The Fringe Moderates: There’s No Place Like Home

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This past spring, primary elections were being held in the United States and races won and lost by candidates seeking to be their parties’ nominees to the presidency. During that time, a number of faithful Democrats became registered members of the GOP and some red-blooded Republicans affiliated themselves with the Dems. While this is an entirely understandable and even commendable act when taken by those who have honestly reevaluated their place on the political spectrum, when taken up by those seeking to meddle in the politics of their opponent, it is a move that we all should have few qualms about condemning.

It is now fall at Swarthmore, and the national election, with conventions completed and tickets selected, is in full swing. For us, who have elected to spend four short years of our lives at this college, this means we are even more inundated with politics than usual. Groups and individuals of every stripe are engaging with the process in any way they can, nasty stickers are posted on the boards of the College Democrats and College Republicans, and people are idealistically tabling in Sharples and Parrish to encourage voter registration.

But is this drive for voter registration so ideal? We’ve all heard the arguments about how little our votes count on their own, but we aren’t here to make that case. Indeed, we both vote and we would hope that all other politically well-informed persons on campus do the same. What we take issue with is the collecting of students from across the country and transplanting them – and more to the point, their votes – to the pleasant but foreign climes of Pennsylvania.

First of all, it invites some considerable moral queasiness on our parts. We would not be willing to put the tactic on the level of the party-switching seen in the primaries, but it does seem a step in a similarly disingenuous direction. Nobody disputes that it is legal, and there are clearly enough reasons for non-natives to register to vote here in Delaware County. Some of us may have lived transient lives, constantly moving and thus never having the chance to put down strong roots. One might find oneself campaigning for Brian Lentz or some other local politician and so will register in Pennsylvania in order to vote for one’s own candidate. Still others might be moved by the plight of Chester so as to want to do what they can in the ballot booth to help the city to our south. We take issue with none of these (hypothetical) individuals.

But then there are those who undertake a temporary change in residence, just in time for November and Election Day, a day that this year happens to be marked by a few candidates seeking to take up residence in the White House. It is to those gentle souls who change the place where they will turn in their ballot for the sole reason of exerting more influence on the selection of the president to whom we object.

We understand this move, to be sure. Presidents, probably more than any other individuals, set the tone for the times in which they serve, thereby causing people to naturally care about them disproportionately compared to the seekers of other offices. Deciding whether to vote Obama-Biden, McCain-Palin, or for any of the eleven other tickets available is a big decision, although surely not one that will bring on the apocalypse if handled wrongly; we’re pretty sure neither of them is either the Messiah or the Antichrist. (We’ll both go on the record now, by the way, as finding all four of the candidates the two major parties have put on the ballot this year as decent human beings who bring a good deal to the table, which is definitely not something we could have said four years ago.)

The thing is that while it is true that America needs to renew its good reputation abroad and that the economy is in need of serious help, there is a lot more out there than the presidency. Governors, Senators, representatives in Congress, members of state legislatures, judges, mayors, school board members – all these offices and more are filled by ballot too, and don’t count for nothing. The problems that, frankly, might be too complicated (like healthcare) or controversial (like gay marriage) might best be handled at the state level right now; in fact, the liberal state of Massachusetts under the Republican Mitt Romney managed to come to a couple of decent decisions on both of these issues, during the former presidential candidate’s more moderate days.

Some may claim that the system of government is broken, what with the Electoral College being an unjust means of calculating the will of the populace. Whether the system is definitely broken or not is not relevant here. An argument in favor of individuals correcting an outmoded system by strategically circumscribing it relies on the assumption that all rational people will attempt to maximize the efficacy of their single vote.

The thing that takers of the above position must consider is the increased power that an individual wields in local elections and that local officials hold in their jurisdictions. As mentioned before, local governments wield incredible power that Americans take for granted daily; a large portion of tax money goes either directly or indirectly to states. In addition relations between candidates and their particular party’s platform often grows increasingly vague or irrelevant as one moves towards the most local of governments, rendering the pulling of the lever of one’s party preference an ineffective method of choosing the most effective leadership. Red states/blue states, if it can even claim to accurately model the nation, becomes ever more useless the closer in you focus. Neither a President McCain nor a President Obama would get school levies passed.

The fact of the matter is, by allowing ourselves to be swept up in the tide of presidential politics we toss our local commitments – our binding responsibilities to the place we call home – aside in favor of the big prize. For those lacking such fortuitous ties, than some of the reasons we cite above can justify formalizing residence in Swarthmore for a time.

As we have said before, we do not want to condemn anybody by saying these things. We simply ask that you think of your hometown before deciding where to vote. And if your decision is made to vote here, we ask you to carefully consider each name on your ballot, as the health of the communities of the Borough of Swarthmore, Delaware County, and the State of Pennsylvania depend on this election just as much as the United States of America.