Friday, October 17, 2008

A Chance

I wish the White House weren’t so powerful. This imperial presidency, as Arthur Schlesinger called it, is a huge obstacle to any progress. But the reality today is that this power exists. I see the vote in the presidential race, therefore, in purely practical terms. What candidate gives us, gives the people, a chance at achieving progressive goals, a chance to make gains in the areas of peace, human rights, and equality?

The amount of public attention devoted to this campaign has been obscenely exaggerated. It’s been going on for close to two years. The media treats it like a game show, like a huge perverse form of mass entertainment. And this one’s been stupider than ever—the nomination of that idiotic "hockey mom" being only the most obvious example. Meanwhile, the most important things happen at the grassroots. Progressives need to continue organizing at the local level. We need a sustainable movement that doesn’t just protest what the corporations are doing, but actually wrests economic and political influence from them. This slow, often frustrating work is more important than the presidential election.

Nevertheless, it needs to be said: this is not a game show. It does matter who is in the White House, not because electing someone new will overthrow the empire—of course it won’t. That’s obvious just from seeing Obama kowtow to the Israel lobby and talk tough about Afghanistan. No, it’s important because—we need a chance to influence things. That’s all. Just a chance.

There is very little chance for progress as long as the Republicans run the White House. We dare not forget the horrors of the last eight years. Obama and the Democrats tiptoe around this by talking about “failed policies.” The Bush years don’t just represent failure, they represent criminality of the most dangerous kind. These people used terror to try to destroy the last vestiges of freedom in this country. They’ve murdered hundreds of thousands of human beings and displaced many more, while mouthing lies about “democracy.” Their rich allies and military contractor buddies have shamelessly looted our wealth. They’ve made torture and kangaroo courts our official policy. They’ve illegally spied on us, and when they were caught, expanded their spying powers. They’ve rigged elections by voter suppression and fraud, while using the Justice Dept. to cover their tracks. They’ve poisoned our discourse with their sneering, attacking style and their hate radio, labeling anyone with disagrees with them a traitor or terrorist. They constantly sought to divide us with race and ethnicity and gender, demonizing African Americans and immigrants, women and gays. They have opposed women’s rights every step of the way. They let over a thousand people die in New Orleans without lifting a finger to help, and then they blamed the victims. They stacked the government with crazy religious fanatics who want us to go back to the Middle Ages. Their Supreme Court appointees supported the powerful against the weak, marching in lockstep with the right-wing agenda. They lied about everything and sought to conceal all their works from any public scrutiny.

And there’s more. They’ve committed so many outrages, lies, insults, deceptions, betrayals, cynical ploys, and disgusting actions that it would take hours to catalog them all. This is fascism. If fascism wins in this country, there’s no chance for us.

In the last debate, John McCain told Obama that he wasn’t running against President Bush, and that if he wanted to run against President Bush he should have run four years ago. The shithead pundits actually thought that was McCain's best moment. It’s typical of the sort of superficial, amnesiac, twisted thinking that dominates our elections. We’re supposed to think that this is just about personalities. President Bush is a different personality from John McCain, so we’re told not to compare them. But it’s not about personalities. These people represent political and economic forces, powers that hold sway in our government. By himself, Bush is just an empty suit. His power comes from his backers. And the Republicans, with few exceptions, backed him all the way. To pretend now that the last years were all because of Bush, and that they weren’t crucially enabled by all the Republican leaders, including McCain, is to play us as fools. But of course that’s the only way they know how to play us.

With an Obama victory, there will still be a corporate establishment running the country. There will still be a war machine in the Pentagon. The nature of our predicament is such that we do not have truly progressive alternatives at the national level yet. But one thing we would have with an Obama victory is—a chance. A chance to push back against fascism. A chance for progressives and liberals to have some breathing room, and maybe even some influence, if we can flex our muscles. A chance to work for peace, human rights, equality, or at least, some sanity.

I voted for Nader twice, in 1996 and 2000. I was tired of the centrist Democrats taking my vote for granted. Clinton did not offer a meaningful alternative for me in the long term. Gore hadn’t found any courage yet. We forget how much he tried to sound like Bush in 2000—picking Joey the Rat as his running mate, for fuck’s sake.

But I believe the stakes are too high now. I did not foresee the push towards totalitarian rule. I did not foresee 9/11, which became the excuse for an assault on our Constitution. I voted for Kerry in ’04, even though he has the appeal of a soggy piece of driftwood, because I wanted to push back at the fascists. Obama, for all his faults, is a hell of a lot smarter and better than Kerry.

I don’t understand the notion of principled non-voting. When I hear some people say they won’t vote, I just don’t get it. Voting is just a practical thing. You aim at the closest you can get to a practically desirable result. How hard can it be just to get your ass to a voting booth, or to send in a ballot? I do understand the despair and the apathy, but I don’t understand not voting out of supposed principle. That seems phony to me. Of course I’d rather have a real progressive in charge like Nader or Cynthia McKinney. But in practical terms, I want us to have a chance.

If the Republicans win again, it will justify every sick, slimy thing they’ve done to stay in power for the last eight years. They have to be hurt. They have to be beaten down without mercy. That’s another reason I’m voting for Obama. Those fuckers need to be taught a lesson, and nothing hurts them quite as much as losing.

And during an Obama administration, we need to continue to organize and fight and speak truth to power. We need to fight the Democrats’ allegiance to big money and empire, even while we continue to fight the fascist right. Because of course they’ll still be around, whining and throwing tantrums as always.

But in order to do that we need—a chance.

Vote for Obama.


Anonymous said...

Principled non-voting = withdrawal of consent. I have done this in the past, when I did not believe in either candidate. I was not a fan of Bill Clinton and would not have voted for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman in 2000. By abstaining I did not vote for or ever delegate my authority to George Bush and Dick Cheney, which I might otherwise have done (if third party options were also excluded).

By my non-vote, I made a statement that this is not a government of my choosing or one that represents me. However, that does not mean I was ever apathetic, rather, that I wanted a better choice, something other than a lesser evil.

Barack Obama is not perfect, I have serious disagreements with him, but here is a basically decent, honest, intelligent and well educated person who has the temperament to stay cool under pressure. I will not vote to cast my opposition to John McCain, but I will vote to cast my support of Barack Obama.

Cahors said...

Mahakal: By not voting, you didn't make a statement at all. You did nothing. Whenever someone says "I didn't vote," I just tune out and I'm no longer interested in listening to their political opinion. At that point, their views are just noise.

Anonymous said...

Cahors, you are entitled to tune out anyone or anything you like, but I have never been silent. You miss the statement because you don't want to hear it.

Given a hypothetical choice between Hitler and Stalin, the choice is not to authorize, but then to work to create a better choice. That's what I have done, and by blogging for the past two years have helped to bring about a better political solution. What have you done besides vote?

I voted for Barack Obama in the primary, and I will vote for him in November. But that will not end the need to work outside the political system to achieve social changes.

Liberality said...

I wish that I could use something other than a Diebold machine when I vote. It really is questionable if my vote will even be counted but how am I to refute it? No one seems to care one fig that the machines used are sponsored by republicans and are easy to corrupt.

We have massive voter suppression and shenanigans going on with the voter machines. I think our country lost whatever thin veneer of democracy we had in 2000 and I don't see much that definitively proves otherwise. I will still vote and I'm voting for Obama but will my vote count is the question?

cahors said...

Mahakal: My point is not that you haven't done anything but that "principled non-voting" doesn't do anything. It's a waste of non-effort. (The Hitler/Stalin hypothetical is a bit of a stretch. Kerry was a pretty deadly candidate, but hardly a Stalin.)

Said another way, I believe voting is just the entry ticket for playing the political game in this country. Without it, you're just yelling from outside the stadium. (To torture the analogy.)

As for what I've done in addition to voting (since you asked): I try as much as possible to interact with candidates and office-holders to tell them what I think and support them if I like what I hear. I try to meet them (not as hard as it may seem), I write them letters, call their offices, and give them money and try to get others to give them money (unfortunately an important part of the process).

I've also volunteered to help campaigns by making get out the vote calls, etc., which is the real powerful stuff, but not so much my cup of tea.

Sometimes I post comments on blogs in order to agitate people into voting.

Anonymous said...

Cahors, I wasn't going to vote for John Kerry. As I said before, had I been forced to vote for a major party candidate that year, it would have been for George W. Bush.
I was coming from the wrong side of the political spectrum at the time, if you like. I'm happy to have abstained. It was the right thing for me.

This gave me the correct perspective to see myself as outside the stadium, if you like that metaphor. My role outside the stadium was to lay political siege. Try doing that from inside: you cannot.

Assuming Barack Obama will be elected in November, my campaign will have succeeded. Not alone, mind you, but in combination with a great many other people. There are a lot more of us outside the stadium than inside, in fact. Many of whom I can relate to, and therefore encourage to vote with a great deal more credibility than perhaps you realize.

Anonymous said...

Er, excuse me...

I would have voted for George Bush in 2000 had I been forced.

I would have voted for John Kerry in 2004 had I been forced, but I was still in the mode of encouraging conservatives not to vote.

I still think conservatives should be disgusted with the Republican candidate and if they cannot bring themselves to vote for Barack Obama, they should at least not vote for John McCain.

Karlo said...

I agree that the Bush administration and the wealthy benefactors of the latest financial crisis must be viewed as criminals. And I'd also encourage a vote for Obama simply because we need to kill of the Republican Party as quickly as possible. Then we can begin to take on the Democrats.

BAYMAN said...

I'm baffled by anyone saying, no, admitting, that they would have voted for G W Bush (under any circumstances). It was obvious that he was an incompetent, war-mongering criminal in 2000. It's clear that McCain is unstable and he's said he's sorry, but there are going to be "more wars." Palin will probably be president if they win. She's much more dangerous than McCain. She's Bush squared with her own inner Cheney. My question for Dashiell: How much does voting matter when we have the Electoral College?

Anonymous said...

Well, Bayman, I never voted for G W Bush. The hypothetical circumstance of being forced to vote against my will and being limited to the major party candidates did not occur, and should never occur in this country.

Let me tell you, Bill Clinton was not a good president as far as I was concerned, and I would never have supported the continuance of his administration by his vice president. Since then, Al Gore has done a great deal to distinguish himself and I wish he had been such an independent voice then. Of course, there was still the matter of Joe Lieberman, who has not distinguished himself at all.

Chris Dashiell said...

I'm sorry that I'm unable to write much, due to recent carpal tunnel surgery. Thanks for all the comments. bayman makes an excellent point about the Electoral College. I live in Arizona, which has been written off for McCain. So my vote is effectively meaningless. Although it would be good to "run up the total" for Obama to create more of the perception of a "mandate.") The EC needs to be abolished. There should have been a movement after 2000 to do so. But you notice that the politicians don't want to do so. It would make campaigning more difficult, because focusing on "swing states" would give way to the need to appeal to a broader electorate. And it would make stealing an election much more difficult, provided that the process was still run by the states. It's an 18th century relic that should have been scrapped years ago, and in fact the President and Vice President are the only offices in the U.S. not elected by majority popular vote.