The “Mystery Series” part 6 is my last post in reply to a comment by Loyal Subject™ SJ, whose question basically boils down to this: is there any merit to the “lesser-of-two-evils” argument in favor of voting for Democrats in the upcoming elections? The reason my answer to SJ’s question is in the form of a six part opus (and not, say, a tweet) is that the case I am making here must necessarily be a particularly well-supported and valid one, because the course of action that follows from my argument is one that very few lefties are willing to entertain, much less adopt. Hell, I don’t even want to entertain it. Thus this insufferable verbosity of my response can be chalked up to a careful check of my facts and reasoning to be sure that I am indeed persuaded myself.
So here it is, the official “Mystery Series” title revealed in all of its hideous grotesquery:
Why I am not voting for Barack Obama, and neither should you.
To those who are nodding your head in agreement, you can stop reading here. Fergawdsake, go do something more enjoyable than reading my (apparently endless) blathering. To those who are angrily shaking their heads, I humbly beseech you: take a deep breath, exhale, clear your mind, and just hear me out. If after doing so I have still not convinced you, at least I hope to have persuaded you that my argument is sound, my intentions are honorable, and that I have not undertaken this exercise lightly or in bad faith.
It had been my intention to consider and rebut potential criticisms and objections. Actually, many of these cannot accurately be called “potential” at all: I have already encountered and engaged them. One can find them splayed all across the Internet (and piling up in my inbox). Many are variations on a theme that goes something like this:
“But the Republicans are worse!”
Yes I know that. But the Democrats are almost exactly as bad and getting worse with every passing decade, precisely because we keep voting for them no matter what they do.
“But Republicans are worse! Less evil is still, you know, less evil!“
Yes I know that. But you’re still voting for evil, and evil accumulates. Also: the Democrats are almost exactly as bad and getting worse with every passing decade, precisely because we keep voting for them no matter what they do.
“But Republicans are worse! And if Romney wins we will soon live in a fascist theocratic state and then we will NEVER EVER get the right wing out of power!”
[Citation needed.] Also: the Democrats are almost exactly as bad and getting worse with every passing decade, precisely because we keep voting for them no matter what they do.
Repeat loop, ad infinitum.
Another “argument” I’ve seen when the specter of voting for someone other than Obama is raised is this one: “You are [CHOOSE ONE: an ideological zealot/irrational purist/egotistical @$$hole who just wants to feel smugly superior/unrealistic idiot] with no understanding of How Things Work in the Real World.” To which I say: even if it were true that I am an ideological zealot/irrational purist/egotistical @$$hole who just wants to feel smugly superior and/or an unrealistic idiot, that would not negate the relevant facts or the validity of my argument; in fact that is nothing more than an ad hominem fallacy and can be dismissed as such. As for misunderstanding How Things Work in the Real World, I would very much welcome being enlightened. With evidence.
Then there are the “criticisms” that no one can take seriously, like “you can’t trust Mitt Romney on Social Security.“ Oh no! I can’t? Let’s see:
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President, do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I suspect that on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position.
Or how about the very odd argument that a President Romney will take us to war with Iran, as if Obama’s position on Iran isn’t nearly identical, or we are all living in some alternate reality where none of this ever happened:
Obama has expanded drone attacks in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. He has involved the US in aggressive cyber warfare and possibly other forms of military aggression against Iran. He has established and is now looking to expand what AP calls a “covert war in North Africa”. None of this has been debated, let alone voted on, in Congress. The one time Congress voted on a significant Obama foreign policy – the war in Libya – it voted against its authorization, and Obama blithely ignored that vote and proceeded with the war as though Congressional rejection never happened.
In sum, Obama uses military force whenever he wants, wherever he wants, and without anyone’s permission.
Another tack that critics take is to helpfully inform me that even though all of this awful and profoundly evil stuff is true about Barack Obama, there are still myriad ways that he is (marginally) better than Romney. I do appreciate the effort, but I am actually well aware of those differences. Some of them are important and meaningful. But I am not making the argument that Obama is as bad as Romney on every issue. Clearly, that is not the case.
I am making this argument:
Lesser-of-two-evilism and its corollary “voting for Democrats no matter what they do” is precisely the mechanism that guarantees the Democrats rightward trend continues on its trajectory, that we will only ever have two evil choices, and that exactly as they have done in the past, both of those choices will continue to become more evil over time.
It’s a tactical argument. It’s about breaking this toxic cycle and getting ourselves a government that is not just a little less evil, but a lot less evil. Maybe even good.
I have supported my argument as follows:
Over the past half century both parties have drifted very far rightward. (Part 1.)
Democrats cannot be pressured to change in any meaningful way if they are in no real danger of losing elections. (Part 2.)
A specific liberal constituency recently got Congress and the president to take immediate, meaningful action on its behalf — by defecting in significant numbers to the Republican Party. The Democrats lost the House in 2010, but in the lame duck session, Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats suddenly discovered their ability to serve the interests of voters. Not the voters whose support never wavered, mind you. The voters who abandoned them. Right-wing conservatives routinely use the same tactic successfully. (Part 3.)
President Obama and many other conservative Democrats — especially in the party’s leadership — are not just dithering on liberal policies and reforms, they are actively working against them. (Part 4.)
Objectively, Barack Obama is just not very liberal. He is a True Believer in economic conservatism, a Wall Street-serving corporatist, a radical and lawless executive, and an unrepentant, murderous warmonger very much like his predecessor. (Part 5.)
As fortune would have it, I very recently came across a wonderful writer, Michael J. Smith. He has posted online many chapters of his 2005 book, Stop Me Before I Vote Again, which I cannot recommend to you highly enough. (He is also an excellent and prolific blogger.) In chapter 2 of his book, Smith describes the forces that ensure the rightward trajectory of our political parties as analogous to a ratchet: it only ever works in one direction.
The American political system, since at least 1968, has been operating like a ratchet, and both parties — Republicans and Democrats — play crucial, mutually reinforcing roles in its operation.
The electoral ratchet permits movement only in the rightward direction. The Republican role is fairly clear; the Republicans apply the torque that rotates the thing rightward.
The Democrats’ role is a little less obvious. The Democrats are the pawl. They don’t resist the rightward movement — they let it happen — but whenever the rightward force slackens momentarily, for whatever reason, the Democrats click into place and keep the machine from rotating back to the left.
Here’s how it works. In every election year, the Democrats come and tell us that the country has moved to the right, and so the Democratic Party has to move right too in the name of realism and electability. Gotta keep these right-wing madmen out of the White House, no matter what it takes.
I’ll just quote Mr. Smith liberally (with his kind permission) and let him do the rest of my work for me here:
The system operates in one direction only; and it is crucial for Democratic voters to understand that their “lesser evil” votes are actively promoting this process, not retarding it.
Absent some countervailing pressure from what we’ll call, for short, the Left, it’s a foregone conclusion that the political system will evolve in a way that responds to the desires of the wealthy and powerful. Over time, the Democratic Party has assumed the role of ensuring that the countervailing pressure from the Left doesn’t happen. The party contains and neutralizes the Left, or what there is of it. Left voters are supposed to support the Democrat, come what may — and it’s amazing how many of us have internalized this supposed obligation — but they are not allowed to have any influence on the party’s policies.
[T]hat’s what Democrats do. They may run to the left, or even govern to the left, if they have to; but they govern to the right whenever they can, because they want to. If you don’t hold their feet to the fire every minute, they’ll sell you down the river every time.
[A] big part of the problem is the way the Democratic Party soaks up the energies of people who might otherwise be part of the environmental movement, or the anti-war movement, or the anti-globalization movement, or a band of hardy urban guerrillas spray-painting the lenses of surveillance cameras. (I strongly approve of this kind of thing but I’m a little old for it myself.)
The Democratic Party is not only a necropolis where activists decay into bureaucrats; it’s also a toxic growth poisoning the soil where activism grows — the crabgrass or milfoil that crowds out all the other species and devours all the nutrients. It is not merely an alternative to activism; it is the enemy of activism, and thus the enemy of any politics worthy of the name — by which I mean politics that goes beyond an empty, meaningless rivalry between two white-collar street gangs for the spoils of office.
[V]ote for the Green anytime the Democrat isn’t up to snuff, even if the Republican is a wild-eyed berserker who wants to pave the world. It’ll take a few more losses like Gore’s in Florida in 2000 before the Democrats will get the message – if then — and you have to be willing to stay the course until they do get it. Just remember that the only difference between a pave-the-world Republican and an “environmentalist” Democrat is – well, none, really; the Republican means what he says, but the Democrat means what the Republican says, too.
[T]he only thing that will make the Democrats change is the prospect of annihilation if they don’t. And the only way to raise that specter before their eyes is for their captive constituencies to desert them in droves. As long as they think you have nowhere else to go, they will take you for granted. And the only way to convince them you have somewhere else to go is… to go there.
Don’t worry so much about the next four years; they’re going to be a disaster no matter who gets into the White House. Face that fact squarely, keep a bag packed and your passport handy by way of preparation for the next President, and when you vote, think ahead a little more.
A few final thoughts:
Evil is cumulative. Once seized, tyrannical powers are never willingly relinquished by governments. And Barack Obama has put a bipartisan imprimatur on so many government evils: targeting American citizens for assassination on the president’s word alone without due process or oversight, entrenching for-profit healthcare, engaging in counterproductive wars not sanctioned by Congress (as required by the Constitution), expanding warrantless spying on innocent citizens, militarizing the country’s largest police force in conjunction with the CIA, expanding the Bush abomination known as the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, eviscerating the rule of law by refusing to prosecute elite lawbreakers in the prior administration or on Wall Street, and, coming soon to a senior citizen near you, cutting Social Security benefits. This president has done more to legitimize neoconservative policies and make them permanent features of our government than the neocons themselves ever could have.
There are — or ought to be — clear lines drawn, on both principle and practical grounds, that Democratic candidates cannot cross and expect the support of liberals. We can of course differ on precisely where those lines should be drawn. (illegal and counterproductive wars? presidential kill lists? for-profit health care? Social Security “reform”?) But if there really are no lines that cannot be crossed, then it means exactly nothing to be a liberal.
Or, you know, fuck it. We can all just keep voting for “less evil,” and continue to scratch our heads in bewilderment as to why our government is evil and corrupted.
I’m heading back to New York so that I can vote tomorrow. For Jill Stein.