For the first time since I've been old enough to vote, I live in a state that is up for grabs. Florida, a battleground state. More than that, I live in a battleground county in that state. I can actually impact the outcome of the election. But there are three candidates (two that are viable) that I might vote for. And I'm not sure what to do with any of them. One seems better for the economy, another seems better for social issues, and the one that seems most in line with what I want doesn't have a prayer.
I took the test at www.isidewith.com to find out who I'm most in agreement with. I match Gary Johnson on 87% of issues, Mitt Romney on 77%, and Barack Obama on 60%. I only match about 57% of other Florida voters. That last one's not surprising; I match slightly more than half of the people in Florida. It's a battleground state. It's how we roll.
What to do? Here's where I am on each one.
#1 Barack Obama
The economic recovery under Obama has been tepid. I spent six months out of work in 2009, when the Florida economy, largely a real estate and tourism economy, was getting hammered. His attempts to stimulate the economy didn't and haven't had any noticeable effect. The only effect I noticed from his signature achievement, Obamacare, was that my employer at the time (this was after my six month jobless stint) called together the office and notified us that the cost of our health benefits had increased. If we wanted to keep our coverage, we'd have to pay more. If we wanted to pay the same amount, we'd have to choose a lower coverage plan. He gave us as many options as he could, but he confirmed what we all suspected: that this increased cost was due to the passage of Obamacare.
Obama's done reasonably well in certain foreign policy areas (like sending SEALs to shoot people in the face), but I'm uncertain about his commitment to stick by Israel and prevent Iran from getting a nuke. He seems a little uninvolved in Syria, but maybe got too involved in Libya. Many other parts of the world are more unstable than when he entered office, but I'm not sure how much of that can be traced to something he did. Overall, I give his foreign policy a "meh" rating. Some problems were solved, others were not.
On social issues, I tend to be fine with him. Obama's positions on civil liberties seem in line with mine. I'm fine with legalizing marijuana and gay marriage. Obama supports one based on things he's said, and another he must be sympathetic to due to his youthful "choom gang" shenanigans. Also, most of his supporters support marijuana legalization. It's worth noting that my beliefs on this are not due to some sense of social justice. My tolerance for these things is born from vast indifference. Also, I don't see how the government has any business dictating what we do privately. So although I'm apathetic on individual issues, I have a certain Mind-Your-Own-Damned-Business-ishness in my character (#grouchy). So any time government tries to tell someone what to do, my natural response is to tell them to stuff it. And I sure as hell don't want them wasting money trying to stop these things.
You want to smoke weed? Fine. Don't tell me about it. And don't do it near me because that stuff reeks. You want to be gay? Whatever. Don't tell me about it. Actually, lesbians are welcome to tell me about it, but gay dudes aren't. Oink. But there's one place that Obama kind of screwed the pooch. You want to be Catholic? Fine. Government has no business telling Catholics how to be Catholic. Even when it's the 1% of Catholics who don't use birth control. But Obama did sort of try to.
One thing that won't affect my decision is Hurricane Sandy. Even if Obama nails that, it's not good enough. Psychologists who work in human resources have a concept that they call the "Recency effect". It has to do with judging someone by their most recent performance and not their overall performance. Even if Obama's performance with the hurricane is exemplary, I'm not falling into that trap. All four years are relevant.
So, on domestic policy, foreign policy, and social policy, Obama gets a "Meh", "Meh", and "Yeah, Whatever, With a Dash of Sorta Not Because of the Catholic Thing.". I'm not too excited about him, which may explain why he got the lowest rating.
#2 Mitt Romney
I have no doubt that he'll do a better job with the economy. Of course, that bar's pretty low. Despite all of the rhetoric about Bain Capital being a bunch of corporate raiders, I know that venture capital companies specialize in helping new companies grow and helping failing companies turn around. Neither of these is easy, but Romney's success rate was about 80%. Given that startups usually fail and turning around a failing company is, well, problematic, I think that's a pretty decent performance.
But another big part of handling the economy is handling the debt. I don't know if I want taxes raised (although plenty of the rich guys I work for would be fine with it), but cutting taxes seems too risky. He assumes that cuts will cause economic growth and an increase will stifle it, but that's not necessarily consistent with history (Clinton years). And I know that Obama's stimulus involved any number of tax cuts. It didn't seem to accomplish much.
Mitt Romney doesn't seem like a small government guy. His approach to business is sort of a top-down approach. Small government is a bottom-up approach. Let the people build the economy and have government do just enough to keep it going. If the economy is a football game, the government is the referee, not the coach, and certainly not the quarterback.
Not being a small government guy is a problem, because I think only a small government guy has the guts to reform Medicare and Social Security. Bringing spending under control is critical, and these are huge chunks of the budget. The problem is, supporters, like the AARP, would rather see mountains of debt passed to future generations than fix the problem. I'm not convinced Romney or Obama will address this.
On foreign policy, Romney spooks me a bit. I've no problem preventing Iran from getting a nuke or protecting Israel, but some of Romney's positions seem a bit too aggressive. Excessive intervention in the Middle East can cause more trouble than it solves. We've seen this in both the 20th and 21st centuries. On the other hand, some of that may just be posturing. After all, when Obama was elected, he promised to do things like close Gitmo. It didn't happen. He's also increased troops in Afghanistan, and gotten a little crazy with the drones. These are not things he ran on. What this tells me is that a President can make all sorts of promises when he's running, but once he's actually in office reality may set in. What he wants may not be practical, at least not yet. Mitt's positions may be a little aggressive on the campaign trail, but once he actually takes office he may have no choice but to moderate them somewhat.
On social issues, Mitt's positions are fairly far to the right. This is a change from when he was Governor of Massachusetts. As a presidential candidate, he has no problem enforcing laws that impose the values of one group on others. But maybe that's just pandering too. He's changed his mind on various things, but a lot of that was playing to the base during primary season. Now that the right has no choice, we may find him moderating these positions.
Of course, those last two point out something else that's bothered me. He's been compared to a weather vane, and I don't think that's unfair. I have to ask myself if he really means what he says. I have no doubt that he's interested in turning the country around, but is he going to do it like he says? Maybe he's just saying what he needs to say to get elected, but once there he'll do things his own way. If he moderated on foreign policy and social issues, I'd be fine. But if he baits and switches on the economy, I'm not sure I'll like the result.
So, on domestic policy, foreign policy, and social policy, Romney gets a "Yah, sorta", "Meh (but don't go crazy)", and "Don't presume to tell us what to do with our private lives.". I tend to give more weight to the economic issues, which is probably why he got the second highest rating. But my stance on Romney is qualified with a dash of "Is this guy for real, or is he jerking me around?"
#3 Gary Johnson
It's not a surprise that I'm most in line with Gary Johnson. The Libertarian view on government is that the people should decide the direction of the country, and the government should focus on providing a safe and stable environment for the people. The Libertarian view on foreign policy is roughly in line with the "city on a hill" doctrine. America can generally lead by example, and should avoid trying to force people to agree with us. If America is great, other people will want to be like us.
Granted, these are a little over-simplified. And that's my main hang-up with Libertarians. They do seem to oversimplify a bit too much. I'm fine with free markets, but some Libertarians appear to think that it is the magical elixir that cures all ills. I should mention that I find the socialist view that the free market is just snake oil a far more offensive idea. The best way to describe the free market is to paraphrase Mr. Churchill. The free market is the worst form of economy, except for all of the others. It works, but that doesn't mean we can't do better. Some of my Libertarian friends have such great faith in the free market's perfection that it borders on idolotry. Which is ironic, since most of them are atheists. I want the freest markets possible, but I don't want laissez-faire.
In foreign policy, I'm generally in line with the Libertarian policy of avoiding interventions. But sometimes it sounds a little too much like neo-isolationism. We can't go back to the days where the United States only concerned itself with its own affairs, or at least its own hemisphere. When you're about 22% of the global economy and the only real military power in the free world, you can't not be involved. Our role should be as stewards of freedom and the free market, not as pushers of them. But non-involvement is not an option.
This is why I don't call myself a Libertarian. I'm more or less in line with them, but still have a few misgivings. Gary Johnson seems like a fairly typical Libertarian, and my 87% score puts me more or less in line with him. That's the highest score. My rating on domestic policy, foreign policy, and social issues are "Yeah, mostly", "Yeah, mostly", and "That's right, tell 'em where they can shove their rules!". But there's a problem. He can't win, and I'm in a position that I can actually decide who does. Still, I'm toying with the idea of voting for him.
Americans have frequently taken a vending machine approach to politics. When a vending machine doesn't give you what you want, you shake it or give it a kick. When Americans do this to the government, this results in "wildcard" candidates. These are candidates that emerge in times of trouble and are a departure from what came before them. In my lifetime, we made an actor president, we made another actor who was also a weightlifter a governor, and we made another actor who was also a weightlifter and a former Navy SEAL a governor. We also made a junior senator with minimal experience the first black president. Any number of tea-party candidates were wildcard candidates. Some might say all of them. The idea is straightforward; inject some new blood into the establishment.
If a new type of candidate can affect the process, imagine how much a new type of party could. Gary Johnson might not have a prayer of winning, but a good showing could lay the groundwork for a new party. Of course, wildcard parties, like wildcard candidates, can produce mixed results. Sometimes when you shake a vending machine, it just falls over and crushes you. Doing that with the political process might have the same effect. Public Service Announcement: Don't shake a real vending machine.
So I could vote for Gary Johnson. I doubt it will affect this election, but it might build momentum for future elections. If it does, I won't be wasting a vote. But if my ISideWith results are any indication, I think I'm inclined to vote Romney somewhat more than Obama, despite my misgivings on Romney's authenticity. Do too many votes for Johnson in Florida give Obama a win? If Obama produces another four years of "meh" performance, is it worth it if I plant the seeds of a new party? Is the new party really worth it, or will Libertarians just merge with the Republicans and moderate some of the Republican beliefs?
Of course, all of this is qualified by my "Ah, to hell with it" mentality (#grouchy). How much is really going to change, regardless of who gets elected? Answer, probably not that much. I know that real change happens when the people make it happen, not the politicians. We'll have debts until the people demand change. We'll have unnecessary foreign interventions until the people demand change. We'll have excessive regulation until the people demand change. Maybe voting for the non-viable candidate is a small way of demanding change, but I doubt it'll do that much.
I could always just write in a random person. I wonder if I could just put some random name in there, then find that name somewhere in the election results. If I could find a record that had millions of votes for Obama and Romney, thousands, hundreds or dozens for the others, but only one vote for "Joe Blow Schmo" or whatever, at least I could point at that one vote and say "That was me. I did that.".
A lot of people wonder how there can be undecided voters. They assume that this is the result of laziness, stupidity, or some peculiar sense of vanity. I've never been stupid, I am occasionally lazy (it's Florida; margaritas and chicks in bikinis have that effect on me), and I admit to being vain at times. But that's not why I'm undecided. I see two good to fair candidates that I'm not in love with, but I could probably live with, and one guy who seems best but doesn't have a chance. An accident of geography has made my vote valuable. Do I take a chance that Romney's telling the truth about his changes? Do I treat Obama as a safety vote, since the economy has been mediocre, but could have been worse? Or do I play the wildcard, even though it won't affect this election, and might not affect future ones?