The Electric Commentary

Friday, October 22, 2004

Is it a bad idea to fisk one of your law school professors?

As most of our readers are aware, I am a second year law student at the University of Wisconsin. Several of the professors at my school are prolific bloggers themselves. Many of them, Professor Althouse and Professor Smith in particular, author some of my favorite blogs. Several weeks ago at a "Doughnuts and Faculty" discussion about blogs held at the law school I learned about another UW Law Professor that was, at the time, just starting his own blog. He posts under a pseudonym so I'll protect his anonymity and not say his name here. This blog is, for the most part an extreme pro-Kerry website and, with all due respect to its writer, employs a somewhat petty, Michael Mooreish style of arguing. I guess the primary factor that brought me to this conclusion is this post that describes undecided voters, like myself until a friend bought me a couple of beers, as "know-nothings: undecided ninnies and third-party poopers." Some of the more disturbing parts:

"Let me make it real simple for you. Whether you like it or not, this election is a referendum on the Bush presidency of 2001-04. If you approve of Bush's presidency, and want to return him to the White House, vote for anybody but Kerry. If you disapprove of Bush's presidency, and want to send that signal, you have no choice but to vote for Kerry. I'll explain below."

He begins, kindly enough by making it real simple for me so even my undecided little brain can comprehend the issues. He explains that there is only one possible way to view this election. It is about the past. It is not about what the candidates are going to do, it is only about what one of them has already done. I see it a bit differently. I'm more concerned with the future than the past and although I agree that Bush'e performance until now is an indicator, probably the best indicator, of how he will perform in the future, it is not the sole factor influencing my decision.

"According to pollsters, the great majority of undecideds (which may include some persuadables" who line up with Bush or Kerry in trial heat polls but who may change their minds before election day) have reservations about re-electing Bush or even firm beliefs that Bush does not deserve to be re-elected, but they have yet to find reasons to vote for Kerry.This is the "know nothings" version of the foolishness shared by our entire country about electing a president. You are waiting for Kerry to say something convincing, or perhaps to show some personality that would make you "bond" with him. But the president is not running for the job of "your friend," and running for president is not an oral exam – whatever candidates might say on the campaign trail, there are stronger indicators of what their respective administrations will do. You can look at Bush's last administration to see what he would do; and you can look at Clinton's administration, modify it somewhat by information derived from Kerry's voting record and his web site, and come up with a decent guess about a Kerry administration. This isn't an exact science. Nor is it rocket science."

I do not see why wanting to hear something convincing is so undesirable. I want to hear how Kerry stands and what his plan is, not just that he has one. I think this is exactly what we should use to decide who we vote for. It should be much more important for us to hear something convincing from a presidential candidate than from our friends. I actually don't make my friends convince me of anything. And I find the idea that the Kerry administration will be so similar to the Clinton administration as to sway me to be somewhat far-fetched. I think Kerry's website is a good place to get information on him. In fact, that would be a great place for him to say something convincing!

"You may be a perfectionist when it comes to politics. You are "sick and tired" of having to vote for "the lesser of two evils." You have a personal report card for politicians – like the voting report cards of advocacy groups (e.g., Senator Smith has voted the way we want 70% of the time) – and you just can't stomach the idea of voting for someone who unless you agree with his or her positions at least 95% of the time. Your motto, when it comes to politics is, "always let the best be the enemy of the good."

This illustrates my main argument pretty well. If you assume that most people agree with one candidate or the other 70% of the time this argument holds some water. However, there are many people that don't agree with either candidate anywhere near 70%, or even 25% of the time. These people often fall into the group that you call know-nothings.

"How about just getting over yourself? Clearly you've noticed that politics is imperfect, but not all saints check out of the real world just because it's imperfect. We live in a country of close to 300 million people, and guess what: not all of them share your views, but all of them will be governed by the president who gets elected whether you like it or not. Our democracy functions because there is compromise and accommodation among some of these 300 million people."

How about just getting over yourself? Of course politics isn't perfect. That doesn't mean that anybody who doesn't like the idea of going down to the 387th and 388th most important issues to them in order to find support for one candidate over the other is a know-nothing.

"You'll agree with me that elections are a key part of what keeps our system of government democratic. Presidential elections, while an imperfect and blunt instrument, send signals to would-be presidential administrations about what policies people want, and what policies people really don't want but the administration can nevertheless get away with. The only surefire way to send the clearest possible signal of disapproval is to vote in a way that will defeat an incumbent administration that you believe has governed badly."

An even better way to send a clear signal of disapproval is to not vote at all. This works especially well if the two major candidates have practically all of the same problems.

"That's where your vote for Nader, or your decision not to vote, falls on its face. Let me illustrate with some numbers. If you're an undecided leaning against Bush, or a pro-Naderite, say you agree with the Bush administration about 25% of the time. You probably agree with what a Kerry administration would do somewhere between 50%-75% of the time, but you are withholding your support from Kerry because he's waffly about gay marriage, or he's not warm and friendly, or because he doesn't say that corporations are evil."

And here is where your argument falls on its face: Most people in the undecided camp do not agree with Candidate X 25% of the time and Candidate Y the other 50-75%. We agree with Candidate X 8% of the time and Candidate Y 8% of the time. Bush and Kerry issues ar NOT mutually exclusive. To many of us, the dichotomy between Republicans and Democrats is correctly described as big government versus small government. If the system is functioning properly, this is the most important issue. When both candidates are focusing on how they will make government bigger it becomes very easy for someone like me to remain undecided late in the race. I would rather hear about what they will not do than what they will do. I would like to believe that many undecided see it the same way and that we're not just a bunch of know-nothings. Anyway, that's just my take on it. Besided the "know nothings," he also posts about other types of voters including the "Partisans, " and the "Intellects." Read the whole thing and see what you think.


  • it is absolutely terrifying to me that someone so "my way or the highway" is a professor of anything at a university.

    and there's nothing quite like stating your opinion as fact and throwing out completely made up statistics to support it.

    there's a lot that bothers me with this but i'll just go with:

    "The only surefire way to send the clearest possible signal of disapproval is to vote in a way that will defeat an incumbent administration that you believe has governed badly."

    an election has to do with who you think WILL do a better/the best job in the next 4 years. sure the incumbent's record will give you an indication of his potential actions. and this gives you more information to use in your decision.

    but in any situation at any give time, the state of the situation can improve, stay the same, or decline. sadly, this guy seems to believe that replacing something bad will guarantee an improvement. he is completely ignoring the fact that a situation can potentially go from bad to worse. this is unbelievably ignorant. it's like flipping a coin and ignoring the fact that you might wind up with a heads.

    i already voted, and it wasn't for bush or for kerry (so don't take this as an endorsement for either one). but i'm pretty sure that voting is not/should never be used as a sign of disapproval. a vote is an endorsement, not a rebuttal. it's your individual responsibilty to vote for the candidate whose views most align with yours, whether that means you're voting for a rep, dem, or yogi fucking bear.

    By Blogger ethan, at 11:29 AM  

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