My twin boys, third grade students in the Boston Public School system, have begun learning one of the foundational tenets of American liberty: the right and responsibility of citizens to vote for their leaders. Benjamin Franklin. Nelson Mandela. Susan B. Anthony. Mahatma Gandhi. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Rosa Parks. Vaclav Havel. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legions upon legions of others who have fought and sacrificed with their lives for the right to determine who governs their towns, states, and countries.
So it is with great disappointment that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker persists in his declaration of abstinence from voting in the upcoming presidential election. As a public servant, as someone voted by the people, to lead, our families need strong role models. Leadership in democratic, open societies- as Governor Baker has demonstrated throughout his career--is about making the best decisions amidst a suite of imperfect options and difficult choices. To walk away from voting in this vital election does not represent the Governor Baker whom Massachusetts elected and whom Massachusetts families have come to respect and appreciate.
The right and responsibility of the voter is a constitutional principle central to America's long experiment in liberty. Low voter participation remains a core threat to the functioning of our democracy. Indeed, the moderate, pragmatic ideals that Governor Baker champions are only politically viable with larger civic participation. Small interest groups and factions that might threaten our unity are strong only in so far as the majority abstain from voting. We need our elected leaders to set the example.
The 2016 Presidential election, whatever the outcome, will be historic. We will either have America's first woman president or the most authoritarian one in our history. History will judge our leaders severely who back, through outright support or through abstaining, Trump's demagoguery. For philosophical conservatives, Hillary Clinton is the more conservative candidate than Donald Trump, who calls for vast, unfunded, deficit-creating expansion in government in the form of militarism, deportation, know-nothing protectionism, and border wall building and who looks to Statist leaders like Vladimir Putin for inspiration. He makes breath-takingly racist and misogynist statements routinely. While I personally think the most courageous stance would be to vote for Secretary Clinton, there are two moderate Republicans in the race on the Libertarian ticket for whom to vote, should Governor Baker feel compelled. A protest non-vote is not a responsible option for our elected leaders; sitting idly on the sidelines at this moment in history is unacceptable.
Governor Baker's denunciation of Donald Trump's bigoted and dangerous statements is welcome, but he needs to go farther. He needs to tell the people of Massachusetts that he will vote in this presidential election and that they should as well. Governor Baker's vote will help set the direction of the Republican party. Regardless of one's political party, our country needs an inclusive, moderate, pragmatic Republican party. Governor Baker could be a standard-bearer in the post-Trump era. Voting for Hillary Clinton would show a willingness to work with Democrats and to pragmatically support, across party lines and philosophical differences, a remarkably qualified candidate. Alternatively, a vote for the Libertarian ticket would suggest his interest in leading a more truly philosophically conservative Republican party of effective yet limited government, rather than the reactionary conservativism that currently plagues it. That, in my opinion, misses the reality of our two-party political system and the dangers of Trump, but it would be more responsible than abstaining.
There are many steps that America needs to take to improve voter participation, from the creation of an election day holiday to creating systems for digital voting to reducing social and economic barriers to voting to fighting against discriminatory voter ID laws. I hope that Massachusetts continues its centuries-long tradition in forging a path of libery and can lead in those longer term systemic changes. In the meantime, Governor Baker in this presidential election needs to set an example and cast his ballot. At this pivotal moment in American democracy, we need his leadership.