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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I Voted My Conscience

After many years as an Independent, Father A. has, within the past few years, registered as a Democrat -- less because of any enthusiasm for that sad little band of wonks and dreamers, than as an expression of outrage over the malfeasance of their chief competitors.

As a New Yorker, my vote in national primaries has customarily been worthless, coming too late in the season to affect a race. This year, thanks to the madness which has given us Super-Duper-Jumbo-Chalupa Tuesday, things were otherwise. And so, after a few hours of pastoral care, I trotted toward a local middle school to cast what is -- if memory serves -- my first vote in any party primary.

Walking over, I did not yet know for whom I would cast that newly-relevant vote. Over the opast four years, I have continued to dream of a Wesley Clark presidency, but that wasn't going to happen. Of the Dems to run, I confess a certain fraternal affection for Kucinich, who is, like me, a short man with a taller and more glamorous wife. But I never wanted him to be President. For that job, the only candidate who appeared qualified by the actual experience of governing was Bill Richardson. (One can harldly consider service in the Senate as governing anymore; it has been reduced in over the years to a matter of posturing and bloviating in the distant hope of election to the Oval office). Of course, he was out early, and I had settled on John Edwards, about whose ability I had considerable doubt but whose platform could not help but pull a minister's heartstrings.

But the talking heads had informed me that my choices, at this point, were two, and neither very appealing.

Yes, Senator Clinton is a smart woman, a fine legislator, and posessed of a seemingly iron will. And people say she's much friendlier in person. On the other hand, there are those negatives. For no sound reason, she provokes a profound animosity from many people, which her political enemies have had many years to practice exploiting. She would be an easy target for during a campaign, and it is hard to imagine that her time in office would be much better than a partisan firefight. And we've done that already, for too long.

And Senator Obama -- well, sure, he's exciting. His intelligence is obvious, and he seems genuinely eager to move past the reflexive polarization of our curreent politics. On the other hand, that may simply mark him as naive. Clinton has an actual track record of making laws alongside McCain; Obama often sounds readier to teach law than to make it.

So a vote for Hillary is a vote for a hardened warrior, and guarantees years of continued war, with the hope that she might win more than she loses. A vote for Barack is a vote for the earnest hope of a cease-fire, and risks overwhelming defeat. (I am talking about the battle in Washington, mind you, not Iraq).

I didn't know, even as I entered the middle school, which way I would go. I didn't even know as I shut the curtain and reacquainted my self with New York's trusty old mechanical-lever voting machinery. And then I looked at the actual ballot, and started to laugh, provoking the nice old lady outside to ask if I were all right.

There was Governor Richardson. Or at least his name. Along with Edwards and Kucinich. (What happened, Gravel? You chicken out?) He had been my original choice, and the possibility of voting for him remained, so I flipped the toggle. Of course he won't win, but I still voted for the best candidate available to me.

But since Richardson had no pledged delegates, and since we vote for them separately, I still had some decisions to make. If in fact the convention is contested, these delegates will be called upon to make a difference. I voted for my assemblyman, because I like him, even though he is pledged to Clinton. For the rest I voted for all the delegates pledged to Edwards. He had been my second choice, and his delegates were still out there. These were people who agreed with me, at least on this. Why shouldn't I choose them?

All the way home, I heard the voices of some friends, scolding me for "wasting" my vote, throwing it away on people who did not have a realistic chance of winning. But, despite a few misgivings, I felt pretty good. Because I hadn't made another "least worst" choice, in a world that is full of them. I had voted my conscience.

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