When I say there is nobody to vote for, I don’t just mean the familiar complaint that the candidates may be different shades of evil but are all too evil to support, that the earth’s climate does not recover one iota because some even worse policy has been averted, that sadistic bombings and humanitarian bombings actually look identical. I do mean all of that. But I also mean that candidates are campaigning as and being presented as nothing, as empty figures with no positions on anything.
What is the most common foreign policy position on the websites of Democratic candidates for U.S. Congress? Quick! It’s not hard! You got it? You’re wrong. It was a trick question. Most of their websites do not admit to the existence of 96% of humanity in any way shape or form — although one can infer that the world must exist, because so many of them express such deep love for veterans.
Numerous resources claim to fill the gap, but like private weather profiteers regurgitating federal data, they mostly just pick out bits of the almost nothing coming from the candidates and re-package it as Useful Voter Information. The Campus Election Engagement Project has nothing on Virginia’s Fifth District Congressional race, and on the Virginia race for U.S. Senate it has next to nothing. In a nod to the existence of the earth, it tells us the candidates’ positions on the Iran nuclear agreement, plus three questions on the environment. But the fact that one of the two candidates’ whole schtick is hatred of immigrants, glorification of racism, and fascistic devotion to Trump doesn’t come up in the predictable policy questions. Nor does the duplicity of the other guy’s constant support for presidential war-making, while claiming to oppose it, make the cut.
The League of Women Voters is worse. They present seven predictable questions that they claim neither major-party candidate has answered, although they could have grabbed the answers to at least five of them from the candidates’ websites. None of the seven questions admit to the existence of a world outside the borders of the United States, apart from the fact that “immigrants” must come from somewhere. None of the questions addresses any sort of problem related to the habitability of the planet. When it comes to the Senate, the League presents answers to the same questions from three candidates. The League is, however, compelled to indirectly admit to the existence of the world and problems in it, because it explains two questions that will be on the ballot for public votes in Virginia, one related to taxes on flooded property, the other to taxes for spouses of disabled or killed participants in wars.
Then there’s BallotReady.org. This one claims a broader range of issues covered, including “Foreign Policy,” and also “Defense/Veterans.” How in the world “foreign policy” is separated from “defense” (taking the latter to be a euphemism for militarism) and how “defense” is paired with “veterans” is not explained. Each section contains a few sentence fragments, each one in quotes and linked to its source, which is usually the candidate’s website.
VoteSmart.org has 16 things it thinks you should know about a Congressional candidate. Two relate to foreign policy, and each asks — with a straight face — whether the U.S. government should commit the greatest crime imaginable: “Should the United States use military force in order to prevent governments hostile to the U.S. from possessing a nuclear weapon?” “Do you support increased American intervention in Middle Eastern conflicts beyond air support?” The answer that VoteSmart provides for each of the major-party candidates in Virginia’s Fifth is, for each question, “unknown.”
I understand that Code Pink is about to publish a voting guide that will list the dollar figures from OpenSecrets.org that incumbents have taken from weapons dealers, which is certainly useful as far as incumbents go. It will also draw on Peace Action’s scorecard for incumbents, although those have typically graded on a curve, avoiding any votes in Congress that were heavily slanted one way or the other, in order to pick out the votes most evenly split along partisan lines, and omitting anything not voted on.
The most likely place to find what scraps exist remains candidates’ own websites. In some cases, this can be augmented from speeches and interviews. Even after doing that research yourself, you will almost certainly still lack an answer to any of these 20 basic questions: