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May 13, 2006
On The 'Lesser Of Two Evils'

After my post yesterday on the responsibility of making a meaningful choice in the November election, quite a few commenters made a point about refusing to choose between the "lesser of two evils". I want to address that thought and start a new comment thread for your reaction.

The phrase "lesser of two evils" gets a lot of use in politics, but it gets taken too literally in order to make an excuse for inaction. In the literal sense, it almost never applies anyway. Not many political figures in American history have been downright evil. We have had incompetents, malcontents, benighted fools, the hopelessly naive, and Jimmy Carter, but thankfully only a handful of outright crooks and genuinely evil men and women. The odds of having two choices in an election where both are evil are very, very slim. Perhaps if David Duke ran against Tom Metzger for Congress, that would excuse the district from voting for either one. Even then, I would argue that in that rare case, the responsible action would be to vote for a third party candidate to ensure neither got the seat.

Usually, voters are given the choice of the greater of two mediocrities. People face that choice quite frequently in life, and it doesn't absolve them from action. With a given financial situation and set of priorities, people don't simply refuse to buy a car just because they can't afford a Maserati. I bought my last suit from JC Penney because it was well made for the price range I could afford; I don't go naked because I can't afford Armani. Responsible people research their available choices and select from the limited choices they have.

Declaring all choices as "evil" provides false justification for abdication of that responsibility. In this case, once the primaries have determined the candidates for office, voters are presented with two candidates (in most cases) with realistic chances for victory. They rarely turn out to be philosophical or policy twins and/or uninspired candidates, but if that happens, the parties they represent have real differences, and the choice made in this one race will impact the ability of both to push their national agenda. When voters of either party refuse to vote, the absence of the vote has a negative impact on that national agenda.

By all means, if faced with a choice between Hitler and Mussolini on the November ballot, I would choose to write in Winston Churchill. However, the notion that we face that kind of choice is really nothing more than an expression of anger resulting in futility. It's eminently understandable, but it results in disaster. The only evil that we likely face is that the American electorate has grown so dismissive of the political process that it may squander its birthright. People across the political spectrum need to stay engaged in the process through the vote in order to get a government that most truly represents us -- and if we don't like the final choices presented us, then we must work harder in the next cycle to ensure that the final choices improve.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 13, 2006 7:32 AM

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