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why i refuse to vote for barack obama

September 27, 2012

Interesting article/argument by Conor Friedersdorf:

Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama

Something I’ve been arguing myself for a while now. To be honest, I think one of the reasons that many ‘left-leaning Americans,’ including civil libertarians, continue to support Obama (besides not being all that left) is that many of us are either too lazy or too busy to organize and support a better alternative, and so simply choose the path of least resistance—checking the box for whomever has a ‘D’ next to their name on the ballot. Like Friedersdorf, however, I can’t in good conscience do that, which is why I’m not voting for Obama this year, and I’ll either be voting for Jill Stein or writing in Bernie Sanders.

Everyone should vote for whom and what they want, what they believe in; and I simply want better than what the two-party duopoly is offering. I sympathize with Friedersdorf and share many of his moral red lines. From where I stand on the political spectrum, and taking into consideration the values I hold, neither of the two major candidates passes muster.

As competent and likable as Obama may be, I’m unable to support an individual (or party for that matter) who, among other things, authorizes drone strikes that routinely kill innocent civilians, who authorizes extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens abroad, who cracks down on whistleblowers (even though they once said they’re “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government”), who supports the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which violates the very spirit of the Fourth Amendment, and who signed indefinite detention into law (not to mention vigorously, and successfully, appealing its injunction).

It may be a ‘wasted vote’ in the eyes of some, but I’d rather it be a wasted vote than having it be a vote for, and thereby giving my consent to, an individual who has already put into place policies that cross moral red lines that are simply too important for me to ignore. The Democratic Party will never change, or move more to the left, simply by giving in and voting for them no matter what just because they’re not Republicans.

For many Democrats and ‘progressives,’ there’s nothing Obama or any other Democrat can do to lose their support; and for all the people who say they side more with someone like Jill Stein, they’d never vote for a third party candidate unless they were better on the issues and more electable, albeit without their prior support—and they call this ‘pragmatic voting.’

While pragmatic from one point of view, this is precisely how the Democrats can so easily be pulled right by the Republicans (because they know they have the majority of the progressive vote no matter what), and it makes other alternatives difficult to organize because progressives won’t support them until they get electable, which it can’t do without the help of progressives in the first place (e.g., votes in elections are important for third parties in regards to things like maintaining electoral ballot status in states, etc.).

So, in the end, you have a situation where the country and the Democratic Party is being drawn more to the right every year (as the Republicans move right, they pull the Democrats farther along with them, and centrists like Obama are portrayed as left/liberal even though Nixon was arguable more liberal than either Clinton or Obama), with each base supporting the shift, whether they like it or not, because it’s easier and more pragmatic in their minds than saying enough’s enough and supporting another candidate or party.

But if nobody (particularly on the left) has a line, and the Republicans keep shifting further right, there’s nothing stopping Democrats from doing the same. There’s not going to be any real pressure on the part of progressives, no push back, no lost votes, only endless lamentations that voting for Democrats is the best they can do in a two-party, winner-take-all system. And when it comes to things like civil liberties, which are difficult to regain once lost, how much more pragmatism can we take? Which leads me to the point that pragmatism isn’t always the best strategy. Sometimes pragmatism and the ‘lesser of two evils‘ principle will inadvertently leave you with a greater evil, or else put you in the lead of a political race to the bottom.

As difficult as building a viable alternative to the status quo and changing election laws is (e.g., dropping the Electoral College and implementing an instant-runoff system or even a more proportional system), it’s not impossible. But it’ll only be possible when people put their time and effort into organizing it because it is such an uphill battle. And that means possibly losing a few elections along the way. But even so, that doesn’t mean it won’t be worth it in the long run.

At the very least, I think Democrats, especially the progressives within the party, need to start taking to the streets and being extremely vocal about their opposition to things like drone strike assassinations, extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens abroad, the crackdown on whistleblowers, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, indefinite detention, etc. if they’re not willing to abandon the Democratic Party but still want to stand by their left-leaning, civil libertarian principles.

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