It is caucus weekend in Maine.
It is a time when people flood Facebook with calls about “civic duty,” declarations that a person cannot complain if they don’t participate, and the biannual expression of a dream about mandatory voting laws. However, we also see the numerous late-night comedy skits where people-on-the-street can barely name the three branches of government, yet can draw the Kardashian family tree on demand. Their vote counts as much as yours.
This brings together part of the paradox that is America. Voting is simultaneously a patriotic endeavor and a punchline. We cherish the ability, as a people, to select a leader of the most powerful armed force the world has ever known while being astounded at how ill-informed parts of the electorate are.
So, while many will encourage you to make sure you get out to caucus sites this weekend, I’ll offer an alternative view: if you are acting on emotion and how candidates make you feel, please stay home. If you have considered your options, informed your opinion, and fairly weighed alternatives, then go and make your choice known.
This is not a plea for a specific candidate or even a particular party. People can come to different decisions based upon their knowledge, values, and experience — we should respect that. But those decisions need to be considered and arrived at through a reasoned process. If the appeal of a candidate is merely the way they make you feel, you owe your country more.
Many campaigns in this election are advancing emotional narratives. That is understandable; an emotional connection creates passion and intensity. There are legitimate issues about which voters are rightly emotional, whether angry or anxious. ISIS and economic prosperity — or the lack thereof — are seen as threats to our very way of life. There are legitimate policy differences on the best ways to address them.
But when we abandon reason in favor of emotion, we create blind spots in ourselves. Like falling in love in personal relationships, infatuation clouds judgment. How many movies feature the trope of the girl who falls for the wrong guy? And, when her friends try to tell her he is a bad apple, she refuses to listen and lashes out at them? The same thing happens in politics. Emotional attachments can create visceral reactions to criticism of “your” candidate, whether that criticism is valid or not.
This loss of objectivity is one of the major drivers of partisanship today. We need to be able to simultaneously support a candidate or position and acknowledge their flaws or coherence of arguments against them. We need to be able to present reasoned arguments on why we support something or someone, rather than an amorphous paean about feelings.
So as you get ready to head to the caucus sites, make sure you can offer a reasoned argument for your decision, even if only to yourself. If your opinion is challenged, don’t shoot the messenger or resort to ad hominem attacks. Engage in the debate and sharpen your argument, or learn from the new information and reconsider your position.
And once you’ve weighed all the information, assessed it against your values and experience, and come to a decision on a candidate, then stand proud. It matters who our next president is. If the electorate informs itself and carefully weighs the choices, we then have the best chance of getting the right answer.
And at least no one will ask about the Kardashians.