In Response to: Politics: Swaying Voters

Eveline Chao ’02 has introduced us to Professor Christopher Achen’s rather sour assessment of the American political process (Life of the Mind, Sept. 16). I am shocked, shocked at the professor’s shock at his discovery that “voters often select politicians based on their loyalties to political party, religious belief, or racial identity.” He apparently harbors an outsized faith in voters’ capacity for “thoughtful assessment.”

Here’s the truth: Most of us do cast our votes based not solely on a given candidate’s biography, policy views, or even hair. We elect (well, cast ballots for) candidates based on political philosophies that each of us has shaped — views acquired and modified over time from close observation and reflection (along with, of course, extensive indoctrination by family, friends, co-workers, spouses). Democracy works (albeit with varying degrees of efficiency) because every election is a dynamic encounter, indeed a collision, of these individually acquired “takes.” It’s all delightfully Madisonian.

Now the balance between what have become two competing philosophical camps may get tipped by a tiny slice of those who are either equipped with “the facts” or simply remain untouched by party lines to which most of us swear confident if undiscriminating allegiance. Well, of course, it is a hell of a way to run a country, but long-term success often confers its own imprimatur.

Jamie Spencer ’66