Saturday, November 01, 2008

You Are How You Vote

by DC Larson / November 1st, 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.

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.

  1. “The Least Worst Trap: Talking with Ralph Nader” Huffington Post, 10/28/08. []

DC Larson is Waterloo/Cedar Falls Iowa Coordinator for Nader-Gonzales 2008. The CD Review Editor for Rockabilly Magazine, he has also written musical criticism for Goldmine, No Depression, Rock & Rap Confidential, and more. He can be reached at: Read other articles by DC.

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