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The Presidential Election

March 2008
The Presidential Election

By Parthiv N. Parekh

One man, one vote. Seems like a simple enough recipe for a democratic republic where the person on the street gets to have his or her say in choosing a leader for the country. Surely, most—if not all—will choose a candidate who they feel will be the best for the country? Apparently not.

Of the many wonderful things that the National Public Radio does in chronicling and interpreting the presidential elections for its listeners, one is to frequently interview random citizens on whom they voted for and why. The answers can be revealing. For example, one of those interviewed was a woman who was going to vote for Mrs. Clinton simply because she was familiar with her. She had just not heard of the other candidates enough to risk her vote on them. Amusingly (or alarmingly) enough, she even went on to say that she did not quite like Clinton, but that the New York Senator was the only candidate she knew of.

Then of course there are those who are voting to “create history” by helping America elect the first woman president or the first African American president. Others weigh in with logistical probabilities. “Let’s see, I like Obama, but I don’t think the nation is ready for an African American President.” (Obviously, this was before the Obama mania gripped the nation and such observations now appear quaint). Then there are those who are so deeply entrenched in party politics and ideology that they fail to see the candidate as an individual, never mind that the branded packaging of party ideologies is no longer the reality of that party.

In short, our reasons for choosing seem to include everything from parochial interests to personality traits and acquaintance with the candidate, to ideology or feasibility. Everything but the question, “Is this person the best available choice for the country?”

Why is this question important, anyway? Don’t people always vote from their own little worldviews, no matter how narrow, restrictive and wrong? Perhaps, but what better time to question the process than in the midst of an election year?

The fundamental error in voting from such narrow purviews is that it violates the truism, “The whole is larger than the sum of its parts.” For example, what sense does it make to pamper and focus exclusively on, let’s say, the abs (the part) while ignoring the rest of the body (the whole)? You may do lovely things for the health and beauty of the abs, but if the rest of the body and its nerve centers and vital organs are allowed to rot, then it is just a matter of time before the rot spreads to the abs as well.

It’s no different when a mill worker (or an accountant, or an Indian American, to give some examples) votes from his narrow worldview while ignoring the candidate’s merit as an overall commander-in-chief. Sentiments such as “He is our man” or “She is good for us” need to be examined with questions about whom we are referring to when we say “our” or “us”. If that “our” or “us” is a part, and not the whole, then we may conceivably be voting against “us,” the whole.

Ironically, even when voting based on personal and narrow agenda seems like an act of self-interest, its consequence fails to serve that very interest. There can be no self-interest of the part that can be satisfied at the cost of the whole. If the whole is healthy the part has hope. The one and only gold standard of self-examination for voting in a presidential election, therefore, is, “Is this candidate the best for the country as a whole?”

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