When you choose the lesser of two evils, always remember that it is still an evil.
- Max Lerner
After Monday's Super Tuesday preview here on W.A.i.A, I had resigned myself to letting the matter of electoral primaries drop to the wayside and focus on something else for a bit...topics like, say, the true state of this union or the world's largest garbage dump (twice the size of the continental US) floating around the Pacific Ocean...but that was before I found myself wrapped up in a very disconcerting argument (via Gmail Chat - baaaaaad idea) with a very good friend of mine over my decision not to vote for anyone on Tuesday (and my questioning of my friend's reasoning for voting for Obama).
In startlingly non-abstract terms, I was accused of being an idle blowhard, all talk and no action, a sort of political angishore, bluster without backup, parading around empty moral principles while actually rejecting the noble democratic process, the capacity for change, that is supposed to be the whole point of this little country of ours. I am a bellyacher, a crybaby, grumbling about the need for real change while refusing to cast a ballot for someone who might (at least more than the few others available for selection) take this nation and this world one step closer to something approximating 'better,' instead opting to grandstand on a soapbox and thereby shirking the greatest of responsibility of every dutiful citizen. I am, by default, a supporter of the status quo and consequently a blabbermouth whose theoretical ethics are made obsolete by civic inactivity.
This was the charge laid against me - though not in those exact words.
Apparently, the fact that I did not vote (for Barack Obama, in particular, and for anyone, in general) means that I am hurting America...or, at best, not helping it. And I will not argue here that my decision to abstain from endorsing one of two barely disparate choices to be my personal pick for presidential nominee is helping anything. It's not. And I never said it was. But I also never claimed it to be a tactic for imposing desperately needed change. It was simply the only option left open to me that I could perform in good conscience, without betraying a great many of my very deepest seated feelings about morality.
My actions were subsequently described as "self-centered," "naive," and "retarded."
So, is this really a question of my stifling a slow march towards a different potential future for the mere selfish motive of not voting for someone I neither respect nor agree with on a great many issues? Is that missing the bigger picture? Personally, I believe I'm well-aware of the bigger picture (see all previous blog entries) and I wonder if this is really a question of better ends by dubious means. In an effort to wash away the nightmare of the past eight years, how much of your pride will you swallow, how many of your morals can you justify compromising? Some of them? Most of them? Surely, not all of them?!
It's not actually a question of Obama's constant refrain, "Yes, We Can" versus my own refusal to vote for him ("No, I Can't"), but rather that of "Why Can You?" versus "Why I Can't."
Do I agree with some of Barack Obama's ideas and think that he is a better face for these United States of America than what we've had for the past eight (or twenty-eight) years? Do I agree with his promise to end "tax breaks to companies that ship our jobs overseas"? Do I agree with making health care and college education affordable and paying teachers more? Do I agree with investing in sustainable energy, condemning torture, and putting an "end to the politics of fear" that have gripped this country (and world) for almost a decade? Would I rather wake up on the morning of November 5th, 2008 to at least four years of a Barack Obama presidency than four or more years of anyone else?
In a word, YES. In two words, YES, BUT...
Yes, but, I still can not place a vote for someone whom I disagree with on so many fundamental points. Is this an appeal to everyone I know or anyone who may read this not to vote for Obama? No, absolutely not. Make up your own mind. I am not trying to dissuade anyone from doing what they think is right. But I would hope that people have thought about why they think certain things are right instead just assuming they are or pleading the "our hands are tied" line or playing the "lesser of two evils" card.
Personally, I can't vote for an evil, lesser though it may be. I've done it in the past and I lambasted people who didn't play the game themselves. But I disagree with that standpoint now. I've discovered what's important to me and weighed that against what has been said and promised by the few people who are expected to wield a tremendous amount of power. I will attempt to justify my own stance, not convert others to it. But I do hope that others will look before they leap and consider not only the ground below, but the fall in between.
I seek to explain why it is that I could not and will not vote for Obama yesterday or in the future (unless I am convinced otherwise), as recently the idea of my "not voting" has been conflated with "not caring" or "not doing." These are erroneous suggestions, false charges. I voted for no one yesterday because I found no one to vote for. I know the issues, I know them very well. I made my decision to cast a vote for no active candidate because of the issues at hand, not because of my lack of attention to or consideration for them. I was not lazy on Tuesday. I went to the polling place. I signed in. I pulled a lever. I was not absent from the process, but I actively chose not to cast my lot in with anyone running. I know why I made that decision and I will elucidate my reasons below. But in so doing, I must also address the reasons why certain people I have spoken to (people who may or may not be pro-Obama, but rather anti-Clinton, anti-Republican, or whatever else) voted the way they did yesterday, and presumably will in November.
The 'Something-Is-Better-Than-Nothing' Debate
Obama supporters whom I've spoken to recently have all said the same thing, as if progress disclaimers are part of campaigning, they have all said that they don't expect Obama to deliver on all of his promises - that would be too much to ask of anyone - but that they believe he will achieve more change from the past than the other, lesser, choices. This notion is echoed (or established) by Barack himself. As he said last night, "There will be setbacks, and we will make mistakes. And that is why we need all the help we can get."
I don't believe in a perfect candidate, nor do I think one will (ever) be possible, so it's not about someone who will do exactly what I want all the time. But I don't like the idea of voting for someone just because he/she may not be as bad as someone (or everyone) else. Better than the worst doesn't always mean good (just ask The Knicks).
The 'I-Don't-Like-The-System-Either-But-Wutchagonnadoo?' Rationale
"Elections are about choosing the person you think can do the job the best of the bunch...There's no magic button here. There's no other option that's going to magically appear just because you don't like the choices being given to you. You are being given a choice and as much as it is the responsibility of the US government to respond to its citizens, as far as I'm concerned you are giving up that right by actively choosing not to vote. How do you ever expect change to happen if you won't contribute to it? Do you think your soapboxing on gchat and posting of articles on your blog that few will ever read is going to do it?" - FriendOfMinePragmatism is realistic and the only possible method by which to participate in politics. Change is incremental...it takes time. The system's broken but let's use it in the meantime while we ideally work on fixing it. These arguments are very understandable and I will not dispute them. If they work for you, great. If you maintain this viewpoint, fine. Remember, I have never advocated to anyone else not to vote. But this pragmatic, real politik stance is not my own. The issues important to me can not be seen from this wide shot approach...I have zoomed in and racked focus on things on a smaller scale. And if your vote gets you closer to your goal of a changed society, congratulations. But it didn't happen for me when I compromised my morals in 2004 and voted for John Kerry and I swore I'd never do that again.
The 'But-He's-Really-Progressive' Claim
Really? He is? How so? Because he doesn't look like Walter Matthau or Annette Benning? Because a politician repeating the words "hope" and "change" over and over and over again can't possibly be disingenuous? Because he's more progressive than an aggressive neo-liberal and a gaggle of neo-fascists and evangelical creationists?
The 'Progressive Democrats of America' recently endorsed Obama's candidacy despite stating that "he has not always been a progressive." But people and things can change, right? Isn't that Obama's message anyway? So let's look at the ways in which Obama may be progressive and see how he actually stands up to say, the PDA's assessment of what would make for a progressive candidate.
John Halle, in an Open Letter to the PDA, states how their endorsed candidate doesn't actually fair too well when comparing Obama's stated positions with the PDA's own seven point "progressive challenge" according to which "candidates should be measured." Halle explains,
On almost all counts, Obama fails.To further mention Barack's foreign policy platforms, I turn to Bill Fletcher, executive editor of The Black Commentator and former president of TransAfrica Forum, speaking this morning on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman:
For example, the PDA declares that the candidate should "end imperial foreign policy...redirecting funding towards needs at home". Nowhere does Obama provide the slightest hint that he would support anything of the kind. He supports not diminishing but augmenting existing troop levels by 90,000 soldiers. He has at no time made any mention of reducing absurdly bloated defense budgets. His team of foreign policy advisors led by Zbigniew Brzezinski are reliable imperialists fully committed to military force as a first resort as was demonstrated by Obama's endorsement of strikes in Pakistani regions likely to harbor terrorists.
As for the PDA's second challenge--"heath care for all"-- it is now well known from Paul Krugman's columns that Obama has been consistent in his rejection of universal healthcare. In this respect, he is to the right of Romney who implemented universal health care as Massachusetts governor.
Krugman also observes more generally that Obama has consistently positioned himself to the right of the major Democratic candidates on questions of "economic justice." As for the PDA's specific demands on this score, there is nothing in Obama's platform which indicates strong support for organized labor or a recognition of the devastating effect of corporate negotiated trade agreements, which Obama has supported.
Senator Obama has been a motivational and inspiring speaker, but on some issues, particularly on foreign policy, he has not particularly distinguished himself from Senator Clinton. I mean, he was reluctant—although he supported or has supported a withdrawal from Iraq, he was reluctant to pin a date down. He, on Iran, seemed to believe, along with the Bush administration, that Iran represents some sort of threat. And then he made that statement about making a unilateral attack against al-Qaeda bases in Pakistan, which was, I think, a reckless statement when you consider the state that Pakistan is in and the anti-US sentiment there.In addition to these points, we can add up his major funding from corporate and financial powerhouses like Goldman Sachs, his disinterest in a single-payer health care program in favor of a non-mandated system that will only cover about 22 million people (as opposed to Clinton's proposal that would cover 45 million), his pro-death penalty stance, and his strong support for the nuclear industry, as discussed here by Amy Goodman,
So I think that when he’s talking about change, that we have to push him on that. It’s not enough to feel good about change and to feel excited. You know, we need the concretes. How will this be fundamentally different than his predecessors?
The New York Times had a piece this weekend talking about Obama falsely claiming during a campaign debate that he had passed legislation in the Senate at the request of Illinois anti-nuclear activists to require better public disclosure about nuclear plant leaks when in fact the legislation never passed. That– while he did initially introduce legislation, his staff repeatedly watered it down after meeting with the nuclear industry. Among Barack Obama’s top contributors, are nuclear power industry, Exelon– the corporation.So, I'm just wondering, within all of this, where does the progressive Barack Obama reside? When will I be shown that guy? The guy everyone assumes he is, without much to actually back up that feeling.
During his speech last night, Obama recounted an anecdote from his earlier days as a "a young organizer intent on fighting joblessness and poverty on the south side" of Chicago. He told the crowd of the seemingly impossible task of getting people to come out, rise up, and support the fight against the troubles of a desperate society - a society of crime and intolerance and unemployment and poverty. He spoke of the overwhelming feeling of futility in his work and the fruitlessness of his efforts and how he and the other volunteers with whom he was working considered giving it all up. And then Obama told the crowd what changed his mind. He said,
But at that moment, I happened to look outside and I saw some young boys tossing stones at a boarded-up apartment building across the street. They were like the boys in so many cities across the country, little boys, but without prospects, without guidance, without hope for the future. And I turned to the volunteers and I asked them, "Before you quit, before you give up, I want you to answer one question: What will happen to those boys if we don't stand up for them?This surely is a remarkable story for Obama to choose to tell. The indelible image of hopelessness, desolation, and desperation of those young boys throwing stones, a symbol of the source of their misery, helped Obama to forge ahead and fight for change.
And those volunteers, they looked out that window and they saw those boys and they decided that night to keep going, to keep organizing, keep fighting for better schools, fighting for better jobs, fighting for better health care. And I did too. And slowly but surely, in the weeks and months to come, the community began to change.
Young boys throwing rocks may perhaps be the most enduring symbol of the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation. For Obama to invoke this image in an attempt to describe what made him fight for the "little guy" when big business and corporate greed made their lives unbearable and devoid of Obama's much valued "hope," screams of the utmost irony. Almost two weeks ago, Barack Obama had the audacity to claim, in a gratuitous letter to the US ambassador to the UN, that without explicitly condemning Palestinian rocketfire upon the Israeli border town of Sderot, the United Nations should not condemn Israel's illegal and inhuman siege of Gaza and the collective punishment inflicted upon an innocent and already occupied civilian population of 1.5 million. In the letter and referring to the border blockade that has stopped almost all fuel, electricity, medical supplies, and food from entering Gaza, Obama wrote,
We have to understand why Israel is forced to do this… Israel has the right to respond [to rocket assaults on Sderot] while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians.Nevermind that Israel has chosen to respond with exactly the opposite of "minimal" impact on Gaza's civilians, Obama's letter urges restraint when condemning an occupying force for starving and imprisoning fellow human beings, human beings who Israel is legally bound, by international law, to protect and support. I wonder if Obama secretly wished to condemn the young boys in Chicago for possibly damaging the private property of the boarded-up building owners. It appears that Obama is selective in his pursuit of justice - to fight on the side of inner city kids in order to combat urban decay and a life of missed opportunities and not on the side of a besieged refugee population in order to combat apartheid, occupation, and collective punishment - and because of this I wonder where Obama's true humanity dwells. What will happen to the oppressed and desperate people of Gaza if powerful 'progressives' like Obama don't stand up for them?
But what else about Obama does everyone seem to laud ad nauseam? Oh, the war, you say? He didn't support the War in Iraq? Ok. True, he wasn't yet an elected official in the Senate at the time when Congress (including Hillary Clinton) approved the bill giving Bush carte blanche to attack Iraq without provocation. But ever since he has held a position of political power, Obama has never once voted against funding this war. And what is war without money to pay a military machine? Diplomacy, maybe. Obama has signed bill after bill authorizing more and more money to pour into Iraq, keeping an occupying force there and asking for even more troops to be added. Not a single word of dissent for any of those funding bills. Not one moment of outrage when $5.15 billion is to be added to the current military budget. How can you be against a war without being against paying for a war? This is your progressive idol? I'm don't buy it. Which is why I can not and will not vote for him.
The 'Here's-Hoping-He's-Lying-But-In-A-Good-Way' Principle
Maybe there are some that believe Barack Obama to be a better person than the political figure we see up there on our TV's and computer screens, I don't know. If the idea that politics calls for a cutthroat approach to campaigning, one in which you must say what needs to be said in order not to alienate a much needed base and keep their support as non-polarized as possible. Their appeal must be widespread and the morality of this country at large is not necessarily one that I personally share. His devotion to Christianity must be well-defined and oft-repeated, his "support the troops" message must be clear, his promise to secure this nation against our 'enemies' true. But what if he was really playing up some things to secure his own longevity, viability, funding, and potential in this race for the White House? What if he really wouldn't keep an undefined number of US soldiers in Iraq for select 'special' missions, necessary 'strikes,' and to protect our 'interests' in the Middle East? What if he really would bring them all home, quickly and efficiently? What if he thinks the threat of Iran really is bogus but has to pretend to talk a big game so as not to appear weak in the face of adversity or to worry the folks over at AIPAC and the ADL, among others? What if he has to placate the American Jewish voter with constant pandering to a right-wing Zionist demographic and pledging his deep commitment to Israel, while actually believing that occupation is wrong and that Palestinians are actually human beings? What if he wins and on January 20, 2009, there is a new dawn in America and the world and everyone who voted for that man should rejoice and pat themselves on the back? Now wouldn't that be something? I would rejoice as well, but I wouldn't regret not voting for him. Because then I'd have voted for a liar.
The 'What?-You-Think-You're-Better-Than-Me?' Defense
"Do you really think your abstention means anything profound? All you're doing is diluting the power of people whose platforms you may not wholly agree with but in all likelihood you agree with more than the other side. But go ahead, abstain and yell from the rafters at everyone who actually does anything. Frankly, your opinions expressed so cogently and passionately on your blog are wasted -- they are hot air -- unless you do something with them. You arrogantly expect me and everyone else to read what you have to say and you can't even do something to make a change? I have no interest in hearing anything from you about how change is necessary and how this world sucks if you will do nothing to change it." - FriendOfMineI have been told to make a choice, not a statement. But I don't think I'm making any bold, fist-in-the-air kind of protest. I just want to be able to go to sleep knowing that I did not support someone who I don't support. I can wake up feeling that I did not compromise what I feel to be important just so that someone I dislike can (theoretically) beat out someone else whom I dislike maybe a bit more (which, regardless, is obviously impossible in her 'home' state of New York).
The misconception that I am sitting back idly while the wheels of choice and change are spinning wildly around me is absurd. I know what's going on. And I know full well that I will continue to act according to how I feel about things. I will not close my eyes, hold my nose, take a deep breath and vote for someone whose platforms I oppose. It's not a statement. It's not supposed to be profound. It's supposed to be representative of something I can get on board with...and frankly, I can not get on board with Barack Obama's campaign, any more than I can get on board with any of his competitors, and it is for that reason that I do not vote for these people.
The 'Vote-Or-Shut-Up' Charge
"Here's the thing, if you feel like you don't want to vote and you want to abstain. That's fine. But you can't have it both ways. You can't not vote and then yell at people about the issues." - FriendOfMineLove it or leave it! You're either with us or against us! If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Ok, got it. But my solution may be different than your solution. The problems I see may be different than the problems you see. Personally, I don't want to vote for someone who raises troop levels, condemns resistance movements, and doesn't envision universal health care, regardless of how eloquent he may be or how many times his minions can chant "Yes, we can!" and "O-bam-a!" without getting embarrassed with themselves.
And guess what, I can complain regardless of whom I support or don't support. I participated in 2000, lost (won, actually), and complained. I participated in 2004, lost (won, actually), and complained. I participated in 2006, won, and complained. I have participated now in 2008, chose no one, and will continue to complain as loudly as I ever have. I will not be a complacent citizen, convincing myself that it is alright to support the inexcusable, picking from a short list of insiders because I think I have to in order to call myself a part of something bigger. Well, I am part of something bigger. A morality that forbids me from voting for someone who supports the occupation of Palestine, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the potential for a nuclear first-strike and not for reducing military spending and our own nuclear stockpiles. I will not. I will not. I will not.
My Moral Arguments
I wish to end by presenting a few hypotheticals. Just things to think about, mull over, toss around in the ol' brains.
The Mother Theresa Soup Kitchen
Would you give money to help out a church's soup kitchen if a major stipulation of the soup kitchen's mission was (for some weird reason) to preach in favor of the beatification and canonization of Mother Theresa, the famed good deed-doer who has said,
But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child - a direct killing of the innocent child - murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?What if some of the money you give naturally goes to providing food for the homeless, but a larger portion is primarily used for advocating for her immediate sainthood and the divinity of her legacy?
Hot Button Enough For Ya?
Imagine for a moment that, today, Barack Obama is exactly the same person he was yesterday, the same platforms, the same charisma, the same viewpoints, save one. He is not pro-choice. But everything else is the same. But he doesn't support a woman's right to choose whether she has an abortion or not. Would you still vote for him? And what does that say about how you consider issues that are vital to you? At what point do you compromise your own morality?
How Bad is Bad, How Good is Good?
Please follow me on this one. Unless you have read Naomi Wolf lately or have actually been paying attention to the systematic breaking down of our open society, the xenophobia and racism, religiosity, rampant consumerism and corporate power, controlled media, increased militarism, destruction of human rights, dismantling of the Constitution, and other assorted goodies of real life fascism, you may think this hypothetical query is a little extreme and not applicable to our current situation. And you'd be right about one thing. It's not actually hypothetical.
The year is 1940 and you live in Berlin. It is autumn. Most of what actually happened historically has indeed occurred up until that point, including the Invasion of Poland, the Fall of France, and the near-complete decimation of constitutional and human rights.
It is seven and a half years after the Reichstag building was set on fire and a Dutch communist was arrested and charged with the crime. The unnerved public, distressed after this terrorist act on their home soil, worried for their own national security. The Nazis found the event to be of immeasurable value in getting rid of potential insurgents. As a direct result, thousands of anarchists, socialists and communists throughout the country were rounded up and sent to the Dachau concentration camp. The event was quickly followed by the Reichstag Fire Decree, rescinding habeas corpus and other civil liberties.
Shortly thereafter, the Enabling Act was passed overwhelmingly and gave the government (and thus effectively the Nazi Party) legislative powers and also authorized it to deviate from the provisions of the constitution for the next four years.
Surprisingly, come 1940, Hitler (for whatever reasons...maybe a stroke?) has agreed to step down from his elected post of High Chancellor and open the government to elections. And here we are now.
Of the potential candidates, there are some like Karl Dönitz and Joseph Goebbels who wish to proceed undeterred with the Hitler doctrine and further the Nazi policies of the past eight years. But up-and-comer of the German Left, the fiery and inspiring Freiheit Liebhaber, has a different platform. He wishes to restore the rule of law, reestablish a strong Bill of Rights, stop relentless domestic spying and the tyranny of fear, end the wars in Europe, enter into open diplomatic talks with Churchill and FDR, and bring Germany out from under the cruel canopy of the Third Reich and back to the glory days of the Weimar Republic, when Germany was a bastion of arts and culture and enjoyed an immensely popular and prestigious reputation by the entire world.
Most forward thinking citizens have been frustrated and disillusioned by the past actions of the government and want to see a change moving forward. Considering candidates like Goebbels are a non-starter for these people, so they are forced to look to Freiheit Liebhaber for hope. Liebhaber's ideas are strong and he is an energetic speaker with a passion for making a difference. In addition to his stated platforms, he also believes the following three issues are important to maintain the security of a transforming Germany and to face the challenges of a changing world. These three points are:
1. Keeping the Auschwitz prison open and running for the time being.
2. Maintaining a German military presence in Occupied France, even after a phased withdrawal of major combat forces.
3. Keeping the possibility of strategic air strikes on England 'on the table.'
The direction of the Third Reich could be altered forever and the trajectory of World War II may change course. By electing Freiheit Liebhaber, you may avoid Pearl Harbor, five more years of tragic warfare, and the Final Solution. But nevertheless, his three foreign policy standpoints stand firm and by voting for him you are voting for them, as well the other ideas. Would you vote for that man?