The Folly of Independents

I am an independent and looking for a president with integrity. Should I vote for John McCain or Barack Obama?

Didn’t we all swear to stop picking the candidate who would be most fun to go on a picnic with? You’re torn between the guy who’s been against the war from the beginning and the guy who’s willing to stay in Iraq for 100 years? Between the guy who wants to pay for a $50 billion-a-year health care program by eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy, and the guy who wants to keep the tax cuts and pay for them by cutting the budget? Get a grip.

— Gail Collins, A Voter’s Guide, The New York Times, February 2, 2007

Collins’s comment is absolutely true: on almost all policy issues where there is a difference between candidates, Obama and McCain disagree. So there should be no difficulty for anyone with political opinions in picking between them. But, a campaign between them would, like any other presidential contest, largely be decided by who attracts the most “independent” voters. I guess I just don’t understand voters without a strong bias towards one or the other party.

And yet, even though I consider Collins’s hypothetical question silly, I’m a lifelong Democrat and liberal who finds McCain appealing. (I even cast the sole vote in my life for a Republican for him. It was in the California primary in 2000, when Gore had sewn up the Democratic nomination and I was hoping against hope that Bush, who, it was clear would make a terrible President, would not get the Republican nomination. Even though McCain, with his independent appeal, was clearly more electable.) I won’t vote for McCain in the general election and am ecstatic to be voting for Obama, especially in a primary where my vote actually matters. But I also can relate to the politics of personality, where both candidates, based on their integrity and clarity of vision, pull the attention of voters from across the spectrum.