The Ds and the Rs

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 11:20 AM EDT

Should you vote for the person or the party? Steve Benen argues that voting for the person is pretty ridiculous:

The "I vote for the person" crowd is making an odd argument. These folks seem to be suggesting they're not especially concerned with policy differences, policy visions, or agendas, but rather, are principally concerned with personalities. Maybe the candidate seems more personable; maybe they ran better commercials. Either way, as a substantive matter, the "vote for the person, not the party" approach seems pretty weak. Indeed, it's what leads people to express a series of policy priorities, and then vote for a candidate who opposes all of those priorities — a dynamic that's as exasperating as it is counter-productive.

As a firm — and getting firmer all the time! — party-voting guy, let me defend the person-voting people a bit. Aside from the fact that voting for personalities is just what human beings do, I think a lot of what's going on here is a matter of being stuck in the past. Thirty years ago, voting for individuals wasn't crazy. There were conservative Democrats and liberalish Republicans, and they sometimes helped the parties make deals in Congress that, perhaps, made the independent-minded folks happy. Nothing wrong with that.

But no longer. We have, for all practical purposes, a parliamentary system these days, with strong party discipline and down-the-line voting. Almost no one crosses the aisle to vote for compromise measures anymore, and this means that it make a lot less sense to vote for personalities than it used to. Here in California, even some loyal Democrats might think that Barbara Boxer is not the greatest senator in the history of the Golden State, but so what? Given the current state of American politics, all that matters is that she'll vote for the Democratic agenda and Carly Fiorina will vote for the Republican one. That is all ye know, and all ye need to know.

On the other hand, things are a little different outside Congress. For statewide offices like governor, insurance commissioner, attorney general, and so forth, voting for individuals makes a little more sense. I've occasionally voted for Republicans in statewide offices when the R seemed basically decent and the D was a clown.

But clown or not, I wouldn't do it for Congress, and I wouldn't expect a Republican voter to do it either. These days, the letter beside their name really does tell you everything you need to know.