Elections and the Left:

I've always been amazed at how much passion and vitriol is stirred up among leftists on the subject of presidential voting. Personal animosity is spread widely as one group accuses advocates of third party voting of a heartless lack of consideration for the consequences of a Republican victory. Meanwhile advocates of third Party voting(or abstention from voting) accuse lesser evil voters of being complicit in Obama's drone attacks, Iran sanctions, free trade deals, torture of Bradley Manning, sell-out to the health insurance industry and other crimes.

My own stance is that while i will vote the Green Party's Jill Stein for President–my home state is not a swing–I feel the need to vote for Democrats at the congressional and state level. I feel that while things for ordinary people are bad and will continue to be bad under the Democrats, they will be even worse under the Republicans. By exhibiting this stance I'm not declaring that the Democrats are great or even half-way decent. Not at all. Let me elaborate below.

I'm voting for Democrat Jay Inslee in the race for governor of my home state (Washington). Inslee is a retiring centrist Democratic congressman with an exceedingly modest progressive voting record regarding the environment and other issues. He is known as a political chameleon: he served one term as a Clinton-style right wing Democratic congressman representing a rural Washington district from 1993 to 1995–but he then converted himself into a mildly progressive centrist after he returned to congress in 1999 as the representative of a different, more liberal district north and west of Seattle. If Inslee is elected, he will–like outgoing Democratic governor Christine Gregoire–probably acquiesce to the state legisulature's efforts to promote budget austerity and offer himself as the servant of local corporations like Boeing and Microsoft. He will probably loyally serve the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. He will doubtless offer his support–as he did in congress–for job killing free trade deals on behalf of local corporations. In other words, he will very likely govern in more or less the same manner as the other unexciting Democratic hacks who have continuously occupied the governor's mansion in Washington state since 1985. Moreover even if Inslee had a signficiantly more progressive record or stance on the issues, he would still be blocked from implementing his agenda by the state's business community, legislature and other powerful forces. There is always the risk of businesses causing massive flight of jobs to right to work and low tax states if a genuinely progressive canidate wins election to the governors mansion in Washington (or any other state).

However Inslee will most likely cut less from social programs than his Republican opponent, state Attorney General Rob Mckenna. McKenna, in spite of his image as a moderate, sweet natured family man with the manner of a gregarious High School English teacher, is a slash and burn Tea Partier with intimate ties to the state's business community. Inslee is in favor of the state implementing the Medicaid expansion called for by Obamacare. McKenna, on the other hand, has indicated hostility to the Medicaid expansion, calling it "creeping socialism" and claiming that it will place an unbearable financial burden on the state. McKenna implied that, at best, he would accept the expansion only if the state were granted discretion to divert Medicaid money intended for patient care into a state savings fund. In other words, McKenna, wants to try to dilute the state's potential Medicaid expansion if he can't destroy it.

It is clear that while there will be many ordinary Washingtonians suffering if Jay Inslee serves as governor, just as they now suffer under Christine Gregoire's rule–and Democrat Barak Obama's presidency–it is likely that that suffering will increase if Rob McKenna wins the governorship (and if Mitt Romney wins the White House). What do radical leftists who attack a vote for Democrats say to folks who might have their troubles eased a little by the expansion of Medicaid? Do they believe that the negative aspects of Obamacare will make the legislation an overall negative in spite of the decent provisions in the legislation? Do they believe that since the whole system is so royally fucked up, we must concentrate on overthrowing it and ignore the potential worsening of suffering caused by Republicans in office? Or do they believe that such suffering is equal under both Republicans and Democrats and thus voting for Dems is not worth it? What do they say to Washingtonians who might benefit from the fact that Jay Inslee will not cut the public assistance that they benefit from as much as Rob McKenna? What do they say to people whose suffering might be eased a little by a Medicaid expansion and other Obamacare provisions that Republicans want to destroy? What do they say to women worried about the threat to reproductive services caused by the Republican attack on Planned Parenthood and, at the state level, push for vaginal ultrasound and "personhood" legislation? The Democrats are generally poor at implementing any improvement with regard to reproductive rights but at least they are not trying to destroy Planned Parenthood and force vaginal ultrasounds on abortion patients. Republican reproductive health policy can potentially cause real damage to ordinary women; they are threatening to effectively criminalize abortion with "personhood" legislation. Is it reasonable to dismiss concerns about these policies?

Several of my friends in my local Socialist Alternative chapter have suggested that my decision to vote Democrat in state and congressional elections is unprincipled and that my logic about the slightly greater benefits of Democratic rule demonstrates opportunism. They have suggested that I'm not setting a good example by appearing to accept the legitimacy of the two party system which implements the structure of war, exploitation and suffering that oppresses us. I've noticed other radicals, for example in a very lengthy, feverish and violent back-and-forth on Doug Henwood's facebook page yesterday, suggest that radicals who vote Democrat are tacitly complicit in Obama's drone killings and his many other outrages. It was suggested on Henwood's page, including obliquely by Henwood himself, that radicals who advocate lesser evil voting are really more liberal than radical. One gentleman even suggested that I was a "good German" because of my inclination to vote Democrat.

Well maybe I'm unprincipled and opportunistic. It is humanly impossible to be completely principled 24/7. If people wish to demonize radicals who vote Democrat why stop their critique at the relatively trivial act of voting? Why don't these violent purists–if they are lucky enough to have a job–quit offering themselves as wage slaves or salaried slaves to capitalist employers? Why not remove yourself as a cog in the capitalist system so you can lessen your complicity with it? Why not refuse to spend your money at capitalist stores and confine yourself to co-ops? Why not refuse to pay income taxes? Obviously doing these things presents various difficulties, often insurmountable; to quit one's employment in order to take a stand against the system would be a very foolhardy if not insane gesture. None of us can escape complicity in this evil system. Yes, Obamacare is bad in many ways but why should I not prefer to take advantage of Medicaid expansion in my state? Why should I not vote for the guy who seems like he's going to implement it and vote against the guy who wants to derail it? I would like single payer but Jay Inslee is not offering that; although, unlike his opponent, he is offering a few potentially helpful measures that alot of struggling people might want to take advantage of. Are you going to tell people that they shouldn't try to ensure that the man who might help them take advantage of these programs gets into office?

We live in a country where we generally have only two choices at election time. In my own state, third parties are hindered even more than usual by the requirement that only the first and second place finishers in the primary election be on the ballot in the general election. These two top place finishers are almost always Democrats and Republicans, though a fine socialist canidate, Kshama Sawant, made it through the primary and is now facing the Democratic Speaker of the State House in Seattle's 43rd district. There dosen't seem to be any mass social movement of overwhelming power coming to rescue us from the Democrats and Republicans in the next few weeks so isn't it not too crazy to think that the slightly less obnoxious party should be in power? If you don't think that different grades of suffering under different political administrations in this country is an important thing to consider then please make that clear. Or if you think there is zero differences between Republicans and Democrats, then you should say so or perhaps explore the different policies of the two parties more deeply.

Elections are a relatively trivial event in the broader scheme of things and thus it is always disconcerting when leftists indulge in emotional tantrums during election time against people who disagree with their paritcular stance on voting. People who don't get nearly excited about events occurring out in the real world suddenly get more hot and bothered about voting and third party canidates who never make any headway than they ever have about anything in their entire lives. It is important not to fetishize voting and third parties, though perhaps as Americans who have grown up in this society, we can't completely escape it. I remember back in 2000, on the old Znet forum system, Tim Wise–who was a little more radical then than he is today–made a sarcastic comment directed at various forum participants (including probably myself) who were obsessed with Ralph Nader's campaign. He was sceptical about Nader's campaign and said something to the effect that he wondered why we were so obsessed with voting and if we hadn't watched too many MTV Rock the Vote commercials. That comment has stuck with me since then as being rather clever.

In any case, I'm not 100 percent sure of my position and have no trouble keeping an open mind on the subject. But please people, try not to attack the motives of people for merely disagreeing with you, especially if you have no evidence that their motives are bad. It may make you feel good and allow you to let out your frustrations but it is really intellectually immature. I myself haven't been perfect on that score in the past but please people, goddamit……..

.I see no contradiction between voting Democrat and being a principled critic of the horrors that Democrats implement.

Leave a comment