Last week, my friend and fellow columnist, Gabriel Sanchez, wrote eloquently about why he stayed home on Election Day. He concluded, "I will gladly set aside my right to gripe about this or that lawmaker so long as I do not have to endorse a system that makes their political careers possible. So long as that system endures, my refusal to vote shall as well."
While I am sympathetic to Sanchez's position and believe that liberalism – used here in the sense of liberal democracy – is an "exhausted project" that is "now parasitical on a substance that no longer exists," to quote Francis George in a slightly different context, I think Sanchez's conclusion not to vote is misguided.
First, it is not clear why voting is a different sort of endorsement from simply living in this liberal democracy and enjoying both its good and poisonous fruits. As Wendell Berry stated in his Jefferson Lecture a few years back, speaking of our unsustainable economy, "we all are implicated. We all, in the course of our daily economic life, consent to it, whether or not we approve it." By daily accepting the goods that come from the political order, one would seem to be, at the very least, tacitly endorsing it.
Second, Sanchez aligns himself with Alasdair MacIntyre's line that "when offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither." I reject this dictate as reductionistic. I am inclined to believe that at the level of our national politics we are governed by a plutocracy regardless of the party initial behind the name. But, by adopting MacIntyre's line, Sanchez fails to distinguish among national, state, and local races and the variation that occurs in them. In short, I think Sanchez paints with too broad a brush.
As a Michigan conservative, I am rooted in my place and state. State and local races and issues do not necessarily implicate the same problems that Sanchez points to. I actually believe some of the more creative thinking in politics these days is coming at a local and state level.
For instance, as a lawyer, I see daily how the choices we make for our judges and attorney general affect our justice system. Whether I endorse the larger national political system, chances are that I, my friends, and, certainly, my clients are going to be affected by whether we select qualified men and women for the bench. I am unwilling to cede that choice to others when the choice affects me profoundly here and now.
Indeed, beyond the election of United States Senator and Congressman, there were plenty of other local issues to bring me out to vote. Here in Kent County there was a millage proposal for veterans services. There was a vote for my county commissioner, state senator, and state representative. One simple example from the recent past helps to illustrate the way local and state races can make a difference in our day to day lives: Anyone who remembers the dreary and pitiful service in the Secretary of State's office before Candice Miller was elected to that position, can attest that these state and local races can make a huge difference in our daily lives.
Finally, even with respect to my Congressional race, I reject Sanchez's characterization. While I am not a libertarian and found Congressman Amash's involvement in the government shutdown problematic, I still gladly voted for him. (Full disclosure: I have given money to Amash in the past.) As a conservative, I have no problem holding the view that the state government should take a larger role in stabilizing families and providing support to the less well off and believing that the federal government should become less involved in such endeavors. In this sense, I see Amash advancing a more localist, more Michigan-centric politics by working to pare back the federal leviathan. Furthermore, I am a contrarian and that Amash is not a party loyalist actually makes me more apt to vote for him. It also makes him more likely to reach across the aisle and propose innovative solutions to problems.
Finally, I believe that our national security policy implicates the so-called "life ssues." Drones dropping bombs on innocents in the Middle East is a life issue. Spending and supporting foreign interventions that lead to death, destruction, and crippling debt certainly implicate a broad notion of the life issues. On these issues, Amash brings a fresh and needed voice to Congress where both parties seem beholden to hawkish neoliberalism and neoconservatism interventionism.
Criticism of and a desire to radically change the larger system is not incompatible with working within the system in the here and now. Is that a moral compromise? Perhaps. But this side of heaven and short of the worst imaginable circumstances, it is a moral compromise I'm willing to make, even if reluctantly.