American voters are increasingly looking down their noses at the “Lesser of Two Evils” voting strategy with a disdainful superiority that would be the envy of Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey. Having spent a little time on a high horse myself, I can say that the view up there is breathtaking, but hardly worth the pain of the inevitable fall.
I can well understand the naiveté, idealism and wishful thinking employed to avoid real world discussions of rocks and hard places. But let us not pretend that the only people possessing principles are those staying home on Election Day because there are no worthy candidates to whom they can submit themselves by casting a ballot.
The “Lesser of Two Evils” voting strategy, falsely charged with promoting evil itself, suffers not so much for its defeatism as for its inexcusable branding. This essay simply endeavors to rename the philosophy the “Greater of True Options,” thereby disposing of the needlessly pejorative phrase like a Hillary Clinton email.
By “true” options, it is meant that these choices carry with them very plausible and realistic opportunities for success. In other words, they are capable of producing not simply a theoretical or potential result, but an actual one. If my choices for earning income are between going to work and waiting for pink unicorns to drop moneybags in my back yard, I only have one “true” option in this real world.
Let us suppose that our four voting options this November are as follows: (a) vote for Donald Trump, (b) vote for Hillary Clinton, (c) vote for Notgonna Winn, and (d) abstain from voting. First, we dismiss our two fairy tale options.
Fairy Tale Options
Option C is casting a ballot for Notgonna Winn, presumably a write-in candidate or a third-party choice with no chance of winning. Viewed as a conscientious protest vote, casting this ballot results in no “true” practical success in the real world, which is to say this candidate will not become President. It only changes the outcome of the election by reducing the number of “True Option” votes otherwise cast. Option C voters say, “But I really like this person and I can get behind them enthusiastically.” Fine. I really like Superman for President and Batman for Vice President, but I’m not voting for them. Why not? Because I live in the real world.
Option D is to do nothing, refusing to vote, since no candidate has earned the respect of the voter. But in the real world, one faces many unpleasant realities. I have worked at jobs with bosses I did not respect. I have written papers for professors I did not respect. I have even performed funeral services for strangers whose lifestyles I did not respect. I have had awkward dinner conversations with people whose opinions I did not respect. Life is full of such responsibilities. From time to time, I hear an Option D voter say, “Perhaps if enough people stay home, it will fundamentally change our two-party system.” Again with the pink unicorns.
Granted, it may be an exaggeration to say that the fairy tale options accomplish nothing, for they do reduce, for all practical purposes, the size of the electorate, and they diminish the votes that would otherwise be cast among the “true” options. At this point, let me hasten to add that I certainly believe all voters have the right to abstain or vote for a dummy candidate. I simply do not believe that it does any practical good. Thus, despite all the talk of high and mighty principles, if one is not implementing a “true” real world option, one might as well play in the sandbox.
Choosing Among True Options
The next President of the United States will be a Republican or a Democrat. This claim may be likened to statements such as, “It gets cold in Alaska,” or “Playing Russian roulette is dangerous.” The claim is not true because I make it—I make it because it is true. I am not particularly glad that it is true, but I accept it. As a matter of principle, I choose to act in light of the boundaries provided by the inescapable realities of life. Whenever I am faced with two, and only two, legitimate real world options, I will choose the “Greater of True Options.”
One might ask, “What do you do if your true options are equally bad?” Frankly, I doubt this is ever really the case. Explore the matter deeply enough and you are bound to tilt in one direction or another. Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Of course, taking “it” is impossible—one must take the right fork or the left. But choosing from the only two available, legitimate, real world options does not need to be stated in such negative and defeatist terms.
The real problem with the “Lesser of Two Evils” voting strategy is not the logic one uses in picking from the two choices, but the dreadfully pejorative label itself. In our example, one must choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Some will call this a rock and a hard place—a difficult choice because we do not like either one. But is it not true, semantically, that in comparing any two choices, the one that is “less evil” is simultaneously “more good?”
Whenever one votes for the Greater of True Options, one is casting a ballot for the candidate who is “more good” and not merely the one who is “less evil.” Christian voters recognize biblical truths about the depravity of man placing all of us naturally on the evil side of the scale. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) As it is written, “None is righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) Since every human being is evil, any candidate one prefers can be characterized as “less evil” than the candidate one does not prefer. In this sense, all those who claim they refuse to vote for “the lesser of two evils” are, in fact, doing exactly that, whenever they cast a ballot in favor of any politician.
One minor caveat is worth mentioning—the nature of our electoral college system. Because the candidate winning any given state receives all of the votes from that state, one might argue that voting between the Republican and the Democrat is not a “true” choice either, since a Democratic vote in Texas is destined to fail just as surely as a Republican vote in New York. In other words, the only votes that impact “real world” results are the votes cast in states that are “in play” and thus likely to swing the election one way or the other. Such a consideration is a practical political reality. For the purposes of this essay, let us assume we all live in Ohio or Florida—and that the whole election hinges on our true option choices.
To summarize, voters who engage in the political process by abstaining or voting for dummy candidates are simply walking out of the room where the real world decision is truly going to be made. As they proudly declare, “I will never vote for a candidate like this or that,” they appear to show contempt for those of us staying in the room and seeking to select the one candidate who is at least slightly greater than the other.
Those of us remaining in the room, participating in the electorate, and choosing from the true options available to us, possess no fewer principles, no less integrity and no seared consciences, for at least we are engaging in a process possessing a chance for tangible, real world results. Rather than punting, we are helping to select the “Greater of True Options.” To put it simply, in a two-person race, we pick the greater one, recognizing the reality that making a difference in this world can often mean hard choices. We are not lesser Christians for doing so.