Voting: Keep It Simple

If I knew nothing else about this election or recent history, I’d vote for Bush based solely on who his enemies are. The anti-Bush roster includes: the international Left — including MSM, academia and much of the entertainment industry; the governments of France, Iran, Germany, Venezuela, Canada, Cuba, N. Korea, Syria, etc.; the Palestinians; probably the Saudis and the Chinese; the UN; the US State Department bureaucracy; and numerous intellectuals who have been getting the big picture wrong for years.

When you think about it that’s not a bad way to make complex decisions: look at what the groups that have big stakes in the matter are doing, then vote with the ones that share your interests and against the rest. That’s how I vote on issues I don’t know a lot about. For example, on a referendum item that would cap lawyers’ fees in medical-liability cases, I am split. On the one hand I think medical liability is out of control, on the other hand I oppose price fixing. But I know that the trial lawyers favor the measure and the doctors oppose it, so I vote against.

All I need to know about this election is that the UN crowd wants Kerry to win. (As the WSJ pointed out in today’s editorial, the UN has already voted, by ginning up the missing-explosives story.) So to all the clever bloggers who are publicly agonizing about whom to vote for, I say, look at the obvious. Figure out who your enemies are, observe their preferences in our election and take the opposite position.

UPDATE: One of the commenters raises the issue of rational ignorance. I agree that that issue overlaps the issue that I discuss, as my main reason for using my “enemy of my enemy” heuristic is that I don’t have the resources or ability to evaluate each issue by myself. However, the overlap isn’t complete. I argue that by observing the behavior of better-informed players I am able to obtain, more economically than by conventional methods, the information that I need to make good decisions. It is a little like trading stocks based on market behavior, as opposed to trading on fundamental analysis of underlying economic conditions. Maybe I could learn enough about each company’s fundamentals to trade its stock successfully. But if I can trade just as well, with less effort, solely by observing the stock’s behavior and making reasonable inferences, why not do so? It is similar with voting decisions, especially when I am having difficulty making up my mind using conventional decision criteria.

UPDATE 2: Here’s someone who gets it.

24 thoughts on “Voting: Keep It Simple”

  1. I believe that there are papers by McKelvey which make this point about voting and rational ignorance.

    You can get surprisingly accurate results just by knowing what your neighbors think of a candidate.

  2. Jonathan, this seems perceptive and true. It is, as you observe, less that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” than, if we are coherent, we work from some gut level big ideas – for instance, about nature and nurture, about human nature – and some gut level emotions – our feelings about our family, our place, our nation; feelings about our religion. Then, we don’t need to know much about someone to know whether the cluster of his ideas are likely to be the same as ours. Trial lawyers work on certain assumptions that some of us don’t share about the purpose of the judicial system, the purpose of the law. Palestinians work on assumptions we find. well, inadequate seems one way of putting it; deeply wrong might be another way.

    I love diversity of experience and thought – but I love it because it always seems, at least to me (my assumption) to affirm certain univesals of experience. Sullivan saddens me because, in some ways, he has become a cliche. He wasn’t before. But he clearly feels he has loyalties to two different “clusters” and confused universals. For instance, he seems unwilling to make allowances for how important biology is to heterosexuals (the importance they place on children as defining much about marriage), though he values biology in arguing about the nature of homosexuality.

    Perhaps it is a lack of coherence in my feelings/ideas, but I’ve found myself drawn to different clusters in the last five years. I used to be an NPR-listening, New Yorker-reading person. I didn’t listen as closely as I now do, but I enjoyed much that I still recognize as good about that cluster. It was witty, allusive, knowing.

    But I think after 9/11 some of us began to feel our red state roots. These cut through what we had found somewhat attractive to what we felt was essential, the core of our beliefs. And, at least for me, I came home to where I’d always felt comfortable. But that comfort level wasn’t fear or unconscous cocooning, it was defining the world in a rather proud and self-reliant way, a way in sync with assumptions I’d probably always had at base. This was reinforced by the fact that, back in an academic job, I was teaching American Lit and loving our tradition. And part of my cluster is that I trust those that love it and distrust those cynics who dis it. (Doubting, criticism, heroes with clay feet – yes, that is part of being human, being American. But dissing it in broad and general terms, that I can’t identify with – nor see as very intelligent.)

    And I returned having learned something from being out of the academic life, from running a business, from having children. And at bottom, I realize that during those long years, with NPR in the background and years of academic party chatter, I was storing away experiences that kept proving, over and over, that another cluster was, well, more true (at least more true to what I felt and thought – I suspect just more true).

    And so, the man who tried to unify us in that cathedral a few days after 9/11, the man who chose to spend Thanksgiving dinner away from his family fits my set of values and the man who thinks any old form of government is fine, who dissed his comrades, doesn’t fit my beliefs. These are little things, but one of them is likely to not show up for Senate meetings on intelligence after the first trade center bombing and the other is going to notice, when he comes into office, that we are spending a lot of time and money (and still not rescuing the victim of Hussein) by flying daily sortis over Iraq; he’s going to notice that the UN isn’t doing its job. And that farmgirl work ethic leads to disdain for the one and not the other.

    Yes, clusters appear. Faculty that teaches one class a semester and give walks may identify with Kerry; those of us that once ran small businesses, well, we undertand Bush. And we respect him.

  3. Ginny

    I have Children, a business, I traveled a lot, was in Lebanon with the Army in 1983 and… will not vote Bush. I did vote for him in 2000 because at the time he was talking about the values I cherish. But today he is certainly not the man we need. Being macho and stuborn is maybe good for those of Red states but not for the future of this country.
    He represents OLD AMERICA, not the dynamic one of the 21st century.

  4. Peter, Kerry represents declining America, the failed policies of the 70s. And he’s a commie sympathizer, appeaser and traitor to boot.

    Besides, I really don’t care what a french waiter thinks of me, never did.

  5. I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
    bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

    Love your enemies and do good to them, … your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

  6. Peter,

    I wonder if you are one of those who never learns form experience. What is irrational about the experiences of the Vietnamese boat people and the ones who were sent to re-education camps or the Cambodians under Pol Pot? Have you forgotten them?

    I also wonder about irrational fear because if I had been on time for work on 9/11 I would have been under the WTC about the time the planes crashed into them. Have you forgotten the people who were killed there?

    You sound like one of those Kerry supporters who “hope” he will continue the war in Iraq to found a democracy and feel that he will be forced to do so. On that basis of “hoping” that a man who has made a career of appeasing the enemy and not supporting the military and the intelligence communities will suddenly receive a flash revelation and immediately turn into a super-her who will bring peace to the world, get all our anti-American allies (who have been anti-American since the days of JFK – the real one – and are not likely to change now) to love us again, cut taxes for the middle class, tax the rich, solve the medical problem and in his spare time turn lead into gold. Ain’t gonna happen and if you think he will do this, you are seriously deluded. The man has no executive experience at all and has been a follower all his life. How is he suddenly gonna develop these skills and hold the biggest job in the world today at the same time? Get real!!

  7. Thanks Jonathan for Baker. And I’m sorry I got off-point, but it was a relief to rant.

    And, all I can say is that I hope Bush’s vision wins – even if he doesn’t. Because Peter is wrong; it is those arrayed against Bush that are Old America – or at least what was often wrong about the last century; as Baker puts it, “This constellation of individuals, parties and institutions has very little in common other than the fact that it has contrived to be wrong on just about every important issue of my adult lifetime.” My kids’ generation will make enough new mistakes, I’d rather they didn’t make the old ones.

  8. Anonymous, where in scripture does it say that we should be passive towards wicked enemies? Do we not have a moral duty to defend ourselves?

    Ginny, I agree with you. Bush has the most radical view of any president since Wilson. But unlike Wilson he has a reasonable plan to achieve his goals. Kerry might surprise us and rise to the occasion, but I fear he would be more likely to revert to type and revive the failed policies of the past. That’s what the people voting for him want, isn’t it?

  9. Did Jesus violently defend himself against his enemies? Did any of the apostles? Paul did when he was Saul yet renounced violence as a means to an end when he accepted the way of Jesus. He used the Word of God, the truth, but he did not kill others to impose his will nor to liberate them. Doing good to those who hate you is far from being passive. It is more demanding than any military indoctrination. Gandhi never picked up a gun yet he transformed a nation. Martin Luther King never returned violence when he met terrorist violence, while others did yet he transformed a nation. Francis of Assisi could have returned to the Crusades. Instead he embraced the God of Peace and sought peace through a more just way of living.

  10. Anonymous, what about self-defense? And what about the Christian doctrine of just war?

    You seem to oppose all violence. You cite as examples people like Gandhi who used nonviolent political methods against relatively humane governments to achieve their goals. The problem with your analysis is that it ignores the Gandhis who attempted nonviolence against Stalin and Hitler. We don’t hear much about these Gandhis because they were all killed — their nonviolent methods made their reformism ineffective. Why is it morally better to allow oneself to be killed, than to resist and have a chance of preserving one’s own life and the lives of others? Are we not obligated to protect the weak and innocent, and how can we do so if we forswear all violence?

  11. Telling Hitler about India and Gandhi, Hitler told the British ambassador “Shoot Gandhi!” And if that doesn’t work shoot 100 of his followers, then 200, and so on. Time and place anonymous, time and place for everything. Gandhi was successful because the British were inherently reasonable. You can’t reason with people who want you dead.

  12. Hmmm, subscribing to both the new and old biblical texts I may be a retrograde Christian (we call ourselves Christ – ians, afterall) but to both I do subscribe.

    Now where did I put that ass’s jawbone?

  13. gandhi was not anti-violence. have you ever read anything about gandhi? he did support violence in certain situations. not only that, in world war I, he encouraged the indians to fight with the british instead of causing problems for them, in hopes that it would pay off for their movement politically.

    not only that, but other people in india definitely DID resort to violence, subhas chandra bose and the indian national army, bhagat singh and his friends, etc.

    the other thing to remember is that the indians were dealing with the british, the most civilized colonial power ever. perhaps if india had been a french colony, the indian independence story would have looked a lot more like “the battle of algiers.”

  14. Actually, i prefer to make choices like my friends. But it’s pretty hard this time.

    I agree with The Economist that both candidates leave a lot to be desired. They endorsed Kerry. They seem to think that Kerry won’t screw up in Iraq any worse, just different. And they definitely don’t like the way Bush has handled the legalities of the non-legal combatants. Afghanistan was a triumph, Libya an unexpected boon, but they claim the rest of the Mid East needs a fresh approach. And they approve of the way Kerry would be less divisive (i would say knuckle under) to the abortion, gay rights and stem cell research issues. seems to think that both candidates will worsen the deficit, but that Bush will worsen it worserer. They point out that his broad vision (tax cuts and loose fiscal policy) were vital in getting us through the economic problems of his term. But they think he should have been able to do better than 1% improvement on GDP (by targeting tax cuts even lower on the income scale), as well as better jobs growth and fiscal prudence in the spending bills. And i look at the recent corporate tax bill, and the farm bill, and the medicare drugs, and find it hard to disagree. But the tax cuts did free up money for the people who create jobs, and for people on fixed incomes.

    Even Buckley seems to have despaired, pointing to Algeria and saying we just are not evil enough to win in Iraq as it has now turned out.

    It’s not a year where the Libertarian Party gives me an out. I can’t stomach their unilateral surrender plank.

    I wish i had Ginny’s optimism, but Bush doesn’t feel “New America” to me. Sure, he’s radical… But i would give a lot for the balance of Reagan at this point. Too often i look at Bush and seem to see LBJ staring back.

    But i guess it’s Bush. Like Jonathan, i don’t really trust Kerry’s turn about on defense. And unlike The Economist i don’t trust a Republican congress to reign in his worst spendthrift dreams. And now that i live in CT rather than MA, a Republican vote might actually make a difference.

    And what if something were to happen to Kerry? John Edwards as President?

    Matya no baka

  15. Jesus did not compose the theology of a just war. If you examine his life where is there any evidence of violence against another human being? Did any of his apostles use violence (except for Peter and Jesus immediately healed the man. Does he ever tell his followers to kill another person or engage in arm struggle to bring forth his kingdom?

    Gandhi did tell women to fight like hell in defending themselves against rape.

    The theology of a just war was devised by Augustine after Christianity became the predominant religion in the Roman Empire. Previous to becoming a state religion, christians did not become members of the army. It was against their faith. But if this sidetrack is to profitable, does the war in Iraq meet these conditions:
    The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
    **the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    **all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    **there must be serious prospects of success;
    **the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

    Yet these discussions on just wars allow people to avoid the reality of Jesus’ life. His life and his teaching did not espouse violence of any kind yet he died an extremely violent death.

  16. Anonymous, your recognition of the possibility of morally justified self-defense appears to contradict your initial admonition to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” How can we defend ourselves or innocent third parties by doing good to the likes of Al Qaeda or Saddam Hussein? Jesus died a terrible death. I don’t see why his approach to dealing with enemies should be a model for us.

  17. “The problem with your analysis is that it ignores the Gandhis who attempted nonviolence against Stalin and Hitler. We don’t hear much about these Gandhis because they were all killed — their nonviolent methods made their reformism ineffective.”

    Your ignorance of history is stunning. You certainly do hear about those people, right off the top of my head the White Rose and other student resistance groups in Germany… there’s been at least 2 major movies about them and many many schools across Germany named after Hans & Sophie Scholl. Some of these people got killed, sure. If anything though, that just enhances their action and makes them into symbols for those who were not killed… of which there are many more. There are only so many people any oppressive regime can kill before they find themselves in a very empty country… or more likely, themselves out of power. Whether or not you hear about these people is really irrelevant though.

    “Why is it morally better to allow oneself to be killed, than to resist and have a chance of preserving one’s own life and the lives of others? Are we not obligated to protect the weak and innocent, and how can we do so if we forswear all violence?”

    This is exactly the attitude of Hitler and Stalin. Hitler did not kill Jews because he just enjoyed it. He really believed that Jews were the cause of problems and he had to protect the innocent Aryans by getting rid of this threat. The minute you decide its OK to kill those you judge bad to save those you judge good, you have become a Hitler. You have become a Stalin. Do you really think Hitler and Stalin went to bed thinking “I’m so evil!” every night? No. They were doing what they thought was right.

    I have far more respect for someone who dies for a greater cause than for someone who kills those they deem evil, no matter how bad the “evil” may actually be. If we are ever to have a happy and peaceful world, it will be thanks to people like Hans and Sophie Scholl, or the guy facing down the tanks in Tiananmen Square. The idiots taking up arms to “protect” the “innocent” will just cause the other side’s “heroes” to protect their “innocent” against the first crowd of fools.

    Better to die and be forgotten than to become another version of your enemy.

  18. Murple,

    The White Rose people didn’t defeat Hitler, the Allied armies did. Stalin killed tens of millions of his own people and died in bed. Mao may have killed sixty million. Saddam Hussein killed people constantly; peaceful resisters never had a chance. He was only overthrown by invasion. You are stunningly naive if you believe that nonviolent resistence is effective against entrenched totalitarian regimes.

    You are also morally corrupt, or perhaps (to give you the benefit of doubt) morally confused, if you believe that there is no moral distinction between killing in self-defense and murder. When I asked, Why is it morally better to allow oneself to be killed, than to resist and have a chance of preserving one’s own life and the lives of others? you responded with a rhetorical sleight-of-hand:

    The minute you decide its OK to kill those you judge bad to save those you judge good, you have become a Hitler. You have become a Stalin.

    My question was about killing to stop an attack that someone else initiated. Your answer was about killing “those you judge bad to save those you judge good.” These are two different things. The reason they are different is that in the first case someone else initiated violence, and in the second case you initiated violence. That is why they call it self-defense: it is defensive; it is reactive; it prevents harm to someone who has not harmed anyone himself. If that defense comes at the cost of harm to the attacker then that is the attacker’s fault, because he made the decision to attack and he could have prevented all harm by not attacking.

    Do you really not understand these distinctions?

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