Next Tuesday, we will again try to find out whether there are any candidates running for office who care more about the welfare of the country than they care about getting or keeping a job in government.
I think primary elections are useful in this respect because they’re contests between two members of the same party. That means that the election should probe whatever differences exist in that party’s ideology. Thus, the election should ideally shape that ideology for the future as we the voters will choose the ideas we find most attractive.
With regard to the Democrats, that is probably the way it will work. The party seems to be electing people who are more likely to support things like comprehensive immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana for some uses, and especially marriage equality, which is spreading like wildfire because that is what the voters have decided they want.
With regard to the Republicans, issues are more perplexing. Candidates in Republican primaries apparently have to choose whether they will run on things that can be accomplished, like reforming the tax code, or things their tea party base wants, which probably can’t be done, like repealing the Affordable Care Act.
That seems kind of backward. Instead of the voters choosing what kind of candidates they want, the candidates are choosing what kind of voters they want. And in many cases, it seems as though the candidates are asking moderate voters to vote against their own interests to appease the more extreme wing of the party.
For example, since the Affordable Care Act is nothing more than rules telling insurance companies what they are allowed to do, candidates who want it repealed must try to convince the voters they should choose higher profits for insurance companies over saving their own lives, should they happen to have a pre-existing condition or come down with a potentially expensive illness like cancer.
How do you convince Hispanic voters to vote against some sort of path to legality, and eventually citizenship for the minority of immigrants who want that? How do you make the case that it somehow preserves someone’s liberty if the government prevents them from marrying the person they love? And isn’t it hard in the name of economy to be the champion of light bulbs that waste 90 percent of the electricity you put into them?
This is not exclusively a Republican phenomenon. For years Democrats have asked their moderate members to vote against nuclear power just to appease the anxiety-ridden, hand-wringing pseudo environmentalist wing of their party. The Republicans did it, too, but at least they were paid to do so by the oil and gas lobby. The Democrats got nothing.
What I guess I’m saying is that primary elections have become very difficult to figure out. You never know what the candidates actually believe, what they think you believe, and whether in the long run they will vote the way they say they will or blindly follow their congressional leaders.
So why vote in primaries? Well, because there is that rare petunia in the onion patch, and perhaps, because it can make a huge difference if the better candidate gets chosen, even if neither of them seems worth much.
But I think the most fundamental reason to vote is because we live in the only country dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, because voting is the only way we can hope to preserve our right to speak, worship, assemble, have a fair trial, and defend our families with private arms, and because we understand, or at least try to understand, what it really means to be an American.