Lindsay said that despite Edwards’ warmongering, she still thinks he’s the best candidate in the race. I countered by talking about priorities and how on my most important issues there are hardly any differences among the American Presidential candidates. Quoting myself,
I have a fairly good idea which political issues I care about the most in American elections. For instance, keeping abortion legal is a top priority as long as Stevens lives, universal health care is a high priority, gay marriage is a mid-level priority, the capital gains tax is a low priority, and gun control is off my register.
As it happens, the Democrats are disappointing on the top priority issues, and in some cases are indistinguishable from Republicans. All three Democrats are pro-choice, but I don’t trust any of them to spend a cent of political capital on protecting abortion rights; Giuliani is in the same category as the Democrats, while McCain and Romney are noticeably worse. On Iran, my other top priority, I can’t detect any difference between any of the candidates, regardless of party. The differences only start to materialize on universal health care, on which I trust Edwards somewhat more than I do the others, but that’s only issue number four or five for me.
A good issue breakdown for me in federal American elections is,
Top priorities: abortion (pro-); Iran (don’t attack, don’t sanction); warrantless spying (anti-).
High priorities: Iraq (withdraw); universal health care (pro-); immigration (legalize and increase); free trade (pro-, but anti-CAFTA) and farm subsidies (eliminate).
Medium priorities: gay rights in general and marriage in particular (legalize); the deficit (eliminate); stem cell research (fund); welfare payments (increase); education funding (equalize); global warming (pro-Kyoto and beyond).
Low priorities: progressive taxation including the estate and capital gains taxes (pro-); alternative energy (fund research); scientific research spending (increase); affirmative action (make class-based), military spending (slash), minimum wage (increase).
Off the radar: guns, hate crime laws, small business tax breaks…
Within each category, the issues are listed in roughly descending order of importance. But not all breaks are equal. The three top priorities are nearly equal, while the difference between warrantless spying and Iraq is large; at the same time, the difference between free trade and gay rights is small, and probably smaller than the one between Iraq and health care.
Nor does the list mean my ranking of candidates is lexicographic. A big difference on gay rights can outweigh a small one on health care.
As a corollary to this, issues on which the gamut of normal American political views is narrow play a smaller role in my decisions than you would infer from the list. This most strongly affects spying, immigration, welfare, and education. I can get agitated over medium priorities with ease, when the difference is clear; however, slight increases in Pell grants or food stamp benefits barely register if at all.
In addition, the issue of abortion is almost entirely one of judicial nominations, especially when it comes to Presidents rather than Representatives or even Senators. I only care about a member of Congress’s record on such things as abortions on military bases insofar as they clue me into his judicial nominations.
Addendum: some issues, like the draft and separation of church and state, are in an entirely different category. These are issues that I care deeply about, but that are not ordinarily hot in American elections, or have even narrower political gamuts than domestic spying. But in certain cases they come into play, most prominently with Charlie Rangel.
And finally, there’s an inherent issue of trust involved. It’s not enough for me for a candidate to be pro-choice, anti-Iran war, and pro-civil liberties; I need to see evidence he will not sacrifice these issues to support lower ranked ones. Conversely, evidence that a candidate cares about the issue counts against him when his position is opposed to mine. On abortion, I’d rate McCain a 3 and Brownback a 0 because of that.
If you want, feel free to steal the idea of priorities. I’m going to turn it into a full-blown meme sometime soon. I’m certainly interested to know what people care about the most.