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Sunday, October 26, 2008

You Have More Than Two Choices

Both in the Crash Landing thread and the spin-off on Unqualified Offerings, some people seem to be misunderstanding my challenge. To repeat, I want pro-Obama people to list some concrete things that a President Obama could do, that would make them admit (at that time) they were foolish for having supported him now.

As I said, several people are misunderstanding. They say stuff like, "Even if Obama did horrible thing X, my support would only be a mistake if we assume McCain wouldn't have done horrible thing X, or even worse thing Y. And I have no reason to think that."

But that's not what I'm asking; we all know you have weighed the evidence, and right now you expect Obama will be better than McCain. Regardless of who wins, we will never know the answer to that question, since history will go down one path and not the other.

To return to my own example: I am not sure what John Kerry would have done, had he been in office during the financial panic. Maybe he would have seized 85% shares in Freddie and Fannie, instead of Bush's 79.9%.

But that's not really the point. Back when it was a toss-up between Gore and Bush, I was rooting for the latter because I thought, "Yeah, he's an a-hole on rights for people on death row etc., but at least he's a free market guy." It would have been absolutely inconceivable to me, that a President Bush would agree to partially nationalize the banks.

So if Obama nukes Iran, or uses the Fairness Doctrine to somehow get Rush Limbaugh off the air, then he is not the guy his supporters think he is.

A few people have said, "We only have two realistic choices, and so I'm supporting the one that I think..."

That is false. You have many many choices you can make, as an individual. It is a choice to vocally support either candidate, for example. It's not just a matter of, "For whom will I cast my vote?" You can abstain. You can put yard signs up (or not). You can work phones (or not). You can make blog posts critical of one or both (or neither).

So this is what I'm talking about. Obviously, we can intellectually assess which candidate would be "better."

The government wants you to believe, "We have two choices for how to conduct ourselves." Don't believe their lie. It is entirely possible for you to say, "Either of the these candidates will do evil things once he becomes the most powerful person on the planet. I cannot in good conscience 'support' either one of them; I reject this system altogether. Now having said that, I predict that it would be better if so-and-so won..."

17 comments:

  1. I love the last paragraph. People need to wake up and realize it is not A or B, and you MUST choose one or the other. It's simply not true.

    -David
    David Carlson Politics

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  2. If you do not believe that the election of either A or B makes a difference, than there are many choices.

    Many years ago, I remember Robert Heilbronner telling our History of Econ. Thought class about how he took Milton Friedman to task over Friedman's opinion of Smith's position on self-interest. I can't recall the citation, maybe it was from "Moral Sentiments," but I don't care at this point. Smith said that like if a person could by his actions save the finger of Chinese peasant, on the other side of the globe, that he should. Smith scholars, you can look it up, I'm to busy and not all that interested. My point is rather simple. If I believe the election of Obama gives a 1% chance of saving 100 lives in the war in Iraq, I am under an obligation to take action. It is not an option to play the election passively.

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  3. Woody,

    I don't know you, so again I want to repeat, the only reason I keep badgering you is that you still haven't gotten my point:

    If you do not believe that the election of either A or B makes a difference...

    I have never said that. Of course it will make a difference. But if the government says, "This guy will kill 10,000 Iraqis, whereas this guy will kill 8,000, which do you support?"

    You are allowed to say "neither!"

    If I believe the election of Obama gives a 1% chance of saving 100 lives in the war in Iraq, I am under an obligation to take action.

    OK fair enough. What do you think your advocacy has done to alter the odds of Obama winning? E.g. please describe your view of the world, such that if you had watched Seinfeld reruns instead of saying anything about the election, then Obama's chances of winning would go down by x%.

    It is not an option to play the election passively.

    I totally agree. This is an extremely important moment in US history, and so that's why I'm devoting so much of my time to this stuff. People who ignore politics are very irresponsible for not "doing something."

    I'm just arguing about your choices of "something."

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  4. I should slightly retract my previous post: I may have said "there is no difference between the candidates" but I meant in terms of important principles. Obviously in practice, they will do different things and so the effects will be different. With perfect foresight, we could say which we would prefer.

    But I'm saying I am quite confident both will give orders for massive theft and killings, and so there's no way I am going to engage in a purely symbolic act--like voting for one or the other--that doesn't even affect the outcome.

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  5. ""E.g. please describe your view of the world, such that if you had watched Seinfeld reruns instead of saying anything about the election, then Obama's chances of winning would go down by x%.""

    We're talking very close to 0% in most places. I didn't vote for many years because I believed that the outcome of any election depended entirely upon the actions of others. Couple that with the cost of obtaining the necessary information to make an informed decision, and the time involved with actually casting a vote, and you understand why I wasn't even registered to vote for nearly a decade.

    Ok, fine, I lived in NYC for about 14 years. The elections there are decidely lopsided.

    I live in Florida today. Kerry lost my county by about 200 votes. The election was tight for Gore. I think I can personally sway more than 200 people, and that could represent 10% of the state's spread. I don't know what it will really be, but Florida is certainly tighter than New York.


    ""But if the government says, "This guy will kill 10,000 Iraqis, whereas this guy will kill 8,000, which do you support?"

    You are allowed to say "neither!""""

    Were I in NY I'd say neither. I'd probably say neither were I in Texas, where my vote would also have no impact.

    Here in Florida, assuming my choices were only made by this issue, I still could not say neither. I don't believe government projections. I believe there's a categorical imperitive which requires me to act to minimize the human suffering that I can identify. I believe I can make a difference.

    So attack and ridcule me for a faith based issue. I believe in the path I've chosen. This is the only path I can live with.

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  6. So attack and ridcule me for a faith based issue.

    I'm not trying to ridicule you; if it sounds that way, it's a defect of Internet communication.

    I'm just trying to understand what is motivating you.

    I believe there's a categorical imperitive which requires me to act to minimize the human suffering that I can identify. I believe I can make a difference.

    I am doing the same thing. But if you bring up the phrase "categorical imperative," then again I don't understand why you don't write in Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, since both of them were far better on Iraq than Obama will be.

    Where I'm coming from, is that the only reason Obama was able to move to the center on wuss-out on foreign policy, is that he knew people like your would never abandon him, so long as he seemed at least 10% better than McCain.

    How are we ever going to break out of this cycle?

    And then, when you bring up the pragmatic arguments, at that point I try to show you that I think you are overestimating your influence. E.g. even if you swing Florida, that will only matter if the electoral vote is closer than Florida's votes. So you have to multiply the probability that your actions swing Florida, by the probability that Florida swings the election.

    (In fairness, you could argue that even if Obama would have won anyway, if you can swing Florida then he will have more of a mandate.)

    I guess my last question would be: If Palin's opponent weren't Obama, but some other Democrat, is there some point at which you would stay home? I.e. is it just a matter of degree, and Obama is sufficiently better that you feel a duty to go campaign for him?

    So that was the purpose of my exercise, to ask what Obama could do after the fact, so that you would realize he wasn't sufficiently better than McCain to justify your campaigning.

    If that is a meaningless question, fair enough. I.e. maybe it is impossible for Obama to do anything that would ever make you feel foolish for supporting him now. But that's why I was throwing out things like "nuke Iran" because I thought they would be obvious dealbreakers.

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  7. "I don't understand why you don't write in Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, since both of them were far better on Iraq than Obama will be."

    Because I don't think either of them have a chance.

    I voted for Ron Paul in the republican primary, and I do think I helped to influence a few people to vote for him. I didn't really think he had a chance at the party nomination, but I hated the republican field anyhow. Ron Paul would have made a very exciting third party candidate, that might have changed the dynamics of this race. But who knows?

    "E.g. even if you swing Florida, that will only matter if the electoral vote is closer than Florida's votes. So you have to multiply the probability that your actions swing Florida, by the probability that Florida swings the election."

    I don't think that I personally can swing Florida, but I think I can have a meaningful impact. I also understand that winning in Florida might not be critical to a national victory. I think I'd feel guilty if Obama lost and I did nothing.

    "Obama is sufficiently better that you feel a duty to go campaign for him?"

    I'm not sure if I'd campaign for Hillary, but I think my wife would. Were Hillary the Democrat's nominee, I doubt that Sarah Palin would be on the Republican ticket. And I might be less excited about this election.

    The United States has a pretty crappy reputation internationally, and I think an Obama or Hillary presidency could go a long way towards restoring our stature. Whatever goodwill we had after 9/11is lost and then some. Obama has a chance to restore our greatness. Under McCain I think we'd continue to be perceived (maybe justly) as an asshole scab of bully nation, and be unable to put together a solid coalition. This is huge.

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  8. wabulon11:06 AM

    Bob,

    If the government says, this guy will give you ten pounds of ice cream, and the other guy will give you twenty pounds of ice cream, which one do you support, am I allowed to say, "both"? Am I allowed to go out and drown myself? Just asking.

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  9. Wabulon,

    You would need to specify the flavor of ice cream before I can give a decent answer.

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  10. 1) Increase welfare benefits and duration
    2) Make our border policy even more weak
    3) Fail to take responsibility for his actions
    4) Say that he IS a Muslim and wants to terminate the existance of Isreal
    5) Create more federal debt and financial instability
    6) ...etc.
    there are many things Obama could do to ruin our country. I voted for Bush over Kerry but I'm still not sure if Kerry would have done any better. (Although i doubt that he could have done much worse.)

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  11. Bob, the reason it is difficult for people to understand your incredibly simple and straightforward challenge is because they are very biased and are unwilling, or at least hesitant, to admit that Obama could do anything to make them regret their support, so they just deflect the question to address why McCain would have been worse. They have a mental block that disables them from fathoming decreasing their level of support for the Savior of America.

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  12. If "Obomba" gets us into additional senseless wars, I will regret my vote for him.

    Of course he will expand the war in Afghanistan -- not because he's bad, but because that's a job requirement. For any U.S. president to stop slaughtering people for nothing in that country would be inconceivable.

    Obama's central job as president will be to promote, cultivate and manage a national consensus; and the existing consensus is to switch resources from the bad war to the "good" war.

    After 911, a bigger war against Al Qaeda was inevitable (short of the U.S. not having created that military force in the first place). But why attack the whole country? Some White House officials wanted to pursue potential alliances with the Taliban against Al Qaeda, but they lost the Washington bureaucracy battle. So now the U.S. wants to show that it and NATO can bomb that country into submission once and for all.

    What most stands out is first, the dominant role of simple animal revenge in the U.S.+ wars against Iraq and Afghanistan -- the attacks on targets that happened to be handy even if they had nothing to do with 911 and learned about it only on TV (clearly the planned attack had to be kept totally secret from all but a few). Second, even 7 years later much of the world is still stampeding like sheep into the senseless Afghanistan quagmire. What would constitute success? Washington has little idea what it wants there, except war for its own sake.

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