Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Clash Over 'Lesser-Evil' Voting

By Robert Parry
October 20, 2010

It seems I upset a lot of people with my recent article looking at the four previous times in modern U.S. politics when many on the Left chose to punish the Democrats by casting ballots for third parties or not voting, a tactic under consideration again this year.

Read on.

25 comments:

-a.f. said...

You still have no real solution. Your "remedy" requires that people with a conscience sit on their hands while the "leftist" party commits war crimes and brown-noses Wall Street, all to wait for some George Soros-type hedge fund baron to fund think tanks?

Who's being non-pragmatic?

Anonymous said...

A Green Party that could syphon 15% of the vote would do more to move the Democratic Party to the left than 1000 think tanks.

Q said...

Dear Mr. Parry,

I sympathize -- and agree with! -- your constant push to support, expand and reform media institutions, that is, to build a greater media capacity on the Left and to recognize its vital importance. Yet your latest column still doesn't push beyond this need to a clear-headed (in my opinion) analysis of electoral politics. Your point on media institutions is as always absolutely right, but your point on the necessity of practical, short-term solutions along with long-term ones, while correct, doesn't clarify for me what this means regarding the Democrats or elections.

To wit, as someone in the environmental field, I agree with you on the urgency of Global climate change and other problems. Yet this is exactly where the argument for supporting Dems is practically the weakest--because half-measures won't cut it. Perhaps this simply means we're screwed--that's not what I believe, but perhaps it's true. Because even the most ambitious Democrats tend to still kowtow to the idea of, for example, sustained economic growth and expansion, agree that the "American Way of Life" cannot be compromised, not even for things like thermodynamic limits, I fail to see how a Democratic pathway is viable even in the short-term. That is, we are running out of stuff, as well as time. Oil, soil, water, trees, fish, and more. And all but a very very few Democrats refuse to acknowledge that we can't keep having more, more, more, all the time, that the best way to solve our problems isn't by "growing the pie" because "the pie" can't be larger than what the planet can support! In short, almost no one in American politics is anywhere close to the kind of stark realities needed to avoid various ecological collapses.

Thus the only plausible argument I can see for your viewpoint is that we must support Dems because they'll bring disaster marginally more slowly, giving us time to finally (somehow?) find our way out of it entirely. But how we can do this--when the answer is essentially a no-growth dynamic economy (see for example, Herman Daly's work -- http://steadystate.org/discover/downsides-of-economic-growth/ for one) and no-one is willing to face that answer?

I fear that embracing the Democrats is a "luxury" we can't afford, when, in regards to really halting our numerous ecological crises, there really isn't much more than a dime's worth of difference. Oh, sure, the Dems actually believe in ecology and the Republicans don't, but at the brass tacks level, whether someone is advocating a world that is 150% unsustainable or 120% unsustainable becomes, at some point, an academic distinction. I think we have passed that point.

I would love to see you debate/discuss this with sociologist John Bellamy Foster, who has a new book out, incidentally. That would make for a very, very illuminating discussion.

Lynne Gillooly said...

Bob, As I have said in the past and you have disagreed. We need to either reinstate the Fairness Doctrine or at least have some accountability/punishment for talk radios' lies, propaganda, inciting hatred and violence towards the President and Government before something awful occurs.
Second, have public financing of elections...no outside money.
Both of these things done could turn this country around, but if we ignore them any longer we are looking at a fascist plutocracy in the near future.

Claudia said...

Robert Scheer writes "We are drowning in a bipartisan cesspool of corruption" in his recent article "Obama Hires a Hustler."

Your arguments about why we shouldn't bother to address that directly don't move me. I prefer Patrick Henry's advice:

"They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?"

We are not called to win. We are called to fight.

me said...

I understand your point of view. Yet I will stick with my original point, validated by literally decades of observation, that voting Democrat (or Republican) will result in further movement to the right.

You cannot deny it; it happens every time. For every step forward, we end up taking five or six backward.

I refuse to play this game any more. I am so thoroughly disgusted with Obama that I say this literally: We'd have been better off getting McCain and Palin.

Sure, those two clowns would have been disastrous. But look what's happening now! As it is, in 2012 we are going to get stuck with someone else just as disastrous if not more so, and liberalism (defined by the corporate media as Obamaism) will be thoroughly discredited to boot.

And as for your claim that "the Green Party or some other leftist party makes no practical sense", I for one intend to register as Green immediately after the election. How's that for practicality?

me said...

Claudia, that's fine. But I prefer to fight AND win.

me said...

Looks like I'm making the right move. Remember, back when Bush was president, the GREENS - not the Democrats - were demanding his impeachment.

Green is the alternative

Anonymous said...

Look at what happened to Dean, he laughed the wrong way and was thrown under the bus! WTF? Or Gore, who capitulated instead of screaming for justice, he blew it, not Nader! OBAMA, like FDR needs a grass stained socialist boot up his tight corporate anal cavity to force him to fulfill his pledges.
A problem with progressives is that their single front initiatives are so easily countered by co-option that the momentum evaporates as the big picture is blurred by a tiny and temporary "victory" which will be lost as quickly as it was gained, because the system is automatically working to return to the status quo. The movement accomplishes nothing in addressing the self righting ability of the ship of state to remain on course to our continued enslavement.
The Love of money and the aquisition of it(intrinsic to immoral capitalism) is so powerful that even their Bible designates it as the root of all evil. It completely trumps altruism, the motivation for progressives, because there is no immediate tangible reward for doing good.(human nature is not able to sustain selflessness).
The Populist movement will always fracture and be co-opted because the yeast of capitalism is never cleansed by a complete shift to a true socialist economy. You know, where the economy is used to provide a decent and moral place to live with jobs paying living wages.(like europe used to have, before we came along with the WTO and ruined it for them).
So While the neocons, en mass, embrace the corporate mantra; PROFIT UBER ALLES, and use it's insurmoutable power to alter reality through media domination and out and out lying. The pro-gressives, are issue oriented and fractured by devisive, disjointed
piecemeal tactics which have never forged effective, lasting bulwarks
against parasitic capitals exploitation of the masses.
The moral values of equality and true democracy that is embodied in socialism, are the only motivating forces that are incontrovertable and inalienable. We could meld the movement into a force to be reckoned with based around those concepts or continue as before and expect the usual ineffectual, dissapointing result.
(Remember, a definition of insanity..expecting different outcomes)
The neocons don't need to have electoral control, all they need is spineless pseudo-democrats who cave and compromise to stay in THEIR SOCIALIZED positions of power, unmoved by fractious and inconsequential progressive initiatives, to keep us useful idiots in our capitalst cages.

Anonymous said...

Look at what happened to Dean, he laughed the wrong way and was thrown under the bus! WTF? Or Gore, who capitulated instead of screaming for justice, he blew it, not Nader! OBAMA, like FDR needs a grass stained socialist boot up his tight corporate anal cavity to force him to fulfill his pledges.
A problem with progressives is that their single front initiatives are so easily countered by co-option that the momentum evaporates as the big picture is blurred by a tiny and temporary "victory" which will be lost as quickly as it was gained, because the system is automatically working to return to the status quo. The movement accomplishes nothing in addressing the self righting ability of the ship of state to remain on course to our continued enslavement.
The Love of money and the aquisition of it(intrinsic to immoral capitalism) is so powerful that even their Bible designates it as the root of all evil. It completely trumps altruism, the motivation for progressives, because there is no immediate tangible reward for doing good.(human nature is not able to sustain selflessness).
The Populist movement will always fracture and be co-opted because the yeast of capitalism is never cleansed by a complete shift to a true socialist economy. You know, where the economy is used to provide a decent and moral place to live with jobs paying living wages.(like europe used to have, before we came along with the WTO and ruined it for them).
So While the neocons, en mass, embrace the corporate mantra; PROFIT UBER ALLES, and use it's insurmoutable power to alter reality through media domination and out and out lying. The pro-gressives, are issue oriented and fractured by devisive, disjointed
piecemeal tactics which have never forged effective, lasting bulwarks
against parasitic capitals exploitation of the masses.
The moral values of equality and true democracy that is embodied in socialism, are the only motivating forces that are incontrovertable and inalienable. We could meld the movement into a force to be reckoned with based around those concepts or continue as before and expect the usual ineffectual, dissapointing result.
(Remember, a definition of insanity..expecting different outcomes)
The neocons don't need to have electoral control, all they need is spineless pseudo-democrats who cave and compromise to stay in THEIR SOCIALIZED positions of power, unmoved by fractious and inconsequential progressive initiatives, to keep us useful idiots in our capitalst cages.

Anonymous said...

Look at what happened to Dean, he laughed the wrong way and was thrown under the bus! WTF? Or Gore, who capitulated instead of screaming for justice, he blew it, not Nader! OBAMA, like FDR needs a grass stained socialist boot up his tight corporate anal cavity to force him to fulfill his pledges.
A problem with progressives is that their single front initiatives are so easily countered by co-option that the momentum evaporates as the big picture is blurred by a tiny and temporary "victory" which will be lost as quickly as it was gained, because the system is automatically working to return to the status quo. The movement accomplishes nothing in addressing the self righting ability of the ship of state to remain on course to our continued enslavement.
The Love of money and the aquisition of it(intrinsic to immoral capitalism) is so powerful that even their Bible designates it as the root of all evil. It completely trumps altruism, the motivation for progressives, because there is no immediate tangible reward for doing good.(human nature is not able to sustain selflessness).
The Populist movement will always fracture and be co-opted because the yeast of capitalism is never cleansed by a complete shift to a true socialist economy. You know, where the economy is used to provide a decent and moral place to live with jobs paying living wages.(like europe used to have, before we came along with the WTO and ruined it for them).
So While the neocons, en mass, embrace the corporate mantra; PROFIT UBER ALLES, and use it's insurmoutable power to alter reality through media domination and out and out lying. The pro-gressives, are issue oriented and fractured by devisive, disjointed
piecemeal tactics which have never forged effective, lasting bulwarks
against parasitic capitals exploitation of the masses.
The moral values of equality and true democracy that is embodied in socialism, are the only motivating forces that are incontrovertable and inalienable. We could meld the movement into a force to be reckoned with based around those concepts or continue as before and expect the usual ineffectual, dissapointing result.
(Remember, a definition of insanity..expecting different outcomes)
The neocons don't need to have electoral control, all they need is spineless pseudo-democrats who cave and compromise to stay in THEIR SOCIALIZED positions of power, unmoved by fractious and inconsequential progressive initiatives, to keep us useful idiots in our capitalst cages.

Larry in SC said...

I am voting for the Green Party Candidate for U.S. Senate and the Working Families Party for U.S. Congress. Nevertheless, I totally agree with Robert Parry when he says that - at least, in general, - it does more harm than good to stay home or vote against Democrats when they aren't being progressive enough (which is pretty much always.)

Do I contradict myself? Not really. I am in South Carolina, District 1. Bizarre things happened in the primary this year resulting in us having an incompetent person as the Democratic nominee for Senator and an anti-Democrat as the Democratic nominee for Congress. (We suspect voting machine fraud in both instances, but there is no paper trail.)

Philosophically I am a socialist, but in over 40 years of voting I have never voted for anyone who calls himself or herself a socialist. Why should I throw my vote away - emoting and feeling morally superior - when I can contribute in ever-so-slight a way to the compassionate and just society I believe in. I don't expect immediate change. I don't even expect much significant change in my lifetime. I just want to be one of the anonymous people who laid a few blocks in the cathedral that people of good will are building. As Martin Luther King said, the arc of justice is long.

I think it is downright immoral to say there is no difference between the only two parties we can realistically choose from. Once is centrist, and one is far right. I am sending a donation to Robert Parry today.

jmaria said...

The left or what remain today of it used the wrong approach with regard to the Obama presidency. It naively believed that Obama alone would be enough to enact a progressive agenda suitable to its wishes,while forgetting the reality and complexity of power in Washington. Moreover the left have failed to coalesce in a solid block in order to exert pressure and counteract the actions of those Democrats and Republicans who oppose the implementation of a more democratic agenda.

me said...

@Larry: Voting your conscious is NOT throwing your vote away. I would even argue the opposite, that voting for what you don't want is throwing your vote away.

When you vote for the Democrat as the lesser of two evils, you not only get what you don't want, but you ensure that you'll get even more of it! What reason do the Dems have to reform themselves if they know they'll get your vote anyway?

For that matter, how will they even KNOW that you are unhappy with what they're doing??

If that's not throwing away your vote, I don't know what would be.

me said...

@Larry:

PS. You're right in saying that there really is a difference between the parties, but you are wrong to call the Democrats "centrist". We have two right-wing corporatist parties in this country. The only difference between them is that one is even worse than the other.

(I'm even inclined to believe that the two parties are in cahoots, that the repubs exist solely to make the Dems look acceptable in comparison.)

If you vote for a right-wing party, you'll get a right-wing party.

me said...

Did I say conscious? I mean conscience, of course.

me said...

@maria:
naively believed that Obama alone would be enough to enact a progressive agenda

No one expected miracles. I think the problem is that we naively and mistakenly believed that Obama would TRY.

darkcycle said...

Robert, I found myself in the same position in marking my ballot as during Clinton's second term campaign. Since I consider my vote to be both the expression of my will, as well as my tacit endorsement of the policies of the party for which I vote, what would you have me do?
If I vote for a Democrat I endorse: Expanded spying on the American people, escalation in afghanistan, continued occupation of iraq, the continued operation of guantanamo, allowing homeowners to continue losing their homes while giving billions to the banks, watered down health care that does not cover one single additional person...need I continue? I do? Okay, The cat food commission threatening cuts to SS, the stripping of education in this country, busting on the NEA and other unions, covering up for BP in the gulf.....
No. I did not vote for a national dem.

me said...

The short answer: Robert, we have tried your method. It doesn't work.

boxer said...

I have always supported Ralph Nader when he ran and I did it because I felt he was the best candidate. Now you can see what happens when we constantly vote along partisan lines...Nothing! The Greens are picking up 19% of the vote in one country, and are becoming relevant, creating caolition governments. This is where we should have been going for the last 20 years. Nothing would have changed in the geopolitical landscape. Let's face it; If Gore wouldn't fight for the presidency against the lyin' thievin' reps. He sure as hell wouldn't have the guts to stand up against the establishment war machine run by PNAC. What's he doing now, having affairs? Come on!

ChMoore said...

The most interesting thing to me about this article and it's comments is the paradox.

Robert Parry points out how in the past "many on the Left chose to punish the Democrats" and asks, how'd that work out for 'ya. I see critics calling Parry on not having a better idea, but where's the better ideas from anyone else? I see no evidence from anyone that 'punishment' ever worked.

What seems obvious to me is that this 'punishment' worked out much better for the leaders on the right than for the average citizens on either the right or the left. But even though a number of the right's enablers didn't get everything they wanted either, they were still more willing to line up as supporters of the right.

Since folks on the left are by their nature less likely to line up lock step, they (and I include myself as part of the left) are less likely to have a group of representatives who are effectively synchronized as well. So then the left's unsynchronized leaders need a bigger tent of a greater variety of views to have enough in numbers to be heard, but the bigger the tent, the less consolidated it becomes.

At the end of the day, even if complete satisfaction with a whole pie is not possible, a piece of pie is still better than no pie at all. You can still build some momentum for a bigger piece next time. What else would you do, really?

Josh Mitteldorf said...

When do we stop saying "the Democrats were reluctant to expose Republican malfeasance for the sake of national unity" and start saying "the Democrats are enablers, working behind the scenes to support Republican crimes" ?

El Cid said...

A 3rd option is that neither strategy of 'Left' support of Democrats with votes or punishment of Democrats by withholding votes has an effect on pulling the Democratic Party to 'the left'.

I.e., the left votes for Democrats, and the party does not move to the left.

The left does not vote for Democrats, and the party does not move to the left.

In the real world, at least.

Perhaps if Democrats were to get 90 Senate seats and 400 House seats, maybe more liberal legislation might be possible.

Though I could see Democrats giving entirely new reasons why somehow 90 votes in the Senate weren't quite enough to do this or that, because of, you know, some other Senate rule which they dare not disobey.

LarryE said...

I have been involved with 3rd party politics in some form or another for about 30 years now - including running for office. In that time I have voted for Greens, socialists, independents, and yes, Democrats. And in all that time, I have never seen a single argument against it, not one, other than the one Parry re-hashes: It's "impractical" and only helps the evil side.

In other words, it's just another version of "Shut up and vote for Democrats." (Note that we are talking electoral politics here; the question of building alternative institutions outside that framework is a different topic.)

The problem with that attitude is that is means the best that we can hope for is for things to get worse more slowly. And I'm not willing to accept that.

The following quote has been attributed to Lawrence O'Donnell. I can't swear it's genuine, but I can attest from personal knowledge to the accuracy of the sentiment:

If you want to pull the party - the major party that is closest to the way you're thinking - to what you're thinking, YOU MUST, YOU MUST show them that you're capable of not voting for them. If you don't show them you're capable of not voting for them, they don't...have...to listen to you. I promise you that. I worked within the Democratic Party. I didn't listen, or have to listen, to anything on the left while I was working in the Democratic Party, because the left had nowhere to go.

The history of 3rd parties in this country has not been so much to win elections - although that has happened - as to force one of the majors to move in their direction in order to avoid losing too much support. Parry's method - and the method of all those who make the same argument - simply ignores that fact and leaves us in perpetual thrall to the hucksters and con artists of the major parties.

You want to refute that contention? Tell me all the legislative and programmatic advances that did NOT originate in a minor party only to be adopted in some form by a major party only after it became clear there could be an electoral price to be paid for ignoring it.

LarryE said...

On a separate point, I have to ask who all these people were who were saying "Teach 'em a lesson" in those earlier elections Parry cites.

I remember people saying "They're all the same, so why bother?" But that's not the same thing.

I remember people saying "Voting is waste of time." But that's not the same thing, either.

I remember people quoting Debs: "I'd rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don't want and get it." But that's nowhere near the same thing.

I remember people saying "The government only ratifies what the people have already decided." But that is definitely not the same thing.

So remind me of what I've forgotten: Just who were these people who were urging people to not vote for the avowed purpose of "teaching the Democrats a lesson?" Who were the people urging votes for 3rd parties not because they advocated better policies but, again, for the avowed purpose of "teaching the Democrats a lesson?"

No vague generalities, actual examples. And either enough examples or examples from voices heard widely enough to show it was a body of opinion of meaningful size.