Monday, May 30, 2011

The swing voter is no one to celebrate

I’ve always been suspicious of the swing voter. The media usually drool all over them: They supposedly are the most informed, looking at the issues one-by-one, then picking the candidate who will do the country the most good.


People with political convictions, whether on the left or right, almost always vote for the same party. They do so because these voters have convictions. They believe in things so strongly that they’ll actually vote against their own self-interest if need be. Not so the swing voter.

A swing voter marks his ballot solely on which candidate will do the most for him. Just watch them next election night. The TV networks love to gather a roomful of “undecideds” to ask them how they felt about a debate. Almost to a T each one prefaces his or her comments with, “Candidate Smith talked about how to cut my taxes, help with college tuition, keep my job safe …”

I have more respect for someone on the exact opposite side of the political fence from myself than I do for people who vote based solely on what a candidate will do to help them personally. At least those who disagree with me stand for something. They, like me, will support political causes they believe are right – even when it actually hurts them personally.

We can find people like this from all sides of the political spectrum, but one I heard recently was a caller to The Rush Limbaugh radio show. Identifying himself as Walter from Edgewater, New Jersey, he said he isn’t concerned about high unemployment since he has a job. He isn’t worried about the collapse of the housing market because his house is bought and paid for; he isn’t going to lose it.

Walter is an extreme example, and even sounds like he’s not very bright. Either that or he’s just messing with Limbaugh, which is what is most likely. Walter isn’t a swing voter. He’s a partisan. But his talk sounds more like that of selfish swing voters in that they care only for themselves or their own families, friends or communities. Like your friend who is ruining his life but can’t see the warning signs even though everyone is pointing them out, swing voters can’t see how insane they sound to the rest of us.

Often misattributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, the sentiment that “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money,” is nonetheless true. That’s been happening for the past several decades. The swing voter, rather than being our noblest, will likely be the one who does us in.

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Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USW3-055805-D DLC (b&w film neg.), Maria Ealand, photographer.