One of the more intriguing arguments in this line came from a Canadian UAW member, Joe Emersberger, who actually tried measuring the difference between recent Republican and Democratic Presidents. He noted that Ronald Reagan was the worst President for life expectancy growth, income growth of the top one percent, deunionization, and closing the racial gap in life expectancy. But the second worst – for deunionization and share of income going to the top one percent – was actually Bill Clinton, followed by Barack Obama. George Bush did substantially better than those two on these measures, and surpassed Clinton in closing the racial life expectancy gap. This is quite possibly accurate – Clinton’s changed the country with NAFTA, a policy nearly as hostile to labor rights as Reagan’s embrace of union busting. George W. Bush though faced a hostile public and a partisan Democratic opposition. Certainly, this is not conclusive evidence, and I’m sure political scientist Larry Bartels would lay out different data. But it’s worth considering the power of this “resistance effect”. Partisan opposition isn’t worth nothing, and there’s no sense pretending it doesn’t matter.
In other words, as Glen Ford put it, Obama is not necessarily the lesser of two evils, he may be the “more effective evil”. He puts the left to sleep (whether by defunding progressive groups or allowing the destruction of Occupy encampments), and the left is where the resistance to imperial tendencies currently resides. It is this problem, of how to organize large groups of people into a political force for justice, that should concern us. Otherwise, under Bush or Obama, inequality would continue to increase. And with this, I’d bring us to the argument I made about leverage points, most notably, that policy leverage is apparent during a crisis.
Consider that there is a crisis right now, in the Frankenstorm, Sandy. Parts of lower Manhattan are still without power, and much of the Eastern seaboard will never be the same. Late night comedians, NBC, and even Businessweek are jumping up and down and screaming that this catastrophic storm is a result of climate change. Yet, on Monday, no major environmental groupsexcept Bill McKibben’s 350.org featured Sandy on its home page. These groups, from the Sierra Club to the Environmental Defense Fund – focused instead on the safety of chemicals, saving the Osprey, voting for Obama, or other such problems. As Brad Johnson noted, almost every left-wing journalist or advocate was equivocating as to whether climate change was the cause. This is the moment of leverage, when an organized advocacy space should have been arguing for a massive emergency mitigation and adaptation efforts. Tens of billions of dollars will flow into the Northeast, this money could be used for rebuilding unsustainable Con Ed, or for powering the New York with entirely renewable and robust energy. Instead, the right-wing, including Democrats like MSNBC contributor Ed Rendell, are working to undermine environmental, labor rules in the reconstruction while privatizing rebuilt infrastructure.
Moving policy to save our civilization has nothing to do with voting on Tuesday, and this is obvious when you consider Sandy as a moment to define man-made global warming as the key challenge of our society, as the Cold War was after World War II. Progressives are obsessed with reelecting Obama instead of governing, so there is silence in response to a massive leverage point (except on CNBC, where the anchors are screaming for more refining capacity in response to Sandy). We the people need to protest and demand the solutions that might have a chance at saving our civilization from the many Sandy’s to come. Indeed, global warming fueled Hurricane Katrina killed 3000 people, and we did nothing except allow the privatization of the New Orleans school system. But as we see now, this is not just because of George Bush, it is because our theory of change, of looking to right-wing politicians entrenched in the Democratic Party as an answer, was an utter failure. It is the politics of self-delusion, and catastrophe. Voting third party is a way of indicating, to yourself and your community, that you will not be party to this game any more. Voting third party is a way of showing, to yourself and your community, that you consider Barack Obama an opponent, and that you oppose his policy. This is a profound admission, and it creates the space for real opposition, for real resistance.