The choice

On the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Barack Obama issued a statement celebrating it and Mitt Romney issued a statement condemning it. Any questions?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

19 thoughts on “The choice”

  1. These sorts of posts aren’t wrong, but they do attack a strawman.

    When people say there aren’t adequate differences between the parties, they aren’t really and truly stating there are no differences. They are saying that there are issues that are near the top of their values hierarchy where the parties do not offer sufficient diversity.

    And those who don’t agree with that critique tend to actually have different values at the top of their hierarchy.

    The absolute best example of this is war. There are plenty of pacifists, near-pacifists, and non-interventionists on the left. They don’t like Obama because he escalated the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, maintained Plan Colombia, and murdered Libyans with a bombing campaign. The reason that those types will say that there isn’t a difference between the parties is not because they are naive and don’t see the differences; it’s because they think opposition to war is more important, to them, than support for abortion rights (especially symbolic support, given that Roe is still the law of the land). And it will generally turn out that the people MAKING these arguments are people who either are hawks who supported plenty of wars, or people who might be somewhat troubled by Obama’s warmongering in Lybia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan but for whom it is not the biggest issue in the world.

    So this sort of thing obscures more than it reveals. If you want to convince people who are pissed at Obama to vote for them, you need to concede their values hierarchy (it isn’t changing) and argue why, for instance, Obama presents a superior choice FOR A PEACENIK, or for an extreme civil libertarian, or for a left-wing anti-business socialist, than Romney or Gingrich. It’s harder than you think– most of the things that you might find persuasive are things that these people feel are less important than the issues where Obama agrees with the Republicans are.

    1. I don’t get this. Obama is quite a long way from these positions, but he is still very different from Romney or Gingrich on taxation, torture, American unilateralism, abortion, minority voting rights, pollution and climate change, SCOTUS appointments, etc etc. The current GOP and the candidates’ platforms are well to the right not only of Reagan but of George W Bush. Plus, Gingrich is a nasty demagogue in the Murdoch or McCarthy mould, actively destructive where Romney is merely a cynical careerist. Under first-past-the post, protest votes for third party candidates are wasted or destructive. And who ever noticed an abstention?
      So prepare to vote for Obama’s reelection, which looks increasingly probable. But as Jonathan Z said earlier, lefties should logically send money and lick stamps for genuinely progressive Democratic candidates to Congress in close races and primaries.

      1. Let’s go one at a time:

        Taxation– my posited peaceniks and civil libertarians don’t care as much about taxation as you do. My posited socialist might, but still thinks it’s much more important that we don’t take steps that entrench the corporate control of health care.

        Torture– my posited socialist doesn’t care about torture as much as you do. My posited peaceniks and civil libertarians do, but believe that by not prosecuting torturers and vigorously opposing anti-torture lawsuits, Obama has entrenched into US law the position that we can go back and torture whenever we want to.

        American unilateralism– none of my posited groups care about this issue. They do care about American IMPERIALISM, but Obama has been just as imperialistic as the Republicans.

        Abortion– none of my posited groups care about this issue.

        Minority voting rights– none of my posited groups care about this issue.

        Pollution and climate change– my posited socialists do care about this issue, but believe that Obama has both gotten nothing done on this issue and refused to take any action to enact a carbon tax, the only solution to greenhouse gas emissions that punishes the rich people and corporations responsible for the problems. My posited peaceniks and civil libertarians don’t care about this issue.

        Supreme Court appointments– my posited civil libertarians care about this issue and it could be a reason to vote for Obama. My posited peaceniks and socialists don’t care about this issue as much as you do.

        See how hard it is, James? People DISAGREE WITH YOU. On the MERITS of issues. 99 percent of the time, the “Republicans are worse” argument is a dodge that allows people never to have to acknowledge that people on the left think that centrism is dangerous.

        1. I’m disappointed in people who need a candidate to agree with them on their top issue in order to (a) go vote and (b) vote for that candidate. If the candidates are basically the same on the top issue, or the top two or three, the stance on issues four through eight may still be important. The honesty or kindness or intelligence or flexibility or pragmatism of one candidate may well be greater than those qualities in the other. Vote for the better person, if that’s what it takes.

          1. The other major flaw in the “meet me where I stand” argument is an almost complete lack of ability to see beyond chosen issues of this moment to the much larger, much more important cumulative effect of many decisions over time. In essence, Dilan Esper’s “posited” voters cannot see beyond their own immediate, parochial interests; what makes this positioning dangerous and damaging to the larger social discourse is the tendency to utilize large scale issues of public good – tough to argue against – as levers for teleological narcissistic aggrandizement, that all we have to do is demand satisfaction on specific, temporally isolated, and morally approbated “issues” and we have completed – with prejudice – our civic duty. Not terribly sophisticated or insightful, and overall, in my opinion, more destructive to political dialogue than an openly crazy ‘opposition.’ It’s all about the long haul, again: the cumulative effect of many decisions over time, and if some cannot see or acknowledge this then so be it. Honestly, I’d rather deal with openly venal conservatives than so-called ‘progressives’ hiding puerile ignorance behind a facade of passionate engagement.

          2. The thing is, I’d have no problem if the debate were on the level of “i know you have these preferences; I disagree with them”. That’s fine!

            The problem is that people in the center tend to think the folks to the left of them actually have the same preferences and order them the same way.

            And i disagree that withholding votes is unproductive. The Christian right gained the power it has precisely by refusing to vote for moderates. So does the Club for Growth. Now did that cost Republicans some elections? Probably. But moderate pro-choice Republicans who vote for tax increases have fundamental disagreements with people to the right of them they don’t hbelieve the same things.

            Refusing to see this leads to getting this issue funamentally wrong. Nobody who disagrees with youis ever obligated to support your candidate. You have to earn their suppport by moving in their direction.

    2. Yes, but the greater harm in leaving subjective priority lists unchallenged or unchecked is that flaky Dems don’t turn out since, as you say, the things that are important to them don’t seem to be at the top of the list by either party. This affliction, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem for the other side since their common hatred or fear, makes it so Republican voters vote with the plutocrats’ list of priorities rather than their own.

      And the consequence? Well, you only have to look at the 2000 campaign to see what a perceived and unchallenged negligible difference between the parties in the minds of aforementioned flaky voters will do.

    3. “Murdered Libyans”? I take issue with this, at least as supporting one side in a civil war is quite different than murder. Especially when the other side was lead by Qaddafi.

      The justification of ‘no more Rwandas’ should at least figure in to the moral calculus.

      1. Mobius, there have always been Rawandas. And there always will be Rawandas. Because it’s a very recent invention that the United States thinks it even has the right to invade everywhere and anywhere, much less that it has an obligation to. Further, there is a big difference, both in morality and in blowback, in civilians murdered by the American military vs. civilians murdered by someone else’s military in a conflict that we don’t intervene in.

        And one more thing– there will be plenty of Rawandas in a Mobius administration too. There’s been a Rawanda in North Korea for the last 20 years at least. Do we intervene and have the North Koreans explode nuclear weapons and incinerate Seoul? I thought so.

        There isn’t this free-floating thing where every time a bunch of people get killed it’s our responsibility. Indeed, it is precisely NOT our responsibility, especially when you are talking about getting Americans killed and murdering civilians in AMERICA’S name in order to stop it.

        1. OK, how about “no more avoidable Rwandas” then?

          As for who’s responsibility it is – sometimes it is our responsibility.

          1. It’s never our responsibility. We are not an empire and nobody ever appointed us to that role, and our actions in becoming one have killed many thousands of Americans.

            It never was our responsibility and your thinking helped Bush murder half a billion in Iraq.

        2. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, Cain asked God.

          God’s answer was, “You betcha.” That same ethic runs through most moral systems. Yes, there are Rwanda’s as far back as we can see in history: Carthage and the Roman Empire, the Inquisition, witch-hunting in Europe and the North American colonies, in France the Catholics vs. the Huguenots, in Eastern Europe the Slavs vs. the Muslims and the Russians vs. the Jews, the Turks vs. the Armenians, and the Showa. And those are just the ones off the top of my head.

          The fact that they’re spread through recorded history is not an excuse to stand by and do nothing.

          1. Bear in mind that there’s a big distinction between “do nothing” and “start an imperialist war that murders people”. There’s plennty of stuff that isn’t nearly as fun and doesn’t give hawks the orgamsic pleasure that taking a macho military offensive does but which can help addres these situations without the drawbacks of imperialism.

      2. At any rate, Mobius, you proved my point. There are people on the left who do believe that the US government’s invasion of Libya was an act of imperialism, and who strongly disfavor an American government posture that contends that we have the right to label any government we don’t like a human rights violator (while ignoring massive violations by governments we do like) and then bomb them until the regime changes.

        In other words, they disagree with you. And what needs to happen is that this disagreement needs to be acknowledged, and the left paid off (perhaps with some more dovish policies), or the center doesn’t get to complain when the left doesn’t buy into the argument that they are required to vote for Obama even though he disagrees with them on the issues they are actually passionate about and only agrees with them on issues that they consider second-order issues.

        1. There are folks who thought the US govt’s assistance in Haiti after the earthquake was an act of imperialism. (seen with my own eyes, not just some-say.) I don’t think Obama will win if he makes concession to that faction.

          1. Well, if the Democrats can win without the antiwar left, that’s fine. But if they CAN’T, then the bloodthirsty hawks have to make some concessions or decide if they would rather be Republicans.

  2. Here’s a thought experiment. Until a few years ago, Dennis Kucinich was pro-life. I suspect if he had been nominated for President as a pro-llifer, we would not be hearing how we had to support him no matter how we felt about abortion because the alternative was worse. Rather, we’d hear a lot of support for third party candidates from hawkish pro-choicers.

    All i ask is that everyone admit that this is an ideological dispute between people who have fundamentally different dealbreakers. And everyone has the right to have their own dealbreakers, and the ones some leftwing types have are completely valid ones that centrist hawks disagree with on their merits. Neither side is naive about the differences between the parties.

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