How important are elections?

Here are a couple of good commentaries on the importance of politics and elections. Though they draw the opposite conclusion, they follow a similar theme, and I find myself agreeing with both points.

Reason’s Radley Balko notes that voters are swayed by Hillary’s tears, Romney’s religion, Al Gore’s sighs, and Michael Dukakis height in a tank, rather than rational justifications for voting. Given the irrational voters, he argues that elections are too important:

I don’t know how you change the election laws to make things any different. The great paradox of politics is that the set of skills and talents it takes to win a campaign are decidedly different than the set of skills and talents it takes to govern.

Perhaps the better solution is to tackle the other end of the problem: We need to make it so there’s less at stake—so it matters less who wins the presidency, which party controls the Congress, or who’s sleeping in the governor’s mansion. We need to make politics less important.

He goes on to talk about the difference between political society and civil society and the relative importance of each. John Andrews starts from a similar comparison, but reaches a different conclusion in a commentary: it doesn’t matter that much who the next president is.

Why seductive? Why debilitating? Because politics, the allocation and application of government power, is not the main thing for individuals and communities in a free society. The main thing is personal effort, self-responsibility, and the uplifting of the human spirit. Political decisions
are no more than a means to that end, never an end in themselves. …

They may throw me out of the Republican Party for saying this, but here goes: In many ways, it doesn’t matter who is elected President next fall. America’s national security, economic vitality, and adherence to justice are of tremendous importance to our own people and the world, no question. The two parties differ honorably about these.

But my side isn’t all wisdom and saints, nor is the other all folly and scoundrels. Whoever wins will govern largely between the 40-yard lines. While Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama in the White House isn’t my preference, even less than Sen. McCain, the country will be okay. Talk of ruin is moonshine. Great nations can withstand a lot of “ruin,” observed Adam Smith.