On not being obliged to vote Democrat …

by Daniel on November 1, 2010

As the US goes to the polls, there is not exactly a shortage of commentary telling people how important it is that they vote, and so it’s been almost traditional (by which I mean, I did it at least once) for me to provide a small voice for the forces of apathy. This year, though, I want to address a particular and in my view rather pernicious species of electoral wowserism – the belief on the part of the Democratic Party that it has something approaching property rights over the vote of anyone to the left of, say, the New York Times opinion page.

The argument I want to establish here is that the decision about whether or not to vote Demcrat (versus the alternative of abstaining or voting for a minor party) is a serious one, which is up to the conscience of the individual voter to make, and which deserves respect from other people whether they agree with it or not. Obviously in making that argument, I’m going to have to venture into a number of unpalatable home truths about the Democrats as they are currently organised (abstract: ineffectual, cowardly, surprisingly warlike, soft-right, generally an obstacle to the development of social democratic politics), but let’s get this clear right up front – voting Democrat might often be the right thing to do in any given case, depending on local conditions; it might even usually be the right thing to do. What I’m not going to accept, however, is that it is always or definitionally the right thing to do.

Given that, it’s also the case that (because what we’re talking about here is largely the electoral politics of a protest vote), a mid term election in which control of the Senate (“Control” having an unusual and specialised meaning here – the Democrats have after all had “control” of the Senate for quite some time, and even enjoyed a “filibuster proof majority” for about a year, and see how much good this did them ) is unlikely to change is about the lowest-stakes environment there could be. Barack Obama, the popular and world-historical leader will not be standing; the somewhat less attractive Democratic slate will in general consist of “a bunch of old white guys, most of them rather rightwing”. Not only is it highly unlikely, for paradox-of-voting reasons, that yours will be the crucial vote, but even if it is, it will have elected a candidate who is then highly unlikely to be the crucial vote on any proposal of interest, and who cannot even be relied upon to vote the right way if he is. So given the generally lower level of stakes, an election like this one is likely to be a happy hunting ground for protest votes. And so this is a serious business – I really do think that more likely than not, most CT readers with a vote to waste should be giving serious consideration to wasting it. On with the show …

The Bait and Switch

The key point I want to make here is that when major party activists put the guilt-trip on supporters significantly to their left, they engage in what looks like very fallacious reasoning. The point is that a voter considering a protest vote against the Dems from the left has three options on election day:

First, stay at home
Second, vote for their minor party or abstain
Third, vote Democrat

And the thing is that the major party activist has to steer them between the Scylla and Charybdis of the first two choices, both of which might superficially look more attractive than voting for a candidate you don’t support. To do so, they need to make two contradictory arguments.

Obviously the problem to overcome in getting you to drag your ass (note American spelling) down to the polling station is the Paradox of Voting. Which isn’t really a paradox; it could more accurately be titled “The Actual Extremely Low Expected Value Of Voting”. This requires an appeal to your civic sense of duty; remember Martin Luther King, etc. In other words, they need you to see it as your duty to society to vote, or alternatively to see your vote as an important form of political expression.

However, once your ass is duly dragged and you’re in the voting booth, the last thing they want you to do is your civic duty (which would be to vote for the candidate you think is the best; that’s how voting systems work, strategic or tactical behaviour is a pathology of a badly designed system) or political expression (which also wouldn’t have you voting for their guy). Once you’re there, they want to argue in purely instrumental terms – you have to vote for the Democrats because if you vote for your minority party, you have no chance at all of being the marginal voter.

It looks inconsistent, because it is. Particularly in a midterm election, when you have a very small chance of being the deciding vote for a Congressman who in turn has a very small chance of being the deciding vote on an issue of importance (and given that this is the Democrats we are talking about, you have to take into account votes of importance where your congressman is the swing vote for the wrong side), the expected value of your vote is very small indeed, and the costs of it are the psychological toll on your own morale, plus the opportunity cost of whatever else you might have done with the time.

The mistake here is in treating a descriptive model (the spatial competition framework underlying the median voter theorem) as a normative one. It’s a model which is meant to predict which ice cream cart you choose out of two, not one that’s meant to persuade you to buy an ice cream if you don’t want one. There is no such political or obligation; I know that there are some souls in the grip of the model who probably would vote for a policy of exterminating X puppies over a policy of exterminating X+1, but it seems pretty clear that there is some point at which it becomes obvious that a morally and politically valid response is simply to declare that the fundamental basis of the implied contract has broken down, and that it’s a reasonable choice to simply refuse to participate further. (Simple proof by reductio ad absurdum: if this wasn’t the case, then the government of Myanmar could sponsor a local branch of the Khmer Rouge to stand against them on a Year Zero ticket, thereby obliging Aung San Suu Kyi to vote for them).

Put simply, however much worse the Republicans are than the Democrats, this isn’t a reason for voting Democrat unless you have good reason to believe that your vote will make a difference. Which the Paradox of Voting shows that it generally won’t, and therefore a decision to vote Democrat ought to be justified with positive reasons why it’s a good thing to be identified with.

So what’s the alternative?

Basically, non-electoral politics. For someone whose politics are to the left of the mainstream of the Democratic Party, time and effort spent on getting Democratic candidates elected has to compete against the opportunity cost, which is usually a single-issue group of some kind. And in this competition, the Democratic Party has two big handicaps. First, on an awful lot of key issues for people on the left (gay marriage, environmental regulation, redistributive taxation), its policies aren’t very left wing. And second, whatever its policy agenda it has next to no party discipline and very little in the way of efficient organisation for achieving its goals. Unless the issue closest to your heart is “more money and job security for incumbent Democratic politicians”, it is not all that likely that the Democratic Party is the best vehicle for its pursuit. I think that the case for spending time and money on supporting the campaigns of Democrat candidates (unless you actually like their politics) is very hard to make when one considers the opportunity cost.

But is there an argument in favour of withholding one’s vote for the Democrats on specifically progressive grounds? Well maybe. The direct opportunity cost of doing so is much lower than the opportunity cost of spending time, money and mental energy on campaigning for an unattractive candidate. The only benefit of specifically refusing to vote Democrat on political grounds is a quite nebulous strategic one – that a large part of the problem with respect to the current situation of the Democrats is that they take lots of their voters for granted, and that as a result they represent the interests of a set of people really quite unlike their typical supporter. This is probably true, but it seems to me that there’s only a very unclear and twisty path between this fact and any strategy of moving the party to the left in order to pick up the Daily Kos vote. There are so many slips twixt that cup and lip that there probably wouldn’t be any tea left at all.

But … although the expected strategic value of withholding one’s vote from the Democrats is pretty close to zero, so is the expected value of voting for them. Although party promotional material always wants to turn every election into a direct plebiscite on the next Supreme Court Justice, with Dick Cheney standing against the late Fred Rogers, actually it isn’t. And since the entire case for persuading you to use your vote for a party you don’t support is a strategic one, it’s hardly possible to then claim it illegitimate to bring other possible strategies to bear. The strategy “always vote for the Democratic candidate, no matter what” is a corner strategy with no sensitivity to conditions – it’s very unlikely to be correct in all possible cases.

This is a grown-up calculation for everyone to make independently. Good luck to all our readers and however you choose to use your vote, use it. For values of “use it” which include the making of a conscious choice not to do so.

{ 362 comments }

1

Cryptic Ned 11.01.10 at 3:49 pm

Having read the indie demo versions of this post before its rerelease on a major-label blog, I just thought a more interesting proposal would be: “Voting Republican might sometimes, not never, be the right thing to do.”

2

MPAVictoria 11.01.10 at 3:56 pm

Because voting for a 3rd party worked out so well for progressives last time. Say what you will of the Democratic establishment Al Gore would have made a hell of a lot better a president than George W. Bush turned out to be.

3

politicalfootball 11.01.10 at 3:59 pm

Once you’re there, they want to argue in purely instrumental terms – you have to vote for the Democrats because if you vote for your minority party, you have no chance at all of being the marginal voter.

I think the correct form of this argument is: Once you are there, you should work with your fellow citizens to become part of the most constructive possible majority. In the vast, vast majority of cases, that means voting for the Democrat.

To do otherwise displays a contempt for majoritarian politics, which is certainly understandable in the U.S. in 2010, but it’s a mistake if you want to influence a majoritarian system.

4

geo 11.01.10 at 3:59 pm

Spot on, Daniel. One quibble, though: “a badly designed system” is a bit misleading. It’s not as though a two-party duopoly with a huge amount of voter apathy and non-participation is an unintended consequence of the system’s design. Those who own and manage the two parties don’t want a fair, comprehensive accounting of public opinion or the increased citizen activism that would undoubtedly generate. Why would they?

Yes, indeed, “non-electoral political activism” is the only hope for someday having honest, meaningful elections and an accountable government. Nader-style activism is one model. A left-wing Tea Party is another. Let a hundred models bloom. But how to drag those asses you mention to the necessary meetings?

5

Daragh McDowell 11.01.10 at 4:05 pm

As someone who is still defending Nader voters 10 years later (Gore ran a shitty campaign – deal with it) I’m naturally hugely sympathetic to this argument. However there are some really, REALLY crazy Republicans who’ve got the nod this year. Common or garden corporate stooges/wankers like Enzi and Grassley can, ceteris paribus, be trusted not to vote down things like New START or raising the debt ceiling. When Bush suggested privatising Social Security the survival instincts of the GOP caucus at least ensured it died a death. But the likes of Rand Paul actually think its a good idea.

In other words, while I certainly agree that there are precious few reasons to cast a positive vote for many (though not all ) of the Democrats , there are very good reasons to vote against the GOP. Not the least of which it may just prevent Clive Crook writing another one of his smug, borderline politically illiterate columns about how all Obama’s failures are a result of him being insufficiently moderate and receptive to the political preferences of Clive Crook.

6

Anderson 11.01.10 at 4:18 pm

unless you have good reason to believe that your vote will make a difference. Which the Paradox of Voting shows that it generally won’t

There is something obnoxiously libertarianish about this fallacy, the same illusion that Oneself is the only political actor. One has only to imagine 10,000 people in voting booths, each reflecting upon the Paradox of Voting and writing in “Ubu Roi” or “Lisa Simpson,” to see the fallacy.

7

politicalfootball 11.01.10 at 4:18 pm

Put simply, however much worse the Republicans are than the Democrats, this isn’t a reason for voting Democrat unless you have good reason to believe that your vote will make a difference.

You’re proving a bit too much here. If I accept this, then under what circumstance is it ever appropriate to vote for anybody? Perhaps one should never vote, but I don’t think that’s what you’re trying to prove here.

You also go astray here:

the last thing they want you to do is your civic duty (which would be to vote for the candidate you think is the best

In addition to proving too much, I also think that you’re begging the question here – you’re defining “best candidate” in a way that fails to allow for majoritarian considerations in assessing who is best. If you leave out majoritarian considerations, then the best candidate is highly unlikely to actually be on the ballot.

So you object to the alleged inconsistency of the party activist, but to maintain consistency under your view, someone who goes to the polls would generally write someone in. Unless I’m misreading you, that’s more than you want to prove.

8

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.01.10 at 4:18 pm

Yes, the ‘winner takes all’ model is a big part of it, but perhaps it’s also that an environment with lopsided distribution of economic power is irreconcilable with meaningful representative democracy.

9

KCinDC 11.01.10 at 4:25 pm

your civic duty (which would be to vote for the candidate you think is the best; that’s how voting systems work, strategic or tactical behaviour is a pathology of a badly designed system)

But given that the system is pathological, shouldn’t your notion of civic duty adapt to that reality?

10

Brenton 11.01.10 at 4:25 pm

… strategic or tactical behaviour is a pathology of a badly designed system …

Sorry to be pedantic, but nearly any voting system will exhibit such “pathologies”. See the Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem.

11

politicalfootball 11.01.10 at 4:29 pm

with Dick Cheney standing against the late Fred Rogers

I’m probably best described as a Yellow Dog Democrat, but in the context of this conversation, I’m a Zombie Fred Rogers Democrat.

Can you say “Braiinzz”? I knew you could.

12

dsquared 11.01.10 at 4:33 pm

One has only to imagine 10,000 people in voting booths, each reflecting upon the Paradox of Voting and writing in “Ubu Roi” or “Lisa Simpson,” to see the fallacy.

This is, however, very unlikely.

If I accept this, then under what circumstance is it ever appropriate to vote for anybody? </i

If you have a reason for voting which isn't dependent on the expected value of the difference that your vote will make. Of which there are loads, (the most obvious one being that you like and want to show support for the party you're voting for, although ex hypothesi that doesn’t apply here – Daragh’s suggestion of a gesture of spite toward Clive Crook would do too).

you’re defining “best candidate” in a way that fails to allow for majoritarian considerations in assessing who is best.

I don’t need any particularly strong definition of “best” though – substitute “minimally acceptable as someone you feel comfortable in positively supporting” if you like.

Sorry to be pedantic

you never need to apologise for being pedantic! Good point about the GS theorem, but the practical problems are IMO much worse with two-candidate winner-takes-all.

13

ECW 11.01.10 at 4:35 pm

In one line you encapsulate the difference between political theory and political philosophy: “The mistake here is in treating a descriptive model (the spatial competition framework underlying the median voter theorem) as a normative one.”

Politics is never purely normative. Politics, as Weber reminds us, is about threatening others with violence in order to coerce them into acting as you like. Always. Unless you want to abstain from participation altogether, you’re already implicated in a nasty compromise. So political choices should be viewed as almost entirely instrumental: what action should I take, given the reality of the circumstances, that is most likely to advance my normative aims, recognizing that unless I am a sociopath whose goal is to use violence to coerce people, my normative aims cannot be pursued with purity in politics.

Ignoring the situated reality and formative institutional rules within which political decisions are made is simply irresponsible. Politics is a consequentialist arena, always, unless you are some quasi-libertarian who views your own participation as solely an expression of your own private moral values.

14

adnan 11.01.10 at 4:40 pm

If you have a reason for voting which isn’t dependent on the expected value of the difference that your vote will make.You’re proving a bit too much here. If I accept this, then under what circumstance is it ever appropriate to vote for anybody? Perhaps one should never vote, but I don’t think that’s what you’re trying to prove here.

15

L2P 11.01.10 at 4:45 pm

“I know that there are some souls in the grip of the model who probably would vote for a policy of exterminating X puppies over a policy of exterminating X+1, but it seems pretty clear that there is some point at which it becomes obvious that a morally and politically valid response is simply to declare that the fundamental basis of the implied contract has broken down, and that it’s a reasonable choice to simply refuse to participate further.”

Obviously, no one except for the most hard-hearted pragmatists should ever vote at the risk of hurting their delicate sensibilities.

More seriously, I don’t think any democratic system can be created to let people avoid making tough choices and having to pick between the lesser of two evils, and still survive as a working political system. I can’t believe that “the left” wasn’t well served voting for FDR, for instance, instead of the obviously more “left” socialist candidate. And if some one truly believes the current state of American politics resembles a choice between the Khmer Rouge and Myanmar, I doubt they can vote from whatever insane asylum their mail is sent to.

But I’m sure a “truly left” protest vote will be idealistically satisfying.

16

dsquared 11.01.10 at 4:47 pm

More seriously, I don’t think any democratic system can be created to let people avoid making tough choices and having to pick between the lesser of two evils, and still survive as a working political system.

trivially speaking, any system with more than two parties avoids having to pick between the lesser of two evils.

17

politicalfootball 11.01.10 at 4:48 pm

any system with more than two parties avoids having to pick between the lesser of two evils.

Likewise any system with the possibility of writing in a candidate’s name.

18

L2P 11.01.10 at 4:49 pm

“In those electoral battles with reliable polls showing the Dink with a significant lead over the Repug, as say CA—with Jerry B leading e-Meg, or Babs Boxer over Evita Fiorina—the protest vote should be..no vote at all, aka Stay home (ie protesting say Brown and Boxer’s refusal to support Prop 19, and Brown’s general bureaucratic toadyism). In some races—say Prop 19—that are somewhat close, you should vote, however (ie Yes on 19)—especially in areas where gangstas control the election board, and a wrong vote might mean a bit of trouble.”

Perfect example.

Fiorina opposes the right to choose. Fiorina opposes environmental regulation. Fiorina opposes gay rights. Boxer is an ARDENT SUPPORTER of all of those positions. If Fiorina wins, the Senate loses a vocal supporter of the expansion of those rights, and diehard filibuster opponent of the restriction of those rights. Of ALL OF THE POSSIBLE PROTEST VOTES you could make, that would be the worst possible one.

Protests are for idiots, not voters.

19

Uncle Kvetch 11.01.10 at 4:49 pm

In those electoral battles with reliable polls showing the Dink with a significant lead over the Repug, as say CA—with Jerry B leading e-Meg, or Babs Boxer over Evita Fiorina—the protest vote should be..no vote at all, aka Stay home (ie protesting say Brown and Boxer’s refusal to support Prop 19, and Brown’s general bureaucratic toadyism).

Sounds very much like the situation here in NY State — mediocre, thoroughly unremarkable legacy hire Andrew Cuomo is a shoo-in against thuggish, reactionary lunatic Carl Paladino, and my distaste at nepotism and the prospect of yet another political “dynasty” in the making has me thinking that maybe I should just skip voting in the governor’s race entirely. (I’ll still go out and vote, if only for my Congressional representative, Jerry Nadler, because he’s solid on everything other than Israel/Palestine, which is a lost cause anyway.)

But I still want to be able to cast a vote against Paladino, because he really is that repugnant. I’m thinking of writing in Nellie McKay.

20

marcel 11.01.10 at 4:57 pm

As a resident of New Hampshire, where Nader’s vote total in 2000 exceeded the spread between Bush and Gore, I have difficulty with most of this screed.[1] With NH’s electoral votes, Florida’s hanging chads would have been irrelevant.

Did Gore run a lousy campaign? Sure. So, what? Is that somehow indicative of what he would have done, or how well he’d have done it? No and maybe. Nevertheless, the world would now be much better off had he become President.

Would the financial crisis have occurred had Gore taken office? Reasonably plausible, although I doubt that we’d have seen his appointees celebrating by (literally) taking chain saws to financial regulation.

Would the 911 attack have succeeded? Possibly but because he took al Qaeda seriously, there’s a good chance that it would have been foiled.

Would we now be involved in 2 wars? unlikely. Gitmo? unlikely.

Would we be debating whether tax cuts on the highest income earners should be maintained? Unlikely – they’d not have passed because the Democrats, whatever their other faults (and yes, they are legion), are afraid of being stuck with responsibility for the deficit (as with so much else), and would have stuck with PAYGO.

And on and on. Recall that before 911, Bush was trying to gin up a confrontation with China, so even absent 911, tensions would have been much higher than when he entered office.

Paraphrasing Churchill, In the US, “Democrats form the worst governments, except for all those that others have formed from time to time.”

There’s a reason that the highest elected politician who proudly claims to be a soci-alist[2] caucuses with the Democrats (i.e., Senator Bernie Sander, S-VT).

[1] I mean here, a lengthy discourse, informal piece of writing (as a personal letter), or (esp.) a ranting piece of writing; not a strip (as of a plaster of the thickness planned for the coat) laid on as a guide , nor a leveling device drawn over freshly poured concrete. I admit that this last seems appropriate here.

[2] spelled this way in the hope of bypassing the spam-checker.

21

dsquared 11.01.10 at 5:04 pm

I think #20 misses the key question – if it hadn’t been for Nader, would I have a pony?

22

David 11.01.10 at 5:06 pm

It’s such a weak claim you’re defending. Why not discuss what you should do rather than what one is obliged to do? If the point is that I should be respectful of those with wrong-but-defensible opinions I say no. To hell with the bastards.

23

Anderson 11.01.10 at 5:10 pm

This is, however, very unlikely.

‘Pataphysically speaking, *everything* that happens is very unlikely (and therefore inescapable).

But I expressed myself poorly: I didn’t mean to imply that each voter wrote in the same candidate, but rather that the phenomenon of 10,000 people who *could* make a difference, but throw away their votes in what adds up to a random manner (including not voting at all), refutes the alleged paradox.

Uncle Kvetch’s case is the only one where a “protest vote” makes any sense — where one candidate is overwhelmingly likely to win. And even then, one is trusting one’s neighbors to be less sophisticated than oneself … usually a good bet in America, but still.

24

rickstersherpa 11.01.10 at 5:12 pm

Well, for one thing the Democrats are not the Khmer Rouge, but the Republican Party is more becoming more authoritarian on each election cycle. Also, frankly, I don’t see how you get 51% of the country voting for social democracy in the U.S. I don’t see where such a coalition is going to come from . The closest thing to it was the New Deal coalition and that depended on some very conservative southern whites. They are not going to be voting Democratic anytime soon here in Orange County, Virginia. So we are left with a choice between one party that views us as inconvenient and noisome versus another party that would lock us up in detainment camps if they had their druthers (and in doing so would provide more business for their friends in the private prison industry!). I also find no evidence that Democrats losing elections make them more liberal, or opens up any opportunity for another party, say the Greens. Instead, it seems to move everyone further to the right (Republicans in safe Republican districts only fear challenges from the further right and Democrats, seeing lost white independents, start tacking to the right to attract independents and appease business interests). The Democratic Party is a poor instrument for progress, but it appears to be the only instrument we have.

By the way, Jim Webb, despite his imperfections, has been so much better than George Allen, that the mind boggles. Mark Warner is a corporate Democrat, but at least he would not want to put climate scientists in jail (see Ken Cuncielli). With 5000 dead Americans and at least 200,000 dead Iraqis, I will not ever forgive my own protest vote in 2000. I am sorry to see so many have such a light conscience about it.

25

dsquared 11.01.10 at 5:14 pm

With 5000 dead Americans and at least 200,000 dead Iraqis, I will not ever forgive my own protest vote in 2000

This folk belief that Al Gore would not have fought a war in Iraq really does rely on ignoring a lot of facts about Clinton-era foreign policy.

26

Yarrow 11.01.10 at 5:14 pm

Sorry to be pedantic, but nearly any voting system will exhibit such “pathologies”. See the Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem.

Can anyone point me to an example of how this works with the Single Distributable Vote system? I’ve never been able to figure out how likely the pathologies are to actually arise in practice for SDV.

27

Brian 11.01.10 at 5:16 pm

I think I would make the argument that the best way to navigate our electoral system is to focus on the incentives of the elected rather than the voter, and thus the expected value of any vote to the voter is not really very useful here. In as much as our system is designed, it’s designed to have representatives court the most marginal (i.e. swing, etc.) voters to capture a majority, so the more voters a candidate can take for granted, the less courting of voters who are farther away from “the base” he/she will have to do. The representative with the most voters taken for granted is the one who stays closest to his/her base. If our desire is to influence the behavior of politicians, we will have to vote for them.

28

Brian 11.01.10 at 5:18 pm

I also find no evidence that Democrats losing elections make them more liberal, or opens up any opportunity for another party, say the Greens.

I’m glad I’m not the only person who’s noticed this…

29

dsquared 11.01.10 at 5:20 pm

Under STV, people who support a candidate who’s more or less bound to win have an incentive to rank their second choice first. This is tactical voting in the definition used by the GS theorem, but it feels a lot less pathological.

30

dsquared 11.01.10 at 5:21 pm

I also find no evidence that Democrats losing elections make them more liberal, or opens up any opportunity for another party, say the Greens.

the thing about this is that it’s just as true, or false, if you replace the word “losing” by the word “winning”.

31

Henry 11.01.10 at 5:24 pm

bq. This folk belief that Al Gore would not have fought a war in Iraq really does rely on ignoring a lot of facts about Clinton-era foreign policy.

Ken MacLeod has a grim alternative history novel exploring just this premise.

32

Tim Wilkinson 11.01.10 at 5:24 pm

Almost all of the weight of the argument rests on the ‘paradox’ of voting, which I assume is what it sounds like – roughly that the chances of making the difference is vanishingly small, and voting is not costless. This obviously has less force the closer the vote looks likely to be in numbers, and the wider the gap in expected benefit of one candidate v another getting in.

Anderson @6 says something along the lines of what I think might be a common intuitive objection to this, the ‘what if everyone/enough people did that’ objection:

One has only to imagine 10,000 people in voting booths, each reflecting upon the Paradox of Voting and writing in “Ubu Roi” or “Lisa Simpson,” to see the fallacy.

This looks fallacious, on the assumption that one’s own voting behaviour is not going to affect that of others – this assumption might be challenged in various ways, of course. One indirect way is to agree quietly but tell you to keep it quiet or you’ll spoil everything. We don’t have frequent enough elections for equilibrium to be promptly restored after all the democrats take your advice and stay home.

But perhaps more interesting is that this looks as though it has something of an affinity with Newcomb’s problem, one response to which I regard as similarly fallacious, on similar grounds – i.e. mistaking merely correlative probability for causal influence. But apparently, lots of intelligent and informed people disagree with my intuition. So the reason they are wrong might be the same reason that Anderson is wrong.

But I’m less inclined to think Anderson’s point clearly incorrect than that of the probabilistic Newcombe-responders, for some reason.

33

Brian 11.01.10 at 5:25 pm

I think I must be missing at least one main point of this post. It seems to be a rather long-winded way of saying that voting alone is not (as is kind of implied in the first part of the post) sufficient means to achieve progressive political goals.

OK.

34

Brian 11.01.10 at 5:29 pm

the thing about this is that it’s just as true, or false, if you replace the word “losing” by the word “winning”.

Well, maybe you’re not a big universal health care advocate, but I’m wondering how we go that direction with the “losing” option…

35

ajay 11.01.10 at 5:33 pm

This folk belief that Al Gore would not have fought a war in Iraq really does rely on ignoring a lot of facts about Clinton-era foreign policy.

Well, surely the most relevant fact about Clinton-era foreign policy is that it didn’t include an invasion of Iraq. And there’s no evidence (that I know of) that Gore as VP was chewing at the bit to invade Iraq, but was restrained by Clinton.
There needs to be a bit of evidence for the statement “Gore as president would have embarked on a radical shift from a policy he favoured for eight years as VP”. Especially given that he would, probably, have been involved in a war in Afghanistan at the time.

36

geo 11.01.10 at 5:37 pm

The answer to people who are still blaming Nader for the 2000 election is: “What have you done for electoral reform in the last ten years.

See: http://www.georgescialabba.net/mtgs/2003/04/the-blame-game-afterthoughts-o.html.

37

marcel 11.01.10 at 5:38 pm

dsquared 11.01.10 at 5:04 pm

I think #20 misses the key question – if it hadn’t been for Nader, would I have a pony?

No, of course you’d not have a pony. It’s a stupid response. The only people who get ponies from the political circus are a lot richer than, I imagine, 99.9% of the readers here. We’d have a noticeably smaller pile of horse shit atop of our heads and in our mouths and eyes and noses. It would still be way too much, but given the cost of voting, it’s a fair trade off.

Is Obama the 2nd coming of the Messiah? Of course not, and anyone who thought he would be is too immature to take seriously.[1] Is he better than Bush was or McCain would have been? I dare you to say no, and explicate how he is no better than either of them in any way, or equivalently, that he’s better in some ways, worse in others, and on balance, no improvement.

[1] Though, it is pretty cool that someone who cannot trace %100 of their ancestry over the last 400 years back to Europe was elected with a majority of the vote. Especially someone half of who’s ancestry is obviously from Africa. When I was born, Jim Crow still ruled, and I never thought this would happen in my lifetime

38

Marc 11.01.10 at 5:38 pm

The idea that Gore would have attacked Iraq (as opposed to Afghanistan) is unsupportable. Did you pay even the slightest attention to what the man said in the run-up to the Iraq invasion? Do facts count for anything, Daniel?

39

dsquared 11.01.10 at 5:42 pm

Well, surely the most relevant fact about Clinton-era foreign policy is that it didn’t include an invasion of Iraq. And there’s no evidence (that I know of) that Gore as VP was chewing at the bit to invade Iraq, but was restrained by Clinton

Counterfactuals are of course impossible, but there was the Iraq Liberation Act 1998 and Operation Desert Fox. And that was with oil at $20 a barrel. GW Bush certainly thought that his policy on Iraq was a continuation of Clinton’s into the post 9/11 era and said so. Also it can’t be totally escaped that the Iraq War was at least partly Saddam’s fault, and he would not obviously have behaved less crazily just because the Democrats had won. (cf.)

40

Russell Arben Fox 11.01.10 at 5:45 pm

The answer to people who are still blaming Nader for the 2000 election is: “What have you done for electoral reform in the last ten years.”

Well said, George. From one somewhat (but not entirely) chastened Nader voter to another, my salute.

41

LizardBreath 11.01.10 at 5:46 pm

GW Bush certainly thought that his policy on Iraq was a continuation of Clinton’s into the post 9/11 era and said so.

Said so, I don’t recall specifically but I’ll take your word for it, it sounds perfectly likely. I don’t think that counts as evidence either that he thought so, or that it was true.

42

chrismealy 11.01.10 at 5:48 pm

Alright, I’m convinced, party politics is futile. Now what?

43

LizardBreath 11.01.10 at 5:51 pm

But the “Gore would have attacked Iraq” question is a distraction from the main point of the post, isn’t it? It’s hard to let it pass because it seems so wildly wrong, but even under the assumption that Gore wouldn’t have done anything of the kind, it’s still not necessarily true that it’s always morally required for everyone politically interested on the left in the US to vote Democratic in every election.

Which is true, but not a very strong claim.

44

Ben 11.01.10 at 5:52 pm

The point is that a voter considering a protest vote against the Dems from the left has three options on election day:

First, stay at home
Second, vote for their minor party or abstain
Third, vote Democrat

A fourth and better option is to vote/protest/etc for better and more left-wing candidates in Democratic primaries, and to see the “always vote for the Democratic candidate, no matter what” option as a reasonably pragmatic approach to a general election which will necessarily elect some kind of coalition to wield power.

In other words, it’s better to view the Democratic Part as the left-of-center coalition, and work towards making it the best possible coalition, rather than viewing it as one option out of many equally useful (or useless, if one puts too much emphasis on the efficacy of one’s individual vote) minor parties.

45

chrismealy 11.01.10 at 5:53 pm

(If you love America more than you hate talking on the phone you could always make some calls.)

46

MPAVictoria 11.01.10 at 5:55 pm

dsquared:
I think you are really reaching. I would love to see some hard evidence that Al Gore would have invaded Iraq.
http://www.commonwealthclub.org/archive/02/02-09gore-speech.html

The choice here strikes me as similar to the one faced by a soldier on the battlefield. Individually a soldier’s best chance in survival may lie in fleeing the battle. However, because historically the majority of causalities have occurred after one sides battle lines have collapsed, as a group the best chance of maximizing survival is usually to maintain order and continue the fight. I think of voting the same way, sure it might not matter much if I stay home or if I vote for a third party candidate but if tens or hundreds of thousands do these things it could matter a great deal.

Al Gore lost by a few hundred votes. That means that if a few Ralph Nader supporters had changed their minds at the last second the world could have been spared all the horrors of the Reign of George the Lesser.

47

Brian 11.01.10 at 5:57 pm

I don’t mean this as a criticism, either implicitly or explicitly, but I am amused by Daniel @41, the shorter version of which is: Counterfactuals are of course impossible, but check out this counterfactual analysis.

48

Daniel 11.01.10 at 5:58 pm

But the “Gore would have attacked Iraq” question is a distraction from the main point of the post, isn’t it?

Yes but then you have points of view like #25. The correct response to that is indeed probably George’s “what have you done for electoral reform since then?”, but the facts are what they are; the Democrats do, actually, do a lot of horrible things overseas.

And if you don’t think it’s a strong claim, tell the Democrats! They certainly seem to think, and say regularly, that everyone politically interested on the left is obliged not only to vote for them, but to actively campaign and help get out the vote for them. Interestingly, this only applies to people to the left of the mainstream; it’s more or less taken for granted that right-wing Democrat candidates are allowed to spend half their campaign talking down the Democratic Party, and that even endorsing John McCain over Barack Obama isn’t necessarily the sort of thing that should preclude caucusing with the Democrats and keeping your seniority.

49

MPAVictoria 11.01.10 at 6:00 pm

Shorter dsquared: Al Gore is history’s greatest monster.

50

Daniel 11.01.10 at 6:00 pm

I would love to see some hard evidence that Al Gore would have invaded Iraq.

I’m not getting into this because I do think it’s a red herring; there’s a document linked in my #41 that sets out the case and I personally think it’s convincing.

51

Greg Sanders 11.01.10 at 6:00 pm

For the record, the Democrats had a “filibuster proof majority” from July 8th, 2009 to February 4th, 2009 and even filibuster proof majorities are vulnerable to a variety of delaying tactics based on unanimous consent votes. So, half a year, not a full year.

52

Greg Sanders 11.01.10 at 6:01 pm

Correction: February 4, 2010. Not 2009.

53

chrismealy 11.01.10 at 6:05 pm

Daniel, wasn’t your position on the Iraq war that you’d be for it if it were run by anybody besides Bush?

54

Aulus Gellius 11.01.10 at 6:06 pm

I think Uncle Kvetch’s desire for an anti-Paladino vote hints at another important, positive (sort of) reason to vote Democrat: a D vote is a clearer statement of “God, I hate the Republicans/this particular Republican.” If only because third-party voting is often understood as “they’re all the same anyway,” a lot of people are more likely to vote D when the R is vile, and so, e.g., a Cuomo vote says “Fuck you, Paladino” somewhat louder than a protest vote.

55

Sebastian (2) 11.01.10 at 6:07 pm

I’m pretty sympathetic to this argument (I’ve actually protest voted based on exactly this rational) but I think the argument doesn’t address what I would consider the elephant in the room:

The “obligation” to vote Democrat is, imho, basically a Kantian obligation: If everyone who thinks like you abstained, we’d have a lot more Republicans elected (and we’d presumably agree that’d be a bad thing). The voting paradox is essentially a collective action problem – and moral arguments are often intended to solve collective action problems. Here the collective action problem is, that while a single apathetic or disillusioned voter not voting won’t make a difference, all of them will.
And I think making the Kantian argument is completely legitimate to make here.

I’m not completely sure I agree with it, though – I’d like to hear some thoughts.

56

Daniel 11.01.10 at 6:08 pm

And just to reiterate on this one:

Is Obama the 2nd coming of the Messiah? Of course not, and anyone who thought he would be is too immature to take seriously.[1] Is he better than Bush was or McCain would have been? I dare you to say no, and explicate how he is no better than either of them in any way, or equivalently, that he’s better in some ways, worse in others, and on balance, no improvement.

Barack Obama is not standing in this election. Even if you write his name in, he will not give up his job as President in order to serve in your local House or Senate seat. It is not possible to vote for Barack Obama. What is at stake in this election is whether the Democrats control the Senate with a 58/42 majority or a 52/48 majority, with the swing vote being “a somewhat right-wing and rather venal politician” or “a somewhat right-wing and rather venal politician”.

57

someguy 11.01.10 at 6:10 pm

Sometimes supporting the lesser of two evils is very important. I think it is probably a really good thing the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany.

Republican’s believe in tax cut fairies and that the solution to every problem is a good kick to the bottom of someone else.

But a Republican victory doesn’t mean that you are that much closer to a being arrested and put in a detainment camp. Not at all.

I am a conservative and I am going to save the extra minutes and just drive home. Or maybe I can get my hair cut without waiting in line?

Because Obama isn’t evil he is just an orthodox liberal, the Repubican party believes in tax cut fairies, and I think we deserve better choices.

Now if they would tabulate and report the write in vote totals I would vote. But that wouldn’t be a serious thing to do.

58

Brian 11.01.10 at 6:13 pm

Interestingly, this only applies to people to the left of the mainstream; it’s more or less taken for granted that right-wing Democrat candidates are allowed to spend half their campaign talking down the Democratic Party

I don’t think this is interesting at all, I think it’s exactly what we expect from the system as currently configured. It’s the Republicans that work to try and pick up votes to the left of their base. Somewhere there is probably a conservative/libertarian blog that’s having the exact same discussion as here but in reverse about whether it’s even worth continuing to vote Republican this year…

59

MPAVictoria 11.01.10 at 6:14 pm

# 51 Daniel:
Fair enough. Though I encourage you to read my link and the interview Al Gore gave the Times in 2004 and think on the issue.

60

marcel 11.01.10 at 6:15 pm

Daniel 11.01.10 at 6:08 pm:

What is at stake in this election is whether the Democrats control the Senate with a 58/42 majority or a 52/48 majority, with the swing vote being “a somewhat right-wing and rather venal politician” or “a somewhat right-wing and rather venal politician”.

Not only.. The woman running for House Rep in my district (Kuster in NH2) has staked out a position on the left of the Democratic Party. She’s running against Charlie Bass, who had the seat for about a decade, and pretty much did whatever the House GOP leadership asked her too. The Democratic running for Senate is OK, better than average for a Democrat, and he’s likely to get stomped by a Palindrone.

Anyway, my question about Obama was not relevant to this election, but was more provoked by your general argument and by your pony question. I inferred, I guess mistakenly, that pony=Messiah.

61

Tim Wilkinson 11.01.10 at 6:19 pm

Re: the Iraq war (fwiw).

The war as it happened was very clearly the consequence of the neo-cons in the administration, with Cheney for some reason at their head, pushing very hard and very determinedly for it, with the connivance of Rumsfeld who had his own demented reasons for wanting some war or other. If you want to claim that there were other factors overdetermining it such that a Gore administration would have done the same or something similar, I think you have to at least say what those factors are – protecting the petrodollar might be one possibility, I dunno.

And I don’t get the ‘counterfactuals are impossible’ gag. Or maybe I do, in which case I regret to announce I don’t think it’s much good. Maybe ‘counterfactuals are always worse than the alternative (would have been)’? Well, not actually that, obviously.

The recent UK general election might be a useful test case.

62

Brian 11.01.10 at 6:20 pm

I think we’re always going to be stuck with a few “somewhat right-wing and rather venal politician[s]”, but I don’t see anything in the current analysis that suggests that more and larger Democratic victories wouldn’t cut down on/marginalize those people somewhat.

It rather seems like this thread would have been better placed in the primary season…

63

Anderson 11.01.10 at 6:22 pm

This looks fallacious, on the assumption that one’s own voting behaviour is not going to affect that of others

I am of course accustomed to being mistaken, but doesn’t this cut both ways? If I post on my blog that protest votes are the way to go, I may influence others to imitate me. And disaffection, being more emotional than rational, is more likely to spread.

If no one’s vote matters, then no one’s $5 matters either, and it makes no sense to donate it to some charity.

64

Tim Wilkinson 11.01.10 at 6:23 pm

BTW there was something on Radio 4 about institutionalised gerrymandering (re-districting?) last night. I wasn’t really listening though, and prima facie it’s not exactly on topic. I’ll get me coat.

65

Brian 11.01.10 at 6:24 pm

Tim:If you want to claim that there were other factors overdetermining it such that a Gore administration would have done the same or something similar, I think you have to at least say what those factors are

He linked to them in 41.

66

thor 11.01.10 at 6:26 pm

No comments on the brazilian election? The left got a major victory over a candidate who tried to import the tea party style here- José Serra. Seems like South America is going left and will stay left for a while.

67

Barry 11.01.10 at 6:27 pm

41
dsquared 11.01.10 at 5:42 pm

Another: “Well, surely the most relevant fact about Clinton-era foreign policy is that it didn’t include an invasion of Iraq. And there’s no evidence (that I know of) that Gore as VP was chewing at the bit to invade Iraq, but was restrained by Clinton”

dsquared: “Counterfactuals are of course impossible, but there was the Iraq Liberation Act 1998 and Operation Desert Fox. And that was with oil at $20 a barrel. GW Bush certainly thought that his policy on Iraq was a continuation of Clinton’s into the post 9/11 era and said so. Also it can’t be totally escaped that the Iraq War was at least partly Saddam’s fault, and he would not obviously have behaved less crazily just because the Democrats had won. (cf.)”

First, there’s a difference between the ‘[insert goodie name here] Act’, and actual policy. An ‘…Act’ is usually cheap. Second, one of the very interesting facts about Operation Desert Fox was that it was a bunch of airstrikes; no ground troops involved (except possibly for some highly secret and higly expendable spec ops guys).

And the Iraq War was in no way Saddam’s fault; he was trying to keep from being toppled and killed, and it was obvious to any sane observer that the Bush administration didn’t care about what Saddam did or did not do – they wanted a war and lied as they needed to get it.

68

Harry 11.01.10 at 6:30 pm

It’s worth noting that most Congressional seats are actually not competitive at all, and are designed not to be so, so that voting for a left-of-Democrat or not voting are both completely costless in those seats. (I like my local Congresswoman, but would never support her or even vote for her if I could, just because I object to gerrymandering — sure it has guaranteed the first openly lesbian congresswoman a job for life, but at the cost of guaranteeing Paul Ryan a job for life. Thanks, Dems!). Many other seats are not competitive for other reasons than design, again no cost. In state legislatures less is at stake (Presidential elections constitute a tiny fraction of opportunities to vote) and it often makes sense not to vote Democrat. I know people who, when our current Governor ran for the first time, voted for the Republican on the not-implausible grounds that although he was the less left candidate he might be the more left governor. In my own state assembly district (a Democratic Party sinecure) a Green candidate is putting up a surprisingly plausible fight against a business-friendly Democrat, with endorsements from lots of local and state Democratic Party stalwarts (a former attorney general, a former Dem candidate for Governor, etc) — no Republican in the race. I hope the people above who have ridiculed DD (always a dangerous thing to do) will give my friends in this district dispensation to vote for someone who probably won’t beat the Dem but who, by getting 30-40% will put his feet to the fire.

69

JG 11.01.10 at 6:30 pm

57 The “obligation” to vote Democrat is, imho, basically a Kantian obligation: If everyone who thinks like you abstained, we’d have a lot more Republicans elected (and we’d presumably agree that’d be a bad thing).

Yes, but the counter is that if everyone keeps voting Democratic/Republican then the US is going to have a perpetually terrible government. So don’t vote Democratic/Republican? If we all voted (insert favourite party) instead, then everyone gets a pony, and don’t you be fooled by those naysayers telling you that there’s no chance of your vote playing any part in accomplishing this.

70

Rich Puchalsky 11.01.10 at 6:31 pm

“But is there an argument in favour of withholding one’s vote for the Democrats on specifically progressive grounds?”

I try to make one here. Admittedly it doesn’t have even its very low expected value unless you also tell people that you’re doing so.

71

Tim Wilkinson 11.01.10 at 6:37 pm

Anderson @65. I don’t think that’s a case of cutting both ways, but of not cutting – but I agree with you that by publicly recommending that people stay home, you’re potentially having a much wider effect than you would have by just staying home yourself – so the assumption of causal independence doesn’t apply to that activity. And I also agree that by staying home you may have similar if less pronounced effects, by setting an example, or contributing to a general ethos.

72

burritoboy 11.01.10 at 6:41 pm

“Politics, as Weber reminds us, is about threatening others with violence in order to coerce them into acting as you like.”

Why should we take that at face value? That’s just an assertion that some form of Hobbes is right.

73

mpowell 11.01.10 at 6:45 pm

This is a rather long post for a fairly limited claim. I’ll side with ECW @ 13 and add that voting is an altruistic method of advancing the common good through consequentialist means. The low expected value getting applied over the whole population doesn’t look so bad anymore. But if your reason for voting is expression, I can’t see why you would bother.

If you grant my motivation for voting, you might still argue that voting for the lesser of two evils party is not always the right thing to do from a consequentialist perpective. And I wouldn’t disagree. There are really too many possibilities to speculate. It only gets interesting if you start talking about particular political environments and particular elections. And here in the United States I think the safest bet currently running is that consistent and substantial underperformance by the Republican party is the best outcome to aim for. I don’t see any other hope for an improvement in the state of politics. It’s not so much about consistently supporting Dems as thinking that a party strategy of bundling the short-sighted interests of a few billionaires, corporate executives and bankers into a package designed to appeal to the worst-founded resentments of the majority ethnic group is something that needs to be defeated before we can even start talking again.

74

John Quiggin 11.01.10 at 6:49 pm

As I’ve pointed out a few times here and in print, and has been proved more rigorously by Edlin, Gelman and Kaplan, the “paradox of voting” argument doesn’t work for anyone who is even moderately altruistic. In an election where the chances are even, the probability of being decisive is of the order of (in fact, larger than) 1/n where n is the number of voters (we’ve proved this quite a few times already). Now, suppose the US would be worse off by 1 per cent of national income ($100 billion) if the Dems lost the House. With, roughly 100 million voters, the expected benefit to the US as a whole from voting for the Dems is $1000, so the question is whether you would be willing to take the trouble of voting to confer such a benefit on the country.

Of course, that’s a simplification. There are lots of districts that aren’t competitive, or that would only swing in the event of a landslide, and in those districts, there’s no harm in abstaining or voting expressively. But that only enhances the importance of holding your nose and pulling the D lever in competitive districts.

PDF of the EGK paper is http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/research/published/charity.pdf

75

Jaybird 11.01.10 at 7:00 pm

Clap louder, you’re not helping.

76

dana 11.01.10 at 7:00 pm

They certainly seem to think, and say regularly, that everyone politically interested on the left is obliged not only to vote for them, but to actively campaign and help get out the vote for them.

These are two very different amounts of effort; you seem to conflate the two in the post. I think one could probably defend the idea that people should vote, and that it’s legitimate (and maybe altruistic) to consider the overall strategy when deciding to vote for the Democrat or for the (say) Green party candidate, and that in many cases, a vote for the third-party is going to be counterproductive, without thereby committing someone to the claim that the lukewarm Democratic voter needs to campaign to get out the vote.

77

geo 11.01.10 at 7:04 pm

JQ @74: Suppose the expected cost of indefinite Democratic/Republican duopoly is continued severe global inequality, ecological destruction, military conflict, and civilizational decay. In that case (farfetched, of course), what would be the expected benefit of voting for the Green or Working Families candidate?

78

Daragh McDowell 11.01.10 at 7:10 pm

Just as an aside I think the craziest electoral rule I became aware of this cycle was that even though Nevada gives voters a ‘None of the Above’ ballot option, if NOA places first it doesn’t matter – the candidate who comes next takes the seat anyway.
To an extent one has to admire the sheer chutzpah of it – the State of Nevada will of course give you the option of expressing your disgust with the entire slate of corporate oligarchs competing for your endorsement, and then tell you it doesn’t fucking matter what you think, someone has to hand Goldman the keys to the Treasury…

79

Norwegian Guy 11.01.10 at 7:12 pm

The war as it happened was very clearly the consequence of the neo-cons in the administration, with Cheney for some reason at their head, pushing very hard and very determinedly for it, with the connivance of Rumsfeld who had his own demented reasons for wanting some war or other. If you want to claim that there were other factors overdetermining it such that a Gore administration would have done the same or something similar, I think you have to at least say what those factors are – protecting the petrodollar might be one possibility, I dunno.

Well, there would always have Vice President Lieberman. Perhaps Madelaine “500,000 dead Iraqis are worth it” Albright would still have been Secretary of State? There is no reason to believe that a Gore administration would have been lacking in liberal interventionists (aka liberal hawks). But it’s not unlikely that Al Gore would have been able to resist the pressure for war better than George “humble foreign policy” Bush did.

80

mds 11.01.10 at 7:19 pm

The US is still a two-party system in which any attempts to tackle predominantly first-past-the-post with the occasional majority requirement will face an uphill battle. Announce that you’re changing the ballot so that someone’s first choice doesn’t necessarily count toward the final result, and the current semi-annual furor over voting while Democratic will look tame by comparison. It also seems like “Withhold your vote, then lay the groundwork for a unified third party of the left,” might not actually work out optimally.

Yes, indeed, “non-electoral political activism” is the only hope for someday having honest, meaningful elections and an accountable government.

This is very likely true. Be sure to stop by the voting booth on the way to tomorrow’s meeting of non-electoral political activists, okay? It’s still a secret ballot in the US, so no one need know you embraced “both / and” rather than “either / or.”

This whole “The only way to gain true electoral reform and a multiparty democracy is to make things as bad as possible” worries me, since there doesn’t appear to be a strong guarantee that things will get better after they get worse. Or how quickly this will occur, if it does. Some of us have to live here right now. And realizing that if only we had three signficant parties instead of two, we could potentially have the Congressional equivalent of the current government of the UK, is cold comfort.

What is at stake in this election is whether the Democrats control the Senate with a 58/42 majority or a 52/48 majority, with the swing vote being “a somewhat right-wing and rather venal politician” or “a somewhat right-wing and rather venal politician”.

It’s an understandable oversight, but it turns out that we have a bicameral legislature in the US. So it’s actually whether Democrats control the Senate with a 58/42 majority that is insufficient to act on more progressive legislation passed by the Democrat-controlled House, or whether Democrats control the Senate with a 52/48 majority that is insufficient to block the budgetary shenanigans of a Republican-controlled House. Under the latter, the few weak substantive accomplishments of the past two years wouldn’t exist. Or, put differently: Of the three Democratic political leaders in DC, one isn’t on the ballot, one will likely lose his seat, but the one who will lose the job of chamber leader to a Republican is the most progressive of the three. Um, hooray?

81

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.01.10 at 7:23 pm

@77 Suppose the expected cost of indefinite Democratic/Republican duopoly is continued severe global inequality, ecological destruction, military conflict, and civilizational decay. In that case (farfetched, of course), what would be the expected benefit of voting for the Green or Working Families candidate?

I think in that case one should vote Republican. Provided, of course, one wants to put an end to it.

82

Tim Wilkinson 11.01.10 at 7:44 pm

there would always have Vice President Lieberman. Perhaps Madelaine “500,000 dead Iraqis are worth it” Albright would still have been Secretary of State? There is no reason to believe that a Gore administration would have been lacking in liberal interventionists (aka liberal hawks).

I don’t know about Lieberman, but re Albright, I think there’s a big difference between falling into line when faced with a fait accompli and actually pressing for war. The Iraq War was a big uphill struggle and the neo-cons only got there through a supreme effort, a clear and long-standing plan, and a lot of extremely dirty tactics. Maybe the permanent elements of the government had quite a hand in it too, but the assertion that a Gore White House would not have invaded Iraq must surely be the default position. Remember, it had no salience at all as a strategy until the PNAC lot started relentlessly talking it up. It;s not as if it was a war waiting to happen – it was very carefully and persistently engineered ex nihilo.

83

prolefeed 11.01.10 at 7:49 pm

The article applies equally to other people not near the authoritarian political center — people such far right-wingers and libertarians — since the status quo consists largely of politicians in both major parties bad on both civil liberties and economic liberties.

84

dsquared 11.01.10 at 7:55 pm

#74: I don’t think that this works as an argument in my specific case though. As George points out at #77, there are definite and long term costs associated with supporting the status quo too. Given that in the top post I’ve argued that I think the two cost/benefit calculations are close enough to be comparable and uncertain whether the difference is positive or negative, then they both apply to the same number of people and so all we’re doing is multiplying both sides by a hundred million. It’s an argument in favour of expending the effort on careful consideration of your vote, but if someone has decided that all in, they think it’s better to not vote Dem than to do so, it’s not going to change their mind.

85

geo 11.01.10 at 8:03 pm

mds@84: Be sure to stop by the voting booth on the way to tomorrow’s meeting of non-electoral political activists, okay?

I will if you will.

86

Marc 11.01.10 at 8:03 pm

Al Gore was a passionate opponent of war with Iraq, and that he got intense public criticism for doing so.

Given that this is apparently an example that Daniel actually employs: namely, that Gore would have invaded Iraq anyhow, with the clear implication that it didn’t really matter that Bush won and Gore didn’t – well, I simply can’t take the rest of the argument remotely seriously if even obvious matters of the factual record are subject to such idiosyncratic (and actively perverse) reading.

87

Brian 11.01.10 at 8:05 pm

Well said, mds.

88

Guido Nius 11.01.10 at 8:08 pm

I guess all is well with this as long as one is not being obliged to not vote Democrat.

89

spyder 11.01.10 at 8:20 pm

One small caveat: vote local please. Vote your ballot from the bottom up. School boards, fire districts, tax propositions, your local councilperson, initiatives–these do impact direct action on your lives. Too many people vote from the top down and never get to the half way point on their ballots. Hell most don’t even realize their ballots may be two-sided. From the bottom up, you at least have the chance of making a substantive difference in your day-to-day life.

90

Bill Jones 11.01.10 at 8:21 pm

People who make arguments that include something like the Paradox of Voting , should they gain a wide audience, could, purposely or otherwise, overcome said paradox (which of course it isn’t anyway.) Say the person making the argument succeeds in persuading 10,000 voters not to vote in a closely contested race. Each individual voter is highly unlikely to affect the outcome but the savant making the argument would most certainly have had such an effect. One is then led to wonder what the true motive was for making the argument in the first place?

91

marcel 11.01.10 at 8:34 pm

I normally like d2’s postings, he’s generally (along with JQ) the most insightful poster here, but I think the stupidity of US politics has frustrated him so much that he cannot see straight. There’s something about this line of thought that puts me in mind of the underpants gnomes:

Phase 1) don’t vote Democratic
Phase 2) ?
Phase 3) true reform

92

kmack 11.01.10 at 8:34 pm

“And if you don’t think it’s a strong claim, tell the Democrats! They certainly seem to think, and say regularly, that everyone politically interested on the left is obliged not only to vote for them, but to actively campaign and help get out the vote for them. Interestingly, this only applies to people to the left of the mainstream….”

Thank you. I was going to write earlier to express thanks, but I’m glad I waited–since this basic, central point eventually emerged in your replies.

I have never understood the notion that Nader voters had some kind of responsibility to support a platform that they could not support in sufficiently good conscience. (If Gore/Lieberman hadn’t been as bad as they were, their margin of victory wouldn’t have been close enough in the first place for the Bush/Cheney people to steal the election.) Blaming Naderites for the Iraq War, etc.–despite all of the other, various counterfactual possibilities–is downright silly.

In general, there is nothing foolishly intransigent or idealistic about refusing to vote for candidates one cannot support in sufficiently good conscience–even if some present alternative is evidently worse. It’s simply a bogus assumption that sane persons on the left will be committed Democrats (or at least silent non-participants), even when they reasonably and strongly object to major Democratic policies/practices.

If Democrats, whether on substantive or (often imaginary) political grounds, can hardly bear to appease the left, they might as well stop complaining when some such voters publicly resist voting Democrat. Of course, I realize that the real purpose of Democrats complaining about “the far left” is to shore up support among unexcited or disaffected mainstream liberal/centrist types.

Yet at CT, do those spouting whatever version of the “pragmatic” party line really think the unpersuaded here are so dense and weak as to buy the notion that we should perpetually support being ignored, disrespected, deceived, or sold out by Democrats, one election and counterfactually-averted disaster at at time? Or, rather, are you mainly self-deceived?

93

geo 11.01.10 at 8:40 pm

Marcel et al:

The map actually looks like this:

Phase 1) Election Day: ?
Phase 2) Between elections: work quite hard and steadily to organize structures of ongoing citizen participation, on the Nader model or any other.
Phase 3) A long time from now: True reform

94

christian_h 11.01.10 at 8:43 pm

Oh no it seems I missed all the fun. So kudos to Daniel for upsetting the liberal apple cart. Kind of hilarious that people still gripe about Nader, in 2010. Maybe if you guys spent some energy on opposing the actual wars your actual democratic politicians have actually started, continued, intensified and/or are about to start/intensify instead of wasting it on what some guy not in office not planning to run ever again said about a war he had no decision making power over, we would be in better shape. Also, for the misunderstanders of causality: if all the Gore voters had voted for Nader, Bush wouldn’t have won either. I blame you.

95

Harold 11.01.10 at 8:44 pm

Al Gore decimated the civil service and I could easily envision him attacking Iran — he had Lieberman, “Yassuh, Mr. Cheney, you’re my man” as his running mate.

Thank God we still have a secret ballot.

96

James Kroeger 11.01.10 at 8:49 pm

Well, some voters may be like me. Back during the Clinton administration, I concluded that there was not a political party in the U.S. that I could identify with. For a number of reasons, I do not identify with the modern Democratic Party. There is, however, one thing that I truly am above all else: I am strongly Anti-Republican. And so it is that I nearly always end up voting for Democrats in most elections. As an Anti-Republican, I cannot use my vote in any way that might help Republicans to obtain political power.

97

burritoboy 11.01.10 at 8:57 pm

Tim,

The permanent elements of the government seem to have disliked the Iraq War though they of course fell in line when ordered to. Lieberman’s main boogeyman is Iran, not Iraq. Can’t invade Iran from Kuwait (well, you can but you’re going to have go through Iraq first).

98

marcel 11.01.10 at 9:00 pm

geo 11.01.10 at 8:40 pm:

Step 2 is fine, but what happens in the meantime?

As I said @ 40 above, I distinguish between quantities of shit that I have to live in, between a whole lot and merely an amount that is still too much. It seems to me that d2 is coming too close to the mistake of the German 3rd Internationalists in re their 2nd Internationalist rivals back in the 1930s, you know, when they called them social fascists. That did not turn out so well.

99

MPAVictoria 11.01.10 at 9:03 pm

christian h.
Yes hundreds of thousands dead. A real laugh riot.

100

geo 11.01.10 at 9:05 pm

Marcel: As mds considerately pointed out above, it’s not either/or. All we are saying is, if and only if people undertake step 2 will there be true reform. Making the right choice about step 1 will making carrying out step 2 a little easier. But for all the reasons dsquared has patiently laid out, it’s not entirely obvious what the right choice about step 1 is.

101

John Quiggin 11.01.10 at 9:22 pm

DD, I agree that the argument scales perfectly regardless of the number of voters, which means that we can ignore the question of whether our vote will be effective and focus on the difference between a Republican and a Democratic majority (in one or both houses).

At that point, the choice is between a group who can’t be relied on to support any worthwhile proposal and a group who can absolutely be relied on not to do so, and also to support any bad proposal you might care to name.

Against that is the benefit of an expansion in non-party activity (the proportional expansion being time taken to vote relative to existing time spent).

102

cd 11.01.10 at 9:27 pm

[i]any system with more than two parties avoids having to pick between the lesser of two evils.[/i]

No, the dilemma then just becomes picking between the lesser of x evils… Just because additional parties are included in political systems does not necessarily mean that there will be more ‘viable’ options. You may have five parties in contention, and three of them are radical in some way, and thus you are then left with the option of picking the two that are least radical. This might seem pedantic but I think it’s an important distinction because the original idea posed is simply not how many political systems with multiple parties work.

103

cd 11.01.10 at 9:27 pm

any system with more than two parties avoids having to pick between the lesser of two evils.

No, the dilemma then just becomes picking between the lesser of x evils… Just because additional parties are included in political systems does not necessarily mean that there will be more ‘viable’ options. You may have five parties in contention, and three of them are radical in some way, and thus you are then left with the option of picking the two that are least radical. This might seem pedantic but I think it’s an important distinction because the original idea posed is simply not how many political systems with multiple parties work.

*delete #105 please.*

104

Brian 11.01.10 at 9:28 pm

Yet at CT, do those spouting whatever version of the “pragmatic” party line really think the unpersuaded here are so dense and weak as to buy the notion that we should perpetually support being ignored, disrespected, deceived, or sold out by Democrats, one election and counterfactually-averted disaster at at time? Or, rather, are you mainly self-deceived?

I think this is taking the act of voting a bit too personally. The Democrats don’t owe you allegiance, respect, or fidelity just because you marked a ballot. They take us for granted because they know we have no place else to go, and tell us if we abandon them, the Republicans will likely win because if we abandon them, the Republicans will likely win. I really don’t see the point of acting affronted, wronged, sold-out, or of comparing us to property just because this is so.

Sucks to be us, but I see no compelling argument that voter apathy will do anything but make things worse.

105

Tom Hurka 11.01.10 at 9:45 pm

Supporting dsquared on the red-herring counterfactual:

Kenneth Pollack’s The Threatening Storm (if I’m remembering the title correctly), written before the Iraq War by the Iraq specialist in the Clinton NSC, reports that within the White House Gore was pushing for war against Iraq in 1999. Why? He wanted Iraq off his plate when he succeeded to the Presidency in 2001. But it didn’t happen because Clinton decided his big foreign policy legacy would be peace between the Israelis and Palestinians — hence the Camp David meetings — and you can’t pursue that while making war on Iraq.

I doubt Pollack is this blog’s favourite authority, but the story has the ring of truth. Certainly the motivations it attributes to Gore and Clinton sound all-too-human.

106

politicalfootball 11.01.10 at 9:45 pm

If Democrats, whether on substantive or (often imaginary) political grounds, can hardly bear to appease the left, they might as well stop complaining when some such voters publicly resist voting Democrat.

This works both ways, of course. If those on the left aren’t interested in being part of an electoral majority, then they court the result that Nader got: They push the candidate further to the right, and watch that candidate lose to someone still further right.

Which is fine if, as dsquared does, you’d like to make the case that there isn’t any appreciable difference between Democrats and Republicans; between Gore and Bush. If you really don’t prefer one candidate to the other, then it’s reasonable not to choose one over the other. If you’re satisfied that Gore’s loss didn’t move the country further to the right, then sure, you should be proud of that Nader vote.

Seems like a dubious proposition, though. In order to make it work you have to, among other things, turn one of the most prominent critics of the Iraq War into the most prominent proponent of that war. Counterfactuals are tricky, but I can’t see any sensible justification for this one.

And even if Gore were, at heart, the same sort of aggressive warmonger that Bush was, it’s still hard for me to see Republicans or Democrats backing him the way they backed Bush. Let’s face it, after 9-11, Gore would have probably been impeached. And without 9/11, I don’t think even Bush could have made the Iraq War happen. (But yes, counterfactuals are tricky.)

107

Tom Hurka 11.01.10 at 9:50 pm

Also supporting JQ on the expected value of voting at #78. If you’re a utilitarian, the expected value of voting in most elections is positive, for the reasons he gives.

108

Uncle Kvetch 11.01.10 at 9:57 pm

At that point, the choice is between a group who can’t be relied on to support any worthwhile proposal and a group who can absolutely be relied on not to do so, and also to support any bad proposal you might care to name.

Very nicely put. I tend to sum it up as “a choice between shitty and even shittier,” but I like this formulation quite a lot too.

109

The Raven 11.01.10 at 10:04 pm

I don’t think you feel how awful US politics can be for minority factions, even very large minority factions. I think you grew up under a system which provides more alternatives and don’t understand the psychology and sociology of a system which only provides two–don’t understand the anxiety and hopelessness it can induce.

Is it not possible to vote Democratic, so as to cheat the wingnuts of their hoped-for victory, and at the same time pursue non-electoral politics outside of the Democratic Party? The Republican Senate challenger in my state is a corrupt wingnut and I do not want him to become of the most powerful people in the world, so I am voting. I am so far not able to bring myself to work for the Democratic candidate, however, a decision helped by a very busy personal life.

110

dsquared 11.01.10 at 10:04 pm

and focus on the difference between a Republican and a Democratic majority (in one or both houses).

but here you’re only counting the static effects and I think that George S has a serious case for saying that there are potentially quite negative dynamic effects which can plausibly be assigned to the strategy “always vote Democrat in a close race no matter what”; it makes it very difficult to do anything about the fundamental structural issues. And of course, a strategy which isn’t “always vote Democrat in a close race no matter what” is always going to mean that there is some close race in which you actually don’t vote Democrat.

NB (this is tangential and not particularly addressed to John): for the purposes of this argument, I don’t need to take as a premis that there’s no difference between D and R – just that the difference isn’t big enough to outweigh the potential long term benefit of being able to achieve a better system.

Obviously, anyone who likes can say that they don’t think any alternative possible system is feasible (although I’d rather they just expressed the opinion, rather than trying to claim I don’t know anything about American politics, which I do). But in turn, I think I might be permitted a bit of scepticism on my own account about the Democrats’ own bona fides.

111

christian_h 11.01.10 at 10:13 pm

MPAVictoria (102): How on earth does your complete non sequitur address anything at all? You are the one demanding we vote for candidates with blood on their hands (or drowning in it, more likely). Now this may well be a valid argument to make, but it should at the least get you to refrain from posting stuff like that.

You might also consider that counter factuals are just that – counter factual. Not historical truths. You don’t know if Gore in office would have invaded Iraq, or maybe invaded Iran or Pakistan instead and killed a lot more people. What you do know (and did in 2000) is that he was fully supportive of a number of brutal colonial wars and so-called humanitarian interventions. Maybe if Nader had run in 1992 and helped GHW Bush win, many people would live now. See how easy this is?

112

politicalfootball 11.01.10 at 10:32 pm

dsquared’s argument, to the extent that liberals carry it out tomorrow, works in a very direct way toward conservative ends. (There’s a reason that the Right tends to support Green candidacies under the table, and it’s not because the Right is stupid about electoral politics.)

Something like 10-20% of the Democrats in the House and Senate are really awful people. Something like 100% of the Republicans are – and the difference is so stark that there’s a persuasive case to be made that the worst Senator to caucus with the Democrats is better than the best Republican in that body. That 10-20% of scummy Democrats is very influential for reasons that are (mostly) out of the control of the remaining 80%, but every single one of the scummy Democrats comes through on the most important vote: The vote for majority leader.

As I say, I’m a Zombie Fred Rogers Democrat, and I’m proud of it.

113

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.01.10 at 10:34 pm

I believe the lessness of “the lesser of two evils” is highly exaggerated. The Clinton/Gore admin is responsible for the Iraq sanctions of the 1990s; 1.5 million dead, according to Ramsey Clark. Dismantling of the AFDC, one of the New Deal programs. Capital gains tax cut. The Bush/Cheney admin, OTOH, signed Medicare Part D, same sort of deal as Obama’s ACA.

But yeah, one side does it with a smile and liberal rhetoric, the other with a scowl and tough-guy rhetoric. Yeah, I suppose it may be worth dragging your ass down to the polling station.

114

Marc 11.01.10 at 10:36 pm

I do know that Gore was extremely vocal in opposing the Iraq war, and the claims to the contrary going on here come across as witless in the extreme. If someone actively opposing a thing at the time it happened counts for nothing there is no point in a discussion.

Nader voters royally screwed up in 2000, along with a lot of other people. Making believe that it didn’t actually matter turns a learning moment into an exercise in self-justifying fantasy. And Daniel posting Naderite garbage at this time is…

well Christ, it’ll get the page hits and post count up.

Anyone who thinks that the outcome will be anything other than a hard right turn in US politics, however, has learned nothing from the past 50 years of US elections.

115

politicalfootball 11.01.10 at 10:44 pm

it makes it very difficult to do anything about the fundamental structural issues.

Not so.

The structural problems in general elections exist because liberals failed in the primaries. Any solution to the structural problem is necessarily going to involve political parties and their primary elections. (And the creation of a viable third party wouldn’t change that, even if such a party weren’t a fantasy.)

116

Alex 11.01.10 at 10:47 pm

For the information of the thread, D^2’s argument wrt Al Gore is based on this quote:

Even if we give first priority to the destruction of terrorist networks, and even if we succeed, there are still governments that could bring us great harm. And there is a clear case that one of these governments in particular represents a virulent threat in a class by itself: Iraq.

As far as I am concerned, a final reckoning with that government should be on the table.

To my way of thinking, the real question is not the principle of the thing, but of making sure that this time we will finish the matter on our terms. But finishing it on our terms means more than a change of regime in Iraq. It means thinking through the consequences of action there on our other vital interests, including the survival in office of Pakistan’s leader; avoiding a huge escalation of violence in the Middle East; provision for the security and interests of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf States; having a workable plan for preventing the disintegration of Iraq into chaos; and sustaining critically important support within the present coalition.

If those criteria had been used as a decision rule, there would have been no war. Also, they add up to a pretty good forecast of everything that would go wrong. D^2 is usually pretty good at spotting good bureaucratic reasoning, so I wonder how he missed such a classic example of “Of course I’m in favour, in principle. But…”

(Hipster commenter: he had that argument before you heard about it, on unfogged)

117

christian_h 11.01.10 at 10:51 pm

Marc (115.), I have big trouble trusting the judgment of a person who actually professes to believe that the utterances of an out-of-office politicians with no future campaign plans are a good predictor of what that politician would have done if in office at the time.

To test this thesis, we can surely assume that a politician who will be running for office will be more careful in his public pronouncements. Yet somehow, Guantanamo is still closed, the executive still asserts the right to imprison people without any process (due or not), and the president even claims the right to assassinate US citizens. This being the very same president who objected vocally to these, and lesser, infractions “at the time [they] happened”.

I seriously have to admire the determined naivety of some here.

118

kmack 11.01.10 at 10:51 pm

“I think this is taking the act of voting a bit too personally. The Democrats don’t owe you allegiance, respect, or fidelity just because you marked a ballot. They take us for granted because they know we have no place else to go, and tell us if we abandon them, the Republicans will likely win because if we abandon them, the Republicans will likely win.”

No, I wasn’t taking the act of voting personally at all. Democrats certainly don’t owe the likes of me anything–and vice versa.

I was implying that disaffected left voters who sometimes opt out can reasonably take a longer-range view. In doing so, I was imagining that if Democrats needed the votes of disaffected left voters, they would eventually, if rational, no longer take those votes nearly as much for granted–a strategy that would work only if enough disaffected left voters opt out of voting for Democrats by default.

We do have somewhere else to go in any given election. That was supposed to be the Nader v. Gore/Lieberman lesson–even if Democrats would prefer to ignore it or spin a ridiculous counterstory. If the “pragmatic” argument is that Clinton/Obama (in office)-world is the best of all possible, feasible worlds–and it’s either that or else always much worse–some us would rather call that bluff and look to a more distant future.

Who knows? As long as people are eager to engage in counterfactual scenarios, they can imagine that President Palin would be such a real-time, comprehensive disaster that she would spark enough support for a new, progressive era.

119

christian_h 11.01.10 at 10:56 pm

politicalfootball (116.): You assert this without any evidence whatsoever. The vast majority of Democrats in office are of the liberal or formerly liberal variety. The party leadership – largely consisting of such liberals – uses the blue dogs and their ilk as cover for their very own awful politics. This is because the social basis of the party – not its voters – is big business just like for the Republican party. If a third party is really, as you claim (the example of the Republican party not withstanding) a pipe dream, then withdrawal from electoral politics is indeed the only answer. because slowing down the path to perdition isn’t gonna cut it for much longer.

120

politicalfootball 11.01.10 at 11:06 pm

You assert this without any evidence whatsoever

I would argue that politicians’ votes are evidence of their intent.

If a third party is really, as you claim (the example of the Republican party not withstanding) a pipe dream, then withdrawal from electoral politics is indeed the only answer.

On the contrary, in this scenario, voting for Democrats and withdrawal from electoral politics are functionally equivalent.

121

dsquared 11.01.10 at 11:06 pm

for the information of the thread, D^2’s argument wrt Al Gore is based on this quote:

for the information of the thread, no it isn’t, not any more because there’s a lot more I’ve dug up in the last couple of days – it’s based on all the information in the document linked in #41, plus Gore’s record in the 1990s with respect to Desert Fox, plus the Kenneth Pollack quote that Tom Hurka dug up. There’s quite a lot of material to work with when you’re trying to establish that Gore was and is of the War Party, dating back to when he was one of two or three Democratic Senators to vote for the first Gulf War, something he made a point of stressing during his 2000 run.

Then he lost in 2000, and changed quite a lot as a politician, but if he had won, he’d never have wanted or needed to get in touch with his liberal self. But this remains a red herring.

122

Shay Begorrah 11.01.10 at 11:18 pm

There is a nice but though not perfect symmetry between those who voted “with their conscience” for Nader and still maintain it was the right thing to do despite the global disaster that was the Bush 2 regime and those on the decent left who like to imagine that Saddam’s continued reign could have been somehow worse than the consequences of the invasion. It shows a very active imagination and, sadly, a real issue with admitting a mistake.

As for the current US election I would hope that those on the left do this Hippocratically: Where it can possibly keep a Republican out vote Democrat, everywhere else just make sure to vote.

This is not a survey on your principles or your character preferences.

123

geo 11.01.10 at 11:18 pm

Perhaps we could negotiate? If the Gore campaign hadn’t cravenly refused all discussions with the Nader campaign (and then gone on to use dirty tricks to keep Nader off the ballot wherever possible), the Nader campaign might have proposed vote-swapping: ie, a clearing-house in which individual Nader voters in states where the vote was close could agree with individual Gore voters where it was not that the former would vote for Gore and the latter for Nader. Of course this would have guaranteed Gore the presidency, but it might also have resulted in a higher than 5 percent vote, and therefore public funding, for a third party, so the Dems probably wouldn’t have gone for it.

But in that spirit, perhaps we could make a deal here on Crooked Timber. Those of us who are terminally skeptical of the Democrats will do our duty tomorrow, vote for them, and save the republic from the Republicans. After tomorrow, you fair-minded Dems and lesser-evilists will do something between now and the next election on behalf of electoral reform. Agreed?

124

chrismealy 11.01.10 at 11:30 pm

Back in 2000 Gore certainly cared more about global warming than about Iraq. Gore’s climate hawkishness cost him WV.

#124 Remember that in 2004 Nader demonstrated exactly how much he cared about building a viable Green Party by running on Ross Perot’s old Reform Party ticket.

125

christian h. 11.01.10 at 11:32 pm

political football (121>): I would argue that politicians’ votes are evidence of their intent.

Indeed. So why don’t we analyse the votes and other political actions of, say, one Nancy Pelosi. You’ll agree she is one of the most liberal members of the House, from one of the most leftwing districts in the country. Yet magically, she pushed numerous war appropriations through the House, both for the continued occupation of Iraq and for the intensified war on Afghanistan (and incidentally its expansion to Pakistan). she failed to stand up for women’s rights and allowed the already awful HCR bill to pass with restrictions on women’s right to choose. And so forth.

If you actually check the record you will notice that the liberals vote liberal almost exclusively when they can be sure to lose the vote. I said before the 2008 elections that I’d love to see the Democrats get 60 seats in the Senate just to see which excuse they’d present next to the liberal useful idiots supporting their reactionary politics. Turns out it was the blue dogs. If they get 60 liberal votes in 2020 (or whenever) they’ll produce a new excuse.

126

christian_h 11.01.10 at 11:33 pm

(Sorry for posting again my previous name and email always go to moderation for some reason…)

political football (121.): I would argue that politicians’ votes are evidence of their intent.

Indeed. So why don’t we analyse the votes and other political actions of, say, one Nancy Pelosi. You’ll agree she is one of the most liberal members of the House, from one of the most leftwing districts in the country. Yet magically, she pushed numerous war appropriations through the House, both for the continued occupation of Iraq and for the intensified war on Afghanistan (and incidentally its expansion to Pakistan). she failed to stand up for women’s rights and allowed the already awful HCR bill to pass with restrictions on women’s right to choose. And so forth.

If you actually check the record you will notice that the liberals vote liberal almost exclusively when they can be sure to lose the vote. I said before the 2008 elections that I’d love to see the Democrats get 60 seats in the Senate just to see which excuse they’d present next to the liberal useful idiots supporting their reactionary politics. Turns out it was the blue dogs. If they get 60 liberal votes in 2020 (or whenever) they’ll produce a new excuse.

127

John Quiggin 11.01.10 at 11:40 pm

128

geo 11.01.10 at 11:55 pm

John I accept your advance payment and hereby pledge to do my part. There will be at least one vote for the straight Democratic ticket tomorrow in the People’s Republic of Cambridge.

129

RobZ 11.02.10 at 12:11 am

Until not long before the war, everyone thought that Saddam still had lots of WMD of the sort he’d employed against the Iranians and the Kurds. No doubt that belief made him seem a lot more dangerous than he really was.

130

MPAVictoria 11.02.10 at 12:12 am

christian_h:
I see your indignation and raise you a combination of amusement and contempt. You are the one who set the tone when you found this whole issue “hilarious”. There are at least 4 big reasons why the United States (and the world) would have been better off if you and your hipster friends had “lowered” yourself to vote for Gore in 2000
1) Iraq would not have been invaded thus saving hundreds of thousands of lives and almost a trillion dollars
2) The Bush Tax Cuts never would have been implemented and a half a trillion dollar hole would not have blasted in the federal budget
3) 1 and 2 would have left the US government in much better financial shape to deal with the current recession
4) Judge Roberts and Alito never would have been appointed to the bench thus avoiding the setting of a whole number of horrible precedents.

I hope your precious purity was worth that.

131

Matt Austern 11.02.10 at 12:15 am

I agree that something like instant runoff voting would be a good idea, if only because it would make races like what’s going on up in Alaska a little more insane. I’m not at all convinced that it would make a major change in American politics, though, and I think it’s a mistake for leftists to focus on it so much. I think it’s a focus that would be very hard to get passed, and would likely have a disappointingly small effect if it ever did come about.

I’m not really convinced that any kind of electoral reform would have much effect in the US without changes in the basic structure of our government, actually. In particular, I think the fact that we have a two-party system has more to do with the fact that we have exactly one representative from each district, and a system with divided powers, than it does with how our elections are run. But if we are going to think about electoral reform, here are a few suggestions that I’d put at a higher priority than instant runoff.
(1) Stop requiring voters to register in advance, and just let any eligible voter participate. Similarly, stop turning voters away for being at the wrong polling place.
(2) Fewer electoral races. My ballot this year asked me to vote on 32 items. A ballot like that is intimidating; it suggests to voters (correctly) that making an informed decision on everything will take hours of homework. It means that voters aren’t able to devote as much attention to any one race than they could if the ballot was shorter.
(3) Public financing of electoral campaigns.
(4) Requiring corporate campaign donors to disclose their identity.

I don’t know how realistic it is to imagine any of those things happening, but I bet none of them would be harder than getting IRV everywhere.

132

Brian 11.02.10 at 12:22 am

some us would rather call that bluff and look to a more distant future

As no one seems to be able to provide even the most threadbare argument of how this apparently better future is supposed to arrive via not voting, I would prefer to look to that future under as few Republican administrations/legislatures as possible, thank you very much.

I mean really, even Daniel says in the OP that it’s non-electoral politics that get us there, so I can’t see how that leaves us with any rationale for not voting. If you really can’t see any difference between the parties – I would have thought the last decade would have cured any left/liberals of the idea that it can’t get any worse – fine, feel free not to vote, but I don’t think you should go around congratulating yourselves for bringing about a better future by doing so. This thread really has sunk to an underpants gnome theory of electoral reform.

If I’m wrong, by all means, someone lay out the argument for me, please!

133

David Hobby 11.02.10 at 12:26 am

The problem with not voting as a form of protest is that no one will recognize it as a protest. If you want to protest, you really do need to drag your ass to the polls and vote for somebody. Then politicians may notice that there are actual votes they could be getting, if only they paid attention to you.

134

Witt 11.02.10 at 12:37 am

I am only up to comment 80-something, so perhaps this is covered below. But this post seems to be me to be entirely a claim about national elections. For that reason it seems especially distasteful, because state and local races are so important, are modestly less likely to be gerrymandered, and can often turn on only a few hundred votes.

If I understand correctly, this post is a fairly narrow argument for “You shouldn’t feel bad about staying home on Election Day,” but it utterly fails to address the consequences of such behavior on one’s local community. Is there a reason that you didn’t address the option of going to the polls anyway, and merely voting for local candidates and/or ballot questions?

135

John Quiggin 11.02.10 at 12:44 am

Of course, if you really want full-bore electoral reform, compulsory voting (more precisely, compulsory submission of a ballot which may be blank, filled with abuse of all parties and so on) is the real deal.

But STV can make a difference, even in systems that are generally dominated by two parties. Australia has seen a bunch of minority governments, often, as at present, forced to rely on Greens or greenish independents.

136

Salient 11.02.10 at 1:08 am

This deal-making stuff sounds kinda fun. I’m eligible to vote in one of the most competitive House districts in one of the most contentious states (for Senate) in this election cycle, and the composition of the state House and Senate will determine redistricting in a state where that’s nontrivially important.

I’ll happily offer to hold my nose at some frankly despicable Democratic candidates, ignore alternatives, and vote straight-party Democratic tomorrow, and spend the next day attempting to persuade every other pissed-off disillusioned leftie I know in this district to do the same, in exchange for^1^ for the promise that y’all^2^ will take any opportunity that presents itself to respectfully badger, in person, any House Representative or Senator or high-level staff member affiliated with President Obama about the use of drone attacks to kill civilians and alleged insurgents around the world, and identify yourself as a member of “the Sanity Party movement.” (Or substitute for other left-wing critiques of the Obama administration.)

If possible, bring a sign or banner and get a picture. Pretty please?

^1^For strategic reasons, including likelihood of personal access to state politicians / staff who are crazily generous enough to give me the time of day in nontrivial ways from time to time, I was intending to do this anyway…

^2^Not directed at anyone in particular. I dunno. Any takers?

137

Salient 11.02.10 at 1:13 am

There are at least 4 big reasons why the United States (and the world) would have been better off if you and your hipster friends had “lowered” yourself to vote for Gore in 2000

This is not a true statement because my hipster friends are not Antonin Scalia.

138

MPAVictoria 11.02.10 at 1:16 am

Salient:
See comment 126.

139

christian_h 11.02.10 at 1:19 am

MPAVictoria (134.), your amusement and contempt is, as are your so-called arguments, based on wrong assumptions. For example, I didn’t have a vote in 2000 not being a citizen and in fact I implored my “hipster” friends (by which I assume you mean people who don’t agree with you) to vote for Gore. I merely find it hilarious that you are still hung up on this issue which you couldn’t have gotten enraged over in the first place if you (a) had any political self awareness regarding the actions of your very own favourite party of warmongers and exploiters and/or (b) had any understanding beyond the grade school level about historical processes.

I’d also point out that nobody has claimed history would have gone exactly the same way had Gore been president. You’re the one who believes they can predict the future or alternate pasts. The rest of us are left with dealing with the politics that actually exist. And in that actually existing politics we’d all be much better off if you and your fellow liberals would get your chosen party in shape instead of blaming the world’s ills on the actions of lefty bogeymen. But I guess you’ll spend Wednesday finding somebody else to blame for your failure. Again.

140

Substance McGravitas 11.02.10 at 1:23 am

As a resident of New Hampshire, where Nader’s vote total in 2000 exceeded the spread between Bush and Gore, I have difficulty with most of this screed.[1] With NH’s electoral votes, Florida’s hanging chads would have been irrelevant.

Given that the voter turnout appears to be about 65% for that election I am pretty sure you can blame self-identified Democrats for that loss.

141

christian_h 11.02.10 at 1:24 am

By the way if we are playing the “if person P. changing action A to action B at some point in time would conceivably have altered bad event E to better outcome F later, then P. is morally responsible for E” game, I think we can have a lot of fun. For example if y’all had made sure GHW Bush was re-elected in ’92, GW Bush would not have been president in 2001, with all the supposed consequences outlined above. I therefore blame Bill Clinton and anyone who voted – or worse campaigned – for him for all these consequences.

142

Salient 11.02.10 at 1:43 am

The noble McGravitas reminds me I should’ve appended this to the last comment: why do commenters that hold accountable voters for Nader in the 2000 election, not likewise hold equally accountable any citizen of the United States who sat out the election and did not vote?

About 105,000,000 votes were cast in the 2000 Presidential election, with about 186,000,000 citizens of legal voting age.

But look, I offered my vote for Democratic candidates in one of the most contentious toss-ups in the country, in exchange for you agreeing on the Internet under a pseudonym to attend a local rally and bother your House rep about a leftie issue of your choosing. You really want lefties to vote in contentious elections? For the love of God, I intentionally made it as easy for you as possible to put your fingertips where your mouth is and agree to a mild and meaningless and unverifiable precondition in exchange for my promised vote and phone-bank support (and the support of whomever else I can get to read this thread and agree to come vote Democratic with me tomorrow). Given that 2000 is over and 2010 happens tomorrow: what more could you ask for?

143

MPAVictoria 11.02.10 at 1:54 am

christian_h
“The rest of us are left with dealing with the politics that actually exist.”
Ha! Now that is rich.

144

MPAVictoria 11.02.10 at 1:57 am

Shorter christian_h : Nobody should ever feel responsible for past choices.

145

Salient 11.02.10 at 2:40 am

Another reason for lefties to abstain from casting a vote: if you do vote your conscience, expect it to be held against you in the weirdest possible ways, i.e. it’s your fault & not the fault of absentee-nonvoters^1^ that George W. Bush became President, and its your fault, despite the fact that you invested a fuckton of hours out in the streets protesting it every knuckle-dragging step of the way while the median Al Gore voter was enjoying a nice dinner out, that Bush took the country to war in Iraq. (And all this even though I voted in Wisconsin, which Gore past-the-posted.)

Whereas if I had just sat it out in 2000, MPAVictoria and basically everyone else who says those who for voted for Nader are assholes, would have nothing snippy to say about me or the people who acted as I did.

^1^Which is not to say that I hold them as individuals any more accountable than Daniel does, and also, dammit, in 2001 even Noam Chomsky thought war in Iraq was inconceivable and wouldn’t be followed through with, and said so. It’s not like folks were informed “George W. Bush intends to start a war in Iraq within 2 years” in 2000.

146

MPAVictoria 11.02.10 at 3:01 am

Salient:
Oh don’t get me wrong, the people who didn’t vote are also assholes. And if you didn’t think that electing Bush the Lesser would lead to war and disaster you were not been paying attention. See the Project for a New American Century for a good start on the issue.

147

christian_h 11.02.10 at 3:09 am

I don’t think I have ever seen anyone as unable to engage in even the most basic self-examination on a blog as MPAVictoria. And that says something. Look: should you ever decide to own up to your responsibility for your own past choices, I’ll own up to my responsibility for choices I did not, in fact, make that happened in time before events they didn’t, in fact, cause outside of your fevered imagination. This is really more than fair. I also notice with interest that you have studiously ignored Salient’s offer. I suppose voting for a warmonger every two years is as much as you expect yourself to contribute. Sad.

148

weaver 11.02.10 at 3:30 am

Barack Obama is not standing in this election. Even if you write his name in, he will not give up his job as President in order to serve in your local House or Senate seat. It is not possible to vote for Barack Obama.

Of course, if one was a true fan of Mr Obama, one would be hoping the Republicans win a majority in the House, as that will almost certainly ensure him a second term.

149

Emil Sinclair 11.02.10 at 3:37 am

I am 23 years old . As I see it, voting is about representation. If I do not feel that there is anyone on the ballot who would adequately represent my views were he/she elected, then I do not vote. I see it as a disservice to the idea of representational democracy and to myself to do otherwise. I will only vote for someone to represent me if I have confidence that they will actually do so. Why would I vote for someone who I know would not represent me? That would not be an exercise of my democratic rights, or a discharge of my civic duties. It would be the mere pretense of a democratic act – a veneer – and so would in fact be less democratic, less “civically dutiful”, than not voting. I have never voted.

First time poster. Hope this is relevant to the topic…

150

Bloix 11.02.10 at 3:44 am

Anyone who fails to vote for their democratic candidate for ccongress is voting for fascism. You’ve had two years to work for progressive change. Now it’s time to do what you can to keep the murderers and their lackeys out of power. If you don’t vote democratic, you might as well parade in the streets shouting viva la muerte.

151

christian_h 11.02.10 at 4:00 am

Uhm… Bloix is joking I suppose? Or do we need a back-to-the-basics course in what is and isn’t fascism?

152

Felwith 11.02.10 at 4:01 am

I could never understand the math behind the Paradox of Voting. If a person’s vote only has value when it’s decisive, then wouldn’t the sum of the value of all votes in an election with a margin of more than 1 be 0? That can’t possibly be right.

153

e julius drivingstorm 11.02.10 at 4:07 am

I, for one, am thankful for dsquared’s link @42. It basically concludes that Gore would have had to follow the same path to war in Iraq. I take issue with the analysis that does not seem to accord much weight to the administration’s well-known lies in an effort to drive public opinion. Specifically, I’m not sure Gore would have gone along with the reports about Curveball’s mobile labs or the Niger yellowcake caper. Nor would he have continued to carefully conflate Al Qaeda with Iraq. After all, Colin Powell said he was “devastated” to learn that he fed such flimsily supported intelligence to the UNSC. And I believe Karl Rove indicated that he himself was sceptical that the administration could have mustered enough support for the AUMF without the threat of WMD’s in Iraq.

154

Brian 11.02.10 at 4:35 am

If you don’t vote democratic, you might as well parade in the streets shouting viva la muerte

I was planning on doing this anyway, but for unrelated reasons…

And Salient, I will take that offer! Do I really have to have a sign, though? I hate signs…

155

John Quiggin 11.02.10 at 4:40 am

@Salient: as the US government excludes me from the franchise, while claiming the right to rule the world I inhabit, I’ll be very happy to take you up on your offer. As with geo, I think I’ve delivered in advance, but I’m keen to do more respectful badgering.

156

Lemuel Pitkin 11.02.10 at 5:41 am

There’s a lot of insight here but it’s kind of ruined by the buying into the “Paradox of Voting.” No one votes as individual; the I that votes is I the union member, I the environmentalist, I the resident of a northeastern city, I the opponent of war with Iran; in short the subject that’s voting is always one that can plausibly affect the election. Of course if you vote on the basis of purely personal preferences your vote will have no impact; but that’s precisely not how people vote.

Methodological individualism is even more bankrupt in analyzing political action than in other contexts. If you insist on lying down in that procrustean bed, you’ve got no right blaming anyone else for your aching feet.

157

Lemuel Pitkin 11.02.10 at 5:50 am

Also, if you live in New York, you can have it both ways by voting on Row E, supporting both the lesser evil (the merely repulsive Andrew Cuomo, as opposed to the frankly terrifying Carl Paladino) and helping build the left alternative (the Working Families Party.) If we seriously want a party to the left of the Dems, the fusion model of the WFP looks like one of the more promising ways to get there.

If I still lived in NYC, I would be voting for Cuomo on Working Families line tomorrow.

158

musical mountaineer 11.02.10 at 6:07 am

Well, this IS thrilling!

Really, I mean it. There is no reason why we on the right should be having all the Tea Party fun. If the bastards don’t represent you, fuck ‘em!

I have my differences with progressives, but as far as I know there is nothing in the progressive canon that explicitly licenses the gross and ham-fisted corruption which is now the everyday business, the bread and butter, the sole concern of the Democrat Establishment. The idea that this bunch of self-aggrandizing criminal bunglers can or will mount any meaningful opposition to “fascism” is laughable. If anything, they are heavily-invested partners in fascism. So long as progressives support these traitors to their own ideals, the progressive movement will have no credibility.

Speaking for myself, I could live with progressives having some credibility and maybe even having their way some of the time. If you’d all do your part to keep government clean, accountable, and fiscally sane, you’d be far more persuasive.

159

Chris Bertram 11.02.10 at 7:55 am

Electoral reform, hmm. I’d been thinking about posting on this, since we in the UK face a referendum on the AV system soon. I’m torn, because though I’ve always favoured a change from 1st-past-the-post, having an election under the existing system may leave the LibDems totally fucked, whereas AV may cement the ConDem coalition for years to come – something I’m anxious to avoid.

160

Steve Williams 11.02.10 at 8:27 am

MPAVictoria @134:

There are at least 4 big reasons why the United States (and the world) would have been better off if you and your hipster friends had “lowered” yourself to vote for Gore in 2000
1) Iraq would not have been invaded thus saving hundreds of thousands of lives and almost a trillion dollars
2) The Bush Tax Cuts never would have been implemented and a half a trillion dollar hole would not have blasted in the federal budget
3) 1 and 2 would have left the US government in much better financial shape to deal with the current recession
4) Judge Roberts and Alito never would have been appointed to the bench thus avoiding the setting of a whole number of horrible precedents.

I hope your precious purity was worth that.

This is just silly. By talking about specific Bush policies that you’re blaming on Nader voters, you’re suggesting that Gore wouldn’t have pursued other policies that would also have been infuriating from a progressive viewpoint. Christian H’s point (it seems to me – he can say so if I’m failing to understand) is that even a glance at the history of the last ten years shows this to be a fallacy.

Even leaving aside Iraq, I notice that Democrats are currently unhappy about the failure to do anything about DADT, the capitulation on the issues of global warming legislation and immigration reform, the appointment of a centrist to the Supreme Court, the abuses of civil liberties in the name of the War on Terror and the expansion of said war to Pakistan and Yemen without Congressional approval, the failure to get ‘card check’ passed and other things too numerous to mention. Recent history demonstrates, in other words, that Democratics govern on the center right, not on the left. Then we turn to Iraq, and we notice that Congressional Democrats voted for the invasion. Personally, I think it takes a little too much chutzpah for someone who self-identifies with a political party that did everything it could at the national level to enable a war, to somehow claim people who didn’t vote for said party are ‘responsible’ for the war happening.

If people are progressives, and they don’t think the Democrat candidate reflects their opinions, they shouldn’t vote for them. I’d maintain this opinion all the way up to – but probably not including – a straight choice between a Democrat and an out and out, death-squads-at-the-ready Fascist, but contra Bloix, the Republicans aren’t there yet.

161

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.02.10 at 8:35 am

I imagine what the Gore/Lieberman admin would’ve done is bombing both Afghanistan and Iraq back into the stone age. From high altitude, of course, to avoid American casualties. That seems to be the M.O. of the Democratic warriors. In Afghanistan, due to the lack of targets, those nice cluster bombs they used in Yugoslavia would come very handy.

162

Phil 11.02.10 at 8:55 am

Matt Austern:

I think the fact that we have a two-party system has more to do with the fact that we have exactly one representative from each district, and a system with divided powers, than it does with how our elections are run.

I don’t think the root causes are structural – the UK also has majoritarian elections to single-member seats, and a three- or four-party system is well established here. Not only that, but the long period of two-party stagnation which our current system was born into also featured *two*-member constituencies.

I think electoral systems can get screwed in all sorts of different ways (look at Italy, where bien-pensant opinion is firmly convinced that proportional representation is part of the *problem*). But they get that way for what’s ultimately the same reason – the occupation of power by a single party, or rather by elite groups within a single party. The question is not what kind of reform will deliver A Multi-Party System, but what kind of reform will shake things up enough to make sufficient space for new parties or existing interest groups to disrupt the occupation of power. After that, a new system will basically create itself.

But if we are going to think about electoral reform, here are a few suggestions that I’d put at a higher priority than instant runoff.
(1) Stop requiring voters to register in advance

We don’t do this here, and I consequently think this is crazy. More to the point, it’s a surefire participation-reducer, which is surely not what we want.

(2) Fewer electoral races. My ballot this year asked me to vote on 32 items.

Repeat previous comment.

(3) Public financing of electoral campaigns.
(4) Requiring corporate campaign donors to disclose their identity.

Not convinced about (3) unless it was accompanied by *really* stringent regulation of private campaign donations, which would make it doubly expensive. (4) is an excellent idea, but I’m not sure it would have the desired effect in the actually-existing US of A: how many voters, finding that their candidate has been sponsored by EvilMegaCorp, are just going to think “hey, what’s good for EvilMegaCorp is good for America”?

163

Phil 11.02.10 at 9:05 am

Chris – the argument for voting Yes to AV boils down to “it’s some kind of reform and if we say No to this they’ll say the British people have rejected Electoral Reform – and it’ll make some election results a bit more legitimate, even though it probably won’t make much difference to the overall result”. The argument for voting No is “it’s not PR, it won’t benefit new entrants to the system, and it *will* benefit existing third parties, which in England means the Lib Dems of all people“. Voting No to electoral reform goes against the grain, but it’s what I intend to do.

164

novakant 11.02.10 at 9:19 am

One is not obliged to vote Labour either …

165

Phil 11.02.10 at 9:22 am

Just one more.

politicalfootball: I’m a Zombie Fred Rogers Democrat

I could equally say I’m a Zombie Bob LaFollette Republican, but it wouldn’t make me advocate voting for the actually-existing Republican Party.

There are (as ever) two (at least) separate arguments going on here: one about voting tactically, with a view to shaking things up so as to produce a more open system at a later date; and one about voting on principle. I think it’s important to keep in mind that there are strong in-principle arguments for not voting Democrat, despite the fact that there are many good Democrats and despite the fact that the Republicans are consistently worse.

Daniel’s Myanmar/Khmer Rouge hypothetical deserves to be taken seriously, not least because it isn’t entirely hypothetical. Take El Salvador – at one point there was a presidential election contested by the incumbent (Napoleon Duarte) and one challenger (Major Bob D’Aubuisson). Duarte was a Christian Democrat, which of course means “conservative” – and, since half of his party had gone underground to join the political wing of the FMLN, I think we can safely assume he wasn’t a particularly liberal Christian Democrat. Major Bob, on the other hand, was linked to death-squads. The BBC News described Duarte as “left of centre”.

166

StevenAttewell 11.02.10 at 9:33 am

It’s rare that I come across a post on Crooked Timber that I so completely disagree with.

The disagreement starts right here: “the last thing they want you to do is your civic duty (which would be to vote for the candidate you think is the best; that’s how voting systems work, strategic or tactical behavior is a pathology of a badly designed system) or political expression (which also wouldn’t have you voting for their guy).”

I’m rather astounded that a piece authored from the left of the Democratic Party would leave out a fundamental left-wing truth about how democracy actually works in favor of a classical-liberal individualist fairytale: democracy is the collective action of power through the creation of a majority coalition. The individual vote doesn’t matter because it’s not supposed to – unless joined together with the votes of others.

In the end, that’s why you should vote Democratic. Because that’s where the forces that would actually push for the things that you want to happen are – that’s where labor is, that’s where the poor are, that’s where African-Americans and Latinos and Asians and Native Americans are, that’s where a plurality of women are, and that’s where a majority of the young are. And they are engaged and have been engaged for a long time in a struggle to make the Democratic Party progressive in deed as well as in speech – and they need your help inside the party to make that happen. Leaving aside the electoral implications of your suggestion, progressive abstention will never do anything to reduce the power of conservative Democrats within the Democratic Party – full stop.

The second and related major point of disagreement is that you ignore an entire area of politics between electoral politics and non-electoral politics – namely, internal party politics. The very things that disappoint you about the Democratic Party – gay marriage, environmental regulation, redistribution, party discipline and efficient organization – are all decided within the party. If you want to move the party on those issues, if you want to replace “a bunch of old white guys, most of them rather rightwing” with candidates more to your liking, there is simply no organization better suited to do that than your local, state, and national Democratic Party. The Party organization, in the end, is the institution that has the most say in what candidates are nominated, what the party’s platform and agenda will be.

Which is why beginning your argument from the position of a disaffected progressive at the voting both is mistaken, in my opinion, because the real opportunity for progressives comes long before that. It starts with joining your local party committee, and becoming a delegate to conventions, and building coalitions, so that when we get to the point of primaries, you have enough people with you to swing votes away from the conservative wing to the progressive wing. And after that, it’s about building the organization to ensure that those progressives win. I just spent a weekend up in Dublin, California, going door to door in the pouring rain for Jerry McNerny – because he’s one of ours, and because he’s up against a Tea Partier who wants to abolish public education, and unless candidates like Jerry win, we have no votes to push a progressive agenda.

They matter, because another important variable you’ve left out of your analysis is the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the driving force of progressivism in national policy, may very well be replaced by John Boehner, and don’t think that the conservative Democrats’ knives won’t be out for her, the first progressive Speaker in a generation, as well. And I think the example of the House points to a major flaw in your analysis – the House has actually passed ENDA, DADT repeal, and other gay rights bills; the House actually passed a serious climate change bill, and some of the most progressive tax and spending bills in a generation. These things happened because progressives not only voted Democrats in, but also because they worked within the Party to build up the Progressive Caucus, and put in progressive chairmen and chairwomen. Losing the House means going from fighting over piecemeal gains to staving off right-wing onslaught, and giving extremist reactionaries the ability to defund health care reform and conduct witch hunts with the full power of the subpoena for years to come. It also means empowering conservative Democrats to go on a vendetta against the left of the parliamentary party.

So that’s why you vote, not because of the marginal value to you as an individual, but because that’s how sovereign citizens of a democratic republic exercise power. And when you’re done with that, you go out and do GOTV, and phonebanking, and fundraising, and party development, and candidate recruitment – because that’s how individual votes are collected, and collated, and combined into a political force that can hold politicians accountable to a common platform.

167

Charles S 11.02.10 at 9:39 am

Most people in the US have no reason not to vote for a minor party candidate (not voting strikes me as the least effective protest imaginable, and the effort required to vote is not very large for most people) for either Senator or congressional Rep (out here in Portland Oregon, I voted Socialist and Green), as the race isn’t close in 3/4 of the House races and almost all of the Senate races. And if I had a solid blue dog Dem for my congressional rep, I’d consider voting 3rd party and watching the bastard lose. Easier to champion a progressive Dem 2 years from now in an open primary than to try to take out a Blue Dog incumbent (oh, but Kurt Schroeder out in Oregon’s 5th is the most progressive Blue Dog, and voted to end the war in Afghanistan, so I’d vote for him if he were my rep).

But more than half the vulnerable Democratic representatives are not blue dogs, and a bunch are solid progressives (anyone who votes 3rd party against Grayson in Florida’s 8th or Feingold in Wisconsin can bite me), and the House passed a ton of good legislation in the past 2 years (repealed DADT, passed (too weak) climate change legislation, card check, net neutrality, etc). If the Dems retain the House, there is a good chance that the Senate will reform the filibuster (Obama and the top 3 senate Dems have endorsed reform and every Dem senator and candidate has stated that they are open to it), so there is a decent chance of getting some of that passed in the next two years if folks actually go out and vote tomorrow.

Certainly, there is no peace party in the US (although there is a sizable minority of Democratic reps who now support withdrawal from Afghanistan) and if you can’t stand to vote for the government of an Imperial Power, I can understand that, but I don’t see how a banker who made a killing for his clients in the financial collapse is in any position to lecture anyone from a moral purity position.

Non-electoral politics is extremely important, but abandoning electoral politics to the free reign of big money and fundamentalist churches (they don’t get everything they want either, but they kick ass at mobilizing voters, so they get a good bit of what they want) is disastrous madness. The most effective way to build a better political party in the US is to get involved in the workings of the Democratic party. Elect better candidates in primaries, build a party machine based on ground work by volunteers and small donations, primary the hell out of blue dogs, make a party that depends on its popular base, not its corporate sponsors, and it will answer to us. I agree with Lemuel Pitkin at #158. Frankly, I don’t really care whether you vote, I only care whether you get out and organize (okay, in the Oregon governor’s race, I care whether you vote! You only have until 8 pm tomorrow. You can find a drop site at dpo.org/voting). If you can’t be bothered to organize, you ought to at least vote, but it is the organizing that matters.

Grrr.

168

Charles S 11.02.10 at 9:43 am

And I didn’t vote for Nader, but I protested at a Gore rally in Oregon (“Al Gore, Corporate Whore!”) a few days before the election, a rally he held only because Nader supports like me had made his campaign worry that Oregon was vulnerable, wasting a day he could have spent in Florida or New Hampshire, so I agree that non-voting politics can be more powerful than voting politics.

169

dsquared 11.02.10 at 10:01 am

The most effective way to build a better political party in the US is to get involved in the workings of the Democratic party.

I really don’t agree with this and I don’t think there’s much evidence for it at all.

170

Daragh McDowell 11.02.10 at 10:09 am

@Chris on the AV point – actually if ComRes and most of the other non-Sun sponsored polls are to be believed the LDs are at around 16-18%. IE, what they were in 1997 – so an anti-AV vote predicated on the desire to fuck the LDs will probably just leave you with either a Tory or Labour government elected with around 37% of the vote and roughly the same attitude towards electoral reform that they’ve always had – plus a referendum result that ‘confirms’ that the British people prefer the patently anti-Democratic FPTP system to reform, thus cementing the status quo for a generation, because a large chunk of pro-reformists decided to use their votes to stick it to the Lib Dems.

NB as well – it would probably lead to a Tory majority government, which would undoubtedly be far more right-wing than the current one.

171

Daragh McDowell 11.02.10 at 10:10 am

@dsquared 171

I dunno. At grassroots level I think you can probably substantially influence the orientation and election of a congressman. Any higher than that and (if you’ll allow me to mix metaphorical depth for a second) you’re into the deep dark waters where the really ugly and vicious creatures swim unseen.

172

StevenAttewell 11.02.10 at 10:12 am

Urm….

- the New Deal?
– the 1948 Democratic Convention?
– the AFL-CIO PAC and the 1958 midterm election?
– the McGovern Commission?

Where’s the evidence on the other side, where the withdrawal of the natural base of the left from voting empowered the left within the Democratic Party and in the electorate at large?

173

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.02.10 at 10:18 am

Voting as a collective action is a good point, but it’s meaningless in the US, because you’re not voting for a political platform, you’re voting for an individual.

Not all collective actions are meaningful; a collective action with the goal of electing this or that individual (yes, even if it’s Ralph Nader himself!) instead of some other individual is just about as useful as collective rain dancing.

174

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 11.02.10 at 10:18 am

If you’d all do your part to keep government clean, accountable, and fiscally sane, you’d be far more persuasive.

Dude, as far as I can tell, you lean Republican, yeah? And you’re trying to tell Democrats that what they need to do is be “clean, accountable, and fiscally sane“.

Concern troll is concerned!

175

StevenAttewell 11.02.10 at 10:25 am

Henri – in any political system with single-member districts, you’re voting for an individual. That doesn’t change the fact that the individual has to pass through a party primary, needs the support of their local party machinery, etc. It also doesn’t change the fact that the individual is susceptible to influence based on their need for re-election – hence, it matters whether a politician owes their election to progressives or conservatives within the Democratic Party.

176

Chris Bertram 11.02.10 at 10:28 am

@StevenAttewell – all your examples, bar one, date from over 50 years ago.

177

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 11.02.10 at 10:31 am

plus a referendum result that ‘confirms’ that the British people prefer the patently anti-Democratic FPTP system to reform, thus cementing the status quo for a generation, because a large chunk of pro-reformists decided to use their votes to stick it to the Lib Dems.

Not only will I be voting against AV in a referendum because I want the Liberal Democrat Party to piss off and die already, I’ll be voting against it because it’s a shitty system that is scarcely more democratic than FPTP, that is the electoral system most likely to benefit the Liberal Democrats, and we’d probably be stuck with it for my lifetime, which I hope to be really fucking long.

Just because I’m in favour of “reform” doesn’t mean I’m in favour of all “reform”, so don’t wave that word around here like it means something in this case other than “Look! We’re doing something! But also we’re cutting representatives from the Commons and adding a good hundred or so new Lords whilst not doing anything about the unrepresentativeness of that chamber! It must be progress!”

178

StevenAttewell 11.02.10 at 10:53 am

Chris Bertram –

Well those were just the most historically important ones in my view, and these moments have been relatively rare given that party disengagement has been the rule for the left for many decades following 1972. If we’re talking more recently, I’d say the Dean campaign and the movement of the Dean activists into the party structure from 2004-8 dramatically shifted the party for the better, without which there would be no Pelosi speakership or Obama presidency.

179

Daragh McDowell 11.02.10 at 10:54 am

Shoter @179 This piece of ‘good’ is not ‘perfect.’ Therefore it is the enemy!

180

dsquared 11.02.10 at 11:05 am

Well, since “this piece of good” is

a) not just “not perfect” but actually not very good (according to everyone, including the LDs before they realised it was all they were going to be offered),
b) offered as a once-and-for-all deal which precludes any better version in the next fifty years
c) being bundled with some horribly opportunistic stuff, and
d) being proposed by a coalition which has done rather less than nothing to earn anyone’s presumptive trust

then I think “it is the enemy” is actually quite sensible. This is a case of “the perfect is the enemy of the mediocre”.

181

Daragh McDowell 11.02.10 at 11:19 am

Dsquared:

On a) I think the demerits of AV have been vastly overstated in this argument, while the degree of improvement it offers over FPTP vastly understated.

b) How so? Its a referendum. Nothing prevents further referenda making further improvements if AV wins. However, I think it would be naieve in the extreme to expect that political elites in both Labour and Tory parties won’t use a rejection of AV from the voters as an ‘endorsement’ of FPTP in order to stave off further reform for generations.

c) I disagree on this as well. Labour’s argument against equalisation of constituency size seems to be ‘we can’t be bothered to mobilise and motivate our electoral base so we need a leg up.’ Reductions of the commons to 600 probably won’t make much difference either way. The psephological runes on this one seem to indicate that the Tories won’t get much benefit out of either, but in any case it’s irrelevant – they’ll be passed by acts of parliament, while only AV will be on the ballot at the referendum. Voting against AV is simply a vote to keep the reforms you find objectionable without even the pallative of one you find more to your tastes!

d) Very much your opinion there. I for one am delighted by the increase in CGT, the booting of Trident into the long grass, the pupil premium and a host of other progressive policies the LDs have managed to get into action that a Tory majority gov would never have even considered.

182

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 11.02.10 at 11:19 am

This piece of ‘good’ is not ‘perfect.’ Therefore it is the enemy!

No, you fool. The really shite is the enemy of the good.

Just because I don’t support your half-arsed reform doesn’t make me a utopian dreamer. We do actually have different electoral systems in place in Britain other than FPTP which are a damn sight better than AV and are actually have an element of proportionality (MMP, STV), which AV does not (And this is important. After all, proportionality is the argument the Liberal Democrats use to argue for electoral reform; using that argument to support a system without an element of proportionality is just intellectually dishonest).

I am willing to make a number of compromises to get a system of proportional representation for the UK Parliament. I am not willing to channel my efforts into supporting a reform that I think is a bad idea. Not “not as good as something else”. Just. Plain. Bad. Combined with the other stuff, it’s even worse.

Thanks for reminding me why I hate the Lib Dems, though!

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Freshly Squeezed Cynic 11.02.10 at 11:28 am

the booting of Trident into the long grass

Last I heard, Trident still exists. That’s not “booting into the long grass”. I think that would have happened no matter what.

the pupil premium

Is not new money, and cuts will have to be made elsewhere in the Department of Education budget in order to provide it.

184

Daragh McDowell 11.02.10 at 11:32 am

@Freshly Squeezed Cynic

I’m fully aware of the other voting systems in the UK – and as an Irishman who simply adores PR-STV (and who supports the Lib-Dems partly because they’re the only party that actually advocated it) I’d really like to see it implemented in the UK.

But that was NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN after this election (unless the LDs had somehow won a majority.) Even in a hypothetical Lab-Lib government the best that would have been offered is AV+, which Ed Balls and Tom Harris would have done their best to undermine.

As for AV’s demerits – they are largely predicated on the idea that electorates will continue voting in an FPTP manner even under an AV system. Which is bollocks. Its not perfect- but it makes substantial improvements both on democratic legitimacy, and on lowering the costs of entry for challengers to the political process, AND in allowing people to vote their ‘real’ preferences without having to worry about vote-splitting.

Now – if AV loses, do you REALLY think that electoral reform opponents aren’t going to spin it as a crushing endorsement of FPTP, the true British electoral system, blah blah blah and bury reform for decades? Because the argument seems to be we should defeat AV and fight for a more expansive option at a second referendum, which ain’t gonna happen.

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Platonist 11.02.10 at 11:39 am

“The ‘beautiful soul’, then, has no concrete reality; it subsists in the contradiction between its pure self and the necessity felt by this self to externalize itself and turn into something actual; it exists in the immediacy of this rooted and fixed opposition, an immediacy which alone is the middle term reconciling an opposition which has been intensified to its pure abstraction, and is pure being or empty nothingness. Thus the ‘beautiful soul’, being conscious of this contradiction in its unreconciled immediacy, is unhinged, disordered, and runs to madness, wastes itself in yearning, and pines away in consumption. Thereby it gives up, as a fact, its stubborn insistence on its own isolated self-existence, but only to bring forth the soulless, spiritless unity of abstract being.”

186

novakant 11.02.10 at 11:52 am

Thanks for reminding me why I hate the Lib Dems, though!

The LibDems were the only major party to unanimously vote against the Iraq war. Did you support the Iraq war? Would you rather forget about it? Or do you think that UK domestic concerns are more important than war?

I’m still surprised how Labour got away with it.

187

Chris Bertram 11.02.10 at 12:06 pm

Novakant: the LibDems voted unanimously against a lot of bad things when they were in opposition, when talk was cheap.

188

Tim Wilkinson 11.02.10 at 12:13 pm

Alex @117 – yes, and that was of course a speech to the CFR in 2002, when the Iraq juggernaut was well under way, and concluded that 1. the US should take account of the opinions of its NATO allies; 2. the thing to do was to commit enough forces to Afghanistan to actually finish the war reasonably quickly instead of continuing to slowly turn the meat-grinder.

But then of course in 2003 some guy put out an Iraq-propaganda book aimed at Democrats, and Tom Hurka thinks that in it he said something that suggests that Gore wanted to invade Iraq. And not only that, but it had the ‘ring of truth’. So I suppose that settles it.

I’m surprised Tom doesn’t suggest that a Lewinsky-mired Clinton’s Liberation of Iraq act amounted to a declaration of war (BBC at the time: although the president signed the act, the administration has previously resisted such an approach, fearing a split or fragmented Iraq. A fragmented Iraq, on the other hand, seems to be exactly what the neo-cons wanted.)

Ah – just seen that dsquared (@43) did indeed refer to the Iraqi Liberation Act and to Desert Fox – a 4 day bombing campaign. Should we take as a general principle that where Clinton bombed, Gore would have invaded?

The Iraq invasion was anomalous, not business as usual at all (Halliburton and that enormous private army whatever it’s called at the moment don’t count as business as usual, or didn’t in 2002-3.)

That Canadian paper from #43 seems to make the same mistake I mentioned @83: it fails to note that an invasion of – or major military assault on – Iraq had no salience at all as a strategy until the PNAC lot started relentlessly talking it up. It’s not as if it was a war waiting to happen – it was very carefully and persistently engineered ex nihilo. (Emphasis mine-in-this-comment)

The paper is utter bollocks for that simple reason. All the stuff about evidence supporting Gore-war scenarios all falls down on that simple point – utterly undermining the whole rather overblown apparatus of counterfactual analysis. It presupposes that an invasion of Iraq would have been a major policy alternative in an admininstration not chock full of dedicated neocons all pressing for it. All the stuff about public approval ratings after the policy was developed, about congressional votes after the policy was developed, about whether Gore would have any definite objection given that the policy was developed, FFS.

The author says there were strong bipartisan support for the war resolution was inevitable, regardless of whether Bush or Gore was president, for example. What war resolution? I’m sorry, but a counterfactual analysis that holds constant the one single point that it is supposed to be assessing is pure crap.

& Burritoboy @100: The permanent elements of the government seem to have disliked the Iraq War though they of course fell in line when ordered to. Lieberman’s main boogeyman is Iran, not Iraq. Can’t invade Iran from Kuwait (well, you can but you’re going to have go through Iraq first).
Yes, that was the impression I had re civil service, military, most of the CIA etc, as well as the ‘realist’ foreign policy establishment. If Leiberman’s main bogey is Iran, then yes, presumably it was Iraq. Is (was) he a neo-con?

I mean the Dems are, viewed on a political spectrum wide enough to include my views and the Reps, hardly any different from the other lot – but there’s quite a lot in that ‘hardly’ in absolute terms. And while I agree with many commenters that there are plenty of reasons to think that the paradox of voting doesn’t operate to mandate staying at home, I also think that protest votes can (of course) have utility on a longer term perspective – to be weighed in the balance along with everything else.

But on the single issue of the Iraq war: there is – shurely – no serious question that it – or anything relevantly like it – would not have happened had Bush lost the election (de lege). HV may have a point that bombing might well have happened (Gore after all is a scumbag US politician), but nothing on the scale of a full meatgrinder

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CharleyCarp 11.02.10 at 12:22 pm

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I blame Nader voters because they generally seem smart enough to have known better, and not evil or lazy. (In contrast to many of the others who let 2000 fall out as it did.) Threads like this, though, lead me away from that conclusion.

I could go on at some length — you know about Bush engineering the 2002 war resolution to coincide with the midterms, about about the complete lack of any apparatus for building an actual third party that these vanity runs represent, the Wurlitzer — but it would just be tiresome. I’ve said it all over the past 10 years, you’ve heard it all, and one might as well be trying to explain to teahadis that you can’t balance the budget by cutting only foreign aid.

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Tim Wilkinson 11.02.10 at 12:24 pm

Actually last comment was a bit hasty, carried away by irritation at the specious argument in the paper – there may be serious question about it, but that paper doesn’t provide any basis for such a question, where some basis is definitely required.

191

Alex Gregory 11.02.10 at 12:40 pm

Could we maybe have a new post on UK vote reform Chris? (Or whoever.) I imagine many would be interested who haven’t struggled this far into this thread.

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CharleyCarp 11.02.10 at 12:45 pm

I will say, though, that one contrast between the US and UK systems is quite relevant here. Our Executive branch has a huge (comparatively) number of political appointments. A party/faction/tendency, whatever you want to call it, needs not only to be big enough to win in the electoral college, it has to have the depth to field credible competent people genuinely committed to its principles to all those slots. Each of which matters a whole lot. Our existing parties can barely do it — and the President is currently failing at it.

The contrast with a legislative party/faction is quite striking: you really only need the rep and one or two guys to fulfill their role in the system.

I think it really speaks to the seriousness of people who would like to see something different that they aren’t making that serious effort at the legislative level — especially at the state level, where many fewer votes are required to get someone elected. At least two states have ballot initiatives for state constitutional conventions today. Someone who really wanted to make some of structural changes of the kinds mentioned above would be pushing for those states, and others, to make the change and show the way. It’s how these things get done.

But no. It’s not actually about putting any of the fantasy reforms into place, or creating the fantasy progressive party. It’s just more armchair revolutionaries. Enjoy the Palin Administration, because the one thing a sustained negative campaign from the Left can do, is depress Dem turnout.

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politicalfootball 11.02.10 at 12:48 pm

The paper is utter bollocks for that simple reason.

And for a lot of other reasons.

My favorite bullshit element was the author’s excerpting of Gore’s 2002 Commonwealth, designed to cast Gore as arguing in favor of war with Iraq. Heck, even dsquared is compelled to base his argument on the idea that Gore “changed” by 2002.

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MPAVictoria 11.02.10 at 12:50 pm

Steve Williams:
I would love for you to show me the policies that Gore would have pursued that would have been as harmful to the United States and the World as the ones George the Lesser did.

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Wax Banks 11.02.10 at 1:03 pm

Granting the main point of the post, and all the bits about ‘Gore would’ve been a different sort of shit but still shit’ and so on…

Is(n’t) it morally required of anyone left-of-center who takes no political action between elections to make the strategic vote, i.e. (usually) for the Democrat? If we assume that the average American does nothing (other than pay taxes) to improve the lives of other Americans/humans beyond his small sphere, isn’t this the one biennial opportunity to actually do something for somebody, and wouldn’t it be a shame to squander it (with ‘voting for the doomed 3rd party candidate’ counting as squandering)?

I’d also ask whether, in this post’s imaginary world, voting for the Dems under Obama (or ‘in the present Congress,’ or ‘with Boehner/McConnell as the alternative leadership’) is equivalent to doing so at a later date. Absent any moral obligation (except to do what you think best so long as it doesn’t fuck folks up), isn’t it true that (say) allowing Christine O’Donnell to reach Congress during a much-talked-about midterm ‘Tea Party ascendancy’ is quite different from sending her there as a sideshow to the electoral circus of 2016?

Just enjoying, yet recoiling at, the academicism of the argument, is all.

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Chris Bertram 11.02.10 at 1:04 pm

There was also a 2004 article in Prospect by Joshua Kurlantzick that argued that Gore wouldn’t have been that different in _foreign policy_ (though utterly different at home). It has Gore invading Iraq in 2005:

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2004/03/anotheramerica/

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Henri Vieuxtemps 11.02.10 at 1:05 pm

StevenAttewell 177: I’m glad we at least agree that individuals are susceptible to influence.

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dsquared 11.02.10 at 1:18 pm

The LibDems were the only major party to unanimously vote against the Iraq war.

Sir Paul McCartney wrote most of Sergeant Pepper, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a bloody great big embarrassment today.

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afu 11.02.10 at 1:19 pm

@ Dsquared171 The most effective way to build a better political party in the US is to get involved in the workings of the Democratic party.

I really don’t agree with this and I don’t think there’s much evidence for it at all.

Well if what you really mean is that the Democrats and Republicans are functionally the same why don’t you just come out and say it?

It seems to me that the issue is actually rather simple. There is a group of american progressives who are saying that despite a their shortcomings, the Democrats enact real progressive policies that make the country better. There is another group that claims that the Democrats are hopelessly corrupt and the policies that they enact are not very good anyway. This played out clearly in the health care debate.

So no one is saying someone is obliged to vote for the democrat out of civic responsibility, they are saying vote for the democrat because it will result in better government.

And you haven’t really addressed that argument at all.

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Tim Wilkinson 11.02.10 at 1:20 pm

@197 More committed to multilateralism than Bush, Gore might have seen the tragedy of 9/11 as an unparalleled opportunity to reorder global bodies like Nato and the UN, as well as international conventions and laws, to fight a war against global terror and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But while Gore would not have been fixated on the Iraq threat [‘threat’], focusing first on more dangerous problems, ultimately his war on terror would have found its way to Saddam’s Iraq.
Here’s how it might have happened

I’ll leave it to someone else to read the rest.

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Alex 11.02.10 at 1:28 pm

Having just read the paper, not impressed. I especially like the use of a quotation from Hans Blix saying that VX is an extremely lethal nerve agent (it is) as evidence that Blix wanted war.

Meanwhile, I intend to vote no on AV specifically because this is an opportunity to achieve the strategic victory of crushing Nick Clegg like a kitten in a blender, and therefore modifying future behaviour.

202

christian_h 11.02.10 at 2:04 pm

Of Steve’s examples of “moving the democratic party from within” not only are almost all 50 years old, only one is an actual policy program put into action (the New Deal) and to assert that this was a consequence of internal political work in the Democratic party completely ignores the Populists, Long, the CP, the example of the Soviet Union (then still viewed as an experiment in human progress by many), later the massive strike waves (firmly opposed by the Democrats of course) and for that matter, the depression itself.

To say that the impetus for New Deal (esp. “second New Deal”) politics was a struggle within the Democratic party divorced from these outside pressures (including, to repeat, massive “vote withdrawal”) is fanciful. I’d argue to the contrary that this example shows well that working outside and against the Democrats was crucial for moving them in the right direction.

As for the more modern examples, I particularly like “Pelosi as speaker”. I have said it before in this thread; Pelosi has been an utter disaster. She has pushed through any number of reactionary policies. She helped pass numerous war appropriations, first under Bush (while ostensibly in opposition), now under Obama. She brought the “please spy on Americans and telecoms are immune” act to a vote. She worked hard to bail out the banksters with no strings attached. She had the power to defend women’s right to choose in HCR and refused to do so.

This is exactly the point. Helping elevate liberals within the democratic party is absolutely useless. It may well be that many progressives have worked hard to change the Democratic party for the better. Instead, is has consistently changed for the worse in the last 40+ years. You’re wasting your time and energy.

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christian_h 11.02.10 at 2:12 pm

(afu 203.) HCR is actually a good example, but not in the way the Democratic boosters here seem to think. The Dems passed a deeply flawed law when they could have done much better. Many social movement groups close to the party, in particular the largest unions, decided to fall into line (one core function of the Dems being to demobilize social movements).

The resulting law is structured in such a way that the positive parts are subject to regulatory degeneration and evasion, while one of the main components – forcing people to buy insurance from for-profit companies that will turn out to be defective – will be massively unpopular once it goes into effect, thereby dooming actual reform for the time being.

204

politicalfootball 11.02.10 at 2:13 pm

But this remains a red herring.

Nader seems to be pretty much the shining example of efficacy in third-party voting, right? Why is Nader a red herring in this context?

205

christian_h 11.02.10 at 2:16 pm

Maybe because this is (a) not a presidential election and (b) the outcome isn’t exactly balanced on a knife’s edge?

206

christian_h 11.02.10 at 2:17 pm

To follow political football’s logic, a vote for a Democrat is a wasted vote, as proved by Kerry 2004.

207

Uncle Kvetch 11.02.10 at 2:26 pm

Also, if you live in New York, you can have it both ways by voting on Row E, supporting both the lesser evil (the merely repulsive Andrew Cuomo, as opposed to the frankly terrifying Carl Paladino) and helping build the left alternative (the Working Families Party.) If we seriously want a party to the left of the Dems, the fusion model of the WFP looks like one of the more promising ways to get there.

Very true, Lemuel, and my vote for Cuomo later today will require a somewhat less excruciating clothespin because I intend to do it on the WFP line.

That said, I was an avid supporter of the WFP…up until they endorsed Hilary Clinton, at which point it became clear that their idea of “progressive” bore little to no relation to my own. But I suppose it’s better than nothing.

208

bob mcmanus 11.02.10 at 2:27 pm

40 fricking years of nuthin, from McGovern to Kennedy to Kucinich. Money, activism, votes and all I get is Republican-lite, moving ever rightwards. And from McGovern on, I have been told to work within the system and the lefty insurgents will someday get results. And spit on by people like Charley Carp for even getting discouraged. I get contempt for my disappointment.

And if my Democratic congressperson wins, which is bloody unlikely, I can count on her to vote for SS cuts and a VAT tax and another bank bailout and more surveillance state and war, quite possibly including a new war in Iran.

And I will be complicit in whatever the Dems do. I will have enabled them, just as I enabled Obama and am partly to blame that Kadr that poor kid will spend 8 more years in prison for defending himself on the battlefield.

I hate everybody. I’d rather blow the whole thing up but I’ll vote instead.

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Walt 11.02.10 at 2:30 pm

Christian H, I agree with the first two paragraphs of 206 completely, but if you think that Nancy Pelosi is an “utter disaster”, then there’s no political party big enough to contain the both of us. Pelosi is the best Speaker of the House in at least 30 years, and the fact that she’s going to lose her job to either John Boehner or Steny Hoyer in a couple of weeks is a fucking tragedy.

210

christian_h 11.02.10 at 2:34 pm

If Pelosi is indeed the best speaker in 30 years (I wouldn’t know not having followed US politics in detail for that long), that IS indeed a tragedy. Please defend her record. I’d love to see that.

211

Uncle Kvetch 11.02.10 at 2:40 pm

Well, since “this piece of good” is

a) not just “not perfect” but actually not very good (according to everyone, including the LDs before they realised it was all they were going to be offered),
b) offered as a once-and-for-all deal which precludes any better version in the next fifty years
c) being bundled with some horribly opportunistic stuff, and
d) being proposed by a coalition which has done rather less than nothing to earn anyone’s presumptive trust

then I think “it is the enemy” is actually quite sensible. This is a case of “the perfect is the enemy of the mediocre”.

Wow. Switch a couple of words and you’ve described Obamacare. It’s uncanny.

212

christian_h 11.02.10 at 2:41 pm

I sound facetious in 214. but I’d actually like to have my mind changed about Pelosi as I was happy when she became speaker…

213

Steve Williams 11.02.10 at 2:46 pm

MPAVictoria @198:

‘I would love for you to show me the policies that Gore would have pursued that would have been as harmful to the United States and the World as the ones George the Lesser did.’

Clearly, I can’t do that, for two reasons, (a) because it’s unknowable, it’s a counterfactual, and (b) because I don’t personally believe that Gore would have been a worse President. Somebody upthread (I’m sorry, I can’t find it right now) said that basically Gore would have been four years of technocratic disappointment as opposed to the disastrous eight of Bush, or something similar to this, and that seems a fair summary to me.

However, you’re missing my point. The issue isn’t whether Gore would have been as bad (or worse) a President than Bush, it’s whether a progressive in 2000 was justified in seeing the man who had spent 8 years as VP to a President who had triangulated away a hell of a lot of progressive opinions as someone worth voting against. I believe this position is certainly defensible, and I think it’s absurd to blame people who cast a left-wing vote for a right-wing outcome, particularly since I don’t recall Bush standing on a ‘VOTE EEEEEEVIL!’ platform. This is a repeated theme in threads on this issue (here and elsewhere); the scorn for fellow leftists far outweighs that for the people across the aisle.

214

CharleyCarp 11.02.10 at 3:02 pm

Christian, you have to give Tip O’Neill the Reagan tax cuts, and the Reagan defense build-up. To his credit, though, the Boland Amd and anti-Apartheid stuff. Jim Wright left under a cloud, but at least there aren’t any hugely bad bills on his account. Tom Foley gets the Gulf War, DADT, and NAFTA. And the 1994 disaster.

215

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 11.02.10 at 3:03 pm

The LibDems were the only major party to unanimously vote against the Iraq war. Did you support the Iraq war? Would you rather forget about it? Or do you think that UK domestic concerns are more important than war?

I’m still surprised how Labour got away with it.

To answer your questions, respectively no, no, and usually not.

All of which is rather irrelevant, because I’m not a Labour voter and voted for parties which were also unanimously against the Iraq War.

I’ve also stopped beating my wife, too!

216

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 11.02.10 at 3:04 pm

Woops, the “I’m still surprised…” line is a quote from novakant, and should be italicised.

217

CharleyCarp 11.02.10 at 3:05 pm

Bob, lots of us are disappointed. The question is what to do about it. I say get involved at the local level — finding people who agree with you — and build outward. Your proposed responses, from violent revolution to coalition with the teabaggers, just don’t seem all that likely to work out.

218

Alex 11.02.10 at 3:08 pm

This may be relevant.

219

Steve Williams 11.02.10 at 3:16 pm

CharleyCarp@221

‘Bob, lots of us are disappointed. The question is what to do about it. I say get involved at the local level—finding people who agree with you—and build outward. Your proposed responses, from violent revolution to coalition with the teabaggers, just don’t seem all that likely to work out.’

As dsquared pointed out above, and as has been documented is this thread, your response doesn’t seem all that likely to work out either, and it’s forty years of hearing it that’s jaded Bob so. Also, not to seem dumb or anything, but I can’t see anywhere in Bob’s comment where it suggested he wanted to go into ‘coalition with the teabaggers’.

220

sg 11.02.10 at 3:17 pm

chris bertram, maybe my memory serves me poorly but I recall you disagreeing with me about the consequences of AV re: the fascists – “that’s no reason to oppose genuine reform.”

Now the lib dems have pissed you off and you don’t want AV any more? Colour me smug!

221

bob mcmanus 11.02.10 at 3:18 pm

223: I have tentatively suggested populist coalitions with rightwingers elsewhere. It is an idea floating around socialist blogs.

222

Chris Bertram 11.02.10 at 3:23 pm

You may be right, sg.

223

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 11.02.10 at 3:24 pm

Daragh – We’re going to have to agree to disagree on AV, I think. From what I’ve read, I don’t think it will make much of a difference to FPTP in terms of candidate entry, in terms of differentiating voter choice (although, yes, obviously there will be changes to voting behaviour as a result; I’m just not sure they’ll be that large, or that revolutionary) and as I keep saying, in the aggregate it is not proportionate – you can easily get a result with AV where there is a wide disparity between seats and votes, as you can with FPTP. As this is usually considered the main injustice of FPTP, I’d like it to at least be addressed.

The proportionality issue is the dealbreaker for me, I’m afraid. I am not willing to get on board with a voting system without it. (I think I would just – just – be able to get on board with AV+, as the “top-up” is a proportional corrective, if an unwieldy and problematic one). I’m not convinced it’s worth the advocates of a proportional representation shooting their entire wad of political capital over AV, if you’ll excuse the indelicate phrase.

Now – if AV loses, do you REALLY think that electoral reform opponents aren’t going to spin it as a crushing endorsement of FPTP, the true British electoral system, blah blah blah and bury reform for decades?

They probably will. If AV wins, though, do you not think we’re going to have the electoral reform opponents go all “Finality Jack” on us all, which will also bury reform towards a system of proportional representation for decades?

The opponents of electoral reform will always find an argument to stymie reform of the electoral system. The issue is how to effectively respond to them and how to organise so we are able to bring the full force of public pressure on the political class. Difficult and fraught with obstacles and problems, obviously, but the worthwhile things often are.

224

politicalfootball 11.02.10 at 3:43 pm

Maybe because this is (a) not a presidential election and (b) the outcome isn’t exactly balanced on a knife’s edge?

My question wasn’t directed to you. As I understand dsquared’s thesis, the closeness of the election isn’t a factor, unless it’s so close that there’s a real chance that your vote will make a difference. That’s vanishingly rare – nonexistent? – for the sort of elections we’re talking about.

To follow political football’s logic, a vote for a Democrat is a wasted vote, as proved by Kerry 2004.

You haven’t been following my logic. I’m very interested in majoritarian politics and the process of assembling a governing coalition. You don’t have to win every time, but you have to try to win whatever victory is available at each step in the process.

However, if I held the view that Gore and Kerry aren’t materially different from Bush, or that Pelosi isn’t materially different from Boehner, etc., I would agree that third-party votes aren’t miscast.

225

Russell Arben Fox 11.02.10 at 3:45 pm

I’d rather blow the whole thing up but I’ll vote instead.

Kind of harsh, Bob, but I think you made the right decision. After which, we can get started on all the actually important work, once again.

226

ScentOfViolets 11.02.10 at 3:52 pm

Late to the party as usual, but I would like to know the relative proportion of success (however you want to define it) people have had voting for a candidate as opposed to voting against them. My own personal sense is that I am rather more reliably rewarded for the latter strategy than the former the further up the totem pole I go. Come to that, my weakest “for” candidate, Clinton, was the only one to win a Presidential election in the last quarter-century[1].

I guess what I’m asking in a roundabout way is whether or not this paradox distinguishes between positive and negative goods. My sense is that practically it does, even if there is no good reason for it to do so theoretically.

[1] In 1984 a bunch of us punks, artists and assorted bohos and hangers-on were on my front porch drinking boxed wine and smoking foreign (and foul) cigarettes while watching Mondale perform on the six-inch black & white. When he said “Let’s tell the truth. It must be done, it must be done. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.” I knew that a) he was my man and I’d follow him into Hell, and b) he was going to go down hard, possibly harder than any other candidate in recent history. Of course, as a punk, I was morally obligated to vote against Reagan anyway; this little bon mot just changed my against vote into a for vote.

227

CharleyCarp 11.02.10 at 4:03 pm

As dsquared pointed out above, and as has been documented is this thread, your response doesn’t seem all that likely to work out either, and it’s forty years of hearing it that’s jaded Bob so.

Have the people disappointed in this course of action served on their county central committees? As precinct captains? As or for state reps? Because that’s what I’m talking about. It’s not harder to do than creating an actual third party. Unless by ‘creating a third party’ one means staying at home and cheering on vanity runs by single-digit celebrity candidates.

Re: Tip O’Neill above (and Bob’s 40 years of disappointment) one has to recall that O’Neill was saddled with the ‘boll weevils’ — a plague worse than the blue dogs — and a Senate in the hands of the other party. I’m not prepared to say that he was worse in his time than the Speaker in hers.

Of course, the people who want magic governance by the ‘party’ that not only can’t win a single congressional seat, but can’t get out of low single digits in any state legislature — that’s over 6,000 seats — wouldn’t be satisfied by pretty much anything our system can produce.

228

christian_h 11.02.10 at 4:07 pm

politicalfootball (228.) fair enough, but the Nader example whatever else I may think of it is precisely an example of an election that was known beforehand to be extremely close – meaning one of the kind dsquared explicitly did not address in his post.

As for Kerry, my point was that you hold up the absolute fluke of the 2000 presidential election as some kind of generally applicable framework for judging third party votes. I simply applied the same paradigm to second party votes.

229

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.02.10 at 4:08 pm

So no one is saying someone is obliged to vote for the democrat out of civic responsibility, they are saying vote for the democrat because it will result in better government.

But because the better alternative is steadily getting worse, there is another way to look at it: you’re simply prolonging the agony of a terminally corrupt political system.

230

CharleyCarp 11.02.10 at 4:14 pm

232 — While the mechanics of the final outcome in 2000 was certainly filled with flukes, no one who lived through 1992 can call the result unpredictable. A third candidate hurts the one closest to him.

231

novakant 11.02.10 at 4:14 pm

To answer your questions, respectively no, no, and usually not.

Fine, but why not direct your anger at Labour and the Tories instead?

the LibDems voted unanimously against a lot of bad things when they were in opposition, when talk was cheap.

Conversely, being in power doesn’t excuse anything Labour has done regarding Iraq, especially since it was senseless war of choice, Bush offered Blair an easy way out and a couple hundred thousand people got killed. Oh, and major Labour figures still have a hard time admitting that they were wrong or are still standing by their decision. They certainly didn’t deserve to be endorsed in subsequent elections.

I have no idea what the LibDems would have decided had they been in power, but it’s immaterial and they were the only major party expressing the will of war opponents.

232

politicalfootball 11.02.10 at 4:15 pm

Salient in 146:

why do commenters that hold accountable voters for Nader in the 2000 election, not likewise hold equally accountable any citizen of the United States who sat out the election and did not vote?

And Steve in 217:

the scorn for fellow leftists far outweighs that for the people across the aisle.

This is such an odd refrain, and you see it again and again in this context. In fact, conservatives and nonvoters are the subject of quite a lot of vitriol in comment threads at places like this. It’s astonishing that you can block your minds to it.

dsquared, in this post, offers a rationale for nonvoting that has attracted quite a lot of criticism. And I don’t see any evidence that Republicans have commented here, and I don’t understand why I should be bringing up their arguments if they don’t want to.

And as for criticism of leftists, the whole discussion here is about what means serve leftist ends. It’s necessarily going to involve criticism of leftists. I don’t agree with christian_h, but if you’re going to hold his position, you’re pretty much necessarily going to be criticizing leftists. I don’t begrudge him that.

233

politicalfootball 11.02.10 at 4:20 pm

But because the better alternative is steadily getting worse, there is another way to look at it: you’re simply prolonging the agony of a terminally corrupt political system.

So hastening the apocalypse is a good thing. Good luck getting the voters to adopt that platform.

234

christian_h 11.02.10 at 4:21 pm

Charley

(231): and more excuses. O’Neill may have been saddled with all kinds of resistance, but he and the center-left in the party were strong enough to prevent bad shit from being implemented. They didn’t. Maybe it’s because they are losers, but I prefer the theory that they actually like those reactionary policies they implement. It is your prerogative to be happy with moving to the right a tad more slowly. But please allow others to have slightly higher standards.

(234): This is a weird comment on several levels. First because I explicitly stated in 232 that it was known beforehand in 2000 that the election was close. (For the record I maintain that it is impossible to know how the 2000 election would have turned out if Nader had not run or his run not captured anyone’s imagination – the application of simply subtraction/addition under the “all other things being equal” assumption is ahistorical bs.)

Second because the usual Dem line is that Perot did not decide the 1992 election – do you disagree?

And thirdly because we are talking about congressional elections here the outcome of which (who controls what) is quite impervious to third party runs in even a significant number of seats due to the nature of districting.

235

CharleyCarp 11.02.10 at 4:28 pm

the scorn for fellow leftists far outweighs that for the people across the aisle.

What is the complete and total basis for the scorn expressed? Not doing enough to defeat the evil on the other side. One might want to check the setting on the scales to see just what outweighs what.

236

CharleyCarp 11.02.10 at 4:35 pm

238 — I don’t think D2’s analysis is restricted to off year elections. I do think Perot was a decisive factor: one can’t ever know how the counter-factuals work, but having a guy who wasn’t going to win, but provided a way for non-Dems to cast a protest vote was a big deal. Of course, you can have any standards you want. I only care when your standards give me people like Gingrich, Bush Jr., and Boehner. You don’t care, as you’ve made clear — excuse me for having higher standards.

237

ajay 11.02.10 at 4:39 pm

If AV wins, though, do you not think we’re going to have the electoral reform opponents go all “Finality Jack” on us all, which will also bury reform towards a system of proportional representation for decades?

This isn’t generally how reform efforts happen, though. They tend to go step by step. The Reform Act of 1867 didn’t bury electoral reform in Britain. Giving married women over 30 the vote in 1918 didn’t bury the hope of getting single women the vote – it happened in 1928. The “Brown vs. Board of Education” decision didn’t bury the civil rights movement in America. And so on.
Each change, as a bright man once said, leaves a toothing-stone for the next.

238

CharleyCarp 11.02.10 at 4:41 pm

To add to 240, re 1992, I agree that one shouldn’t just be arithmetic about counterfactuals. That said, one can’t, I think, overstate the impact of someone — a self-made rich white guy from Texas — in the core Republican demographic not just going around, but standing on the stage saying that Bush was not worth keeping. This validated voting for either Perot or Clinton in a way that nothing Clinton could say, or the Dems who endorsed him, could possibly have done.

239

christian_h 11.02.10 at 4:46 pm

240: And your standards give me presidential assassination programs, the Vietnam war, “ending welfare as we know it”, drone strikes and “surges”, NAFTA, the AUMF for the Iraq invasion, etc. pp.

And may I add that your blaming of Gingrich on whom or what exactly (Nader and his time machine?) just proves my previous point about the total and complete lack of self awareness among Dems. For once, take responsibility for your own failings. Then maybe come back and ask for support.

240

CharleyCarp 11.02.10 at 4:54 pm

I think that the rollover on DADT, the passage of NAFTA, and the failure to pass health care were material events in low Dem turnout in 1994. This is an old argument, as Bob’s 40 years of frustration shows, and doesn’t require time machines.

I have other things to do. It’s been interesting, but I’ll have to bow out now.

241

MPAVictoria 11.02.10 at 4:58 pm

christian_h
(Taken from Tbogg who has expressed my feelings much better than I ever could.)

“A comment left over at digg regarding Ralph Nader:

“The Democrats really hate Nader because he points out the fact that they are asking those of us on the left to vote for them but they aren’t doing anything for us. Did they end funding for the Republican’s crime spree in Iraq? No. Have they moved for UHC? No. Have they tried to stop corporate crimes? No. Have they tried to reform the tax code to be progressive? No. Have they tried to protect homeowners from predatory lenders? No. Have they defended our constitutional rights? No. Take back the FDA from the corporations? No. The FCC? No.

The Democrats don’t deserve my vote. They aren’t helping the left, why should the left help them?”

Let me see if I can explain it this way:

Every year in Happy Gumdrop Fairy-Tale Land all of the sprites and elves and woodland creatures gather together to pick the Rainbow Sunshine Queen. Everyone is there: the Lollipop Guild, the Star-Twinkle Toddlers, the Sparkly Unicorns, the Cookie Baking Apple-cheeked Grandmothers, the Fluffy Bunny Bund, the Rumbly-Tumbly Pupperoos, the Snowflake Princesses, the Baby Duckies All-In-A-Row, the Laughing Babies, and the Dykes on Bikes. They have a big picnic with cupcakes and gumdrops and pudding pops, stopping only to cast their votes by throwing Magic Wishing Rocks into the Well of Laughter, Comity, and Good Intentions. Afterward they spend the rest of the night dancing and singing and waving glow sticks until dawn when they tumble sleepy-eyed into beds made of the purest and whitest goose down where they dream of angels and clouds of spun sugar.

You don’t live there.

242

StevenAttewell 11.02.10 at 5:02 pm

Christian-h:

1. Why does 50 years disqualify a historical example?
2. The 1948 Democratic convention was the first to put the Democratic Party officially on record as supporting civil rights – which is kind of a big deal. AFL-CIO PAC and the 1958 midterm election brought in a huge surge of liberals into Congress (which is rather important for passing a program, no?) without whom the Rules Committee never could have been expanded in 1961-2, and without that, no Great Society. McGovern Commission opened up the Democratic Party process – without those reforms, no Obama.
3. Re the New Deal. By the time of the New Deal, the legacy of the Populists was their internalization within the Democratic Party through William Jennings Bryan – a very internal issue. Huey Long’s influence has been massively oversold – FDR had committed to Social Security, et al. from 1933, well before Long broke from the pack, and this never explained why FDR continued to move left after Long died. The CP’s influence on the New Deal was almost nill, the Soviet Union’s example was internalized into Democratic advisers to FDR. The massive strike waves were not fiercely opposed by Democrats – hence, “The President Wants You to Join a Union!” – and both they and the Great Depression required political mobilization to make use of.
There were massive strikes throughout Europe, and the Great Depression was a universal factor – generally speaking, they brought the rise of right-wing governments to power.
The one thing you cannot say is that the New Deal was driven by voter withdrawal – the New Deal was carried into office and sustained in 1934 and 1936 by massive voter participation, not withdrawal. Without overwhelming majorities and a functioning progressive majority – created through the internal activism of labor-liberal machines that seized control of the Northern Democratic Party, and empowered by innovations like the CIO-PAC and the American Labor Party and Farm-Labor Party, which sought to influence the Democratic Party through supporting its progressive wing – there would be no New Deal.

243

Bruce Baugh 11.02.10 at 5:07 pm

I notice I’ve sort of given up saying “to be fair”, lately. I don’t feel like being fair.

As I understand it, the advice for voting comes down to this: in primaries, I can (and should) push for candidates who represent as much of my agenda as possible, and work within the party for the defeat of its worst elements. In general elections, I have more of an obligation to bail out my fellow Americans – most prominently the male white straight cis ones – from the choices they’re making out of various mixes of hatred and ignorance than I do to express support for any values of my own.

I actually find it more persuasive when put that way. I can think reasonably about it, and it ties into other concerns of mine. (“Stupid ugly mean people deserve health too”, as I put it in responding to stories the focused on smart/cute/otherwise obviously deserving individuals in need of better health care than they’re allowed in the US.) And it gives some focus to my dissatisfaction as well.

244

mds 11.02.10 at 5:07 pm

So hastening the apocalypse is a good thing. Good luck getting the voters to adopt that platform.

Well, the Left Behind, “pro-Israel,” red heifer crowd already have adopted it, and they’re on track to accomplish a great deal at the polls today. Hopefully, the presence of enough additional illiterate apocalyptic lunatics in Congress will hasten the complete discrediting of the entire system, which can then be scrapped en masse and replaced with a superior one.

This is what I was getting at in my prior drive-by snarky comment. “You’re simply prolonging the agony of a terminally corrupt political system” is probably a spot-on observation, but when I watch my two-year-old running around, I do tend to think in terms of mitigating the damage. Because the deaths of political systems are not guaranteed to be a pleasant experience, and no matter what a reactionary bloodstained murderer Nancy Pelosi is, Speaker Boehner + President Huckabee will find plenty of room to demonstrate the answer to “How much worse could it be?” Which is why I went with both / and. I naively maintain it’s possible to slow the present decline in order to buy time for better alternatives, while still working toward those alternatives. Again, the problem with it having to get sufficiently worse before it gets better is that sometimes, it just gets worse.

Oh, and Gore’s loss in 2000 was indeed pretty much Gore’s fault. President-elect Rousseff lacks charisma, too, but even she was able to finally pull off a victory as the heir apparent to a hugely popular predecessor. When a single-digit vanity run by a celebrity puts more than one state into play, you’re doing something seriously wrong. And I say that as a Gore voter who loathes Showboat Nader. So thanks, Al.

245

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 11.02.10 at 5:10 pm

Fine, but why not direct your anger at Labour and the Tories instead?

Because the Lib Dems have been fucking awful as well recently (the “deficit deniers” meme was particularly egregious), and I have enough soul-consuming rage to be angry at all three parties and the BNP?

I don’t see why the Lib Dems should get a pass now for saying and doing really, really stupid things because Labour and the Tories did, too, and because they used to be cuddly. It’s just rather a non-sequitur.

Or am I only able to be disgruntled with the Lib Dems after they commit to a policy of stupidity and destructiveness greater than or equal to the Iraq War?

246

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 11.02.10 at 5:20 pm

This isn’t generally how reform efforts happen, though. They tend to go step by step. The Reform Act of 1867 didn’t bury electoral reform in Britain. Giving married women over 30 the vote in 1918 didn’t bury the hope of getting single women the vote – it happened in 1928. The “Brown vs. Board of Education” decision didn’t bury the civil rights movement in America. And so on.

Yes, and I haven’t said any different; I’ve explicitly noted I am willing to compromise, rather a lot, about what kind of “proportional” system should be implemented. But there’s a tactical question of which step and what proving-stone. The institutions created in the past lie heavy upon the choices we are able to feasibly make in the future. And I don’t think AV puts the electoral reform activists on any sort of strong footing to progress further down the road of proportional representation, because it’s a different beast entirely, and I think there’s going to be a fair bit of disillusionment and disappointment if AV is implemented and we see that it can lead to perverse outcomes in terms of votes translating into seats, just as FPTP does.

To simply assume that any reform will lead to better reform in the future just seems a bit Whiggish.

247

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 11.02.10 at 5:21 pm

*toothing-stone, damn.

248

ScentOfViolets 11.02.10 at 5:26 pm

As I understand it, the advice for voting comes down to this: in primaries, I can (and should) push for candidates who represent as much of my agenda as possible, and work within the party for the defeat of its worst elements. In general elections, I have more of an obligation to bail out my fellow Americans – most prominently the male white straight cis ones – from the choices they’re making out of various mixes of hatred and ignorance than I do to express support for any values of my own.

However – there’s always a however – this advice assumes that it is possible in the primaries to get the candidates who better represent you elected. As we saw with Blanche Lincoln and Bill Halter, the national party doesn’t appear to be making much of an attempt to even disguise the fact that they are meddling in what should be local elections. In fact, as most of us probably know, the national party, the DLC and the DNC all gave assurances that they would not become overly involved with primaries. Which was just so much glad-handling when push comes to shove.

So if your ability to get the candidate of your choice elected in the primaries is marginal due to outside influences, what would the advice be then? Go ahead and vote for the team?

249

christian_h 11.02.10 at 5:30 pm

245: Apparently that post is trying to say something. Maybe that Tbogg is unable to actually give a coherent political argument and therefore has to resort to infantilizing those who disagree with him? Or that he actually feels slightly uneasy over his support for a firmly right-wing party and is overcompensating by pretending that “there is no alternative” to doing so? I wouldn’t know.

248: mds you know I love you, but you’re simply wrong on this. The whole argument rests on two faulty and somewhat contradictory assumptions, namely (1) that our completely screwed up political system not only can’t be changed but shouldn’t because that would be “the apocalypse” and (2) that voting for scumbags over somewhat worse scumbags will buy us time to magically figure out what to do after all. This is compounded by the problem that the “voting for scumbags over slightly worse scumbags” argument will apply in perpetuity (or at least until the time when the scumbags will have run us all into the ground, and I firmly believe our kids will be alive to see that day if not survive it – there’s a cheery thought) so even if we figure out magically what to do we never actually get to do it. With that attitude, we’d still be living in feudal societies.

250

Charles S 11.02.10 at 5:51 pm

Off to go ask folks to vote out here in Oregon…

If you live in the US, and you are arguing against DSquared’s position, you’d better serve your cause by calling voters for an hour today.

251

christian_h 11.02.10 at 5:54 pm

Anyway I’m also out – it was an interesting discussion and don’t get me wrong: there’s a bunch of people running on the Republican ticket today I pray will lose. Badly.

252

Charles S 11.02.10 at 5:56 pm

christian_h,

Voting for the less worse scumbag (evil monsters like Alan Grayson and Russ Fiengold) is a useful act. Not voting for them isn’t, unless you take a “heightening the contradictions” approach. If you are organizing a popular campaign to change society, I applaud your efforts, and will happily join you. If you aren’t, don’t mistake voting Green for doing so. Voting Green is an action of even less value than voting lesser of evils in a close race.

253

Steve Williams 11.02.10 at 6:00 pm

Okay, my last contribution for a little while, but I want to put the record straight on a few things.

bob mcmanus @225

‘I have tentatively suggested populist coalitions with rightwingers elsewhere. It is an idea floating around socialist blogs.’

Okay, it’s my bad for leaping in when I didn’t know the full facts then. My apologies to CharleyCarp for that. Too much bitter snarkiness; wasn’t called for.

politicalfootball@236

‘And as for criticism of leftists, the whole discussion here is about what means serve leftist ends. It’s necessarily going to involve criticism of leftists. I don’t agree with christian_h, but if you’re going to hold his position, you’re pretty much necessarily going to be criticizing leftists. I don’t begrudge him that.’

&CharleyCarp@239

‘What is the complete and total basis for the scorn expressed? Not doing enough to defeat the evil on the other side. One might want to check the setting on the scales to see just what outweighs what.’

Perhaps it would be best for me to clarify my position here. Dsquared’s original post suggests that voting for Democrats is not always – or even often! – a utility-maximizing thing to do with your vote, especially during mid-term elections when the most important part of the legislature is effectively not up for grabs. He states that ‘the decision about whether or not to vote Demcrat (versus the alternative of abstaining or voting for a minor party) is a serious one, which is up to the conscience of the individual voter to make, and which deserves respect from other people whether they agree with it or not.’

I strongly agree with this; I respect other people’s right not to. My comments – along the lines of christian h’s – take this somewhat further, in complaining about specific instances (in this thread) of Democrats not treating these judgments with respect when it comes to real, historical examples of them having happened. I go beyond dsquared’s post in believing you should vote for what you believe in, even in a Presidential election, although I will add the following caveat: there are better and worse reasons to have voted for Nader (and will be in any similar situation arising in the future). One not very good reason is a personal belief that one was somehow ‘getting one over’ on Gore or the Democratic Party, and I suppose this might have motivated some of Nader’s voters. In a tight election, like 2000 was well-known to be, months before the actual polling day, it behooves those who are thinking of voting third party to consider the impact of their vote. However, considering is as far as it goes, in my opinion, and if you examine your motives and are satisfied that you’re truly voting for what you believe in, then I will go to the grave defending you from accusations of ‘not being a proper leftist’ or valuing ‘precious purity’ or living in ‘Happy Gumdrop Fairy-Tale Land’ or any of the other criticisms leveled at voters who chose a left-alternative that have been aired in this thread.

On the point of my complaint of a lack of balance in the reception of criticism, I’m well aware that this blog – and others like it – criticize Republicans far more than the non-Democratic left. Of course that’s true. But there seems to be a general lack of recognition that all of Nader’s votes, in total, in an exceptional year for a third-party candidate that is highly unlikely to be repeated any time soon, came to only 5% of Bush’s total, so even if it were true that it was only and solely votes for Nader that lost Gore the election – and I don’t accept that premise for one minute – less than a 1% swing from Bush to Gore would have eased Gore over the line. Of course, many Republicans voted for Bush out of the usual combination of zealotry and bigotry, but it seems a fair bet to me that a sizeable chunk – certainly way bigger than 1% – will have voted for Bush simply because they assumed (incorrectly as it turned out) that he would be better at running things, or other, similar, not-particularly-partisan reasons, that Gore could have overcome simply by being a more appealing candidate.

So, to sum up,
1) Your vote is your own – use it to support someone you support, whether that’s a progressive Democrat (95% of the time this will actually be the case of course) or a progressive alternative,
2) Most elections are non-competitive, so this is unlikely to hurt a Democrat especially anyway,
3) Even the Democrat loyalists’ cherry-picked best example of ‘oh no, third-party disaster!’ isn’t very convincing,
4) The appropriate target of ire for right-wing victories in elections are those who voted for them, and
5) Those are the people you need to convince of the rightness of your plans, not the tiny number of people who would consider voting 3rd party (so calling those right-wing voters ‘evil’, by the way, might not be the best idea).

254

christian_h 11.02.10 at 6:01 pm

Okay one last one in response to Charles: I’d vote for Feingold and (with reservations) Grayson. Most of the Democrats aren’t like that, and in particular the party leadership isn’t – they are isolated within the party.

And I completely agree that trying to build a third (left) party ahead of building the social forces it represents is a fool’s errand which is exactly why I argued for a Gore vote in 2000. But the same argument applies mutatis mutandis to working within Democratic party structures. It’s a waste of money and energy.

255

ScentOfViolets 11.02.10 at 6:07 pm

Voting for the less worse scumbag (evil monsters like Alan Grayson and Russ Fiengold) is a useful act. Not voting for them isn’t, unless you take a “heightening the contradictions” approach.

Said without any supporting arguments or evidence.

I’d also point out that most voters who decide to sit out elections after previously being engaged aren’t “protesting”. What is generally the case is that this sort of voter operates on a quid pro quo basis: their vote is offered in exchange for coming through on the campaign promises the candidate of their choice has made.

Candidates who welsh on their promises aren’t generally going to get those types of votes in their pockets again, which is the situation Obama & Co. find themselves in right now. What’s that old saying? “Bust a Deal, face the Wheel”?

And arguing one notch past that ratchet, that it would be irresponsible for these sorts not to vote for the party that is widely perceived as reneging on it’s side of the deal just seem to be playing some sort of perverted agency game. I’d have to ask what part of breaking the deal results in consequences these sorts don’t get.

256

mds 11.02.10 at 6:12 pm

mds you know I love you

Awww, now I’m blushing. :-)

but

Uh-oh. That was a short honeymoon.

But you apparently misunderstand. “… our completely screwed up political system not only can’t be changed but shouldn’t …” isn’t the proper characterization. It’s that it can’t be changed drastically without a lot of blood, either at the barricades or through the actions of a government that lacks even the pretense of promoting the general welfare. And my general cowardice pacifism is further complicated by those pesky new family ties.

See, what I observe is a choice between the following:

(1) Vote for scumbags over somewhat worse scumbags to buy time.
(2) Magically figure out what to do to make things substantively better.
(3) Workers’ paradise.

(1) Refuse to vote for scumbags, thereby heightening the contradictions and hastening the collapse.
(2) Magically figure out what to do to make things substantively better.
(3) Workers’ paradise.

The latter involves somewhat more human suffering in the near term, which I’m uncomfortable with.

But then, perhaps I will eventually be driven to the realization that the only hope in securing a future for my son will be through dramatic upheaval, either by massive party realignment or by violence. I’m still in the rear-guard denial phase right now, though, which is why DD’s post has been such a bitter pill.

257

Uncle Kvetch 11.02.10 at 6:23 pm

That was a short honeymoon.

Bow-chicka-wow-wow!

Oops, wrong blog.

258

Daragh McDowell 11.02.10 at 6:32 pm

@mds – in all seriousness, if the choice is between short, sharp increase in human suffering followed by rapid collapse of an obviously dysfunctional political system vs. long, drawn out gradual increase in human suffering followed by halting steady erosion of foundations of obviously dysfunctional political system, I go for the former every time. Look at the USSR. Sure post-Soviet Russia had a rough first few years, but Putin is a vast improvement over both the Soviet oligarchy and the Yeltsin era.

259

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 11.02.10 at 6:34 pm

“So what’s the alternative?

Basically, non-electoral politics. “

Worked great during the Bush years, didn’t it?

But for Code Pink, we might have went to a pointless war in Iraq.

Oh wait.

260

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 11.02.10 at 6:35 pm

“There’s quite a lot of material to work with when you’re trying to establish that Gore was and is of the War Party, dating back to when he was one of two or three Democratic Senators to vote for the first Gulf War, something he made a point of stressing during his 2000 run.”

Any Senator who voted against Gulf War I was unelectable.

261

mds 11.02.10 at 6:38 pm

Sure post-Soviet Russia had a rough first few years, but Putin is a vast improvement over both the Soviet oligarchy and the Yeltsin era.

Er, somehow this fails to be reassuring.

Oops, wrong blog.

Not any more, Kvetch. Not any more.

262

Daragh McDowell 11.02.10 at 6:48 pm

@mds

“Er, somehow this fails to be reassuring.”

Well what can I say. Eggs. Omelettes. Etc.

263

geo 11.02.10 at 7:00 pm

mds @260: Magically figure out what to do to make things substantively better

For Christ’s sake, there’s nothing magical about it. It just takes a lot of gritty, unglamorous work — outreach, organizing, research, fund-raising — by a lot of ordinary people. Until that happens — and as you so astutely point out, it’s not immanent — no decent society. But yes, of course, meanwhile use the vote — a necessary but pathetically insufficient mode of democratic self-government — to mitigate the prevailing indecency. Is this so difficult to understand? What in God’s name is all the sniping in this thread about?

264

MPAVictoria 11.02.10 at 7:01 pm

chrsitian_h
“pretending that “there is no alternative””
Pretending?

265

geo 11.02.10 at 7:02 pm

“Imminent,” not “immanent.” I am covered with shame.

266

Russell Arben Fox 11.02.10 at 7:33 pm

Meanwhile use the vote—a necessary but pathetically insufficient mode of democratic self-government—to mitigate the prevailing indecency. Is this so difficult to understand? What in God’s name is all the sniping in this thread about?

Well said, George.

267

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 11.02.10 at 7:49 pm

“What is at stake in this election is whether the Democrats control the Senate with a 58/42 majority or a 52/48 majority, with the swing vote being “a somewhat right-wing and rather venal politician” or “a somewhat right-wing and rather venal politician”.”

Err, no. You’re still thinking pre-1994, and forgetting the filibuster, when there were still enough right-wing Democrats from the South and left-leaning Democrats from the North-East that there wasn’t a whole lot of ideological blue-water between moderate Dems and GOP. Which also meant fewer filibusters, ‘cos you could cobble together a vote via logrolling. But the 1994 election and since have thinned the moderates out of the GOP (and to a lesser extent the Dems) . Also, coalitions on regional isses (e.g. West versus East) have also attenuated. But those ranks have been thinned as the party divides

Right now, there’s about 3-4 moderate GOP Senators.
A seven-vote majority means the swing vote goes from Olympia Snowe & Susan Collins to Some Eejit From A Former Confederate State.

That’s not to mention the horrors that will come from the House.

268

Walt 11.02.10 at 8:14 pm

245: How do you know? How do you know no one here lives in San Francisco?

269

novakant 11.02.10 at 8:29 pm

Or am I only able to be disgruntled with the Lib Dems after they commit to a policy of stupidity and destructiveness greater than or equal to the Iraq War?

Of course not, I certainly have my own misgivings, but to me it’s a matter of proportionality. And decisions regarding the voting system or economic policy in the UK seem rather inconsequential compared to the decision to needlessly invade another country and actually kill a large number of people.

270

weserei 11.02.10 at 9:59 pm

novakant: The Liberal Democrats didn’t have a role in that decision.

271

Salient 11.02.10 at 10:07 pm

Long day.

Voted for team D, straight through, even in the couple races where I badly wanted to vote for an unviable but admirable left-wing alternative. Read up on the nonpartisan races to check which candidates are establishment left of center, and voted for them as well.

This meant voting for, among other things, a House Representative who voted against health care, wants to throw women’s rights under the bus, wish-washed on federal stimulus, who now intends to help balance the federal deficit on the backs of the working poor, and who has generally acted like the asphyxiated hound from which his subparty coalition takes their name. Grrrrr.

Went further. Made calls, made contact, made acquaintances. Learned the local university GOTV is abominably understaffed, made the rounds at undergraduate housing, talked a few people into voting, learned a hell of a lot of people were absentee-eligible and didn’t absentee, and could’ve voted here but didn’t switch over. Not a same-day voting state. Garrgh. Made me miss Wisconsin.

Fulfilled my day-of bargain, I think. Am tired. For those of you who wanted to see that kind of fall-in-line-with-establishment repentance from a former supporter of Ralph Nader (and actually originally a sincere supporter of Jello Biafra if you really must know), well, there you go. I hope in particular that it buys me some people asking uncomfortable questions and taking agitative leftie stances at town hall meetings, under the guise of the Sanity Party.^1^

^1^Or hell, under whatever guise. Sanity Party is this kind of ill-formulated social-democratic responsive antipodal-to-Tea Party thing a handful of people were agitating for at the Rally to Restore Sanity, and I liked the idea enough to roll with it.

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Donald Johnson 11.02.10 at 10:57 pm

Speaking of counterfactuals, I don’t recall any Nader-hating liberal explaining in 2000 that Bush would most likely start a war that would kill hundreds of thousands of people with the enthusiastic backing of Gore’s running mate and many other prominent Democrats. There was already bipartisan agreement in supporting the Iraqi sanctions no matter how much harm they inflicted and one thing that often brings Democrats and Republicans together is support for killing foreigners, so maybe it was supposed to be obvious.

273

dsquared 11.02.10 at 11:21 pm

novakant: The Liberal Democrats didn’t have a role in that decision.

I don’t know what specific decision you’re talking about here, but I agree.

274

novakant 11.02.10 at 11:25 pm

The Liberal Democrats didn’t have a role in that decision.

And I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.

275

sg 11.02.10 at 11:29 pm

dsquared, shouldn’t you be analyzing gore’s votes on the Iraq war according to the same logic of the post? If he knew it would be supported anyway and voting against it would damage his future electability, by the logic of the post isn’t his utility-maximizing option to vote for it?

The same applies to all those who support dsquared’s logic on the basis of the voting patterns of the dems, surely?

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Tim Wilkinson 11.03.10 at 12:45 am

I don’t know about being an application of the logic of the post, but it’s certainly highly relevant to the phenomenon of compliant reactions being mistaken for antecedent support. And given the peculiar logic of patriotism, war, our brave cannon fodder etc., belligerent policies in the US are especially prone to snowballing in this way. The point being that a Gore administration was far less likely to set the ball rolling (what ball?).

BTW, presumably we assume that the military invasion of Afghanistan, and indeed the universally-acknowledged major failings that permitted the precarious success of 9-11, still happen in this imagined chadless (or Jebless) world?

(Actually I think if we follow David Lewis’s guidelines, we insert the smallest necessary miraculous change, at the latest possible time, in order to execute the shift sideways through the multiverse to the appropriate Gore-victory. So the chads may as well stay, I suppose. Or something. Because, you see, if kangaroos had no tails they would fall over, rather than using crutches, or for that matter having long prehensile livers protruding from the lumbar region. That’s counterfactuals for you.)

277

Tim Wilkinson 11.03.10 at 12:46 am

precarious success of the 9-11 attacks, that is

278

homunq 11.03.10 at 1:31 am

The world in general, and the US and Britain in particular, sucks. Basically, you can just accept it that way, which has the advantage of being true but the disadvantage of leaving you with nothing meaningful to do except toddle off and die; or have some plan for how it will get better. I take it as a given that all of us want to choose option B. The problem is, that any plan is going to be more or less improbable. So in a certain sense, this whole argument is like looking at your neighbor’s lotto ticket and scoffing “Yeah – like that’ll win”.

That said, while we’ll still probably lose, we should at least try to make it possible to win. That means, as a baseline:
-Trying to pull together. I’ll vote in your election, and you don’t cross my picket line.
-Doing something besides just voting. Ideally, some local issue with concrete results which builds organization and power.
-Being strategic. Working for electoral reform. (And please, US activists, take a lesson from the divisiveness over AV (their name for IRV) is in Britain, and look at even better reforms, like Approval Voting or Majority Choice Approval.)
-Never, ever telling anyone else not to vote, unless the election is literally totally rigged (that is, over 5% fraud, something that never happens in the US).

Given that, should we vote Democrat, third party, or write-in? Well, if the Democrat has pledged to support electoral reform and/or campaign finance reform, and that promise is not a blatant lie, then they get my vote, period. Other than that, I’m in favor of something I don’t think has been proposed in the previous 279 comments: not arguing about it.

279

sg 11.03.10 at 1:34 am

On a more practical note, as I observed in connection with the UK election, when you stay home or vote for the evil opposition, the same problem applies: nobody is listening.

If you stay home, they just think you’re an ignorant tv-addicted gen x-er. Nobody believes you’re staying home on principle, or because you understand game theory, or whatever. They think you’re staying home because you don’t care enough. I bet if you did a poll of people actually active in Democrat politics at whatever passes for grassroots level in the US, you won’t find many people who can’t be bothered to vote. People who are politically engaged do not assume that stay-at-homers are “politically engaged but pissed off.” They assume you’re lazy, stupid, an evil Nader-voter waiting for godot, whatever.

If you vote for the greater of two evils, the Dems won’t interpret this as a protest. They can’t read your mind and your vote isn’t special. They will interpret this as a sign that they were too left wing.

Of course, if you went down the civilized path of compulsory preferential voting these rules wouldn’t apply, due to anlaysis of preference flows; but then if you went down the civilized path, you wouldn’t ever have a justification for laziness, would you?

So, rather than being apathetic, either a) get out there and change the party you hate, or start a new one; or b) vote for the lesser of two evils. And if you don’t want to do either of these two things, don’t whinge when they shaft you 18 ways to Sunday.

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Charles S 11.03.10 at 2:00 am

I don’t recall any Nader-hating liberal explaining in 2000 that Bush would most likely start a war that would kill hundreds of thousands of people with the enthusiastic backing of Gore’s running mate and many other prominent Democrats.

Well, I’m no Nader-hating liberal (I ended up vote trading with a Gore supporter in Misssissippi) but I did argue at the time that there was a significant difference between Gore and Bush because Bush was in the pocket of the crazy war-mongers and was gunning for a war with Iraq (come on, his VP was Cheney). Yes, Gore would have continued sanctions, but I find the claim that he would have invaded Iraq unconvincing.

281

Charles S 11.03.10 at 2:01 am

DSquared,

If working within a party is not effective way of changing that party, how do parties shift in their positions?

282

Salient 11.03.10 at 2:25 am

I just want to speak up for the idea that no matter what the hell a person has done in the past, they have the right to “whinge” if they are experiencing or witnessing exploitation or suffering, and the definition we take for ‘suffering’ they’re allowed to complain about should be set as broadly as possible. The right to speak out against perceived injustice is a fundamental human right, and I refuse to acknowledge or condone any proposed restriction or social norm which violates that right.

I know, I know, 95% of what’s said in the “you can’t complain if you don’t do X” category is said half-facetiously. Sorry for being dour and humorless about it. In consolation, I’ll rephrase like so: “You were asking for this, so don’t complain” is acceptable in at most two cases, the freshly cracked black pepper applied to a restaurant patron’s meal, and the requests that a masochist makes of their dominatrix.

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sg 11.03.10 at 2:39 am

Fair enough, Salient. I just think that it’s an easy out for people to blame others for their own society’s misfortune, and to treat in a light-hearted or callous way the rights that were won for them by former generations. If you can’t even be bothered getting off your arse once every 2 years for an hour to toddle down to your polling booth and stuff a piece of paper in a box, knowing full well that if you don’t the decision is going to be taken for you by other people, you’re being pretty piss-weak about your own hard-won rights.

Yes, yes, I know that it’s an emotive argument and person X doesn’t owe dead ancestor Y anything, but these rights aren’t trivial and if your politicans aren’t as good as they could be, you do in a democracy (even the US!) still have some power to change them, either through grassroots involvement and/or voting. If you can’t be bothered with either of these, or you think some kind of flippant proto-libertarian analysis of the pointlessness of voting exonerates you from so doing, then while yes, you do (of course) retain the right to whinge about the results, it’s a bit rich to expect the rest of us to sympathize with your complaints.

I know a woman in London, Muslim, child of Pakistani migrants, didn’t vote in the last European elections, expressed outrage when the BNP won a seat. What am I meant to say in response to this except “well, you played a very small part in that fuck-up, didn’t you?”

284

The Raven 11.03.10 at 7:09 am

Well, you’re about to find out why the vote counts. I wonder if the Republican-dominated House will impeach Obama for being a non-citizen.

Black is beautiful! Croak!

285

Walt 11.03.10 at 7:30 am

Just great, Daniel. You tell America not to vote for the Democrats, and we end up with the Republicans picking up 60 and John Boehner Speaker of the House. Couldn’t you use your powers for good? Next time, tell America that every citizen needs to send me 10 bucks.

286

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.03.10 at 8:24 am

Waaay too much emphasis on personalities here; Bush, Gore, who cares, you’re not electing a king for 4 years. Well, but in fact you do. If I could vote for a party with coherent detailed platform, party that’s always acting as a block and adhere to the platform, I would gladly let frigging Jeffrey Dahmer cast the votes. Otherwise, all this is nothing but an equivalent of frigging kremlinology.

287

dsquared 11.03.10 at 8:28 am

You tell America not to vote for the Democrats, and we end up with the Republicans picking up 60 and John Boehner Speaker of the House

yes, less money and job security for incumbent Democrats, isn’t it terrible?

288

kegler 11.03.10 at 8:58 am

“Your vote probably won’t decide an election, so feel free to vote for the candidate that makes you feel the best about yourself.”

That’s basically what you’re saying, right?

289

dsquared 11.03.10 at 9:11 am

Perhaps, although frankly “voting on the basis of being able to justify your choice on the grounds of what you believe” is not actually such a bad idea, and I think it’s weak evidence in favour of my case that the only way to argue against it appears to be the making of ludicrously overstated portrayals of the negative consequences of doing so.

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Walt 11.03.10 at 9:32 am

Okay, but can you work your powers so that there’s more money and job security for me? Is that so much to ask?

291

kegler 11.03.10 at 9:38 am

To be fair, it’s not like minor-party supporters don’t themselves ludicrously understate the delta between the two main parties. Hell, you made some fairly puffed up claims on your own site about the efficacy progressive groups working outside of/against the Democratic establishment. That’s just how it goes.

Mainly I’m interested because that approach seems to capture the feelings of a lot of non-voters this cycle, and because it’s very different from what I remember Nader voters saying a decade ago.

Back then (and this is anecdotal, but I spent a lot of time in Takoma Park where he outpolled Bush), there was a real expectation among his supporters that costing Gore some votes, if not the actual election, would send notice to the Democrats that the progressive constituency wouldn’t be taken for granted.

Now, I hear a lot about people not wanting to associate themselves with the government or the Democratic Party, talking about it as an issue of identity. Half the time I feel sympathetic but half the time I’m very annoyed.

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politicalfootball 11.03.10 at 10:29 am

yes, less money and job security for incumbent Democrats, isn’t it terrible?

Yes, actually, because it means more money and job security for their opponents. How you are able to write the Republicans out of this picture is a mystery to me.

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politicalfootball 11.03.10 at 10:34 am

“voting on the basis of being able to justify your choice on the grounds of what you believe” is not actually such a bad idea,

In fact, it often is a very bad idea. Someone who votes for Bush or Boehner isn’t absolved from responsibility for that choice merely because they believe they should do so.

294

Harold 11.03.10 at 12:25 pm

I suppose Nader was to blame for this outcome?

Clinton and Gore sure were tough on him — problem is they were not tough on the real enemy, just a symbol whom it was easy and convenient to humiliate. While they were being tough on him and his supporters they were enabling Scalia and Clarence Thomas, Enron, and Wall Street. The actual enemy.

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Tim Wilkinson 11.03.10 at 12:48 pm

I think it’s weak evidence in favour of my case that the only way to argue against it appears to be the making of ludicrously overstated portrayals of the negative consequences of doing so.

Eh? Are Dems, or are they not, almost certain to be slightly less brutal in their effects than Reps? And is ‘slightly less brutal’, multiplied by the reach of those effects, enough to tip the balance in close races with reasonably convenient polling arrangements, or is it not?

The standard argument for voting for the lesser evil (we disregard any talk of quasi-proprietorial entitlements, transcendent duties and definitional truths, obviously) would be that the answers are yes they are and yes it is, respectively.

I assume that ludicrously overstated portrayals isn’t a ref to the speculative tangent and avowed ‘red herring’ of the Iraq-slaughter counterfactual, since

1 (re: ludicrously overstated) I don’t see any attempt to resuscitate the Gore-war thesis.

2 (re: only way to argue against it) I’m sure you wouldn’t want the wanton erection of a straw man laid at your gate.

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weserei 11.03.10 at 1:31 pm

@278: I meant the decision to go to war in Iraq. You don’t get brownie points for, as a third party with absolutely zero power, issuing condemnations of things–when, later, as a component of a governing coalition, it turns out you were just saying all those things to get attention.

I suppose you could argue that Charlie Kennedy was a better man than Nick Clegg (which I think is probably true) and that he never would have propped up a reactionary coalition government–but we’ll never know, will we? And in any case, the decision to start the Iraq War was not the UK’s.

Dsquared’s point @277 deserves attention as well.

297

politicalfootball 11.03.10 at 1:56 pm

wanton erection of a straw man laid

Those straw men, always trying to get their wanton erections laid.

298

marcel 11.03.10 at 2:14 pm

299

marcel 11.03.10 at 2:15 pm

Did I leave a tag open? Let’ me shut it just in case

300

will 11.03.10 at 4:19 pm

It’s fine if you honestly think the parties are no different. That means you don’t just talk about how bad incumbent Democrats, you also say that the Republican incumbents are no worse than the Democrats. But even the shrillest denouncers of Clinton (or Obama) aren’t going to spend the Bush (or Palin) administrations claiming that, hey the Republicans are bad but they’re no worse than the Democrats. No, they’re going to outdo mainstream liberals in claiming that the Republicans are a grave threat to the republic and a fascist. So it’s clear they do have a preference for the Democrats, they’re just choosing to sacrifice their own principles to make a point. I’m dissatisfied with centrism too, but I think the Left is just as guilty of deserting the battlefield, in the face of the concentrated fire of the Right, as are the centrists.

Are you happy (or indifferent) with the current election results? then your decision not to vote, or to cast a meaningless protest vote, is justified. If you’re going to spend the next two years complaining that Boehner’s Congress is sending the country down the tubes, then you’re a hypocrite.

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geo 11.03.10 at 4:36 pm

Charles @285: If working within a party is not effective way of changing that party, how do parties shift in their positions?

Isn’t it obvious? If you demonstrate that there is a large unrepresented segment of voters, parties will compete for them.

walt @289: You tell America not to vote for the Democrats

Is that what Daniel was saying? I thought he was saying, to those comparatively few Americans who want to push the country’s politics significantly leftward, that perhaps they shouldn’t assume that holding their noses and voting for a Democrat was their only option.

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4jkb4ia 11.03.10 at 4:47 pm

The simple way of putting this is whether I vote for someone who will represent me 50% of the time or someone who will represent me 0% of the time. The person who will represent me 100% of the time is usually not on the ballot. (For instance in the Missouri Senate race there was no Green candidate.)

303

4jkb4ia 11.03.10 at 4:50 pm

Essentially dsquared’s argument doesn’t apply to me. I don’t have a vote to waste. If Democrats run statewide in Missouri and don’t get me, they will lose because the swing voter is measurably to the right of me.

304

geo 11.03.10 at 4:51 pm

4 @305: The simple way of putting this

Far too simple, in fact, to be of the slightest use.

305

4jkb4ia 11.03.10 at 4:58 pm

geo@304: There may be a large segment of unrepresented voters but they are geographically concentrated. Parties began to compete for black voters in the 1950s when they began moving north and were a threat to urban Democrats, listening to Robert Caro tell it. So these unrepresented voters may think it is rational to use Democratic primaries instead of Green Party candidates to express their views.

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4jkb4ia 11.03.10 at 5:05 pm

@307: I admitted in the next comment that that is location dependent. Most voters won’t have the stark choice of zero representation. Also part of the 50% on which you disagree could be the killing-puppies issue. The only point which I had is that nonzero is better than zero, when you are confronted with zero. And nonzero can absolutely still be suboptimal. Ben Nelson is the result of a lot of lesser-of-two-evils choices by a lot of people.

307

christian_h 11.03.10 at 5:07 pm

Charles (285): parties are expressions of the collective politics of social forces, eg, classes. Your time would be much better spent organizing and educating to change the relative power of those social forces then trying to change the party of your choice. This was my point about the New Deal. Not that the democratic party didn’t internally change in order for it to happen, but that this change was an expression of the fact that there was fleeting moment in US history when a viable labour movement existed and had the self confidence to push for political power.

308

Bernard Yomtov 11.03.10 at 5:27 pm

I think it’s weak evidence in favour of my case that the only way to argue against it appears to be the making of ludicrously overstated portrayals of the negative consequences of doing so.

I don’t think they are ludicrously overstated. I think they are quite serious. Maybe you should take a close look at this year’s crop of GOP Senate candidates, winners and losers, and think some more about that.

309

geo 11.03.10 at 5:27 pm

4 @309: Your original formulation wasn’t useless because it was false, it was useless because it was utterly obvious. If there’s not a third-party candidate in the race, then you can’t vote for a third-party candidate and should vote for the (usually Democratic) lesser evil. Who do you imagine disagrees with this?

The point of the original post was: what should people who are thoroughly disgusted with the Democrats do? The answer is that whatever they may do (after due and responsible consideration) on Election Day is far less important than what they do between elections to change both electoral procedures and (as Christian puts it) “the relative power of social forces.” Why this claim should have led to so much counterfactual speculation about Gore and regurgitated resentment about Nader is mystifying.

310

novakant 11.03.10 at 6:00 pm

And in any case, the decision to start the Iraq War was not the UK’s.

And that means what exactly? That since the decision had already been made in Washington, the UK might as well join them and Labour can be exonerated for merely taking part in the inevitable? That since it was a done deal, any opposition in parliament was necessarily just for show? That only those who joined the warmongers were “part of the decision” and therefore politically relevant?

That’s just a very weird view of politics you have and actually pretty close in part to Blair’s incredibly weak justification for going to war (“we will join the US to soften the blow”).

311

dsquared 11.03.10 at 6:01 pm

Maybe you should take a close look at this year’s crop of GOP Senate candidates, winners and losers, and think some more about that.

the fact that a senator’s salary will go to a nasty person rather than a nice person is not really a consequence. What I have taken a close look at, is the probability of progressive legislation given a Democratic majority of 52-48 in the Senate (negligible) and the probability of progressive legislation given a slightly bigger majority (also negligible).

312

geo 11.03.10 at 6:02 pm

Since Lemuel mistakenly posted this comment on Harry’s thread, I’ll repost it here, where it belongs:

This stuff is not that complicated.

In most elections you should vote for the Democrat. In some elections, you should not vote for the Democrat. But the important thing is that voting is just a small fraction of your political activity. Except in a few exceptional cases, the political work we do between elections is far more important than anything that happens in the voting booth.

What can we do to e.g. help the one in ten (!!) homeowners in this country who are behind on their mortgages fight foreclosure/eviction, and force more of the costs of housing bubble back onto the banks? I’m not sure, but I do know that electing more Democrats is at most a small part of the answer.

313

politicalfootball 11.03.10 at 6:46 pm

If there’s not a third-party candidate in the race, then you can’t vote for a third-party candidate and should vote for the (usually Democratic) lesser evil. Who do you imagine disagrees with this?

I imagine that d^2 disagrees with this in the original post. I imagine that he directly offers one alternative – not voting at all – and implicitly proposes another alternative: voting for a write-in.

The point of the original post was: what should people who are thoroughly disgusted with the Democrats do? The answer is that whatever they may do (after due and responsible consideration) on Election Day is far less important than what they do between elections to change both electoral procedures and (as Christian puts it) “the relative power of social forces.”

Actually, the original post was a discussion of voting behavior, neatly summarized here:

The argument I want to establish here is that the decision about whether or not to vote Demcrat (versus the alternative of abstaining or voting for a minor party) is a serious one, which is up to the conscience of the individual voter to make, and which deserves respect from other people whether they agree with it or not.

And so …

Why this claim should have led to so much counterfactual speculation about Gore and regurgitated resentment about Nader is mystifying.

We’ve seen that you’ve misunderstood the actual claim, so perhaps the counterfactual speculation will seem more understandable to you. The actual claim seemed to quite naturally lead to a discussion of the most obvious case of a consequential third-party vote.

dsquared has declined to explain why he finds the Nader example off-point, but my best guess is that it’s because the point he’s making is really trivial: He’s saying that there is some imaginable circumstance in which third-party voting or abstention is appropriate, and that such voting in general “deserves respect from other people whether they agree with it or not.”

Well, fine. Sure. The decision to vote for Republicans in some situations is one that I can treat respectfully, too.

But third party voting is an interesting topic. Seems natural to use this post as a jumping-off point to discuss the implications of that behavior in the real world, though as I say, I can see where it might be seen as off-topic.

314

Bernard Yomtov 11.03.10 at 6:58 pm

the fact that a senator’s salary will go to a nasty person rather than a nice person is not really a consequence. What I have taken a close look at, is the probability of progressive legislation given a Democratic majority of 52-48 in the Senate (negligible) and the probability of progressive legislation given a slightly bigger majority (also negligible).

Well, I’d prefer that the penny or two of mine that goes to running each Senator’s office go to nice people, but it’s not the most important thing, true.

But I think that evaluating outcomes in terms of the probability of getting major progressive legislation is too narrow because, as you correctly say, it’s not going to happen regardless. A good doctor won’t make you immortal, but that doesn’t mean there’s no point in choosing better over worse.

The question is whether there are issues on which having more Democrats is better. We’ve seen battles over the duration of unemployment benefits, to take one example. There are court nominees to consider, tax and regulatory policies, and so on. Maybe these differences are not huge, but they are not nothing either. I sort of like having things like the EPA and OSHA and so on around.

And you have to consider too that there is a real threat of a GOP majority in the Senate in 2012. Any Democratic win in 2010 reduces the chance of that happening. If it does, the concern will not be passing progressive laws, but defeating regressive ones.

315

geo 11.03.10 at 7:13 pm

pf @ 317: I said “in the race,” not “on the ballot.” If someone is not in the race – ie, has not made some public declaration of interest in serving in the office – then, although you can literally write in his/her name, it’s not exactly a “vote.”

I’m not sure I agree that I’ve misunderstood Daniel’s original claim. The post is an argument to the effect that voting behavior is only a small part of political behavior, and exhortations about what to do on Election Day should keep that in mind. Toward the end of the post he writes: “So what’s the alternative? Basically, non-electoral politics. For someone whose politics are to the left of the mainstream of the Democratic Party, time and effort spent on getting Democratic candidates elected has to compete against the opportunity cost, which is usually a single-issue group of some kind. And in this competition, the Democratic Party has two big handicaps … the case for spending time and money on supporting the campaigns of Democrat candidates (unless you actually like their politics) is very hard to make when one considers the opportunity cost.”

So a narrow focus on voting is not merely misguided in itself, it’s also not really engaging with the point of the post.

316

politicalfootball 11.03.10 at 7:25 pm

If someone is not in the race – ie, has not made some public declaration of interest in serving in the office – then, although you can literally write in his/her name, it’s not exactly a “vote.”

It is exactly and in every sense a “vote.” And anyway, not voting at all is something that the post explicitly addresses. Come on, geo.

The post is an argument to the effect that voting behavior is only a small part of political behavior, and exhortations about what to do on Election Day should keep that in mind.

The post is not this. It is not an effort to excuse a small error on the grounds that other behaviors are so much more important. It is an effort to say that the behaviors specified – not voting, to given one example – are entirely appropriate in certain circumstances.

The quote you provide is a discussion of opportunity cost, and (if you consider it the key part of the post) it also contradicts what you say above, in that it specifically proposes nonvoting being (contingently) a reasonable alternative.

317

geo 11.03.10 at 7:39 pm

PF: OK, so in 313, the comment you’re so exercised about, I should have said: “If there’s not a third-party candidate in the race, then you can’t vote for a third-party candidate and should usually vote for the (usually Democratic) lesser evil. Who do you imagine disagrees with this?”

But on the whole, your insistence that the post is exclusively about whether nonvoting is ever justified seems to me wrong. The post is about placing one’s decision about what to do on Election Day in a proper context. It most emphatically, and quite correctly, does point out that “other behaviors are more important.” Very frustrating that you and some others seem uninterested in discussing these other behaviors, since they make up most of whatever democracy may be.

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politicalfootball 11.03.10 at 7:40 pm

What I have taken a close look at, is the probability of progressive legislation given a Democratic majority of 52-48 in the Senate (negligible) and the probability of progressive legislation given a slightly bigger majority (also negligible).

You’re merely taking the Paradox of Voting one step further here. And since I seem to disagree with your proposed solution to the Paradox of Voting, I’m going to disagree with this, too.

Yes, an individual’s vote doesn’t mean much, and an individual Senator’s vote doesn’t mean a heck of a lot, either. Except when it does, and when it does, it can be very important.

The Nader-voter-of-whom-we-must-not-speak is excused by some commenters (though not you) on the grounds that he or she had no way of knowing how much difference there was between Bush and Gore. I’ll tell you right now, it’s entirely predictable that the House and Senate are going to be taking, or attempting, actions of dire consequence, and the difference between the best Republicans and the worst Democrats is likely to be crucial.

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politicalfootball 11.03.10 at 7:48 pm

Very frustrating that you and some others seem uninterested in discussing these other behaviors, since they make up most of whatever democracy may be.

I agree with you on this, and you can therefore infer that my silence on this matter indicates assent.

320

christian_h 11.03.10 at 8:52 pm

Astoundingly, political football apparently believes that having a “worst Democrat” in the Senate is better than having a “best Republican” (I’m ignoring the problem with a linear order here). On what possible grounds would anyone believe this? It seems perfectly obvious to me that the perceived need to (a) protect “moderate” Democrats with their voters and therefore (b) preemptively cater to their every whim is much more of a problem for a progressive agenda (note: I don’t believe there is a progressive agenda at all, but the Dem defenders here seem to) than Republicans are. This is most certainly a lesson Republicans learned decades ago. And success in getting their policies implemented – often by Democrats – seems to prove them right.

321

StevenAttewell 11.03.10 at 9:20 pm

I’d just like to point out that Jerry McNerney is currently winning by 121 votes, as far as the “voting/GOTV doesn’t matter” goes.

322

StevenAttewell 11.03.10 at 9:27 pm

Christian-H – actually, when it comes to voting patterns, politicalfootball is right. You can look up the studies, but basically the most right wing Democrats in the Senate are more likely to vote our way than the most moderate of Republicans.

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StevenAttewell 11.03.10 at 9:34 pm

Christian-h:
“Charles (285): parties are expressions of the collective politics of social forces, eg, classes. Your time would be much better spent organizing and educating to change the relative power of those social forces then trying to change the party of your choice. This was my point about the New Deal. Not that the democratic party didn’t internally change in order for it to happen, but that this change was an expression of the fact that there was fleeting moment in US history when a viable labour movement existed and had the self confidence to push for political power.”

The relative power of social forces doesn’t have any impact without organization within the party. The changes inside the Democratic Party weren’t “expressions,” they didn’t fall from the sky, they happened because the labor movement took activists, took money, and shoved them into pushing more progressive candidates through primaries, getting them elected in the general, taking over party organizations, winning platform fights, and working within the party.

Without that work, parties don’t change.

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christian_h 11.03.10 at 10:05 pm

Yes but if there’s no labour movement to speak of in the first place this is a bit of a pointless exercise. You can talk all you want, but you won’t change this basic fact. It’s a weird symmetry between Democratic party boosters and vanguardist Maoist sects. The current relation of the Democratic party to the labour movement such as there is, as well as to related social movements, is without doubt (for those of us involved in those movement it’s glaringly obvious) one of demobilization. Any involvement of movement activists in the party is purely an exercise in self-denial and in fact self-destruction, which is the fundamental problem underlying this post and discussion.

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weserei 11.03.10 at 11:29 pm

@314: I don’t see much evidence for the idea that British participation rounded the edges off the Iraq War. And I would agree that British participation has had a negative impact on British political culture. Anyway, this is a side point that you’re focusing on. But really: how many fewer Iraqis would have died if Blair had opted out of the invasion and occupation? And how many fewer would have died if Bush had opted out? The issue has a different stature in American and British politics.

My main point, though, is that talk is cheap. How much credit should Nick Clegg really get, now, for a stance his party took five years before he became their leader, a stance which was if anything politically advantageous to them at the time, a stance which had no detectable effect on governmental policy, a stance which has no detectable sequel in their current actions as members of the coalition government? To what extent does this any of this excuse, or otherwise call for leniency toward the Liberal Democrats–when we’ve seen what they’re actually like in government? How many extra children below the poverty line does this balance out to?

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politicalfootball 11.04.10 at 12:12 am

How much credit should Nick Clegg really get …

That paragraph also works if you substitute “Obama” for “Nick Clegg.”

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Steve Williams 11.04.10 at 4:57 am

political football@330

‘That paragraph also works if you substitute “Obama” for “Nick Clegg.”’

Eh? Whatever charges you can lay at the door of the Liberal Democrats, they did at least definitely vote against the Iraq War. If the same could be said of a majority of Congressional Democrats, maybe we wouldn’t be needing to have this argument so urgently.

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Phil 11.04.10 at 9:04 am

To what extent does this any of this excuse, or otherwise call for leniency toward the Liberal Democrats

To a negative extent, i.e. it calls for greater harshness – at least, from anyone who’d been taken in (a group which includes me). As I set out here, for years I’d been hearing from friends of mine (many of them more politically active than me) that the Lib Dems are utterly unprincipled and untrustworthy; that the dishonest opportunism which characterises their local campaigns isn’t just an organisational pathology, it’s the nature of the beast. But I’m a trusting soul, and I believed it meant something when the Lib Dems voted against the Iraq war; I believed the Lib Dems were genuinely moving to the Left of Labour (and God knows there’s enough room there). More recently, I believed Vince Cable when he argued against the cuts Labour were planning (let alone the much deeper cuts planned by the Tories); I even believed Nick Clegg when he committed the party to opposing tuition fees (not uncapped tuition fees, *any* tuition fees) and campaigned for student votes on that basis.

For me – although not for my friends – the formation of the coalition was a huge piece of cognitive dissonance: a Left party would adopt *these* policies, the Lib Dems had adopted them, therefore the Lib Dems were a Left party; but a Left party would *not* go into coalition with the Tories on a programme of massive cuts in public expenditure, therefore… Brane hertz. Assume that the error was mine – in fact the Lib Dems always were a party of unprincipled opportunists – and the headache goes away.

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ajay 11.04.10 at 10:51 am

Assume that the error was mine – in fact the Lib Dems always were a party of unprincipled opportunists – and the headache goes away.

My problem with this is that it’s very difficult to imagine a young politician with no principles but an opportunistic desire for power deciding at the start of his career to become a Liberal Democrat.

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dsquared 11.04.10 at 10:58 am

it’s very difficult to imagine a young politician with no principles but an opportunistic desire for power deciding at the start of his career to become a Liberal Democrat

not difficult at all IMO – it’s the instinct of a smallish big fish for a biggish small pond.

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Phil 11.04.10 at 11:13 am

At the local level, in particular, it’s really not difficult at all – it’s amazing the number of dedicated local campaigners we have standing for the council, there seems to be an unlimited supply. (It’s a shame they only ever make their campaigning activities known to the world through the medium of Lib Dem newsletters, but there you go.) If you’re thinking of the Oxbridge->intern->researcher->profit!MP career path, you’ve got more of a point, but I think it’s worth bearing in mind that that career path didn’t really exist before New Labour, when the social and ideological hurdles to a career in the two main parties were much higher. Admittedly as a Lib Dem MP you’d never normally get so much as a sniff of government power, but in broader terms an individual MP is hardly power*less* – or privilegeless, come to that.

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BenSix 11.04.10 at 12:21 pm

Admittedly as a Lib Dem MP you’d never normally get so much as a sniff of government power, but in broader terms an individual MP is hardly power*less* – or privilegeless, come to that.

True dat – I’ve known power-crazed Machiavellians running for school governorship, let alone Parliament.

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Matt Heath 11.04.10 at 12:21 pm

If d² at 334 is right then at least careerist LibDems don’t have delusions that they are huge fish. They should use it as election material “Vote for your Liberal Democrat candidate: relatively unlikely to be simultaneously venal and narcissistic”

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Norwegian Guy 11.04.10 at 12:57 pm

Eh? Whatever charges you can lay at the door of the Liberal Democrats, they did at least definitely vote against the Iraq War. If the same could be said of a majority of Congressional Democrats, maybe we wouldn’t be needing to have this argument so urgently.

A majority of Congressional Democrats did in fact vote against the Iraq War (147 against, 111 in favour, 1 not voting). Although I suppose a majority of them might have voted in favour of some of the bills funding the war and occupation.

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Joshua W. Burton 11.04.10 at 1:32 pm

First, stay at home
Second, vote for their minor party or abstain
Third, vote Democrat

Fourth, vote Republican! Voting for George W. Bush in 2000 was, in all respects, equivalent to voting for Ralph Nader twice, and as a protest vote was the clear dominant strategy.

In any election where the minor party candidate is out of electability range but within spoiling range, this will be the case. Further, it not only doubles the spoiling impact, but also consolidates it as between multiple minor parties.

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Joshua W. Burton 11.04.10 at 1:34 pm

and as a protest vote was the clear dominant strategy

A protest vote against Al Gore, obviously. Minor parties on the right would vote Democratic in close elections, under this strategy.

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ScentOfViolets 11.04.10 at 2:00 pm

Eh? Whatever charges you can lay at the door of the Liberal Democrats, they did at least definitely vote against the Iraq War. If the same could be said of a majority of Congressional Democrats, maybe we wouldn’t be needing to have this argument so urgently.

This sounds like the Democrats over here in that yes, the majority do vote in the way one wishes, but – mysteriously – they’re always just a few votes short of where they need to be. I believe it was Jane Hamsher over at Firedoglake who coined the term “villain rotation”. This month it’s some opportunistic sleaze bag who votes against X, next week it’s a neanderthal thug who votes against Y . . . but always always always, there never seem to be quite enough votes to get any significant legislation passed that goes against the interests of the usual rotisserie of powerful interests. The carrot remains just out of reach. But next time for sure! It’s the sort of Kabuki theater that’s necessary to keep the rubes happy and engaged for yet another election cycle, but the fact of the matter is, that sort of legislation is just not going to pass.

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Natilo Paennim 11.04.10 at 2:46 pm

Not having read the entire thread (but having skimmed the first and last chunks of comments, which seem awfully recursive), I’d like to suggest another strategy for dealing with the perversity of electoral politics: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
As Unfogged readers know, I’ve been an election judge for the past 6 years. Also, I descended into the morass of party politics this spring, by participating in my local Democratic caucus, and going to the state senate district convention, where delegates to the state convention are chosen. I participated at the behest of some progressive Democratic friends who wanted to send as many of their tendency as delegates to the state convention as possible. There were about 20 of their activists there, in a crowd of 350 people or so, and they managed to get 11 out of the 13 delegate spots for themselves.
What this impressed upon me (other than that so-called mainstream liberals are in fact much more likely to be suffering from severe mental illness than far-left radicals) is that it would take a very, very small block of people to disrupt the process of a party on a city level. Perhaps no more than 60 or 100 people in this city of 350K. That’s really not an unreasonably high number. In fact, I could pretty easily lay my hands on 100 anarchists who might be up for that kind of thing, just as a prank. Furthermore, this was at the Democratic convention in a heavily, heavily Democratic city. I’m not sure how many people show up the the Minneapolis Republican Party conventions, but I would be surprised indeed if it was even half as many as the Democrats get. A dedicated cadre of left-liberals could make a HUGE disruptive impact on the Republican side of things here. If you had some people who were in it for the long haul, and could act as stealth delegates for a couple of election cycles until they got some real power in the party hierarchy, the effects of your sabotage could be magnified immensely.
Just something to think about if you’re feeling powerless right now.

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Norwegian Guy 11.04.10 at 2:55 pm

@Natilo Paennim:
So entryism the way ahead?

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Salient 11.04.10 at 3:33 pm

Natilo Paennim, reading your comment made me feel a tiny bit more hopeful than I’ve felt in a long while. Thank you for writing it. Would love to get in touch with you over email, if you’re willing to post an address or create a temporary account for that purpose.

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Natilo Paennim 11.04.10 at 5:20 pm

Norwegian Guy: Well, I don’t know if I would say it’s the “way ahead.” It’s an old tactic, a tactic the right uses quite a lot to its advantage, and a tactic that’s proven to be effective on many levels in many contexts. I had imagined, not having participated in this particular aspect of the political process before, that there would be far more safeguards against it, but that was not the case.

Salient: I should really get another anonymous email address set up. Let me get back to you on that.

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Harold 11.04.10 at 6:05 pm

What people don’t understand here is that in different states it makes sense to vote for different candidates. In my state of NY I agree with most of the electorate and it doesn’t really make sense for me to vote at all, since the candidate I support is usually the one that wins or loses. Because of the undue representation accorded to states whose population is the same as that of a borough of my city, I am effectively disenfranchised. If I vote at all, it makes sense for me to vote a minor party, such as the Working Families Party, which reflects my wishes more accurately, although they usually endorse Democratic candidates. I refused to vote in the Democratic 1992 primary because I was so horrified by the right wing campaign statements of Clinton – Gore. It was the first time I ever sat out a primary. Later I hated what they did with NAFTA, privatizing the civil service, financial deregulation, and welfare “reform.” New Yorker Amy Goodman is the only person who ever stood up to Clinton and got under his skin and she supported Nader.

However, my friends and relatives who live in other states, for example Florida or Pennsylvania told me that they held their noses and voted for Gore in 2000, because although Gore was highly distasteful to them, it was far from clear that Gore was going to win over Bush in those states, and they could discern that Bush was even worse.

On the other hand, don’t forget that Bush also ran as a centrist (though my Texas relatives warned me he had destroyed Texas as governor and was likely to do the same to NY). Nevertheless, my in-laws in Colorado, “centrist” Democrats, who were disgusted with Clinton and swallowed the hype about privatization, which was very very potent in the West, decided it would be “refreshing” to vote for Bush, and did so. And I am sure they were not alone in this. Like Bush, Gore also ran on the center right, and therefore people who inclined to the “center right” figured, why not elect a real “center” rightist.

This has been the practical long-term result of Democratic campaigning and governing from the right for the last 50 years. The scapegoating of Nader, who at one point was a real hero whose accomplishments deserve celebrating, no matter what he has done since, is a giant red herring. Furthermore, it is truly disgraceful how he was and is being treated by the manifestly incompetent Gore campaign and its careerist enablers. Having a voice on the left during the debates might have helped Gore, but never mind that, he was grabbed by the arms and forcibly thrown out of the debate audience by Gore campaign goons (Bush and Cheney weren’t the first to use such violent strong arm tactics). I might add that I live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that has a big Middle Eastern population and that as a Lebanese-American, Nader is considered a native son by many here.

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Harold 11.04.10 at 10:40 pm

Likely to do the same to the USA (not NY) I mean. Aargh.

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Harold 11.05.10 at 3:11 am

By the way, MPA Victoria, #49, Gore did not lose the election “by a few hundred votes” and therefore if the Nader voters, etc., etc. [# 49 wrote: “Al Gore lost by a few hundred votes. That means that if a few Ralph Nader supporters had changed their minds at the last second the world could have been spared all the horrors of the Reign of George the Lesser”]. Maybe MPA was being facetious, but if he/she was not –

The fact is that Gore *won* a clear majority of the popular vote of the United States. And he would have won the electoral vote, too, if the far-right members of the Supreme Court (whom Gore voted to affirm) had not decided to stop the Florida recount. Gore *won* my state’s delegates by more than a few hundred votes and those in NY who voted for Nader or stayed home made no difference whatsoever to this outcome. Gore *lost* his own home state of Tennessee and not because of Nader.

As far as the Iraq invasion — it is very likely that 9/11 would not have happened on Gore’s watch because both he and Clinton were more awake to the dangers of terrorism and almost certainly would have heeded the warnings and prevented such an attack as Bush did not. It is unlikely , too that they would have permitted the real-estate boom, but not a certainty. They did permit the credit card industry to get away with murder, and Enron started and was doing bad things on their watch.

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ScentOfViolets 11.05.10 at 3:34 am

The fact is that Gore won a clear majority of the popular vote of the United States.

Gore won the popular vote in Florida as well, according to the NORC recount.

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Harold 11.05.10 at 6:30 am

Move along. Don’t look at (much less count) the votes. Nothing to see there — blame Nader, who was talking about the depredations of the credit card industry long before Elizabeth Warren. If he had been allowed to speak at the debates at least the American public might have learned something.

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Chris Williams 11.05.10 at 8:47 am

The place, the European Commission office, the time c. 2002:
Academic, having just concluded interview: “Why did you, a staffer in Leon Brittan’s office, end up as a Liberal Democrat MEP?”
Clegg (for it was he): “I sent my CV to all three parties and the LibDems promised me the highest place on the list.”
As it happens, not only was the tape off, but the academic dropped dead on Wednesday, so no, I can’t corroborate it. But I think it’s true.

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dsquared 11.05.10 at 9:19 am

They should use it as election material “Vote for your Liberal Democrat candidate: relatively unlikely to be simultaneously venal and narcissistic”

anyone with even a passing familiarity with Liberal Democrats at the local level is going to be able to see the Achilles heel of this one.

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politicalfootball 11.05.10 at 1:50 pm

Gore lost his own home state of Tennessee and not because of Nader.

It’s interesting to see a Nader sympathizer fault Gore for failing to take Tennessee. Unlike some of the other Gore-bashing, I think this really gets to the heart of what Nader and his supporters were doing in that election.

Nader’s effort incentivized Gore to run a more Tennessee-friendly campaign. Given the obvious distinctions between Gore and Bush, anyone who regarded them as being essentially indistinguishable was an un-gettable vote. Successful politicians, more or less by definition, have to go to where the votes are, and once Nader took those votes out of play, Gore had to look elsewhere.

Gore, even as a native son and even as a politician with heavy incentives to move to the right, had established a public record that made him unpalatable to the voters of Tennessee. That counts in his favor, in my book.

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Salient 11.05.10 at 2:47 pm

It’s interesting to see a Nader sympathizer fault Gore for failing to take Tennessee.

I didn’t see that comment as “faulting” Gore or suggesting he “should have” taken Tennessee in some moral sense, but you read what you want to read, no?

Given the obvious distinctions between Gore and Bush, anyone who regarded them as being essentially indistinguishable was an un-gettable vote. Successful politicians, more or less by definition, have to go to where the votes are, and once Nader took those votes out of play, Gore had to look elsewhere.

This is incoherent. In the first sentence, you state that [in your opinion] it would have been impossible for Gore to convince any of those persons to vote for him, Nader or no Nader. If their vote is ungettable, then their vote is ungettable: in that case, Nader offered an option to those who would otherwise stay home. In the second statement, you suggest that it was Nader who “took those votes out of play” as if those voters would have gone for Gore in the absence of Nader, instead of staying home.

You could let that incoherent resentment go, you know.

It’s exactly what D^2^ was describing.

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politicalfootball 11.05.10 at 4:33 pm

I didn’t see that comment as “faulting” Gore or suggesting he “should have” taken Tennessee in some moral sense, but you read what you want to read, no?

I’m not getting you here. Why do you think Tennessee was brought into this conversation, if not to suggest that Gore had some inadequacy as a candidate that was unrelated to Nader?

This is incoherent. In the first sentence, you state that [in your opinion] it would have been impossible for Gore to convince any of those persons to vote for him, Nader or no Nader.

That sentence, as written, certainly allows for the possibility that Nader persuaded people. And I believe he did. “Nader or no Nader” is pure invention on your part.

But okay, let’s run with that. Even if I thought that Nader was completely ineffectual, it doesn’t change the thrust of my argument. Like dsquared, I regard Nader voters as being essentially indistinguishable from nonvoters for purposes of this conversation.

(You were showily offended in 149 about people who you imagine treat nonvoters in 2000 differently than Nader voters. I don’t know who you were talking about, but it certainly wasn’t me.)

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Steve Williams 11.05.10 at 5:29 pm

To drag this discussion more up-to-date, a (somewhat half-thought) impression on one of the recent elections, which encapsulated perfectly my problem – and I suspect that of many others on this thread – with the Dems as currently existing, in the real world.

The race was the O’Donnell/Coons Senate race.[1] O’Donnell was clearly such a fringe candidate that for at least the last six weeks it was clear Coons had the race in the bag. Faced with such a hopeless opponent, and so much clear water between his nominal position on the center left and hers on the far far right, what did this aspiring candidate for high office, standing for the center left party in a true-blue state, do? That’s right, he immediately tacked to the right, to the position he clearly felt more comfortable in, on the center right, actively campaigning for an extension to the Bush tax cuts, and making it a promise for his time in government.

Maybe you can argue that this is down to particular demographic, local calculations, etc, but the problem is it’s all too easy to find so many similar examples.

[1] Obviously, goes without saying, I’m not trivially pleased that O’Donnell lost, since she was clearly such an extremist, etc. However, I have to say that some of the coverage she has received over the last few weeks has border-lined on chauvinism, in my opinion. Would national political websites have expended considerable resources in covering the state of, say, Marco Rubio’s pubic hair? Dismayingly, The Guardian was at the forefront of these patronizing comments. Also, while on the subject, for a newspaper that’s consciously trying to be pan-Atlantic in its coverage, The Guardian’s election reporting was dismal, a particular lowlight coming when the fashion editor – invited for God-knows-what reason – started speculating on whether Sarah Palin was wearing a wig. She clearly wasn’t anyway, but honestly?

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geo 11.05.10 at 6:15 pm

Harold @350: If [Nader] had been allowed to speak at the debates at least the American public might have learned something.

Remarkable: we have to get 350 comments into this thread before someone points out the hardly irrelevant fact that Nader was, by an enormous margin, the most qualified of the presidential candidates in the 2000 campaign, and probably the best qualified since Lincoln. Of course Gore was much better than Bush, but next to Nader, Gore was a hack and an ignoramus. This ought perhaps to have figured more largely in our discussion.

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Harold 11.05.10 at 6:46 pm

I didn’t say Nader was “most qualified.” I said his voice deserved to be heard on the issues, so that the America public might learn something. Are only the “qualified” to be allowed to speak?? He said then what Elizabeth Warren is saying now. But in the name of expediency he was silenced because realpolitik (a nineteenth century invention along with social Darwinism and scientific racism) is the ruling zeitgeist of the hacks of the Democratic Party.

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geo 11.05.10 at 6:53 pm

I didn’t say Nader was “most qualified.”
No, but you reminded me to say it, for which I’m eternally grateful.

Are only the “qualified” to be allowed to speak??
Certainly not. As Senator Roman Hruska so eloquently observed apropos of smarty-pants opposition to Nixon’s nomination of Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court: “Mediocre people deserve to be represented too.”

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Salient 11.05.10 at 8:15 pm

Why do you think Tennessee was brought into this conversation, if not to suggest that Gore had some inadequacy as a candidate that was unrelated to Nader?

I feel like you’re being obtuse. Tennessee was brought into this conversation to point out that Gore lost for more reasons than the recalcitrance of petulant Nader voters. For example, we could argue that if you want folks like Gore to win, maybe you should spend more time and energy winning over Tennessean voters to a more Gore-like mindset. There’s probably less distance between [some of] them and you, than there is between us and you. Maybe Tennessee is a bad example, except the possibility that Tennesseans would be more receptive to hearing out someone advocating for the ideas of a Tennessean presidential candidate. Or maybe not — I think state of origin matters less than the person who brought it up does, presumably — in which case, scrap Tennessee and substitute Virginia or something.

Are you suggesting that Nader voters would defer to the opinion of the median Tennessean? That’s incoherent.

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Salient 11.05.10 at 8:24 pm

You were showily offended in 149 about people who you imagine treat nonvoters in 2000 differently than Nader voters.

Hey now. I was way more showy elsewhere. :-/

I don’t know who you were talking about, but it certainly wasn’t me.

True statement. I was talking about MPAVictoria, for example, and August Pollak, and many others in life, but not you.

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Harold 11.07.10 at 7:52 pm

Geo, I don’t know much about who you are, but I was under the impression you were an admirable person — it is truly beneath you to join the tacticians and censors in this way. Nader is indisputably more qualified to speak to the American people than Bush, Cheney, McCain, Palin, and Lieberman, all of whom were and are allowed virtually unlimited time on the airwaves. If he is not “qualified” to speak than I would like to know what a person would have to do in order to be worthy in your eyes.

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Salient 11.07.10 at 8:07 pm

Harold, I think you’re catastrophically misreading George, who was emphatically agreeing with you.

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Russell Arben Fox 11.07.10 at 8:21 pm

We have to get 350 comments into this thread before someone points out the hardly irrelevant fact that Nader was, by an enormous margin, the most qualified of the presidential candidates in the 2000 campaign, and probably the best qualified since Lincoln.

Hurrah for George! (Though I think you’re going too far with Lincoln.)

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Harold 11.08.10 at 4:16 am

I’m glad to hear it. Maybe I have become incapable of perceiving irony in my old age — or have lived too long in America.

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Lemuel Pitkin 11.08.10 at 4:38 am

I’ve been puzzling over commenter Beauregard for a while now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that he (or she; but come on, seriously, he) only posts here when he’s very drunk. Which I an sympathize with: I should come up with an alternative pseudonym for that same purpose.

On everything substantive I agree with George S. (geo).

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