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With the (likely) reelection of Barack Obama only a week off, do any Obama supporters have anything but lesser evil arguments to offer in his behalf?
The ever loyal Melissa Harris-Perry does. She wrote in The Nation (Nov. 5) that Obama’s reelection will be good for race relations, even if, as she more or less concedes, his “race neutral” policies are, at best, only indirectly helpful to victims of institutional racism. But apart from sophistries like hers, the answer is: no. Obama will likely win for one reason only: because Romney and the Republicans are (or seem) worse to more voters than vice versa.
If you don’t believe me, witness the pro-Obama screeds in The Nation (Oct. 22) or the comments on the upcoming election by New York Review of Books luminaries in the Nov. 8 edition. Or, if you are of a masochistic bent, tune in any weeknight to the Democratic Party cheerleaders on MSNBC. Even Rachel Maddow is at a loss to find anything more cheery to do than riff on the lesser evil argument a thousand different ways.
Romney supporters are lesser evilists too. The difference is that they are more impassioned – because the very thought of a person of color in the White House unnerves them. And if that weren’t bad enough, the interloper has an Ivy League education and his middle name is Hussein. Add a Kenyan father, and an evil demon could not concoct a better recipe for rattling a Tea Partier’s cage.
No doubt, there are a few Obama supporters who can still work up a little enthusiasm for the man; anything is possible. And Romney does have the enthusiastic support of the hyper-rich who want one of their own in the White House, and of lesser rich folk who resent Obama’s rare “populist” lapses, and who complain that they are down to their last millions.
The feelings of these miscreants are easily hurt and they fret that, under “socialist” Obama, they many not be able to go on living in the style to which they have become accustomed. Greedy bastards that they are, they like Romney, and Republicans generally, for their views on marginal tax rates.
In addition, there are scattered pockets of Romney-boosters out on or beyond the fringe. I am especially peeved at the ones who overflow my junk mail box with semi-literate, racist harangues. It serves me right for going to my High School reunion only to find that some of the kids I used to know have turned into geriatric, islamophobic Zionists who like the fact that Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu, “king “of the ethnocrats, formed a close relationship years ago in Boston, while the two of them were learning the dark arts of vulture capitalism.
Those demented souls should be careful of what they wish for. If Romney really does believe the snake oil he professes, they and he will never quite see eye to eye on who the Chosen People are or, for that matter, on where the Promised Land is. But, as long as Romney tows the Likud line, they evidently don’t care.
After all, these are people who make common cause even with evangelicals who look forward to the end time – it should be here any day now! — when the Loving God will rededicate the Holy Land to the people of Israel, the better to smite those among them who refuse to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.
But voters who identify with the Romneys or whose moral and intellectual capacities resemble Sheldon Adelson’s or my former schoolmates’ are few in number. The vast majority of Romney supporters hate Romney. They hate him for his Mormonism and for his supercilious ways. They hate him for the obvious contempt he has for them. But they support him because – for all the wrong reasons — they hate Obama more.
* * *
Has there ever been a presidential election where there was so much animosity, and so little enthusiasm?
Let Romney voters ponder the answer on their own; this late in the game, there is no point trying to talk sense to them.
For anyone of sound mind and decent instincts, Romney is simply not an option. The sorry fact that he is an option for some fifty percent of the voting public is an issue better addressed after the election is over, whether or not Romney voters get the chance to experience voter remorse.
For everyone else, everyone for whom voting Republican is unthinkable, the question is what to do on November 6. There are three options: vote for Obama, vote for Jill Stein or some other third party candidate, or don’t vote at all. For different reasons, they are all bad choices. But a choice must be made.
By now, everything there is to say for and against these choices has been said – ad nauseum.
Lesser evilist Obama supporters have made their case in every imaginable way, exercising all the ingenuity they can muster. Those of us who are unmoved by their arguments have also said just about everything there is to say.
That would include the idea that it is not clear that Obama really is the lesser evil all things considered – because a Romney victory would likely put some backbone back into the Democratic Party and because it would reanimate the Occupy movements – their spirit, if not their form — if the U.S. government and the one percent (or its most noxious sector, the one percent of the one percent) were not just of one mind but of one body as well.
It has also been argued that while lesser evilism may be a sound policy, and while Obama may be the lesser evil, there are thresholds that must be respected, degrees of awfulness that even lesser evilists must not exceed. Inventories of President Drone’s doings amply support the conclusion that he doesn’t meet the standard. I need hardly go back over the evidence; readers of CounterPunch know the litany well. Most pro-Obama lesser evilists do too.
Finally there is the argument that even if Obama is the lesser evil, and even if he hasn’t been that bad or, more plausibly, if it doesn’t matter how bad he has been so long as Romney is worse, lesser evilism must be resisted because it contributes to the vicious cycle that is running American politics into the ground.
Because there is merit to all of these contentions – those that support voting for Obama for lesser evil reasons and those that resist that conclusion — and because there is a consensus on the relevant matters of fact, the debate is probably unresolvable.
To be sure, Republicans seem hell bent on doing their utmost to make the lesser evil pro-Obama case the strongest of the lot. To assuage traditional Republican voters who still have some of the sense they were born with and to win over those vaunted “undecided” moderates, every once in a while – for example, during the third “debate” — Romney does try just a little to etch-a sketch his way out of the Tea Party corner into which he has painted himself. He will likely lose the election because, thanks partly to his own shameless pandering, that has become a hopeless task.
Tea Partiers may come straight out of Morons R’Us, but they are not as easily “neutralized” as the base Obama and his advisors love to diss. They hate Romney already, and it wouldn’t take much to make them turn against him by staying home on Election Day.
Does that make the lesser evil case for Obama stronger than the others? I don’t think so. I think the anti-Obama case is stronger.
I also think that voting Green is a no-brainer for “progressives” who live in states where the electoral votes are already effectively assigned – that is, for everyone not in the ten or so “battleground states.” But I would readily concede that voting for Stein is a futile gesture. I personally will make that gesture; it seems the least bad thing to do in the circumstances. But it is far from a happy choice.
In my view, even not voting is a more plausible option than taking the lesser evil route. The problem, though, is that it isn’t clear what message that would convey; not in a country where so few eligible voters turn out anyway.
That’s one reason to take the third party route. Another is that most voters will have some reason to vote for, not just against, something on the ballot — some local or statewide referendum or maybe even some candidates for local or statewide offices. Since you’re there anyway, and since voting for somebody other than Obama conveys a clearer message than not voting for President at all, my suggestion is just to vote Green.
But I can appreciate how others would conclude differently, and even how the lesser evil option might seem the most compelling.
* * *
The one sure thing is that November 6 will bring bad news. The good news is that is that it will be over soon – and real politics, the kind the broke out in 2011 in Wisconsin and other states where Republican governors took aim at public unions and later with Occupy Wall Street and its many counterparts, can finally resume.
When it does, it should be clearer than is was a year ago, to lesser evilists as well as to their critics, that Barack Obama is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
We should all be able to agree too that the old blather about Obama wanting to do the right thing, but being unable (because “we” haven’t done our part to enable him) is nonsense.
We should all realize that while he may not have any principled objection to public sector unions, he’ll do nothing to help them; and that while he may not favor increasing inequality, he’ll do nothing to reverse it.
After this electoral circus, the evidence is overwhelming. Obama will do anything to help himself and he will do his best to help his corporate paymasters, both real and “aspirational.” But that’s all.
We should all be able to agree, therefore, that Obama wants what Romney wants. The one may be more noxious than the other, but they are of one mind.
And so, the task for “progressives” is not, as Obama boosters say, to “guard his back” so that he can finally take up the cause of “hope” and “change.” It’s to do instead just what it would be if Romney were somehow to win – to make it impossible for Obama to pursue the retrograde policies he favors.
This would involve, first of all, giving the Peace Laureate no peace until he actually moves to restrain, not enhance, the juggernaut; and to end, not repackage, the Bush-Obama wars. It would involve struggling to restore the rule of law and the protections afforded by the Constitution of the United States. In those regards, as even lesser evilists know, Obama has been worse even than Bush.
But this is just the beginning. On every “issue” that would have been discussed by our presidential candidates were our democracy not a sham — from climate change and other environmental catastrophes in the making to bankster racketeering and corporate predations – Obama is on the wrong side. Maybe Romney would be even worse; maybe not. Maybe that’s a reason to vote for Obama; maybe not. What is certain is that, in a week’s time, worries like that will become moot. And real politics will become timely again.
That is a point on which pro-Obama lesser evilists and their critics should agree, just as we should all be able to agree on how to think about Obama, and what to do to block or reverse the pro-one percent policies he, like Romney, will promote.
Of course, some of them will remain recalcitrant, taken in by their own sophistries and apologetics. I wouldn’t count on MSNBC pundits getting better any time soon, and the same goes for most of The New York Review grandees. But everyone else, everyone not too invested in the Democratic Party – the pro-Obama Nation writers, for example – should be able to take full measure of the enemy, and to react accordingly.
And so should almost everyone else who will vote for the putative lesser evil next week. The sooner they are all back on board, the better. Romney voters are right about one thing, after all: the last thing we need is four more years of the same.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).