What’s voting for?

To hear us talk about voting, one would think that Americans vote on principle. By our votes, we endorse a particular vision of national good that we want to see realized. Our votes declare what role we think civil power should play in that national good. We are moralists with our voting as we are with so much else.

It is preferable, however, for political activists to demystify and de-moralize voting so that we can recognize that we campaign and cast votes for the sake of access as much as for the sake of principle. Not that we should campaign or vote for candidates that will pursue policies that we abhor. But if a vote is a bid for access, it’s easier to accept the (inevitable) fact that we vote for the least bad candidate.

So, a choice to campaign for a particular candidate is an effort to establish a relationship, a debt, that can be cashed in later. We serve, support, and vote for the candidate to whose favor we have the clearest path, so that when we do need to make a principled appeal, we have cards to play and a place at the gaming table. A vote for access is a vote for someone with whom we might have some sway.


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