For many years I lived in Illinois, I never voted for a major party until 2004. Illinois was never a swing state, and I was deeply committed to the necessity of introducing a third-party into our political system. I voted for Kerry in 2004 simply to add to his popular vote margin, I knew my vote would not add anything to the electoral math, but if he lost, I at least wanted to potentially help open debate into the flaws of the electoral college system.
In 2005, I moved to Wisconsin, a major swing state. I developed an emotional choice for a candidate very early on in the process (after Iowa and New Hampshire, when everything was wide open), and even toyed with the idea of not voting for any other candidate should they get nominated.* I would simply go third party again.
But then I began to think a little more about why I actually cared enough to vote Democrat, in a non-swing state, in the 2004 election. The ability of the executive branch to "guide" policy had twice affected me directly, and affected my family in even greater regard. The Bush energy policy completely destroyed some major progress an Environmental Law firm I briefly worked for had made in combating energy pollution and encouraging green power production. Later, as a high school teacher of 16-21 year old drop-outs, we saw our enrollment explode as "push-outs," kids with weak test scores and low reading and math levels, were bumped from the major public schools through No Child Left Behind. In my family, I have one brother and a brother-in-law who both served two tours, one of which was through stop-loss. Both thankfully came home to their very concerned, exhausted and rightfully anxious families.
These anecdotal experiences reminded me of how many spheres of daily life are influenced by the ability of the executive branch to "guide" policy, both internationally and in the domestically. Here's a quick rundown of the cabinet for those needing a refresher (I sure did):
Secretary of Homeland Security
Secretary of Veteran Affairs
Secretary of Education
Secretary of Energy
Secretary of Transportation
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Secretary of Health and Human Services
Secretary of Labor
Secretary of Commerce
Secretary of Agriculture
Secretary of Interior
Secretary of Defense
Secretary of Treasury
Secretary of State
These are all the spheres of daily life in which the executive branch has direct ability to re-formulate, re-interpret, and guide the path of the United States and its citizens. This does not even include the 6,000 federal appointments a president is allowed to make before taking office and the potential 8,000 more positions which may be filled during his tenure, these include such positions as the heads of agencies, such as the FBI, CDC, and EPA. Each of these positions have their own, distinct, powers and abilities to alter the course of policy, enforcement, standards, and daily life/existence, sometimes WITHOUT any major changes to legislation or the rules of the land. Everything from Caribou migration maps to information on condoms has been affected by the "guidance" of the executive branch, and it is important to remember the subtle ways power is exercised even outside of the major and visible ideological battlegrounds such as the war, reproductive rights, or environment.
I have not even mentioned the more obvious powers. The ability to choose ambassadors, judges in federal court system. Nor have I mentioned the major role of the president in creating Foreign Policy and his sole ability to engage in ANY kind of treaty negotiation, including global commitments to energy, food, poverty, AIDS, etc. This reflection of mine didn't even, at the time, include what I consider my larger responsibilities to my community, society, and planet.
My realization, in effect, was that my decision to vote or not vote for a particular democrat would have a ripple effect, again, throughout different and potentially unanticipated aspects of my and my family's life. I don't necessarily like the all the platforms of any democrat, and I certainly think they are just as vulnerable to idiocy, corruption and false populism as the republicans, but I have also learned that I will likely be affected by the decisions of any president. As much as I am loathe to be caught in the lesser-evil dichotomy which this political system has produced, it is nonetheless where I find myself. The US system is truly a "with-us-or-against-us" system, a non-vote or third party vote is just as useful to the enemies of my principles as my voting directly for them.
Effectively, in a system I find heavily flawed, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This is as close to partisanship as I think I will even come. I certainly don't like this circumstance, and I constantly wish our system provide for more political voice, but I also won't ignore this reality of governmentality or play into its calculations.
*Just to get speculation out of the way, I decided to support Obama, who I and my high school students had met during his 2004 Senate run against Alan Keyes, and who I have grown to respect for my own reasons over these last 5 years. This debate which I had, mostly with my wife and in my own head, occurred in February before Super Tuesday, I simply found some parallels with much of the current rhetoric about "what I will do if..." and thought I'd rely my own experience with the same question. Post is cross-listed on Kos.