Barry Eisler

Monday, November 05, 2012

You Can Vote For Anyone You Like. As Long As It's The Duopoly

UPDATED BELOW (and again)

Okay, a few last thoughts before the duopoly wins its next election tomorrow.

I supported Obama and voted for him in 2008.  His rhetoric and specific promises were inspiring.  But he's betrayed so much of that rhetoric, and so many of those promises, that I think it would be a mistake to reward him with a second term.  I'm not talking about being disappointed with a president who fails to fulfill his lofty promises, or who tries but fails to implement various changes because of an obstructionist Congressional opposition (the usual excuses trotted out for what isn't really the problem).  I'm talking about being outraged at a president who has in numerous key areas done the extreme opposite of what he promised.  Who promised a reversal of the Bush-era extremism and instead has deliberately entrenched and extended it.

Maybe, on balance, some of it I could live with, in exchange for other things.  But Obama has gone too far.  I simply cannot vote for a president who claims the power to have American citizens executed without due process.  It's not a question of lesser evils, of the other candidate being even worse.  I just can't imagine a more un-American, more unconstitutional, more tyrannical power than the power to have citizens executed without due process.  The power to have people imprisoned forever without charge, trial, or conviction would be up there, I guess, but of course Obama claims that, too.

So this unconstitutional assassination power is, for me, a political deal breaker.  I think Conor Friedersdorf made a compelling case for the "deal breaker" argument in the following Atlantic articles.

"Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama"
"The Responses to 'Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama'"

And don't worry, Friedersdorf has equally compelling reasons for "Why I Refuse to Vote for Mitt Romney."

Let's talk about concept of a political deal breaker for a moment.  It's not necessarily easy to understand if you're wedded to the "lesser of two evils" rubric by which most people vote.  So let me try a few hypotheticals:

"I wouldn't care if Obama himself ordered the mass waterboarding of terror suspects -- I'd still vote for him if I thought Romney would order the waterboarding of even more."

"I wouldn't care if I were certain Obama would unilaterally order a nuclear attack on Tehran -- I'd still vote for him if I thought Romney would unilaterally order a nuclear attack on Tehran and Damascus, too."

"I wouldn't care if Obama publicly promised to appoint nothing but hardcore pro-life Justices in the hope of overturning Roe v Wade -- I'd still vote for him over Romney because Romney is worse overall."

"I wouldn't care if Obama publicly promised to eliminate social security, repeal Medicare and Medicaid, and make homosexuality illegal -- I'd still vote for him if Romney seemed marginally worse on these issues and/or worse overall."

"I wouldn't care if Obama turned out to be a serial child molester -- I'd still vote for him if Romney had molested or might molest even more children."

If you're comfortable with the statements above, you might have a hard time understanding how anyone could have a political deal breaker -- a line which, if a politician crosses it, makes it impossible to vote for that politician no matter what.  But if you can't agree with one or more of the statements above, then even if your own potential deal breakers are different, maybe you can understand why some liberals have decided they just can't vote for Obama, even though yes, Romney would likely be worse.

Now, you can argue that the power to have citizens executed is being used rarely and judiciously.  But that just means you're okay with the president assuming tyrannical powers as long as he uses them only rarely and judiciously.  And that's just crazy.  Not least because, if Romney wins on Tuesday, those powers will be his, and what are you going to do at that point, argue that Democrats you like have the power to assassinate American citizens but Republicans you don't like don't?

And for anyone inclined to parrot Eric Holder's infamous argument that "due process," as required by the Fifth Amendment before the government can lawfully deprive someone of "life, liberty, and property," doesn't mean "judicial due process," I think Stephen Colbert has put that claim permanently to rest.



I know it seems peculiar to a lot of people, but I just can't vote for a president who claims -- and who has exercised -- what strikes me as the ultimate tyrannical power, just because he seems like a nice fellow and after all, has only used that power a few times, and always only against brown people anyway.  I can't.  It's too much.  There has to be a line, and if it's not "The president can order citizens killed if he thinks they need killing," I don't know what it is.

Judging from experience, I'm guessing most of the comments I get in response to this post will be of the "But then you're supporting Romney!" variety.  A few thoughts about that.

First, have a look at these Obama endorsements from The New York Times and The New Yorker.  Not only do they distort what Obama did in Iraq (he didn't keep "his" promise to get America out; he stuck to the timetable negotiated by his predecessor, and only after trying to squirm out of it and extend America's stay there); with regard to Guantanamo (Obama never tried to "close" Guantanamo; he merely tried to move it to Illinois); and regarding torture (Obama's prohibition of torture is hardly praiseworthy.  Torture is illegal and the president has no more power to prohibit it than he does to permit it.  By refusing to prosecute torture, Obama has simply solidified the bipartisan consensus that torture is a policy choice, not a crime. Obama doesn't seem to want to use torture himself, but he's guaranteed that his successors may avail themselves if they choose -- as Romney has indicated he will).  They also ignore his stunning record on civil liberties, which as the ACLU has noted is at least as bad as George W. Bush's, his stated willingness to cut Social Security even more than Republicans were demanding, and other depredations.

Reading these endorsements, I found myself wondering what the Times and New Yorker would have done had McCain won in 2008 and implemented the exact same set of policies for which these publications now praise Obama  -- that is, if the last four years of White House policies and action had been exactly the same, except that the president would have been McCain rather than Obama.  My guess?  Were President McCain running for reelection today, the exact policies these publications praise in Obama would have been ignored, subjected to grudging acknowledgment, or even attacked.  Healthcare reform?  Nothing but a handout to the insurance industry, and an outrage upon the 40 million lower-income Americans who will now be forced to become customers of the giant insurers!  Libya?  An unconstitutional war and a clear violation of the War Powers Resolution!  Etc.  And the exact policies these publications choose to ignore in Obama would have been a attacked, too.  Imagine, for example, if it were a president McCain running an imperial drone war throughout South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and executing American citizens without due process.  Either way, though, naturally the publications would have us believe this is the Most Important Election Ever, even though in my thought experiment the last four years would have been identical in every way except for the name of the occupant of the White House.  Just swap in the Republican for the Democrat (or vice versa) and keep the policies the same, and every establishment media outlet in the country would, with equal vigor, endorse the opposite of what it endorses today.  Most voters would do the same.  As though the politician is what matters, not the policies.

But won't Romney be an absolute disaster, you say?  Don't we have to hold our nose and vote the lesser of two evils?

Maybe.  But tell me this.  Has there ever been an election where this wasn't true?  All the way back to Eisenhower.  Has there ever been a presidential election that wasn't billed as a choice between a suboptimal candidate, on the one hand, and the apocalypse, on the other?  That billing is never going to change.  If you want to vote for something better, I doubt there will ever be a better time than the present.

It's strange how "hope and change" has become, "Vote for me, or I turn those Supreme Court appointments over to Romney." That's not a progressive platform; it's a hostage taking.  And we all know what happens when you give in to hostage takers.  That's right, more hostages.

My own attitude?  "I don't care who you threaten to turn over the country to.  Cross certain lines, and I won't vote for you no matter what."  It's the same as a negotiation.  If you're not willing to walk away, and especially if you demonstrate that unwillingness to the other party, you will be taken for a long, unpleasant ride.

If Obama loses tomorrow, a lot of people will blame voters like me.  I really don't understand that attitude.  Look, I'm not going to blame you if Jill Stein or Gary Johnson doesn't win.  I could, of course -- if you'd voted for them, they could have won!  But overall, I think the blame for a loss lies with the defeated politician, don't you?  Aren't politicians supposed to court voters' support, not just count on it?  So if Obama loses, and it's because he's alienated his base with his outrageous policies and his obvious disdain, it's not his base's fault.  It's his fault.  It's worse than crazy to suggest otherwise.  It's a bizarre kind of learned helplessness.

In fact, I think voting in accordance with political deal breakers is more morally defensible than voting according to a "lesser of two evils" approach.  If everyone votes for the lesser of two evils, we keep getting… more evil.  If everyone votes for something better, we get… something better.  Or at least the chance of it.  "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."  So if Kant was right, and the morality of an action can be determined by asking, "If everyone did this thing, would the world get better, or worse?", voting for the merely less evil candidate is hard to justify.  I'd like to see "vote for a candidate you can genuinely support" become a universal law.  "Vote for the less evil candidate"… not so much.

If you don't agree, consider this.  Today's Democratic candidate.  The progressive standard bearer.  The champion of the left.  Is the man who has done the following.  Not because he inherited a mess from Bush.  Not because Republicans in Congress obstructed his noble efforts.  Nothing caused Obama to pursue and implement these policies other than his own character and political calculations.






How many people who voted for Obama four years ago because they hoped for a better future will vote for him now because they're afraid of a worse one?  Do you think that's progress?  Who is to blame for that change?  And should the politician to blame be rewarded?  What would such a reward signal to other politicians about how seriously they need to take the concerns of their base?

If you demonstrate to a politician that you'll vote for him no matter what, you'll get… no matter what.  And Obama has taken "no matter what" to previously unheard-of levels for progressives.  If they reward him at the polls, the next "progressive" politician can be counted on to offer a double helping.

I recommend voting for something better.  Either Jill Stein of the Green Party, or Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.

Don't let the duopoly make you believe you have no choice.  You do.  Unless you convince yourself you don't.

UPDATE:


I should have predicted that because I can't vote for Obama based on his Constitutional abuses, I'd get accused of some form of racism and misogyny -- because hey, if you do care about the Constitution, it must mean you *don't* care about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or reproductive rights.  Have a look in the comments to this post; it's happening on Twitter, too.

Not only are these barely-veiled accusations of racism and misogyny self-indulgent, they're also illogical.

First, have a look at the attached article about Obama's impact on women of color.  I've linked to it already, but --shockingly, I know -- my accusers don't seem interested in reading it.

Second, consider that Obama is hardly the champion of, for example, Social Security and Medicare many people want to believe he is.  Again, an article I've already linked to that people seem not to want to read.

Next, if it were true that my political priorities were driven entirely or even significantly by my privileged-white-maleness, why would I even give a damn about Obama's civil liberties depredations in the first place?  They don't affect me personally.  I don't expect to be detained at Guantanamo, prosecuted for whistle blowing, or assassinated by drone.  And why am I vocally opposed to America's policy of drug prohibition (again, read the linked article on how Obama has stepped up that war)?  The drug war disproportionately affects minority groups -- indeed, at least arguably, it is deliberately aimed at them.  As a Privileged White Male (PWM), it has little to do with me.  And yet I'm vocal about the insanity and injustice of the drug war.

How did civil liberties get positioned as a PWM issue?  Are women and lower-income people unaffected by civil liberties abuses?  Aren't civil liberties issues that affect *everyone*, lower-income minority goups most of all?

My public support for gay equality is another one that's hard for me to understand.  After all, I'm not gay, and I am married.  I'm just a straight, PWM.  Why would I give a damn about something that doesn't affect me personally?  I dunno.  Maybe gay is the new PWM.

There are a few ways I can explain the illogic and incoherence of people who accuse me of refusing to vote for Obama because I'm a PWM.  There's the pleasure of dudgeon and self-righteousness, of course.  And the relaxation that comes with not having to think.  But I sense there's something more going on.

The position of the PMW reductionists is so illogical, I have to conclude it's driven by projection.  That is, the PMW reductionists themselves vote purely or at least significantly on their race and gender, and therefore assume this must be true of everyone else, too.  How else to explain someone who gives not a thought to the women and children decimated in Obama's drone wars, and by his increasingly brutal strangulation of Iran by sanctions?  And who argues that anyone who *is* concerned about those women and children is being selfish and self-centered?

A public service message to the PMW reductionists:  it's possible for someone to not share your politics and yet still be driven by conscience.  It's possible to oppose Obama for reasons other than indifference to women, minorities, and the disadvantaged (I would argue in fact that Obama is on balance a disaster for those groups -- again, see the linked articles -- but leave that aside).

I know presidential elections are heated and often bring out the worst in people.  But veiled accusations of racism and misogyny, because someone disagrees with your politics?  That's pathetic.  I hope we can do better.

UPDATE 2

Two more terrific articles on topic:

Election Day 2012: It's the Day After That Matters, by Falguni A. Sheth (same woman who wrote the article I keep linking to but that some people have yet to read)

The S&M Election, by Chris Hedges
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