Why did this conservative stay home on Election Day?

I did not vote this past Tuesday, and judging by the Michigan turnout numbers this publication recently furnished, I wasn’t alone. The national numbers reveal a similar trend, which has prompted plenty of speculation as to why along with plenty of explanations on how the low numbers contributed scores of Republican victories across the country.

Understanding why large swathes of the citizenry fails to vote during any election cycle is complicated, and some of the proposed answers are politically charged. Voter disenfranchisement, typically said to be caused by voter ID laws, gets a disproportionate share of the blame. Apathy probably deserves more recognition, as does disillusionment, disgust and despair.

For my part I have chosen to keep faith with moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s provocative dictate: “When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither.” Two Michigan-based examples should suffice to illustrate this point.

First, as I wrote previously, the August Republican primary race between incumbent 3rd district congressman Justin Amash and challenger Brian Ellis revealed two men beholden to capitalism and corporate donors. Neither man demonstrated they were working with a three-dimensional conception of the common good that wasn’t rooted in the moth-eaten liberal ideology that has animated “the American enterprise” for well over two centuries. (Here, and throughout this piece, I am using the word “liberal” in its intellectual sense, as a world view predicated on a disordered exaltation of liberty and equality as the highest political ends.) The choice between Amash and Ellis was largely one of temperament and style, not substance.

Second, this week’s showdown for Amash’s seat – though hardly a close contest – provided no relief. Democratic challenger Bob Goodrich, ever faithful to his party’s libertine social policies, wasn’t even a morally serious option for those souls committed to what the late Pope John Paul II called “a culture of life.” Goodrich’s low view of the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby did not speak well of his support for religious freedom, either.

Amash’s record on these matters, though shaky, is easier to digest. What’s unpalatable, however, is his failure to back policies that help stabilize families while providing necessary support to those who are among the least well off in society. If the “free market” doesn’t provide it, Amash isn’t interested.

These and thousands of other similar “choices” which were presented across the United States on Tuesday are unacceptable. They are unacceptable because they demand eligible voters tie a rubber hose around their consciences and shoot up liberalism. Democrats and Republicans may continue to claim that they champion mutually exclusive sets of values, but that line is increasingly difficult to maintain in an era where corporate dollars and high-powered lobbying directs the legislative process, regardless of which party is holding the reins of power.

Indeed, Republicans, some of whom continue to talk the talk of “life issues” and “family values,” are finding further ways to distance themselves from moral matters that were traditionally a part of their platform. Abortion, for instance, is a useful carrot to wave in front of pro-life voters, but when given opportunities to take meaningful action, GOP politicians are never short on excuses as to why their “hands are tied.” If the Republican Party couldn’t deliver on its pro-life promises during the heyday of the Bush II administration, there is almost no chance it will do so now.

Granted, for those who buy into the liberal project of maximized freedom for freedom’s sake and an accompanying economic order that has yielded gross disparities in wealth and opportunity, this is hardly something to fret over. While no candidate is likely to ever fully capture a particular voter’s political preferences, some tradeoffs at the margins is seen as the necessary costs of a full and vibrant democracy. Even those who define themselves as “conservatives” (which, in the American context, is just a variant of liberalism) are fine tabling unpopular social causes in order to beef up patrols at the border or water down the Affordable Care Act. There is no consideration that the system as a whole is diseased.

For the rest of us (and I am assuming I am not alone here), compromise is out of the question. To return to MacIntyre, we cannot forget that in our present political environment “a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote cast for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives.” As such, “The way to vote against the system is not to vote.”

That position will no doubt appear unsavory to those who buy into the line that failing to vote means forfeiting one’s right to complain. That’s fine. My quarrel is not over which marginally different candidate won and what marginally different causes he or she will claim to advance, but rather with a political landscape that furnishes us with such lackluster, nay, deplorable options. 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.

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Sun, 11/09/2014 - 12:23am
Mr. Sanchez, "I did not vote this past Tuesday," thank you for disenfranchising yourself. We should create an Award similar to the Darwin Awards (http://darwinawards.com/) for politics and governing. As with the Darwin Awards, for those who take themselves out of the evolutionary gene pool, we need to recognize those who take themselves out of the poltical process by abdicating their voting right/privelege and abandon it to anyone else willing to make an effort to place a simple mark on a ballot. There can be levels of the award; there can be the Pouting Award based on those who don't like anyone so they will not participate, there can be the Elitist Award for those who are disdainful of those who are voting and those who are asking for votes, there can be the Disinterested Award for those who consistently never consider voting, there could be the Complainer Award for those who simply complain about everything assoicated with the voting process and are loud making their complaints, and the types and levels of Awards could be innumerable. Thank you for this article, it opened up a whole new way to think about Bridge articles. Almost forgot to rate the article, where's the 'cheese'?
Gabriel S. Sanchez
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:22am
Duane, Thoughtful and enlightening as always.
Frank Kalinski
Sun, 11/09/2014 - 8:31am
Regarding Not Voting: I've been involved in politics since I was 12 years old in 1968 in some minor way. Working on Campaigns, running for local office and as Election Poll Worker and have served in various committees here in town. I agree with Mr. Sanchez in that I will not for someone just to fill in an oval on my ballot. One thing I know for sure is the ratio of voters that vote for "none of the above" is an important number. In a close election that was decided by only a handful of votes the "non-vote" exceeded the difference! In other words if the loser could have captured a chunk of those "non-votes" they would have won. Not even going to the polls IS a vote; a vote for the status quo! Frank Kalinski
Gabriel S. Sanchez
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:18am
Frank, I see your point here, though I do not see how voting under present conditions is a "vote for the status quo." What other situation can a vote move us into at this stage in the game? I am not calling for political quietism here. In fact, I am calling for just the opposite. We need to develop viable third-party candidates who do not buy into the dominant ideology of the day -- one which is, in substance, shared by both Democrats and Republicans.
Sun, 11/09/2014 - 9:03am
It seems to me that Mr. Sanchez forgot that their are other races and proposals on the ballot and that some of them may have offered him choices tha t were not "politically intolerable alternatives." This article is a poor fit for the Bridge.
Gabriel S. Sanchez
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:15am
Tom, I apologize for the late reply to this and other comments to my article. I am typically alerted via e-mail when people reply to me on here, but for whatever reason that system of notification broke down. For the past week I have been living under the mistaken impression nobody cared. Because I am only afforded a limited amount of space for each piece I write, I have to pick-and-choose my examples carefully. I am well aware of the list of proposals on the ballot. In fact, the last time I voted (many moons ago), I did so because there were concrete issues involved that did not involve Odious Choice A vs. Odious Choice B. Perhaps I could have fleshed that out a bit, or maybe it would be wise to do so in the future.
John K. Harrison
Sun, 11/09/2014 - 10:50am
The somewhat left-leaning Bridge is always interesting to follow. Especially, when they land on a topic (generally well supported) that is of interest -- such as education; however, Mr. Sanchez's article slides into the stupid category. Perhaps there is a liberal (rather than conservative) who shares Mr. Sanchez's view. Nice try, but no cigar. Regarding the need to vote, Tom's comments provide that logic.
Gabriel S. Sanchez
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:21am
John, Aside from taking a shot at my intelligence, I don't see what your point is here. I should be clear that I do not define myself as a "conservative" in the conventional sense. That is to say, my "brand" of conservatism is not wedded to the political platform of the Republican Party or its more extreme "Tea Party" wing. As some of my previous Bridge pieces have outlined, my conservatism -- if I can call it that -- is concerned with a much thicker sense of the common good rather than the radical individualism which, from the Founding onward, has informed America's political culture and ideology.
Sun, 11/09/2014 - 12:08pm
I have to say that I am hearing this refrain more and more: "what's the difference between them? They are all beholden to organized money." I think that's similar to what this article is saying: "the entire system is wrong and it doesn't matter who wins".
Richard McLellan
Sun, 11/09/2014 - 3:37pm
I could not really understand what Mr. Sanchez was going on about. Perhaps it is best he did not vote.
Sun, 11/09/2014 - 8:10pm
I didn't even read this. The title says enough. I suppose he didn't vote for Romney because he was Mormon. I bet he didn't vote for George W. because his father raised taxes. He probably didn't vote for Reagan because he was once a Democrat. I voted for a guy that will probably vote different from my preference 30% of the time because his opponent would prefer communism and vote against my preference 95+% of the time. My only hope is he represents less than 5% of humanity.
Gabriel S. Sanchez.
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:28am
Charles, If you did not read the article, then how could you possibly know the reasons why I did (or did not) vote for a particular candidate? More importantly, I find your insinuation that I would not vote for someone because of their religious beliefs more than a bit insulting (and unnecessary). While this is neither the time nor the place to explore what I think of Mitt Romney, let me assure you that his religion has never been a factor in my assessment of the man.
Sun, 11/09/2014 - 11:40pm
McIntyre's branch is a poor one to try and hang much on. McIntyre's proposal cleaves participation in the political process with its fundamental questions of how power is to be distributed, and the act of ratification -- the vote. In contemporary terms, we may see the political process in both its advocacy and actions as a kind of secular liturgy -- a set of acts we collectively engage in. Voting, then is a ratification of these decisions; my vote participates in the process. Again to steal from religion, there is something sacramental about it. Political participation without voting is either a tacit acceptance of the status quo, or an appeal to a non-electoral model of change. An end around of some kind; it's McIntyre as an anti-democrat. As an acceptance or willingness to accept the status quo, non-voting makes another statement: it denies the possibility of justice. Whether it is the hunkering down despair of the working poor, the too-busy indifference of the young adult, or the belief that they're all the same -- the action testifies to a belief that what finally counts is power, power alone. The notion that power can be rightly ordered (the actual stuff of politics) is glossed over. McIntyre ends up with Nietzsche. While there is a temptation to withdraw, especially from educated conservatives of a certain ilk, it is one clouded by a lack of hope. In the name of principle, it denies the possibility of principled action. MIntyre's proposal to not
Gabriel S. Sanchez.
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:32am
Harris, Thank you for your thoughts. Let me be clear that I am not a strict MacIntyrian, and I am actually not in favor of the "withdraw and hide" pseudo-solution recommended by some conservative thinkers (e.g., Rod Dreher's "Benedict Option"). I believe there is concrete work that needs to be done to reform our society and its political culture, but it has to come from the bottom up; the voting booth will not save us, at least not right now. From reading the comments here, it seems that some people believe that just the act of voting, that is, the act of cutting 15-60 minutes out of my day to stare at a ballot full of undesirable choices, can itself be a referendum on the system. I honestly do not see how.
Maryanne Jorgensen
Mon, 11/10/2014 - 2:10pm
I think this editorial spouting virtue to not voting is not worth the time spent writing OR reading it. If Americans refuse to vote trying to prove a point, the only point they make is that those who do vote control their lives. If you don't work for change it will never happen.
David Marckini
Mon, 11/10/2014 - 4:09pm
Here's one more vote saying bad judgment; don't give your vote away based on such poor logic.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 9:31am
The system will most certainly remain biased if we refuse to participate. More citizens must become involved at the Pre-Primary stage in order to facilitate a change. It is not logical and in fact is counter productive to throw up one's hands and scream against the system without an attempt to change it.
Gabriel S. Sanchez.
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:25am
Barry, I should make clear that this article is not a call for non-participation in what is sometimes referred to as "the public square" or "political life." I believe wholeheartedly in reforming the present system from the ground up, but that begins by changing hearts and minds, not with tethering our hopes for a better future on political parties and candidates who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo (albeit with marginal disagreements concerning means). Given space limitations, however, I was not able to flesh that out in this particular piece. Instead I wanted to focus on the more narrow question of voting and why I refrained. That people disagree with my choice is not surprising; that some have become so irate over it is more than a bit perturbing.