It’s time to offer up another lukewarm defense for someone who
didn’t ask to be defended. I did it before for Bruce Danielson.
This time I’m sticking up for the undecided voter.
It is a timely defense, because Tuesday’s presidential debate
questions come from those who haven’t committed to voting for
Barack Obama’s re-election or Mitt Romney’s challenger bid.
Saturday Night Live did a great skit about undecided voters, a
mock-commercial that sums up many of our thoughts about people who
have not yet made a choice. I’ll post the video at the end.
As further evidence against the non-committal types I found
a site that purported to show who undecided
voters are. In some cases it’s not pretty. They have
less education, less money, little in retirement savings, are more
likely to be unemployed, less likely to be married but more likely
to have kids living with them in homes they don’t own.
Given the swing in poll numbers since the first debate, I can
see why some in America are troubled that it’s on these people that
the election hinges.
But I’m going to suggest, with no evidence whatsoever, that
there may be a significant segment of undecided America that is
thoughtful, perhaps even quantifiably liberal or conservative, who
have yet to make a decision. Allow me to offer some examples.
They’re hypothetical, but I bet you could find people who fit this
The Ronulan or Libertarian: Ron Paul supporters were asked to be
good little soldiers and support the Republican banner carrier,
even though they were hosed at the Republican National Convention
when they had their last chance to make a meaningful stand. It’s
not what happened at the convention, though, that makes them
undecided. Sure, they probably like Romney’s economic policies
better. But he might not go far enough their direction, and
Romney’s foreign policy pronouncements about how engaged America
should be might frighten them. It’s not that they like what Obama
has done, but it might the preferable option of the two candidates
who have a chance to win. Same goes for backers of the actual
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson who nonetheless don’t want to
see a vote wasted. The waffling may be a question of which policy
position matters more.
The sad liberal: Many liberals rejoiced when Obama was elected
and created unrealistic expectations they should have known to
temper. He said all along he would listen to everyone. Whether he
did or not is an argument conservatives would like to contest, but
nonetheless what Obama put forward were not bigtime liberal
solutions, most notably on financial regulations, the economic
stimulus and health care reform. First off, any stimulus at all
leans liberal, I’ll grant you that. But the one that got through
was not nearly as large as the most liberal suggested it needed to
be. Furthermore, much of it was tax cuts that you and I are still
getting. The 2 percent payroll tax cut has never gone away. On
financial reform anyone can see that loud as many will complain
about Dodd-Frank, some of the complaints are that it didn’t go far
enough. He didn’t force banks to break themselves up into smaller
pieces, and he didn’t nationalize any. On health care reform you
have to know liberals wanted universal health care, with the
government acting as the national insurance company. Instead he
championed a program that required everyone to get insurance, which
made it possible to get other reforms in place and ensured that
insurers had more customers. So, a liberal disappointed on so many
fronts might be considering voting for Romney, hoping that his
performance will be so bad that a new liberal candidate could have
a chance in 2016.
The pragmatist: A liberal pragmatist might have voted for Kerry
in 2004, but when the economy tanked was glad his guy didn’t win
that year, ushering in the age of Obama. That person might conclude
four more years of Obama would be bad for liberals generally. A
conservative pragmatist may dislike Romney enough, for whatever
reason, that the thought of him becoming president for possibly
eight years seems worse than living with Obama for four more. And
there are those who are middle-of the-road pragmatists, who just
want someone who can make the country work better.
Of course, the Saturday Night Live image is more fun, but I
wouldn’t put these people in the “likely voter” category.