Monday, January 30, 2012

The Lesser of Two Evils

Is a false dilemma.

Seeing as this is an election year and the Republicans are campaigning in high gear I have been hearing this one a lot. It doesn't seem to me that any of the Republicans are really happy with the candidates we have this year, but most everyone I've talked to has said they will vote for the Republican candidate regardless because he has to be better than Obama.

Now, when our political system is incapable of offering candidates whom we can support, that seems to me a good time to examine the system that produced those candidates. So what is it about our system that renders it incapable of producing statesmen? I see two great problems with the system, the first moral and the second political.

I. The Moral Tragedy

It is morally tragic whenever a citizen's choice is between two wrongdoers. That is, whenever a citizen is forced to chose between two trimmers. A trimmer, according to the dictionary, is "One who changes one's opinions, especially in politics, to suit the needs of the moment." Trimmers are what we are often referring to when discussing "the lesser of two evils." For example, it seems pretty clear to me that Obama is more sincere than either Gingrich or Romney, though he is on the opposite side of the isle. Obama however, is clearly a trimmer when it comes to such issues as gay rights and the second amendment. Despite his campaign promises he as done very little advance his cause in either category because it is not politically expedient.

A trimmer compromises his conscious in order to gain greater voter appeal. He sacrifices integrity for reelection. Such a person cannot be make right decisions, he can only make popular ones. Can we really expect a man who will trim for a few votes to gain power, once having a acquired that power, to make the right decision? Is his morality based on how much he thinks others will benefit by having him in power? That sounds a lot like a dictator to me.

Is trimming comparative? Can we say that it is right to vote for the person who trims less? Principles will not bend. A lie told to one person is the same as a lie told to one million people. It follows that someone who is consistently willing to bend their principles cannot be said to have any. If the choice is between a politician that trims a lot and a politician that trims a little the choice is really between two liars.

Of course this goes both ways. The reason we are offered trimmers over and over again is because we vote for trimmers over and over again. In a government such as ours we are assured only that we have a government "of the people, by the people and for the people." Not that such a government is morally right. Our choices in rulers is as much the fault of civic irresponsibility on the part of the electorate as it is the fault of the politicians themselves.

To repeat, a choice between two men devoid of integrity is tragic, and there is little relief except what men of integrity can be encouraged to run by voters of integrity. Is this impractical idealism? Hardly, Edmund Burke, one of the greatest statesmen of all time, said this:

But his [the candidate's] unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

II. The Political Fallacy

Were you a citizen of Spain in 1936, who would you have fought for? The Nazis or the Communists? The lessor of two evils in such a case is clearly a false dilemma. The only moral choice then is not to chose, or rather to chose to support neither party. Two extreme an example? Candidate A supports higher taxes on groups X, Y and Z and giving the money to groups A, B, and C. Candidate B supports higher taxes on groups A, B, and C and giving the money to groups X, Y and Z. In such a situation which candidate is morally superior? The one who wants to rob from the groups you dislike and give to the groups you favor?

III. The Solution

What is one to do in such a situation? Protest. Protest peaceably with your vote. If there is no candidate whom you can support then support no candidate. Imagine if this happened on a massive scale. Say tens of millions of voters adopted the policy don't vote for a trimmer. What would happen? Sure nothing would change overnight, but once people took notice we would see candidates of integrity run for office. When such candidates received significant and growing support the two parties would have to offer candidates with integrity.

Even if said candidates didn't agree with you, integrity doesn't mean that they are right of course, this would still be preferable to trimmers because men of integrity can be taught, as they are concerned about doing the right thing. Such men will listen to solid arguments about what is right, instead of just the latest poll. Don't underestimate the threat of tyranny by the majority.  Remember Mel Gibson's character in The Patriot? "Why should I trade one tyrant 2000 miles away for 2000 tyrants 1 mile away?"

If we are to be responsible citizens, we must re-examine our own ideas and beliefs on a constant basis. It may be that with such examination we will come to the conclusion that good citizenship does not demand that we vote for the "lesser of two evils." We may even find that in fact the exact opposite is demanded. At the very least, the idea deserves thoughtful consideration.

The ideas in this post were heavily influenced by this essay at

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