Is It Moral for Lefties to Vote for Obama?

by Henry on September 26, 2012

Conor Friedersdorf (if Lot were to look for One Honest Conservative Commentator to save the tribe from divine wrath, he’d likely have to lump for Friedersdorf), says no.

Obama has done things that, while not comparable to a historic evil like chattel slavery, go far beyond my moral comfort zone. … Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn’t “precise” or “surgical” as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. … Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama’s kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed. The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done. … Contrary to his own previously stated understanding of what the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution demand, President Obama committed U.S. forces to war in Libya without Congressional approval, despite the lack of anything like an imminent threat to national security.

The last of these seems weaker to me than the first two (I was, and still am, against the Libya intervention, but don’t think that the War Powers Resolution question is a moral one). But the first two are pretty damn awful. On key foreign policy and human rights issues, Obama hasn’t been a disappointment. He’s been a disaster. You can make a good case, obviously, that his main opponent, Mitt Romney, would be even worse. But it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting 1 for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not. Indeed, the unwillingness of American left-liberals to criticize the opprobrious foreign policy of a Democratic president (and the consequent lack of real public debate over this policy, since most of the right tacitly agrees with the bad stuff) weighs the balance in favor of voting against Democrats who you know are going to sell out. Personally, I’m on the fence, if only because the current Republican party is so extraordinarily horrible. But I think that there is a very strong case to be made for not voting for Obama, and I wish that there were more publicly prominent lefties making it.


  1. Abstracting away the question of whether individual votes have any consequences. 

{ 232 comments }

1

Martin Bento 09.26.12 at 8:03 pm

I’m in a safe blue state and am considering voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian. He is the former governor of New Mexico, not a complete flake, and a former Repub candidate who the media shut out (Was kept from debates despite outpolling Huntsman, who was admitted). Economic platform is nuts, but the bad aspects of Libertarianism are mainstream Repub positions now anyway. Meanwhile, the good aspects – real support for civil liberties, de-escalating American militarism, ending the War on Drugs – get no traction because of bipartisan consensus. And these are where Obama is the worst and where he has truly betrayed his supporters. Platform includes replacing income tax with consumption tax. Don’t like the idea, but like the idea of getting conservatives on board with a tax plan that will fail because the business community will oppose it.

More cynically, strengthening the Libertarians gives one element of the Repub coalition somewhere else to go. They screwed Paul bad at the convention. The party looks to have a second loss after reluctantly backing the “realistic” candidate – expect no more realism from the base, and a war with the elite over this. The Libertarians are the youth and most of the intellectual heft (to the extent there is any) of the Republican Party. Give them somewhere else to go, and they may get gone, particularly as the Repubs look destined to become a regional Southern party.

2

Substance McGravitas 09.26.12 at 8:12 pm

Bring on the trolleys!

3

MPAVictoria 09.26.12 at 8:15 pm

“Is It Moral for Lefties to Vote for Obama?”
Yes. You have to consider the alternative. Last time people played this game we ended up with Bush for president and hundreds of thousands of people dead.

4

Greg Sanders 09.26.12 at 8:18 pm

In terms of evaluating the consequences, I think you have to look at the likelihood of starting a larger scale war, amongst other factors. On the one hand, fears of a war with Iran proved overstated towards the tail end of the George W. Bush administration, some of that can be attributed to Def. Sec. Gates but there were other establishment Republican figures who were also responsible for that decision. On the other, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be taking a keen interest in the American election and seems rather dissatisfied with President Obama’s level of bellicosity.

Regardless, I think the question of giving money/labor might be the more useful one for those with such available. Absent situations like the libertarian one mentioned above, it’s easier to show the exact nature of ones displeasure by redirecting money/labor.

Usual foreign policy caveat, speaking for myself and not my employer.

5

phosphorious 09.26.12 at 8:25 pm

Do we really have to take moral instruction from a conservative? I honestly can’t recall if Friedersdorf supported Bush, but quoting a conservative isn’t likely to move me.

Unfortunately, Glenn Greenwald has been saying pretty much the same thing, so this is no reason to vote for Obama. It does gall, though.

I’m inclined to agree with MPAVictoria. . . bad as the Pakistani drone warfare is it can at least be said that 1) the number of casualties is lower than what republicans gave us and 2) Pakistan can plausibly be said to have harbored Bin Laden. Iraq had nothing to with anything, and republicans were howling for an invasion.

If politics is about minimizing harm, Obama is clearly the better option, which isn’t saying he’s any damn good.

6

rf 09.26.12 at 8:30 pm

“The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done”

Is this even true? I don’t remember any Democrat (if he’s talking about politicians) rebellion over Iraq, rendition, Gitmo etc
I agree with Martin Bento, anyone who wanted to vote in opposition to US Foreign policy would vote libertarian. (Or perhaps for some isolationist paleocon.)

7

NBarnes 09.26.12 at 8:33 pm

Is it moral, as a Yes/No question? Yes, obviously. Romney would be worse. Bush was grotesquely worse, even if you balance Obama’s horrible ‘drone war'; even that is only a pale and wan reflection of Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Further speaking, I think a big part of the reluctance of lefties here (and this is drawn from an internal examination as much as anything else, so feel free to take it as a confession) is that after the, frankly, scarring experience of the Bush presidency, we’re terrified that anything we say about Obama’s war crimes will be taken and used in the worst and most dishonest possible ways to enable another Republican presidency, and then another, and then another. And, further, that the right way to handle this situation is simply to work to elect another reasonably progressive Democratic president. And then another, and then another. And hope, over time, to drag the US away from where it is today; a country that fairly blatantly shrugs at war crimes.

Because that’s the real problem, neh? The issue of war crimes committed by the US Executive Branch is a settled matter, electorally speaking; we don’t care. The question isn’t, ‘How to make Obama stop killing children with drones,’ but rather, ‘What can be done to drag the political norms in the US back to a place where pointing out that an occupant of high office in the US has committed war crimes is politically meaningful?’

Given the substantial political consensus amongst US voters that war crimes aren’t a big deal, being a US citizen is a morally problematic matter. But, given that context, voting for Obama is fine.

8

Pascal Leduc 09.26.12 at 8:36 pm

I’m curious why its believed that not voting for Obama constitutes a statement against the bad things he did. The vote in the federal election is one of two possible answers to one question.

The question is: “who should be president of the USA”
The possible answers are: “Barrack Obama” and “Mitt Romney”

I’m sorry if the electoral methods used in america do not provide for a sufficiently nuanced answer. I’m sorry if this years election feels like the moral equivalent of “have you stopped beating your wife?” But frankly I am a bit tired of people who think that making it easier for Romney to get elected would somehow constitute an improvement. The time to shift a party is during primaries and local races, that’s when you have multiple candidates and multiple viewpoints.

As for the moral question, since when does not voting for someone absolves you of the responsibility of his actions. The president of the USA is committing these actions in the name of the citizens of the USA, not the ones who voted for him.

9

Dave 09.26.12 at 8:37 pm

First, I do not take moral scoldings from Conor Friesdorf.

Second, there is no liberal demand for the administration to stop the drone strikes. If there is a demand, there is no pressure. Just like the surge in Afghanistan, liberals just let the status quo hum along and issue occasional complaints.

Third, there is no argument coming from liberal quarters about why drone strikes are awful. I’m inclined to agree that they are! But it’s not self-evident. Maybe they’re seen as a good alternative to some hypothetical invasion? Maybe if there were more visible arguments, drone strikes would be seen as controversial.

Finally, it’s hard to see how any of this rises to the status of “voting issue” without it having been a debated issue. If you’re voting your conscience, that’s fine, but I don’t see how it matters without the attendant public debate.

10

Jürgen Spitzmüller 09.26.12 at 8:40 pm

while not comparable to a historic evil like chattel slavery

So what’s the trigger to go beyond a vote for Jill Stein and go all H.D. Thoreau?

11

christian_h 09.26.12 at 8:40 pm

As one of those incredibly horrible Naderite people (didn’t argue for a vote for Nader and don’t have a vote anyway but that has never stopped any of the “it’s all Nader’s fault” crowd) who I’m told infest liberal blogs let me say that for me the moral argument is the weakest one. The argument Henry makes here, though, of the way liberals now defend the indefensible making it consensus (just look at NYT comments threads on this issue) is a strong one.

The question really is: is it possible – not as an individual, but collectively – to vote for Obama “without illusions”? Sadly the evidence points toward “no”. And if that is so, then not voting for Obama is clearly the right choice to make.

12

Matt McIrvin 09.26.12 at 8:41 pm

I think Friedersdorf makes some valid points. From a left perspective there’s no good way to spin the drone attacks in Pakistan.

I also think we are being gamed here. These points are coming mostly from libertarian-leaning types who either oppose Obama or are generally indifferent to his positions on anything having to do with domestic policy, possibly aside from drug regulations.

The position, meanwhile, is that, on foreign policy and civil liberties, some Law of Robotics morally obligates us to throw the election to a clearly greater evil because the lesser is still too bad for us to associate ourselves with. That’s almost the definition of a base-turnout-suppression technique.

I suspect there is in practice a huge potential difference between Romney’s policies and Obama’s. Romney is the guy who was crowing “double Gitmo” in primary debates, wants to appoint John Bolton as secretary of state, has a foreign-policy team of Bush hacks and neocons, and is itching to bomb Iran rather than possibly maybe allowing himself to get buffaloed into bombing Iran. He’s also a manifestly incompetent executive and uninterested in any kind of reality-based policy. We have seen where this goes.

The argument that they’re the same feels like 2000 redux. The difference is that Obama’s probably going to win, so it’s probably academic. Still.

13

Stuart 09.26.12 at 8:48 pm

Of course a vote for not-Obama is effectively one vote closer* to a possible tactical nuclear strike on Iran and/or a ground war in Iran (it is not like the Republicans haven’t started preparing the ground for it), and whatever is noted about Obama doesn’t seem to amount to very much in comparison, even if you accepted all of them.

*If you live in a swing state, everyone else is effectively not part of the process of course

14

alkali 09.26.12 at 8:49 pm

1) On key foreign policy and human rights issues, Obama hasn’t been a disappointment. He’s been a disaster.

This is overstatement. Obama ended the Iraq war, and ended torture. He tried (failed) to close Guantanamo. He increased the US presence in Afghanistan, but he said he was going to do that. With the exception of Libya, where US action was warranted on humanitarian grounds and was limited, he hasn’t started further wars.

2) You can make a good case, obviously, that his main opponent, Mitt Romney, would be even worse. But it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not.

This is not convincing. If Romney starts a war in Iran that Obama would have avoided, that’s a couple hundred thousand dead people up front against some long term hope of “heightening the contradictions.”

3) I disagree with Conor F. and Glenn G. on this: The drone war and the possibility that American citizens overseas may be killed in US military engagements are not intrinsically worse than other kinds of warfare. They are reasons to avoid warfare, to be sure, because warfare inevitably brings pain and suffering to innocents. I would not feel better if we had troops on the ground in North Waziristan rather than drones in the air: that would not be “precise” either. It is terrible that a 16-year-old American citizen living overseas whose father is fighting against the US may be killed by US forces, but it is not extraordinary: in warfare, senior officers will sometimes call for bombing of positions where they know US soldiers and marines are present, knowing that some or all of those soldiers or marines will die as a result. These facts strongly militate in favor of (re-)electing a president who is less inclined to use military force abroad.

15

Matthew Yglesias 09.26.12 at 8:53 pm

Maybe you could spell out more clearly what the case for not voting Obama is. It seems to me that if you have two candidates then there’s an overwhelmingly strong case for voting for the superior candidate.

There are lots of forms of political engagement other than voting—financial and in-kind contributions, etc.—of which a citizen has limited supply. Clearly, if Obama’s done terrible things then refusing to donate to him and giving your money to non-terrible politicians or organizations is the right strategy.

But failing to vote in the presidential campaign doesn’t give you any extra political influence to deploy in another arena, it’s just a waste of a chance to have a (small) impact on the outcome of the general election. The time to register symbolic dislike of Obama was the primaries. Even in the absence of a meaningful challenge, one could still vote for a write-in candidate or whatnot. But in a general election to do anything other than vote for the better of the two candidates on offer seems self-indulgent.

16

Chaz 09.26.12 at 8:54 pm

““The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done”

Is this even true?”

Of course not.

1) Obama hasn’t started two wars.

2) His domestic policy has been reasonably good overall while Bush’s was horrendous. If domestic issues are your priority it is reasonable to support Obama in absolute terms, and certainly relative to Romney.

3) Very few leftist commentators have endorsed Obama’s national security overreaches. Congress has supported them to about the same extent as they did for Bush.

4) Talk radio is awful.

17

christian_h 09.26.12 at 8:56 pm

Obama did NOT try to close Guantanamo, that is simply wrong. He didn’t end torture either, he merely changed the mechanisms of its application. And he withdrew from Iraq according to W’s plan. None of this is a disappointment – I certainly did not epect better – but it is without question a disaster.

As for alkali’s 3) it demonstrates the abject rationalizations liberals are constructing to defend the indefensible.

18

andrew 09.26.12 at 8:56 pm

Californians such as myself have the luxury of voting by “principle” by going Green or whatever-have-you. of course, if i were to live in another state (especially a swing state) I would be forced to grapple with this issue

19

Bruce Wilder 09.26.12 at 9:01 pm

“Is It Moral for Lefties to Vote for Obama?”

No.

Presidents and political parties are a mixed bag, and I doubt that a singular error in foreign policy — however morally stark it might seem — would persuade me. But, President Obama has been on the wrong side of a broad range of issues, and behind that, he has been empowering a corrupt plutocracy and their building of an authoritarian state. In many ways, his Administration has simply embraced and extended Bush policies I oppose(d). To me, the refusal of Obama to prosecute banksters is a far more serious problem, than the drones. And, looked at broadly, the foreign policy tends to blend with the civil liberties issues blends with the bankster coup blends with economic policy to form a gestalt, which looks like fascism in the making.

“Consider the alternative” doesn’t redeem Obama. It’s just a form of hippie-bashing, blaming the people, who were right all along, for your own errors, naivete and failures to speak up.

The underlying problem is that the Left is not an effective opposition to the plutocracy, and Obama actively disables them. I can perfectly understand why someone on the left might hold her nose and vote for Obama, rationalizing the fine points if they can find any (“think about the Supreme Court!”) But, open your eyes! Don’t tell me he doesn’t want to steal Social Security or extend the Bush tax cuts, when that’s what he’s trying to do.

I’m in California, and my vote has no strategic significance, as the campaigns well know. I don’t think the strategic insignificance of my vote to the two-party contest undermines my moral conviction that voting for Obama is wrong.

20

rf 09.26.12 at 9:01 pm

‘Obama ended the Iraq war’

The status of forces agreement which ended the war was signed under Bush. That’s not just being pedantic but he appears to have had very little room to manoeuvre on that issue.

‘and ended torture’

Genuine question, did he? The torture program had all but ended before he came to power, as far as I can tell, so it’s a relatively meaningless gesture. (And his recent actions not prosecuting anyone connected to it would make me think it is a gesture. What would he have done if he’d inherited a secret torture program that was said to be preventing potential attacks? My money would be on nothing)

21

rf 09.26.12 at 9:02 pm

I see christian h already made those points

22

alkali 09.26.12 at 9:06 pm

16: It is not debatable that Obama tried to close Guantánamo. (“Obama Issues Directive to Shut Down Guantánamo,” NYT, Jan. 21, 2009.) It is not debatable that Obama ended torture. (“Obama Reverses Key Bush Security Policies,” NYT, Jan. 22, 2009 (“Mr. Obama signed executive orders closing the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year; ending the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prisons; and requiring all interrogations to follow the noncoercive methods of the Army Field Manual.”).)

As for 3) my thought process seems perfectly sound to me. Do you think we should have troops on the ground instead of drones? (Saying that at this point we should have no presence whatsoever — which I agree with — begs the question.)

23

alkali 09.26.12 at 9:08 pm

16, 19: With respect to the Iraq drawdown, Obama honored the status of forces agreement. McCain declined to commit to doing so. That was a choice.

24

christian_h 09.26.12 at 9:09 pm

People are still being tortured on behalf of the US, only an extremely naive person would doubt that. Now this isn’t new – it has happened at least since 1945 – but Obama did not even end what was new about the Bush torture regime, that is, the way it was legitimized as necessary and acceptable. He could have by having the guilty parties for the Bush program prosecuted, but he refused to do so. What’s more his cangoroo courts in Guantanamo explicitely use “evidence” obtained by torture.

And yet, all this – the terrorist campaign in Waziristan and Yemen, the indefinite detention, the extra-judicial executions of US citizens, the torture regime redux – all this is defended or just flat-out denied on this very blog. This would never happen if Obama was a Republican, and this is exactly why voting for Obama is an issue. Not because the lesser evil isn’t in fact lesser – it is – but because of the way it convinces people to defend the evil that is there, and normalize it.

25

bob mcmanus 09.26.12 at 9:09 pm

Of course voting for Obama is immoral. Lesser evils, like murdering three babies instead of ten babies, are still very evil, and utilitarian calculus does not make them a little bit good. The good person walks away from Omelas.

being a US citizen is a morally problematic matter.

There ya go. Give it up.

1) Obvious option renunciation and emigration, but I don’t actually think that is necessary. A contribution for a condo in Costa Rica would not be refused.

2) There is a lesser level of withdrawal that I at least still think acceptable. I don’t condemn Thomas Merton for ignoring his local zoning fights. Is everyone responsible for everything? I never have looked down on those who just ignore politics, who are “ignorant and irresponsible.” I was one such for thirty years.

3) “Politic” is consumed by the vast majority of us. Some few of us on blogs or working for campaigns or issue advocacy, produce, and perhaps produce our own consumption, create the Spectacle we are watching. This is an aesthetic act, not an ethical act.

4) The political is not the social. The political is not the highest stage of the personal or the social. “Obama was a community worker who through luck and effort “rose” to the White House” is a pernicious and counter-productive frame. Community workers who help the needy on election day needn’t be bothered with voting, or condemned as irresponsible by those who need to be comforted that their entertainment choices are moral accomplishments.

5) I am going to walk my dogs on election day and sit across from the school and flip a coin, maybe several times. I reserve the right to bitch about the Texas heat.

26

christian_h 09.26.12 at 9:13 pm

alkali 21, you are being disingenuous. If you move an illegal prison from Guantanamo to Illinois it is NOT closing it. It’s moving it.

And your point 3) is a rationalization precisely because it does not allow for the obvious choice – that the president should not engage the US in a terrorist campaign against the population of Waziristan. You could as well have defended Bush by saying “would you prefer it if he had nuked Iraq?”

27

Russell Arben Fox 09.26.12 at 9:13 pm

As a resident of Kansas, which is has a 174% chance of giving its electoral votes to Romney in November, I’ll be happily voting for Jill Stein, for several reasons I’ve already articulated, a couple of which (see #2 and #5) overlap with Conor’s. This will allow me to achieve, for the moment, perfect balance in my presidential voting record (1992–Dem; 1996–Green; 2000–Green; 2004–Dem; 2008–Dem). Like Andrew (#17), though, if I lived in a state where there was actually a plausible chance of my vote helping to make a difference between Obama and Romney, I very likely would end up voting Democratic; there is much about the presidents actions I dislike, but I would dislike the likely consequences of a Romney presidency more than I’ll probably dislike the consequences of Obama continuing in office.

28

NBarnes 09.26.12 at 9:14 pm

Eh? Obama actively disables the Left’s opposition to the plutocracy? How?

There’s nothing special about Obama that keeps down the Left, compared to some other centrist candidate that happens to be less evil than Romney. It’s certainly not the case that, if not for Obama, we’d suddenly have a real progressive to vote for; that was never on the table. Not in 2008, not now, and not in 2016. If you have a problem with that, go bitch at the people who vote in Democratic primaries.

And ‘consider the alternative’ isn’t hippie-bashing. There’s plenty of hippies who are capable of understanding that morality in politics isn’t about refusing to dirty your hands by voting for an imperfect candidate. It’s about minimizing the number of infants who die of shrapnel wounds in their mother’s arms. Take a good hard think about that. You’re not choosing between ‘no infants’ and ‘some infants'; you don’t get that choice this election. You are choosing between ‘greater than’ and ‘less than’. If your idea of morality makes that choice murky for you, go jump off a fucking bridge, because you’re a monster, too.

29

NBarnes 09.26.12 at 9:20 pm

Without wanting to diss on Those Who Walk Away from Omelas, I would assert that there is not a 1-to-1 mapping between “being a US citizen is a morally problematic matter” and “emigrate”.

30

js. 09.26.12 at 9:20 pm

For me the relevant question would not be: Would Romney be significantly worse then Obama? but rather: Is there even a remote possibility of there being a President in the near future who is significantly better than Obama on foreign policy? I think the answer to the latter is clearly, No. This doesn’t make Obama’s policies (drone war, assassinations, etc.) any less inexcusable. But I take it that American foreign policy reflects the imperatives—sometimes it’s better managed and sometimes worse, but to me at least it’s pretty much always morally unacceptable.

And if the policies this entails are a deal-breaker for you, so that you register a protest vote (Johnson, Nader, whatever), then I get that, and I don’t think it’s at all an indefensible position. But I also think it’s not at all inconsistent to register all this and yet to vote simply on domestic issues, where some measure of democracy in some areas is still very much a possibility. So I have really problem voting for Obama. (In fact, I just moved and am changing registration so as to vote for Obama in a swing state.)

31

christian_h 09.26.12 at 9:22 pm

go jump off a fucking bridge,

Nice. I guess this wish that those who disagree with you be dead does exlain why you would vote for Obama.

32

NBarnes 09.26.12 at 9:25 pm

I hear that context matters. I guess this inability to accurately quote others does explain why you see Romney as morally equivalent to Obama.

33

Wonks Anonymous 09.26.12 at 9:26 pm

I could vote for a politician who “opposes gay rights, [...] doesn’t believe in Darwinian evolution, [...] caught using the ‘n’-word” if their opponent did as well, and for other reasons it was really important to defeat them. I don’t vote because I don’t live in a swing state.

“he appears to have had very little room to manoeuvre on that issue”
He tried to extend it, but the Iraqi government wouldn’t go along.

34

christian_h 09.26.12 at 9:28 pm

The context is quite clear, thank you – we can all read so why you would think now lying about it would be helpful is beyond me.

35

Marc 09.26.12 at 9:29 pm

I find the people making the most noise on drones, like Greenwald, to be intellectually dishonest propagandists. I neither believe that Obama is as bad as portrayed nor that Romney is as benign as claimed. In fact, I view a hot war with Iran as a virtual certainty with Romney and extremely unlikely with Obama. This is reason enough to prefer one candidate over another, even before the suffering that millions of Americans would be subjected to.

But the thing about these arguments that really infuriates me is encapsulated in the claim

” But it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting 1 for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues,:

I have a really hard time with this. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead count as real evidence for me. The Bush administration was catastrophic for the US in many ways, and heightening the contradictions appears to have set us back rather than moved us forward. I’d like to see evidence on the “electing a reactionary will help progressives” rather than taking it on faith.

36

Mao Cheng Ji 09.26.12 at 9:30 pm

This has nothing to do with Obama; the question is: should you legitimize this political system by participating in it? If yes, vote for Obama. If no, don’t vote. Half of the population refuse to participate already, if a half of the rest follow, the system will have to change.

37

js. 09.26.12 at 9:31 pm

Sorry, last sentence in first para should read:

But I take it that American foreign policy reflects the imperatives of empire—sometimes it’s better managed and sometimes worse, but to me at least it’s pretty much always morally unacceptable.

Also, I have no problem voting for Obama.

Finally, I hang my head in shame for writing “then” when I should’ve written “than”.

38

Marc 09.26.12 at 9:33 pm

@19: You appear to be claiming that Obama is helpless to prevail on a client state but otherwise fully responsible for everything else. I’d respect the anti-Obama position considerably more if the proponents were capable of acknowledging that he has some positive things that he’s accomplished, and that the outcomes are different than they were under Bush and would have been under McCain (who never would have permitted US troops to be withdrawn from Iraq.)

39

alkali 09.26.12 at 9:33 pm

25: And your point 3) is a rationalization precisely because it does not allow for the obvious choice – that the president should not engage the US in a terrorist campaign against the population of Waziristan. You could as well have defended Bush by saying “would you prefer it if he had nuked Iraq?”

I don’t follow that. If someone asked me, “Assuming we are fighting in country X, should we fight using mustard gas or not using mustard gas?” I would readily be able to answer “not using mustard gas” even though I might prefer we weren’t fighting there at all. If you asked me the same question with “unmanned drones” I wouldn’t give that response, because I don’t see that unmanned drones are necessarily worse than the alternative.

40

Bruce Wilder 09.26.12 at 9:35 pm

I’m not sure that the establishment doesn’t prefer high rates of non-participation. In any case, non-participation is too passive, too much like an extension of the consumer brand marketing politics, which got us to this place.

41

christian_h 09.26.12 at 9:38 pm

Marc (37.), this is utter nonsense. The Iraq war was a disaster for the US empire precisely because it did not succeed in installing a client state. You are simply making up some alternative history in order to defend Obama here – talk about intellectual dishonesty.

alkali (38): It is not the case that the criticism of Obama’s terrorist campaign in Waziristan is due to a belief that drone warfare is intrinsically worse than other forms of warfare. So you are arguing with a straw man here.

42

jim 09.26.12 at 9:38 pm

if a half of the rest follow, the system will have to change

Sadly, no.

Refusing to vote at all is petulant.

Voting for a greater evil is idiotic.

I can understand voting for the Green (or the Socialist Worker: do they still run candidates?). It can be justified by “standing up and being counted” as part of a clear left minority.

43

Marc 09.26.12 at 9:45 pm

@40: I’m responding to a far left-wing fantasy that Obama was forced to withdraw from Iraq because of some prior deal penciled in at the end of the Bush administration when it was obvious that an anti-war candidate was going to win the election. As opposed to looking at Obama, noting that he opposed the war, campaigned on ending it. and did so.

The people pretending that these things didn’t happen are the ones engaged in fantasy, and it makes it clear that they simply can’t admit that Obama ever did anything right – because he has to be evil in all respects. It’s like reading Chomsky on US foreign policy – just as predictable and about as useful as a stopped clock.

44

JonCCrawford 09.26.12 at 9:48 pm

Of course it’s moral to vote for Obama. Romney, too, for that matter.

I’m pretty tired of ethical dilettantes pretending elections offer us an infinity of choices. Because that’s what it would take to satisfy a universal compulsion to avoid sullying your moral aura by voting for someone who isn’t in complete, 100 percent, agreement with your view of right and wrong. Like that is ever going to happen.

Everyone will be better of with 4 more years of Obama than they will with 4 years of Romney. If you think your sense of moral propriety is more important than the welfare of freakin’ everyone else, then I invite to look up the definition of the word “prig”.

45

Jeff 09.26.12 at 9:49 pm

Is it moral? Yes, and it’s imperative.

46

silentbeep 09.26.12 at 9:51 pm

There are many people old enough to remember the disaster that was Nader: such people simply aren’t going to be making a case for someone other than Obama rightly or wrongly. It’s not gonna happen.

47

JW Mason 09.26.12 at 9:53 pm

Daniel Davies had a great post — don’t know if it’s archived somewhere — about the problems with arguments like NBarnes@27. On the one hand, when it’s a choice between voting for one or the other of the major party candidates, we’re asked to be utilitarian about it, and apply relative standards, not absolute ones. We shouldn’t consider any kind of categorical rule (I cannot condone killing children) but only utilitarian ones (killing fewer children is better than killing more). Fine — as S. McG. says, bring on the trolleys.

But then when the topic changes to the question of participating in the political process at all, that won’t do. Because on strict consequentialist grounds the answer is always going to be, Don’t bother. You need to have to have some sense of duty, some personal identification with the candidate or party, if you’re going to get yourself to the polls at all.

I think Team Dem here would do better to to talk less about how Romney is worse (talking about how he is positively loathesome would be ok), and talk more about, say, the ACA’s benefits for women. Personally, I also think the historical record is pretty clear that the left does better under liberal and notionally left-leaning governments than under right-wing ones. As long as you have conservatives in office, most of the oppositional energy is going to go into removing them. Only once that’s done do people start looking for something more fundamental. It’s not a coincidence, I don’t think, that Seattle and OWS were so much bigger than anything similar under Bush.

48

Metatone 09.26.12 at 9:55 pm

All this hinges on what you take “moral” to mean.

I think it’s worth noting that since it appears that Romney would repeal Obamacare and cut certain benefits further than Obama has proposed – and there’s no sign he would discontinue the Pakistan policy, then you don’t even need an Iran invasion to consider that voting Romney will result in more innocent deaths.

I’d also note that neither voting for Romney nor abstaining seems likely to shift the Overton window to the left on any issue at all…

As I said, how that influences your action depends on your moral system.

49

GSLH 09.26.12 at 10:00 pm

It’s complicated. I understand your point of view but I part ways with you on an acceptable alternative. I simply cannot take my chances with another neocon presidency. Pres. Obama plays chess while the others play checkers. This President is complicated . The world is complicated.

50

Rethinkecon 09.26.12 at 10:02 pm

Henry, I have a lot of respect for you, but your post is a good example of why progressives keep losing. We spend way too much time arguing about what we’re going to do one day in November compared to the time we spend focusing on what we do the other 364 days of the year.

Here’s another way of looking at the morality of your choices. You can spent your time:
1) Obsessing over whether to vote for Obama vs letting Romney win.
2) Figuring out how to start building a grassoots movement to change foreign policy from the outside — and then spending the time to start building it.
3) Figuring out how over, say, 10 years we could elect enough foreign policy progressives in key states — including must-win battleground states — so that we could change foreign policy from the inside, and then spending the time to start making it happen.
4) a combination of 2 & 3.

I don’t see how any set of moral principles would lead you to pick #1.

51

rf 09.26.12 at 10:09 pm

‘You appear to be claiming that Obama is helpless to prevail on a client state but otherwise fully responsible for everything else.’

Not really, all I’m saying is that Obama supporters keep offering these decontextualized ‘successes ‘, and when they do they should be challenged on them.
I’m pretty sure, as per wonks anon, that Maliki put to bed any notions of an extended US presence in Iraq. (And of course there are still contractors and Special Forces there) But it’s probably to early to judge that yet. (I don’t think you can class Iraq as a client state)

‘I’d respect the anti-Obama position considerably more if the proponents were capable of acknowledging that he has some positive things that he’s accomplished’

Peronally I don’t deny it. On domestic issues, from a distance, I think he’s had a number of successes. I think Libya was probably the correct action

‘and that the outcomes are different than they were under Bush and would have been under McCain (who never would have permitted US troops to be withdrawn from Iraq.)’

McCain probably wouldn’t have had much choice vis a vis Iraq. I agree that McCain probably would have been worse as President, and so probably would Romney.
My only point is that if you think the drone war is as immoral as Bush’s torture program, (which personally, though not an American, I do) then you have to consider voting not just against Obama, but the Democrats as a whole, and choose a third party.
But I’m not American so it’s something I don’t have to make an actual choice on

52

Neil Kitson 09.26.12 at 10:16 pm

Obama is an unMittigated disaster?

53

rf 09.26.12 at 10:24 pm

Marc 43

Here it is on page 153 of Obama and the Middle East by Fawaz Gerges. “Iraq rebuffed the Obama administration’s efforts to keep American troops there after December 31…..” Maliki couldn’t get the support in parliament.. “In particular the Sadrists….said they would withdraw their support for the government if Maliki agreed to American terms”

54

Alan 09.26.12 at 10:31 pm

Even if truly enlightened, broadly just, and thoroughly virtuous candidates aren’t available to us (and they never are it seems), and so in the long term our country is probably doomed anyway, I echo the advice of Margaret Battin in one of her famous bioethics articles as to whom to vote for: let’s choose “The Least Worst Death.” I’ll take Obama, warts and all, over Mitt any day.

55

Shane Taylor 09.26.12 at 10:34 pm

Doesn’t it follow from Henry’s argument that there should be a campaign to end (or at least restrict) drone strikes? And for those who accept this moral imperative, isn’t there a valid question of how best to advance such a campaign? The reason I ask is that my impression, from bitter personal experience, is that fixating on a presidential race is rarely the best way to advance such a campaign. At least, not at this late stage and not with these choices. Earlier, in primaries, it might have been different. (Obviously, this time, it wasn’t.) But I despair of any chance of kicking off such a campaign within the last two months of a presidential election, especially when third parties are applying miniscule pressure…

56

CP Norris 09.26.12 at 10:37 pm

If you are taking a strong position in this discussion, please mention whether you apply it to voters in mostly-decided states, swing states, or all states. It can avert a lot of Carly Simon Syndrome.

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Patrick 09.26.12 at 10:38 pm

Barbara Ehrenreich was right twenty years ago: “Naturally, I will drag myself out to a polling place and vote for Clinton in November. I am, after all, a woman, a Democrat, and a parent of children. Then I will go home and wash my hands thoroughly.”

I’m no Democrat, so I’ll vote Green, unless Iowa’s in play, in which case I’ll vote against war with Iran, pro-life lunatics on the courts, and further insane tax cuts for the very rich. I won’t be happy about it, but who says adulthood is about being happy?

(http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?sid=04e9ced2-b483-48fe-971d-0735d8622e2c%40sessionmgr114&vid=1&hid=119&bdata=JmF1dGh0eXBlPWdlbyZnZW9jdXN0aWQ9czM2MTM5MDQmc2l0ZT1laG9zdC1saXZl#db=f5h&AN=9211162418)

58

Sherri 09.26.12 at 10:38 pm

Yes, I hate what Obama has done with drones and Gitmo as much as anybody, but I will cast my vote for him without qualm. I’m not waiting for the Second Coming to find the perfect person to vote for, nor am I interested in registering meaningless protest votes. I’m not a libertarian, think they’re ridiculous, so I won’t be voting for Gary Johnson.

Obama managed to get the ACA passed, flawed though it might be, something that Democrats going back to Truman having been trying to do without success. I prefer not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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Antoni Jaume 09.26.12 at 10:40 pm

Were I an USA citizen, I would not have a problem voting for Obama instead of abstaining, because the opponent is Romney. The problem is not Obama but the USA.

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John Quiggin 09.26.12 at 10:41 pm

As a non-US citizen, I find it pretty easy to go for the lesser evil here. The Executive Orders banning assassination of foreigners were dead letters as far back as Reagan’s bombing of Tripoli. About the only chance that the ban might be revived arises from the extension of Presidential execution power to US citizens. So, appalling as Obama’s record on this issue has been, it doesn’t really affect noncitizens.

On the other hand, an Obama win will lock in place EPA regulation of carbon dioxide and fuel efficiency regulations for cars, which will greatly reduce US emissions over the next decade or so. These are very costly ways of tackling the issue compared to carbon taxes or cap-and-trade but again, as a non-USian, that’s not my problem. The destruction of the global environment is.

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Patrick Meighan 09.26.12 at 10:45 pm

“I prefer not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

On most every issue about which I care, Obama is neither perfect nor good. I also am not waiting for the Second Coming, nor am I looking to find any sort of perfect person. But when the list of items for which PBO stands and against which I believe gets about arm-length (as it has), it becomes time to refuse to withhold from him my vote.

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Patrick Meighan 09.26.12 at 10:47 pm

“…it becomes time to withhold from him my vote”, is what that part at the end shoulda said.

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John Quiggin 09.26.12 at 10:49 pm

“Because on strict consequentialist grounds the answer is always going to be, Don’t bother. “

I’ve pointed out, many times that the analysis behind this claim is false in general (it may be valid for particualr voters in systems like the US presidential where some states are safe for one candidate or the other). The simple intuition is this – absent any info about location etc, the likelihood of casting a decisive vote is (roughly) inversely proportional to the number of voters, say 10^-8 in the US context. If it costs you $10 to vote, and you think the benefit to the world of having Obama rather than Romney exceeds $1 billion, then as a consequentialist you should vote.

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NBarnes 09.26.12 at 10:51 pm

56: As a consequentialist, I’m perfectly fine with people taking into account their status as swing-state vs non-swing-state voters. It’s very reasonable to consider that, in a deep blue state, giving more visible support to progressiveism via a vote for Green candidate might be better than making the political point of adding another vote to Obama’s total in that state. I’m prepared to be gentle in my assessments of people making that argument.

65

Liberty60 09.26.12 at 10:52 pm

The wars are, to us liberals, what abortion was to conservatives circa 1986; that is, the issue that our leaders gave lip service to, but large bipartisan majorities voted against us.

We have to acknowledge the facts on the ground, that we haven’t sold the American people on the case for reducing our global footprint and reducing our hawkish posture.

A more productive effort would be to start electing Congressmen and Senators with an appropriate policy positions. When the dovish message starts to win elections, policy will change; until then, it won’t.

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The Tragically Flip 09.26.12 at 10:55 pm

I take issue with the degree to which Conor attributes these problems to Obama personally. I see this stuff as systemic. Obama took the easiest (and most cowardly) path on these issues. He deserves condemnation for that, but I think fixing this stuff requires changing the incentives Presidents face so that not-bombing children and not-executing Americans is the easier and politically safer path. Good behaviour from high office holders cannot rely on electing good people to high office.

It isn’t just the Presidency, Congress needs to be fixed too so that any President who does this stuff actually fears impeachment. Senators should grill judicial nominees about this stuff and reject ones that aren’t prepared to reject the secrecy catch all excuse given in every lawsuit. There should be floor debates about zeroing out the drone budget and actual Congressional hearings into each drone strike where civilians may have been killed.

Trying to fix this by just electing a super-duper guy to the Presidency isn’t going to work. It’s the same reason the various efforts to get 3rd parties off the ground always fail. They all start by assuming they can win the Presidency and go from there. If you can’t get a couple dozen House members to join a “no drone strikes” caucus (or whatever) you’re not going to influence the President’s thinking on the issue.

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js. 09.26.12 at 10:58 pm

I think Team Dem here would do better to to talk less about how Romney is worse (talking about how he is positively loathesome would be ok), and talk more about, say, the ACA’s benefits for women.

I think this is exactly right, and it’s part of what I was getting at above. I think JWM’s next point—that the Left in this country fares better under liberal administrations—is also very right, and far from inconsequential.

All that said, and again speaking as someone who’s giving up the option to register a protest vote in a safe state, I simply don’t get the virulence of those who seem entirely unwilling to entertain the idea that voting for Obama may well seem indefensible on principled leftist grounds. After all, if all you’re going to do is the frame the choice as between the lesser and greater evil, then one highly salient fact is that the lesser evil is still evil. Of course it would be entirely defensible not to opt for it.

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NBarnes 09.26.12 at 10:59 pm

On most every issue about which I care, Obama is neither perfect nor good. I also am not waiting for the Second Coming, nor am I looking to find any sort of perfect person. But when the list of items for which PBO stands and against which I believe gets about arm-length (as it has), it becomes time to refuse to withhold from him my vote.

So, here we are. I ask you, sir, “How many infants dying of shrapnel wounds in their mother’s arms would it take for you to change your mind and vote for Obama?” That is, after all, the choice you’re being asked to make.

It does assume that there would be fewer of said infants under an Obama presidency than under a Romney one, but I feel it’s a safe assumption.

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NBarnes 09.26.12 at 11:00 pm

Also, what Tragically Flip said.

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Ragweed 09.26.12 at 11:03 pm

Personally, I also think the historical record is pretty clear that the left does better under liberal and notionally left-leaning governments than under right-wing ones. As long as you have conservatives in office, most of the oppositional energy is going to go into removing them. Only once that’s done do people start looking for something more fundamental. It’s not a coincidence, I don’t think, that Seattle and OWS were so much bigger than anything similar under Bush.

This. The history of US left activism in the past half-century is mainly one where movements advance under democrats, and play rear-guard defensive actions under republicans (possible exception of anti-Vietnam War activism, but most of the movement had been built by 1969). Even if more people are out in the streets under the republican, they are usually playing defense.

The other thing I think people missunderstand is the extent to which the widespread and energetic support for Obama in 2008 was support for Obama, and not neccesarily support for Progessive activism. Much of that enthusiasm was from liberals who desperately wanted an articulate, young, vaguely liberal and charismatic president, which was more important than an underlying left agenda. Because most of the electorate consists of human beings, and human beings largely trust human beings more than policies or programs. Being a leftist I wish people would look more at the structural aspects of inequality and society, but we are a social animal and interpersonal relationships are part of the package.

71

piglet 09.26.12 at 11:06 pm

Deleted comment from banned commenter who is looking at a sitewide ban if he doesn’t stop ignoring the rules.

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NBarnes 09.26.12 at 11:09 pm

I simply don’t get the virulence of those who seem entirely unwilling to entertain the idea that voting for Obama may well seem indefensible on principled leftist grounds. After all, if all you’re going to do is the frame the choice as between the lesser and greater evil, then one highly salient fact is that the lesser evil is still evil. Of course it would be entirely defensible not to opt for it.

I claim that choosing not to vote for Obama is a morally unacceptable priviledging of one’s own sense of personal ethics over a very real and concrete improvement in human lives and happiness.

A lot of people who would live happy and healthy lives, all over the world, if Obama wins in November will die if Romney wins. This is very nearly settled fact. Where do you place the over/under, in terms of human suffering, that shifts voting from a personal act to a moral imperative?

73

Omega Centauri 09.26.12 at 11:31 pm

I have to come down strongly with NBarnes, and Flip. The real battle is to change the norms of the culture. Fail in that endeavor, and policy will revert with the next election anyway. And there are a lot of issues which if we let the R’s have their way, will in all probability result in far more death and suffering in the world overall. Including one that isn’t being touched this election global warming, the consequences of which will be causing harms for centuries or perhaps millienia. And just like the Drone, issue, or the whole crimes in support of the security state issue, our only real choice is between moderately bad, and very bad.

I also count the Libya intervention as a substantial plus for Obama. It really wasn’t a colonial adventure, and it does look like the transition has a good chance of making it a better place over there. You can’t make an Omlette with breaking a few eggs and such…

I’d of course love to vote with my feet, and run off to some country I’d feel proud to be part of. But, for most of us, thats too disruptive to be an option.

74

Uncle Kvetch 09.26.12 at 11:34 pm

I hate to use the “smaller evil” trope but in the face of the real danger presented by the extremists running the Republican party, we really don’t have the luxury to invoke moral absolutism. The choice is between flawed centrism and dangerous extremism.

Agreed. I’m in a safely blue state, but were that not the case this would be my bottom line.

75

Sancho 09.26.12 at 11:35 pm

I’m jumping in after seventy comments with a rather obvious point that’s probably been made already, but the Bush/Obama criticism comparison is bunkum.

Obama receives regular and sustained criticism from the left for continuing and in many cases escalating the worst features of the Bush Administration, while Bush received almost no criticism from the right while in office for his enlargement of government, attacks on freedom of speech and other actions which the right abhors in Democratic administrations.

76

Sebastian H 09.26.12 at 11:37 pm

Im generally conservative. We should vote for Obama anywhere there is any serious chance of Romney winning and that is true for liberals, conservatives, and libertarians. Romney definitely shouldn’t be president so in a contested two party race you should vote for anyone who isn’t worse. That is the easy question. A much more interesting question is: is it moral to spend less time and energy on things like obama’s assassination policy than you did on bush’s torture policy. I would tend to think not, and the fact that so many people do ought to (but won’t) reduce the smugness liberals when they talk about groupthink and insider protective reflexes among Christians and conservatives.

77

Keith Edwards 09.26.12 at 11:40 pm

All politics is personal, and in this election it’s quite simple: Obama has made it possible for my wife and unborn child to have access to healthcare. Romney wants them to die in the gutter. Of course I’m voting for Obama.

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Patrick 09.26.12 at 11:51 pm

I’m making a point I’ve made before, though I don’t know if I’ve made it here. Electoral politics in the US have much more to do with the domestic economy and domestic policy than foreign policy. The heart of the explanation, is, and always will be, that people care more about their own lives and communities than about those of other people.

Despite Romney’s attempt to run to Obama’s right on foreign policy (largely by running against a fictitious Obama who compulsively “apologizes for America”) there’s a very real chance that an Obama 2013-2017 term and a Romney 2013-2017 term aren’t very different with regards to foreign policy at least in terms of “security” (bombing people). Either way the US is an imperial power that does the terrible sorts of things that empires do. While work to change that is admirable, not voting, or voting for a protest candidate doesn’t constitute a part of that work. If the US is to become less imperial over time, it does seem that an administration that at least consistently admits the existence of climate change and has made real, if far too small, steps to mitigate it seems more consistent with that goal.

If the President was President of US Foreign Policy and Defense with no control over non-“security”-related federal agencies and no chance to influence legislation coming from Congress and no authority to appoint member of the Judicial branch. I could see not having a strong preference. But that is a distinctly counterfactual scenario. Nor does it mean that I endorse Obama’s policies in these matters, but I strongly prefer them to the alternatives.

The argument that voting for Obama legitimates evils is also a non-starter. He already won one election. All of the most terrible of his policies are as Greenwald loves to point out, bipartisan. Which means they are very very legitimate already in mainstream political discourse. What policy of Obama’s is most likely to be de-legitimized if he fails to be re-elected? His health care policy, which while flawed in many ways represents a huge positive change for a great many people including many people.

It boils down to this. In November either Romney or Omama will be elected President of the United States to serve Jan 2013-Jan 2017. It is too late for any other outcome to be made possible. If you think there is a moral reason to prefer one of these two possible presidencies to the other (rather than some theoretical-but-false third choice) it becomes moral to work towards that possibility.

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rf 09.26.12 at 11:54 pm

“Obama receives regular and sustained criticism from the left for continuing and in many cases escalating the worst features of the Bush Administration, while Bush received almost no criticism from the right while in office for his enlargement of government, attacks on freedom of speech and other actions which the right abhors in Democratic administrations.”

I think Bush received as much criticism from the right as Obama has from the left. There was significant opposition from realists/paleocons and libertarians over Iraq. There was definitely criticism from some fiscal conservatives over the deficits. Where exactly is the criticism of Obama over the drone war, attacks on civil liberties even the continuation (escalation?) of the war on drugs, apart from the elements of the left that generally hobby horse these topics? These issues don’t win or lose Presidential elections, so the people who bang on about them are generally written of as inconsequential (the far left, in Marcs terms)

“The Executive Orders banning assassination of foreigners were dead letters as far back as Reagan’s bombing of Tripoli.”

I do think there’s a huge difference between Reagan bombing Tripoli and the institutionalisation of a complex secretive assassination program. And I don’t see how Obama can be trusted with it (or certain elements in the CIA) after the failure to prosecute those involved in the torture program and the evidence coming out of the Arab uprisings of how extensive it was.

80

Bruce Wilder 09.26.12 at 11:56 pm

piglet: “The choice is between flawed centrism and dangerous extremism. We won’t get a better choice, or fix a broken political system, by heroically refusing to take that choice. All we’ll get is to hand over the country to those intent on destroying it.”

And, we certainly won’t get a better choice, or fix a broken political system, by taking the choice we’re offered. If the experience of the last 15 years has proven anything, it has proven that.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I know the answer will not inscribed on the November ballot.

81

Jeffrey Davis 09.27.12 at 12:04 am

Imagine yourself an American Quaker and it’s Dec 8, 1941.

82

Tom Hurka 09.27.12 at 12:08 am

Two reasons to vote for Obama: 1) Supreme 2) Court.

83

Liberty60 09.27.12 at 12:13 am

“choosing not to vote for Obama is a morally unacceptable priviledging of one’s own sense of personal ethics over a very real and concrete improvement in human lives and happiness.”

Very well put.
Voting is not about signaling our moral values, as if we are displaying our rectitude in the public square. Voting is engaging in a strategy of trying to obtain the best outcome for our democracy.

Saying “I don’t like my choices” is the wail of the privileged- who is ever faced with pleasant and obvious choice?

If leftism/ progressivism/ liberalism can be said to stand for anything, it should stand for the concept that we share a common fate with our community; that my actions are tied to the common good. If voting for a flawed candidate results in the betterment of the community, then that is the best moral choice.

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chrismealy 09.27.12 at 12:15 am

Does the left sitting out ever work? I can thinking of plenty really terrible examples and no good ones. Seriously, if there’s an obvious success I’m forgetting I’d like to know about it.

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Patrick Cahalan 09.27.12 at 12:27 am

I think some of the comments here reflect a false dichotomy.

I can see saying, “I think Obama is much better than Romney, so I’ll vote for him even though I think Conor has a point about this horribleness”. But that’s context dependent.

Pascal – way upthread – seems to think that this is context independent. If you live in Oregon or California or New York, you’re looking at Nate Silver’s current projection of a 98% chance of an Obama win. I don’t think it’s in any way remotely, rationally credible to assume that you’re going to Naderize Obama if you vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. Indeed, it’s a perfectly legitimate calculus to say, “Voting for Obama is zero signal, in my given electoral context. Voting for a third party candidate is a non-zero (albeit very, very small) signal. It’s a legitimate message to send to the Democratic Party (or, for that matter, the GOP).

Outside of Ohio, PA, and another small handful of states, voting Dem or GOP has zero signaling value.

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bob mcmanus 09.27.12 at 12:35 am

You know I have been hearing “vote for the lesser evil” since Daley beat up the hippies. Usually after the election I hear from the same people that the Pres and Congress are doing the best they can with the horrible opposition so don’t start a circular firing squad and help the Pres give us the sweetest shite sandwich possible (ACA).

What I have never seen in 44 years is the “lesser evilists” getting out there and actually making Washington break a sweat. They tell me I’m supposed be the one to do it.

I think that is because, in some sense I don’t understand, they really prefer being the victims of the system. “Lesser evilism” gets them credit for the good stuff and none of the blame for the bad.

I do know that this time I have caught four years of invective from the morally pure for criticizing the lesser evil.

This time, for the first time ever (I said I wasn’t aware of politics, I didn’t say I didn’t vote, for 44 years it was 15 minutes of of pulling the D lever), I will be able to say:

“I didn’t vote for that.” The rest of you can’t.

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Hidden Heart 09.27.12 at 12:37 am

What makes Conor’s argument so quintessentially hackish is that it descends from a position of being able not to care about quality of life here at home. Conor probably does have the liberty of expecting to live well regardless of who wins in November; I as a queer woman on Medicaid do not. Given my known medical needs, a Romney victory is almost certainly a very direct death sentence for me, and for millions of others, purely on the issue of support for or rejection of the ACA. And that’s just one issue.

Kagan and Sotomayor are not my visions of excellence on the Supreme Court…but they’re better than anyone a Republican President has nominated in my lifetime other than Souter, and it’s not like Romney would be allowed another Souter situation even if he wished it, which he doesn’t.

Democratic response to the ongoing depression is awful, but you know, it matters whether the president and Congress are trying to extend unemployment payments, say, or to cut them back.

And on and on.

Refusing to vote for Obama will not reform Congress or improve the soul of America. It will only increase the chances that Romney and the Republican machine will get to make everything that much worse. There is no issue, not one, on which Republicans are proposing something more moral, more sensible, more democratic, or more desirable in any other way.

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John Quiggin 09.27.12 at 12:45 am

As an aside, my imperfect recollection of the Bible is that Lot had to find six good men. I think this is just about impossible as regards US libertarians/conservatives since the honest ones (Michael Lind, Jim Henley, Brink Lindsey, Bruce Bartlett etc) leave, or are pushed out, as soon as they start raising their voice in a consistent fashion. At any given time, there aren’t six of them in the transition phase.

To qualify this a bit, Julian Sanchez and Radley Balko have hung in for a fair while, but now that the Rand-Koch group has taken over Cato, it’s hard to see them lasting much longer.

89

Bruce Wilder 09.27.12 at 12:46 am

Patrick: “If you think there is a moral reason to prefer one of these two possible presidencies to the other (rather than some theoretical-but-false third choice) it becomes moral to work towards that possibility.”

For the umpteenth time, no. That’s faulty logic. The difference does not redeem the total.

Voters have a reflexive relation with the political class. The voters are trying to control those aspiring to office, and to get responsive policy. The political class are trying to control the voters, and get from voters legitimacy. At the moment, I’d say that the voters are not doing so well: the voters do not get responsive policy, and they are being actively manipulated. The polarization of politics is part of that manipulation.

I’m sure I would feel better about it, if I judged that Obama was sufficiently responsive to the general good of the country or his constituency in the Democratic Party. But, we’re entering the 12th year of a hugely expensive, losing and apparently pointless war in Afganistan, wages are declining, the unemployment rate is over 8% and this Democratic President wants to cut Social Security. Now the meaning of all of those “performance” measures are fuzzy and ambiguous — politics is like that. Whose responsible, what’s possible, conflicting opinions and interests, . . . . yada yada. That’s why I think the “moral” policy questions have such bite. These are the choices the President is making, more or less in institutional isolation, and these are the choices, where respect for principle and precedent, are highlighted. These choices are less ambiguous, and more about the character and wisdom of the man. They are still very, very consequential for the country. And, on these questions, Obama flunks.

If you are not standing back and wondering if you are being stampeded or manipulated into supporting and legitimating a whole lot of stuff to which you are, in fact and in your heart, opposed, — things that are very bad for the country as a whole — you are not paying sufficient attention.

I have it easy, I suppose. I live in California, and I am fully aware that my vote will have no consequence for the two-party result, while there’s some (exceedingly) slim chance that a swelling third-party vote might caution the powers-that-be or signal some alternative possibility.

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Barry 09.27.12 at 1:01 am

Henry: “But it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting 1 for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not.”

Things might not be clear to you. Perhaps the rest of us are actually thinking about this.

91

Martin Bento 09.27.12 at 1:08 am

In the US, your vote for President does not, in fact, count. Only your electoral vote does. And if your state does not swing, your electoral vote is effectively determined as of this moment, that’s why no one is bothering to campaign for it, so how you vote does not matter for purposes of determining who the President is. Lesser-evilists keep telling us not to vote 3rd party because it will not matter – it will not change the outcome. Outside swing states, voting for the majors will not change it either. Therefore, discussion of how to vote in such a context that hinges on how much worse Romney would be than Obama is irrational – you are not, in fact, making such a choice. All teaful pleadings of how many more would die under Romney etc. are irrelevant.

If you are bothering to vote, you are making a statement. That’s all. Lesser-evilists cannot object that if everyone voted on the basis I did, the outcome might be different. If everyone voted on the basis I did, the 3rd party candidate might win. You cannot say we should vote in light of known outcomes to exclude 3rd party candidates, and then ignore known outcomes to pretend that our vote helps to determine who is actually President.

92

downing street memo 09.27.12 at 1:18 am

The US government is such a malignant force at this point that for lefties (defined broadly as people with a core principle of egalitarianism) a vote must be properly considered a harm reduction measure.

Which choice maximizes harm reduction will vary by state. In DC I will not vote for Obama, as my vote is a) nearly totally electorally meaningless and b) would only serve to pad the President’s popular vote total, perhaps leading to over-interpretation of his mandate and subsequent increase in harm done. If I lived across the river in Virginia, I would vote for Obama with pleasure – this is the choice that clearly reduces the harm done by the US government.

I will note the hilariousness of commenters avowing that an Obama vote is a) evil and b) that it doesn’t matter anyway since their state is noncompetitive. I agree with the principle but you don’t get to blather on about morals if your approach is fundamentally about harm reduction.

93

Barry 09.27.12 at 1:19 am

Sweet comment from over there:

Alison says:

“To quoth myself, oh, please PLEASE, brilliant young straight, cis, able-bodied, upper-middle-class white dudes – TELL ME MORE about how, no no, you just cannot vote for Obama because PRINCIPLES.

Principles which, of course, give a big middle finger to anyone who falls outside of those descriptors, as Erik notes. Gay rights? Women’s autonomy? Services for the disabled? PFFT WEV THAT’S PISH TOSH.”

94

Barry 09.27.12 at 1:21 am

Another one:

megan says:

“What struck me is that when Friedersdorf actually gets to comparisons between what Obama and Romney might do, he doesn’t really seem to give a shit. For someone claiming to care about these issues so deeply you’d think he’d try to come up with a better analysis than “Maybe Romney would be worse, maybe he’d be better, who knows?” He also completely ignores one of the few ways we could get positive change on civil liberties within the system we have: the supreme court. Someone who’s main issue civil liberties out to be concerned about the prospect of the court becoming even more dominated by conservatives.”

95

parsimon 09.27.12 at 1:24 am

But it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not.

Sorry, I haven’t read the thread, but good grief, man, listen to yourself. Are you trolling? While Obama sucks in various realms of foreign policy, the consequences of a Romney presidency in domestic policy cannot be underestimated.

96

parsimon 09.27.12 at 1:25 am

Or overestimated. Rather.

97

bob mcmanus 09.27.12 at 1:28 am

92: Hey, Alison, you are voting for and supporting the Democrat, who during and after the worst recession in fifty years, has managed to shift even more of the wealth and income to the 1% than was the status before the recession. And Geithner (see Bair) works for the Czar.

I said a year or so ago, that if the identity side of the coalition doesn’t put any effort into macro-economic and equality issues, I would join them in their callous selfishness.

98

Old Crusty Stan 09.27.12 at 1:28 am

Voting for any individual who has offended your moral conscience time after time is neither political reality or an excuse. The lesser of two evils is still absolutely evil. Rationalize it any way you want, but nothing will change for the better until you rid yourself of that ideal.

99

ezra abrams 09.27.12 at 1:33 am

This is the wrong question
The right question is
Given the almost total lack of power of liberals or progressives, and the extent to which both the dem and republican parties are taken over by the rich, what is the best course ?

And the answer is, it’s not clear.
My version is:
I have no confidence that Romney will do more for the unemployed and poor who are suffering today, or that he will on avg be anybetter on civil liberties, the environmnet etc.

i do have confidence that on some issues – say abortion – Romney ill def be worse:
coat hangers for Romney, in case you need a back alley abortion

however, the real question remains; given the total lack of power of liberals, what is to be done (imo, this lack of power is literally making liberals psychotic; one symptom is turning on each other; another is cheering on the clueless narcissitic kids at occupy who did worse then nothing (by dissapating all that energy, they left us worse off then before); another is conspiracy theories (ronald reagan send casey to paris to negotiatie with the iranians to keep the hostages untill after the election – dozens of articles in the nation at the time; not to meniton the iraq sanctions killed 100,000 or hatever iraqui babies, which seems, afaik, to be false….0

100

Martin Bento 09.27.12 at 1:36 am

Barry, both of those comments are childish outside a swing state context because they assume the vote is determining who will be President. If we stick to realistic, rather than theoretical, possibilities, they are not. If if we admit theoretical possibilities, then one should vote for the candidate one most supports, not just D or R, because, theoretically, they could win.

101

rf 09.27.12 at 1:36 am

“Sweet comment from over there:”

Oh give me a break with the LGM privilege line of argument. Perhaps when American liberals begin showing even an iota of concern for the people their government kills, even those, God help them, from traditional conservative societies, then this ‘argument’ might have some merit.
How about this; everyone vote Obama but give money to the Johnson campaign, or the Haqqani Network, I’m easy.

102

bob mcmanus 09.27.12 at 1:38 am

Let me repeat and leave:…the Democrat, who during and after the worst recession in fifty years, has managed to shift even more of the wealth and income to the 1% than was the status before the recession.

I am not voting for four more years of that. No way.

I can’t

103

William Timberman 09.27.12 at 1:45 am

I think maybe CT is entertaining too many political junkies these days. Understandable, but the categorical imperatives on offer strike me as an unfortunate form of special pleading. St. Francis might very well not have voted for President Obama, but if so, it would have taken a pretty bold MF to accuse him of moral cowardice on that basis alone.

Full Disclaimer: I intend to vote for the President. I don’t think that doing so will make me a better person, let alone a more politically astute one.

104

Patrick Meighan 09.27.12 at 1:49 am

“So, here we are. I ask you, sir, “How many infants dying of shrapnel wounds in their mother’s arms would it take for you to change your mind and vote for Obama?” That is, after all, the choice you’re being asked to make.

It does assume that there would be fewer of said infants under an Obama presidency than under a Romney one, but I feel it’s a safe assumption.”

I reject the assumption that voting for a murderer (and thus expressing my support for the murder he commits, therefore providing political incentive for future murder) is the best way to prevent future murder. I proceed from the assumption that voting for a non-murderer (thus providing political incentive for a policy of future non-murder) is the best way to prevent future murder. Perhaps my non-murdering candidate will win. Or, perhaps, the slightly-lesser-murderer will lose because he didn’t win my vote because of all the murder he committed, thus causing future potential-murderers to feel political disincentive to commit murder, lest it cost them exactly what it cost the previous slightly-lesser-murderer: his political office.

In the meantime, please do enjoy walking into the voting booth in November and declaring your clear, unmistakable support for the policy of murder currently being carried out by the current murderer in charge. Just please *don’t* pretend to be upset in the future when that re-elected murderer continues to do exactly what you have specifically and clearly declared, via your vote, you approve of him doing: murdering.

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

105

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 1:56 am

Of course Zizek best characterized the politics of the leftists who can’t bring their delicate souls to the muddy grounds of reality.
http://krebscycle.tumblr.com/post/14171228736/slavoj-zizek-for-the-win

But the nostalgia for the good old moral days of helicopter gunships and white phosphorus bombardments is also special.

106

Substance McGravitas 09.27.12 at 1:59 am

declaring your clear, unmistakable support for the policy of murder

The thing is you can vote for him and also express disapproval. It’s easy!

107

Hidden Heart 09.27.12 at 2:01 am

I wonder how many people feeling it beneath them to vote for Obama are going to put even 10 minutes and $5 into any House or Senate campaign on the national level or any local or state race, to get better values represented in a cumulative way. Like Matt said up yonder, it’s not like rejecting Obama will actually free up energy on the individual’s part for other stuff, but there’s a lot of bait-and-switch language on the left as if it did, and it’s no more charming than when right-wingers use it in opposing incremental steps – “don’t do this, it doesn’t fix the whole problem, if only we did that…but then let’s not do that either”.

108

Patrick Meighan 09.27.12 at 2:02 am

“Voting is not about signaling our moral values, as if we are displaying our rectitude in the public square. Voting is engaging in a strategy of trying to obtain the best outcome for our democracy.”

Voting is, in fact, a declaration of your policy preferences. If you support the policy of murder-by-drone, the way declare as such is to walk into the booth and vote for a candidate who promises to murder people from the sky. Alternately, if you do *not* support the policy of murder-by-drone, the way to declare as such is to walk into the booth and vote for a candidate who promises not to murder people from the sky. As it happens, the ballot contains candidates who fall to either side of this issue, so you’ve got a very meaningful choice ahead of you. For those of you who really like sky-murder, the good news is that the pollsters say that the two candidates most likely to win both promise to commit plenty of sky-murder, so congratulations on that!

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

109

Patrick Meighan 09.27.12 at 2:05 am

“The thing is you can vote for him and also express disapproval. It’s easy!”

Politicians can’t hear your words. They can only hear your money, your volunteer time, and your vote. If you vote for a murderer while voicing disapproval of murder, the murderer will continue to murder, ’cause heck, why not? It didn’t cost him your vote! Future potential murderers will make a similar calculation. Why wouldn’t they?

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

110

Patrick Meighan 09.27.12 at 2:06 am

“I wonder how many people feeling it beneath them to vote for Obama are going to put even 10 minutes and $5 into any House or Senate campaign on the national level or any local or state race, to get better values represented in a cumulative way.”

A lot of us do. A lot of us have been doing exactly that for decades now. Why do you ask?

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

111

SeanM 09.27.12 at 2:07 am

“I reject the assumption that voting for a murderer (and thus expressing my support for the murder he commits, therefore providing political incentive for future murder) is the best way to prevent future murder. I proceed from the assumption that voting for a non-murderer (thus providing political incentive for a policy of future non-murder) is the best way to prevent future murder. Perhaps my non-murdering candidate will win. Or, perhaps, the slightly-lesser-murderer will lose because he didn’t win my vote because of all the murder he committed, thus causing future potential-murderers to feel political disincentive to commit murder, lest it cost them exactly what it cost the previous slightly-lesser-murderer: his political office.”

I actually think this proposition – that withholding your vote from the Democrat will alter the system such that a better candidate will emerge – is the absolute weakest one. I’m not a tow-the-party-line type, and I think that if you don’t want to vote for Obama because it offends your principles, more power to you. But I don’t believe even for a second that continuous Republican victories due to low left/liberal turnout for the Democrats would register with anyone as a mass protest in response to American Empire. It seems most likely to me that mainstream commentators would chalk it up either to traditional reasons for low turnout – like the economy, or bad campaigning – or they’d assume voters were “acting rationally” and had decided to stay home because of opportunity costs.

I think direct action is a better tool for registering your broad dissatisfaction with the system than voting, FWIW.

112

Bernard Yomtov 09.27.12 at 2:08 am

But it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not.

If it’s not clear to you then you need to get in touch with reality. It’s plenty clear to me.

I don’t want Medicare and Social Security destroyed, the worst ideas of a possibly Republican Congress signed into law, more right-wingers on the Supreme Court, insane fiscal policies adopted, environmental rules gutted, and so on.

113

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 2:15 am

—-
Politicians can’t hear your words. They can only hear your money, your volunteer time, and your vote. If you vote for a murderer while voicing disapproval of murder, the murderer will continue to murder, ’cause heck, why not? It didn’t cost him your vote! Future potential murderers will make a similar calculation. Why wouldn’t they?
—-

150 years of socialist theorizing and we end up with this. Wow.

Please don’t hold your breath while waiting for a morally upright person to vote for.

114

MPAVictoria 09.27.12 at 2:15 am

christian_h ignoring the problem in Waziristan will not make it go away. That kind of attitude is what led to the 9/11 attacks.

115

Right/Left = Impulse/Thoughtfulness 09.27.12 at 2:17 am

Is it moral to enable the greater evil?

Right-wing trolls like Conor Friedersdorf are dishonest or ill informed as Republican Romney’s supporters have explicitly claimed that Republican Romney would more aggressively commit the evils that Friedersdorf claims to be offended by.

Republican voters like Friedersdorf enabling the greater evil and demanding that everyone help them because … well, apparently it’s the Gnome Underpants Theory of Evil: Enable the greater evil … (?) … magically less evil.

Friedersdorf discredits himself, either he’s deceitfully manipulative or he’s not someone informed enough to take seriously.

116

NBarnes 09.27.12 at 2:23 am

Thank you, rootless_e, for saying that and saving me the trouble of finding some way to respond to Patrick’s solipsism without having my head explode.

117

MPAVictoria 09.27.12 at 2:33 am

“But it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not.”

I wonder if you will be saying this as the nukes land on Iran?
You people are all nuts! Totally crazy! On literally every issue Obama is better and more humane than Romney. That makes the choice between them easy. Or at least it should.

118

Steve_I_Am 09.27.12 at 2:43 am

What makes this a moral dilemma for Progressives of good conscience is that the case for voting against Obama transends politics.

If this election were JUST about social issues – such as a woman’s right to choose and marriage equality – my vote would be a “no-brainer.” Obama is FAR SUPERIOR IN EVERY WAY to Romney.

If this election were JUST about economics – such as letting the Bush Tax Cuts for top wage earners and fighting to protect the New Deal social safety net . . . I would hold my nose and vote for Obama, because, as conservative as he is, Obama is marginally better than Romney.

In truth, on an objective political spectrum, Obama, and the Corporatist Democrats, stand on the political ground that used to be occupied by Northeastern “Rockerfeller Republicans.” Romney, who is NOT a Tea Bagger, no matter how much he tries to kiss up to them, is only a stone’s throw to the right of Obama. (Don’t believe me? Just do a side-by-side comparison of “Romney Care” and “Obama Care.”)

But this eleciton is about MORE than social issues. And, it is about MORE than economics.

For ME, the MOST important issue facing the nation in the November elections is whether the Constitution, and the “Rule of Law” still apply in the United States.

President Obama, who campaigned in 2008 on a promise to roll-back the Constitutional excesses of the Bush/Cheney administration, has NOT ONLY failed to deliver on that promise, he as actually committed constitutional crimes that are far worse than anything Bush and Cheney ever did.

Bush started secretly spying on Americans with his “domestic wiretapping” programs, and then ramrodded through the Patriot Act to justify his crimes. Obama has expanded those domestic surveillance programs.

Based solely on his own assertion that he was a terrorist, President Bush, threw an American citizen, Jose Padilla, in jail for three years without trial. Based soley on HIS own assertion, President Obama declared American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, to be a terroist, and ordered him assassinated with a drone missle, even though he was more than a thousand miles from the nearest battlefield at the time of the missle strike. Then two weeks later, again, based solely on the President’s determination that he was a terrorist, the President ordered a second drone strike that killed al-Awlaki’s 16 year-old, American born son.

Now, at President Obama’s insistence, the Congress has passed, and the President has signed into law, a provision of the NDAA which gives the President the power to determine, in secret, that an American citizen is a terrorist, or a terrorist supporter, and order that American citizen to be held, indefintely, without trial, in military detention.

I’m sorry folks, but there is only one word for a President who has the power to act – in secret – as “Judge, Jury, and Executioner” and that word is DICTATOR. And I just can’t find it in my heart to vote for a DICTATOR, simply because that dictator belongs to the same political party that I do, and simply because I agree with that dictator on some social issues.

I didn’t call for George W. Bush’s impeachment because I didn’t like his economic policies. I called for his impeachment because of his flagrant disregard for the Constitution. How can I have genuinely believed that Bush should have been removed from office for his crimes against the Constitution, and, then turn around 8 years latter vote for Obama, who has committed even worse Constitiutional crimes.

The fact is, that I CAN’T. To do so would be unprincipled and hypocritical.

NO President . . . No Democcratic President . . . No Republican President . . . should have the kind of dictatorial powers that Obama has taken on to himself.

119

Maggie 09.27.12 at 2:47 am

What Hidden Heart @87 said. Not all of us can afford to be indifferent to domestic policy, and after a certain point the continued assumption that one can starts to feel exclusionary and obnoxious. Bruce Wilder, way upthread, casts Supreme Court concerns as rationalization and a “fine point; well, if Bruce is his real name I guess he probably doesn’t have to worry about the prospect of forced childbearing. Republicans have started to agitate against not just elective, but also maternal-indication abortion, and the experience of other countries shows that strong anti-abortion regimes can be lethal for women with complications of pregnancy even if exceptions are technically still on the books (doctors fear having their judgments second-guessed in the criminal justice system, especially since pro-life legalisms map poorly onto medical reality). I know women with medical conditions such that carrying a pregnancy to term would almost surely kill them – and the birth control they use to keep from getting pregnant in the first place is under attack from the Right as well. Then consider all the people who depend on social welfare provisions – they may not be much but they’re all we’ve got, Obama’s attitude toward them may not be optimal, but under Romney there’s a real chance of their simply disappearing.

There are also some pretty big issues about how elections are run coming to a head right now, and that largely goes through the courts. Under a Republican administration the present crop of attacks on voting rights could become codified. Add that to the whole campaign finance issue, and they could conceivably set themselves up to reliably buy/steal elections into the indefinite future. In fact it is not inconceivable that that could happen this year. Maybe a little less hand-wringing over the precious conscience of Stein voters in Washington state and a little more thought to what might happen if the Dem vote in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida is broadly repressed.

120

Dr. Hilarius 09.27.12 at 3:00 am

I’m with piglet on this. For the past 40+ years the right has shifted the entire political landscape to such a degree that Richard Nixon wouldn’t be accepted by the current Republican Party. Evil clowns like Rush Limbaugh shape foreign and domestic policy. It’s no longer manufacturing consent, it’s manufacturing reality.

When a president is elected it’s also an indirect election for federal judges and agency staff for the FDA, FAA, ICE, EPA and all those other bits of alphabet soup. Imagine big Pharma completely taking over the FDA or the EPA being run by the Koch brothers. These staffing changes have effects beyond any one administration. Right now liberals can complain and lobby about the Keystone pipeline and try to exert some influence. Under Ronmey no one will even take our calls, it will be a done deal.

As for foreign policy, Obama is little better than Bush. But Obama is at least grounded in reality and not some neo-con fantasy of world domination. Remember, the evangelicals who support Romney actually want a nuclear war in the Middle East to usher in the Second Coming.

121

The Tragically Flip 09.27.12 at 3:04 am

William Timberman:

Full Disclaimer: I intend to vote for the President. I don’t think that doing so will make me a better person, let alone a more politically astute one.

Needs saying. Not for the comity-for-comity’s sake of the mewling civility police, but because we are talking about complex moral dilemmas and anyone even wrestling with the best way to stop America’s penchant for bombing people or is worried that trying to do so wouldn’t work but would consign millions of elderly to eating catfood is probably not a bad person overall.

122

GiT 09.27.12 at 3:07 am

Is it possible to not vote a murderer into the Presidency? I had just sort of assumed the office of President of the United States sort of carried “Murderer” as part of its title (You know, something like “Mr. President of the United States of America, Chief Executive of the Federal Government, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and Murderer of Poor People the World Over”) .

Any world in which the US executive branch is not complicit in and responsible for murder seems pretty unlikely to come to be anytime soon. So if you’re going to vote, basing your decision on whether or not the future President will be a murderer seems a little silly. You’re pretty much stuck with “less murder” or “more murder.”

123

Michael Sullivan 09.27.12 at 3:15 am

“But it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting 1 for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not. “

I think it’s quite clear.

How do you propose to vote such that it sends a *clear* signal (at least as clear a signal as choosing Obama over Romney as the lesser evil sends) that you are refusing to vote for Obama on the specific issues on which he is problematic?

Green candidate? Typically that is seen as a vote for more environmental consciousness, rather than a vote for peace.

When there’s a peace and civil liberty third party, that does not also espouse right of the GOP screw the poor economic policy to confound the signal, I will consider voting for them over the lesser evil, in order to send a clear signal.

Until then, all I see is the choice NBarnes outlines. One million dead babies or ten million? One thousand desaparecidos or ten thousand? And that’s just foreign policy and civil liberties. Even in these areas, the atrocious Obama is nonetheless somehow a *lot* better than the only realistic alternative.

The time to have the left referendum on Obama was when we could run a primary candidate or build a third party with the potential to send a clear signal — not now, a month and a half before the election, when there is no moral alternative on the ballot.

124

Martin Bento 09.27.12 at 3:31 am

The problem with saying “raise objections with a primary challenge” is that every discussion of a primary challenge I was privy to invoked Carter/Kennedy and said it would just weaken Obama.

125

Lonnie 09.27.12 at 3:31 am

MPAVictoria – Obama is more humane? How? Look how many innocents he has killed! Romney has not killed anyone. Can’t we agree that murder count is kind of important without assuming the next guy may also murder? Can’t we draw a line in the sand? Can’t murder of innocents trump the other stuff? No doubt a vote for Obama allows him to continue this activity.

LOL! Sure Obama MURDERS innocents, but I like his views on empowerment zones. I’m sure that would comfort the people of North Waziristan.

126

Henry 09.27.12 at 3:33 am

> Things might not be clear to you. Perhaps the rest of us are actually thinking about this.

Thinking would be a fine thing. You never know, perhaps we’ll see a bit of it from you one of these days. More generally, Jim Henley:

>So I ought to be more sympathetic to Erik Loomis’s rejoinder to Conor than I am. Not only have I come to the same partisan choice as Loomis, I’m pretty sympathetic to critiques of white privilege, including my own substantial share of same. But I think Loomis makes a hash of things by not reckoning with the fact that the injustices Conor decries aren’t just genuine injustices, they are genuine injustices being visited disproportionately on brown foreigners and Americans of color. Conor Friedersdorf is a privileged white man – I mean, as a bonus, he’s marrying my friend Courtney! I’m a privileged white dude. Erik Loomis appears to be a privileged white dude as well. We’re also all, near as I can tell, straight and cis-gendered. We can’t be complacent about this, but we can’t escape the fact that for people like us, pursuing justice includes figuring out how to deploy our privilege, which is inescapable, on whose behalf.

>I don’t see Loomis doing the work here. I agree with him that the poor in this country matter, and will be, despite all the failings of the Democratic Party, better off with a second Obama term. I agree with him that women’s control of their own reproductive systems matters, and a second Obama term will be much better on that score. Ditto for LGBTQ rights. These are all reasons I’m sucking it up and voting with the party of accommodating financial oligarchy against the party of worshiping it.

>But you know, they are not so rich in Somalia and Pakistan, and not especially white, and a lot of them are women and girls. And Barack Obama operates a machinery that kills these people at a ferocious clip. This was wrong during the Bush years and it is wrong now. Loomis gives every indication of wanting to rule these men and women of color, modest means, and oh-so-convenient distance out of the moral calculus. You can do that, but you can’t do it while making a coherent point about white privilege.

127

Michael Sullivan 09.27.12 at 3:37 am

Ezra abrams is asking the right question.

How do we bring civil liberties and responsible foreign policy back into the overton window?

The reason you don’t see any leftists making this case is because leftists are generally not playing for the other side. Framing this as a referendum on Obama with an insistence that one is morally sullied by voting for the lesser evil, is nothing but conservative framing designed to confuse and frustrate liberals.

Freiersdorf would love nothing more than for his column to get a few thousand lefties up in arms, voting green or libertarian or whatever and swinging the election for Romney in some key state. That’s his whole goal, and that’s why he adopts this ridiculous framing of the vote being the crucial question.

Note well how it was that hard core conservatives have worked their will on the GOP. It sure as heck wasn’t by voting for libertarians or reactionary family values parties.

128

Michael Sullivan 09.27.12 at 3:41 am

henry quoting Jim Henley: “And Barack Obama operates a machinery that kills these people at a ferocious clip. This was wrong during the Bush years and it is wrong now. Loomis gives every indication of wanting to rule these men and women of color, modest means, and oh-so-convenient distance out of the moral calculus.”

Perhaps Loomis does, but I certainly don’t. If there was *any* indication that the alternative to Obama was likely to involve *less* rather than *more* use of this massive killing machinery, I would have much sympathy with your point.

129

js. 09.27.12 at 3:57 am

I claim that choosing not to vote for Obama is a morally unacceptable priviledging of one’s own sense of personal ethics over a very real and concrete improvement in human lives and happiness.

Two responses:

1. If you make it seem like some sort of isolated, high-handed refusal to engage in messy politics, of course it’ll seem objectionable. But suppose, as I will to give them the benefit of doubt, that the people in question are engaging in other ways—possibly non-electoral ones, or ones that are open to them—to change the direction of policy, over the medium term if not the short one. It’s not at all obvious that this is an objectionable or indefensible position.

2. Remember that this is all phrased in terms of foreign policy. And on foreign policy, I just don’t buy this line of reasoning. You could lay a whole lot of Iraqi baby deaths on Clinton’s head, a whole lot of Afghani and Pakistani ones on Obama, etc. If the response is simply: Oh, but Democrats, in recent decades anyway, manage empire so much better: they kill only in the thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands, then… well I’m just entirely unmoved. It’s still completely and utterly unjustifiable. (I suppose I should say that I never got the appeal of consequentialism anyway.)

130

js. 09.27.12 at 4:01 am

The problem with saying “raise objections with a primary challenge” is that every discussion of a primary challenge I was privy to invoked Carter/Kennedy and said it would just weaken Obama.

This too. If you really care about this stuff (as we all should!), you clearly just have to go totally outside of electoral politics.

131

js. 09.27.12 at 4:19 am

Jim Henley via Henry:

This was wrong during the Bush years and it is wrong now.

Still not buying this line of argument either. Not that the statement is false, it’s obviously entirely true. Problem is that it also was also wrong during the Clinton years and the Bush père years and the Reagan years, and, well, you see where I am going. Again, better and worse managers of imperial policies etc., but if this is really a deal-breaker for you, then (1) I’m having trouble seeing why this is becoming a problem just now, and (2) in any case, you should not vote for Obama. (I guess I’m thinking that about the worst single reason to vote for Obama is that he’ll kill fewer Afghani children, or whatever. Though I do realize that that’s not what Jim Henley is saying.)

132

NBarnes 09.27.12 at 4:27 am

@js.

The shift from hundreds of thousands of dead babies to mere thousands of dead babies may leave you, powerful and wealthy and secure behind the world’s most powerful military, unmoved. There are those who see that shift as of more import.

How, in either case, does that not then qualify as ‘ isolated, high-handed refusal to engage in messy politics’? What do you see as so valuable that you are willing to shrug off (literally shrug off!) the lives of tens of thousands?

133

SB 09.27.12 at 4:37 am

The title of this is strange: Wouldn’t this be a question for everyone, not just lefties? Is being a lefty a voluntary conditions with certain commitments or are we talking about a moral question that is true of everyone, whatever their politics?

It is sort of naive to ask this question in isolation. We are talking about a particular war system that we are a part of. Does voting imply consenting to that system? I’m not sure it does but even if it does there’s a hell of a lot more we should probably be doing than just not voting.

There are very few periods in US history that do not contain incidents of the kind that Obama engages in. Focusing on Obama distracts us from looking at what we are part of, overall. Maybe we should withdraw consent altogether–although I’m not sure that’s possible. It seems like Obama gives us a chance to shatter the illusion we have about our system because if he isn’t any different we might wonder if anyone will be.

There’s a lot I don’t know here. My belief is that Jimmy Carter did intentionally have a fairly ethical foreign policy and he’s the only President one can say that about since very early on. I might be wrong about that. Lincoln wasn’t involved in many wars of conquest for obvious reasons. Wilson intended a moral foreign policy but things went awry. Were Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan or Clinton better or worse than Obama? I’d say Clinton seems about the same and the rest were worse but I’m not even sure what that means in this context. But surely we need to ask why we have such a list of war mongering baddies as President–and we can put in Polk, McKinley, and Roosevelt and some others in there.

Looking at the big picture, we might worry about whether voting implies consent to this system. It depends on what you think about the system whether you think voting matters but it seems more politically useful to frame it in a larger context rather than an electoral one.

Another way to look at it is that we are in a coercive situation where we are forced to do defensive voting. For example, we may want to vote for Obama given Romney’s recent utterly insane statements about Russia, China and Iran. So we vote with a gun like this to our head each time.

134

SB 09.27.12 at 4:39 am

[Note: 'Roosevelt' there means Teddy Roosevelt.]

135

js. 09.27.12 at 4:50 am

There are those who see that shift as of more import.

If “those” means people in the affected countries and places, then this is just not true. Obama isn’t winning friends or accolades in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or wherever else because he’s killing fewer people than McCain would have, say. It’s not even entirely plausible that he’s (= the US is) making fewer enemies, in the sense that matters. On the other hand, if “those” means consequentialists in North America, I continue to be unmoved.

Also, I’m neither wealthy nor powerful, and as for “secure”, given my background, the only thing that’s saved me from getting profiled by, say, airport security is having a fairly obscure name. A lot of my extended family members couldn’t say the same. Point is, I’m hardly speaking from some bubble of privilege. But absolutely none of this has anything to do with the consistent realities of American foreign policy, which is and was my point.

136

bt 09.27.12 at 5:58 am

Count me in on the YES vote for Obama team.

The Ralph Nader thing in Florida really is a test case for the outcome when 3rd parties are introduced into the American electoral system. The people who voted for Nader (in Florida) have to live with the fact the they voted FOR George Bush.

American elections are winner take all. There is no roll for the loser, unlike in many countries. In Italy (or Israel, etc), the 3rd party that holds 10% of votes can combine with the other party who has 41% and then govern in coalition. In America the first gang that hits 50.1% takes the whole thing.

In the american system, the tendency is for 2 teams – the winner and the runner-up. And the winner takes all. So 3rd parties have a tremendous handicap, they can’t get close to 50% when they are small, so they never get anywhere, except to deduct from the team that they are most similar to, which makes one of the other parties (coalition partners) lose and the truly opposing team takes it all. It is a binary system, and the easiest way to make change is through one of the 2 teams. Only when one of the teams is in collapse, like the Whigs (the GOP could be getting close), is there an opening to set up a truly new party – which if successful will coalesce into a 2-party / binary 51/49 system.

Obama may be pursuing some very unpleasant war policies. But voting for a 3rd party is no solution in America. Unless you think that Sheldon Adelson should have the president’s ear.

137

the_day 09.27.12 at 6:01 am

The timing of this is awesome, just when Mitt seems to be a goner. Yup, Obama is a moral monster, you’re a monster if you vote for him. And since when is Conor F a leftie anyway? Concern troller is trolling and all that. Not surprised Henry would fall for this though. Some people like feeling holier-than-thou.

138

the_day 09.27.12 at 6:03 am

Also, this has been done various times before. White dude telling non-white and women they are moral monsters because they don’t care about women and non-white in other countries! It makes white dudes feel morally superior.

139

bad Jim 09.27.12 at 6:32 am

To borrow an old saying, voting for a third party candidate is like pissing yourself in a dark suit. You get a warm feeling, but no one notices.

Treating your vote as a holy act in a vast moral struggle is reasonable only to the extent that you treat each of your choices the same way. If you rigorously evaluate the behavior of every company whose products you buy, rely strictly on public transportation or muscle power, never use appliances in the daytime or use only electricity you produce yourself, then it makes perfectly good sense to apply an equally strict standard to the exercise of your franchise.

Since we aren’t operating from a position of strength, we ought to prefer battles we can win, and this looks like one. Is anyone claiming that the left would be strengthened by a Romney victory? Incremental improvement has done more good in this country than heightening the contradictions over the fifty years I’ve been paying attention to public affairs.

Roosevelt advised people who wanted a policy change, “Go out there and put pressure on me!” which is not much different from what Obama said recently about change coming from outside. Our government has been manufacturing sausage for two hundred years. If we want it to make salad we need to provide a market for salad.

140

GiT 09.27.12 at 6:45 am

“If “those” means people in the affected countries and places, then this is just not true. Obama isn’t winning friends or accolades in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or wherever else because he’s killing fewer people than McCain would have, say”

I’m sure those affected would really feel happy if Romney was elected instead of Obama…

141

faustusnotes 09.27.12 at 7:20 am

I have a predictive model for dealing with this kind of situation, based on elections I have followed with some vague degree of interest. Below is a list of elections where people on both sides of politics tried to tell me that the left politician wasn’t necessarily better than the right. Left politicians are denoted L, right politicians R. Results after the dots.

1996 Oz, Keating (L) vs. Howard (R): lots of idiots got egg on their face
2000 US, Gore(L*) vs. Bush (R): history suggests the people who voted Nader didn’t get what they were hoping for
2004 Oz, Latham (L) vs. Howard (R): workchoices
2007 Oz, Rudd (L) vs. Howard (R): Rudd won, apologized to Aborigines, we sailed through the GFC.
2009 UK, Brown (L) vs. Cameron (R): the supposedly “nicer” Tories fucked the country
2010 Oz, Gillard (L) vs. Abbott (R): hung parliament, lots of left-wing projects underway

Basically, whenever anyone tells me the left and right candidates are equal, they are wrong.

What’s this? A pundit telling me the left and right candidates are equal?! Surely they will be right this time …?

142

Patrick 09.27.12 at 7:42 am

The most disingenuous comment in this whole thread is definitely the “Romney hasn’t killed anyone.” Romney hasn’t been President yet, so he hasn’t had the opportunity to order any drone-attacks. The question then is what can we expect a President Romeny to do?

Despite Romney’s general dedication to the principle of not articulating a policy agenda, I think that Romney running on the fiction that Obama is compulsively soft on foreign policy in general and Iran in particular, combined with a promise to increase defense spending is a pretty clear signal that Romney intends to continue if not escalate the blowing up of foreign brown people.

143

The Raven 09.27.12 at 8:36 am

It seems that, throughout its history, to be a US citizen is to be a party—unless one is in active resistance—to monstrosity.

The USA is having an identity crisis. One the one side we have Romney, the candidate of the crazy white wealthy old men. On the other side, Obama, the candidate of everyone else. Put like that it becomes clear that Obama is still the superior choice, however awful his policies. If everyone else still has a voice, there is a chance to improve policy. If not, not.

Put like that, Obama is still the morally superior candidate.

Friedersdorf conveniently sexism, racism, and homophobia–the terms do not even occur in this privileged white conservative’s essay. Looked at through those glasses, his preferred candidate looks very bad indeed: the “states rights” position of Gary Johnson and his “libertarian” party (perhaps all US party names are best put in scare quotes), never quite stated explicitly, would undo 150 years of progress on civil rights.

Myself, since I live in safe blue state, I plan a protest vote to the left unless the polling gets very close indeed.

144

wetcasements 09.27.12 at 9:14 am

I can’t believe anyone would fall for a known Glibertarian clutching his pearls over Obama.

Libertarians are Republicans, they just won’t admit it. And they love playing these stupid types of games.

145

rf 09.27.12 at 9:40 am

‘White dude telling non-white and women they are moral monsters because they don’t care about women and non-white in other countries! It makes white dudes feel morally superior.’

Nope, it’s someone who’s written consistently on this topic (even if it might be partly ideological posturing) telling liberal’s that their lack of concern on this is completely hypocritical. Which it is. And when American liberals fall back on lazy ‘white privilege’ non arguments to beat down one of the very few people who consistently opposes a campaign of targeted assassinations aimed at one of the poorest areas in the world from one of the richest, it shows (1) they don’t in any way give a s**t about this reality, (2) it’s time they examined their own privilege.
How many people here have at read the NYU report that set Freidersdorf of? Why this amount of hostility? The grandstanding by Loomis and the crew at LGM on this is a joke. Hollering ‘privilege’ in response to one of the few people who consistently write on this topic is.not.an.argument

146

denim 09.27.12 at 10:28 am

You are appointing godlike status to the presidential office. And worse, now it is my fault if I vote for a deceiving candidate who is actually a stealth rouge and does evil in the government’s name if elected. That violates the principle that each individual is responsible for their own works.

147

rf 09.27.12 at 11:00 am

I’m recognising greater presidential powers on foreign policy than exist on domestic (and therefore greater responsibility for the policies he has implemented) and the hypocrisy of a left who find Republicans to be, literally, evil (at the best of times) but then discover nuance and complexity when it has to apply to their own candidate. Freidersdorf’s article was primarily about the hypocricy of the left, which is quite evident.
(As an addendum, if I could vote in US presidential, I’d vote Obama– but I wouldn’t be so smug as to write my critics of as the product of white upper middle class straight male privilege)

148

Marc 09.27.12 at 11:27 am

@145: A lot of liberals fundamentally disagree on the merits of the critique. The hypocrisy charge only matters if you actually are hypocritical. For example, objecting to starting a war under false premises (Iraq) is not the same as a tactical choice, such as drones, in another war (Afghanistan). The Glenns and Connors have simply adopted a framework where they demonize people who disagree with them and distort their positions. It would be more effective for radicals to attempt to persuade liberals rather than sneering at them. Now I don’t want the radicals to succeed, so I’m OK with their decision to self-marginalize; but if I actually wanted to change something like the usage of drones I wouldn’t be adopting the tactics that the online protagonists have chosen.

149

Cranky Observer 09.27.12 at 11:42 am

= = = I’m inclined to agree with MPAVictoria. . . bad as the Pakistani drone warfare is it can at least be said that 1) the number of casualties is lower than what republicans gave us and 2) Pakistan can plausibly be said to have harbored Bin Laden. = = =

I wonder if this type of calculus will continue to apply after other entities start striking with drones inside the United States. Were an aggrieved entity to drone strike the headquarters of AEI, then strike the funerals a few days later, would the “lower number of casualties [compared to launching all-out assaults on NATO bases in Afghanistan]” be OK with us? Which trolley is on that track? Drones, even long-range drones, are getting easier to build by the day as sensor and control technology improves.

Cranky

150

Christiaan 09.27.12 at 11:42 am

This reasoning is completely wrong. The election is not a choice for or against Obama. It’s a choice between Obama and Romney. If you leave out Romney completely out of the reasoning, you don’t have a valid reasoning (no matter what the reasoning would be.) Moreover, you’re voting for a package, not a single issue, so you should take everything into account before you can make such a statement. Now if you think this single issue has a very, very, very large weight in all issues, than that should be part of the reasoning. Otherwise, again, your reasoning is incompletely and therefore meaningless.

Oh, and if you think risking another Iraq (now Iran) war waged by neocons is worth it because we’d be having more discussion by lefties, you haven’t been paying attention during the “discussions” during Bush. Moreover, it’s a well known fallacy to put the blame t the wrong place: if you blame the lefties for having too little discussion, than put the blame there, don’t blame the president for that.

So I’d argue it is perfectly moral to vote for Obama. Because I think it’s perfectly immoral to vote for Romney, for many reasons (among which is that Romney will almost certainly be worse on this one issue.) And a vote against Obama is logically (at least half) a vote for Romney.

151

Maggie 09.27.12 at 11:44 am

“Hollering privilege… is not an argument” (rf @ 145)

Well as a person lacking certain privileges that only makes me even happier that I don’t actually have to legitimize my political acts (such as voting) by winning an argument against you. Which is EXACTLY WHAT I FEAR ROMNEY/RYAN WOULD CHANGE. If you think a republic purged of the voices of people like me, who whine about privilege – ruled exclusively by white men who, free from such petty concerns, can best make objective judgments on questions of universal justice – would do better overall by the poor and brown of the world, then no, I’m probably not going to win that argument.

Now I know that is not what you said, but you are skirting incredibly close. How close may be partly in the eye of the beholder – but that’s part of the point. In a discussion where statements like “Of course we all here are straight white cis men anyway” are actually being made. (Or repeated – I couldn’t quite parse that comment because I was too busy putting my eyes back in my head.) Charity must begin at home and it’s stupid to think you’ll be able to stop a huge and fearsome military machine killing people, let alone dismantle that machine, if you can’t even keep the Fourteenth Amendment straight.To vote (where it counts) AGAINST Obama is a vote against any leftward Overton moves in the foreseeable future because if you give aid and comfort to the Republican program of Black and Hispanic disenfranchisement, they will not let you have backsies once you realize you actually need minority votes for future elections. Also note, in the present case you are relying on minorities, women, gays, etc. to keep this safely academic and avoid another Nader – by being less pure than yourselves. Which reminds me, you do leftism no favors by supposing “lefties” to be so few that they could vote against Obama with impunity.

152

awy 09.27.12 at 11:47 am

are we operating under the presumption that expansion of executive power = bad, based on the spectre of strong autocratic presidents?

153

rf 09.27.12 at 11:52 am

@ 148

Just to clear up, I am a liberal (in the US sense) not a radical. To mention the facts of a matter (such as above, vis a vis Iraq) doesn’t mean you’re marching in lockstep with Chomsky. But yeah, I agree, if you don’t think there is anything particularly wrong with the drone war, and you can argue this case, and don’t change your position to attack a Republican administration when the time comes, then you’re not a hypocrite

On the sneering, you were the first to use phrases such as ‘intellectually dishonest propagandists,’ assume that any critique of Obama was ‘just as predictable and about as useful as a stopped clock,’ even though you were wrong on the facts. And then finally, as always, we see the trump card of the American left, branding anyone who disagrees with them as living in a privileged bubble, which is used to shut down any dissent.

154

rf 09.27.12 at 12:00 pm

Maggie

I tried to choose my words carefully because I genuinely didn’t want to make light of the real discrepancy of power that exists within western societies. But I think using it in this context as Loomis et al have is pure grandstanding. I agree on your concerns about a Romney/Ryan ticket which is why, if I actually had to put up, I’d probably vote for Obama. But if there was a genuine alternative who would end the drone war, even coming from a Republican, I don’t think I would

155

mattski 09.27.12 at 12:10 pm

Some see a choice between an Obama administration and a Romney administration.

Others see an opportunity to apply a perfume called ‘Narcissism’.

156

sherparick1 09.27.12 at 12:11 pm

I guess I disagree with the premise regarding the Afghanistan/Pakistan war. War is hell, and there is nothing particularly good about it, but under the circumstances, was any imaginable President to behave with less restratin (John McCain? Hilary Clinton?).

First, Obama campaigned in 2007-08 with a promise expand and prosecute the war in Afghanistan while withdrawing from Iraq. Surprisingly, to both people on right and left, he carried out those promises (whether he was wise to do so in Afghanistan is looking more doubtful). Second, his actions are clearly legal and authorized by Congress:

“In response to the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001,
the Congress passed legislation, S.J.Res. 23, on September 14, 2001, authorizing the
President to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations,
organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the
terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations
or persons….” The President signed this legislation into law on September 18, 2001
(P.L. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001)). This report provides a legislative history of this
statute, the “Authorization for Use of Military Force” (AUMF), which, as Congress
stated in its text, constitutes the legislative authorization for the use of U.S. military
force contemplated by the War Powers Resolution. It also is the statute which the
President and his attorneys have subsequently cited as an authority for him to engage in
electronic surveillance against possible terrorists without obtaining authorization of the
special Court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, as
amended. This report will only be updated if events warrant. ” http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22357.pdf

I think there is little factual dispute that Taliban, the Pathans tribes of Northwest Pakistan, and, at the least, a segment of the Pakistan Intelligence Service have “aided and harbored” Al Qaeda, including Bin Laden and Zawharhi. Our use of armed violence against them may be reaching the point where injury done to these enemeis is outweighed by the moral degradation and lost of innocence life, but I don’t know if simple withdrawal and unilateral cessation of military action will mean an end to it. After all, that policy of neglect (malign or benign) after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 did not end well. The bottom line is that in this policy, the drone war, if not on the whole Afghanistan policy, the lethal war of Barack Obama has popular support.

As for executive action during armed conflict that kills American citizens, especially dual nationals, goes back to the Revolution. FDR handling of the two U.S. citizens involved in Operation Pastorius is the stuff of Dick Cheney’s dreams. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Pastorius

Everytime I hear this argument (and I have been hearing it in one form or another since 1968), I hit my head. “Romney can’t be any worse long term than Obama.” A couple hundred thousand dead Iranians might agree that in the long term they would also have been dead, but they might have preferred to die later. And that of course will not count the human misery within the United States that Romney/Ryan program will wreck upon the poor, the working poor, and the remainder of the middle class or the fifty year backward leap they will take on Environmental and conservation protection, little lone address AGW.).

By the way, Conor is being a complete troll here as he prefers the Romney/Ryan economic vision and looks forward to the dismantling of the welfare state.

157

Dan Kervick 09.27.12 at 12:12 pm

The Obama administration stinks for 100 different reasons; a Romney administration will also stink for 100 different reasons. I think a second Obama administration will probably stink slightly less than a Romney administration on balance, and that the Supreme Court Justices appointed by Obama will almost certainly be better than the additional Alitos that Romney will appoint. So weighing those differences against the mathematically negligible possibility that my individual vote will be impactful, I judge that voting for Obama on my way to work on November 6th will be a slightly better thing to do than voting for Romney, or not voting at all, or voting for some other candidate.

But let’s keep this in perspective. The vote I cast is a drop in the ocean and will be among the least significant things I do in November. There are many other things I will do, including politically, which will be more important. The most viable paths to progress do not lead directly through the political machinery of the two major parties, but will require a long ground game of organization and advocacy operating independently of those behemoths.

One particular thing I would like to encourage lefties to do, once we get past the ridiculous election season when nobody is paying attention to anything important, is begin a drive for the impeachment of Eric Holder. He and his Justice Department are laughably corrupt, and are clearly in the pockets of the hundreds of criminals on Wall Street who defrauded their clients out of billions of dollars.

158

Addicted 09.27.12 at 12:15 pm

Are we really too stupid to realize that this concern trolling is just part of the republican strategy? And honestly, are we really asking this question after 2000? I mean, I know people have short memories, but damn…Budh was just 4 years ago, and the supremes just elected him 12 years ago.

159

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 12:19 pm


I wonder if this type of calculus will continue to apply after other entities start striking with drones inside the United States

It would be odd indeed if hostile forces directed flying vehicles into American buildings and killed thousands of Americans- say in lower Manhattan.

160

Roger Gathman 09.27.12 at 12:20 pm

I interpret Left – perhaps idealistically – as a position that takes a systematic view of capitalism and its manifestations, and seeks to trace one time moral choices that have to do with personalities back to certain structures. I think the structure we are talking about is the lesser evil democratic structure that the united states has built itself. And I guess instead of seeing energy put into arguing, again, about the lesser evil versus the superplanetary evil of Mittens, I am putting my energy (which is all sedentary pondering energy) into the question of how it is that the U.S. is caught in an obviously archaic political system, with its incomprehensible Supreme Court and its for life judges, its incomprehensible Electoral College, its federalism, that legacy of slaveownership which allots insane legal power to the states under the excuse that this is giving power back to localities (when it actually aggrandizes the power of small regional elites), its grossly unjust legal system and the out of control Gulag its produced, its hopeless Senate and the power it allots to what are, in essence, souped up white territories, its mostly regressive tax system – s.s. and medicare and state taxes and property taxes and sales taxes that violates the whole taxation without representation thing (since the only power represented in the tax system is that of the plutocrats) and its alienated public, in which contempt for the government on all sides of the ideological divide is nearly universal. And I haven’t even mentioned the military state within a state. So I think the Left question that should be catalyzed, a bit, by another lesser evil/greater evil election, is: how did we get here? How is it that the U.S. looks more and more like the U.S.S.R – a nation burdened with an unsustainable political system? The drone war that came out of the belly of the Pentagon is, to my mind, only a spiritual cousin of the system that rams black men through the penitentiary system at a horrific rate. It looks to me like the same Other-blindness is in operation.
Among the political victims of the lesser evil/greater evil system is any discussion of these things, or any advance to solving them.

161

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 12:22 pm

—-
One particular thing I would like to encourage lefties to do, once we get past the ridiculous election season when nobody is paying attention to anything important, is begin a drive for the impeachment of Eric Holder. He and his Justice Department are laughably corrupt, and are clearly in the pockets of the hundreds of criminals on Wall Street who defrauded their clients out of billions of dollars.
—-

At last a mission for the left – protecting stock investors.

162

rf 09.27.12 at 12:25 pm

Maggie again

I guess as well, since I’m not directly affected by the domestic policies of a potential Romney ticket, and I come from a political system that does allow these type of protest votes (I know plenty of people who vote against a specific party, even though they are closest to them politically, because of a terrorist campaign they waged decades ago) I should shut up about it right about now. So I will. I guess my stance is easier from a distance and one of relative ignorance about the domestic implications.
Although I do think F-dorfs analysis of hypocricy on the left has some merit

163

Bob Savage 09.27.12 at 12:32 pm

Not voting for Obama in the face of believing he is the less onerous candidate is tantamount to self-flagelation. Whip away if you will. I don’t think the moral high ground is all that it is cracked up to be.

164

Barry 09.27.12 at 12:33 pm

SeanM @111: “It seems most likely to me that mainstream commentators would chalk it up either to traditional reasons for low turnout – like the economy, or bad campaigning – or they’d assume voters were “acting rationally” and had decided to stay home because of opportunity costs.”

No, they’d chalk it up to The American People being basically Heartland Republicans.

165

Daryl McCullough 09.27.12 at 12:38 pm

Making a choice that does nothing to make the world better, but only allows you to have a clean conscience and a sense of moral superiority is the height of selfishness. If you have a realistic plan for how a Romney Presidency can be a stepping stone toward the ultimate triumph of good over evil, go ahead and vote Romney, or a third party. If you don’t have such a plan, you’re just wanking.

166

Jeffrey Davis 09.27.12 at 12:40 pm

Bob McManus,

How did Obama move the wealth to the 1%?

167

Barry 09.27.12 at 12:40 pm

Henry (to me): “Thinking would be a fine thing. You never know, perhaps we’ll see a bit of it from you one of these days.”

Doing the old Doug Mataconis doubling down?

You posted a right-wing concern troll’s post, and got the respect that you deserve.
And what I’ve posted is more thought than you’ve posted so far.
I note that you are not answering the various criticisms of your/Conor’s argument here.

168

Dan Kervick 09.27.12 at 1:11 pm

At last a mission for the left – protecting stock investors.

No … attacking plutocracy and its power centers.

169

christian_h 09.27.12 at 1:15 pm

It’s depressing enough to see so many liberals defend the racist policies of this administration. It’s worse when this is done under the pretense of fighting “white male privilege”. Look, as I pointed out way up the thread Obama is indeed the lesser evil, and JW Mason makes another good argument why we should all prefer an Obama victory – so nothing wrong with voting for him, and I’ll be relieved when he wipes the floor with Mittens.

What is wrong is that it never remains just an act of voting. It always extends to a circling of the wagons around racist, bourgeois, imperialist policies, it always ends up with Democratic partisans ruining political movements “just until the elections are over”, it aways results in depressing and frankly disgusting arguments like those presented in this thread.

170

Henry 09.27.12 at 1:37 pm

You posted a right-wing concern troll’s post, and got the respect that you deserve.
And what I’ve posted is more thought than you’ve posted so far.
I note that you are not answering the various criticisms of your/Conor’s argument here.

It’s a question where I think there are good arguments on both sides – personally I would probably end up plumping for what christian_h says in #169. It’s also a question where there is a lot of bad casuistry, double standards and bad faith flying around. And, as per usual, you’re Exhibit A for much of this. Not all – I wouldn’t accuse you of active dishonesty, as you’ve accused me in the comments threads of another blog. But that’s because I don’t think you’re capable of the necessary level of self-awareness to actively lie about something like this.

171

Niall McAuley 09.27.12 at 1:41 pm

christian_h: if you agree think that we should all favour an Obama victory, it’s odd that you think what’s wrong is all the folks who agree with you, and not Friedersdorf, the guy who is actully saying that you’re wrong.

Henry’s position (Personally, I’m on the fence, if only because the current Republican party is so extraordinarily horrible.) is a bit weird too, since the extraordinary horriblicity of the Republican Party is the sole driver of the “lesser of two evils” argument.

172

Earwig 09.27.12 at 1:42 pm

This has lain unaddressed — perhaps out of desire not to feed, but…

“the iraq sanctions killed 100,000 or hatever iraqui babies, which seems, afaik, to be false”

Wrong. It’s not false. The (Clinton-enforced) sanctions regime did indeed lead directly to those deaths.

173

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 1:43 pm

“, it always ends up with Democratic partisans ruining political movements “just until the elections are over”, “

How does that work? People disagreeing with the moral preening of Gary Johnson supporters somehow ruins your political movement?

174

Paul Papanek 09.27.12 at 1:46 pm

Wonderfully provocative question, and good thread above.

The presidential election remains a binary choice, and Romney is much the worse choice. But in the broader electoral world, we have more choices. Two years ago, many of my friends and I saw Obama’s failings in civil liberties and other areas, and stopped sending him money or working on his campaign, choosing instead to devote our time and money to progressive congressional candidates, who might flank Obama from the left.

That’s been my moral alternative. I suspect many others have taken this path, because a number of progressive Senate candidates have recently surged, buoyed by broad national support.

Then, we will move on to 2016, chastened by our mixed experience with Mr. Obama.

175

DaveL 09.27.12 at 1:48 pm

I also dislike all the policies listed above, and dislike many of Romney’s proposed policies as well. However, I find it interesting that there is a comment consensus that Obama will not attack Iran to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons. There are two possibilities here:

1. It’s wishful thinking. Obama has been consistently saying the US won’t permit Iran to have nuclear weapons. He has been unspecific (as is appropriate, I think) about what we would do to prevent that happening. If Iran fails to yield to sanctions and diplomacy, the only alternative is weaponry. Obama has shown no reluctance to use weapons against our enemies, as is eloquently stated above.

I think it’s easy for his supporters to think, “Wow, I think attacking Iran would really suck, and if he actually did that I couldn’t support him, so he must be lying.” This is projection, and slides into the next possibility:

2. He’s lying. He will permit Iran get nuclear weapons. This would be a lie of the first magnitude, if so. The fallout from that would be incredible.

(I am not addressing the possibility that Iran not trying to get nuclear weapons, as this is supposed to be a reality-based discussion.)

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rea 09.27.12 at 1:48 pm

Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens.

I wish people arguing agasint the drone war would address the actual drone war and not the one in their heads. No, the administration does not claim the power to shoot political opponents on the streets of New York. The rational for the program is that the targets are supposedly (1) in arms against the US, and (2) in a place where use of judicial process to arrest and try them won’t work–essentially, in a war zone. Now, you can certainly argue about application of those principles to particular facts. But unless you think that Lincoln murdered Albert Sidney Johnston, the principles themselves seem sound and consistent with both the Constitution and the laws of war.

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Barry 09.27.12 at 1:51 pm

Henry: “And, as per usual, you’re Exhibit A for much of this. Not all – I wouldn’t accuse you of active dishonesty, as you’ve accused me in the comments threads of another blog. But that’s because I don’t think you’re capable of the necessary level of self-awareness to actively lie about something like this.”

Note – I posted that accusation with the belief that you would see it, and after attempts to comment here had failed (and after checking my e-mail to see if you had sent me a notice banning me from this thread, or the blog). My error on the second.

So how about this – respond to the arguments of other here. I keep feeling that you could casually tell me to STFU in a single comment, and then reply to others, if you felt like it. But you’ve focused more time and words on me than I’d have expected. I won’t make comments on this, beyond asking you to respond to others.

So have at it.

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christian_h 09.27.12 at 1:51 pm

Niall, sorry but that makes no sense at all. There is more to politics than who wins this election – that may be the biggest difference between me and some (not all) of the Obama defenders here. I’ve much more in common politically with a leftist who will not vote for Obama but has principled anti-racist politics than with a liberal who could care less about racism when he or she believes it doesn’t affect them (wrongly, I might add – racism in the imperial core has always been inspired by the racism necessary to justify imperialism in the first place).

I’d add that I did not actually express any opinion about what Conor wrote – did I? Quote please. Since I do not believe in making even tactical alliances with the political right, Counterpunch-style, you probably won’t find him and me in one room except by accident.

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christian_h 09.27.12 at 1:55 pm

rootless_e if you ever manage to actually make an argument instead of a drive-by sneer, I might engage. You obviously have never been involved in any actual political organizing or you wouldn’t have to ask.

DaveL: I agree Obama will attack Iran – which of course is not actually trying to build nuclear arms, but I suppose reality is malleable…

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christian_h 09.27.12 at 1:59 pm

rea, you have no idea what power the administration claims since they won’t actually tell you. You are, however, supporting the administration so you invent a rationale that at least appears defensible at first glance.

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rootless_e 09.27.12 at 2:00 pm

Christain_h – i asked a very simple question. Can you answer it?

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Dan Kervick 09.27.12 at 2:04 pm

I think I understand what christian-h is talking about, because I have seen the same thing. It’s one thing to accept that Obama is the lesser evil, but its another thing to allow one’s thinking to be colonized by the rationalizations that are manufactured incessantly by the functionaries of an evil system.

My feeling is that a lot of liberals have an exaggerated view of their own intellectual independence, and are insufficiently vigilant about their own susceptibility to partisan boosterism, polemical opportunism and the wearing down of moral resistance that all come from affective ties to a campaign and political opportunism. It’s emotionally draining and to be isolated from both of the two major national political teams, and a lot of people seem to give up, cave emotionally and lose their intellectual integrity and moral bearings.

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christian_h 09.27.12 at 2:10 pm

One example: the movement for immigrant rights was taken over by Democratic party stooges (who have much more money and organizational clout than actual grassroots organizers) who tried to transform it into a vehicle to elect Democrats to pass some feckless “immigration reform”. The more radical forces that started the movement have been pushed out (for this reason we now have two May Day marches every year in L.A. both with just enough people to be embarrassing, as the aying goes). As a result, the movement has been all but destroyed.

Another: the inspiring explosion of labor activism in Wisconsin was transformed by union bureaucrats into a campaign to elect an anti-labor Democrat governor; result: failure, and the movement was at least severely weakened and lost its momentum.

There are other examples, and the mechanism is always the same: the organizational and financial muscle of Democratic-party aligned organizations is brought to bear to co-opt a movement into an electoral vehicle; once this leads to a sufficient weakening of it, it is either transformed into a fund-raising machine or quietly buried. Either way, it’s dead.

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rootless_e 09.27.12 at 2:20 pm

Sounds like your complaint is that you are not able to convince people to work on your strategy.

If you cant stand up to co-option, how will you stand up to opposition?

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christian_h 09.27.12 at 2:22 pm

A less clear-cut example is the anti-war movement. Before the 2004 election, major pressure was brought to bear inside UfPJ to suspend anti-war organizing until after the elections, or if a demo was organized, to fill the platform with Democratic party elected officials who claimed to be (and quite possibly were) opposed to the Iraq war while PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE avoid anything “provocative” like Palestinian flags, or overt expressions of more generalized anti-imperialism. Still, as I said, less clear-cut since in the end we only have ourselves to blame for affording so much weight in the movement to neo-stalinist hacks;and yet the fact that the current wars are supported by both parties and so many liberals won’t go against “their” president (as demonstrated in this thread) makes a vibrant movement impossible even if we on the radical left had the best and cleanest politics.

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Jeffrey Davis 09.27.12 at 2:22 pm

I don’t have a grand intellectual grounding for my liberal feelings. (Is “no doctrine” a doctrine?) Amelioration is the best we ever can do, I think. There has never been a human election that involved voting for Gabriel over Lucifer, and there never will be. I would hope that the result of the defeat of Al Gore in 2000 would be fresh enough in people’s minds that we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Again and again and again.

I’ve often felt that Obama is basically a rear guard Eisenhower Republican in disguise. That he’s there with the blessings of the Real Elite to do the kinds of things they realize must be done but don’t want to be associated with in public. A social welfare version of Nixon in China. As a result, we get the scantest minimum of what we want and what’s needed. Sure, I want an Actual Liberal to run. If you’re out there, run in 2016 and I’ll send you some dough and vote for you. But since the alternative to the scantest minimum is the collapse of sanity, I’ll accept the scantest minimum until the next time. I’ll always accept that if that’s the choice. (Maybe that’s what Desmond was doing down in the bunker in Lost.)

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rootless_e 09.27.12 at 2:28 pm

But, in fact, as a strong supporter of President Obama, I would be very happy to see a powerful anti-war movement that would challenge our military folly in the middle east. I don’t see how waving palestinian flags would build popular support for such a movement, though. Similarly, dubious legalistic arguments about drones don’t seem to have much of a potential for attracting popular support.

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Spring Texan 09.27.12 at 2:32 pm

I think there are points both ways if you live in a swing state. If you don’t, I don’t have a clue why you would vote for Obama instead of pulling the lever for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson — and yes it seems immoral to me.

From talking to people, I think voting for Obama is based on the fantasy that even though they are NOT in a swing state, voting might still somehow, some way, make a difference to his election. This is I guess the juice that runs democracy and it’s sort of Kantian (“if I were the only voter and everyone else did the same thing . . . “), but I don’t get it. I mean, I really don’t get it. Yes, to me it seems immoral to vote for Obama, and I’ll be voting for Stein.

Plus, emotionally, I can’t possibly vote for Obama both because of drone warfare in Pakistan and betrayal of human rights, and because he deliberately misled so many including me in the last election. He said he was for immigrants, then deported more of them than Bush did, etc. etc. Had a huge phony mortgage relief program that just got people into trouble. Won’t prosecute Jon Corzine or any other banking criminals.

I personally wouldn’t vote for him even if I did live in a swing state, but I do understand it and I think he’ll be less awful than Romney but both are horrible. However, if you don’t live in a swing state and therefore your vote actually makes no difference to deciding the winner, for God’s sake face up to that and don’t vote for him!!!!

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rea 09.27.12 at 2:34 pm

rea, you have no idea what power the administration claims since they won’t actually tell you.

By that rationale, you can argue that the Obama Administration claims that the president has power to sprout wings and fly to Jupiter.

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christian_h 09.27.12 at 2:35 pm

rootless_e: huh? What’s that supposed to be some kind of stupid gotcha? Yes, those movements have not resisted co-optation. The reason they haven’t is that too many people fall into the trap many people here fall into, and the liberals undermining them brought too many resources to bear. The solution is for more people to clarify their political stances and get over the tired electoralism they are trapped in, and to work in their union and organizations to overcome the slavish adherence to the reactionary party line – it’s not like this hasn’t been done before.

As a very recent example, the CTU struck despite the fact that the Democratic party ad the national AFT leadership were obviously very unhapy with them. How did they manage? By patiently building their position inside the union; by turning union resources towards organizing within the union (so a strike, once called, was very solid) and reaching out on the issues outside the union (so the strike, once called, had public support). They didn’t use all their resources on electing Democrats (like all too many unions do) woh then only stab them in the back. I guess it helped that the union buster they were going against was a Democrat in the first place.

According to you, the rank and file members who took the union leadership from the old guard should simply have laid down and rolled over after not succeeding the first time. Bizarre.

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Nick T 09.27.12 at 2:41 pm

I’m also not at all happy with Obama but despite all the reasoning and voting your conscience retoric, I came to the conclusion years ago that we don’t have the luxury to vote our conscience anymore for a President – – – it was the “voting my conscience” folks, voting for Nader – that got us Dubya. This nation cannot afford to let that happen again. Vote your conscience in local/state elections, but not for electing a President… there’s just too much at stake for all of us. It’s really unfortunate but (like it or not) the President will be either a Democrat or a republican. Vote for a third party candidate and you deprive the least bad candidate of your vote, thus helping the worst candidate.

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Niall McAuley 09.27.12 at 2:42 pm

christian_h: I’m sorry, I thought you were addressing the thread title: is it moral for lefties to vote for Obama? Friedersdorf says no. Henry is on the fence.

It seemed to me that you were saying, As a leftie, yes, but the real problem is all those lefties who say yes!, which is a bit confusing.

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rootless_e 09.27.12 at 2:42 pm

No that’s not according to me. According to me, it takes a combination of electoral and non-electoral strategies. The UAW beat Ford by strong militant action – but only after Norris-Laguardia and Wagner Act and a Democratic Administration made it more difficult to just slaughter strikers.

The CTU won by solidarity and pressure, but also because it helped elect supportive aldermen and because Emanuel was not willing to destroy the school system to win the battle. The solidarity and militancy of PATCO didn’t help them

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christian_h 09.27.12 at 2:42 pm

rea (189) sorry, but that don’t fly. Obama has – by his actions – asserted the right to decide executively to have US citizens killed. He refuses to circumscribe this assertion of his presidential prerogative in any way. This means he of course asserts the right to have you shot down on the sidewalk in NYC. I get that for some weird reason you trust Obama to only really kill bad guys, and I think it’s unlikely he’d just have people randomly gunned down, but the right asserted is not thus restricted.

rootless_e (187): For those people blown to bits on your beloved president’s orders the argument isn’t “legalistic” at all – it’s life and death. But hey, they are brutes anyway and we all know those should be exterminated, right?

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christian_h 09.27.12 at 2:45 pm

rootless_e 192: ok, fair enough. And with that I’m out – already way too many comments of mine here…

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piglet 09.27.12 at 3:17 pm

Deleted comment from banned commenter. Piglet – one more attempt to evade the ban on commenting in my threads, and I’ll be looking for a sitewide ban. Consider this your final warning.

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Consumatopia 09.27.12 at 3:52 pm

I know it distracts from the more interesting philosophy argument, but Gary Johnson doesn’t actually oppose drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

Johnson would also leave abortion to the states, health care to the insurance companies, and the climate to the polluters. Friedersdorf may approve of all this, but he ought to understand that some of us have serious “deal-breakers” of our own with Johnson.

I don’t think Conor’s points are actually that strong. On the first point, some lefties probably outright agree with Obama that drone strikes on terrorists in Pakistan are okay. This is no hypocrisy on their part–Obama campaigned on attacking Pakistan back in 2008.

And since we’ve established a bipartisan (well, including Gary Johnson, tri-partisan) consensus that extra-judicial killing in war is acceptable, whether or not that applies to American citizens as well as any other military target is a matter of precedent and legal procedure, not of fundamental morality. I think this precedent makes a mockery of the Fifth Amendment. But it’s not a new precedent–see Ex parte Quirin.

I think that’s where I most part ways with Conor (and probably Glenn Greenwald as well). They speak as if there were some just and decent system operating before 9/11, and all we have to do is restore a consensus that we had before Bush and Obama and everything will be just fine. But it’s not that Obama has broken or changed the law (much), it’s that the Long War has revealed huge, gaping loopholes that have always been there. The military has always been able to kill people during a war without trial. So we have a right to a trial except when we’re at war. If war is only an occasional thing, that might be good enough. Now that war is permanent, due process is meaningless–you’re due whatever process the executive says you’re due.

Those of us who think meaningful due process rights were a good thing are stuck: we can’t just roll back the clock to a system we liked better as the system has the same loopholes it always had. We have to create a new system. And I don’t think we’ve even agreed amongst ourselves what that new system should be. The idea of keeping a secret list of people to kill, with American citizens on that list, is absurd. What exactly do we insist be done instead? That the list be made public? The entire list or just U.S. citizens? That people be able to appeal their status as military targets (without having to show up in the court)? Should we have some kind of court that decides exactly which places normal judicial process doesn’t apply? Or should normal judicial process always apply, making every war we’ve ever fought illegal?

The problem that we defenders of civil liberties have is that we think of ourselves as defenders–we don’t build a case for the rights we insist on in their own terms, we just shout “Founding Fathers! Geneva Convention!” and expect that to do our work for us. If we want due process, we can’t just defend it–we have to create it–we have to build new institutions, propose new laws and treaties.

But in the current climate, and perhaps for most of the 20th century, civil libertarians have avoided opening up new discussions about civil liberties because we suspect that we would lose–that we wouldn’t be able to convince people to respect due process in its own terms rather than as a matter of tradition and precedent. You can see this for example in torture–even on an issue where Obama held the same position (he never promised to prosecute Bush torturers), popular opinion has moved towards the Cheney position.

So the status quo isn’t acceptable, the status quo ante was nearly as bad, and there’s a strong likelihood that drawing political attention to this area would result in even worse policies. That’s why due process isn’t going to be a concern of mine in this election–for now, I’ve basically given up. Maybe someday in the future there will be some serious abuse that will turn public opinion around. Or maybe there will be a change in the international balance of power and other countries will be in a position to pressure America to comply with new rules.

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rea 09.27.12 at 4:26 pm

rea (189) sorry, but that don’t fly. Obama has – by his actions – asserted the right to decide executively to have US citizens killed. He refuses to circumscribe this assertion of his presidential prerogative in any way. This means he of course asserts the right to have you shot down on the sidewalk in NYC.

Well, no, it doesn’t mean that. Tautologically, what he claims to have the power to do is what he has asserted that he had the power to do. You can also argue quite reasonably that if he does something, he implicitly is claiming that he has the power to do that thing. But you’re giving an example of something he has not done, and has not asserted that he has the power to do, and telling us that Obama “claims” he has the power to do it. Frankly, that’s nonsense.

And of course, Obama is not doing this in a vacuum. There is a body of precedent on this issue dating back to the civil war. Obama seems to have been fairly careful to stay within what that precedent permits. You can shoot the Confederate general issuing orders in Tennessee or Georgia, but not the Copperhead congressman giving a speach in Indiana. Similary, you can shoot al-Awlaki riding in a car full of armed guerrillas in the hills of Yemen, but you can’t shoot him walking down the street in New York.

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rea 09.27.12 at 4:39 pm

I should add, too, that the US citizen/foriegner distinction in this context is specious (and rightfully so). Due process rights cover “persons,” not “citizens.” The government has no more power to kill noncitizens than it does citizens.

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Barry 09.27.12 at 4:50 pm

From Alternet (http://www.alternet.org/print/election-2012/2012-elections-have-little-do-obamas-record-which-why-we-are-voting-him):
“The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama’s Record … Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him”

Three key paragraphs: “A large segment of what we will call the ‘progressive forces’ in US politics approach US elections generally, and Presidential elections in particular, as if: (1) we have more power on the ground than we actually possess, and (2) the elections are about expressing our political outrage at the system. Both get us off on the wrong foot.

The US electoral system is among the most undemocratic on the planet. Constructed in a manner so as to guarantee an ongoing dominance of a two party duopoly, the US electoral universe largely aims at reducing so-called legitimate discussion to certain restricted parameters acceptable to the ruling circles of the country. Almost all progressive measures, such as Medicare for All or Full Employment, are simply declared ‘off the table.’ In that sense there is no surprise that the Democratic and Republican parties are both parties of the ruling circles, even though they are quite distinct within that sphere.

The nature of the US electoral system–and specifically the ballot restrictions and ‘winner-take-all’ rules within it–encourages or pressures various class fractions and demographic constituency groups to establish elite-dominated electoral coalitions. The Democratic and Republican parties are, in effect, electoral coalitions or party-blocs of this sort, unrecognizable in most of the known universe as political parties united around a program and a degree of discipline to be accountable to it. We may want and fight for another kind of system, but it would be foolish to develop strategy and tactics not based on the one we actually have.”

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rootless_e 09.27.12 at 4:50 pm

Thanks Rea. It’s interesting how few Civil Libertarians bother to read the text of the 5th Amendment while pushing a legalistic and cramped view of the Constitution. I keep pointing out that General Grant ordered the deaths of tens of thousands of US Citizens without as much as a court hearing – and that was perfectly Constitutional.

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Barry 09.27.12 at 5:00 pm

From the Evul Librul Cellout Krugthulu (http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/27/not-the-election-they-were-expecting/?smid=tw-NytimesKrugman&seid=auto):

“Not The Election They Were Expecting”

Key quote (bolding mine): “How did that happen? Partly it’s because this has become such an ideological election — much more so than 2008. The GOP has made it clear that it has a very different vision of what America should be than that of Democrats, and Democrats have rallied around their cause. “

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Barry 09.27.12 at 5:03 pm

Consumatopia 09.27.12 at 3:52 pm

” I know it distracts from the more interesting philosophy argument, but Gary Johnson doesn’t actually oppose drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. “

This actually surprises me a little bit, but then again I’m not recommending him (and therefore paying attention to him and knowing his positions), like, oh – Conor Friedersdorf.

Why, it’s almost as if Conor was a right-winger concern trolling liberals.

But I hear it said that Conor is an honorable man.

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rootless_e 09.27.12 at 5:03 pm

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Consumatopia 09.27.12 at 5:22 pm

@rootless_e, 201, it’s true, there have always been gaping holes in the Constitution that you could fit basically any evil through, as long as you could politically get away with it. If the military decides you’re a target and also decides that you’re on a battlefield, you can’t appeal either of those decisions. (Maybe your next of kin can sue after the fact?) It’s only now that war is permanent, with the enemies lacking uniforms and the battlefield defined as the entire globe that this is becoming obvious to people.

@Barry, 203, to be fair, Gary Johnson certainly has more dovish policy positions than Obama, and he’s at least skeptical of the efficacy of drone strikes even if he would “leave all options on the table”. And if you’re familiar with Conor Friedersdorf’s work, he really does put a great deal of energy into criticizing conservatives. I don’t doubt his sincerity in supporting Johnson, but he’s a made a mistake in applying the logic of “deal-breakers” to it–technically, Johnson has broken the deal.

But, yeah, there is a bit of unreality to this argument. Conor is a right-leaning libertarian voting for the Libertarian. LGM are Democrats voting for the Democrat. Conor strongly objects to drone attacks. My impression has been that folks at LGM are largely okay with them. The higher-level argument about “purity” and “deal-breakers” and “lesser-evils” seems superfluous–Conor doesn’t necessarily support Obama over Romney, while LGM would almost certainly support Obama over Johnson even if Romney weren’t a factor.

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PatrickfromIowa 09.27.12 at 5:25 pm

You know what? It pains me to admit it, but I believe that a lot of people, American and Vietnamese, would be alive or less damaged if Humphrey had won in 1968.

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Ford Prefect 09.27.12 at 5:38 pm

Bingo @169:

What is wrong is that it never remains just an act of voting. It always extends to a circling of the wagons around racist, bourgeois, imperialist policies, it always ends up with Democratic partisans ruining political movements “just until the elections are over”, it aways results in depressing and frankly disgusting arguments like those presented in this thread.

Aside from the bevy of logical and factual errors Obama’s supporters keep repeating–which is disappointing coming from a thread of otherwise well educated people–it’s the policies that matter and the overt corruption behind our current policy regime.

Since 2008, African-American families have lost 50% of their net worth, thanks to a policy regime that enabled the outright looting that’s taken place under Obama’s (and Romney’s) biggest supporters. Clearly, this is not an issue for the “privileged white people” of the “liberal” stripe. As I see it, the real problem with prominent liberals is their privilege and their ability to pretend they care about anything outside their precious little worlds. (Sorry to be insulting, but the disdain coming from faux-leftists these is an exercise in Authoritarianism I can’t abide.)

While its true Mitt would be arguably worse, it’s not true he’d be that much worse, since we’ve already fallen into the role of an empire bent on collapse. While Obama can destroy Social Security to Liberal applause, Mittens would face actual resistance from those very same Liberals. And no, Obama’s economic program is barely any better than Mitt’s: both involve massive internal destruction of large swaths of the polity.

As to the factual errors, I’ll just stick to our various wars. We are in fact engaged in warfare in more countries now than when Obama took office. Add in the following to the list: Yemen, Northern Kenya, Somalia, Mali and Libya (O is ramping up the already existing drone campaign there). Let’s also add in NDAA 2012, which openly declares the entire planet, including the entire US, a “battlefield”, which makes everyone a potential “enemy of the state.” It’s also true POTUS demanded that language be placed in the bill he gleefully signed.

I personally don’t much care who anyone votes for or against. But it would help if people were more honest about what they are putting their stamp of approval on. It’s all that and much, much more. To me, that’s the real issue, especially since Mitt has approximately ZERO chance of winning. Romney’s campaign is the worst I’ve seen since Dukakis and it’s probably even worse than that.

Speaking as one who is not privileged, it’s becoming much easier to see how “privilege” is key in understanding people’s motivations in all this. Feeling safe makes it very easy to be morally or ethically malleable, since there really isn’t much cost involved: they’ll probably be okay, no matter how bad things get for others. But for people whose backs are already up against the wall, there’s precious little comfort in the musings of people who clearly don’t seem to care very much about actual outcomes.

Perhaps it is lack of concern for the unprivileged that gives the lie to “liberal” pearl-clutching over a Republican whose own party is abandoning him in deference to getting the WH in 2016. Why should they care about Mittens when 1) Obama will give them 90% of what they want anyway and 2), they get the WH back in four years and can finally take advantage of all the favors Obama is doing for them now (NDAA, criminal bankers running amok, etc.)?

There really isn’t any good solution here. Some of us will be made to suffer greatly regardless of who wins. Knowing this, I’ll heed Debs’ and say, “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it, than vote for something I don’t want and get it.” It may be an act of futility, but living in a safe Blue state, I’d rather register my complaint than join the column of authoritarians whose very principles seem to change, depending on who is in office.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the discourse this election cycle is the fact that hardly anyone is talking about what happens next, after everything that’s being done now comes to fruition. I’m guessing that we can just revert to 2004 when Jeb becomes Emperor in 2016. Or something like that. That will be fun, since we can all start getting along once more. Then we can talk about mass poverty as if it really matters!

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Barry 09.27.12 at 6:50 pm

“Knowing this, I’ll heed Debs’ and say, “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it, than vote for something I don’t want and get it.” “

That comment he made isn’t very smart.

“It may be an act of futility, but living in a safe Blue state, I’d rather register my complaint than join the column of authoritarians whose very principles seem to change, depending on who is in office.”

If you’re living in a safe Blue state, vote whatever at the top of the ticket.

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Gepap 09.27.12 at 7:34 pm

Dr. Stein and ex-Governor Johnson stand zero chance of being elected. The simple truth is that whether Obama or Romney wins on november 6, there will still be a drone campaign being carried out by the US in the Northwest territories of Pakistan, condoned and funded by Congress, executed by the Petangon and the intelligence agencies, and allowed by the Islamabad government.

The vast majority of Americans either do not care or support this program and as long as that is the case, this program will continue. basing one’s vote on this program might be morally upstanding but has no consequence whatsoever. I personally can’t understand single issue voters, be it this issue or abortion, or anything else. There are many things going on in the world and in the country.

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piglet 09.27.12 at 9:14 pm

Henry Farrell, you are the one who is abusing and violating the rules of the site. Go ahead and propose a ban to your fellow bloggers (assuming there is some sort of governance by committee, although this may be too much to assume). Go ahead, ask everybody to agree with a ban on comments describing the Republican party as “dangerously extremist” (with which most posters on this site are certain to agree but it can’t be spoken aloud as long as your pathetic full-of-yourselfness is in charge here). Tell them that the same commenter has in the past criticized your blogging as mediocre and poorly written (and – shock – criticized at least one other blogger similarly). That will be sure convince them that the harshest measures of party discipline are justified. The community will love it. But you really should make it a show trial. Secret committee proceedings are not nearly as uplifting.

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LFC 09.27.12 at 9:41 pm

Re some discussion upthread about “concern trolling”:

“Concern trolling” is close to a nonsense phrase AFAIC, and this stuff about one shouldn’t post something by a “right wing concern troll” — I don’t get that.

I don’t read Conor Friedersdorf. I rarely read any of The Atlantic bloggers — on rare occasion I might read Fallows. But if Friedersdorf’s description of the drone war is reasonably accurate, there is no reason not to quote it. I think Friedersdorf’s conclusion in his post is wrong. I believe it is defensible to vote for someone, in this case Obama, even if some of his policies are immoral — it depends on the situation. But the notion that you can’t quote someone b/c he is a “concern troll” — I don’t get that. Are those saying this contending he doesn’t actually believe what he’s written?

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ezra abrams 09.27.12 at 9:48 pm

Re Gepap @209
you are right that this is driven, to some extent, by what a majority of voters thinks

Re Fordperfect at 203, if you can tell me how a Debs eqivalent vote today *helps*, please do: I don’t see any practical good coming out of voting for , say, J Stein.

The question is not, which is the best choice {obama/not voting; obama/3rd party; obama/romney} – there are no good choices and different people will disagree and it is important to be civil.

and it is really hard to be civil when obama is killing kids with drones, and eager to sign NDAA 2012, etc. These are not easy things.

The question is, how do liberals and progressives pursuade their fellow Amerians that drones and torture are wrong ?

I don’t know the answer to that one, but I don’t see how electing romney (or voting for G Johnson, which is the same thing) helps.

The only logical argument here is that a), obama has , already, actually, done bad thing X (take your pick) and,
b) since Romney hasn’t yet done them, he is better.
And that isn’t a bad argument.

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John in VA 09.27.12 at 10:20 pm

I’m calling shenanigans on Bruce Wilder’s comments re: Social Security.

Bruce Wilder 09.26.12 at 9:01 pm @19
“Don’t tell me he doesn’t want to steal Social Security or extend the Bush tax cuts, when that’s what he’s trying to do.”

Bruce Wilder 09.27.12 at 12:46 am @89
“… this Democratic President wants to cut Social Security.”

When Bruce Wilder refers to the President “wanting” to “steal” or “cut” Social Security, he appears to be referring to the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission recommendation to reduce the annual cost of living adjustment by 0.3% and to phase in higher retirement age for Social Security to age 69.

The Bowles-Simpson deficit plan has about zero chance of being approved as it. Perhaps Bruce Wilder could explain to us how not voting for President Obama and voting for Mitt Romney will make a difference in the Bowles-Simpson plan being approved? I don’t hear a lot of enthusiasm from either party for the plan. Voting for Romney certainly will not protect Social Security’s COLA.

And when you claim that Obama wants to “steal” Social Security, I suspect that you’re just a partisan hack for the Republicans or a “leftist” dupe of the Republicans — take your pick.

Also, a hearty round of applause for Daryl McCullough’s comment at 09.27.12 12:38 pm @165
“Making a choice that does nothing to make the world better, but only allows you to have a clean conscience and a sense of moral superiority is the height of selfishness. If you have a realistic plan for how a Romney Presidency can be a stepping stone toward the ultimate triumph of good over evil, go ahead and vote Romney, or a third party. If you don’t have such a plan, you’re just wanking.”

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Ben 09.27.12 at 11:20 pm

Minor correction: It was Abraham, not Lot, who got God to agree to spare Sodom if 10 (down from 50) righteous people could be found. As it turned out, this number couldn’t be met and the city was destroyed with Lot and his family escaping to safety.

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Ford Prefect 09.27.12 at 11:24 pm

ezra:

How does it help? In practical terms, that’s doubtful. But in personal terms, at least I’m not legitimizing war crimes, extractive economic policies, socio-economic destruction of the lower orders and official corruption. There may be no practical good, except that if enough people were to vote that way, it might open up more possibilities in the future by legitimizing third party options. It’s a lark, I know.

The question is, how do liberals and progressives pursuade their fellow Amerians that drones and torture are wrong ?

It’s a great question, but I don’t think there can possibly be a good answer if “liberals” and “progressives” are willing enablers to war crimes. Liberals simply don’t have any credibility when they support people who commit these crimes. I’m not trying to be “purist” or absolutist in any way. I’d settle for “good enough,” but that threshold disappeared years ago.

As for the logic of “b)” his not having done them doesn’t make him better. Or worse. But liberals might oppose him if he were in office, where they are utterly unwilling to resist the very same policy being carried out by a Democrat. They opposed Bush, but not Obama, even though he merely expanded on Bush’s policies, for the most part.

In the recent WaPo poll, 73% of people who self-ID as “liberal” support BO’s drone campaign. So aside for the distinct minority for whom said campaign is reprehensible, the first argument is with liberals themselves. I don’t know if that argument can be won at this point.

Perhaps they might find a conscience if a Republican were doing it. That’s not clear to me either. What I do know is where my own limits are and I’m quite certain I’m not unique. So I can try to argue from my own POV, my own conscience and the fact these policies are not doing anyone outside the arms industry (and their paid servants in government) any good at all. Recent events in MENA seem to bear out the notion of blowback. I’ve seen precious little discussion of that. Instead, partisans are trying to use it to attack/defend certain people without any connection to reality and the media frames it in almost wholly islamophobic terms. At this point, the liberal defenses of Obama’s policies are just are malignant as the reactionary claims to Obama’s “failures.” Yes, he has failed and will continue doing so, but the reactionaries claim BO’s failures are due to his lack of genocidal impulse. The liberals, of course, blame Republicans, no matter what.

It’s not just that Obama–and by extension Democrats in general–have done a bad thing. It’s that 90% of what they do is “bad,” based in a despicable, dystopian ideology known as Neo-Liberalism that leads nowhere but to much greater pain down the road for most people. The only real argument in favor of Democrats is FEAR of the Other.

But Fear Of The Republican is not a coherent argument in favor of war crimes or those currently committing them. Nor is a good argument to support a party that routinely spits in the face of its electoral base by making damn sure the economy does more harm than good for most people. As long as people keep sucking all this up with gusto, there simply will be no positive change.

So the first thing, perhaps, is to simply say, “No, I will not legitimize your dystopian ideas or your corruption.” One has to start somewhere and simply saying NO would be a start. In my own view, my values and principles are almost completely opposed to what my own party has been doing these last four years. Not being a RW Authoritarian Follower, I simply cannot support those people any longer.

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Substance McGravitas 09.27.12 at 11:28 pm

But Fear Of The Republican is not a coherent argument in favor of war crimes or those currently committing them.

?

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Ford Prefect 09.28.12 at 12:28 am

@Substance: Yep. One crappy sentence.

What I meant to say was the main Democratic Party argument seems to be, “Sure, we suck, but at least we’re not like those totally scary Republicans.” Tis the very basis of Lesser Evilism. It’s also largely untrue.

The lesser evil claim just doesn’t wash any more, when both parties have largely reached parity in that department.

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Syzygial Seesaw 09.28.12 at 1:16 am

There are paid right-wing hacks whose job it is to use fallacious argunents to do whatever they can to sow doubt and division among progressives. Obama disappointed me greatly, as he is more centrist than I had hoped. But the world we will inherit if Romney becomes president, let alone with Ryan a heartbeat away from that power, will be unrecognizable compared to what we have with Obama. So we progressives thought that Obama would take us further than he actually did. Please consider that the GOP has done everything they could possibly do–legal and otherwise–to take the right to vote away from as many college students and other democratic-leaning constituencies. So an all-or-nothing moral compass that would lead to a protest vote against Obama, while admirable in theory, is existentially a vote FOR Romney/Ryan! As we say in these parts, you’re either as dumb as a box of rocks, or you REALLY are for Romney/Ryan–and all they stand for.

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nvalvo 09.28.12 at 3:06 am

I wrote about closely related issues on my weblog today, coincidentally. My take: we’ve entered a situation with what, for the lack of a better term, I’ll call the GWOT akin to California’s disastrous situation where the Governor vetoes the proposals of parole boards. If some parolee commits a serious crime, the electoral ramifications for the Governor are devastating: s/he is therefore overpoweringly incentivized to not parole anyone; CA governors have, indeed, paroled very few. There are structural impediments to getting these decisions right.

Executive branch control over, e.g. drone strikes are analogous. If some suspected terrorist goes on to *actually* hijack a plane (or whatever) the electoral ramifications could be very serious for the president, whoever is in that role. That is an extremely strong incentive to not let that happen at any cost — and that puts us in this position. Those decisions need to be taken out of the hands of the executive branch, but I don’t see much chance of that happening in the current climate.

More fundamentally, though, I feel that a vote should not be seen as an expression of one’s personal political beliefs; you shouldn’t enter the booth with the primary goal of not getting any icky immorality on you. That’s the beautiful soul speaking, and we all know what Hegel says about that.

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nvalvo 09.28.12 at 3:06 am

I wrote about closely related issues on my weblog today, coincidentally. My take: we’ve entered a situation with what, for the lack of a better term, I’ll call the GWOT akin to California’s disastrous situation where the Governor vetoes the proposals of parole boards. If some parolee commits a serious crime, the electoral ramifications for the Governor are devastating: s/he is therefore overpoweringly incentivized to not parole anyone; CA governors have, indeed, paroled very few. There are structural impediments to getting these decisions right.

Executive branch control over, e.g. drone strikes are analogous. If some suspected terrorist goes on to *actually* hijack a plane (or whatever) the electoral ramifications could be very serious for the president, whoever is in that role. That is an extremely strong incentive to not let that happen at any cost — and that puts us in this position. Those decisions need to be taken out of the hands of the executive branch, but I don’t see much chance of that happening in the current climate.

More fundamentally, though, I feel that a vote should not be seen as an expression of one’s personal political beliefs; you shouldn’t enter the booth with the primary goal of not getting any icky immorality on you. That’s the beautiful soul speaking, and we all know what Hegel says about that.

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Adrian Kelleher 09.28.12 at 12:38 pm

The execution of Robert-François Damiens, would-be assassin of Louis XV of France, was a display of raw power:

“He was tortured first with red-hot pincers; his hand, holding the knife used in the attempted assassination, was burned using sulphur; molten wax, lead, and boiling oil were poured into his wounds. He was then remanded to the royal executioner, Charles Henri Sanson who harnessed horses to his arms and legs to be dismembered. But Damiens’ limbs did not separate easily: the officiants ordered Sanson to cut Damiens’ joints with an axe. Once Damiens was dismembered to the applause of the crowd, his reportedly still-living torso was burnt at the stake.”

Although this killing might appear to be distinguished by its cruelty the truth is that, once it is indulged at all, sadism is one of those impulses that tends rapidly towards a maximum. Most countries of any size will experience a murder of overblown viciousness at least once a year.

Damiens’ death was nonetheless remarkable among executions. The rituals surrounding executions are among the many that bound together the Western countries over more than a thousand years and almost every one was discarded in Damiens’ case, for when the state kills it traditionally takes great pains to distinguish itself from mere murderers (and the ritual elements underscore this distinction).

An appointment is made for the execution (punishment is overt, measured and regulated) and publicly announced beforehand (the state does not lash out in fear or in anger). A last meal is offered (execution doesn’t imply unrestrained cruelty). The condmened is allowed the ministry of a spiritual advisor (the judgement is worldly, not religious or philosophical). Representatives of the public witness the event (everything is above board). Finally in every sense, the condemned is permitted to make a public statement (the state is punishing a wrongdoer, not silencing an enemy).

These traditional observances therefore protect the state as much as they do the condemned. Someone must pass sentence, someone must escort and bind the prisoner, someone must witness the execution and so on, and each of these will be effected by it in one way or another. Similar considerations apply to targetted assasinations authorised on a daily basis by the White House.

Do the drone strikes more resemble Damiens’ death or other executions? They’re certainly spectacular; it’s hard to believe there’s no element of display involved. As in Damiens’ case special circumstances are invoked, without being further defined, to justify deviation from the norm. Just as some targets will inevitably survive others are sure to die protracted deaths in great agony, and of course none enjoy the protection of law.

What’s surprising though is that the traditional efforts to protect the integrity and reputation of the state have been discarded so lightly. Someone must process the intelligence, someone must decide on an acceptable level of civilian suffering, someone must pull the trigger, and so on. They will understand that it will hurt their careers or their families’ economic prospects if they oppose the orders they’re given. They may find this tension morally corrupting. They may at any point up to the end of their lives experience a change of heart and decide that they have implicated themselves in atrocities. For all they now know, some of the secret intelligence their actions were based on has been distorted in ways that have yet to become public.

Those are only the direct effects. Indirectly, the enforcement of secrecy may become corrupted. Alteration of the selection, training and evaluation of staff in favour of those willing to carry out the assassination programme will progressively alter the character of the federal government. The attacks grant immense unsupervised power to agents. Legal rationales drafted to excuse the practice may later be cited in circumstances impossible to foresee today. Resultant bureaucratic momentum may extend the practice in unexpected ways.

Foreign countries may feel justified in taking similar actions. Potential enemies of the United States may be prompted to take criminal measures by the assumption that they themselves will be subject to criminal treatment.

The civic foundations of law itself may be eroded internationally and domestically. Assassinations may provoke more extremism than they repress, and last but not least they may destroy the possibility for political reforms desired by the USA in countries where they’re carried out.

When the issue is discussed, and that’s a rare event, it’s presented solely as a relationship between the USA and its enemies. However these considerations all concern the US exclusively, and it’s easy to imagine them resulting later on in consequences of the greatest severity.

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LFC 09.28.12 at 1:05 pm

A. Keheller:
If “The rituals surrounding executions are among the many that bound together the Western countries over more than a thousand years”, why does the linked wikipedia entry refer to Damiens’ execution as the last regicide to be drawn and quartered? This wd imply that earlier regicides in France had been drawn and quartered. The mid-eighteenth century is some two hundred fifty years ago, not a thousand years ago. IOW, perhaps the regularizing rituals in question are of somewhat more recent origin than 1000 yrs. One thousand yrs ago puts us back to the early 11th cent. I wd be surprised if there weren’t some cruel executions by drowning etc. then. (Plus you’ve got the problem that medieval ‘states’ are different from early-modern and modern ones.)

P.s. Robert Bartlett’s Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal may be of some relevance here. Link

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LFC 09.28.12 at 1:05 pm

sorry misspelled your last name above

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Adrian Kelleher 09.28.12 at 1:13 pm

“The rituals surrounding executions are among the many that bound together…

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Barry 09.28.12 at 1:51 pm

A nice hit from Balloon Juice (http://www.balloon-juice.com/2012/09/28/in-the-halloween-spirit-a-voice-from-beyond-the-grave/) :

“Please stop with the buzzing about Conor Friedsdorf. The guy is a Republican operative. He does not write in all caps about birth certificates and Eric Holder implanting brain control chips using Fast and Furious Agenda 21 invisible helicopters to double-reverse steal your guns because that is not his beat. He and Megan McArdle play good cop to Michelle Malkin’s bad cop and Jennifer Rubin’s Baghdad Bob. Conor sells Republicanism to people who speak a foreign language. Folks who read books without pictures need to hear that you weighed all of the evidence in a careful manner, including if necessary ‘evidence’ from McArdlebargle’s magic calculator, that you scratched your chin in the way that serious people do and decided that in spite of all of the things that you like about the Democratic candidate, you just-durn-it have to go with the Republican this year.

His usual crowd will have a hard time buying that schtick with a product like Mitt effing Romney, so young Conor needs a plan B. Thus Conor, his Very Serious libertarian friends and Glenn Reynolds (also known as ‘the tell’) have grown this sudden raging stiffy for the Green candidate. Maybe you can’t sell Mitt, and one wonders when even the hard working Ms. Rubin will throw in the towel or throw a gear or something, but you can help Greenwald and the PUMAs sell their symbolic quest. Gary Johnson, the actual Libertarian candidate, is a serious problem for young Conor and he would just as soon you did not use his name in public.”

(as always, bolding is mine)

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rf 09.28.12 at 1:56 pm

Why do the American left hate Muslims, Barry? No. Let me rephrase that. Why do the American left see the ‘war on terror’ as a foreign policy issue? Is it white privilege?

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rf 09.28.12 at 2:13 pm

Allow me to elaborate Barry. Here’s Robert Farley of LGM. “The Yemenis and Pakistanis on the other end are quite familiar with brutal state violence.” That’s racist Barry, do you know why that’s racist? How about this for a dog whistle from our own rootless-e. “Fascinating how many “leftists” are deeply concerned about the treatment of misogynist religious zealot Al-Alwaqi” Now everyone around here is into ‘choosing their words carefully’, except it seems when the topic is certain types of Muslims. I wonder why that is Barry?

Do you think the international aspect of the ‘war on terror’ isn’t sustained by hatred (or at best indifference) at home Barry, that phenomena such as veil bans, the rise of far right groups, special policing, terror laws, anti-immigrant sentiment are all coincidences. You do realise the ‘war on terror’ and civil liberties abuses are not abstract theoretical arguments to everyone, maybe you should check your privilege if not

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Barry 09.28.12 at 4:10 pm

rf, if you’ve got some actual points to make, go right ahead.

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purple 09.30.12 at 5:54 am

This is a fine debate, but none of you are leftists. I don’t know why a decent portion of you claim to be so.

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Brad DeLong 10.02.12 at 4:22 pm

I win for all time!

Noam Chomsky: “Between the two choices that are presented, there is I think some significant differences. If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney-Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice. I happen to be in a non-swing state, so I can either not vote or — as a probably will — vote for [Green Party candidate] Jill Stein.”

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rootless_e 10.02.12 at 4:36 pm

There are very few existing leftists. Most of the people who use Marxist terminology and claim to be leftists are really libertarians.

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rf 10.02.12 at 6:09 pm

Hoisted from the archives

DMX: “It’s all a f**kin’ setup. It’s all a setup. All f**kin’ bullsh*t. All bullsh*t. I don’t give a f*ck about none of that.”

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