Must one vote for the lesser of two evils?

Democrats traditionally argue that one ought to vote for whoever their candidate is, just because the consequences of voting for a Republican are so much worse. But while this might be true in some cases, it’s clearly false as a general principle. Here’s an example:

Suppose we have a choice between two utterly evil candidates — they both promise to light the constitution on fire on their first day in office, imprison all the poor people, and start six new wars solely for their own personal amusement. By week 10, each promises to have conducted at least one major genocide.

One of those candidates, however, also promises to increase the funding given to cancer research by one dollar. Am I obliged to vote for that candidate? I’d suggest the answer is pretty clearly no.

Obviously, this isn’t the case in the present election, but I think it is a counterexample to the general proposition that one must vote for a candidate who comes with a lot of negative baggage just because the other candidate is worse. The arguments for voting for the lesser of two evils will have to be a lot more nuanced than that — and maybe those arguments can be made, but I’d like to hear them explicitly.

Edit: Also, I think it’s profoundly harmful that democrats defend their candidates, year after year after year, with the argument “at least he’s not as bad as the devil-pig on the other side.” Even though that happens to be the case, it’s a horribly cynical and disenheartening way to promote a candidate. I had thought Obama would be free from that, that there might be actual affirmative arguments for wanting Obama to be president… until he got the nomination and immediately started hurling principle out the window.


2 Responses to “Must one vote for the lesser of two evils?”

  1. JL Says:

    What’s the point in not voting? Do you say something about your distaste for both candidates, or is it personal satisfaction? My hunch is that it really only says something if enough people agree with you to have a noticeable non-vote, as opposed to mere apathy. And I think most people ignore any personal satisfaction they might get out of not voting.

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    I don’t think “satisfaction” is the right word for it. Rather, it’s the avoidance of distaste. The notion of marking a ballot with a vote for Joe Biden is so revolting to me that the point is to avoid the offense.

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