The Banal Evil of Voting

by JOSHUA SPERBER

A 2004 Pew poll showed that while 38 percent of Americans would be reluctant to vote for a Muslim presidential candidate, an even greater percentage (52) would be reluctant to vote for a candidate who has no religion at all. This conviction that “wrong faith is better than no faith” is similar to the belief that underlies much of the liberal discourse on the presidential election. The typical Democrat, at least where I’m sitting, is likely to become far more irate with the non-voter than with the Romney voter. At least Republicans participate, even if they’re on the wrong side. Refusal to participate, by contrast, is deemed an irresponsible and scandalous affront. Fittingly, the liberal argument for voting is premised on a mixture of faith, bad faith, and fear.

The liberal’s “but you have to vote” appeal frequently begins with a melodramatic condemnation of Obama’s crimes: “I personally find drones to be ABHORRENT,” they claim, while also showing perfunctory disdain for indefinite detention, executive assassinations, global warming, the failure to close “Gitmo,” etc. This ostensible rejection of Democratic crimes is designed to show that your interlocutor is honest, decent, and reasonable. “Yet,” they steady themselves, “even you must agree that Romney would be far worse” – that is, even an atheist has to see that Christ is better than Allah! And if Obama and Romney are doomed to commit the same crimes, then we might as well pick the candidate who is better for things like abortion rights since we have no say in “all those other things anyway.” And isn’t that better than “doing nothing at all”?

The first response to this ubiquitous nonsense is that voting most certainly matters and so, therefore, does non-voting. Voting legitimizes the state and its atrocities in general and perpetuates a very specific type of rule in particular – one in which it is a faith-based given, rather than an urgent and profound political problem, that we have no influence on “all those other things” in the first place.

“Yes, in the long run you might be right that things have to change,” the liberal pretends to concede, but we must “be realistic and do what we can in the here and now. The revolution is not around the corner!” (This is of course disingenuous, as when revolutions develop liberals run the other direction. Nevertheless, let’s take them at their word). Yes, but by voting you are in fact working against radical transformation by sanctioning and thereby strengthening the institutions that meaningful change would necessarily oppose.

“No,” liberals insist, and here their faith severs them from reality. For they are not voting for all those bad things, just the good things, like gay marriage and abortion rights and all those issues that nine unelected people might decide for us (that nine unelected people can make important decisions for us is also just a part of “life” that is to be dutifully accommodated). And this ambivalent-vote mythology requires that you remind them that the ballot does not provide for caveats, asterisks, or policy checklists. That is, enjoying the benefits of voting for abortion “rights” (the Democrats oxymoronically promise to make these rights “inalienable” once they are in position to do so) necessitates that voters simultaneously take responsibility for Obama’s indefinite detentions, kill lists, and “disposition matrix.”

If your discussion with the liberal voter has progressed this far, you can expect to hear something like: “Well, this is why the day after I vote for Obama, I will hit the streets and work to stop all those bad things that Obama does. And you should join me!” And now, because we inhabit a surreal political society, we must ask them to explain the logic of intensifying a problem that they will then ostensibly “try” (how has the left fared with the Obama and Clinton Administrations?) to mitigate.

Perversely, liberals often attempt to shame non-voters with statements like: “If you don’t vote, then you have no right to complain.” But it’s really the voter who has forfeited this right. Voters choose who gets to decide; the content of those decisions is beyond their reach. If anyone needs to shut up then, it’s voters, as they are the ones who have given the president the power to do everything he’s done. And for all the liberal fear of Romney, it is in fact the vote for Obama that would legitimize a Romney presidency if the Republican wins. Merely by entering the game, the poker player waives his right to complain about the outcome after he loses. Liberals’ plaintive cry of “Then what do you suggest doing instead!” evokes a sexual harasser who when exhorted to stop harassing his employees asks, “Then who should I harass instead?”

In fact, when it comes to shame, it might be useful to consider posterity. Historians and moralizers furrow their brows over the riddle of why people voted for certain tyrants. Joachim Fest argues that Hitler, for example, was supported not for his anti-Semitism but in spite of it. And Fest’s conservatism doesn’t negate the fact that there was indeed no shortage of other anti-Semitic parties in 1932 Germany. But, assuming this was the case, are these Hitler-supporters exculpated by the fact that they only liked his economic policies, or perhaps his government’s research programs on cancer? Would any liberal today accept a Nazi-supporter’s explanation that he was not voting for world war and genocide but “against” the Stalinist KPD or only “for” the “good things”?

Of course, Obama is not Hitler. But this does not mean that future societies will not wonder why tens of millions of people repeatedly sanctioned a globally murderous and ecologically catastrophic political-economic system by dutifully choosing and thereby legitimizing its ruler. And it will appear even stranger that those doing the choosing insisted that they had no other choice.

Joshua Sperber lives in Brooklyn and can be reached at jsperber4@yahoo.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 03, 2015
Sal Rodriguez
How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms
Lawrence Ware
Leave Michael Vick Alone: the Racism and Misogyny of Football Fans
Dave Lindorff
Is Obama the Worst President Ever?
Vijay Prashad
The Return of Social Democracy?
Jeralynn Bluford
Quantitative Easing for People: Jeremy Corbyn’s Radical Proposal
Paul Craig Roberts
The Rise of the Inhumanes: Barron, Bybee, Yoo and Bradford
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine
Norman Pollack
American Jews and the Iran Accord: The Politics of Fear
John Grant
Sorting Through the Bullshit in America
David Macaray
The Unbearable Lightness of Treaties
Chad Nelson
Lessig Uses a Scalpel Where a Machete is Needed
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America