When asked to choose among multiple options, the politician will pick all of them


During the run-up to a local election some time ago, the newspaper posed the same set of questions to each of the candidates and published the responses in a grid format so the readers could easily compare them.

The candidates agreed on some issues, had opposing positions on others, but the question whose answers struck me was one of the form "If budget cuts forced you to eliminate one of the following four programs, which would you cut?"

  • Candidate 1: "I have no intention of letting our budget get into a situation in which this would become an issue. All of these programs are very important to our community, and under my leadership, they will continue to be funded."
  • Candidate 2: "I don't believe we need to eliminate any of these popular programs. If we review our financial situation, we will find that we can continue to provide for all of them."
  • Candidate 3: "Much as I personally enjoy Program X, it ranks as a lower priority to me than the other options. Program X was originally a community-run program, and I would encourage residents and the business community to step forward and keep alive this program which has greatly benefited our community over the years."

Notice that the first two candidates, when asked to make a tough decision, opted to make no decision at all. (Compare another election in which the mainstream candidates rated everything as high priority.) The first candidate said, "This would never happen." The second candidate said, "It's not happening." The third candidate is the only one who sat down and made the call to cut one of the programs. The first two were playing politics, afraid to make a decision for fear that it would alienate some portion of the electorate. The third understood the situation and made the hard decision.

I voted for the third candidate.

Today is Election Day in the United States. Don't forget to vote. (Void where prohibited.)

Comments (14)
  1. Someone You Know says:

    Care to share which candidate won the election?

    [I don’t remember. -Raymond]
  2. Sunil Joshi says:

    This is why plebiscitary democracy tends to go wrong. The electors are asked various questions (e.g.

    1. Increase pensions.
    2. Cut Taxes

    3. Stop the government from borrowing.)

    Since each sounds like a nice policy on its own, the electors say yes to each question notwithstanding that the result is contradictory.

    Parliamentary democracy on the other hand involves choosing a (minimally coherent) program, which has good and bad points (e.g. higher taxes but higher pensions and less borrowing.)

  3. Ross Bemrose says:

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m extremely wary of voting for any candidate that promises to cut taxes, particular at the state level, as my state is currently in a budget crisis.

  4. Dan S. says:

    The leader of the Conservative Party in the UK, David Cameron, was once being interviewed on radio about his view on marriage and civil partnerships. What with him being unwilling to alienate anyone in particular, I recall the interview went something like this:

    Interviewer: "So what are your feelings on marriage?"

    DC: "Marriage is absolutely vital to a healthy family and should be encouraged with tax credits and other incentives"

    I: "But same-sex couples are excluded which suggests that they are valued less than marriage"

    DC: "Same sex couples and civil partnerships are highly valued in today’s modern society and form an important bond between couples that should be recognised equally as important"

    I: "But they’re not married, which suggests that marriage in itself isn’t important"

    DC: "Our core values reflect that marriage is the cornerstone of a stable family"

    I: "So gay couples are less likely to have stable families"

    DC: "Civil partnerships allow the bond of love blah blah blah blah…"

    I: "So what you’re saying is, everyone’s the best?"

  5. CGomez says:

    Looking at some of the parliamentary democracies around the world, it seems like they are falling into most of the same traps… you have to get reelected again, after all.

    It is quite true that different systems encourage different outcomes, but in general letting people vote just means they’ll vote to give themselves more things.

    Does this mean I hate democracy?  No… it’s just plainly the worst form of government every invented, except for all the others (with humblest apologies for the poor paraphrasing to the original speaker).

  6. I’d love to see a politician say "all of them – and I probably wouldn’t wait for the budget crunch."

  7. me says:

    Abortions for all!  Boooooo!

    Abortions for none! Boooooo!

    Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!  Yaaaaaay!

  8. Scott says:

    This plays into the general rule that it’s hard to make a good impression, but very easy to make a bad one. People latch onto things which sound scary, offensive or otherwise objectionable.

    The keener politicians find out which groups will never vote for them. They can then take strong stances on issues where the only people who will object will belong to one of those groups.

  9. Anonymous Coward says:

    I think the newspaper would have been more responsible if they had printed ‘Couldn’t come to a decision.’ for the first two candidates. This is essentially what they said, but a lot of readers will not get that.

  10. MS says:

    The question is flawed from the get-go, though, as it only allows for cutting. Why can’t each budget take a hit, or maybe *gasp* raise taxes?

    [Those would also have been acceptable answers. But “I’m sure if we look more closely we’d find a way to pay for them all” is not. -Raymond]
  11. dave says:

    When asked to choose among multiple options, product management will pick all of them.

    Engineering: we cannot implement all of these features and still hit the release date you insist on.  Please rank the features in order of priority.

    Product management: they are all priority 1.

  12. closer to home says:

    "If budget cuts forced you to eliminate one of the following four features in software v n+1, which would you cut?"

    NONE

  13. Fuzzy says:

    Didn’t the same thing happen during the Obama/McCain debate? When asked about cutting programs due to a bad economy, Obama started talking about how important his programs were while McCain went into "save money by ending wasteful government spending" mode.

    What I’m also wary about are those propositions that seem to have no negative side effects whatsoever. If they’re that universally awesome, why do we need to make a decision about it?

  14. Levi says:

    Reminds me a joke about a fictional driving school test in which the student is faces with a nightmare scenario of seeing a school bus and an ambulance stranded in the middle of the road in front of his car and asked a question: "what will you hit?" Despite perceived moral difficulty of this decision the correct answer (at least in the joke) is to "hit the brakes".

    The point of the story is that the right answer is not always in the multiple choices.

    Aside from this, why does everyone here seem to miss the point that raising taxes excessively actually reduces government revenue and vice versa?

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