good politics when both sides can say that the other candidate is not well liked, and it is a boon for all forms of media which rely on increases in viewers, readers, and listeners to stay relevant and viable.

To me, a more telling question is, despite your misgivings, would you still vote for (fill in the blank).

I pose this slight alteration, because when push comes to shove, a significant percentage of those with unfavorable opinions of the candidates will still vote for one of them.  You might even say that the winner will be the candidate who gets the highest percentage of those that consider them unfavorable but still the better choice.

In short, which imperfect candidate will win the day?  Remember, in the end, all presidents. past, present and future were imperfect men (and someday women), disliked by a large percentage of the population, and ridiculed in private and public for their policies and omissions in policy.

To prove that point, Google the name of any of our most revered leaders with the phrase
"criticism of" preceding that name and you will get many returns referencing scathing rebukes
by both their contemporaries and scholars.

Here is one for Abraham Lincoln.

Here is one for George Washington

While we can surely debate if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the best and brightest that America has to offer for potential presidents, let's not assume that similar complaints about every president did not exist.

So, if we assume that both are imperfect candidates, how to choose?

Some voters will choose to ignore the negative press about their choice, chalking up any bad reports on partisan politics.  This "drinking the koolaid" as it is often called, allows the electorate to deny the reality that all people have flaws, make mistakes, speak out of turn, lie, and sometimes make choices that help them while harming others.  One might call it the papal infallibility trait except we replace God' divine grace which grants it to the pope, with the power of the ballot.  It enables us to place the future of our country in the hands of someone who, merely by their winning an election, is magically more sound in their judgments and fair in the their policies.  It is reflected by the so called honeymoon stage of a new president's term, which is often marked by a burst of new legislation, approved with bipartisan support by Congress.  Like a new marriage, we focus on the good traits of our partner while ignoring the bad.

Some voters throw up their arms and choose not to vote, in the mistaken hope that if enough people stay at home, the process will change and better candidates will be supplied.  Sadly, this has never worked, will never work, and actually works against the non-voter.  When less people vote, more influence is gained by those who are one issue voters, or of extreme opinions.  Voting is not a take it or leave it proposition, but a right, earned not only by the bloodshed of those who died in the nascent years of our democracy but in every war for freedom since.  Sometimes we must make difficult choices in life, and only the faint of heart walk away from those choices.

Then there are the voters who know that there will never be a candidate whose policies, perspectives and personal beliefs match their own.  They evaluate the candidates with regard to multiple issues, choosing the one who aligns best with their overall priorities or those of significantly more importance.  We forget that in 2008, Barrack Obama had not yet publicly committed to marriage equality yet I imagine that many in the LGBT community still voted for him based on a number of other issues of which his position did match theirs.

Finally, despite the rhetoric of one of the two candidates, no one person can solve our problems.  That is the beauty of the three branches of government as designed by our founders.  It takes a strong leader, no doubt, but an equally strong legislature to fashion new laws to specifically address problems, and a strong judiciary to rule on the legality of those laws on the occasion when the majority tramples upon the rights of the minority.

From that respect, the electorate should examine the platforms of the parties, GOP, Libertarian and Democrat, knowing that most of those elected, including the president, had a hand in the development of those tenets, and will govern with an eye towards support for those beliefs.  I encourage you to Google those platforms so that when when you cast your ballot you do so with more knowledge than just the latest sound bite or convention speeches.  And, don't forget to research the voting patterns of those running for reelection.  Do they garner high marks from environmental groups if that is a priority for you?  Do they vote in ways that seem to align with the size and frequency of their campaign donations?

Like so many other areas in life, I believe that the more information, the more "election educated" the electorate becomes, the better will be our choices.  But, even if you decide to vote "with your gut", better that, than to eschew your obligation to participate.  Let's hope that come November, we will collectively choice the best imperfect candidate possible.


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