I’d rather vote for a Democratic slimeball than a Republican saint


(Fortunately for my preference, Democratic slimeballs don’t seem to be in short supply.)

In the comments at Ethics Alarms, “Michael R” writes:

How to tell if you are infected [with “partyism”]: if there is an election where the candidate for your party is known to be incompetent, corrupt, or a bigot but you vote for them anyway because you “can’t let …. have more seats in the ….”. I know a lot of people who refused to vote for someone in one local election that they admitted was intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated to bettering their community. They refused to vote for him because of his party, instead voting for someone that they admitted had none of the attributes above. The same people voted for someone with felony fraud convictions rather than his opponent, a man who only ran because he felt someone needed to run in opposition to said ex-felon.

Jack agreed, saying that he’d rather have a non-slimeball regardless of party affiliation.

I don’t agree. Michael appears to be talking about a member of the legislature (“you can’t let… have more seats”). When it comes to members of Congress, what’s important is how they’re going to vote, and which party they’ll caucus with. When it comes to Congress, I’d rather vote for a drunk puppy-kicking sidewalk spitter than vote for the nicest, most moral Republican on Earth.

Because when Republicans are in power, they do things like defund the UN Population Fund, leading to tens of thousands of women in the developing world dying for lack of good maternity care, and thousands more suffering needlessly from treatable fistula. Democrats reverse this.

The UNFPA is one example, but it’s not the only example. From food stamps, to climate change, to health care, the policies supported by the Democrats (as lousy as they often are) will kill fewer people than the policies supported by the Republicans. Even if you don’t believe that, at least believe that I believe that.

All else being equal, I’d rather have a good person who is a Republican in office than a Democratic slimeball. But all else is NOT equal. In the legislature, a good person with bad polices does infinitely more harm than a bad person with good policies. Votes based on “character” are, in my view, self-indulgent and unethical; it is voting to make the voter feel good, rather than voting to do the most good. Especially when it comes to Congress, the only ethical vote is a vote based on policy.

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15 Responses to I’d rather vote for a Democratic slimeball than a Republican saint

  1. I tend to agree with you. I’ve always found this country’s obsession with purity of character in its politicians very troubling for a whole host of reasons. This obsession something that has developed, at least to the extent that it is an obsession, in my lifetime. As far as I know (with McCarthyism being a notable exception), it was not as much of an issue from Kennedy backwards.

    But I also always wonder where I would draw the line. Are there “slime ball” characteristics/past actions/etc. that would keep me from voting for someone even though it would put the Republicans in power? I don’t have a simple answer to that question, but it’s one I often ask myself when the issue you raise comes up.

  2. 2
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    That’s a hard one.

    Clearly, there are also plenty of people who would make competent Democratic legislators, and who are not slimeballs. But they will almost never be put before you as an option, because the Democratic machine rewards longevity over morals: they won’t make it past the primary stage.

    So I would trade some short term losses for long term gains. I would vote against a horrific Democrat. If, say, Rangel had lost, then I would assume that the Democratic machine would respond by putting a slightly less-slimy Democrat in, and then I would vote for her instead.

    (of course, that’s because I tend to think that people who are not slimeballs will, as a general rule, make better legislators. Intelligence and character are controlling on a lot of minor issues and a lot of stuff which happens out of the public eye. Which is most of what happens, so I think that is important.)

  3. 3
    JutGory says:

    Two easy examples.

    As I recall, there were several accusations against Bill Clinton involving sexual improprieties (to put it delicately), and many said they were willing to ignore those allegations because he was pro-woman.

    Then, a few years back, I remember some discussion going around about whether you could be a feminist and vote for Hillary Clinton when there is pretty good evidence that she engaged in domestic violence when some of Bill’s improprieties became public.

    Or, we could go back to the classics. “Yeah, I would totally vote for Jefferson. Sure, he owns slaves, but at least he thinks slavery should be abolished.”


  4. 4
    Ben Lehman says:

    Jefferson is a bad example. Jefferson was running against Adams, who was much more anti-slavery and also didn’t own slaves.

  5. 5
    Protagoras says:

    Does a typical voter understand policy well enough to make that a good basis for voting? An argument could be made that the professionals are going to have a lot more information about the issues, so a voter should go with the most trustworthy professional and then trust them to get the policies right. Admittedly, this does require people to actually be adequate at judging character, or at least better at it than they are at judging policy, and it is not clear that that’s the case.

  6. 6
    Mark J says:

    The problem is your premise, that there exist Republican who are saints. Unfortunately today, to be a Republican is by definition to be in support of a corrupt institution that is working to overthrow our system of government, impoverish the vast majority of Americans, and destroy our planet.

    These are not “saintly” things. Anyone supporting such an agenda, no matter how nice she is to stray dogs and babies, is not someone we should support.

  7. 7
    e says:

    I feel like this split between party identification and morals depends on treating party identification like loyalty to a sports team, which it may be for some (many?) voters. But according to my moral values, there is no such thing as a Republican saint, because in every case I can think of where the 2 parties disagree, the GOP takes the, to me, more immoral position. Voting to cut SNAP benefits etc. _makes_ them a slimeball* in my book even if they never take bribe money or whatever, so it’s a matter of which _kind_ of slimeball I’d vote for. (And I make more or less the same calculation Amp does re: people dying.)

    @gin-and-whiskey Yeah, I don’t like the idea of a legislature made up mostly of corrupt Democrats; I don’t think they’d make good policy either. But in this 2 party system, I’m not sure what else to do. I suppose voting against the slimy ones in primaries? When we even get primaries with more than one viable candidate.

    *I realize I’m lumping together “I think they’re mistaken about what the outcome of this policy will be” and “I think they’re choosing an immoral outcome” (not to mention “I think they’re willfully ignorant of the outcome of this policy”). I understand if y’all think I’m being unfair by not making that distinction; I’m feeling very angry right now about a variety of policy choices (from both parties) and am having a hard time seeing those choices as accidental rather than at best negligent.

  8. 8
    Pesho says:

    To my wife’s great consternation, I am in no hurry to apply for American Citizenship, and thus cannot vote. But if I did, I would certainly be more likely to vote for a Democrat crook than for a Republican saint, because one exists, and the other does not. And even if we were talking about saintly people as opposed to saints, I doubt they would be found amongst those either party put forward for any kind of important vote.

    Basically, if I were to hypothetically vote, I would only care about the position of the candidate on issues I’m interested in. I do not see why I’d care about lovers and vices. I’d care about who paying the bribes (contributions), and whether their interests match mine.

  9. 9
    Doug S. says:

    This happened:

    My father: Sometimes people from outside New Jersey ask me why we tolerate so much corruption in our elected officials.
    Me: Well, what do they want us to do about it? Vote Republican?

  10. 10
    Fibi says:


    I understand your position, and generally agree that policy is more important than character in the context of today’s American politics.

    Just as the median legislator’s policy views are disproportionately influential in a legislature, the median member’s corrpution quotient is disproportionately influential in a caucus. As long as one more crook doesn’t risk tipping the party into a den of villainy I feel comfortable putting policies first.

    But I’m not sure that position generalizes…If a party becomes thoroughly corrupted policies that you support will inevitably suffer. Sometimes you have to cut the cancer out, even though not having surgery beats having surgery, all else being equal.

  11. 11
    RonF says:

    Well, what do they want us to do about it? Vote Republican?

    Based on the state of Illinois politics and the options available to me in the upcoming election, that’s my current plan. I’ve never voted a straight ticket in my life, but I may end up doing so this election. I got redistricted out of the Democratic House district I’ve lived in during my entire tenure in Illinois – I’m not even sure the Democrats have a warm body on the ballot in my new district. I’ve certainly seen no campaign literature for anyone.

  12. 12
    Copyleft says:

    “The perfect is the enemy of the good”, but “The lesser of two evils is still evil.”

    Maybe it’s more complex than just sticking to a party affiliation… especially when that enables the party to keep ignoring you and/or screwing you over on issues that matter to you.

  13. 13
    Brian says:

    “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.” – GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908

    It seems as though the current debate is “bad ideas” versus “stupid ideas.” Or perhaps competent evil versus incompetent evil. While it may be possible to pick and choose the lesser of the two, it is still hard to work up much enthusiasm.

    I say vote for dead politicians. Nixon vs. either Roosevelt, that’s a debate I can care about.

  14. 15
    nobody.really says:

    I’ve never voted a straight ticket in my life, but I may end up doing so this election.

    Just great: so now RonF tells us he’s a Republican — and a homophobe.