The Tactics and Strategy of Bad Choices

The Tactics and Strategy of Bad Choices October 27, 2016

Last Thursday I posted my 2016 voter’s guide where I encouraged everyone to vote for Hillary Clinton. On Monday, John Halstead asked Who Do You Vote For at the (Beginning of the) End of the World? and said he was voting for Jill Stein. I think John’s analysis is spot-on, but his conclusion is flawed. He wants to “send a message” – a message that won’t be heard, and a message that could make a bad situation even worse.

cornfield McKinney August 2014 03This election reminds me of some of the less-happy portions of my childhood.

My mother has always said I was born 35. I was a very mature child and I hated being a child – I hated the powerlessness and I hated the “choices” that weren’t really choices. “You can go to church or you can not watch TV all week.” “You can sit in class without making a sound or you can go to the principal’s office.” “You can cut the grass or you can…” We won’t talk about what that “choice” was. You don’t have to think very hard.

Some of these were reasonable demands that deep down I knew were reasonable even though I was 8 or 9 years old and even though I really didn’t want to do them. Some of them weren’t. What annoyed me – what enraged me – was the powerlessness of my situation. I could make the “right” choice and suffer a little, or I could make the “wrong” choice and suffer a lot. There was no choice that did not involve suffering.

One day when I was an early teenager and starting to feel a little more confident, I pushed back (just a bit) on my father: “why do I have to [do whatever it was that I didn’t want to do]?” He snapped back “I’m trying to teach you responsibility.” My father’s idea of responsibility – forged as one of eight children growing up in the Great Depression – was very different from mine. After all these years, it still is.

But all those choices that weren’t really choices did teach me something. They taught me to think tactically and strategically at the same time.

If the “choice” is between suffering a little or suffering a lot, I’m going to choose suffering a little. Those are tactics – the short-term actions that deal with the immediate situation. But I’m also going to do everything I can to put myself in a better situation so that at some point, I’m not powerless and I don’t have to make bad choices. That’s the strategy – get to a better situation.

At 9 or 10 years old, I realized this was going to be a long process. Going away to college was the long-term goal – doing what was necessary to make that a reality was the plan. Looking back on those years, I had the same interests, passions, distractions, and teenage angst that everyone else had. But rarely if ever did I allow a short-term consideration to get in the way of the long-term goal, much less jeopardize it.

It worked. When I look back on everything that happened, I can see there was a lot of magic involved. And some hard work and some good fortune, but also a lot of magic.

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Fast forward to 2016. There is no good choice in the race for President. While I support Hillary Clinton I preferred Bernie Sanders, and even he was far from perfect. There is a bad choice and there is a worse choice.

Jill Stein has no more chance of becoming President than I had of running away from home at age nine and becoming a lab assistant at Castle Frankenstein. Voting for her may make you feel like you “sent a message” but the only political messages from individuals that are heard involve checks with lots of zeros on them.

Voting for Hillary is a tactical decision to choose less suffering instead of the more suffering that Trump would bring. But that’s not the whole story, just like my childhood story to go along with the “proper” choices wasn’t the whole story of my life. There is also a strategic decision to make sure we have real choices in the future.

I frequently disagree Cara Schulz on political matters. I’m a liberal, she’s a libertarian: what else would you expect? But she’s not just complaining about bad choices – she’s working tirelessly to promote Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and to build the Libertarian Party. And she’s running for city council in Burnsville, MN. Those are strategic efforts.

Gary Johnson is polling much better than Jill Stein, but he still has no chance of winning. As I write this, 538 says he should expect to get 5.6% of the popular vote and win 0.1 electoral votes. That raises awareness of the Libertarian Party but doesn’t accomplish much else.

Winning city council elections accomplishes something. Winning school board elections accomplishes something. Winning state legislature races really accomplishes something. And in order to win, someone has to run, and a bunch of other someones have to give money and time to the campaign. Real change is built from the ground up.

I have some cynical friends who like to say “voting doesn’t accomplish anything” or “if voting accomplished anything they’d make it illegal.” They’re wrong. Voting does accomplish something – it just doesn’t accomplish nearly enough.

Too many of us want to elect the “right” President who will fix everything. That’s the appeal of Donald Trump among right-wing Republicans – they want a strongman who will put things back the way they’re supposed to be (and those Trump supporters aren’t all racists – if we don’t address their concerns, the 2020 Republican candidate will be even worse).

But Barack Obama couldn’t fix everything. Bill Clinton couldn’t fix everything. Hillary Clinton won’t be able to fix everything. A savior isn’t coming. I hate to sound like a Libertarian, but there are some things government just can’t fix – we’re going to have to do those things ourselves, individually and in our local communities.

But Barack Obama, for all his shortcomings, has been a better President than John McCain and Mitt Romney would have been. Bill Clinton was a better President than George Bush or Bob Dole. And Hillary Clinton will be a far, far better President than Donald Trump. Make the less painful tactical choice.

Then make some solid strategic choices. Find good, competent, compassionate, progressive state and local candidates and support them. Build the kind of local community you want to live in. Be prepared to keep it up year after year, election cycle after election cycle. Big ships can’t turn on a dime – 240 year old countries with 320 million people can’t change quickly either.

And never forget this is a capitalist society. Every dollar you spend – or give away – is a vote for what you want to stay the same and what you want to change. Sometimes there are no good choices here either – think both tactically and strategically here too.

Ironically, some of people who are doing the most strategic work (more than I’m doing, anyway) are also the ones advocating choosing more suffering by either not voting or voting for a candidate with no chance to win. This increases the chance that the “worse” candidate will defeat the “bad” candidate and make their work even harder, not to mention more painful.

This doesn’t surprise me – doing the long, hard work of creating change requires passion, and passionate people rarely have the patience to go along with candidates, policies, and plans that don’t directly advance their cause. But sometimes that’s the most effective approach.

As I said in my Voter’s Guide post, vote your conscience. If your conscience tells you to vote for Jill Stein, then vote for Jill Stein and I’ll respect your choice. But I still think it’s a sub-optimal choice and a more painful tactical decision than necessary.

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