Voting as though reality matters

Matt Stoller thinks this would be a good time to vote for a third-party candidate.  His case, approximately, comes in two parts.  The first is a sheet of charges against Obama for bad things he did and good things he didn’t do in his first term (some of which are a little naïve about what actual presidential power), all of which grade him on an absolute scale. Observations like this are not without value as guidance for a second term, or just interesting policy discussion that makes participants smarter.   No great harm done here, and I myself deplore Obama’s environmental non-record and much else. But this stuff is entirely vacuous as guides to action: to decide what to do we need measures that obey the “compared to what?” rule, in this case comparing Obama to Romney, not to the paladin of your imagining.  Opinion formation and schmoosing are not at all like making decisions (irretrievable commitments of resources to one alternative rather than another).

What makes this column one of the worst pieces of discourse on the left in this election cycle is the second part, where Stoller gets up on a high horse of principle and starts advocating actually voting for third-party candidates who cannot possibly win.  It is a cascade of mush-headed apocalyptic dreaming about how things might be if they weren’t the way they are: vague, romantic claptrap from a dream world.  The alternative to Obama in this election is not a revolution of progressives seizing the nation and saving it, it is four or even eight years of accelerated income disparity, two supreme court appointments of Neanderthals, horrific oppression of women, quite possibly a military adventure in Syria and Iran, and submergence of those progressives for decades. That is the alternative on the ground, no matter what fairy stories anyone wishes to tell around the campfire of the apocalyptophile meeting.   

It is also an exercise in arrogant, self-important posturing and preening, and particularly distasteful coming from a white man with a job, because the rain that will fall in a Romney administration will not fall nearly as much on the male intellectual upper middle class as it will on women and the poor.  There’s a long history of smart people with morals and a good sense of strategy and tactics moving the world in the right direction, but there is also a long history of people to whom nothing is more important than looking in the mirror at their ineffable personal purity and high standards, who think that because Grandma would be a streetcar if she had wheels, it’s OK to jump on her back for a ride, and who have either made no difference whatever, or done some real damage.  Any sane person could predict that the Florida vote would be very close in 2000: the 60,000 Nader voters there who would otherwise have voted Gore and swamped Bush’s 500-0dd margin were not heroes of right and principle to admire, they are self-indulgent jerks who, I hope, have spent the last twelve years in shame and guilt.   As Little Fauss  explains to Big Halsy, “No. It’s not how you look; it’s how you do.”

When we start up a faculty search, we always get confused about what we are up to, and try to put everything we want into the job description, but when real live candidates show up, we realize we are engaged in a selection process, not a design exercise. Elections are the same way, choosing between the real alternatives on the table, and playing fantasy candidate remodeling is not a harmless diversion when it gets into a voting booth. Just as it is a moral fault to pretend climate change isn’t happening in the face of facts and science, because actions have consequences, it is not harmless but vicious to do politics, including voting, as though the world were completely different from the way it really, demonstrably is.  Voting a third-party candidate in a non-parliamentary system in a close state, which is where Stoller wants you to act out this fantasy, is doing everything you can – short of pulling the R lever – to trash your country no matter what purity of motive you want to cloak it in.

Comments

  1. kate says

    There are some times when people decide that they can’t in good conscious vote for the lesser of two evils (eg. if the only viable candidates supported slavery). Obama’s drone strike policy, which Romney would continue, is arguably such an issue. I can respect someone who decides that that policy is a deal-breaker for them.

    Also, if one lives in a solidly blue or red state (as most of us do), there is nothing to be lost by voting third party. In fact, a strong showing by the greens in states like CA and MA could shift the conversation in interesting ways, without increasing the danger of a Romney presidency.

    That being said, despite the fact that I’m in a solidly blue state, I voted for Obama over Jill Stein. But, the choice was not a no-brainer for me and I might make a different decision in future.

    • Ebenezer Scrooge says

      What Kate says. Although I’m voting for Jill Stein.

      It’s possible to have a productive third party in an essentially two-party system, especially in a state like New York that allows cross-endorsements of candidates. The third party has to pick its fights very carefully, and do a lot of work at the local level. In other words, third-party politics is no place for starry purists.

      • says

        “especially in a state like New York that allows cross-endorsements of candidates”

        Which is precisely why I will vote for Obama – and every other candidate as I have on the last three election cycles – on the Working Families Party line.

    • cavenewt says

      I live in Wyoming, and my presidential vote has never mattered. If I lived in a swing state, I would vote for Obama. As it is, I’m going to write in Rocky Anderson, just to add a little data point for alternative parties.

      I encourage everyone to contact their state representatives and talk up the National Popular Vote bill. This would bypass the Electoral College, the cause of our deplorable presidential campaigns, without requiring a constitutional amendment. Then everyone’s vote would matter, not just Ohioans’. http://www.nationalpopularvote.com

  2. Freeman says

    Here we go again. More demonization of those who won’t “vote right”, meaning vote the way the author wants us to vote.

    Voting a third-party candidate in a non-parliamentary system in a close state, which is where Stoller wants you to act out this fantasy, is doing everything you can – short of pulling the R lever – to trash your country no matter what purity of motive you want to cloak it in.

    O’Hare says the only thing more morally wrong than voting for a third party that can’t possibly win is voting for the R candidate. Well thank you very much for dictating our votes to us, Michael! Who do you think you are, a preacher?

    The alternative to Obama in this election is not a revolution of progressives seizing the nation and saving it, it is four or even eight years of accelerated income disparity, two supreme court appointments of Neanderthals, horrific oppression of women, quite possibly a military adventure in Syria and Iran, and submergence of those progressives for decades. That is the alternative on the ground, no matter what fairy stories anyone wishes to tell around the campfire of the apocalyptophile meeting.

    This paragraph pretty much proves Brett Bellmore’s point about election-fueled foolishness at the RBC. O’Hare gives us an apocalyptic laundry list of evils that he says will happen if we heed those “fairy stories anyone wishes to tell around the campfire of the apocalyptophile meeting” he imagines brainwashing folks into casting immoral votes. Talk about “a cascade of mush-headed apocalyptic dreaming about how things might be if they weren’t the way they are: vague, romantic claptrap from a dream world”. In O’Hare’s dream world, the only moral vote is for a candidate who insults one’s sense of morality because it’s immoral to vote in ways he disapproves, and he wishes there were only two choices instead of the way things are, with alternatives appearing on the ballot and write-in votes allowed.

    Any sane person could predict that the Florida vote would be very close in 2000: the 60,000 Nader voters there who would otherwise have voted Gore and swamped Bush’s 500-0dd margin were not heroes of right and principle to admire, they are self-indulgent jerks who, I hope, have spent the last twelve years in shame and guilt.

    Any sane party, having lost crucial votes to a candidate with a different message, thereby losing the election, would look inwardly and try to learn something from the experience, rather than look outwardly for someone else to blame it on. Grow up already. If Democrats haven’t “spent the last twelve years in shame and guilt” over losing the election by ignoring the voices of those voters within their own base, why should those voters feel anything other than a reflection of the contempt they’ve been served?

    RBC commenters: “Self-indulgent jerk” is on the OK list of insults! Please, allow me: Michael O’Hare is a self-indulgent jerk for presuming to tell us how to vote by attempting to shame us out of voting our consciences.

    • matt w says

      O’Hare says the only thing more morally wrong than voting for a third party that can’t possibly win is voting for the R candidate. Well thank you very much for dictating our votes to us, Michael! Who do you think you are, a preacher?

      Why do you think it is inappropriate for O’Hare to make a moral judgment about the right way to vote?

      • Freeman says

        He’s free to make moral judgments for himself, of course. I was pointing out that it’s a bit preachy to say that other people are immoral because of how they vote. The other guy has just as much right to vote any way he wants, and for any reason he wants, as I do, and I don’t feel I have the right to judge someone else’s morality based on how they vote. O’Hare said Nader voters should feel shame and guilt, so that’s how I took it.

        • MobiusKlein says

          They should feel shame because their actions of voting for Nader in 2000 led to results that were contrary to their stated desires.
          Just like I feel shame for my mistakes, errors, and misjudgements.

          And we told them it would happen in 2000, for the record.
          If Nader voters approve of the years 2001-2009, they are free to not feel shame.

        • matt w says

          You don’t seem to understand the concept of a moral judgment. When I make a moral judgment that certain actions are wrong — murder, slavery, lying, not doing the least you can do to prevent a lunatic death cult from gaining control over the country — then I am judging that no one should perform these actions. I wouldn’t say “My moral judgment is that murder is wrong, but it’d be a bit preachy to say that other people are immoral because they murder people. I don’t feel that I have the right to judge someone else’s morality base on the way they murder people.” That would be silly. I think murderers should feel shame and guilt!

          This distinguishes morality from things like religion (for pluralists like myself), taste, and even personal codes of conduct. When I decide that I ought to do something because of one of these things, I don’t think that that gives anyone else a reason to act. No one else has a reason to follow my religion. If you think voting is like this — my vote is entirely my own business, and no one should tell anyone else that their vote or their reason for voting is wrong — then you don’t think people ought to be making moral judgments about voting. Given how consequential the effects of voting are, I disagree very strongly, but in any case your position is that voting is not a matter of morality.

          This is all of course completely irrelevant to the question of whether anyone has a right to do anything. People have a right to do many immoral things. They don’t have a right to murder or own slaves, but they do have a right to lie (in most cases) and to vote Republican or for the third party (given that they’re qualified voters). A moral judgment is a judgment that people should not do such things.

          • Freeman says

            Sure I understand moral judgment. It goes something like this: Every time innocent women and children attending weddings are killed by drone strikes, it’s on you because of your moral failing in voting for the President who ordered them. Did I get that right? No doubt each report of such tragedy fills you with a sense of personal guilt and remorse, amirite? You have the right to vote for whomever you please, but if you think think that means you can vote for an “unapproved” candidate just because she appears on the ballot, you’ll find it’s considered perfectly fair and intellectually honest for others to condemn you for it. Got it! Thanks for the lesson.

    • says

      Any sane party, having lost crucial votes to a candidate with a different message, thereby losing the election, would look inwardly and try to learn something from the experience, rather than look outwardly for someone else to blame it on.

      You expect a multi-headed political party composed of emotional, often illogical human beings to look inwards, reflect like a sane solitary individual, and then adjust their collective beliefs to recapture 60,000 voters?
      And then you follow that giddy premise up with the sentence: “Grow up already.”?

      Otay…

      My own sense is you are making the correct argument for the wrong reasons. O’Hare is mistaken because he hasn’t sensed that once someone has determined to flush their vote on a third party candidate there is absolutely no logic that will dissuade them. That’s because the decision to toilet one’s vote is emotional rather than logical: “A pox on both their houses! I’m taking the noble route!” That sort of magical retribution thinking is beyond any sort of reality-based catechism. O’Hare should know this. Although in fairness to him, I understand too why it’s fun to kick at that particular hive of boasting bees…

      I’ve learned this over the years: Third party folks are a high and noble and pure sort. They bleed truth. They write in purple. They’ve got the righteous religion of change pulsing in their veins.
      And that’s all “bully” good news for them. But there is even better news for us: Their vote squandering rarely affects the real world. And this election third party votes will be as irrelevant as ever.
      It’s Game. Set. Obama.

      • Anonymous says

        Koreyel, you nailed it. I had a friend who in the 2000 election drove 100 miles across Florida to her home precinct to cast a vote for Ralph Nader.

      • Freeman says

        You expect a multi-headed political party composed of emotional, often illogical human beings to look inwards, reflect like a sane solitary individual, and then adjust their collective beliefs to recapture 60,000 voters? And then you follow that giddy premise up with the sentence: “Grow up already.”?

        I did say any sane party, didn’t I?

        Nader got 2.9 million votes nationwide. 2.75% of the total and 5.5% of the number each major candidate got. 60,000 was just the Florida votes that swung the election. According to O’Hare, those were supposed to have been Dem votes. So that’s five and a half percent of the party taking their votes elsewhere. From what I’ve seen of the polls lately, neither major party can afford to lose 5% of their base. So perhaps somebody should be paying more attention to all the third-party chatter going on this election cycle instead of trying to fight it through shame and ridicule. People who have made the decision to cast a third-party vote aren’t going to be persuaded to vote your way by insulting them. Just sayin…

        That’s because the decision to toilet one’s vote is emotional rather than logical: “A pox on both their houses! I’m taking the noble route!” That sort of magical retribution thinking is beyond any sort of reality-based catechism. O’Hare should know this. Although in fairness to him, I understand too why it’s fun to kick at that particular hive of boasting bees…

        Wow, it’s like you can look into my soul and feel my emotions — NOT! I vote for the candidate who I decide best represents my interests. It has nothing to do with emotion, otherwise I would feel the emotional need to vote for someone I thought had a better chance of winning. So tell me, what’s behind your decision to toilet your vote on someone who doesn’t represent your interests? You do realize that fear that the other guy would be worse is an emotional response, right? Just sayin…

        I’ve learned this over the years: Third party folks are a high and noble and pure sort. They bleed truth. They write in purple. They’ve got the righteous religion of change pulsing in their veins.
        And that’s all “bully” good news for them. But there is even better news for us: Their vote squandering rarely affects the real world. And this election third party votes will be as irrelevant as ever.

        Ah, compliments! Thanks, feels good!

        Wasn’t the Republican party a third-party once? Just sayin…

        • navarro says

          i’m sorry freeman but i still think you’re ignoring the operative part of this post’s title, reality. if it really doesn’t matter to you whether the republican party gets control of nominating supreme court justices and signing off on right-wing legislation then we have nothing left to talk about when it comes to this election. if those things do matter to you then vote obama. do you really think we were better off with the gwb presidency than we would have been with a gore presidency? do you think we’d be living in an identical world to the one we currently inhabit if gwb had never been in power from 2001-2005? i think the answer to both is no. i tend to believe we’d be in a better place now if gore had been president for even 4 years. reality does matter.

          now if you live in a blue state that’s going to go with obama by a huge amount and you want to throw a vote for the green party or what have you, okay, go ahead. or if you live in a place like texas, where i live, which probably won’t even give 30% of the vote to obama i can see it wouldn’t matter much. but if you live in a state where the vote is close and you throw your vote to some third party because obama isn’t liberal enough i feel no compunction against labeling you, and anyone who votes like you, as irresponsible in the extreme. rationalize it all you like but if obama loses to romney because of the actions of voters like you, well, you are worthy of all the contempt, scorn, and ridicule that can be heaped upon you.

          and as for your statement “you do realize that fear that the other guy would be worse is an emotional response, right?” i reject it with the objective reality of what the modern republican party is, and despite my disagreements with the obama approach those disagreements are tiny compared to my exhaustive disapproval of what the republican party stands for. i can only hope that third party votes will be irrelevant because if they’re not the third party voters will have much to answer for.

          • Freeman says

            Well you see, it’s like this. I don’t share your certainty that things would have been better under Gore. I don’t feel that they’re better under Obama than they were under Bush. I’m not happy with the Republican party but I’m no happier with the Democrats. I know good, upstanding, moral, sane people as well as bat-shit crazies on both sides of the isle, I have loved one on both sides, and I don’t see either side as particularly morally superior to the other. The FACT that partisans are all arguing that the other side is EVEN WORSE than theirs demonstrates a profound lack of morality conceded by both sides. My perception of reality recognizes that I’m free to vote for whomever I think is best regardless of their probability of winning because my single vote will not decide the outcome in any case. You’re free to heap all the contempt, scorn, and ridicule on me that you can muster, but I’m fully aware that you’re powerless to make me feel any shame or humiliation that I don’t agree I should feel, and that’s not very likely because you haven’t made a rational case, you’ve made a hysterical one.

            As far as third-party voters having anything to “answer for”, whaddaya gonna do, big shot?

          • navarro says

            if you really don’t see a difference between the record of behaviors of the republicans and the democrats over the past 40-50 years, and particularly the last 20 years, well, i don’t know whether to pity you or envy you.

            and as for “whaddaya gonna do”

            give you my contempt, scorn, and ridicule whether you feel it or not.

          • Freeman says

            if you really don’t see a difference between the record of behaviors of the republicans and the democrats over the past 40-50 years, and particularly the last 20 years, well, i don’t know whether to pity you or envy you.

            Take your pick, but if you’ll go back and re-read you might find that isn’t what I said at all. I said “I don’t see either side as particularly morally superior to the other.” You seem to disagree with that, so I’m guessing we aren’t judging party morality by the same criteria. Fine by me. I tend to prefer progressive policy over conservative in many cases, but I don’t generally factor morality into the decision-making process a whole lot, there being a stark lack of such quality in all political stripes.

            and as for “whaddaya gonna do” give you my contempt, scorn, and ridicule whether you feel it or not.

            Ooh, impotent rage! Should be fun. Looking forward to it. It’ll be about as effective as you consider my vote. Bonus if Romney wins, I’ll get to mock you for wasting your vote on a loser while you waste your time blaming me for it.

          • navarro says

            you, sir, seem to not be paying attention to some of the nuances of my last comment so i will clarify. first, none of my comments on this thread have made any kind of moral judgements about you or your voting behavior. if you wish to quibble about my labeling you as irresponsible that would be a different matter but i make no claim of being the guardian of your moral sense. i, too, prefer progressive outcomes to conservative outcomes and i see the best chance for those as coming from a democratic victory and i think that if your vote allows romney to win that your actions will be at variance to your desires which would seem to be a defining aspect of irresponsibility.

            as for the “impotent rage” designation, i think you might have misconstrued my intent which was to say that i have no power over you other than my disapproval but that you would have that in full measure.

          • Freeman says

            you, sir, seem to not be paying attention to some of the nuances of my last comment so i will clarify. first, none of my comments on this thread have made any kind of moral judgements about you or your voting behavior. if you wish to quibble about my labeling you as irresponsible that would be a different matter

            I don’t believe I accused you of morally judging me in particular. I just read your raving about “third party voters” having “much to answer for” and I wondered where you thought you got off threatening to hold others accountable for who they freely chose to vote for, and I wondered what you thought you were going to back it up with. Now you’ve got me curious about this moral code that separates itself from the issue of responsibility. How does that work, where irresponsibility is not a moral issue? What is it then?

            i think that if your vote allows romney to win that your actions will be at variance to your desires which would seem to be a defining aspect of irresponsibility.

            I think that if your vote is cast for Obama then your actions will be at greater variance to your desires than necessary no matter who wins, that you are free to do so in any case for whatever reasons satisfy you, which you need not justify to me or anyone else, and if I want to make value judgments about someone’s vote I have my own to consider, which I feel should be my top concern since it’s the one I have the most influence over by far.

            i have no power over you other than my disapproval but that you would have that in full measure

            With great power comes great responsibility. Use your power wisely. ;)

  3. Marc says

    No, just the fact that there are real world consequences for advocating a course of action that will enable the worse party to win.

    You see, there are other people in the world than you, special snowflake.
    Coalition politics doesn’t work when a faction demands absolute allegiance and abandons the coalition when a candidate doesn’t agree with them.
    Note the Republican example: the far right tries hard to win primaries, but they don’t abandon the Republican for third parties if the candidate isn’t perfect for them. See Romney, Mitt for a recent example.

    If you spend all of your time attacking Democrats you’re not “the base.”

    If you can’t recognize the catastrophic consequences of the disastrous Nader 200 campaign then you’re, at best, willfully blind.

    And if you advocate repeating disastrous past actions again you can expect to be criticized for doing so, especially in a high-stakes election.

    • Anonymous says

      You see, there are other people in the world than you, special snowflake.

      Randian Libertarianism reduced to rubble in a single sentence…well said.

    • bobbyp says

      Coalition politics doesn’t work when a faction demands absolute allegiance and abandons the coalition when a candidate doesn’t agree with them.

      Exactly. cf Joe Leiberman’s re-election in 2006. Apparently the allegiance you seem to be demanding only works in one direction. Subsequent events do show that election to have had serious consequences. Where is the outrage?

  4. bobbyp says

    It is vitally important, right before the “most important election in history” (like 1860, 1896, 1932, etc.)to trash your allies for the immorality of suggesting that the two major parties “are the same” whilst simultaneously pouring vast sums of money into the effort to capture the great UNDECIDED’s vote – apparently a large group of people who can’t make up their minds because they essentially see the two parties as “the same”. The immoral middle?

  5. Marc says

    If you spend all of your time attacking Democrats – which is what Stoller does – you are not an ally. You’re an enemy and deserve to be treated that way.

  6. Anomalous says

    Thank you Mr. O’Hare. Election day is not the time for making moral statements. It is the day to choose one of two candidates for the most powerful office in the world. The system is the one we have, like it or not.

      • tom rogers says

        Freeman, you’ve got at least one reader that is in your corner on this. I found Stoller’s article to pinpont exactly the reasons why I detest Obama and will not vote for him. I also think that his point that Obama will get away with privacy right’s violations and SS/Medicare on the “Grand Bargain”-table is right on the money. Those things would be cause for most Dems to rise in outrage, but are silenced because they’re done by a Dem. President.

        • Freeman says

          Hey Tom, thanks for mentioning it. I’m just happy to see someone else actually read Stoller’s piece. I found it thoughtful and well-reasoned. The rebuttals here, sadly, not so much.

  7. Joe says

    I agree with Kate. Except I live in a swing state, so I’ll hold my nose and vote Democratic. But I keep remembering a story: The extreme right wing voted third-party in 1992 and 1996. As a result, the Republicans lost to a guy who never reached 50%. Since then, the Republicans have given the extremists everything they want.

    • Warren Terra says

      I don’t like the narcissism and nihilism of people who do nothing effective for four years, then cast a protest vote for a third party.

      That being said, and ignoring possible regional variations, the polls I’m aware of suggest that Ross Perot drew equally from the Democrats and the Republicans. Yes, Perot is a cultural conservative (he quit the Navy because he discovered sailors swear, for gawd’s sake), he’s got typical Texas Bidnessman ideas about Government, and his anti-deficit talk consisted largely of spending cuts; but he was also anti-incumbent (in 1992 meaning anti-Republican), and broadly populist. You could make an argument that the lesson the Republicans learned from 1992 and 1996 was not to go further right (indeed, the 1992 lessons leaned the other direction, with the blame largely aimed at Buchanan and at Bush having had to break a foolish tax pledge), but to adopt a more populist tone.

    • prognostication says

      This is a story people who want to vote third party like to tell themselves about what happened in 92 and 96, but it’s not especially believable. A very right-wing faction of the Republican Party led the takeover of the House in 1994. This had a number of effects: it gave the right wing a lot of clout within the party, it pulled the “bench” of established national candidates for cabinet nominations rightward, and it inspired a lot of right wing candidates for office the local and state levels. Not to mention what it did to the media narrative.

      I strongly believe that presidential candidates follow from the trajectory of the preceding decade or so of candidates at lower levels. I continue to make this argument to left-leaning third party voters I know, but none seem to have much interest in actually doing the hard work of organizing to change the party dynamics.

  8. says

    Interesting to think of voting as an expression of abstract, as opposed to real personal morality. I wonder if this has to do with the vastness of the electorate and the classic (wrong) sense that one’s vote doesn’t have much real value, that instead it is a sort of exercise in posturing. We would never take this position if our vote was clearly the deciding factor. Say, for instance between the only two bad options of swerving our car into either a pedestrian or a cart of priceless art, we would surely choose the latter. But with a million hands at the wheel, our grasp maybe seems mere posturing.

    A calculated pressuring of a party in a decidedly partisan state is a different calculation. However it’s one that seems empirically vaporous.

  9. CharleyCarp says

    You know, if O wins the electoral college, but not the popular vote, the Village will use this as an excuse to pound O to make a more Republican friendly Grand Bargain. There’s no such thing, then, as a safe state for vanity votes. Every vote counts.

    • priscianusjr says

      You’re absolutely right. That very point just occurred to me today. The popular vote should not be low, it needs to be as high as possible. I vote D in a very blue state, but under the circumstances, my vote definitely matters, just as every Obama vote in states like Oklahoma or Idaho matters.

  10. GU says

    This blog was interesting before the election. Hopefully it will leave the electoral politics gutter post-election.

  11. Tim says

    No matter how hard you try you can’t win at black jack if the game is poker. You want to vote third party?[*] Work to change the electoral process. Until then play the game we’re in. And don’t pretend the outcome doesn’t matter — what CharleyCarp said.

    ________
    * However, I’m not above encouraging right-wingers to vote for Ron Paul or Gary Johnson to assuage their disgust.

  12. Sufferin' Succotash says

    “…the rain that will fall in a Romney administration will not fall nearly as much on the male intellectual upper middle class as it will on women and the poor…”

    As a male intellectual(history teacher, anyway)upper middle class-type person I consider this to be a clinching argument.
    It’s all very well for people who can afford it to get on a principled high-horse about politics. If one’s pocketbook really isn’t going to be much affected one way or the other by a Romney Administration (and the fact is, mine won’t), then voting for, say, Jill Stein would be no problem at all–and I truly agree with most of what she says. Besides, any knowledge of history tell us that “the worse things get the better they get” argument never pays off in the end.That’s the sort of lame approach which the German Left adopted in the early 30s: “don’t worry, this Hitler business won’t last, and then it’ll be time for The Revolution!” How did that work out for Germany?

    Disclosure: I was in the same junior high class with Jill Stein in Highland Park IL back in ’64. I even asked her out for a date once!

  13. says

    Everyone votes for his or her own lesser evil. My greater evil is the two party system and the class society it governs. My lesser evil is doing what I can to undermine it. Having a Republican administration roughly half the time is less of a threat to our species and our planet than failing to break the joint grip of the two capitalist parties. Substitute “Democratic” for “Republican” in that sentence and it’s still true.

    • prognostication says

      Do you have any evidence whatsoever that voting third party actually undermines the two party system? I would like to see some.

    • MobiusKlein says

      What form does undermining take? How do you know the undermining is succeeding?

      And what does ‘break the joint grip’ entail? New constitution, new laws, new States?
      And what happens to all the useful stuff we’ve done and promised? Do we still have Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid? Unemployment, etc?

      From my vantage, the (R) party has already been doing lots of undermining, and is trying to set it up to tip in a non-liberal direction if there is any ‘grip breaking’.

  14. Bruce Wilder says

    And, when Obama moves to cut Social Security benefits, you are going to . . . congratulate him on his realism?

    There are two Parties in America: the pro-plutocratic party and the anti-plutocratic party, and one of those parties does not have a Presidential candidate. That’s the reality.

    Dreaming that Obama is not the candidate of plutocracy is the serious self-deception.

    • Byomtov says

      Bruce,

      Even granting your assumption, let me ask you this:

      Who is more likely to respond to objections to cutting SS, Obama or Romney? Which is more likely to abandon the idea in the face of progressive resistance? And who’s going to try for bigger cuts to begin with?

      Oh. One more thing. Substitute Medicaid in the above questions.

  15. docdave says

    Michael, you must have hit a nerve, judging from some of the emotions in the comments above. “Self-indulgent jerks” seems a shade intemperate but clinically accurate.

    My bump of direction (which may be influenced by my position as a minor civil servant in a state government office responsible for overseeing voter registration and elections) is that indeed, every vote counts and that none should be squandered. People who cast protest or reaction votes in the national-level contests often seem to be either careless in local-issue voting or absent. No, I’m not speaking from deep research, but rather from anecdotal evidence–talking with voters in this state–YMMV. Think that a handful of voters can’t make much of a difference? Try school board or bond issue elections on for size–often attracting 10 percent or less of eligible voters, and decided by thin fractions.

    My IWW-influenced heart leans toward Bruce Wilder’s standpoint but I will not make the twin mistakes of assuming that the two major candidates are equally unsatisfactory and of voting accordingly.

  16. Scott says

    Fantastic OP, Michael. Sorry, but voting for Jill Stein and getting Romney and this improving things long term is magical thinking. The court alone is plenty reason to vote for Obama.

    And, no, this doesn’t mean Michael is telling people who to vote for. If you can make the case that Romney’s policies are better, than vote for him.

  17. Don says

    Michael ignores the history of, for example, the Conservative Party in New York. Let a mush-headed romantic review some facts.

    A group of right-wing(ish) New York Republicans decided to form and vote for a conservative third party, even if that meant Democrats would win elections in the short run. The result was that the Republican Party had to scramble to the right to try and get back the conservative voters. And the Democratic Party also scrambled to the right, trying to take moderates away from the Republicans and maintain their new-found majority. The result was a significant change in favor of conservatives—as distinct from a short-term electoral victory. That distinction is important.

    Politicians are in the habit of rewarding their least reliable allies with concessions. That’s why Latinos, who marched in the streets complaining that Obama betrayed them, were given a DREAM-Act-like executive order. That’s why the gay community, who complained that Obama betrayed them and loudly stopped contributing to his reelection campaign, suddenly got Presidential support for marriage equality. That’s why organized labor, who swore eternal fealty to Obama, got jack. Those who ignore this dynamic are, well, not what I would describe as extreme hard-edged realists.

    • bobbyp says

      Don,

      I would hardly call Latinos and the gay community “least reliable”. It’s all about what you can bring to the party. Hispanics bring numbers. Gays bring significant monetary support + a significant swing in popular acceptance (FDR’s famous “make me do it”). The “hard left” brings neither. The peculiar and unique circumstances of election 2000 will be held over the Left’s head for all eternity, and idiots will bring up ignorant and ahistorical allusions to 1930′s Weimar Germany. The disregard for labor’s agenda during the brief supermajority after Nov., 2008, is something that has never been satisfactorily explained as far as I can tell. A real anomaly. Probably because Joe Leiberman and Ben Nelson didn’t like EFCA? But hey, these DNC type objectively worked to get Leiberman back in office. Like they say, WTF?

      I have voted straight Dem ticket up and down the line for 40 years-this year included. Hell, I even voted for that hack Brad Owen fer Christ’s sake! I’m reaching the end of my rope, and I feel soiled. Ya’ gotta’ do what ya’ gotta’ do.

      Best regards.

      • Don says

        I would call someone an unreliable ally if they marched in the street saying I was a bad guy. Doesn’t make them less than valuable, just unreliable. And they got something in exchange for their continued support. People who (reliably) vote Democratic regardless of what the Democrats do, are going to get nothing in exchange for their support, as you noticed with the labor agenda.

        Other examples abound. You can look at what the teabaggers did to the Republican Party. Leaving aside all the looniness (and there’s a lot), anyone running in a Republican primary contest knows exactly how important it is to embrace the teabaggers’ agenda. Because they are going to throw you away like an empty beer can if they don’t get what they want. They are maximally UNreliable and they are spectacularly powerful.

        • prognostication says

          The teabaggers are almost the perfect example of why the left’s third party partisans have it wrong, though. The Tea Party succeeded basically through grassroots organizing (with massive corporate subsidies) and by eliminating insufficiently conservative candidates in the primaries. The hard left is simply not doing those things on any kind of remotely comparable scale. Moreover, the dynamics of a presidential election are different in myriad ways from a Congressional election, not the least of which is that most of the hard left and hard right partisans live in “safe” red or blue states. The teabaggers have been much less successful at the presidential level, where the candidates tell them what they want to hear in the primaries and then ignore them in the general.

          • Don says

            If the left is small enough to be ignored, then why are people like Michael so angry when we withdraw our support from his candidate? The answer: Michael expects us to support his candidate is exchange for exactly nothing. And then we’ll have four more years of hippie-punching, and then he’ll expect us to support his candidate again, in exchange for nothing.

            Either my vote matters or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t matter this conversation is pointless. If it does matter, then tell me what your candidate is going to do to earn my support.

  18. NYShooter says

    “Hispanics bring numbers.”
    “Gays bring significant monetary support”

    “The “hard left” brings neither”

    And, the desperately poor bring…..what? Distended bellies?

    • bobbyp says

      And, the desperately poor bring…..what? Distended bellies? Yup. Pretty much. And it is precisely here, where the right to sleep under bridges is under attack, that the “maximal realists” go off the rails, and we get studied nonsense even on this reality-based blog that the long term debt issue is the MOST PRESSING ISSUE WE FACE. My response to such a plea is unprintable.

      The hard left is simply not doing those things on any kind of remotely comparable scale. True. I can’t argue with that. Where for art thou, George Soros? However, whenever such an effort has been mounted, it has been roundly condemned and fought tooth and nail by centerist Democrats. And when the left candidate wins the primary, the center Dems take a hike and pay no price. Sure is nice to be reminded all the time how coalition politics “really work”, eh?

      • prognostication says

        Maybe a candidate closely reflecting your views simply is not capable of capturing a plurality of the vote under any circumstances? Has that ever occurred to you?

        • bobbyp says

          Has that ever occurred to you? It certainly has. I’ve lived with that for a very long time. All US socialists have. On the other hand, have you condemned the immoral behavior of those Democrats who voted for Lieberman in the general election in 2006? Are you morally outraged by their behavior? Does not Ben Nelson’s behavior in the health care debate outrage you? If not, do I get to call you a moron, a narcissist, a “special snowflake”? Just wondering. Frankly, I do not think it would be either effective or polite. I’m just trying to find out what is the politically maximizing behavior of a minority faction given US political constraints. I have no interest in being lectured by teh likes of Rahm Emanuel, or by people who tell me how coalitions are all about “covering each others’ back”, when you frankly excuse certain members of that coalition for their fickle loyalty to the demands of that ideal when it suits them.

          • prognostication says

            I didn’t know anyone who lived in Connecticut in 2006, so the opportunity didn’t arise much. But yes, I viewed Lamont as the better candidate, and yes, I think Lieberman’s supporters rewarded his bad behavior and chose an inferior candidate, and I have said so when it’s come up.

            I don’t approve of Ben Nelson necessarily, but I would consider him a different case, given the political makeup of Nebraska.

  19. Freeman says

    It’s been an interesting discussion. I’ve learned that many participants in the “Reality-Based Community” consider third-party voting in Presidential elections:

    a moral fault
    emotional rather than logical
    irrelevant as ever
    vote squandering
    a course of action that will enable the worse party to win
    repeating disastrous past actions again
    making moral statements
    narcissism and nihilism
    a protest vote
    vanity votes
    [trying to] win at black jack [when] the game is poker
    get
    [ing] on a principled high-horse about politics
    the sort of lame approach which the German Left adopted in the early 30s: “don’t worry, this Hitler business won’t last, and then it’ll be time for The Revolution!”
    !!!!?!?!?!? Sufferin’ Succotash, another Godwin’ed comment thread!
    protest or reaction votes
    the twin mistakes of assuming that the two major candidates are equally unsatisfactory and of voting accordingly
    magical thinking

    and those who cast such votes are considered:

    self-indulgent jerks who, I hope, have spent the last twelve years in shame and guilt
    that particular hive of boasting bees
    They’ve got the righteous religion of change pulsing in their veins
    special snowflake
    (my personal favorite — thanks Marc! You’re a beautifully unique SparklePony! ;)
    a faction demands absolute allegiance and abandons the coalition
    either careless in local-issue voting or absent

    Sounds to me a lot like the way, say, Progressivism is portrayed on Tea Party websites. Positions being described by those who don’t hold them are often grotesquely distorted, particularly when they are being criticized. Over the years I’ve heard lots of what seem to me less-than-noble reasons given for voting a certain way, like the physical attractiveness of a candidate or more commonly the fear of a greater evil, but no matter what the reason or who one votes for, I respect those who carry out their civic duty to vote — alarmingly few of us do. I respect all of you for making your votes count by casting them, win or lose, for the candidate of your choosing. I’ll save my moral judgments for those who throw away their votes by not participating. As to motivation and reasoning, I can only speak for myself.

    In Presidential elections, I vote for whomever I believe would best lead the country in directions I would prefer. I detach that from my natural emotional desire to pick a winner, mostly because my rational self understands that the odds of my vote deciding a Presidential election are only infinitesimally better than the odds of me being elected President. I firmly believe that the common citizens’ interests would be better served by government if we all voted that way, but I’m under no illusion that it will ever happen nor am I particularly interested in evangelizing, because I recognize that everyone thinks we’d be better off if everyone else voted their way. We can’t all be right, probably because it takes all kinds… So you vote your way and I’ll vote mine, and if you can’t respect that, it’s your problem, not mine. Hunker down, ride the storm out, then get out and vote if you haven’t already! And may the best man win…

  20. bobbyp says

    It is amazing to see self described ‘leftists’ condemning a particular individual voting choice as ‘immoral’. The idea that one’s uniquely individual vote is one’s own and an inviolable right is central to the very idea of democracy. Much as we dislike the outcomes at certain (in my case, just about always) times. :)

    • priscianusjr says

      I don’t recall anyone saying that you don’t have an inviolable right to vote, or criticizing the morality of giving people the vote. But that does not mean that I have to consider your voting for Obamam for Romney, or for Jill Stein as morally equivalent. Your argument boils down to this: because Americans have the right to vote, no one should raise moral questions regarding their choice. Which is, frankly, absurd.

      As MattW said above: “This is all of course completely irrelevant to the question of whether anyone has a right to do anything. People have a right to do many immoral things. They don’t have a right to murder or own slaves, but they do have a right to lie (in most cases) and to vote Republican or for the third party (given that they’re qualified voters). A moral judgment is a judgment that people should not do such things.

      • Freeman says

        So I gotta vote the way you guys want or I’m immoral, huh? Silly rules you got around here… but OK, I can live with immoral. A slavish need to conform in order to receive the approval I crave? Not so much.

        • MobiusKlein says

          Just answer straight:
          Voting for Nader in FLA, 2000 was
          a) Good for progressive causes, liberty, and freedom. Helped break the 2-party duopoly,
          b) Bad for progressive causes, etc.
          c) Made no difference at all.

          And if a, please present evidence.

          • Freeman says

            Just answer straight:
            Voting for Nader in FLA, 2000 was

            d)* None of my flippin’ business. Straight up.

            If a party wants to win more elections they’ll simply have to attract and retain more voters. Straight up. If they fail to do that, blaming voters who choose to exercise their right to express their own free will is pointless and will do nothing to attract and retain more voters. Straight up.

            So go ahead and waste your time and your party’s goodwill blaming Nader voters, 12 years after the fact. Have you gotten them all back yet? Are they faithful and obedient conformists to your will now, having learned their horrible lesson about exercising their own without the guidance of their betters? Are you trying to build the sort of “Democracy” we criticized Iraq for, with choices on the ballot but only one you’re actually expected to vote for?

            * Nice try at framing the issue to your rhetorical advantage, but you should realize by now that I don’t generally limit my choices to ranges others set for me. I have my own free will and I know how to exercise it. But since you insist on an answer from your narrow multiple-choice list and I’d like to respond honestly to the question you asked, I would say a very ill-fitting cross between a) and c) comes closest because I generally consider effective, peaceful challenges to entrenched power structures beneficial in the long run. It’s also a very poor fit because I’m not as concerned with “progressive causes” as you seem to be. But if you’re looking to challenge this position on a lack of immediate gratification vis-a-vis breaking the 2-party duopoly, I would remind you that these things take time. The Republican party didn’t displace the Whigs overnight, did they?

          • navarro says

            in relative terms they did displace the whigs overnight. in 1852 the whigs ran a presidential candidate and there was no republican party. in 1856 the republican party ran a presidential candidate and there was no whig party.

          • MobiusKlein says

            Just a suggestion Freeman:
            If you have a large goal (displacing the GOP / DEM party duopoly), think of ways to decide if your methods are achieving your goals.
            Pick some short term goals that are achievable, and build upon those to reach farther to your end goals.

            As for the peaceful part, the US had a mighty deadly war not long after your 1856 Whig / Republican transition.

            One that still left us with a 2 party system.

          • Freeman says

            nav: Thanks for the correction. It’s been a few decades since my early American history studies, and I thought I remembered the Republicans being around well before their entry into the Presidential arena, but I must have been thinking of the National Republicans that came a couple of decades before. It seems I picked a particularly poor example to make my point. ** slight blush **

            MK: I’m with you on the advice. I’m an “all politics is local” guy. That’s where my actions have the most influence and where decisions impact my family and community most directly. But just so you don’t misunderstand, I’m not on any third-party protest vote crusade. I usually end up voting third-party in Presidential elections just because of how I choose who to vote for, but I don’t necessarily vote third-party locally or even nationally for that matter. I cast my vote for the candidate I deem best fit to serve in the position sought without regard to race, color, creed, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, popularity, probability of winning, or wretched evilness of other contenders.

  21. bobbyp says

    People have a right to do many immoral things. Wrong. They have no such right. They do, however, have the right to vote. Just because lying, for example, is not always subject to criminal or even social sanctions does not mean it is a right. There is something seriously wrong with this line of reasoning. I would agree that any Florida resident who voted for Nader in 2000 was possibly making a gigantic mistake with terrible consequences. A closer look at the data shows that those making that choice did so for a variety of reasons. Why, 1/3 of them would have voted for Bush if the only ballot choices were Bush and Gore. Unfortunate? Tragic? Unlucky? Stupid? That could be argued, and argued well. Immoral? Absolutely not.