Comments: Death By Election

Hello substantive recommendations?

Posted by saurabh at December 31, 2007 04:00 PM

I'll start it off -- from the article:

And participating in elections is the principal, if not sole, duty of the citizens of a democracy.

Is this really the case? How do ATR's feel about this? Because a few weeks back there was a robust discussion on another blog that suggested it should be "mandatory" to vote.

The first thing I thought about was the 99.9% (or some such nonsense) approvals gathered by Saddam or Musharraf. And what is it it about that word -- democracy -- that we think it's interchangeable with republic? If you all get froggy enough to rewrite the constitution so that this country becomes a democracy, I may just join in the kumbayas, but until then, I'm not thinking that rubberstamping Kodos or Kang is going to do anything significant.

I would make another slight modification: Without honest and credible elections and an INFORMED ELECTORATE, there can be no democracy.

Uh-uh. The media = The hammer. The hammer is only dangerous when someone hits me on the head with it. Therefore, it should not be in the hands of movie quality raving maniacs. Anyone Remember Michael Myers? I hope his middle name wasn't Ted.

Well, what are we supposed to do, ignore elections until we can fix them? That'll just get us more elected officials less likely to fix them, won't it?

Yes. Every time I've voted, it has shown to be a monumentally stupid decision, but I don't really blame myself because it's usually been a choice between two monumentally stupid decisions badly in need of my rubber stamp. We could do worse than having me NOT vote. And I don't think I'm unique in this aspect.

If we want credible elections and palatable candidates, we will break the electoral spell and start behaving like the citizens of a democracy.

Ha!

Posted by Ted at December 31, 2007 04:11 PM

Swanson has concluded that the line the MICFiC* sells you, that your privilege and duty as a voter - to decide who wins the exciting horse race by picking the product YOU prefer - is NOT what being a citizen is all about.

Participating in honest, credible, informed elections is one of the LESS IMPORTANT of the many necessary duties of the citizens of a democracy. Participating in non-credible elections is a DISTRACTION. Of course, in the current system, the primaries offer more real choices, less fraud, and many fewer voters than the general election. They also don't put anyone in office.

Have you ever noticed that the U.S. Constitution doesn't mention primaries? Or political parties? Or corporations? Or churches? It provides no right to vote. Instead, it mentions the freedoms to speak, to assemble, to publish news, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. And it goes on repeatedly, at some length, to establish the power of the people's representatives in the House of Representatives to hold an outlaw executive or judiciary in check through impeachment.

O.K. But how do we petition our government for a redress of grievances except by waiting until the next election and voting it out?

Is it possible we really have to be told this again? We do it by assembling, by speaking, by publishing news, and by drawing on the traditions of Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr., the tradition of suffragettes and labor, the lessons of abolitionists and populists.

===============================

*MICFiC is an acronym for

M ilitary
I ndustrial
C ongressional
Fi nancial
C orporate Media Complex
-

a conspiracy to "milk, shear, and slaughter the sheeple", in a figurative sense - except the slaughter is literal.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at December 31, 2007 04:29 PM

If you buy Swanson's argument (and I mostly do) then how much time should we spend pointing out the deficiencies of the leading Democrats?

No, Hillary has no plans to get us out of Iraq, and neither does Obama or Edwards. So what? We should know from history that Presidents never do the right thing unless they're pushed, by powerful social movements. If Swanson was serious about movement-building, he wouldn't spend so much time himself singing the praises of Dennis Kucinich, or attacking other Dems who don't live up to the Kucinich Standard.

To the extent we concern ourselves with the candidates at all, the question shouldn't be, "Is this candidate taking the correct position on every issue that is important to me?", rather, we should be asking, "Can this candidate be pushed, once elected, to take a correct position on any issue?"

Posted by SteveB at December 31, 2007 05:26 PM

Yo, man, I spent the beginning of this decade actively assembling, speaking, publishing my opinion, etc. The government responded by invading Iraq. My voice was drowned out by a chorus of "MICFiC"-ers who had way more money and power than I did to influence public discourse. Maybe it was too little effort, but I don't believe it.

The Constitution was written at a time when there was a substantial threat of popular revolt against the government - there was no standing army, the federal government was weak, and we had just finished revolting against our previous rulers. These days that idea seems laughable; it's not a credible threat. So Swanson's ideas about the value of popular agitation seem much less relevant. Those in power absolutely don't have to yield to popular pressure; they can safely ignore it.

So I'd like a more capable lever, please. What is it?

Posted by saurabh at December 31, 2007 08:45 PM

Get rid of the ABSENTEE BALLOT, too many dead people still vote with them. Use that PURPLE FINGER VOTE and everyone that votes is PHYSICALLY ALIVE and shows up IN PERSON TO VOTE.

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 31, 2007 09:12 PM

This post appears to cross the line, and advocate not even handing elections to right wingers by voting for spoilers, but handing elections to right wingers by not even bothering to vote at all.

There is no logical justification for failing to vote for the less harmful viable candidate on election day, whatever your long term motivations would be.

Working for fair elections, working to get more progressives into the system, etc, is great, too, but there is no conflict between any of that and getting your ass out of bed to vote for the viable candidate who will at least harm the earth less, once every two years or so.

If you think you're "too good" to vote for the less harmful candidate in a national election, then you're actually just trying to justify, with apologies for humorous exaggeration from this point forward, nihilistic hipsterism, voting for a "cool" symbol candidate, or even taking the advice of this post and laying around drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon instead of voting at all. (*No knock on PBL is intended*).

Would Al Gore have made a better president that George Bush? A very large number of people (military and civilian) who have been killed, maimed, or psychologically destroyed in Iraq would probably think so, if they are in a position to think at all. Polar bears might agree, too.

When intelligent people deny logic, it nearly always means that a hidden agenda is at play. As far as I can tell, the only possible hidden agenda of the "just let Huckabee/Giuliani take over because the Democrats aren't perfect enough" crowd is image and fashion related. Again, you can work your butt off for radical change 364 days a year; voting for the less harmful incremental change on election day doesn't conflict with that in any actual, pragmatic, logical way.

Look, if you're that concerned about your image, just vote for Obama secretly and tell the guys at the vintage vinyl record store that you spent the morning watching obscure kung fu DVDs.

I take it for granted that every more-progressive candidate always loses one or two percent of the vote to a group of people who will always redefine "progressive" one step up to avoid doing something "square" like voting for a candidate who could win. If Kucinich were to win the primary, and were running neck and neck with Fred Thompson, a fair number of people would suddenly discover that Kucinich isn't "progressive enough" after all. (*This is not to deny the obvious limitations of the main Democrats*).

If you are one of those people, it's unlikely that what I say can impact, but I do invite you to explore your underlying logic. Would voting for Gore instead of Nader in Florida, to use a compelling example, have negatively impacted on anything?

I suppose this post is somewhat sarcastic, which is not the best way to win hearts and minds, but I have to stand by it. Yes, people should work to make mainstream Democrats more progressive, make third parties stronger where they are locally viable, and of course, prevent stolen elections. That does not conflict with voting in a reasonable way in the short term future.

If water is flooding through the dike, the long term solution may be to build a better dike, but taking a moment to patch the hole before moving on is at least equally important.

Posted by harold at January 1, 2008 11:08 AM

harold: EXACTLY!

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 1, 2008 12:44 PM

harold: I'd agree with you if effort and attention should be partitioned with perfect discipline, or if most of America were inclined to ignore the dog-and-pony show and give it the utter lack of attention it deserves. Bread and circus, however, has always been a major impediment to democracy, and this is a particularly insidious brand of it, as it masks itself as something else. I'm in total agreement with Swanson's point that the fundamental message we should take with respect to elections is: POLITICIANS ARE SCUM AND WE SHOULD NEVER IMAGINE EVEN FOR A SECOND THAT ANY OF OUR GOALS AND DESIRES CAN BE ACHIEVED BY ELECTING THEM.

Posted by saurabh at January 1, 2008 01:11 PM

Again, you can work your butt off for radical change 364 days a year; voting for the less harmful incremental change on election day doesn't conflict with that in any actual, pragmatic, logical way.

But that's not what Swanson's seeing, is it? Instead, what he (and we) are seeing is that the resources and tools we would need to work for radical change (mainly, the time and attention of those who do want to change things) is diverted, for a full year before the election into electoral politics of the most trivial sort.

What Swanson is arguing for is not incompatible with your recommendations, Harold. He wants a change of priorities, with electoral politics being one of, but not nearly the most important, thing that the citizens of a democracy can do to effect change.

Working for radical change for 364 days and then taking a few minutes to vote sounds about right to me (and, no doubt, to David Swanson). So I'll take your advice, Harold, and ignore the next year's worth of bleatings of anti-Nader folk like yourself, remembering only to roll out of bed on election day in time to vote for Cynthia McKinney, Green Party candidate for President.

Thanks again for the advice.

Posted by SteveB at January 1, 2008 03:27 PM

Saurabh -

POLITICIANS ARE SCUM

All human societies that have ever existed have been and are governed by people who can be described as "politicians".

Electing them seems to me to be as good a way of choosing them as most other approaches. A compromised election is still better than the best military coup, in most cases.

I don't agree that all politicians are "scum"; I don't even agree that all US presidents have been "scum", but that's a subjective evaluation, and I'll concede freely that a case can be made that they all are. So what? I'm just pointing out that we should make the minimal effort of voting for the least harmful, once every couple of years. Scum or not.

AND WE SHOULD NEVER IMAGINE EVEN FOR A SECOND THAT ANY OF OUR GOALS AND DESIRES CAN BE ACHIEVED BY ELECTING THEM.

Some of mine can. For example, one of my goals and desires, in the sphere of politics, would be the abolition of the death penalty. That was recently achieved in New Jersey. It was achieved because people voted Democrat. Not fancy special Democrat, either, regular New Jersey Democrats. I'd also like to see saner drug laws, better access to health care, a more sustainable national environmental policy, and a whole lot of other things that actually can be achieved or advanced by voting for, in the current millieu, the Democrat rather than the Republican in state and federal elections.

Posted by harold at January 1, 2008 03:51 PM

Saurabh -

POLITICIANS ARE SCUM

All human societies that have ever existed have been and are governed by people who can be described as "politicians".

Electing them seems to me to be as good a way of choosing them as most other approaches. A compromised election is still better than the best military coup, in most cases.

I don't agree that all politicians are "scum"; I don't even agree that all US presidents have been "scum", but that's a subjective evaluation, and I'll concede freely that a case can be made that they all are. So what? I'm just pointing out that we should make the minimal effort of voting for the least harmful, once every couple of years. Scum or not.

AND WE SHOULD NEVER IMAGINE EVEN FOR A SECOND THAT ANY OF OUR GOALS AND DESIRES CAN BE ACHIEVED BY ELECTING THEM.

Some of mine can. For example, one of my goals and desires, in the sphere of politics, would be the abolition of the death penalty. That was recently achieved in New Jersey. It was achieved because people voted Democrat. I'd also like to see saner drug laws, better access to health care, a more sustainable national environmental policy, and a whole lot of other things that actually can be achieved or advanced by voting for, in the current millieu, the Democrat rather than the Republican in state and federal elections.

Posted by harold at January 1, 2008 04:07 PM

harold: EXACTLY

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 1, 2008 04:08 PM

THIS IS HOW IT WORKS---With 19,000 SIGNATURES and a FEW PHONECALLS, The People of Wyoming got rid of THE FOOD TAX---and the price of YOUR electricity went up to pay for it. WE The People of Wyoming are now working on OUR SALES TAX--- and the price of YOUR electricity will go up to pay for it.

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 1, 2008 04:17 PM

Steve B -

Instead, what he (and we) are seeing is that the resources and tools we would need to work for radical change (mainly, the time and attention of those who do want to change things) is diverted, for a full year before the election into electoral politics of the most trivial sort.

Even if this made sense, so what? How does not bothering to vote help that?

So I'll take your advice, Harold, and ignore the next year's worth of bleatings of anti-Nader folk like yourself, remembering only to roll out of bed on election day in time to vote for Cynthia McKinney, Green Party candidate for President.

My advice is NOT to vote for a spoiler presidential candidate, especially not if you live in a contested state. Voting for a Green or progressive independent who can win a local race is fine with me, of course.

Let's review what we're talking about here. The blurb at that top basically says "don't bother to vote", at least as I read it, and I'm objecting to that message. I am anti-Nader, I'm not going to deny that. I did use the Bush "victory" in Florida in 2000 as an example of what happens when people do less than what it takes to keep the right wing out of power. So to some degree I did equate voting for a spoiler candidate, at least where it matters, with not voting. However, to be honest, voting for McKinney probably is a step above staying home and playing vintage video games on election day.

But I'm not really trying to convince you, Steve B. For the most part, your post just verifies some of the things I already said. You and I are not going to agree on this voting thing, although ironically, we may agree about 98% on actual issues.

I'm not really trying to convince the hard core art school hipster anarchists, for example, to compromise by voting for a candidate who might win, and potentially make a big difference in the life of someone who might otherwise have died of under-treated leukemia or had their face burned off in Iraq (no matter who the two parties run, which candidate who can win is more likely to pull more US military personnel out of Iraq faster, the Democrat or the Republican?).

Those examples might sound extreme, but they are quite germane. The election of a Republican instead of a Democrat will have a major, significant negative impact, in a measurable way, on many real individuals.

I'm just expressing myself here, in case what I say might impact on some rare reader. I am keenly aware that I am not likely to have much impact on many who follow this blog.

Mike Meyer -

Thanks.

Posted by harold at January 1, 2008 10:48 PM

It's a major error to focus on "corruption" (however defined) to the exclusion of other issues. A "corrupt" Gore would clearly have been much better for the country and the world than 8 years of a much more corrupt GWB.

Hello ? The environment, the Iraq War, the GWOT, the PATRIOT Act, signing statements, torture, faith-based initiatives, justices Roberts and Alito, a $700 billion defense budget, corporate welfare galore, tax cuts for the wealthy, still no universal healthcare, crumbling infrastructure, and on the list goes. The lesson of the Bush year is that keeping Republicans out of office matters. So Democrats are far from perfect ? So freaking what ? The Republicans are insane.

But we hear this corruption obsession from leftists all the time. For example, if leftists spent more time talking about imperialism in foreign policy and less about Halliburton profits, we'd all be better off. Indeed, one suspects that these people would rather talk about Halliburton than real issues. This ties in with Harold's comments about either nihilism or hidden agendas.

Whining about corruption is a great way to avoid talking about real issues. It's also a great way to avoid continually examining and reexamining one's own views, as any independent-minded person would.

Posted by Grownup at January 2, 2008 11:23 AM

Grownup: Work for Halliburton or got your own govt. contract?

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 2, 2008 11:41 AM

Thank you very much Mr. Meyer -- you've proven my point for me.

If I'd known the Naderites were going to put GWB in the White House, I'd have bought as much HAL stock as I could have on margine.

Posted by Grownup at January 2, 2008 11:48 AM

SteveB -

I completely agree with your take on military spending. Not your strategy, your take.

As I said, we probably agree about 98% on actual specific issues.

However, as things are now, "refusing to support" Democrats will merely result in the election of Republicans. That will not reduce military spending in the near term. It is highly questionable whether it will reduce it in the long run.

On this issue, as on many others, the logical, sustainable, and humane policy (in this case,less military spending) is opposed by the right wing and a massive propaganda machine. This is to be expected, since excess military spending hurts society overall, but enriches some people.

Given the current situation in this country, I know that it is impossible for a candidate to run on the full slate of positions I support, logical though they are, and win, except possibly for local election in "liberal" districts.

Many of the issues I supported years ago - full "gay rights" (ie the same rights for everybody), universal health care, death penalty reduction, etc - have become mainstream positions. This happened despite the fact that I consistently supported the least harmful candidate in general elections.

The way I would work toward reducing military spending would be by publicly advancing convincing arguments against excessive military spending in any available venue, making it clear to Democrats that many if not most of their supporters do NOT want excessive military spending, and trying to patiently chip away at the propaganda and fear-mongering with the hammer of reason. Voting for Greens and progressive Independents who can win, or at least not get a wingnut elected by losing in local races is also an excellent idea, where possible.

I agree with all of that, but voting for Democrats in the presidential and congressional election cycle is compatible with progressive goals, and "gestures" that help the Republicans are self-defeating.

Military spending was bad under Clinton, granted, but it got where it is now because George W. Bush was elected.

A raft is very imperfect relative to a cruise ship. But a raft is a lot better than sitting in shark-infested open ocean. It's not really a "compromise" if it's actually the better of two constrained choices.

Posted by harold at January 2, 2008 02:52 PM

The way I would work toward reducing military spending would be by publicly advancing convincing arguments against excessive military spending in any available venue, making it clear to Democrats that many if not most of their supporters do NOT want excessive military spending...

Yes, but why should those Democrats care that their constituents want less spending on the military? What consequence is there if they ignore the will of their constituents on this issue?

Isn't that what we're seeing with the antiwar movement? Democrats know those folks have no place to go, and so don't need to listen to them. As long as you make it clear that you will never, ever vote in a way that would cause the Dems to lose an election, they can (and will) safely ignore you.

Look, you have a short term program of keeping Republicans out of office. I have a long-term program of building the Green Party as a way making our society more democratic and putting forward positions and issues currently being ignored by both parties. Both long-term and short-term strategies are needed, and one person can't do both, so the best we can hope for is that some will take your path, and others will take mine. There's no need to argue we should do A instead of B when, in fact, we should do A, and B, and P and Q besides.

Worried that losing the votes of people like me will cost the Dems the White House? Here's a suggestion, go find one of the millions of Democrats who voted for George W. Bush in 2004 and persuade him/her to stick with the Dems this time around. Good luck!

Posted by SteveB at January 2, 2008 03:50 PM

Just wanted to say to Harold and SteveB that you're both doing a very good job making your two respective cases. It's extremely rare to find a discussion about voting for Nader/Green Party candidates that is worth reading. Usually the Naderites defensively disavow any responsibility for what happened in 2000, or the pro-Democrats condescendingly or self-righteously lecture the Naderites on the need to be "grownup" about it, and in the process pay no attention to the legitimate points that Naderites make.

I'm more on Harold's side these days, but SteveB is also correct, IMO. I don't see how the so-called serious Democratic Presidential candidates will ever feel any pressure to change if they are guaranteed to have the votes of people like me. And they do have my vote, for the reasons Harold gives, but I recognize that this means I'm allowing them to shift to the right (where they probably are anyway.)

There's got to be a way out of this.

Posted by Donald Johnson at January 2, 2008 04:21 PM

I would like to see a change in the direction of military spending, a hell of a lot better health care for OUR wounded, better pay, more military family benefits, better PERSONAL ARMOR, more reliable PERSONAL WEAPONRY, increase the number of troops. It all takes money so I look at a cut in military spending as counterproductive.

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 2, 2008 04:22 PM

better PERSONAL ARMOR, more reliable PERSONAL WEAPONRY, increase the number of troops.

Why, Mike? Do you want us to stay in Iraq, or is there some other country you think we should be invading?

Posted by SteveB at January 2, 2008 06:43 PM

SteveB: What day were WE leaving Iraq that WE would have to stay past because of better equipment for those that must survive OUR present foreign policy? If YOU are SERIOUS about leaving Iraq then IMPEACH. YOU AND I PAY for these people to be in IRAQ, WE OWE THEM, good equipment, a chance to survive, QUALITY medical care, a helping hand to their families, and a modicum of respect. THE PROBLEM IS BUSH, not the soldier.

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 2, 2008 09:23 PM

Mike:
Wait a minute. You said you wanted to " increase the number of troops." Why? What do you think we should be doing with those extra troops?

Posted by SteveB at January 2, 2008 09:53 PM

SteveB: I suppose WE could just keep sending the SAME PEOPLE over and over until they are all killed, wounded, desert, or go beserk in YOUR home town. I feel YOU are laboring under the FALSE ASSUMPTION that the war is over with a new administration. May I be so bold as to point out, there is NO END in sight. (Quit PAYING these people and things will move a little faster toward ending the war)

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 2, 2008 11:05 PM

Mike:
Here's an idea: if they run out of soldiers, the war ends.

Posted by SteveB at January 3, 2008 12:08 AM

SteveB: Good Luck with that. (I perfer to believe if WE run out of GREED, the war will end.)

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 3, 2008 01:30 PM

THE PROBLEM IS THE POLITICIAN, not the soldier.

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 3, 2008 01:33 PM

Mike:
Actually, the "running out of soldiers" thing is already happening:
The Army's Other Crisis
Why the best and brightest young officers are leaving
http://www2.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2007/0712.tilghman.html#Byline

Posted by SteveB at January 3, 2008 02:27 PM