Writing in my dad for president started out as a barbed joke.
Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain seemed like acceptable candidates. Obama was a man of extreme politics and moderate temperament. McCain was a man with an extreme temper and moderate politics, in the worst sense of that word. In a column for the Guardian, I took a page from the Simpsons and said the choice was between “abortions for some” and “small unjust wars for others.”
I could have voted third party, but I thought, “Why?” It’s not like any of them were going to register on the Richter scale. As I was considering my options, a mischievous, irresistible slogan popped into my head: “Bob Lott, why not?” And a little voice on my shoulder prompted, “Yeah, why not, hmm?” Pretty sure it was the angel.
So I thought about it some. It’s not like my vote counted for much. I was not strategically placed in a swing state. Washington is pretty solidly in the blue column. This is true because of Seattle and the surrounding King County. It’s aptly named, because boy do their enlightened majesties lord it over the rest of us.
The decision to vote for Dad was not, finally, a hard one. Endorsing him publicly was a whole other thing. We have the private ballot for a serious and commendable reason: to allow people to vote how they truly feel best, absent coercion. This does, however, allow for a good deal of silliness.
It’s a fair bet that some of the people who write in “the Dread Pirate Roberts” or “Donald Duck” on their ballots would not do so if others could see what they were doing. Very few of those voters write op-eds laying out their reasons for casting such a fowl vote.
An essay in these cyber pages laid out the reasons why I would vote for Dad. Read it if you want, and feel free to disagree. Many did.
One reader wrote a letter to the editor asking, “Why should anyone waste their vote on a man who doesn’t even want to be president?” He chided that my “schoolyard antics” weren’t going to work in “this dangerous world where grownups play with bombs and kill people in the name of their faith.” It was one of the War on Terror’s greatest hits.
Every four years since, I have written about why I’m voting Bob Lott for president and followed through on that threat. Others have followed suit. People send cellphone pics all the time of their ballots, where they have written in “Bob Lott” for president or for some other office. Maybe we’ll elect him to something one of these days.
Here, finally, are three lessons that I’ve learned from voting for Dad all these years:
1. The popular vote is a mass delusion. Folks in deep blue or deep red states try to rally the troops to vote for the R or D candidate and argue fervently about whom we should vote for. The truth is, unless you are in a swing state, it simply doesn’t matter. We’ve had enough elections now with Electoral College majorities that differed from popular majorities that we ought to have learned this. It’s the states that elect the president, not the people directly. That’s simply the way the American system was set up.
2. Voting skews your judgment. There’s an old saying that if you want someone to be your friend, get him to do you a favor. That’s one way of putting what we do when we vote for a politician: We’re doing him a favor. As a result, we’re invested. When people attack the guy you voted for, it’s like they’re attacking your friend. Even if the criticism is completely warranted, you often feel like you have to defend the politician or dismiss the motives of the critic. (And yes, voting for Dad repeatedly does make me think better of him. I’m not immune to this effect.)
3. The presidency is too big and too powerful. The office was never intended to be as powerful or as sprawling as it’s become. This is easier to see if you aren’t instinctively pulling for the guy in the White House if he shares your party affiliation. I blame the Founders for this, in part. They should not have joined head of state and head of government into one person. And I blame us, in part. We should not have expanded the government and our expectations of government so bloody much.
Folks these days expect the president to steer the economy, mend up our moral fabric, and make other nations behave the way the latest poll of us says they ought to behave. It’s grandiose and, frankly, a little bit insane. I’d rather vote for my dad than for that.
Jeremy Lott is having yard signs made.