Of course, for purposes of the thought experiment, I could crank the stakes up even higher: Suppose Romney would start a war that killed a million people.
Or 10 million. Or suppose he would go nuts and nuke half the world or the whole world. Is there any point at which you'd concede that casting a
vote that increases the chances of a Romney victory is the wrong thing to do? If you'd rather see half the human species extinguished than vote for someone
with a low regard for civil liberties and a high regard for drone strikes, just say so. But if you wouldn't, then it seems to me you're admitting that,
actually, you've got a bit of consequentialist in you -- that your "dealbreakers" aren't really absolute, unconditional dealbreakers.
By the way, the reason I started out with relatively small stakes -- only 100,000 dead -- before moving up to a million and beyond is that when the
number is 100,000, this isn't a mere thought experiment. In 2000, a bunch of voters on the left decided that Al Gore's likely policies included some "dealbreakers," so they voted for Ralph Nader. That's why George Bush became president. Bush then started a war that Gore probably wouldn't have started, and as
a result at least 100,000 people died, and the international arena was inflamed in a way that gave his successor a rationale to (unwisely, but fairly
predictably) conduct lots of drone strikes and disregard civil liberties. So my "thought experiment" is very much a real-world scenario -- way more plausible
than the average philosophical thought experiment.
Obviously, there is no way of knowing for sure what the consequences of a Romney or Obama presidency will be. But I'm convinced (for reasons I will spell
out in a later piece) that Romney is more likely to get us involved in a war with Iran than Obama is. And I don't think the fact that I'm just talking
about a likelihood, not a certainty, invalidates my argument. (Obviously, we're never sure what any president will do, so if probabilistic assessment isn't
a valid basis for voting behavior, I guess I shouldn't vote at all.)
So here's what I'd ask of Friedersdorf: Either (1) say that you'd rather see half the human population die than cast an unprincipled vote for a drone striking
civil liberties disregarder; or (2) say that, actually, yes, the consequences of our choices are part of the moral calculus that should inform them. If my
thought experiment is the inescapable trap that I hope it is, you have to do one or the other.
Now back to Friedersdorf's thought experiment: Would I vote for a closet racist if the alternative was to vote for someone who, in practical terms, would be even
worse? Well, I don't live in a swing state, and, anyway, when was the last time a swing state's electoral votes were decided by a single vote? So if I were
faced with that choice I'd probably stay home on election day and use the guaranteed insignificance of my vote as an excuse.
But if we assume -- as I think we should for purposes of these thought experiments -- that my vote would actually make a difference, then, yes, I'd vote for a
closet racist rather than vote for someone who, in practical terms, was even worse (certainly including someone who wasn't racist but who out of political
expediency would support policies more racist than the closet racist's policies).
Now over to Friedersdorf.