In one of his recent cyber-sermonettes, titled The Mystery Continues—A Tale of Two Poles, Bernard Goldberg wrote this:
What I find troubling is that the election will come down to those who are still undecided. You know, the people who will get plenty of face time on television telling us how torn they are. Be assured that no journalist will report an indisputable fact: that these undecided will never be confused with anyone smart. [...] If you like Obama, fine. If you like Romney, fine. But anyone who can’t decide between two very different candidates at this late date should not be allowed to vote.
Even though “this late date” has advanced by yet another three months and change since the above words were published, I still happen to be as undecided as they come. So according to Bernie’s bag of indisputable facts, I’ll never be confused with anyone smart, and I shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Bernie and his undecided-bashing ilk (both on the right and on the left) will therefore be delighted to hear that I hadn’t planned on voting anyway, albeit for unrelated reasons, which my benighted self has elaborated on in a previous post.
(In short, I believe that the whole point having electors is that those electors, as opposed to the general public, are to elect the president. Otherwise, why call them electors if they’re not meant to do any genuine electing? Ergo, in the absence of a constitutional amendment to set forth a popular vote for president, I interpret the Constitution—which, unlike most natural-born U.S. citizens, I’ve actually taken an oath to support and defend—to say that the people have no business electing any federal officials except the members of the House and, following the adoption of the 17th Amendment in 1913, the Senate.)
Those unrelated reasons aside, fence-sitting ignoramus that I am, I of course subscribe to the thesis that indecision might actually signify intelligence rather than dullardry, and that the overbearing certitude on display by those who sneer at us undecided could well be a symptom of the kind of hubris that generally attends (a) overestimating one’s grasp of individual issues as well as one’s ability to put those issues in proper context with each other and (b) mistaking feeling strongly about certain issues with having a clue.
Granted, he who hesitates may be lost. On the bright side, he who hesitates may simply be mindful that the process of arriving at a truly informed decision in a world as complex as the one we live in—a world beset by a range of vexing problems in areas as diverse as economy (both global and domestic), environment, energy, and foreign policy; each single area of which requires full-time study and immersion to master, let alone to master all of them as one would have to do in order to get a good sense of how they interact with each other and be able to devise meaningful solutions without playing whack-a-mole (i.e., solving one problem over here by creating another over there)—requires a lot more homework than casually consuming the news the way most of us do and harboring passionate views on a handful of personal pet issues such as Obamacare (a term heretofore considered derisive but that the president now uses himself and has publicly acknowledged to be “fond of”), gay marriage, and a nuclear Iran.
Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, having an opinion on three or four favorite issues while remaining oblivious or indifferent to 15 others doesn’t make an informed voter. With all due respect.
So Bernard Goldberg says that anyone who can’t decide between those two very different candidates should not be allowed to vote.
First of all, it strikes my as far from clear just how different those two—or any two—candidates actually are. Minus bombastic campaign rhetoric designed to securing votes by way of pleasing their respective choirs—after all, it is “useless to hold a person to anything he says while he’s in love, drunk, or running for office,” as some perspicacious individual has pointed out—and minus perhaps a couple of areas where the contestants may genuinely differ in their takes on some issues as evidenced by their words, actions, and voting records prior to embarking on the campaign trail, chances are that once in office, for the most part they’ll be doing the bidding of the powers that be, i.e., the lobbyists with deepest corporate pockets, so in practice it may not matter too much whether Obama, Romney, or Snookie inhabits the Oval Office. (Call me cynical.)
Moreover, keep in mind that after a new president has been elected, the president-elect receives a comprehensive briefing by the outgoing commander-in-chief, at which time the newbie is introduced to reams of classified information he hadn’t been privy to while running for office, and this information will likely cast a new light on quite a few issues, compelling some serious adjustments of position with regard to those.
Recall, for instance, that in his 2008 orations on the stump, candidate Obama kept vowing to close the prison at Guantanamo, which, as far as I know, is open to this day. Most likely, during his subsequent briefing with the outgoing George W. Bush, President-elect Obama was given a few novel pieces of information in light of which the speedy closing of Guantanamo suddenly seemed much less ingenious a move than it may have appeared just a few days earlier in the comfy ignorance of that information.
So given that sans access to classified materials not even the person running for president knows everything they’d need to know in order to put forth fully informed policy proposals, how on earth am I, the average voter, supposed to figure out what needs to be done and how to do it?
Sure, I can always go by how I feel about Guantanamo or taxing the rich or climate change, and then simply vote for whichever candidate’s rhetoric most closely echos my personal sentiments regarding a limited range of hot-button issues. That’s relatively easy.
However, in order to arrive at anything approaching an informed decision on a complicated issue such as, say, whether hiking taxes on the wealthy would ultimately result in an increase or a decrease of government revenue, I’d have knuckle down and bone up on economics at a level that, frankly, I haven’t taken the time and effort to do—a kind of work which, I suspect, most of the oh-so-decided voters haven’t put in, either.
So yes, even assuming that those two candidates are indeed as “very different” as Bernie Goldberg suggests, just because two individuals, philosophies, and approaches to solving various problems are very different doesn’t, in and of itself, say anything about which one is better for the country and the world, especially in the long run.
In the end, it seems that the undecided know what they don’t know, that is, are more acutely aware of the gaps in their knowledge; whereas the decided are bursting with confidence that they know enough and have it all figured out.
Frankly, dear Bernie, with respect to who should and shouldn’t be allowed to vote on I.Q. grounds, on balance I’m a trifle more worried about the latter group than I am about the former.
Tags: Campaign 2012