Why Vote for This or That Person for President?

It is sometimes assumed – rightly or wrongly – that people naturally vote for a candidate who most resembles them – in religious affiliation, appearance, background, and many other respects. A photo I saw on Facebook made me reflect on how true this may be, and whether it is how things ought to be.

It is rarely mentioned that, in one respect, Barack Obama is the most traditional candidate running in the quickly-approaching presidential election.

The majority of presidents and other public office holders in the history of the United States have been mainline Protestants. And Barack Obama is the only person who fits that category on the Democrat and Republican presidential and vice-presidential tickets. Romney is a Mormon, and both Biden and Ryan are Roman Catholic.

If it could be assumed that people naturally vote for “one of their own” (and that is a topic I intend to tackle further below), then we might ask why some Protestant voters don’t find Obama a candidate to whom they naturally gravitate. I wonder whether the t-shirt in the photo below, worn by a Romney supporter at a recent rally in Ohio, represents the motivation (acknowledged or not) of a very small, or of a disturbingly large, number of people. For how many people is it even a consideration that Obama has a different shade of skin than previous mainline Protestant candidates?

Lest anyone mistake where I am going with this, let me say that I am glad that, in so many respects, we have people as candidates for the highest offices in the United States government in this election who fit into categories which in the past have been underrepresented or simply absent, whether one is thinking of their appearance or their religion or anything else. My point is precisely to problematize all efforts to treat the question of who to vote for in terms of things that probably should not matter at all, and definitely ought not to be decisive.

This brings me to the question I asked in the title of this post: Why vote for this candidate or that one? I can think of a lot of bad reasons.

Don’t vote for a candidate because of the color of their skin, or that of their opponent.

Don’t vote for a candidate because the other candidate is a Mormon.

Don’t vote for a party you never paid attention to before, because otherwise you’d be supporting a Roman Catholic for vice president.

Don’t vote for a candidate because their opponent is an atheist – or because their opponent isn’t.

And the list goes on:

Don’t vote for a candidate because gas prices have been high, or for that matter because they have been low. The president does not have a lever in the Oval Office that controls that – does he?

Don’t vote for a candidate, or for his opponent, just because the economy hasn’t been doing as well as one might have hoped. The economy depends on a wide array of factors. One can and should support a candidate who stands for policies that one believes are best. But policies are not guarantees of a nation’s economic performance.

Don’t vote for a candidate merely because of the level of unemployment. Unless you want to support the Communist party and see employment controlled by the state, which could then not only ensure but require that everyone be given a job, then there is only so much that a president can do. And despite what you might have heard, unless you vote for the Communist party candidate, you won’t be voting for a communist.

I think it would be useful if most Americans were to take the time to actually look at what the President of the United States does and does not have the power or authority to do, and then vote for the person who they believe will perform the actual duties of the presidency most effectively, and will stand for policies which they support – keeping in mind that presidential support for specific policies is not the only thing that determines what happens in or to our country.

Content Director’s Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conversations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.

  • Kaz

    I think that there are additional questions that might be applicable: What if you approve of the policies of a candidate but during that person’s first term the national debt increased by nearly 6 trillion dollars and there’s no evidence that similar debt wouldn’t accrue during the person’s second term? Is there a point at which you will grant that the nation just can’t afford everything you’d like under ideal circumstances? Do you feel that responsible budgetary policies should be based on the notion that we should seize the day right now for ourselves, not worried about what tomorrow will bring, or should it be based on the apprehension that it is immoral to bequeath what may be an unsolvable mess to our children, and our children’s children?

    What if there was a law in the U.S. that required children to pay for their parents’ debt when they retired or died, with no exceptions, and your father spent 40% more then he earned every year? What if his debt was so high that you didn’t think you could ever pay it, and your credit was trashed as a result? What if you had to spend 40% of what you earned just to pay the interest on your dad’s debt? Would you pat your dad on the back and say “Keep up the good work”?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      It is a good analogy, and doesn’t even need to depend on the father dying for the child to be impacted. The effects of ever-increasing debt are short term and not merely long term.

      I don’t think, however, that I would for that reason try to trade my dad in for one who doesn’t clearly have a different attitude towards spending and debt than my current one. :-)

      • Kaz

        I don’t know, James, fathers who destroy the lives of their children due to reckless behavior are disowned all the time. And if my own father ever behalves the way the VP did during the debate (which was calculated, BTW) I will personally make my disapproval very clear!

        • TrevorN

          If your own child ever lies as freely as the wannabe-VP did during the debate (which was also calculated, BTW) I hope you would make your disapproval equally clear.

          • Kaz

            Why are liberals so often unwilling to simply acknowledge that a critic of one or more of their own has a point? It’s never “Yes, that was improper behavior”, but always, “Oh, yeah, well the Republicans are a bunch of liars.” Odd.

            Did the calculated bad behavior of the VP, obviously endorsed by the President and his campaign, represent your values? Is that how you think one side should win over another in the world of ideas and opinions?

            • Kaz

              Please replace this:

              “It’s never ‘Yes, that was improper behavior’, but always, ‘Oh, yeah, well the Republicans are a bunch of liars.’”

              With this:

              “It’s seldom ‘Yes, that was improper behavior’, and too often, ‘Oh, yeah, well the Republicans are a bunch of liars.’”

              I’ve said this before, but in order to avoid misunderstanding or mis-characterization, I want to point out that I’m neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I’m an observer of human behavior, particularly in relation to how bias influences us all. I find myself regularly appalled by politics and politicians of every stripe.

            • TrevorN

              In the world of ideas and opinions, truth matters. In this election season, one side in particular has been running a post-factual (or pre-factual) campaign. Deliberately. And yet they are the party endorsed by the loudest (nominal) Christians. I don’t think it’s a particularly good look for Christianity – not unless you also believe that Christianity is a fact-free religion.

              • Kaz

                So, you simply can’t bring yourself to admit when your side behaves badly? Four points:

                1) You didn’t answer my question. I asked if the calculated bad behavior of the VP, endorsed by the President and his campaign, represents your values. Does it?

                2) I’m not sure what “post-factual” and “pre-factual” is supposed to mean in the context of a campaign.

                3) I have seen very few ads in my neck of the woods, but I haven’t seen lies from the Romney campaign. Many if not most politicians have a hard time avoiding the sin of misrepresentation, so I won’t rule out the possibility that I simply missed such sins on the part of the campaign.

                4) Did you notice any lies or misrepresentations on the part of the VP during the debate?

                • TrevorN

                  1. I wouldn’t laugh, I’d prefer to say “you’re lying”. But there’s a parliamentary convention (I’m English) that you never accuse an opponent of “lying”, you only imply it. So yes. But I suspect you aren’t objecting to laughter per se, you’re objecting to your blue eyed boy being laughed at.
                  2. The Romney campaign has made clear that it doesn’t care about whether its statements are true, only about how effective they are. Facts are irrelevant.
                  3. Glad to see it.
                  4. Yes.

                • Gary

                  “3) I have seen very few ads in my neck of the woods, but I haven’t seen lies from the Romney campaign.” ??? Only daily flip-flops (which I define as lies). That is why I, as well as Biden, laugh till I cry. What still troubles me most, is the apparent joy of the Republicans to go to war at the drop of a threat. The Democrats had the same problem in the 60′s.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    It is rarely mentioned that, in one respect, Barack Obama is the most traditional candidate running in the quickly-approaching presidential election.

    That has certainly been the way I have seen it. He fits into my world better than any president that I can remember.

    Obama should be way ahead in this race. That it is still close seems only explainable in terms of racism.

  • Gary

    “I think it would be useful if most Americans were to take the time to actually look at what the President of the United States does and does not have the power or authority to do”…dropping bombs, or sending 19 year old Americans off to some God awful country to be shot at, comes to mind, for some strange reAson.

  • Straw Man

    I refuse to vote for anyone who conducts, or condones, the ongoing slaughter of innocents, or who supports the Presidential power to decree who lives and who dies without a trial or any sort of due process.

    Since all the candidates currently do those things, nobody gets a vote. I’ll got ahead and pray that God doesn’t treat such a nation as ours as it deserves, though. I’ll pray that the police-state powers already claimed by both candidates do not metastasize further into, e.g., a holocaust against American Muslims, or even a repeat of the Japanese internment. I’ll pray that God withhold justice from us, and give us a whole lotta mercy instead. And I’ll pray for the souls of anyone who calls himself “Christian” while voting for a mass murderer.

    • Kaz

      I appreciate your sentiments. Have you read Gregory Boyd’s controversial book,

      “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church”? Boyd may have lost a third of his Church when he expressed his views on war and political power, but he gained a great deal of respect as well, including my own.


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