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the left needs to transcend lesser evilism

September 5, 2012

While I have no illusions that a Romney administration would be any better than current one (and would most likely be worse), I’m annoyed by the growing number of portrayals of Obama as some kind of liberal saint by supporters. Sure, he’s changed his stance on same-sex marriage, coming out in support for it after initially being opposed, and has done a number of other things that I think are a step in the right direction, such as repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, his slight easing of the US’s ridiculous embargo on Cuba, etc.

However, Obama has done a fair number of things that I think are a step in the wrong direction, from his continuation of Clinton and Bush era policies such as extraordinary rendition and drone strike-assassinations, to his administration’s crackdown on whistleblowers (e.g., former CIA agent John Kiriakou) and the medical marijuana industry, his signing of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, allowing indefinite detention to be codified into law, and his continued support for the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which violates the very spirit of the Fourth Amendment. In this situation, Obama is clearly the ‘lesser evil’ from where I sit on the political spectrum; but Obama isn’t the champion of freedom and transparency that many of his supporters make him out to be.

I’m not blind. I understand that we have more political freedom here in the US than they do in places like China, Iran, or North Korea. I also understand how fortunate I am to enjoy that freedom. But that doesn’t mean that that freedom, which we’ve struggled for over two hundred years to expand and protect, isn’t quietly being eroded away by modern-day Federalists and corporatists in collusion with big-monied interests and large, multinational corporations, of which both of the two major parties are beholden as they’ve repeatedly shown.

I strongly believe that Hal Draper was right when he wrote, “In setups where the choice is between one capitalist politician and another, the defeat comes in accepting the limitation to this choice.” What the left needs to do, in my opinion, (if there even is a left anymore) is think outside of the box and do something a bit more radical which involves organizing outside of the current two-party oligarchy and agitating for real systematic change, Tahrir Square-style if need be; because engaging in electoral politics alone won’t change the dynamics of our current, winner-take-all system dominated by the Democratic and Republican parties. They control too much, from ballot access rules to who can compete in debates, and they’re in the pockets of Wall Street and the ossified labour unions.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think the problem lies within the two dominant political parties themselves so much as within the structure of the system itself, which actively promotes a two party duopoly, produces toxic accumulations of both wealth and power (which seem to go hand in hand in politics), and serves to protect the economic, legal, and political hegemony of the ruling class. That’s why it seems to me that, even when people who have the best interests of the citizenry in mind get elected to office, the system often forces their hand and they end up being like every other politician, or else the system just runs them over (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Hence, the candidate in 2008 who, assuming he was genuine, strongly criticized what he called “the Bush Administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo,” now continues where his predecessor left off by being a proponent of, and codifying into law, what the Bush administration argued the original 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force against terrorism already empowered them to do—to, in the words of Glenn Greenwald, “imprison people without charges, use force against even U.S. citizens without due process (Anwar Awlaki), and target not only members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban (as the law states) but also anyone who ‘substantially supports’ those groups and/or ‘associated forces’ (whatever those terms mean).”

In my opinion, once people start to realize that simply voting for one party or the other (an electoral version of the ‘lesser of two evils‘ principle) doesn’t really make that much of a difference, that there’s something inherently wrong with the system itself, the better off we’ll be. And that goes double for leftists since one of the biggest problems with the lesser of two evils strategy is that it consistently pulls the Democrats farther to the right (e.g., in many ways, Nixon was arguably more liberal than either Clinton or Obama). It’s high time the left in this country started thinking outside the box of two-party electoral politics, stopped blindly supporting the lesser evil as their sole act of political activism, and started doing more to hold those in office accountable for their record. /rant


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