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The Lesser of Two Feebles

Posted by The Curmudgeon on December 10, 2009

How we condemn ourselves to mediocre representation

How many registered voters in the United States have never cast a ballot for a single candidate?

More than one might initially think—including a goodly number who’d protest vociferously that they vote in every election.

But they probably never voted for anyone; rather, they voted against a lot of people.

It is a simple reality that there is only one perfect candidate for every elected office—and we come face-to-face with that person every time we look in a mirror. Given that very few of us will ever seek election to public office, we instead cast about for a surrogate to represent us—one whose philosophy and convictions (political and otherwise) mirror our own. Another simple reality is that it’s highly unlikely that any candidate on any given ballot thinks precisely as we do on every conceivable issue; rather, we’re presented with a number of candidates (usually two or three—though there may be more) from whom we may choose.

At this point, three things take place:

First, we prioritize the issues of the day, determining what’s most near and dear to us—those issues that compel us to take a firm stand. Some are of such import that we decide whether to vote for a specific candidate based entirely on his/her views regarding that one hot-button topic. More often, though, we probably have a handful of key issues that we place above all others–perhaps three or four–and seek a candidate who thinks alike within that milieu, subjugating our other interests as secondary issues.

Second…we compromise. (More on this in a moment.)

Third (and most important), while determining which candidate comes closer to our ideal (“closer” being a very relative term) we axiomatically identify the candidate we least desire—and vote (usually) for the one most likely to prevent the scoundrel from assuming office. (More on this in another moment—much more.)

Thus, though we set out to vote for the candidate we deem most qualified or who most closely represents our own views, we soon determine that no such candidate is in the race; we ultimately vote for a candidate not because he or she is the best, but because that candidate is less odious or has the best chance of stopping the candidate we’ve conversely likened to the devil incarnate. Neither is all that attractive—but one is less detestable than the other. We generally settle, then, on the candidate we’ve determined to be the lesser of two evils.

My wife refers to this choice as “the lesser of two feebles.” (I don’t know whether she coined the phrase; she was, however, the first to utter such sentiments to me—so, I’ll give her the credit for it.)

When we compromise, we sometimes do so along lines that range from the sensible and practical to the downright silly. But, compromise we do—and we somehow decide on “our guy.” He isn’t all that we’d like to see in a candidate, but he’s as close as we figure we’ll be able to get. A liberal might look at a candidate and dislike that candidate’s pro-life beliefs—but, he supports gun control, so he’ll get the liberal’s vote. A conservative might be livid about a candidate’s pro-choice voting record—but, he’s also a staunch Second Amendment guy, so he’ll get the vote.

Now, we’re faced with another matter: our desired (compromise) candidate is palatable on all the major issues—but, he’s widely perceived as unelectable. Whether he’s a poor public speaker, has been caught in a series of marital indiscretions, or exhibits any of a multitude of damning qualities, polls suggest that he’ll never get elected. So, we compromise a little more and seek a candidate with a better chance of winning–moving us even further from our core views–as long as he isn’t as loathsome as the opposition’s candidate…the guy we don’t want to win, because he scares us. Or because he’s a Republican. Or a Democrat. (You get the idea; straight-party tickets.)

We eventually arrive at supporting some guy whose views only faintly resemble our own—but, he’s not as bad as the other guy, and (most importantly) has the best chance of keeping the other guy from winning.

The lesser of two feebles.

Occasionally, we toy with the concept of a third-party candidate; when we do, we should also wish that someone would deliver a swift kick to our backsides.

In one election many years ago, I was only lukewarm in my support of Candidate A; in fact, I didn’t much like him. I really despised Candidate B, however, and had resigned myself to supporting Mr. A. Then, along came Candidate C; a third-party candidate, he was more appealing than A or B—so, I voted for him.

I’m still wishing that someone might’ve delivered the aforementioned kick on my way to the voting booth.

It seems that Candidate C drew most of his support from Candidate A’s camp; not enough to win—but enough so that it insured the election of the despised Candidate B.

Won’t make that mistake again.

Having thusly winnowed-out all the best candidates, we grimly mark our ballots for the guy we hope is the lesser of two feebles. (Remember those subjugated “secondary issues” mentioned above? This is where they tend to become less “secondary”; if our compromise candidate prevails, we begin to learn how much we didn’t know about him—and the blind-siding begins.)

Let’s say that a recently-elected member of Congress won with less than fifty per cent of the vote (a simple plurality; very common—particularly where more than two candidates appeared on the ballot). It’s safe to say that the forty-or-so-per cent of the voters who supported him weren’t in complete agreement with his views (remember that he was a compromise selection, after all—even within his own party, as he probably had to defeat at least one rival in the primary campaign); it is therefore manifest that more than half of his constituency didn’t want him to have the job in the first place—and it goes without saying that they have an even less favorable view of him than those who voted for him.

Is it any wonder, then, that an incumbent congressional representative might have only a 30% or 35% approval rating—or that he inspires talk of tar and feathers and a hangman’s rope?

And the odds are in his favor that he’ll be re-elected.

We elected him, after all, for no better reason than because he was the lesser of two feebles.

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4 Responses to “The Lesser of Two Feebles”

  1. Anonymous said

    Thank you Jim for shedding even more light on the process of progressive perplexity!!! An ugly girl is more palatable in the dark,but when drawn into the light….(well, you get the idea). Our problem is that we don't like what we see in the light, so we have our hands continually on the dimmer switch!! LCZ

  2. Anonymous said

    Haha, Larry – good analogy! Feeble is certainly the operative word these days when it comes to our election process. We vote the bums out, and vote more bums in. And so it goes LVLZ

  3. Laura said

    It reminds me of Ella's new game…. "Nanny, would you rather be run over by a big truck or eaten by a tiger?"(having a helluva time posting this comment…12th try here)

  4. Dick Norcross said

    It’s time for a third party. The Constitution Party has a dynamite platform, take a look at it.

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