Since Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party’s nominee and the choices are clear before the American people, it’s important to sharpen our thinking around voting. I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth revisiting now that there are three candidates and it’s just so hard to choose!
The third candidate I’m referring to is Gary Johnson. There has already been some “Johnson is the only true progressive!” nonsense published out there after Bernie Sanders’s hopes were crushed in New Jersey and California last Tuesday. Johnson is many things but he’s no progressive. To begin with, he doesn’t believe in any of the basic pillars of the New Deal that Sanders and Clinton both are trying to preserve and strengthen. Johnson is as close to being Sanders on the issues as I am to starting at center for the L.A. Lakers next season (I’m 5’4″ and haven’t played competitive basketball in about seven years).
But Clinton and her emails! Her Wall Street speeches! Trump says she had someone murdered! We just can’t trust her!
It should go without saying that if one is going to make a moral case against Clinton, then one cannot vote for Donald Trump, either. That leaves Johnson, but I’m going to reveal something here on this blog right now that may shock and permanently damage virgin eyes, so if you believe that politicians – or hell, people in general – are morally pure, please stop reading now.
Did you stop?
Okay, you must really want to know…
No politician or human being is without moral shortcomings. Clinton, Trump, and Johnson didn’t get to their positions in life without making some mistakes or engaging in outright reprehensible behavior on occasion. There’s even a moral case against Saint Sanders and his oversight as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and of course, Sanders’s wife, Jane Sanders, stands accused of destroying a small Vermont liberal arts college due to an irresponsible and possibly fraudulent real estate deal she rammed through during her tenure as president. Now, these might be cases made by people with an ax to grind against Sanders, but that brings us back to the larger, more important point.
Everyone at the level these people reach has skeletons in their closets. Johnson is no different. Aside from being a hypocrite like we all are sometimes, he has some truly ugly behavior for which he’d probably rather not have to account. As governor of New Mexico, he loved privatized prisons, and he loved awarding the contracts for their construction to the friends he had made when he was CEO of his own construction firm. When state officials became alarmed by the number of murders and riots happening at these prisons, Johnson refused to allow his own state to study what was going on inside them.
The fact is that all these candidates have their flaws and we can minimize them or blow them out of proportion according to our own biases, so as always, people should figure out which party they’d rather have in power and vote for its candidates. If someone finds Clinton’s emails disqualifying, well, I guess that’s principled. If someone finds the fact that Johnson refused to allow his own state to investigate a dramatic increase in murders and riots in his pet private prisons disqualifying, well, I guess that would be principled, too. See, everyone can play the “my candidate’s purer than your candidate” game. It’s the wrong game to play, especially with the stakes as high as they are in a presidential election.
It’s not terribly inspiring to make the dread relativist argument about why any given candidate, as a moral person, is generally no worse than any other candidate. Personal qualities and behavior matter for sure, and I’d argue that Trump’s disqualify him while Clinton’s and Johnson’s don’t disqualify them. Actually, Trump is that extremely rare candidate for president that is obviously morally unfit for office and is kind of the exception that proves the rule. Although, a good moral argument could’ve been made against George W. Bush in 2004 after we had already learned about his administration’s torture policies. (On a side note, it was Bush’s torture regime that motivated my first foray into political blogging, published by Andrew Sullivan back in 2006.)
It’s very easy for a motivated person to make a moral case against any specific candidate. Do I really think that Clinton’s moral failure with her emails isn’t as bad as Johnson’s moral failure with the private prison industry he was in bed with? Who cares?
My role as a voter is to figure out which party I want to control the government. The parties have very clear and very different platforms. If people want to vote for Trump or Johnson then vote for Trump or Johnson, but they should save us the bullshit about how they would’ve voted for Sanders if he were the Democratic Party’s nominee but they just can’t vote for Clinton. That’s confused about what they’re doing with their vote at best and disingenuous at worst.