I’ve received solicitations for years now from the forlorn-but-hopeful Republican Party in Hyde Park, Chicago. They wanted me to be a poll watcher for them. Since I'm basically an American-hating, commie-loving socialist, I was confused when I first got the letter. What sort of benighted demographic information were they using?
And then I remembered. I’d voted for John McCain in the 2000 Republican primary. Since this is Hyde Park, I may well have been the only person who voted in the Republican primary in the entire precinct. I was probably all they had.
I didn't vote for McCain because I loved him or anything. I liked some of his positions, particularly his campaign finance reform efforts, but mostly I really, really didn't like George Bush. By the time the Illinois primary rolled around, the Democrats had already decided on Al Gore (whom I loathed), but I still had some hope that McCain (who appeared to have a brain and some vague shred of conscience) might beat Bush (who, as far as I could tell, and as events proved, had neither.)
Anyway, McCain lost, and I voted for Nader in the general, which mattered not a whit since this is Illinois and Gore won the state easily. I never regretted that vote for McCain, though. Even though my opinion about him fell in 2008, and even though I think he would have been a crappy president, there is no way he could have been as crappy a president as George W.
Now we're going on 12 years later… and though I feel bad for the local Republican Party and don't wish to sow further confusion, I'm thinking of voting in the Republican primary once more. Again, this year there won't be any competition for the Democrats—nobody is challenging Obama from the left on civil liberties issues, much as I desire. The only competitive show in town is the GOP—and it's a show that really might matter. The economy, as everybody has noticed, sucks. The Republicans have done the best they can to shoot themselves in the foot, then hit the foot with a hammer, then drop a small thermonuclear device upon the foot, and then fall face first into a barrel of coked-up wolverines. But despite all of that, there remains the distinct possibility that a Republican, no matter how loopy, really might win.
The thought makes me a little nauseous. I only watched one primary debate, but it was abundantly clear that the people up on that stage were, by and large, mean-spirited, fanatical poltroons. Whether it's Rick Santorum's theocracy or Michele Bachmann's idiocracy or Herman Cain's hey-I'm-dumber-than-even-Bachmann, I want no part of it. Rick Perry is admittedly not as stupid as Bachmann or Cain, but I refuse to see that as sufficient recommendation for high office. And as for Newt Gingrich—well, in the valley of the imbecile, apparently the nastiest man is king. Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman aren't real contenders… and then there's Mitt Romney.
When Romney opens his mouth, no idiotic fantasies spew forth. He doesn't claim we can drill our way out of oil dependence. He doesn't insist that vaccinations are the root of all evil. He doesn't want to eliminate government departments he can't even remember. He gets up on that stage and he spits out bland, robotic talking points the way a politician is supposed to. It's not inspiring. It's not elevating. But it's minimally competent.
I guess some people are put off by that blandness, as well as his flip-flopping. I'll admit, I'd like Mitt better if he hadn't changed his mind about abortion and health care and goodness knows what else. But that's not because I have some sort of utopian notion that politicians should be vertebrates. It's simply because I agreed with him more when he was running for governor of Massachusetts. I want the people I vote for to agree with me, for the most part. I don't want them to hold fast to stupid positions ("don't tax the wealthy!") even when all of their constituents disagree with them. We're a democracy. The people's opinions are supposed to matter. That means our politicians should listen to our opinions, not just follow their own dictatorial whims. Ergo, pliability in a public figure is no vice. As far as I'm concerned, the fact that Mitt has pandered to people like me in the past doesn't make me mad because he has no "true" beliefs. It just makes me hopeful that, if the stars align and the creek don't rise, he might pander to people like me again in the future.
A vote for Mitt, then, is a vote for bland competence and ideological wishy-washiness. That doesn't thrill me, but it's a lot less terrifying than a vote for searing idiocy and slavering partisanship. Of course, the Democrats are happy to put venal hackery above love of country, and so are going after Romney with attack ads in key states. It's in their interest to knock him off and get somebody like Gingrich or Perry who appeals less to… well, less to folks like me. But though I'd overall prefer Obama to Romney, and though Obama would have an easier time against Bachmann or Cain or whoever, I still would much rather see Romney get the Republican nomination. This isn't a game, after all. We're not rooting for the home team. We're looking at the next President of the United States. Whether Democrat or Republican, I want someone in that office who is not a fucking fool.