I’m the first to admit it: I’m not impressed with the options available for next month’s Knesset election. I have significant political and philosophical differences with each, all of them endorse policies or platforms I firmly disagree with, and candidates representing every party have made statements I find deeply troubling. In one sense, there’s really no one to vote for. But in another more meaningful way, I believe it’s absolutely imperative to vote despite all of the above.
What Voting Is – And What It Is Not
There are many misconceptions about the concept of voting. Contrary to popular opinion, it has absolutely nothing to do with liking a given candidate or party. Were that the case, I’d have no choice but to abstain from voting, since I dislike and distrust them all.
But voting isn’t dependent on such imprecise emotions as affection. Nor are such feelings even appropriate to politics; affection is personal and cannot be projected onto distant political figures. Instead, politics and voting are about weighing real options against one another – not idealized facsimiles of reality – and choosing the lesser evil. It’s a sober appraisal of relative advantages and flaws, not a referendum on likability.
Many people, however, refuse to participate, often times buoyed by some ideological or religious reasoning, or because of the parties closest to their views have too many shortcomings. But pointing out the flaws of this or that party is irrelevant, since the choice is not between some abstract idea of perfection and a given party; it’s between the leadership offered by the 11 parties likely to pass the electoral threshold, each of which is deeply flawed but will nevertheless be involved in making important decisions that will irrevocably affect your life and the lives of your friends and loved ones.
Sadly, too many adults today seem blissfully ignorant to the fact that life revolves around tradeoffs, not perfect solutions. All options inevitably have their drawbacks; prudence rests upon the ability to separate the bad from the terrible. Rejecting this fundamental reality is the ultimate display of childishness.
Elections Do Matter
Some opponents of voting argue that it doesn’t matter who gets elected or who’s in power; the government’s policies will be the same no matter what. That’s certainly possible and I don’t discount the possibility that my vote – or even the larger outcome I hope for in the elections – won’t change anything.
But this pessimistic view has little empirical basis; it’s a suspicion that’s not falsifiable or open to serious rational examination. It’s true that politicians often don’t deliver on their promises, but that doesn’t negate the plain truth that policies do generally shift as governments change hands.
Can anyone argue with a straight face that the surge in settlement construction in the territories after 1977 had nothing to do with Menachem Begin becoming Prime Minister, or that the Oslo Accords would have been signed had Yitzhak Shamir won reelection in 1992? That the complex political calculus of 21st century geopolitics often delivers something other than the absolutism desired by doctrinaire ideologues on the left and right is no reason to surrender. In politics, as in all other facets of life, the enemy of the good is the best.
Another answer to such concerns is a variation on Pascal’s Wager: You’re no worse off if you vote, and there’s a chance it actually will make a difference. Some will argue that the mere act of voting signals a kind of trust in the system, that participating in the process legitimizes it.
Ironically, such claims are typically made by the more anti-establishment types on the fringes of politics, yet they accept the underlying argument of the very statists they allege to oppose, that voting is not merely a mundane sorting of flawed options but a socially significant, almost religious, act of civil duty. Both see in voting significance far deeper than the physical act itself. In reality, however, one need not shed his or her cynicism at the ballot box.
Self-Righteous Armchair Politicians
Purposefully not voting is nothing more than a dangerous vanity, and it needs to be exposed as such. Those who garb themselves in ideological purity, preferring abstractions over real-life possibilities are self-serving in the extreme. For them it’s a matter of social signaling, an opportunity to proclaim their moral superiority over those who dirty themselves in the politics of reality.
When life-and-death issues are at stake, as they always are in Israel, such moral preening isn’t merely obnoxious and intellectually stunted, it’s dangerous. And it unfortunately tends to be contagious, infecting well-meaning people who get duped by the rhetoric. After March 17th, let none of the pious non-voters, right-wing or left-wing, indulge in such galling hypocrisy as to rail against the supposed injustices of the new government. Whatever the outcome is, they earned it.