Ryan and I played Scrabble and argued about voting Friday night. We started out debating the merits of Barack Obama (whose rhetoric Ryan thinks is inspiring and I think is cliché ridden) and whether one should feel obligated to vote for a candidate they do not like. I said that even though I think Barack Obama is (in the words of Jimmy McNulty) an empty suit I’ll vote for him if he’s the Democratic Party’s nominee because he’s the Democratic nominee. Ryan said that sort of voting is mindless, sycophantic voting (also, Ryan was drunk and I was stoned on a cocktail of Maxalt and Vicodin taken earlier for a migraine).
I woke up Sunday feeling like I needed to clarify my point. The reason I’m going to vote for the democrat regardless of who the party nominates is that I have a core set of beliefs about the role of the government in people’s lives that transcends the individual candidate, my cherry-picked objections to them, and, moreover, is not shared by the Republican Party. By way of illustration I’ll note that 143 million pounds of beef was recalled last week by a California meatpacking firm.
This was a voluntary recall. All meat recalls are voluntary. The US Department of Agriculture has lacked the authority to enforce food safety standards and policies since the Reagan and first Bush presidencies. (Some news stories have incorrectly indicated that the USDA issued the recall.)
In addition to generally cutting public health spending, Ronald Reagan had two secretaries of agriculture, one was in the hog rendering business and the other was a former president of the American Meat Packers Association. He appointed a vice president of the National Cattleman’s Association to run the USDA’s Food Marketing and Inspection Service. There's nothing about these backgrounds that necessary means the people would be bad choices, but from a public health standpoint they were bad choices.
These appointees reduced the presence of federal inspectors in American slaughterhouses, leaving the job of regulating adherence to food safety standards to the individual meat packing companies. The meat packing industry got to keep regulating itself even after some companies were caught falsifying safety records and injury logs. The USDA’s role in recalling meat after this point has been to issue press releases (often written by the meat packing company issuing the recall).
Bill Clinton tried reinstating the USDA’s authority to demand recalls and fine negligent mean packers, but congressional republicans blocked legislation to that effect in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999.
Had a videotape of obviously sick and decrepit animals being abused and forklifted to slaughter not been smuggled out of the slaughterhouse in California nobody would have been the wiser. This may very well be one of those anecdotes with viscerally unpleasant details but no outright dangerous implications. The effect of republican small government policies, though, has been that there's no safety net here, not even against companies who have demonstrated their negligence. This is a scenario where I think the democrats have the right idea.
So, even though I like John McCain more than Barack Obama (for instance, McCain is clearly funnier) I’ll vote for Obama because he represents something closer to my view of how the government ought to work. If you can't be bothered to vote for a candidate who's nearly synonymous policy-wise to the one you prefer, then you're really only supporting them for their celebrity. That’s my argument for sucking it up and voting for the candidate you dislike when they’re from the party that you do.