Today, if you’re interested, there will be an avalanche of last-minute endorsements to read in the presidential election. You will find impassioned pleas for every candidate, appealing to the diamond of interests that exist in a country whose electorate has, in spite of our dominant two-party system, too many facets to reasonable count. We have special interest blocs in our political landscape that represent strong feelings on everything from national defense, the environment, civil liberties and the economy. For many of us who impartially advocate for citizen involvement in the polity there is perhaps no reason for engagement that is illegitimate. Mine is but one amongst those (probably more effective) pleas. Yet some folks are interested, so here we go.
My vote tomorrow will borne of a simple theme — the power of no and yes. The President of the United States has two awesome (and I use that in the strictest sense) powers. And if you are voting tomorrow solely based on the economy then, all apologies, neither of these involve “managing the economy.” The executive branch does not dictate whether these are economically good or bad times. Which isn’t to say that the office as no influence — it does — but that it simply isn’t as it is popularly imagined on the right (and as it was on the left in the ‘aughts), a situation whereby the president is a veritable Wizard of Oz in the Oval Office. We like to imagine that a single individual, if elected, will finally have access and the willingness to use a secret economic control panel brimming with steampunk dials and emerald levers – PULL HERE FOR POSITIVE GDP GROWTH MR. PRESIDENT. This doesn’t exist, and that’s not where the offices’ power strictly lies.
Neither do these official powers necessarily guarantee other big-issue items. It does not guarantee the unilateral end of global warming, nor will it rein in the (bipartisan) expansion of executive power. Look to Congress for those things. It won’t put a unilateral stop to the pro-whatever movement, or indulge your secret wishes to return to 1950’s social norms. Of course, neither will it bring you 1950’s manufacturing either. These are all very specific, and important things, but that’s not where I’m coming from in this election.
No, my view is simpler than all that. The power of ‘no’ I’m writing of is the power to veto, if you will. The next four years will see the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I support that legislation. Not because it is my ideal way to guarantee access to potentially life-saving health care, but because it is the biggest step towards that ideal in several generations. Do not misunderstand me here, it is not enough. It is not perfect and the future holds more change. Yet it IS what we have, and I’m willing to exercise my vote to see it through. The counter-factual, of a future with less access to health care services in a bifurcated labor market, with fewer guarantees to the most vulnerable citizens in this country is unacceptable to me. A president with the willingness to veto, to say no this alternate future, is a president that earns my vote.
The other power, critically under-evaluated and under-appreciated, is the power to say ‘yes’ to Supreme Court nominees. Of course I understand that this is not a unilateral authority. Nominees need to be confirmed by the Senate, but in this regard the weight of discretion lies with the executive branch. Three current Supreme Court justices — Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg — will all turn age 80 before 2016. The possibility that the next president will replace one or more is very likely, and thus shape the judicial orientation for a long time. I would prefer to see a (small-c) conservative Supreme Court for the rest of my lifetime. Moderation on the judicial level is important to me but for one exclusion — an exclusion that very much informs my vote. That is the fundamental right for same-sex marriages to be legally recognized. It is quite likely that some case, perhaps even one circulating in the system now, will arrive at the courthouse steps that will affect whether or not same-sex couples have the ability to legally accept the rights and responsibilities of marriage. The law should not discriminate against these individuals. I will vote for a president who, if given the chance, will nominate judges that will view this issue as a matter of equal rights.
These are the topmost issues in my mind as I vote. You may not share my opinion, or you may not care at all having long ago decided that your involvement is unnecessary. I disagree either way. These issues — health care and equal rights — are important to me. My vote will not decide the election. Yet I will not allow others to make decisions that affect me and my family, or for those I know and care for and those I’ve never met and yet still wish good tidings towards, without at least having a say about it. That is why tomorrow I will vote for President Obama. I humbly encourage you to do the same.