Regarding the debate on whether and how to participate in the US presidential election, I think Michael, Vincent, and Bill outline the different strategies very well. However, there is one issue that seems to me to be in danger of being forgotten. That is, the whole discussion – except perhaps the abstain argument – tends to appear to assume that the US is actually a democratic country, at least to some extent. In other words, the different arguments appear to assume that our participation in the electoral system could actually make a real difference. What I would argue is that although it might make strategic sense to get involved in an electoral process here or there in one way or the other, we really should put a lot more effort in democratizing the US political system itself. We need to completely counter the two types of common sense that seem to prevail, that either: the US is a fully functional democracy or that is not fully democratic but that one cannot do anything about it except to game the system here or there (by voting strategically).
Again, this is not meant as an argument against strategic voting or against emphasizing this or that issue or local political fight – all of those approaches are valid. Rather, what I want to emphasize is that addressing literally all political issues also requires that attention be given to the democratic process itself. We should not focus only on particular issue-related goals, but recognize that the process – the means (voting) – for achieving them is completely messed-up and undemocratic. This means seeing that all issues have as their common denominator, in one way or another, the struggle for making the US a more democratic country. Specifically, we need to address issues such as: the influence of money on political campaigns, the lack of any proportionality in representation (first past the post system), gerrymandering, inequality in representation (that small states have about 40 times the weight in the Senate as a large state, and three times in a presidential election), lack of access to mass media in campaigns, etc.
It sometimes seems to me that every four years progressives spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and money on the presidential race, which usually leads nowhere, instead of focusing more on making sure that the political system becomes something that might one day deserve the designation “democracy.”