Why I’m Not Saying “I’m Picking the Lesser of Two Evils” This Presidential Election — And Why You Shouldn’t, Either

Here we go! We’re off to the races.

Joe Biden is the Democratic presidential candidate and Kamala Harris is his pick for V.P. 

Neither was my top choice.

Both are imperfect.

Both are also solid candidates.

And I’ll spend the next weeks leading up to the election giving Joe Biden and Kamala Harris my robust, wholehearted support.

One thing I won’t be saying is “I’m picking the lesser of two evils.”

Listen. I get it. I understand why folks say it. “I’m picking the lesser of two evils” is a way to signal centrism. It’s a way to straddle two camps. It’s a way not to offend our friends when their politics and their ethics differ from ours. It’s a way to campaign for the candidates of your choice without actually endorsing them. It’s a way to assuage the “other side” that you don’t mean anything personal by your vote. You, after all, are long-suffering but reasonable, forced yet again and as usual — Eeyore/Ho Hum style — to choose between achingly unqualifiedhorrifically partisan candidates. If it was up to you, we wouldn’t have a two party system; we’d have better choices. People of integrity. People who are articulate. Or true conservatives. Or true progressives. Or insert the adjective and attribute of your choice. 

But, to be honest, that’s weak. 

It’s an excuse.

It’s an escape from wrestling with the depth and complexity — the nuances and blessings and blemishes — of our reality.

After 2016 and the ensuing four years with a president who has caused excessive and extensive damage to the American people, our allies, and the most vulnerable among us, including refugees during the largest displaced persons crisis the world has ever known, I won’t do it.

I won’t pretend that Donald Trump represents one evil and Joe Biden represents another evil and my decision is to choose which will cause the least amount of harm.

Joe Biden is an imperfect candidate. There are aspects of his behavior that are troublesome and problematic, the largest of which is the discomfort he’s caused myriad women with his physical familiarity and the accusations of Tara Reade that he sexually assaulted her. It doesn’t do anyone any favors to gloss over such a serious allegation, nor to dismiss or discount the reports of women’s discomfort.

I’ve felt the distress and uneasiness of men’s hugs and kisses and touches. I dare say most women have. It’s not shocking or unbelievable, especially for a privileged, powerful white man who grew up in different time and in a society that puts him in the right by default, that he behaved in such a way that he — perhaps obliviously — made women feel uncomfortable. He has admitted a lack of understanding of the way his behavior was perceived and apologized. Whether women at large believe and accept that apology is their prerogative. I do believe and accept it, not because of this apology alone, which is frankly fairly weak, or because I believe forgiveness should always be the course of action when a man says “oops, my bad” for making women feel desperately uncomfortable, but because he has a history and track record of growth and change which indicates a posture of ongoing learning. His opponent doesn’t. That matters to me.

Tara Reade’s accusation of sexual assault is far more troubling. If I had to choose a side, it would be to take her very seriously and conduct an in-depth investigation. Believe women. As in, don’t dismiss their allegations out of hand or because of the power and prominence of the person they’re accusing. Investigate alleged criminal conduct. Investigate thoroughly. Bring it to trial. Unfortunately, this incident has passed the statute of limitations and there is no investigative process for presidential candidates. But there SHOULD be, and we should work to change that. There should be a way other than the court of public opinion to drill down on accusations like these. There are many processes to change for the ways we select a president; this is one. But in this case, if we’re intellectually honest, we have to say we don’t know. We need to both believe Tara Reade — take her seriously and not dismiss her claims — and to hold to the “innocent until proven guilty” tenet in our justice system.

This is what I mean by complexity and nuance. We have to be able to admit there are things we don’t know and may never know while simultaneously advocating for change so that, in the future, our political candidates can be held to a higher standard. As Americans, we are truly terrible at Not Knowing, though. There are folks who will SWEAR ON THEIR GRANDMA’S GRAVE that Joe Biden assaulted Tara Reade, and there are folks who will SWEAR ON THEIR GRANDMA’S GRAVE that Tara Reade is a money-grubbing attention seeker and a lying liar who lies. We don’t have to do that. We don’t have to pick. But we do have to sit with the discomfort of Not Knowing. 

Besides those big issues with Biden’s candidacy, there are other imperfections. Depending on where you fall on the political spectrum, he’s not progressive enough. Or he’s too progressive. He’s the most progressive candidate to ever run for the presidency. Or he’s a moderate shill who’s conservative in disguise. He’s well spoken until he commits huge gaffes. And he has to overcome the bumbling idiot Uncle Joe image. Like I said, imperfect. 

But also, Joe Biden is a good candidate. A solid, steady, capable, experienced candidate ready to lead America to a better future. 

He has, quite literally, dedicated his entire life to public service and he stayed the course for the people he represented even when struck with unimaginable personal tragedy. By all accounts, the early loss of his wife and daughter just before taking his senate seat for the first time, shaped the rest of his public life. Instead of embracing bitterness and despair, he became compassionate and sympathetic to the plights of others. Including when no one is looking

There is little I long for more than to have compassion back in the White House. And Joe Biden brings that with him, allowing it to shape his policy goals for improving access to healthcare, bolstering public education, and increasing equity for folks who are in desperate need of change. 

Joe Biden is for criminal justice reform and the elimination of private, for-profit prisons.

Joe Biden supports families and is for paid sick leave; the need for which we understand during the COVID era better than we ever did before.

Joe Biden wants to reform student debt, invest in public education instead of striping it, and boost teachers’ wages. 

Joe Biden wants to limit campaign finance spending to level the playing field so not just the wealthy are elected.

Joe Biden believes in science and will listen to peer-reviewed research and recommendations to combat coronavirus and climate change.

Joe Biden wants to reform immigration, preventing the illegal entry of criminals, creating a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and treating asylum seekers and refugees with care and compassion.

Joe Biden understands we have an enormous fight ahead of us to battle COVID, keep our people safe, and recover the economy. 

The list, frankly, goes on and on and on. Plans for our future. Plans for justice. Plans that don’t leave people behind. The contrast to the current president who hasn’t bothered to update his platform from four years ago — a platform that benefits the wealthy at the expense of the vulnerable, a platform that doesn’t speak to our current situation in an ever-expanding pandemic crisis — is stark. 

And Joe Biden selected a qualified, outspoken woman of color — someone who’s disagreed with him and challenged him in public on multiple occasions — to run alongside him.

Kamala Harris is an imperfect candidate. She wasn’t my top pick because of her complicated history with criminal justice reform and police brutality. To be clear, she did some excellent work as a prosecutor, district attorney, and eventually Attorney General in California, but at the same time, some of her positions weren’t equitable or just. Yes, she’s evolved on these issues, and I do favor candidates who are willing to change and grow (“when you know better, do better”), but we’re also living during a time in U.S. history when it’s wise to take a deep and thorough look at every leader’s record in this regard. I’d be remiss to fail to acknowledge this.

And Kamala Harris is a good candidate.

She’s experienced. She’s capable. She’s articulate. She’s willing to learn and to do better. 

And it matters that she’s a woman. It matters that she’s the first woman of color on a major party ticket. It matters that she’s Black and Asian American. It matters that my children of color, including the girls, can see themselves represented on a presidential ticket. It matters that I am represented on a presidential ticket.

So, no — I’m not voting for the lesser of two evils this year.

I’m voting for a good ticket with good candidates with good experience who represent the American people and hope for our future. 

Would you really, truly vote for someone you believe is evil? Yeah, me, neither. So own it. Own your choice, and if you’re telling people who you’re voting for, tell them why. You can ALSO say “hey, this makes me uncomfortable because I don’t want to alienate people who are voting otherwise,” but let’s at least be honest, OK? 

I AM voting against Donald Trump. I DO believe he has perpetuated evils upon the American people, and that must stop.

And I am also proudly voting FOR Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Because they’re good candidates, imperfect candidates who are right for America.

 

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
10 comments
  1. Hey Beth,

    Top post – I love your final sentence:

    “Because they’re good candidates, imperfect candidates who are right for America.”

    I’d refine that even more to say – “They’re good, imperfect candidates for public service, who reflect a good and imperfect America.”

    The sooner American exceptionalism is seen as the single greatest handbrake to the ongoing redefining of the American dream the better. The American dream is a powerful thing – it’s a notion that one can evolve, become better. Exceptionalism is contrary to that notion, because it’s the finality of existence, it’s the limiting of oneself to further growth.

  2. I definitely don’t have the positive feelings towards Biden that you do (hopefully I can get a better feel for him if/when there are more debates), but I guess I will stop saying the choice is “like choosing between Satan and Hitler” lol. It’s true that I’m mostly going off what I see on social media (and a little from primary debates where I feel like he really didn’t present himself well). It’s good to hear some of what you had to say about our (hopefully) next president. I would definitely like to see a compassionate person in the role after these last four years.

  3. This is a beautifully written, articulate and reflective piece. I had been uncomfortable with the phrase “lesser of two evils” but hadn’t considered why. You nailed it! Words matter and I’ll be reframing my words and my thinking. Thank you!

  4. This is so beautifully and honestly written, oh my gosh. Thank you for laying out your thoughts and feelings on Biden like this, it is wonderful and brave and I’m so glad. I am a Canadian, so I don’t have vote, but let me tell you how the WHOLE world is paying attention to what looks like the beginning of the US turning into a fascist state and we are all aghast. Biden isn’t perfect, but neither am I or anyone else I’ve ever met. We don’t want to see the US turn into some formerly glorious place, like Rome was back when it was the centre of the world. So many of us are rooting for the US, and will be holding our breath in November.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I have been troubled by feeling like I have to choose the lesser of two evils. Admittedly I still do to an extent, but I thank you for sharing your perspective and giving me something to aspire to.

  6. Yes to all of this! I felt like the sun finally came out when Biden announced Harris as his pick. We have got to get this country moving forward towards justice for all and a future without fear. It’s far past time for the current occupant to get out of the WH.

  7. Yes, yes, yes! “Lesser of two evils” MIGHT apply metaphorically to two mediocre choices. But we’re looking at an imperfect choice versus an actual, literal, evil choice. No point in pretending otherwise.

  8. Articulate and well spoken.
    I am among those who is just waiting for November, for this nightmare to end.
    With friends and family in those vulnerable populations, with immigration being a top-and-in-your-face-personal topic, with a child who loves someone who happens to be transgender… All of these issues matter. They have real effects on people I love. And so I will vote for Joe and hope that he can move us forward in better directions and start to repair some of the damage.
    Praying with you in hope.

  9. I also dislike the use of “lesser of two evils” to describe candidate choice. I generally vote for who I believe to be the best candidate on the ballot. This year, that choice is easy.

  10. Thank you for such an articulate article. I am proudly voting for this ticket.

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