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October 20, 2012

A 'democratic' system, but with caveats

The Daily Star

---- — Some family members from Canada were visiting recently and, confused, said they had heard in the news media that our presidential election hinged on the outcomes in just a few states.

“What’s going on, eh?” they asked.

I explained how each state was allocated points based on population and the election result in each state was winner-take-all for the points. The guy with the most points wins the election.

On top of that, because of voter registration, tradition and polls, the outcome in the vast majority of states is already known. That leaves five or six so-called “swing states’’ where the outcomes will determine who wins the election.

What about in New York, they queried. For whom will you vote?

So, I had to describe how it really didn’t matter whom I voted for, or whether I voted at all, because it’s a forgone conclusion that President Barack Obama will win the points allocated to New York. Since 1956, New York voters have gone Republican only three times: in 1972, 1980 and 1984.

We like to call ourselves a democracy, but it is hard for foreigners — and many Americans — to understand the application of that term when the popular vote does not determine the outcomes of our presidential elections.

The most recent example of a topsy-turvy result was in 2000, when Al Gore garnered half a million more popular votes than George Bush, but lost the “point’’ total. What a disaster that was for our country.

The question lingers: For whom does one vote?

The Canadians were surprised to learn that, in New York at least, there are four candidates on the presidential ballot in addition to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Two of them are women: Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and Peta Lindsay of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Also, we have Libertarian Gary Johnson and Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party.

Since Obama has been a disappointment to many of his liberal supporters in 2008, you could go for one of the minor-party candidates as a conscience or protest vote. Of course, the argument against this action is that if too many people do it, or don’t vote at all, the president could end up losing New York’s electoral points.

Despite Obama’s failures and unfortunate policies, we will be much better off with him for four more years than with the alternative of Romney and Ryan.

Where has Obama gone wrong and where has he been a success? Let’s check.

On foreign policy: He ended Bush’s Iraq war, but we’ll be in Afghanistan another two years. That’s too long. We should have been out by now.

The president is ordering too many drone raids, which have killed numerous alleged terrorists but also hundreds of civilians. Note the word “alleged.’’ These suspects are being killed without specific charges or trials.

Obama has mined better relationships with allies, and he is much more likely than Romney to seek peaceful strategies for ending conflicts.

On the economy: After inheriting an economy in freefall, the president has used recovery funds and bailouts to, however slowly, get business, jobs and investments back on track. Obama would like to end tax cuts for the very rich to help reduce the deficit.

Romney adheres to a “trickle-down’’ theory that would let the rich keep more of their money so they can use it to grow the economy, the benefits of which would then create jobs and prosperity for all — except the 47 percent who just want to live off the government.

On energy: Both candidates want more drilling, both for oil and natural gas, and both want a renewed push for nuclear power. They’re both wrong. Obama, however, has and will continue to push for more renewable energy sources.

On civil rights: The president has supported extension of the Patriot Act and the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act, both of which potentially infringe on the civil rights of American citizens.

Obama does support the right of a woman to choose and basic gay rights, such as no job discrimination and the right to marriage. Romney opposes both the former and the latter. In fact, if elected, a Romney-Ryan administration would likely appoint high-court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.

On health care: We now have “Obamacare’’ in the process of taking effect, which is better than reliance only on the free-market profiteers of the insurance industry. Romney has vowed to repeal “Obamacare.’’ That’s all that needs to be said.

So, for whom do you vote? Like I said, despite his flaws, it’s clear we’ll be better off by giving the president another term to continue his successes and right his wrongs.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor of He can be reached at