No Love for the Undecideds

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I don't plan to drag this out indefinitely, but a very large number of readers are unimpressed with the rationales others have offered for not knowing how to vote this year. Background:
     - I marveled that people who were paying attention could be still be "undecided" at this point. Whichever side you're on, this is a clear choice. I can't imagine what else you'd need to know. See SNL.
    - Several undecided readers wrote in to say: Wait a minute! We have good reasons.
    - Now many people beg to differ. A sample.

From someone in Canada:

Reading the comments of the two undecided voters I was appalled by the lack of reasonable assessment either gave to the question...

A couple of quick assessments: The assessment "fiscal conservative" is granted the Republicans against twelve years of evidence to the contrary. Simply an utter lack of any thoughtful rigour.

Obama couldn't get done what he said he would, therefore his fault? Really, that's what they both said. One of these people actually said they are in the field of political science. Well I am not and I can read the paper/internet news - I am stunned that her assessment is disappointment at what Obama was NOT able to achieve (if you are disappointed now, wait for Christmas under your stocking).

I rarely comment on the hundreds of articles I read, I generally feel I have little more or original to contribute than what I read already but I am stunned that these people (and the many others I have been reading about) represent that hallowed middle ground of the so-called independent voter, the swing voter, the undecided. Voting on a whim in one case, in the other, voting but discarding the value of that vote in some sort of whimsical notion of protest. 

This election should not be close, Romney and Ryan should not be even in the running to run your great country, a finger on the trigger, the power to start another war, strip millions of their safety net, their rights, their American Dream.

It should not be close, that it is is a phenomenon of what?? I don't know. There are so many Americans who are builders, creators, thoughtful and engaged and yet it is close, that is simply unbelievable.

From someone in Vermont who used to live in Massachusetts:

You might want to point out to your undecided voters who think "Moderate Mitt" will be able to work with Congressional Democrats that while he was governor, he issued a spectacular 700-some vetoes, most of which were immediately overridden by the Democratic legislature.

As far as I remember, "Romney care" was the only significant thing he was able to find common ground with Democrats on, and that because health care was breaking the bank in the state and the Dems. had long passionately wanted to do something about universal health care.

Another reader:

I'm a bit surprised that you didn't call out the male reader who said the following:
"For example, I'm fiscally conservative, but socially liberal.  So my quandary is choosing which set of policies are more important to me, and to the country, this time around."
Gee, I really have to wonder: what did your reader mean by fiscally conservative? Because by the traditional definition, there are none left in the GOP: it's just tax cut mania and Wanniski-ism piled upon tax cut mania and Wanniski-ism, and a big show of lip service to the deficit. Meanwhile PAYGO is on nobody's radar, not in the GOP anyway. If your reader is truly a fiscal conservative, I don't see how voting for Romney makes any sense at all.

Similarly:

Sorry, but this grates.
"For example, I'm fiscally conservative, but socially liberal."
For my own amusement, sometimes when I meet new people I try out "well, I'm socially conservative but fiscally liberal." I feel a little bad picking on this guy, but how can an "engaged" political observer still associate the GOP with sound budgeting? Am I just so deeply buried in a liberal bubble that it's obvious to me that wars, tax cuts, and lousy healthcare reform have comprise the bulk of our debt?

Anyway, I only wrote you about it because letting such a common misconception like this stand, without any annotation, seemed like its own kind of false equivalence.

From the Southwest:

Your first writer says he doesn't align neatly along "usual ideological lines". Does he really think the rest of us do? Everybody has differences with the "ideological lines", falling to one side or the other depending on the issue. But that doesn't stop us from making up our minds, especially when the differences are so stark.

As to his effectiveness argument, this is simply bizarre. Is he suggesting that he would rather vote of a candidate who is effective in implementing policies he doesn't support over one who is less effective, but advocates policies he does like? ...

As to the second writer, if she's a political science instructor, God help her students. You would think someone claiming such credentials would understand that she can either vote for one of the choices on the ballot, or not vote at all.

If she doesn't vote, she has no impact on the system other than to show the level of citizen disinterest which has never had any impact and can be interpreted any of a number of ways. She can vote for a minor party candidate and be sure that this person will not be elected. She can have a faint hope that this "protest vote" will somehow register and influence the system.

I'm not a poli-sci instructor, but having watched elections for about 50 years, I haven't seen too much lasting impact from third-party candidates. So that brings us to the remaining two candidates. Consider the Obama policies she singles out for dissatisfaction - drone strikes, sluggish economic recovery, and watered down health care. On two out of three of these Romney has pledged to be even more aggressive in the direction she finds offensive, promising to repeal Obamacare on "Day 1", and rattling his saber in the same sort of chicken-hawk way that neo-cons of 2000 took us to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I suppose you could argue there's a little more ambiguity about what Romney would do to improve economic recovery, but if you are to believe what he actually says, it's the same tired combination of tax cuts and austerity. We have lots of empirical evidence that tax cuts won't help the recovery and won't reduce the deficit, and Europe, with all it's austerity programs, lags the US in recovery, however sluggish ours may be.

No, I don't think these correspondents do much to make the case that they are being maligned as lazy thinkers. [JF note: This illustrates a reason I don't use readers' real names: less concern about one offending another.]

And:

The next President will in all likelihood get to make one or two Supreme Court appointments during his term.  Granted, whether the President is a D or R may determine which sitting justices decide to retire and the President will replace "like" with "like."  But most of them are old enough that any one of them could be required to leave the bench due to illness and/or sudden death, Those "unplanned" replacements could shift the balance in the Court and that shift will be with us long past the tenure of the President who creates it.

My father, age 91 and a lifelong D, has said that he'd consider voting for Romney save for the fact that he's concerned about who his Supreme Court appointments would be!

And:

The undecided voter who said she would either vote for Obama or not vote is not an undecided voter! In campaign terminology she's a GOTV [Get Out the Vote] target, not a persuasion target. Her reasons for thinking about staying home on November 6th suggest that she is disappointed in President Obama, not that she can't pick between the two candidates. This is a perfect example of how in our polarized nation the composition of the electorate is a bigger factor in election outcomes than the movement of so-called independents in one direction or the other.

From California, a different kind of undecidedness:

For me, I am "undecided" in the sense of that I am torn about voting for Barack Obama. I do not approve of a number of his Administration's actions, such as trying and convicting child soldier Omar Khadr; drone strikes without challenging the consensus of requiring military action to undermine al Qaeda; the alleged treatment of Bradley Manning during his prolonged detention without progress on his trial; the deplorable conditions within Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo (I understand why it still exists); its war on transparent government by punishing whistleblowers; and its general failure to push back against the inertia of the national security bureaucracy.

But. I will NOT vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. They represent an ideology I find repellent at a visceral level. So, do I vote for Jill Stein, or Barack Obama? As a California voter, I certainly have the luxury of pulling the lever for Stein. But. Isn't that a cop-out? The arguments of Conor Friedersdorf aside, voting for the lesser of two evils in a de facto two-party system is the most important pragmatic decision a voter can make if they aren't going to put in the hard work of promoting third parties to viable levels (or if they haven't been successful in their reform yet).

Just because I have the luxury of making myself feel more ethically comfortable, should I? I would rather have a quarter of the progress and reform I feel necessary from a president I feel is a decent, if at times misguided, man, rather than nothing from a person I hold in utter contempt.

Similarly:

I thoroughly understand the point of view of the undecided voter who supported Obama but doubts his ability to get things done. I'm in a similar situation, although for me the question is, do I vote for Obama, or do I vote for Gary Johnson.

Where I part ways with your correspondant is this: one of the big reasons that Obama hasn't been able to get things done is that the Republican party, shorn of moderates and unwilling to compromise, has stonewalled him. To me, voting for Romney would be *rewarding* that behavior; it would be saying, ok, go ahead and refuse to compromise, because if you do, I'll reward you with more power.

I think that would be insane.

On the other hand, with a few exceptions, I've been highly disappointed in Obama, and I don't particularly want to vote for him. So I'm wavering between a vote for Johnson - a pure protest vote, as it were - and a vote for a President who has seriously disappointed me, on the grounds that his strongest opposition must on no account be allowed into office.

There are a lot more, but that gives you the feel. Main lesson: make up your mind, and vote.
__
I will soon disappear into China, and off the grid, for a week, including the time of the next Obama-Romney debate. Will try to do one more Tom Jobim wrap-up beforehand, then back in touch in a week.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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