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.


6 Responses to Priorities

  1. SLC says:

    1. Instead of worrying about issues, it would be much better to concentrate on who has the best chance of winning. Of the currently announced candidates, it is my view that Richardson has the best chance of winning, followed by Edwards. Obama and Hilary could beat somebody like Brownback but would have great difficulty beating any of the more or less respectable candidates.

    2. At this point, the most formidable opponent on the other side would appear to be Hagel, who has the least baggage of any of the announced candidates.

    By the way, here is a link showing McCain engaging in something other then the straight talk express.

    3. There is another possibility that has not been addressed which is that vice president Cheney might resign allowing Bush to choose another vice president. Such an individual would have a leg up on the other candidates.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    The issue of winning is a separate one. First, there’s the question of who I want to actually win, among the declared heavyweight candidates (i.e. no Feingold and no Kucinich). Second, there’s the question of who has the highest chances of winning. The first question is a lot easier to answer than the second, which depends heavily on further developments in Iraq, economic growth, the Iran situation, and what not. The first question depends on such developments too – for instance, abortion will drop a level of priority if Stevens dies before the election and his replacement is pro-choice – but to a lesser extent.

  3. SLC says:

    Re Levy

    Mr. Levy has made it quite clear that his hero is Russell Feingold. Nothing wrong with Feingold, other then the fact that a nominee Feingold would be the second coming of George McGovern (been there, done that). It is my view that all the leading Democratic candidates are much closer to each other on the issues then any of them are to the leading Republican candidates. Therefore, issues are far less important then who can win. Unfortunately, I think that all of them would have a tough time beating Hagel. Fortunately, Hagels’ chances of winning the nomination are probably not much better then Giulianis’.

  4. Alon Levy says:

    What issues are they closer to one another than to the Republicans on? On Iran there doesn’t seem to be any difference among the candidates; on abortion, all three Democrats plus Giuliani are tepidly pro-choice while Romney and McCain are somewhat anti-choice (and Brownback and I think also Hagel believe women are incubators); on civil liberties, the gamut of American politics is very narrow, with only Feingold being significantly better than the rest and Giuliani and Brownback being significantly worse than the rest.

  5. Vigilante says:

    We are afflicted with misleaders. Bush, Cheney, Blair, and Olmert: Axis of evil. Impeach, impeach, impeach and impeach.

  6. SLC says:

    Re Levy

    Mr. Levy seems to be afflicted with the notion that there are only 2 or 3 issues by which one should judge the candidates. Since all the major Democratic candidates (except for Richardson, who does have a Congressional voting record, albeit rather remote), McCain, and Brownback are in the Senate or have been in the Senate, and hence have voting records, we can judge them based on their stand on all the issues. I suggest that a perusal of their voting records will show that the Democratic candidates are far closer to each other tnen any of them is to McCain and certainly to Brownback.

    Re Vigilante

    Hopefully Blair and Olmert will be out on their collective asses this year with Olmert possibly headed for the big house. Unfortunately, we are stuck with Dubya until Jan 20, 2009.

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