Saturday, November 01, 2008
If a person votes someone else’s character, than there is no point in their having cast a ballot, them self. They did not impress their individual perspective upon the process.
Voting in a democracy can be self-declaration. It can say, ‘I exist. I matter. This what I believe.”
But there is that ideal, and then there is a disappointing reality.
In a recent interview with Huffington Post columnist Allison Kilkenny, independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader decried self-described “progressive” voters’s ballot box-betrayals of belief.
“You take the 20 leading groups supporting [Barack Obama] in the liberal-progressive pantheon,” Nader said, “Labor, anti-poverty, civil rights, women’s rights, gay-lesbian rights, environment, consumer — you name it — not one of them is putting any demands on him. Unconditional voting for the least worst of the two parties means that your vote has no political leverage whatsoever. It allows Obama to take it for granted, and not give the anti-war people anything because he knows he has the anti-war vote. Then they go to the right wing and slice off a few votes there by going more corporate and flip-flopping on offshore drilling. This is the same merry-go-round every four years.”1
If progressive voters make no demands of a candidate prior to an election, instead uncritically enabling their ascension, they cannot reasonably anticipate subsequent sympathetic audience. They’ve already demonstrated that they will vote for the candidate not reflective of their views.
And if a candidate is victorious without altering their messages and positions, they will continue in that suit. Why would they change, if they know they’ll get progressives’s votes, regardless?
As Election Day looms only days away, progressives must carefully examine candidate options to discern genuine advocates of their ambitions from opportunists.
- Anti-war pickets have chosen to throw themselves on their plowshares rather than cast votes against Barack Obama, though as Senator he’s voted repeatedly to fund continued US militarism in Iraq, and has announced plans to keep US troops in that country while sending others to Afghanistan.
- Many proponents of equal civil rights protections for gays and lesbians, including full marriage rights, are supporting Obama despite his opposing same-sex marriage and proffering instead the separate-but-equal “civil unions” gimmick. Only a few decades ago, many states’s laws prohibited black and white couples from marrying. According to critics at that time, those couples, too, were “deviant” and “not traditional.” I am happily in one such marriage. Obama was the product of another, and should be more sensitive to unorthodox couples’s legitimate rights to marry; he is instead casting his fortunes with those of discriminators.
- Citizens ordinarily vocal in their condemnation of governmental spying on law — abiding citizens and activist groups are giving Obama a pass on his senate votes to extend the anti-citizen Patriot Act, and to grant immunity from potential prosecution to telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T that might have been complicit in the Bush White House’s illegal spying.
- Advocates for the poor and homeless are largely silent on the Democrat Party’s contemporary indifference toward those issues, an indifference epitomized by Obama’s dwelling on the middle class to the exclusion of persons less fortunate (a group whose number grows, daily). And the candidate’s favor of execution policy mirrors that not only of Republicans, but recent Democrat predecessors: Not since 1988 have Democrats offered a presidential candidate who opposes capital punishment across the board.
- One might expect voters unsympathetic to corporate crime to withhold endorsement from politicians protecting the wealthy and dismissing the rank and file taxpayer. But Obama’s senate vote in favor of the $700 billion bailout bill for Wall Street criminals — that included no new regulations to prevent future such circumstances, or benefits for average mortgage-holders whose homes are being foreclosed nationwide — somehow has not noticeably dampened enthusiasm for his candidacy.
- Those aghast at John McCain’s alliance with John Hagee and other fundamentalist theocratic soldiers would, if consistent, be just as strong in opposition to Obama and his own cultivated and unapologetic ties to the virulently homophobic mega-church evangelical gospel sphere. The candidate’s sanction of Embrace the Faith events on his behalf featuring singer and “gay reparative therapy” advocate Donnie McClurkin, and his stated sympathy for Bush-style public-funding of privately-administered religious efforts, are no less offensive than are such attitudes evinced by the most intolerant conservative.
- When confronted with Senator Obama’s unprogressive record, his supporters offer as final resort the assertion that his Supreme Court appointments would doubtless be more in keeping with progressive sentiment than those selected by McCain. (And to his credit, Obama did as Senator not only criticize but vote against the nominations of John Roberts and Antonin Scalia.) But while it is probably true that he would avoid appointing colorful and controversial right wing jurists, his record of support for the bailout bill, Patriot Act, spying, gay couple discrimination, corporate interests, and executions effectively dispatches arguments that Obama Supreme Court appointments would reflect public interest sympathies. Besides, the obsession with conventional realpolitic attitudes that shapes Obama’s current campaign could be expected to direct any Supreme Court selections he might make far away from the Left end of the spectrum. Concerns for re-election viability would preclude progressive indulgence.
My intention here is not to dissuade persons who genuinely accept Obama’s positions. Rather, it is to argue that others who envision themselves as ideologically distinct from his unprogressive record, and who would see progressive principles one day gain advantage, have no legitimate business voting for him or any candidate who does not advance that ambition. If they do, then progress was not truly their desire, at all.
(A common assertion justifying voting contrary to principle — one frequently made in 2004 by Ariana Huffington — is that, “When the house is on fire, you don’t worry about rearranging the furniture.” That argument’s flaw is obvious. When a structure is by design not suitable for all legitimate dwellers, its razing is not to be mourned.)
If you do not find positions Obama has taken to be off-putting, then vote for him — or for despicable conservative John McCain; exceedingly little of substance distinguishes the pair.
But, if in your heart you feel your true beliefs are at great variance with Obama’s record and apparent sympathies, then I would submit that you have a moral duty to express yourself honestly, by voting for an alternative candidate who better reflects your opinions.
In that way, political cultures change. Causes like ending slavery, womens’s suffrage, the trade unionist movement, and racial civil rights all began in the streets and with political outsiders. Who today would argue that persons advocating those interests should have ignored principle and accepted contrary conventional political realities?
During a 1924 debate on the death penalty, opponent Clarence Darrow noted the many torturous forms of punishment once common. “Gradually, the world has been lopping off these punishments,” he said. “…[T]he only way we got rid of these laws was because juries were too humane to obey the courts.”
Just so, electoral progress in the public interest begins with appropriately-voting citizens.
With each presidential election cycle, it becomes more obvious that not only are the two major parties inadequate to the legitimate task of representing the diversity of American political sentiment, but that they do not even wish to do so. Which means many real citizens with real concerns are not served by the closed duopoly.
The looming “realignment of American politics” of which Nader has of late spoken will ensure that interests presently ignored and effectively disenfranchised by the corporatized major parties will enjoy voice and practical visibility. The changing of the electoral system, its widening to accommodate diverse voices and choices representing all Americans, is a crucial and noble ambition. I believe a multi-party system to be in America’s future.
Work toward that end must begin now, with groundwork construction. It is a long-term proposition, and not one promising instant satisfaction.
But then, an ethical person doesn’t do what they believe to be right only when success looms. They do what they feel to be right, because they feel it to be right.
Only when citizens vote truthfully and by so doing declare their core principles can identifying melody be discerned from the surrounding cacophony of lockstep conformity.
- “The Least Worst Trap: Talking with Ralph Nader” Huffington Post, 10/28/08. [↩]
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