“The lesser of two evils principle is often used in reference to electoral politics. When popular opinion is confronted with two main candidates that are substantially similar, a voter is often advised to choose the “lesser of two evils” to avoid having the supposedly ‘greater evil’ get into office and wreak havoc on society.” (Wikipedia)
In McCain vs. Obama, does this principle apply? Are McCain and Obama “substantially similar”?
From the Clintonista PUMAs (Party Unity My Ass) to those wanting Obama to be the perfect progressive reformer, there are those who hold to the belief that McCain and Obama are similar enough to justify not voting for either of them.
This blogger is typical of many in the later group. He begins his post titled “The lesser of two evils” with:
There is, of course, a difference between the Democratic party and the Republican party. There’s a difference, a real difference, between Barack Obama and John McCain. The Republican party is the party of sexism, racism, stupidity and Christian fundamentalism, and it’s retreating from reality faster than the Italian Army. McCain is completely beholden to the party of insanity. The Democratic party is not completely insane, and Obama is not beholden, body and soul, to this sort of insanity. I get it.
He concludes with:
I’ve changed my registration: I’m no longer a member of the Democratic party. I will vote, and I will definitely not vote for McCain, but I will not vote for Obama either. If McCain wins, so be it. I refuse to take responsibility: It’s the fault of an elite that has given me bad choices, and has brainwashed half the country into thinking that John McCain might be anything other than a national disaster and a betrayal of whatever great ideals have been promoted in our society, from the Constitution to the New Deal. Compared to that great betrayal by the people who justify their power by appeal to their supposed intelligence, wisdom, and civic virtue, my refusal to passively accept their bullshit pales to insignificance. Read how the author concludes Obama is really a conservative, and the comments, here.
I believe that those who adhere to the belief that both McCain and Obama are “evil”, or totally unacceptable choices, are engaging in an odd sort of what philosophers call absolutism. I call it lazy reasoning.
McCain is unacceptable because of his right wing beliefs and positions.
Obama is unacceptable for various reasons, among them because hasn’t come out four square against the assault on our civil liberties and constitutional rights represented by the Patriot Act and presidential signing statements.
More or less opposite to absolutism is the philosophy or relativism. Adherence to this would argue to deciding whether or not Obama was significant enough a lessor evil than McCain to justify voting for him.
I suggest another mode of decision making using the schema proposed by the twentieth century philosopher Stephen Toulmin which he called practical or substantial arguments:
Toulmin’s practical argument focuses on the justificatory function of argumentation, as opposed to the inferential function of theoretical arguments. Whereas theoretical arguments make inferences based on a set of principles to arrive at a claim, practical arguments first find a claim of interest, and then provide justification for it. Toulmin believes that reasoning is less an activity of inference involving the discovering of new ideas, but more so a process of testing and sifting already existing ideas—an act achievable through the process of justification. (Wikipedia)
As an exercise I suggest those who are leaning towards a none of the above choice between the two major party candidates use Toulin’s model to decide if this is the best course of action.
I want to support the candidate that best reflects my views. The conclusion whose merit must be established is that I shouldn’t vote for either of them.
The facts we appeal to as a foundation for the claim. Lay out the facts leading you to conclude that McCain and Obama are substantially similar.
the statement authorizing our movement from the data to the claim. In order to move from the data established in the data, i.e., the candidates are similar enough to say you believe they are the same.
Credentials designed to certify the statement expressed in the warrant; backing must be introduced when the warrant itself is not convincing enough to the readers or the listeners. For example, if the listener does not deem the warrant as credible, be able to compare point by point the ways McCain and Obama are very similar or the same.
Statements recognizing the restrictions to which the claim may legitimately be applied. Further analyze whether each point is applicable to your conclusion.
Words or phrases expressing the speaker’s degree of force or certainty concerning the claim. Such words or phrases include “possible,” “probably,” “impossible,” “certainly,” “presumably,” “as far as the evidence goes,” or “necessarily.” Look at all the qualifiers in your arguments as objectively as possible.
The first three elements “claim,” “data,” and “warrant” are considered as the essential components of practical arguments, while the second triad “qualifier,” “backing,” and “rebuttal” may not be needed in some arguments. When first proposed, this layout of argumentation is based on legal arguments and intended to be used to analyze the rationality of arguments typically found in the courtroom; in fact, Toulmin did not realize that this layout would be applicable to the field of rhetoric and communication until his works were introduced to rhetoricians by Wayne Brockriede and Douglas Ehninger.* Italics mine, the rest from (Wikipedia)
A few years ago a friend had some t-shirts made up and he sent me one. They said “Larry, Curly, Moe and George”. Yesterday he emailed me with the suggestion I cross out George and add McCain. By the reasoning of some I could write in both candidate’s names.
* I encourage readers to let me know if I’ve misapplied any of these principles. It’s been a long time since I took a philosophy course.