TCS Daily

A Nader Voter... for Bush

By Keith Burgess-Jackson - November 2, 2004 12:00 AM

Tuesday's presidential election will be the twelfth of my lifetime -- I was born in April 1957 -- and the eighth in which I have cast a ballot. I cast my first presidential ballot in 1976, when I was a 19-year old college sophomore majoring in political science. I have been all over the map, politically, during the past 28 years, as regular readers of AnalPhilosopher (my blog) know, but I always voted. It seemed wrong or disrespectful not to. I expect to continue voting for as long as I am able.

Perhaps I'm strange, but I don't vote because I think it matters to the outcome. It doesn't matter to the outcome. For one thing, I live in Texas, which will go for President Bush in a landslide. But even if I lived in a state such as Florida, where the difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush four years ago was 537 votes, my vote wouldn't have mattered. Would it have mattered if the vote differential were 536 or 538 votes instead of 537? No. George W. Bush would still have won. The final digit of the vote total doesn't matter, and that's all I control.

You might reply that it could have mattered. True, if "could" means logically possible. But the chance of my vote making the difference in a statewide election is too small to be taken into consideration. There's a tiny but nonzero probability that I will be killed on the way to the polling place Tuesday. Should I therefore stay home? A rational person ignores very small probabilities.

Why then do I vote, if not to affect the outcome? The answer is that I vote to express and confirm my citizenship. Each of us is many things: son or daughter, parent, sibling, friend, engineer, bricklayer, Christian, neighbor, citizen. Each role we occupy comes prepackaged with various rights and responsibilities. The responsibility of a citizen, qua citizen, is to participate in the political process. The most distinctive way to do this in a democracy such as ours is to register one's preferences at the polling place -- by voting. The act has expressive and constitutive significance. It both expresses one's values and constitutes one as a citizen. It is not an instrument to some end.

Some people vote because they know that if everyone decided not to, it would undermine our democracy. This is Kantian thinking. It has affinities to the thinking I just sketched. The Kantian doesn't ask what the consequences (i.e., causal upshots) of one's action will be; he or she asks instead whether a world in which everyone acts as one is thinking of acting is a coherent, willable world. I don't know about you, but I can't will a world in which people stay home, for self-interested reasons, on Election Day. By staying home on Election Day myself, I would be willing that world. I would be contradicting myself.

So yes, I'll trudge to the nearby middle school Tuesday afternoon to cast my ballot. I won't do it grudgingly, either. I will feel good about myself. I will have a hop in my step and a gleam in my eye. It will never cross my mind as I vote that I helped someone get elected (if indeed the person for whom I vote is elected). What will cross my mind is that I discharged my obligation as a citizen, and thereby manifested my citizenship. I will, at that moment, be (and feel) part of something larger than myself, something that forms part of my identity and gives meaning to my life. Try it; you may feel the same way. You don't have to view voting instrumentally to think it worthwhile.

Now to the important question: For whom will I vote, and why? Readers of my blog know that I voted for Ralph Nader the past two times (1996 and 2000). I voted for Nader not because I agreed with him on all or even many issues, because I did not, but because I admired him personally, and still do. He's an admirable person. He is self-denying, principled, brave, and strong. He lives his values. He has what used to be called -- in quainter times -- integrity. I wish there were more people like him.

My plan was to vote for Nader again, but as Election Day approaches, I've changed my mind. I'm going to vote for President Bush. This will not be the first time I've voted for a Republican. I voted for Gerald Ford in 1976, in part because Ford was a fellow Michigander and in part because I despised Jimmy Carter's blatant religiosity. I did not vote for Ford because he was a conservative, even if he was, since I did not consider myself a conservative at the time. To be honest, I didn't have a well-worked-out political morality. I based my vote more on personality than on ideology.

The reason I'm voting for President Bush is that he has a better grasp of the changed world in which we live than any of the other candidates. It's a cliché, but everything changed on 9-11. The attacks brought it home to me that we are at war. It's not a conventional war, to be sure, so we must not be hamstrung by conventional thinking about war. It's a new war -- a war against a mindset rather than against a nation or alliance of nations. The civilization we so prize, which was so dearly won, is at risk. I want a president who appreciates the risk and has the resolve to do what is necessary to protect and preserve our great civilization.

A Kerry presidency, I am convinced, would send the wrong message to everyone, including our enemies. It would say that Americans aren't willing to defend their civilization. It would say that we lack resolve, strength, and courage. It would say that we're soft -- that we prefer the comforts of affluence to the rigors of hard work and sacrifice, that we prefer appeasement of our enemies to engagement with them. Our enemies won't be appeased and they aren't going away. They're plotting their next attack as you read this. Their goal, repeatedly and unequivocally expressed, is to kill all of us -- you, your children, your grandchildren -- and to destroy what took centuries to build. The art, science, commerce, law, and technology of the West, which have made our lives so rich and wonderful, would be obliterated in an instant if they had their way. The attack on the World Trade Center was just the first foray.

I realize that President Bush won't always be president. He has at most four more years to govern. But these are crucial years, years that are necessary to solidify our victories in the Middle East and reinforce democratic, tolerant values. If John Kerry is elected, there will be a reversion to the pre-9-11 mindset, and nothing, after all, will have changed. The work we have done at such great cost in Afghanistan and Iraq will have been for naught. Actually, something will have changed: The world will be a more dangerous place rather than a safer place. Is that what you want?

As far as I'm concerned, all other issues, even the constitution of the Supreme Court, pale in comparison to the war on radical Islam. Only President Bush sees things aright and only President Bush has the fortitude and resolution to act. That is why I shall cast my vote for him on Tuesday. It will be an expression not only of my American citizenship, which I have never taken and will never take for granted, but of the values I hold dear.

Keith Burgess-Jackson, J.D., Ph.D., is a frequent contributor to Tech Central Station. He is Associate Professor of Philosophy at The University of Texas at Arlington, where he teaches courses in Logic, Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Law, and Social and Political Philosophy. He blogs at AnalPhilosopher, Animal Ethics, and The Ethics of War.


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