We hear a lot about single-issue voters. Pollsters tell us there are a lot of them. Pundits tell us the way to win an election is to find ways to appeal to several groups of them and to cobble together a winning coalition. It’s an easier strategy than trying to explain complex issues and trying to find ways to deal with them. It takes less time and less energy. It doesn’t work every time, of course, but it might work often enough to encourage other people to try it.
There are problems with all of this. It may help you to win an election, but it won’t help you to govern after you’ve been elected. It’ll make governing even harder. And it’ll make compromise almost impossible. If you’re cynical enough that may not matter to you. If all of your focus is on a single issue you may not pay attention to the damage being done in other areas. If you have enough contempt for other people you may feel as if the end, your end, justified the means.
There are important issues, vital issues, issues worth working for, issues worth fighting for. There are times when voters are asked to make decisions that will affect their lives, the lives of their children, the lives of their neighbors, and the lives of people they’ve never met. It’s a serious responsibility. It isn’t a responsibility we should sell. It isn’t a responsibility we should trade away.
Some people have already made the trade. And some of them have made the trade not for an ideal or a principle or a cause. They’ve decided that they’ll vote for any candidate who promises to lower their taxes. In order to succeed a candidate can promise to lower their taxes and to maintain the services, rights, privileges, and protections they enjoy. They think that someone else will have to pay, that someone else will lose out. Other people have traded their votes for a feeling of safety and some measure of protection from the people they fear. They think that their rights and privileges are safe, that someone else’s will be lost.
Once you decide that your issue is more important than every other issue, more important than the combination of all other issues, you leave yourself, and the rest of us, open to unintended, unforeseen consequences. And you risk being betrayed by leaders who were callous enough to take advantage of you during the campaign and have no reason to change when they’re in office.
In other times, in other places, people have elected liars and thieves, and they’ve supported the rise of tyrants who appealed to their lowest instincts and their worst fears. Some of them believed it would be worth the cost, but it wasn’t.
Take the longer view. Take the broader view. Other people matter. We’re in this together. Vote for leaders who understand that.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column