What Are We Voting For?

This week’s Courier Herald column:

Absentee ballots are already being distributed and returned.  This year, due to the pandemic, many more Georgians and Americans will be voting my mail.  Voting has been made easier than ever before.

For those who wish to vote in person, their opportunity here in Georgia begins Monday, October 12th.  Voting at various locations runs through Friday October 30th, the last Friday before what we’ll still call “election day” for old time’s sake.

Thus, every eligible Georgia voter will have ample time and opportunity to vote.  Now that we’re in active election, the overriding question is what are we voting for?

Note that the question imposed does not ask “who”, but “what”.  Most of the focus of the major parties and media organizations have been happy to make the election on a referendum of one person, the current occupant of the White House.

Each base has been well fed their diet of red meat.  Donald Trump is either anointed by God himself or is the antichrist.  There is no in-between for the most partisan voters and to them, nothing else matters.

There are other contests that deserve mention and attention, especially to those of us who still believe in separation of powers, federalism, and proper roles and functions of government. Most of these races have been lost in the noise.  Many are guilty of contributing to it.

Normally this is where I would go down the ballot and highlight a few races that actually matter.  Anyone paying close attention to the Public Service Commission races?  These are the folks that have to figure out how much we pay for electricity while also making sure we don’t turn into California with rolling brownouts and huge swings in prices because utilities have to buy surplus electricity produced out of state.

The reality, however, is that most people are going to suit up and vote for one team or another, and the campaigns and parties are focused on getting their people to the polls, either in person or by mail.  The concept of the ticket-splitting voter has also become a relic for most campaigns.

It would be easy to blame campaigns, their consultants, the media, or many others for this superficial approach to electioneering, but these races reflect the market for votes.  Most voters have long since decided that the cost for digging into intricacies of policy platforms greatly exceeds their expected value of the change their vote would bring. 

Instead, we have become a nation of people voting for good against evil, with good represented by the Presidential candidate of their party, and evil represented by the other.  Every four years we’re told it’s the most important election ever, and every four years the chasm between “good” and “evil” seems to grow farther apart.

We continue to compound this cycle by placing more and more importance on who is elected President while ignoring all of the other offices which provide checks and balances at the federal level, or provide different government services at the state and local level. 

Making every election solely about the President only increases the power of the presidency over all levels of government.  The greatest failure of modern conservatism has occurred during the last three and a half years, when conservatives could have tapped into the fear of those on the far left to permanently rein in the powers of the federal executive branch of government.

We no longer try to diffuse power between different branches, and mostly ignore states as different laboratories of policy.  Instead, we have staked government action into an all-or-nothing gambit on whether our party or theirs controls the White House.

Those who have spent the last three years decrying executive overreach have one thing in common with those who spent the prior eight years making the same complaint.  Hyper-partisans believe the only problem with absolute executive power is that the wrong person from the wrong party has it from time to time.

What we’re voting for appears to be more of the same.  Half of the country will feel free to impose their will, unfettered, upon the other half.  The losing half will attempt to stall everything for a do-over in four years.

Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

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