A Choice, Not an Echo

Spoiler alert! This post will disclose my political affiliation, not that I believe most long term readers will find it a surprise.

I grew up as a Democrat. My first vote was in the Presidential election of 1976. I was a registered Democrat and had spent the summer working in the office of a Democratic Congressman. I actually met candidate Jimmy Carter in my office building on Capitol Hill. But that fall I cast my vote for Republican Gerald Ford, and against the candidate of my own party. I thought Jimmy Carter was a fool, and his foreign policy positions a collection of self-righteous platitudes.

Events proved me correct. Carter won the 1976 election, announced that the United States was “at long last free of our unreasoning fear of Communism” and then pronounced himself astonished at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. At that point in Carter’s single Presidential term, I switched parties. By 1980, I was a Republican, because it was the party of free trade, a strong military, and robust leadership in the international struggle against totalitarian Communism.

In the 1990s, I watched as the Democratic Party tied its fortunes firmly to the coattails of the Clintons, nominating for President in 1992 and then re-nominating in 1996 a man who was clearly a sexual predator, who abused his office to suppress legal scrutiny, whose campaign took money from foreign interests including the Chinese military, and who lied carelessly and deliberately about both issues of public policy and personal transgressions. Since their Arkansas days, the Clintons have been unable to differentiate their personal political, financial, and legal interests from those of the nation. Indeed, by using the Clinton Global Foundation as a personal piggy bank, they have conflated their personal finances with those of global progress itself.

In the 1990s, I gave meaningful dollars to the Republican Party. I attended both the 1996 and 2000 conventions. I’ve met the last three Republican Presidents, all but one of the last four Vice Presidents, even every failed Republican candidate for President except Mitt Romney. Heck, my oldest child’s middle name is Reagan. So an election between any Republican nominee and Hillary Clinton should be a slam dunk decision for me. Easy and obvious.

Except it’s not. In 1996, I said the Democrats had made a deal with the Devil in re-nominating Bill Clinton, definitively decoupling the Democratic Party’s fortunes from historically progressive principles–that public service is a higher calling, requiring the highest standards of integrity to command the nation’s allegiance to our shared purposes.

Now the Republicans have done the same thing.

Donald Trump, like Bill Clinton before him, and like Hillary Clinton today, has personal qualities that clearly disqualify him from holding high office. He is an habitual liar. He is a gross, childish bully. He has been entirely unprincipled, both in his past business dealings and in his recent political campaign. He is less intelligent than any other major party Presidential candidate of at least the last half century. He has less impulse control than the typical adolescent male, and he appears to be impervious to advice, instruction, or any form of self-correction. And at age 70, none of this is remotely likely to change.

I spent the first year of Trump’s campaign in denial that he could secure the nomination. And then got stuck there, as he won primary after primary and walked out of Cleveland as the standard bearer of my party. Like so many of my conservative friends, I’ve been confused and conflicted about what to do. Time and again, I’ve watched Trump give another speech, or lead another rally, hoping against hope that he’ll somehow rise to the occasion, always disappointed.

It might be tempting to overlook Trump’s character flaws if he was sound on policy. After all, Lyndon Johnson was one mean SOB. Richard Nixon was a paranoid tough guy, surrounded by similarly ruthless partisans. FDR and John Kennedy were both notorious philanderers. If being a nice guy was the criteria for occupying the White House, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush would be among the great Presidents.

But Trump’s policy positions are a confusing and incoherent mash-up. The defining principles of Republican domestic policy since Reagan has been an informed skepticism about the effectiveness of larger government, coupled with an understanding of the Constitutional limits on executive power. There is no indication that Trump even understands that we have a Constitution, and every indication that he believes the President has the same kind of autocratic power as the owner of a non-public company.

On foreign policy, Trump is a protectionist and a quasi-isolationist. He has aligned himself with Vladimir Putin, who has stolen tens of billions from the Russian treasury, murdered hundreds of journalists within Russia, assassinated his political opponents overseas, and invaded two neighboring countries. Putin has been clear about his desire to revive the Cold War, and his belief that the United States remains Russia’s principal enemy.

Trump is not qualified to be President.

I remember when the racist David Duke secured the Republican nomination for governor of Louisiana, and the national Republican party endorsed the candidacy of corrupt Democratic Governor Edwin Edwards, launching the slogan, “Do the right thing. Vote for the crook.” Edwards won, and later went to prison.

I’ve always said that I am a Republican third, a conservative second, and an American first. So must I vote for the crook, Hillary Clinton, to keep The Donald’s hands off the nuclear codes?

After months of struggle, I have decided that rejection of Trump in no wise justifies a vote for Hillary Clinton, an individual herself disqualified on personal character criteria from the Presidency, even if I agreed with her policies (whatever they actually turn out to be), which I do not. (I will note in passing that Hillary Clinton is smart, very hard-working, and supremely disciplined, all fine qualities. Plus it would actually be nice to see a woman occupy the highest elected office. Just not this one.)

Fortunately, the range of possible choices does not stop with two lying, unprincipled, self-centered, super-rich liberals from New York.

For the first time in my adult life, I will be supporting someone other than the Republican nominee for President. I will vote for the Libertarian candidates, Gary Johnson and William Weld, for President and Vice President. As soon as I get a chance, I plan to put a Johnson-Weld sign on my lawn.

For all of my conservative friends still struggling with the Hobson’s choice of Clinton or Trump, let me offer you some hope.  Once I made my choice, my despair and confusion vanished, replaced with relief, optimism, and even excitement. I believe this is much more than a lesser-of-three-evils choice or protest vote. It is, at a minimum, a vital next step in an overdue national conversation. More on this later.

On this post, more than any other I’ve ever written, I’d welcome your comments.

7 thoughts on “A Choice, Not an Echo

  1. Jim, my position right now is the same as Charlie’s. I don’t want to do anything that could possibly help Trump win & so would have to also go with the “lesser of 2 evils” vote. IT’s a shame voters have been put in that position. The only situation where I would go with a 3rd party or write in vote would be if Clinton has such a large lead that she can’t possible lose.

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  2. Deciding who to vote for is a wierd game. Nobody has ever won or lost by one vote, which suggests that the main importance of your vote is what you get to say when explaining it. The idea of a significant defection from both parties to send them a message (which will worry them but about which they can probably do nothing) is appealing.

    But let me cut to at least one of the chases. Between Hillary and The Donald, who would you prefer to see as president? This, I think, is a significant and reasonable question of a blogger who blogs his vote and why.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I’d rather Hillary, given that choice. I understand that there are others who choose the other evil, and that’s what makes it a race.

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    • I’ve observed the Clintons for more than thirty years, and I simply can’t cast a vote for Hillary under any circumstances. Nor can I vote for The Donald, even though I understand that Hillary’s election assures two to four Supreme Court justices who will shred the Constitution as I understand it.

      Here’s the closest I can come to the gun-to-my-head answer you are looking for. I think Hillary is a simply awful human being, who together with her husband has constructed the biggest influence-peddling scheme in American history. If she is elected, we are a banana republic. The fact that she got the Democratic nomination is unfathomable. Bad Hillary, bad bad. And she is a sane, smart adult.

      Trump is an equally bad person in many of the same ways, plus a variety of others almost unique to himself. The fact that this joker, who has no idea of what the Constitution says or means, secured the Republican nomination is physically painful to me, right in my gut. Literally, I’m taking antacids. Bad Trump, bad bad mean bad. And he is also an immature, unstable, and stupid bully.

      I would prefer not to have the world that my wife, kids and I all live in blown up because of anyone’s erratic temperament. That too is a literal statement. The President controls the nuclear codes, without formal oversight or limitation.

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  3. Several Republican friends are really angry with me: “You know you are going to elect Hillary.” Not that simple, IMHO. A Trump victory might come along with a Democratic Senate. Americans usually prefer divided government. Probably even more so with either Clinton or Trump in the White House. And can you imagine the likely anti-Trump backlash in 2018?

    I know several people who have made similar choices for Johnson/Weld. Maybe I’m over-optimistic, but the majority of voters are now unaffiliated with either major party. Perot got 20% in ’92, against two much more popular alternatives, when independents were less than 30%.

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  4. Hi Jim. I appreciate your sentiments and agree with the disappointing lack of viable choice in this election (I don’t mind saying that I voted for Kasich in the Oregon republican primary – even though he had no chance). I do come to a different conclusion than yours at this point, however. I feel that the “evils” of Hillary pale in comparison to the dangers of Trump. And I worry (given our two party system) that a vote for any third party candidate is a “protest” vote that adds to the possibility of Trump being elected. And since I feel that Trump is so much worse than Clinton, I will be voting for Hillary this fall. My thoughts – for what it’s worth. Hope all is well with your family. Charlie

    A Charles Hoffmeister MD

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