Party and Candidates

A trio of blog posts about the importance of voting for the party over the person.


I freely admit that Unger’s principles are better than Obama’s, that next to him Obama’s credentials as a progressive are muddied and blunted. If I had to choose between them as men of probity, I would prefer Unger as quick as the eye can blink. But in politics we never choose men of much probity. One of the recurring comedies of American politics is the rapture with which people elect a shining prince, and then collapse into self-pitying cries of betrayal when the shine comes off once the candidate is in office. A refrain of dismay runs the fairy tale in reverse: “We elected a prince and he turned into a frog.”

Obama was never a prince. None of them are. The mistake behind all this is a misguided high-mindedness that boasts, “I vote for the man, not the party.” This momentarily lifts the hot-air balloon of self-esteem by divorcing the speaker from political taintedness and compromise. But the man being voted for, no matter what he says, dances with the party that brought him, dependent on its support, resources, and clientele. That is why one should always vote on the party, instead of the candidate. The party has some continuity of commitment, no matter how compromised. What you are really voting for is the party’s constituency. That will determine priorities when it comes to appointments, legislative pressure, and things like nominating Supreme Court justices.


As Wills points out, noting that parties will be more responsive to some groups than others doesn’t mean that any particular group will get its way at all times. After all, both parties are made up of groups that frequently disagree about policies, and beyond that, politicians are also responsive to median (general-election) voters. It’s complicated — and to seriously engage in politics is to accept the complexity, rather than to retreat to the fantasy of a third party whenever things go the other way.

Elections are not only about choosing between sets of constituencies. We also choose one team of political elites or the other; we choose, more or less, between two sets of policy choices; it’s even true at some level that the individual in the Oval Office can make a difference, although a lot harder to foresee how that will matter. But, yes, we really are choosing between sets of constituencies.

 And Three:

Even among political reporters, there’s a tendency to separate the candidate from the party, as if a president is somehow separate from the constituencies that he represents. But the truth of the matter, as Wills points out, is that in most instances, the president works to fulfill the priorities and demands of the groups who elected him. Mitt Romney may or may not be a moderate—it doesn’t matter. What matter’s is that—if elected president—he’ll represent a Republican Party that has abandoned moderation in favor of radical cuts to the size and scope of government, and regressive views on social issues.

If you want, you can play this game with Barack Obama circa 2008. Anyone who looked at the Democratic coalition at the time, and thought Obama wouldn’t try to pursue health care reform, or support our involvement in Afghanistan, is fooling themselves.


(in all cases, emphasis mine)

I first came across this voting in the 2010 midterms. I went into it thinking that I would research the candidates and choose whoever I thought would best represent my views. I ended up voting straight Democrat, which wasn’t big surprise, but it did get me thinking. Who the candidates are exactly, only mattered on the margins. More important was what there positions were. Which is driven by who has a voice within the party.

As the three articles say, candidates don’t exist in a vacuum.


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