The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama's Record … Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him
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Had the progressive social movements mobilized to push Obama for major changes we could celebrate; had there been progressive electoral challenges in the 2010 mid-term elections and even in the lead up to 2012 (such as Norman Solomon's congressional challenge in California, which lost very narrowly), there might be something very different at stake this year. Instead what we have is the face of open reaction vs. the face of corporate liberalism, of ‘austerity and war on steroids’ vs. ‘austerity and war in slow motion.’
This raises an interesting question about the matter of the "lesser of two evils," something which has become, over the years, a major concern for many progressives. Regularly in election cycles some progressives will dismiss supporting any Democratic Party candidate because of a perceived need to reject "lesser evil-ism", meaning that Democrats will always strike a pose as somewhat better than the GOP, but remain no different in substance. In using the anti-‘lesser evil-ism’ phraseology, the suggestion is that it really does not matter who wins because they are both bad. Eugene Debs is often quoted—better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you oppose and get it. While this may make for strong and compelling rhetoric and assertions, it makes for a bad argument and bad politics.
In elections progressives need to be looking very coldly at a few questions:
- Are progressive social movements strong enough to supersede or bypass the electoral arena altogether?
- Is there a progressive candidate who can outshine both a reactionary and a mundane liberal, and win?
- What would we seek to do in achieving victory?
- What is at stake in that particular election?
In thinking through these questions, we think the matter of a lesser of two evils is a tactical question of simply voting for one candidate to defeat another, rather than a matter of principle. Politics is frequently about the lesser of two evils. World War II for the USA, Britain and the USSR was all about the lesser of two evils. Britain and the USA certainly viewed the USSR as a lesser evil compared with the Nazi Germany, and the USSR came to view the USA and Britain as the lesser evils. Neither side trusted the other, yet they found common cause against a particular enemy. There are many less dramatic examples, but the point is that it happens all the time. It’s part of ‘politics as strategy’ mentioned earlier.
It is for these reasons that upholding the dismissal of the 'lesser evil-ism' is unhelpful. Yes, in this case, Obama is aptly described as the lesser of two evils. He certainly represents a contending faction of empire. He has continued the drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His healthcare plan is nowhere near as helpful as would be Medicare for All. He has sidelined the Employee Free Choice Act that would promote unionization. What this tells us is that Obama is not a progressive. What it does not tell us is how to approach the elections.
The political right, more than anything, wishes to turn November 2012 into a repudiation of the changing demographics of the US and an opportunity to reaffirm not only the empire, but also white racial supremacy. In addition to focusing on Obama they have been making what are now well-publicized moves toward voter suppression, with a special emphasis on denying the ballot to minority, young, formerly incarcerated and elderly voters. This latter fact is what makes ridiculous the suggestion by some progressives that they will stay home and not vote at all.