Monday, October 31, 2011

Bon Appétit

Imagine that you are invited to a wedding reception at a snooty Five-Star restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. You know the chef is one of the best in the world, internationally famous, and you are looking forward to sharing a top-notch meal with your friends.

Imagine, also, that you are a vegetarian on a low-carb diet. You arrive at the reception and find that your dinner choices are filet mignon or pasta. What do you do?

Clearly, you can’t order the meat. You’re hungry, so you can’t choose to skip the dinner. You reluctantly get the pasta, which tastes so good that you overindulge on carbs that evening. You opted for the lesser of two evils and had a satisfactory but not satisfying dinner.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere on the dilemma progressives face these days. Nowhere is it more evident than in New Jersey. In the upcoming elections, we will be voting for all 120 members of the legislature, and it’s safe to say that the candidates can be categorized in three buckets:

  •  Republicans who worship Governor Chris Christie, the Koch Brothers, tax cuts, and reduction of social safety net and infrastructure programs (with a few exceptions, which I’ll get into later).
  • Democrats who bow to the state’s bipartisan axis of power brokers and political bosses and who capitulate to the governor’s draconian agenda while lamenting the loss of funding for social programs.
  • Real Democrats who understand that government is complex and that tax cuts do not create jobs by themselves.

Since not all legislative districts have Real Democrats on the ballot, for many voters the choice is between a Republican and a “Christiecrat” – a Democrat who abets the anti-middle class Christie agenda.

Of course, a voter can choose not to vote, to write in a name, or vote for a fringe candidate. Like choosing not to eat at a fancy restaurant, that voter is throwing away an opportunity. Even worse, by throwing away a vote, the voter may be providing support to the most objectionable candidate.

All things being equal, it would be better to vote for the Christiecrat than for the Republican. And it would be better to vote for the Christiecrat than to throw away your vote on a third party or write-in. Under the assumption that the Christiecrat would vote correctly at least part of the time while the Republican would hardly ever vote correctly, this is satisfactory but not satisfying.

But the important thing is to vote.

The political landscape is littered with elections where Progressive Democrats stayed home and we are now stuck with the likes of Chris Christie and Jon Runyan. Maybe we didn’t fully embrace Jon Corzine and the late John Adler, but we would be better served if those two men had been elected.

Lest you think I’m a partisan hack, I am not advocating voting for every Democrat over any Republican. Don’t just vote straight party line. Learn about the candidates from both sides, and make an informed choice.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had significant dialog with many of the legislative candidates from both parties. There are Republicans out there who are independent thinkers and don’t toe the Christie line – at least now. Whether they will do so if and when they are elected remains to be seen. But I have advocated for some of the Republicans to friends and colleagues because I believe that supporting a moderate Republican over an ineffective Democrat nudges the political balance ever so slightly to the left. That can only help the Democratic Party.

So while the fancy meal analogy is not perfect, starving the Democrats will do more harm than good. Sometimes the lesser of two evils is the best we can do in a two party system. Enjoy the pasta!

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