Is voting your conscience conscientious?

For those like myself who don't occupy the center (and I use that word with an appreciation for its current prominent list to starboard) of the political spectrum there is often a bit of a conundrum presented during the primary campaigns.

It occurs with some regularity that a candidate who represents my perspectives quite well (or at least much better than others) happens to be running far behind the front-runner, or, too often, runners. This is to be expected, of course, when one is observing one's fellow voters from the fringe (what's wrong with everyone else anyway?). But recognizing the condition doesn't make it easier to accept that the choice I'm given - vote for the guy I like or vote for the guy who can actually win - is inevitably disappointing.

A recent article at ClimateProgress highlights the upcoming election cycle's version of the dilemma,CREDIT: GRAPHIC BY DYLAN PETROHILOS pretty much summed up in this chart comparing the public policy statements of Democratic primary candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley. It's a bit sobering to realize that, at least so far, the guy far less likely to generate any kind of momentum in this race - O'Malley - is also the one willing to take what I consider a bold stand on environmental concerns. Conversely, Clinton seems the most tentative. I recognize that there are exigencies of campaigning that play into these things. It's entirely possible that Clinton may share many more of these positions than she's willing to let on because she's hesitant to scare off potential voters who might disagree. By the same token, from the perspective of both Sanders and O'Malley it might pay to make a splash by challenging Clinton's timidity.

The point is there are political realities, as well as the potential of actually having to govern, that must be considered. The disparity looks pretty dramatic, but we're still in the heavy grain-of-salt stage of the campaign. As the article points out,


"It’s worth noting that this checklist isn’t definitive. Just because Sanders has said he supports many of these policies doesn’t necessarily mean he will include them in his official climate plan when and if he releases one. And just because Clinton hasn’t included some of these issues in her current plan doesn’t mean she won’t (or will) in the future.

It’s also worth mentioning that just because O’Malley has included all of these things in his climate plan doesn’t mean he’ll be able to achieve them. His plan leans steeply to the left of even the Obama administration’s climate strategy, which the Republican-led Congress is fighting tooth-and-nail to dismantle."

I realize the die has not yet been cast, or at least it hasn't rolled to a stop. But experience tells me that when it has all played out I'll once again be faced with the unfortunate prospect of feeling like I made the wrong choice regardless.

So what do we who have a passion that puts us somewhere out of the mainstream do? Do we signal our interests in a full-throated fashion, hoping that a convergence with others doing the same will eventually pull our issues back into the stream? Or do we take our gains incrementally and not put all our faith in a dream that may not ever see the light of day?

Or do we just figure, "Aw, hell, it's California. My vote never matters anyway?"