The American Way: Find a Candidate to Vote Against

Like many other Americans, I find it easier to vote against a candidate than for one.

Recently I saw a documentary film that illustrated my civic dilemma. A Perfect Candidate chronicled the 1994 race for the U.S. Senate in Virginia. The incumbent Democrat, Charles Robb, had lied about his affair with a teenage girl while governor, and about his use of cocaine.

Robb’s Republican opponent was Oliver North, who had admitted lying to Congress aboubt his treasonous Iran-Contra deals. The film showed his public confession of perjury during the televised congressional hearings on the matter, then caught him lying to Virginia schoolchildren during the campaign, denying that he had lied earlier. North continued to insist that he was proud of his role in Iran-Contra. These two morally challenged candidates were virtually tied in the race.

As one Virginia voter put it, having to choose between Robb and North was like choosing between “the flu or the mumps. The real question is when we’ll find a cure for what’s wrong with American politics.”

Robb won, leading North’s campaign manager, Mark Goodin, to conclude that he had not run a negative enough race. Not a pretty picture but, unfortunately, not exceptional in American politics.

As election day approaches, pundits predictably lament the ever-dwindling voter turnout. Fewer than half of eligible Americans bother to exercise their right to vote. Many of us understand that no candidate truly represents our interests.

The first year I could vote for a president was 1968. Vietnam War apologist Hubert Humphrey ran against Red Scare smearmeister Richard Nixon. The flu versus the mumps. I couldn’t choose.

In 1972 I voted to remove the Nixon-Agnew-Kissinger menace. Nixon won big but resigned two years later.

Out of the country in 1976, I failed to vote against Nixon’s pardoner. In 1980 I did vote against Ronald “Seen One Redwood You’ve Seen ‘Em All” Reagan, who had already degraded California’s environment, social programs and educational system. I voted against him in ’84 too, when he displayed his senility during the presidential debates. But most voters didn’t care about Reagan’s brain. They liked his smile.

In 1988 George H.W. Bush rode the Gipper’s coattails into office. In 1992 I voted to end the George and Danny Show, that deadly cynical vaudeville of wars, lies and stupidity. Compared with the Bush-Quayle plague, Bill Clinton felt like a spring sniffle.

Unable to keep any of his promises, by 1996 Clinton looked feverish too. But Bob Dole, who channeled the Great Depression, was also someone to sneeze at. I couldn’t drag myself to the polls for either of them.

Then came 2000. My favorite description of the Bush-Gore debates – and I’m sorry I’m not able to remember and credit my source here – was that Bush spoke English as if it were his second language and Gore spoke it as if it were your second language. The smirking jerk versus the condescending preppy. It’s amazing that as many voters turned up as they did, including those thousands of disenfranchised Floridians.

This year’s [2004] choice between two Yale Skull and Bones multi-millionaires would seem another futile exercise. Except that George W. Bush has shown enough contempt for most Americans to deserve ours. His reckless fiscal policies have weakened our country and impoverished many citizens. His Iraq war – based on lies – has killed and wounded thousands, with no end in sight. Yet he and his friends and family in and out of government continue to profit handsomely from those fiscal policies and that war. Enough already.

In the film, A Perfect Candidate, a minister admonishes his parishioners not to wait for “a perfect candidate” or they will never vote for anyone. But we need not wait. George W. Bush is the perfect candidate to vote against.


2016. Well, we all know how that went. I voted against Butthead in 2004 but the Rove machine shoehorned him back in anyway, thanks to dubious practices in Ohio and other places. And the Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice misalliance reigned and poured and pillaged and whored for another four years of shameless anti-Constitutional horror.

The choice in 2008 was simple: an aged warrior, hell-bent for conflict at the hint of an Islamic sneeze, versus an articulate former law professor who made a simple, obvious pitch for “Hope and Change.” John McCain had already wrecked three airplanes and suffered years of torture in a Vietnamese prison when he flippantly picked Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.

It seemed like a brilliant choice for about two minutes, until Palin opened her mouth. Then it was clear McCain’s penchant for wreckage and torture still determined his course. His era had already ended, as a 72-year-old nominee with his backup full of sound and fury. Yes, she was female. No, she wasn’t lucid.

Obama would have won a landslide except that he is black, which immediately alienated an angry chunk of the electorate. “With their guns and their Bibles,” as Obama noted. Another minority taking a white man’s job. Not even a real American. The conservative establishment, and the yahoo-racist-fringe who make up much of their base, dedicated themselves to oppose his every move, as they continue to do eight years later.

Sadly, my hope quickly faded. Change did not include prosecuting the war criminals who had trampled our Constitutional values, or immediately stopping our illegal, immoral wars in the Middle East. Drone warfare, prosecutions of whistle blowers and the failure to close Guantanamo showed that Obama lacked the will or the clout to make good on his electoral mantra. The only people more naïve than I was in 2008 were the members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, who thought not being Bush was enough to merit all the marbles.

In 2012 I intended to withhold my vote from Obama, who had left me disappointed and disillusioned. I had voted for Hope and Change and all I got was this lousy t-shirt. Obama was Bush-Lite, smarter and smoother, without the thuggish cronies – except for Rahm Emmanuel – but with no intention of curbing the excesses of the “intelligence” services or restoring justice to our illegal detainees or international relations.

Mitt Romney came off the Republican assembly line, with his newly-tailored conservative positions, many of which contradicted his previously stated beliefs. Another anything-to-win bot who could not keep a civil tongue in his head. Noblesse oblige never sounded so insincere. But polls showed the race apparently close. How could that be? Yes, Obama was a disappointment, but this ruling-class bozo had no principles beyond his own ambition. Like Bill Clinton! So reluctantly, I had to pull the lever for Obama again, dammit.

And now it’s 2016, the Gotterdammerung election. I felt the Bern early. He’s the first candidate to whom I’ve ever given money. He’s not perfect (see above) but he understands and articulates the dilemmas of most Americans. He champions values I believe in, making greater opportunities available to more people, helping the poorest among us, relieving students of the crippling debt they incur at our increasingly corporate universities. He’s not afraid to tell the truth. But our military-industrial junta will not permit the ascension of Senator Sanders.
Hillary Clinton is a corporate candidate, owned and operated by the largest banks and corporations in the country. She offers no hope for the majority of the electorate, no possibility of change. She’ll prosecute whatever wars the Pentagon desires. She mentions human rights only as a talking point. Like her husband, and Romney, and most politicians, she will say anything to win. Then she’ll play ball with her sponsors and betters. Plus ca change…

The Republicans have finally offered up a full-blown fascist to front their party. Donald Trump may or may not be the loud-mouthed bully he portrays on the campaign trail, but that persona accounts for his popularity among the fellaheen. He has released the American id, that evil genie long bottled up by an ever-more-tenuous civility. Trump is urging his followers to grab their pitchforks (or uzis) and follow him to storm the ramparts of… whatever.

Smack down any minorities who get in your way. Or mouthy women. I’ll take care of any legal bills. Then we’ll change the laws anyway. Make America Great Again! Damn the specifics, full speed ahead. Fuck the Chinese! Fuck the Muslims! The Mexicans! The media! Fuck ‘em all. “Go back to fuckin Auschwitz,” as one of his disciples shouted on video.

So that’s our choice this year: a phony corporate shill or a bigoted Nazi thug. How did it come to this? Whoever wins, America loses. Idealism – even as a rhetorical stance – has become outmoded. And that is a grievous loss of a bedrock American value. Having long shadowed our hopes and dreams, cynicism has finally triumphed over them. Marx could not have foreseen this speeded-up American historical convergence of tragedy and farce in the same moment.
This kind of psychic climate change renders any real environmental – or educational or judicial or humanitarian – progress moot. The revulsion will be televised.

In the last days of the embattled Third Reich, Hitler’s scientists raced to develop monster destructive weapons that could reverse the course of the war. Whoever wins this U.S. election will already have such weapons at his or her command, of a power beyond Hitler’s wildest imagining. Our government officials have already proven themselves incapable of judgment or restraint in the name of national security. Neither Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump can be trusted to exercise appropriate adult supervision. And Jill Stein doesn’t have a chance.

With too many candidates to vote against, what’s an inveterate nay-sayer supposed to do?

James McEnteer’s most recent book is Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty DepartmentHe lives in Quito, Ecuador.