A Less Long And Rambling Response To Lesser Evil Voting

Photo Source Erik (HASH) Hersman | CC BY 2.0

I was pleased to see an article calling me long and rambling earlier this week. It was an article advocating lesser-evil voting by the underground humanist Chris Wright and can be read here. My original long and rambling article was on CounterPunch last week. I was so excited by a left hook from a leftist, I’d thought I’d respond!

Mr. Wright never says anything wrong in his article (his name is Wright after all). But like Noam Chomsky, he never addresses the more legitimate arguments against lesser evil voting. Wright really likes Noam, he linked to a beautiful piece he wrote on the good professor in his article. I like Noam too, but no one is preternatural, as Wright claims Chomsky is. Noam is, after all, basically a muggle with a big brain, but I digress.

For being so smart, Wright and Chomsky swipe at low-hanging fruit. Most of Wright’s article is establishing policy differences between Democrats and Republicans. While informative on specific issues, the overall point was pretty much useless if he was really trying to appeal to the other side of lesser evil voting. We all know Democrats are better than Republicans. If he was responding to me, I probably said that a dozen times in my long and rambling piece.

Wright’s article is titled “The Necessity of “Lesser-Evil” Voting”. So there is an implicit knowledge that all sides of the debate know that there is a lesser evil and a greater evil. Hence, the name. But what Wright and Chomsky fail to recognize is that the two parties are not better or worse on happenstance, but by design. A vote for the lesser evil is a vote against the greater evil. But it is also a vote for the system of lesser evil politics that basically gives the public no say in policy, while handing all power over to corporate interests.

It’s what Glen Ford calls a gentleman’s agreement between the two corporate parties. For lesser evil voting to remain legitimate, there has to be a difference between the two parties. It’s in the interest of both parties to show a difference from the other, because then someone who is politically inclined will choose the option they like best. If they were the same, why would anybody vote for either of them?

It’s just how any free market system works. Will McDonald’s and Burger King have the same burgers? Of course not. Neither of them would want to. Some people prefer the brand of liberalism, some people prefer the brand of conservatism.

Voting primarily works as a consumer-driven market in the U.S. these days. Buy Democrat or Republicans will kick out all the immigrants! Buy Republican or Democrats will open the border! One would be right to point out that these aren’t equal statements. Republicans will kick out the immigrants, which puts moral people in the position to vote Democrats. But Democrats will not open the borders, so the Republican ideology is always safe under the lesser evil system, which is one of the reasons one should despise it.

The next point by Mr. Wright was to blame Ralph Nader for George W. Bush. This was odd! But Wright was being logical, sticking to the Chomsky playbook. He counted the votes and concluded that if Nader hadn’t run, Gore would have won. It’s simple math. Once again, an obvious point that doesn’t cut to the core of the lesser evil system.

In this particular case, if one takes out all the variables except for Nader choosing to run, then yes, Gore is our President. Wright says there is a chance there was no Iraq war under Gore, but I disagree. Regardless, I’ll take Wright’s point that Gore was better than Bush. But, it’s so delusional to point to third party candidates as the reason Republicans win half the time.

For one, Wright refuses to address that Nader’s platform was closer to the ideology of the average American than either of the corporate parties. There was a way for Gore to get Nader’s votes: adopt his policies. Maybe Mr. Wright would respond by saying that Gore wouldn’t get any corporate money if he became like Nader, and therefore, would lose. Also a good point by the theoretical Mr. Wright. But, take the candidacy of a “remarkable” Bernie Sanders, who took no corporate money and was therefore seen as a victory by Chomsky. Chomsky saw Bernie as a victory, even though Bernie lost. But as soon as a third party candidate is in the race, and loses, without any corporate money to speak of, they are seen as a failure, and even blamed for the GOP. Is Bernie left off the hook because he is a Democrat?

Now there are outcomes to be achieved by candidates running without corporate money. Either they win outright or they become enough of a threat to the corporate parties that they have to adopt some of their platforms. Neither of these things will happen under the lesser evil voting philosophy. The third party doesn’t have to win to have an impact, but they have to be a legitimate threat. Undermining them before they become this is just sabotage. A vote for the lesser evil is a vote for corporate power.

Third parties are failing, but not for the reasons Wright claims. Third parties are failing because they are in the middle ground. A few people like them, but most people are too scared to go near them. If Wright/Chomsky had their way, they’d be dead and gone, and the Democrats would, in theory, have a better chance against the Republicans. But given the current state of affairs where fascist Republicans steal elections and bully Democrats all they want just to keep up, what is to say there wouldn’t be another gentlemen’s agreement to even the score if the Democrats did pull ahead in the absence of a third party? To the contrary, if more people voted third party, Democrats would have to appeal to us, or risk extinction.

Wright dumbs down third-party voters so much, it makes me wonder if the humans he met underground were humans at all: “The reason-defying power of ideological thinking is such that people are able to deny not only elementary morality (that you should prevent the worst possible outcome) but even elementary arithmetic. It’s remarkable.” Also, what’s with that word remarkable. And why do Chomsky and Wright keep remarking it?

After listing the differences between the two parties for a long time, Wright takes mercy on us. But he then goes into a philosophical discussion about degrees of evil, something Chomsky also did. A whole paragraph is devoted to the point of there are degrees of evil. As in there is such a thing as one thing being greater than the other. Chomsky was obsessed with this point too. But is this breaking new ground? I’ll return to burgers. It’s really about as silly a point as saying the Big Mac is bigger than another burger. Yes, obviously. It’s called a Big Mac. There is such thing as things being greater or less than. Who are we talking to now?

Then there is a purity argument. Another one we’ve all heard before that’s out of the mainstream media’s playbook. It’s a smear, and a dishonest one. I don’t think most people walk to the voting booth with the idea that they are washing their hands of sin because they vote third party. It’s really the other way around. When has anyone in the mainstream media made you feel guilty for voting Democrat? Vote for Democrat and you did you saved immigrants, one hears. Vote for Green and you killed the immigrants, one hears. Why repeat this rubbish as if it’s original, rather than a corporate talking point? If one wants to make a rational argument for voting Democrat, fine. There’s room to maneuver. But don’t pretend like the other side doesn’t care as much as you do.

Wright then moves to his strongest paragraph where he says that lesser-evil voting hasn’t caused a rightward shift in our politics. I would concur that at this point it’s a correlation, but not necessarily a causation. Wright correctly points out that a movement outside of election politics is needed. But he ruins his momentum when he says that Nader should only have run after a movement outside of the electoral politics is made. Why not both? And how on earth can one bury and blame people like Nader and expect the movement to grow? Is the movement supposed to happen magically? Why does the left continue to shoot itself in the foot before things even get started?

Wright then argues that electing Democrats is useful because it proves they are inadequate, and therefore that we need something better. First off, what is that something better if you are going to vote for the Democrat regardless? But the broader point is that in the duopoly consciousness we all live under, the only alternative to Democrats is Republicans. So when Democrats fail, we get Republicans, not socialists. I mean really, if Wright wants to point to the Democrats failings opening a door, why not leave it open? But for now, in our duopoly system, Democrats’ failure is the Republicans biggest weapon, and Republicans’ failure is the Democrats’ biggest weapon. The failure of Democrats directly led to the fascist Donald Trump.

In the last paragraphs, typical scare tactics are used. I sympathize with it. Republicans, especially Trump, are making things a whole lot worse for a whole lot of people. I have no problem with anyone who votes and campaigns for Democrats. I have in the past and will in the future, provided they aren’t funded by giant corporations. If there is a Green, even better.

However, the question remains: how do we get leverage in a lesser evil system? Organized resistance on the streets, yes. But what about electoral politics? Does the current system present options against fascism, or does it only provide roads to it? Let’s not forget that Donald Trump succeeded by pointing to political figures on both sides of the aisle and saying: you haven’t done enough. As long as politics remains as is, he can say those things and be right. As long as the corporate duopoly runs as currently constructed, the only opposition available to corporatism will be fascism. As long as left-wing populist movements are undermined by the Democrats, right-wing fascist populist movements will overtake the country. To overcome Trump, sustained courage will be needed, both in electoral politics and elsewhere. To help explain the left, Wright unsurprisingly links to a piece of writing he wrote called Thoughts On Stupidity. But maybe, Mr. Wright, stupidity isn’t the problem. Maybe people make stupid choices because there are stupid options.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com