Monday, November 3, 2008

What's A Lesser Evilist To Do?

The Nader campaign has sent around emails arguing that, with a blowout for Obama all but assured, and with Nader polling 3% in some polls (including CNN’s), progressives should vote for Nader to bump his vote up to 5%. I think this is the right conclusion, at least for those of us who live in “safe” Democratic states, and I’ll probably follow their advice. [I confess I’m still not 100% decided.] But I think their argument is wrong – in a way that reflects what was wrong in their strategy generally.

Back in 2000 -- before 9/11 and, more importantly, before Dick Cheney let his true nature show -- it seemed prospectively (a) that Gore couldn’t lose (after all, peace and prosperity should count for something); (b) that, even if he did, it wouldn’t be a disaster (since the Bush boy would “rule” like his poppy, and that wasn’t that much worse than Clinton’s rule, the likely model for Gore’s); and (c) that, running as a Green, getting the Nader vote up past 5% (the threshold for public funding in future elections), could help break the Republican-Democratic duopoly. [Of course, it was plain, even back then, that the Nader-Green alliance was a marriage of convenience only. Nader never even joined the party. What he wanted was ballot access; what they wanted was a politically compatible famous person to lead the ticket.] However, in 2008, with Nader running against a Green, one too flaky even for me, (c) no longer holds. Why then would it matter that Nader gets 5% of the vote? Only the pros would notice, and even they couldn’t be sure how much of that vote signaled the existence of a left opposition. Worse, even if it was clear that it did, why should Obama care?

Nevertheless, I’ll probably vote for Nader, again. My rationale is almost as flimsy as the Nader campaign’s. I want to register a protest against Obama’s (Clintonite) politics, and voting for Ralph is an easy and costless way to do it. Over more than a year and a half, I’ve laid out the case for protest – it’s all there on this site -- so there is no need to recapitulate the arguments. Suffice it to say that, on the plus side, Obama is intelligent (more than any President in modern American history), eloquent (ditto, even taking JFK into account), and, lets not forget, “of color.” He promises competence, which has been in short supply lately. But all of this pales before the plain fact that, in nearly all matters, foreign and domestic, Obama is on the same page as the Clintons, who were, with only minor differences, on the same page as their Republican counterparts. Yes, for the umpteenth time, those differences, small as they are, have far-reaching consequences. They matter for people all over the world. But they hardly amount to the “real change” that deluded Obamamaniacs envision. Circumstances might force Obama more into that mold, especially if “we the people” do our part. But, looking forward to the next four years under an Obama administration, the chances of a new New Deal are slight, and of anything better (of transcending capitalism instead of saving it from itself) are infinitesimal. Our work is cut out for us after November 4. But, on election day itself, why not just lamely protest this sorry – and unnecessary – state of affairs?

I hold my local Congressional race partly responsible for my susceptibility to this admittedly feeble rationale. In Maryland’s first Congressional district, the incumbent, Wayne Gilchrest, is a “moderate” Republican, with a decent record on environmental issues and even on the Bush wars. He lost in the Republican primary to a rabid right winger named Andy Harris. Harris is opposed by a Democrat, Frank Kratovil, a local prosecutor, to the right even of Obama. The difference is this: Obama and Co. will not bring Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and the rest to justice because they are much too “bipartisan” and eager to reach “across the aisle”; in short, because they’re Pelosiite (pusillanimous) to the core. Kratovil, were he to remain a prosecutor, wouldn’t do it because it would never occur to him that they committed any crimes.

But here in a district with too many rich Republicans (both the Cheneys and the Rumsfelds have vacation homes in the area), and with lots of yahoos around to vote with them, there is no way to vote against Harris except by voting for Kratovil. [There is a libertarian running, but that’s a plain non-starter.] Also, Kratovil has a chance of winning. The good news then would be that there would be one less Republican in the House; the not quite countervailing bad news would be that there would be one more War Democrat. So, in all likelihood, I will tomorrow find myself doing something even more distasteful than voting for a Clintonite Restoration under Barack Obama’s aegis. I’ll find myself voting for Frank Kratovil.

Were I registered in anything but a supremely “safe” Obama state, I’d probably vote for Obama for a similar set of reasons. Then piling it on, instead of “protesting,” would be more useful – because it would be directed against McCain-Palin (and Bush-Cheney), not the lesser evil opposing them. Also my vote would matter more – inasmuch as close elections can be more easily stolen (through voter suppression and outright fraud) than landslides which, in modern America (where election thievery is a fine art), are all but immune. Since there are no gods to thank, I thank my lucky stars that, tomorrow, I won’t find myself in a position where those reasons make the case for pulling the lever for Obama compelling. Voting for Frank Kratovil is bad enough.

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