My Choice for President? It’s a Hobson’s Choice.

An unpolitical reflection on a most appropriate term.

SONY DSCI’ve always counted it both a privilege and a duty to exercise my constitutional right to vote, and this November will be my eleventh presidential election. While I have typically voted for my party’s official candidate, I have been known to diverge from party affiliations when it seemed appropriate. Often the choice seemed a no-brainer: one candidate clearly stood for my cherished ideals—which, in my mind, were American ideals.

Election Choices

The choice in my first election, in 1976, was . . . well, let me say, a little difficult. There was Jimmy Carter, the affable peanut farmer from Georgia and upstart candidate of the Democratic Party, and there was the staid and dependable but uninspiring incumbent, Gerald Ford, the unfortunate soul who inherited the job two years before after the unprecedented mid-term resignation of his embattled predecessor, Richard “I Am Not a Crook” Nixon. Mr. Carter—truly a nice man—lasted one term and thankfully gave way to his successor, who in my exceedingly humble opinion was one of our nation’s greatest presidents, Ronald Reagan.[1]

But now, thirty-six years later, here we are. What, pray tell, do we make of our two major-party candidates? I’ll confess, I haven’t a hankerin’ for either one. I’ll go a step further: I’m worried for America, because one or the other is going to be our next president—unless the Lord returns first, in which case we won’t need a president. Maranatha!

And yet, I still plan to exercise my constitutional right (and duty and privilege) to vote. Not voting is not an option for me. That’s a cop-out, and it’s undemocratic. I won’t throw my hands in the air or bury my head in the sand simply because I don’t like either candidate. And for me, voting for a third-party candidate or a write-in candidate is not an option either—at least not a good option—because I’ll have a strange sense that I’ve thrown away my vote.[2] If I’m not going to vote for one or the other of the major candidates, I might as well vote for Zeezo the Clown for all the good it’ll do.[3]

Hobson’s Choice

But that brings me to the point of this article—which really is about a point of English usage. In my view, at this moment many American voters feel as if we have no choice—or we have two equally (or nearly equally) bad choices for our next president. We have what may be termed a “Hobson’s choice.” The original meaning of Hobson’s choice was “no choice at all,” with roots in the story of Englishman Thomas Hobson (1549-1631), a hostler[4] who would tell customers that their “choice” of horses was limited to the one closest to the door—therefore, no choice at all. Some usage purists of the last 60 years resist the trend to call a choice between two equally poor choices a Hobson’s choice.[5] Yes-No-Maybe ChoicesThey argue that a choice between two poor choices is a dilemma, or simply choosing the lesser of two evils. But two highly respected authorities have come around to the newer meaning. Bryan Garner writes this: “Though purists resist the change, the prevailing sense in American English is not that of having no choice, but of having two bad choices. . . . After all, the choice of either taking what is offered or taking nothing must often be two poor options.”[6] And my favorite go-to dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate 11th edition, give as its second meaning for Hobson’s choice, “the necessity of accepting one of two or more equally objectionable alternatives.” I’ll accept the opinion of these authorities and call a choice between two equally poor choices a Hobson’s choice.

My Nightmare

And that brings me round again to the upcoming election. Whom will I vote for? I’m approaching this Hobson’s choice with much research, discussion, prayer, meditation, and reflection. But as of today I don’t know, and the pressure is on. Here’s the nightmare I envision on Election Day, November 8. I will walk into the voting booth with dice to roll and a coin to flip and will stand there wavering, still undecided, wondering how to make my final choice, holding my breath for what will seem an eternity. And then, when I can take it no longer and I’m on the brink of unconsciousness, I will scream, Eli, Eli lama sabachtani![7] Then I will clear my throat, wipe the saliva off my chin, adjust my collar, and calmly walk out of the booth. Without voting.

Stay tuned! Δ


[1] There are Reagan lovers and Reagan haters in the world. All are entitled to their opinions, but mine will prevail in this blog because, well, it’s my blog. So if anyone wants to argue my assertion—thereby utterly missing the point of this article and proving they don’t read footnotes—they will be speaking to a wall. A blank, unhearing, uncaring, unmoving, unspeaking wall.

[2] Yes, I know—there’s the whole thing about voting one’s principles, making a statement, and all that. I understand. Who knows? After thinking about, praying about, meditating on, and tossing and turning in bed having nightmares about this election, to save my sanity I may join you.

[3] I am aware that our electoral system renders an individual’s vote practically meaningless when one candidate is heavily favored in a particular state. But I still won’t vote for Zeezo the Clown for president.

[4] Hostler – “one who takes care of horses or mules” (M-W’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition).

[5] E.g., Evans, A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (1957); Bernstein, The Careful Writer (1965); Copperud, American Usage and Style: The Consensus (1980); and Safire, On Language (1980).

[6] Bryan Garner, Garner’s Modern English Usage, 4th edition, 2016 (p. 466).

[7] With apologies for appropriating this word of Christ as he hung on the cross, recorded in Matthew 27:46. The translation of the Hebrew words, as reported in the text, is “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

© 2016 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

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Author: Dean Christensen

Educator, copyeditor, writer, voiceover guy, baseball bug, logophile, classical music afficionado, classic rock 'n' roll lover, classic-movie buff, bibliophile, former this, used to be that, and future who knows what. Every day is an adventure in learning.

4 thoughts on “My Choice for President? It’s a Hobson’s Choice.”

  1. A thought to consider while voting: How does a particular candidate and his/her treatment of others influence others to treat others? One of my primary concerns is that the president, no matter who that president is, is in some respects a role model of citizenship to the country. It is my belief that one current candidate could result in blanket acceptance of behaviors I cannot support let alone risk growing in the country. On the off chance it isn’t obvious, I’ll spell it out. I’m voting for Clinton mostly because I am afraid of how average American citizens will treat other human beings if Trump were president. So it’s less about what the president will do than what the president will condone.

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    1. I can certainly see and appreciate your point, Mandy, and I appreciate your sharing it. For you it’s evidently not a Hobson’s choice. I’m still struggling on this one and see myself doing so for a while. It’s like trying to decide which eye I’d like to have poked out with a sharp stick. There’s a genuine sense of dread no matter which way I go.

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