When discussing for whom to vote in an election, I generally refer to the three P's. The three P's of politics as I understand them are: principles; personalities; and partisanship. I rank these three P's in order of importance from most important to least important whenever I give advice to someone who is trying to decide between two candidates in a political election. I've been doing this for years.
Here's the condensed version of my usual spiel:
First, you should evaluate the principles (both political and personal) that the candidates espouse. Determine for yourself if their respective political and/or professional careers reflect these principles. If your own principles align with one candidate moreso than with the other, then you should vote for that candidate. If you still can't decide, then move on to the second "P".
Once principles have been removed from the equation, it's time to head back to your high school days and treat this like a good old-fashioned popularity contest. When in doubt, vote for the candidate who's better spoken, better dressed, better looking, or with the better life story. If Candidate X's Horatio Alger tale appeals to you, then she should be your choice. If Candidate Y is a war hero like your dear old dad, then he's the one who should get your vote come election day. (Spouses are also fair game. I'm not ashamed to admit it, but I had a thing for Teresa Heinz-Kerry in 2004. If all things had been otherwise equal, her husband would still have gotten my vote on that fact alone.) If you still can't choose, take a deep breath and proceed to "P" number three.
Here's the "P" I always tell people that I love to hate. That's why it comes last on my list of suggested criteria. In his farewell address, our nation's first president warned against those who "serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party." To say he got that one right is a gross understatement. Still, since voting "none-of-the-above" is tantamount to reneging on your duty as a voter, if the situation requires it, my usual advice is to hold your nose and vote based purely upon party interests.
Yes, that's my usual spiel. Let me confess to you now, that I don't always follow my own advice. This is mostly a form of self-therapy, but I need to get this off my chest.
You see, I've long presented myself to family, friends, and co-workers as a political independent. I chide them for wearing their "party blinders" and generally bemoan the climate in which party politics predominates philosophy, passion, and pusillimanity. Well, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A Republican has to jump through a lot of hoops and over a lot of hurdles before he gets my vote, while, for the most part, a Democrat just has to drag his rear end to the starting line.
No, 've gotta come clean. I'm a third-generation, card-carrying Democrat. I know the Democratic Party has let me down in the past, and will no doubt let me down in the future. I know that, as an African-American male, the Democratic Party takes my vote for granted. They increasingly promise little yet somehow find a way to deliver even less. Still, like many who find themselves in an emotionally abusive relationship, I find myself either unwilling or unable to break the cycle. Like Aretha, I'm just a link in their chain.
Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not a "knee-jerk" Democrat. If the Democratic candidate for a certain office was a dead dog, I would not vote for that dog over his Republican opponent. No, I'd choose a third option. If no third option were available, I'd write-in myself. Seriously, I've voted for plenty of Republicans . . . at the state and local level. If we're talking about an office higher than a state senate seat, though, I'd only vote for a Republican candidate if I knew her (or perhaps her opponent) personally.
I've also always had a Republican "ace-in-the-hole". This is the Republican I dust off the shelf and present as evidence of my non-party based thinking. Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean used to be my guy. The fact that I'd never been old enough to actually vote for him in his gubernatorial campaigns was a definite plus. The fact that he never threw his hat back in the ring after I turned 18 didn't hurt either. I could talk the talk knowing I'd probably never be called upon to walk the walk.
After his failed bid for the Republican nomination in 2000, John McCain became my Republican "safety". After all, he was from Arizona, and, though I've been a bit of a rolling stone in the 21st century, I have never seen a move to Phoenix, Scottsdale, or Tempe looming large on my horizon. I also didn't think he'd run against, much less defeat, an incumbent President from his own party in 2004. That left me, 8 years, basically, to use ol' Johnny Mac as that Republican for whom I'd vote if only I had the opportunity.
Well, that 8 year grace period is quickly coming to an end, and I don't know what to do. You see, if I follow my own advice and use the 3 P's, I might actually have to vote for Sen. McCain for President. I agree with a lot of what the man stands for. Despite its flaws, I generally supported the McCain-Feingold as a much needed first step in at least addressing the issue of campaign finance reform. I'm a die-hard boxing fan, and Sen. McCain's efforts to pass legislation to clean up the sport and protect the fighters are just what the sport needs. When he speaks about the use of military force and the treatment of prisoners of war, he speaks from the perspective of a man who's been in combat and who's been a p.o.w. himself. I like what I've seen of his personality. He seems to take issues seriously without always taking himself too seriously.
It's that darned third "P" that keeps holding me up. I don't see Sen. McCain switching parties anytime soon. I've either got to start following my own advice, or hope that, if the Senator from Arizona wins his party's nomination, that my party comes up with a better alternative than a canine cadaver.