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A Ritual of Justifying Biases On Voting

On Voting


The brain is a food-seeking antenna at the service of the stomach, the controlling organ of the body. To understand this is to be free of the delusion that we humans are rational beings who observe to gather data for analysis, analyze to formulate plans and arrive at decisions, and then employ our physical selves and our exosomatic mechanisms to enact these plans and decisions. Instead, we decide emotionally and largely unconsciously, generally on the basis of fear and prejudice, and we use our brains to fabricate post-facto rationalizations for our biases and predetermined actions. Some may feel this characterization of human motivation is unjustly insulting to human dignity, and severely dismissive of human intellect. I concede that it will not be universally applicable, but I think it sufficiently representative to help explain many social trends and popular attitudes. Let us consider attitudes about voting in the 2008 US presidential election.

All the ballots will list many presidential candidates, but we can group these into three categories based on political party: Democratic, Republican, minor party and independent candidates.

The Democratic and Republican parties are the official political organizations of the military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC). They prosecute the interests of US capitalism’s ownership class by managing the dollar-area empire, both parties vying for each four-year contract to operate the national government. These two parties are called "the major parties" because they share a joint control of the political apparatus, extending to all three branches of government: executive, judicial and legislative. The relative proportions of managerial power allotted quadrennially to the major parties reflects the consensus of political opinion among the many constituencies making up the MICC (adjustments may occur through mid-term elections). It is important to remember that the domestic component of MICC capitalism is economic class warfare, capital’s unrelenting attack on the working class ("labor," "wage earners," or most accurately "wage slaves"), and the foreign component is imperialism by militarized dollar-area economics (see my previous article, "Oiling The War Machine" http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia07112008.html).

Voting for a major party candidate is an endorsement of MICC capitalism, both in its domestic assaults on popular democracy and the working class, and in its imperialistic aggression. Expressing a preference for a Democratic or Republican candidate is accepting MICC capitalism with an endorsement of one of its two proposed management styles. The major parties have been called collectively a "duopoly."

It is delusional to imagine that, once in office, a charismatic or maverick presidential candidate from a major party would betray the class interests of his or her patrons — the MICC sustaining this political career — to advance a popular working class aspiration, in other words to reverse the course of the class war. On the other hand, it is certain that those the MICC advances to the presidential competition will be adept at convincing much of the public (in the proletariat) that a populist bond of shared aspiration does indeed exist between them. The MICC prizes Individuals capable of this feat because they are more effective at social control by the leading of public opinion. This projection of illusion, basically a lie, is called "identity politics." Vanity leads many presidential contenders to overestimate their capabilities in this area, and the primary elections are intended to weed them out.

The third category of presidential candidates is that of independent and minor party candidates. We eliminate from further discussion the frivolous and delusional candidacies appearing on any ballot. There remain numerous individuals leading a wide variety of political parties with little if any actual political power, and independent candidates with some substantive platform. The three minor parties of most significance are the Constitution Party (paleoconservative, or authoritarian capitalist), the Green Party (center-left populist) and the Libertarian Party (anti-authoritarian capitalist). Two notable independent candidates today are Ralph Nader (a long-time and effective advocate for economic justice), running for US president, and Cindy Sheehan (today’s best-known US anti-war activist), running for California’s 8th congressional district seat in the US House of Representatives.

Honest minor party and independent candidates (we exclude the dishonest careerists from further consideration) seek to have their platforms of ideas widely accepted, whether or not they themselves advance to leadership roles by riding on the hypothetical flood tide of social transformation they advocate. Voting for a minor party or independent candidate is an endorsement of their platform. Since the US American empire is a hierarchy of greed managed by patronage, the only way to register your preference for a different model of national organization, through the electoral process, is to vote for an anti-imperialist or socialist minor party or independent candidate. In doing this you add to the popularity of the party or organization advocating the platform you support, and that organization may then reach the stature necessary in the U.S. to receive public funding. A vote for a minor party or independent candidate is a vote to "build the party" that carries the message, the platform, you believe in. In choosing to vote this way you choose to forsake registering an opinion on which of two styles of empire management is preferable.

So, you have three choices: 1, vote for the empire led by John McCain with a lumbering regressive politics; 2, vote for the empire led by Barack Obama with sophisticated regressive politics; 3, vote against the empire.

There are many minor parties and independent candidates, and the array spans the political spectrum. Some are anti-imperialist and/or democratic-socialist, and it is the combination of these that I indicate in choice 3. For completeness I should add choice 4: one could probably find and vote for minor parties unopposed to empire, and with narrow ideological, issue or regional focus. Applying a leftist bias, I discount this fourth choice.

We already know the most important outcome of the 2008 election, the headline could read: "Americans Overwhelmingly Endorse Empire!" Why? Because too many voters have internalized the indoctrination that instructs them to measure the efficacy of their elected representatives by the quantity of pork barrel slopped their way. It’s all about the money. Everybody wants their local federal grant, or highway repair, or school building fund in exchange for their vote; every politician wants those votes, as well as his or her campaign funds; and every capitalist wants political and regulatory favors in exchange for those campaign funds. The Duoploy continues not only because it can manipulate the apparatus of government to prevent parliamentary democracy, but because much of the public does not want to lose its share of the pork barrel occasionally cracked open for it, by shifting its allegiance to minor parties and independent candidates.

We voters make our electoral choices on the basis of biases that are rarely as dispassionate and principled as we declare. Racism is one obvious factor influencing electoral choices in the U.S. If we view bias as "thinking with your stomach," or "gut feel," then we can ask: what is any voter’s bias? A US industry revolves around this question.

Each individual’s dominant motivation will often combine the avoidance of their fears, which can involve prejudices and superstitions few admit openly today, and the grasping for objects (including money), status (self-esteem) and relationships that are idealized as desirable. People dominated by the grasping for wealth, and prone to xenophobia, will easily find that the Republican Party speaks for them. People dominated by a desire for protection against both impersonal natural forces and socially callous authoritarian, bureaucratic and capitalist organizations are more likely to be drawn to the Democratic Party. These are broad generalizations offered as suggestive, not exhaustive, descriptions.

Some portion of a voter’s preference will be based on the personal attributes of a candidate: race, military veteran status, age, ethnicity, assumed state of health, assumed sexual proclivities; and another portion of the preference will be based on the assumed benefits to be had with the victory of one or another party as regards: the personal pocketbook, the social impact, potential policy changes in an area of personal interest, pork barrel. "What’s in it for me?" So, after people vote in hopes of lowering their taxes, sheltering their capital gains, closing out undesirable populations from their comfortable neighborhood enclaves, or from the entire country, gaining advantages from foreign laborers cheaply, subsidizing their private liabilities at public expense, initiating new wars they anticipate profiting from, and in many other ways gaining exclusive preferences and subsidies, and giving free rein to their prejudices, they may seek sympathetic characterizations of their voting rationales because uttering the unvarnished truth would be too embarrassing.

We can surmise that most eligible voters, and many ineligible ones, already know how they would vote in November 2008, their major uncertainty is how to describe why they voted as they will, while maintaining the appearances that matter to them. Justifying a vote for McCain or against empire is trivial, raw capitalism and white power prefer the former, revolution the latter. More nuanced justifications are needed by Obama voters. Perhaps the simplest and sincerest justification would be a desire to elect an Afro-American president. Others could claim they are Democratic Party loyalists, hence automatic voters for Obama. This is an elastic rationale which can be conveniently stretched to cover over both ideological and pork barrel affinities. The most elaborate justifications would have to be by leftists and progressives, people who see themselves as anti-imperialists, who plan to vote for Obama as a way to vote against the McCain continuation of Bush-Cheneyism, thus of necessity casting ballots in favor of the empire. This conflict between self-image and political reality — Obama is an imperialist — has been oozing through its cocoon of denial in published commentaries that admit to "disillusion" and complain about Obama’s "shift to the right." Obama hasn’t changed, but for people who can’t yet face up to the fact that they deluded themselves, it is easier to ascribe the evaporation of their illusions to an undesirable shift in Obama’s political stance.

In fairness to the reader, let me state that my own bias is for an anti-imperial, anti-capitalist, socialist model of national organization. I do not expect most citizens of the United States to arrive at this conclusion in the foreseeable future. Given this view, it is illogical for me to vote for either John McCain or Barack Obama. With either one I get more war, and I will never again vote for war. Ralph Nader is my logical choice for president because he advocates what I want (Cindy Sheehan would be my choice for congress if I lived in Nancy Pelosi’s district).

Objectively, I realize that Ralph Nader will not win the election. So, is my vote wasted? Since it is my vote and I prefer to apply it to the support of the people who carry on the platform of ideas I would wish this nation to adopt, no. I understand how presumptuous Democrats may wish to commandeer my vote, with the excuse that as a leftist I should be a captive of their party, and vote for O’Clinton to spite McBush. They will wail that my vote for Nader is a wasted vote, perhaps even contributing to a Republican victory. But, I repeat, I will never again vote for war, and I will never again endorse the empire. I don’t care if I’m the only person in the country who votes against the empire. That will never be a wasted vote. "I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it, than vote for what I don’t want and get lots of it."

If I can do this, then so can you, and so could a majority of US voters, once they wake up.

MANUEL GARCIA, Jr. is a retired physicist. E-mail = mango@idiom.com