On Not Being Obliged to Vote Democrat

by Henry on September 27, 2012

Since someone mentioned that they couldn’t find it in comments, and since it’s obviously relevant, mutatis mutandis to arguments below, it is probably no harm to link again prominently to dsquared’s classic post about how you actually aren’t obliged to vote Democrat, strong lesser-of-two-evils arguments are intellectually incoherent etc. Nut graf:

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

{ 165 comments }

1

Brad DeLong 09.27.12 at 2:11 pm

Perhaps a little moving-the-goal-posts is going on here? IMHO, a President Gore would have been very unlikely to have attacked Iraq. And a President Romney would be significantly more likely to attack Iran–without strengthening civil liberties and rolling back the National Security State at home.

Seems to me this is one of the times when local conditions strongly militate for voting for the Democrat, inadequate as he is along so many dimensions…

2

the_day 09.27.12 at 2:19 pm

But Brad, then some people would feel sad because they can’t claim the moral high ground and say hey, my hands are clean, I did not vote for Obama. Who cares if Romney won instead and spill more blood? I didn’t vote for him either.

3

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 2:23 pm

If you could find a number of examples of someone arguing “that it is always or definitionally the right thing to do” to vote for the Democrat this would look a lot less like whiny narcissism.

4

Seth 09.27.12 at 2:27 pm

One doesn’t like being “owned” by mainstream Democrats — having no better alternative than to reliably turn out for their privately-constructed agendas — but there it is. I’ve known for nearly 4 years that I would be voting again for Obama this November. What else could possibly have happened? Maybe the least unlikely alternative scenario would have been a left challenge to Obama’s renomination. But who would/could have mounted one?

5

Don A in Pennsyltucky 09.27.12 at 2:40 pm

In 2000, I lived in Texas and had the luxury of voting for something I wanted knowing I wouldn’t get it. In 2004, I lived in Pennsylvania and had become convinced that voting for the lesser of two evils was a moral imperative for I had become convinced that the Bush administration was doing too much evil and that a Kerry administration would do far less evil. While I have been slightly disappointed that the Obama administration has not been able to enact policies as progressive as I would prefer, I am aware that the major cause for the lack of action is Filibuster Mitch and the Tea Party members of the House who stand in the way of any compromise legislation. I will not blame the President for that and I will not give the Republicans free rein to trample over the rights of those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

6

jazzbumpa 09.27.12 at 2:46 pm

What I’m not going to accept, however, is that it is always or definitionally the right thing to do.

Of course not. But that is an abstraction, and we have a reality to deal with.

That reality is Willard Romney, a contemptuous elite oligarch with no definable position on ANY issue and no identifiable ethic, who has embarrassed himself and the U.S. repeatedly on national and international stages, has a grasp of foreign policy at the Sarah Palin level, is quite likely to start another war, and has recently revealed himself not to be particularly bright.

Plus the Supreme Court issue that people seem to be tired of thinking about.

BTW – Dems are not “surprisingly warlike.” They simply follow the same great arc of Imperialist foreign policy that has been the U.S. agenda for at least a century – irrespective of party. I’m not condoning it. I’m just saying it’s no surprise. Pay attention!

JzB

7

Lee A. Arnold 09.27.12 at 2:46 pm

I have always found it to be the right thing to do. The Democrats and the Republicans are almost indistinguishable to me, with the exception that the Democrats usually act a little bit better to the poorer people. Therefore I have always found voting for the Democrat to be definitionally the right thing to do.

8

LFC 09.27.12 at 2:49 pm

A month or so ago, a friend sent me a link to this Bill Fletcher/Carl Davidson piece on Alternet: here. Didn’t read the whole thing but passing it on here b/c it’s relevant to this whole discussion.

P.s. In the partisan household where I grew up, no one talked about ‘voting Democrat’. The reference was always to voting Democratic.

9

bexley 09.27.12 at 2:56 pm

I’m with Brad here. In particular the following part of your previous post looks ill thought out:

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 thought 2000 had skewered this line of Gush Bore reasoning. A vote for Bush over Gore in 2000 really did have worse long term consequences with the US killing lots of Iraqis who probably would still be alive today had Gore got in.

Now many of the same neo-cons are on Romney’s team and you’re trying to tell me that a vote for Romney isn’t going to result in worse long term consequences in terms of how many foreigners the US blows up? Excuse the rest of us if we don’t believe it.

And that’s before you even consider the other ways Romney is horrible and likely to enable the destruction of the ACA, New Deal and Great Society programs.

p.s. Before people start jumping up and down if you don’t live in a swing state then yes your vote is pretty much symbolic in value therefore it may well make sense to vote 3rd party.

10

Lee A. Arnold 09.27.12 at 3:08 pm

In the area I grew up in, you didn’t vote Democrat, you voted Democratic, and you didn’t vote for the Democratic, you voted for the Democrat. Obama is a Democrat. He is not a Democratic.

11

The Raven 09.27.12 at 3:16 pm

Brad Delong, #1 “a President Gore would have been very unlikely to have attacked Iraq.”

Or perhaps he would have been backed into another war. There were factions that were pushing for one. I doubt Obama likes being a war president, but here he is being a war president.

Obama’s conduct since the 2008 election makes it clear that Nader’s critique is at least partly right: there is an enormous push for militarism and authoritarianism that presses on any President, no matter their party.

And a big +1 to Lee Arnold.

12

Bill Murray 09.27.12 at 3:20 pm

Well it’s true that Gore probably wouldn’t have attacked Iraq, but he also wouldn’t have really done anything to forestall the coming economic apocalypse as his advisors would have been similar to those that started the process under Clinton (ie Brad DeLong etc.). Thus, 2008 would have been a big Republican win and we wouldn’t have gotten even the comparatively weak tea that is PPACA and CFPB, probably President Jeb would have gone to war with Iraq or Iran anyway and had even more austerity than under Obama.

We can play these Turtledove games forever, my question for those voting for Obama but not liking many of his policies is what are you doing to making the Democratic policies better? If all you do is vote and maybe complain on the internet the Democratic party is going to continue its 30-year drift to the right

13

Bill Murray 09.27.12 at 3:27 pm

If you could find a number of examples of someone arguing “that it is always or definitionally the right thing to do” to vote for the Democrat this would look a lot less like whiny narcissism

Every time some faux-liberal like Scott Lemieux argues that Nader cost Gore the 2000 election, he is saying that liberals voting for anyone but the Democrat is wrong. There are lots more examples from others of these authoritarians who don’t believe that people have the right to vote differently from the way the authoritarian thinks they should.

14

LFC 09.27.12 at 3:29 pm

Lee Arnold @10:
My comment’s “p.s.” was not directed at your comment, as you seem to have mistakenly assumed. It was directed at the OP, which speaks of “voting Democrat.” I agree with you linguistically, of course: one voted Democratic and one voted for the Democrat.

15

Rich Puchalsky 09.27.12 at 3:30 pm

Commented here, and I’m sorry if I double-posted this link. My connection died the first time.

16

Chris Bertram 09.27.12 at 3:31 pm

Back in 2004 the UK’s Prospect magazine did a “what if” on Gore having won in 2000. It is here

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/anotheramerica/

As they point out:

“Gore was probably the most hawkish senior Democrat, supporting aid to the Contras in the 1980s, military intervention in the Balkans in the early 1990s and even national missile defence in the late 1990s. Gore supported the 1991 Gulf war, even though 70 per cent of Democratic senators and representatives opposed it. He also pushed Clinton to take a tougher line against Saddam. And Gore’s prospective vice-president, Joe Lieberman, joined with many leading Republicans in the late 1990s to pressure the Clinton administration to launch a pre-emptive strike against Saddam.”

So maybe not so unlikely.

17

Henry 09.27.12 at 3:34 pm

Ken MacLeod’s novel, _The Night Sessions_ is set in a slightly skewed alternative reality where (if you read carefully), Gore won, and was succeeded by HRC. It makes this argument.

18

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 3:37 pm

Every time some faux-liberal like Scott Lemieux argues that Nader cost Gore the 2000 election, he is saying that liberals voting for anyone but the Democrat is wrong.

That’s straightforward illiteracy on your part. Scott, and I, would sure as hell vote for, say, Lincoln Chafee for president on the R ticket if he were opposed by, say, Joe Lieberman on the D side. Scott’s statement is about the actual realities of the current parties and candidates, not about some tautological claim that D is definitionally better.

19

ponce 09.27.12 at 3:37 pm

From an economics standpoint, if you think America would be better off being run by Obama than being run by Romney, but you don’t vote for Obama, you are being irrational.

20

jim 09.27.12 at 3:38 pm

The Presidency is pretty much a symbolic vote even if one lives in a swing state. The Supreme Court did much more than any Nader voter (or combination of Nader voters) to deny Gore the Presidency. House and Senate votes, on the other hand, may well matter, particularly the House.

To return to the previous thread for a moment: Obama did try by executive order to close the detention and trial facilities at Guantanamo, transfer the prisoners to mainland prisons and try them in civilian courts. Congress, in a veto-proof manner, prevented that action. Most of the people who voted to keep Guantanamo open are running for reelection this November. But I have heard no call to vote against them, even from those who decry Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo.

21

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 3:39 pm

Every time some faux-liberal like Scott Lemieux argues that Nader cost Gore the 2000 election, he is saying that liberals voting for anyone but the Democrat is wrong. There are lots more examples from others of these authoritarians who don’t believe that people have the right to vote differently from the way the authoritarian thinks they should.
—-

No that’s not an example. You need an example of someone saying that it is always imperative to vote for the Democrat, not that effective opposition to GWBush was a moral imperative.

22

Tom Allen 09.27.12 at 3:43 pm

One of the main points of the linked post is that my single vote is unlikely in the extreme to decide the outcome of this or any major election. Another is that party activists will use all sorts of guilt trips to (a) get me to the voting booth; but (b) get me to vote for the Democrat (rather than the Green, the Socialist, or someone else who better reflects my positions) by arguing that my vote will be the one deciding factor.

What’s both dispiriting and instructive around election time is to watch who’s making what arguments to get my vote. Every time people who call themselves liberals start minimizing the evisceration of the Bill of Rights or excusing war crimes with “everybody does it”, a bit more despair creeps into the world.

23

bexley 09.27.12 at 3:48 pm

@ The Raven 11

Afghanistan was probably going to happen whoever was in charge after September 11. But Iraq came out of nowhere and basically happened because Bush and his chums lied their way into it. They wanted it and they got it. I don’t see Iraq or another war of choice being on the table under a President Gore.

@12

Well it’s true that Gore probably wouldn’t have attacked Iraq, but he also wouldn’t have really done anything to forestall the coming economic apocalypse as his advisors would have been similar to those that started the process under Clinton (ie Brad DeLong etc.). Thus, 2008 would have been a big Republican win and we wouldn’t have gotten even the comparatively weak tea that is PPACA and CFPB, probably President Jeb would have gone to war with Iraq or Iran anyway and had even more austerity than under Obama.
</blockquote

Huh – this strikes me as really incoherent. The argument seems to run: You're not obligated to vote for that sellout Obama. Just look at the 2000 election as a precedent where not voting for Gore ended up giving us the achievements of Obama.

Moreover on pure body count if I were an American I'd accept Gore and no Iraq war over Obama and the ACA.

We can play these Turtledove games forever, my question for those voting for Obama but not liking many of his policies is what are you doing to making the Democratic policies better? If all you do is vote and maybe complain on the internet the Democratic party is going to continue its 30-year drift to the right

Umm back at the third party voters? If all they do is vote for third party candidates at presidential elections then do nothing to organise at the grass roots level I’d suggest that they can’t really complain about the direction of US politics.

24

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 3:51 pm

Socialists and Greens can’t “reflect your position” in any useful way if they have no meaningful chance of gaining office. And under our electoral system, they don’t. Large street demonstrations are a far more effective tactic for bringing about change (look how OWS has affected the political narrative) than moral preening in the voting booth.

The problem with our immoral foreign policy is that, unlike Wall Street, it’s highly popular. Voting for a third-party candidate does absolutely nothing to change that.

25

JW Mason 09.27.12 at 3:53 pm

I was the person who mentioned the Davies piece, which I still think is quite good.

I didn’t bring it up as an argument for “keeping one’s hands clean” — like most Americans here, I voted for Obama and intend to vote for him again. What’s more, unlike, I assume, most people here, I actually spent a fair part of the past decade working on the campaigns of various Democratic candidates in New York state.

But I do think there is a real problem with the lesser-evil argument, for basically the reasons DD gives. Everyone has a choice both to which party or candidate to give a given quantum of their energy, and how much energy to invest in organized politics at all. If you really believe that there is important difference between the state of the world with Obama as president and with Romney, you don’t just want people to vote for Obama, you want them actively supporting him, telling their friends and family to vote for him, etc. And you don’t just want Obama to win, but more and better Democrats in Congress, where small donations, volunteering, endorsements by the sort of organizations leftists, etc. are involved in can make a difference. You don’t want to advance your first goal — persuading people to vote for Obama — in a way that undermines your second — encouraging people to be actively support progressive political causes in general. (Well, unless you think that the vote for president is literally the only political question that matters. but then that’s the problem.)

So you say, hold your nose and vote for Obama, then go and support someone/something you really believe in. Right, of course. But nobody invests their time and money and emotions in a political project out of a purely utilitarian calculation. Again, I have – unlike I suspect most of the pro-Democratic folks here — spent more than a few Tuesdays outside pollsites from 6 in the morning til 9 at night. One thing you learn, you don’t motivate people to vote by saying, yeah, he sucks, but he’s not as bad as the other guy. You motivate them by exactly the sort of arguments that the designated Democrats here are putting down — that you should feel proud to be casting your vote, that you are morally responsible for the person you vote for, that even if you don’t know for sure what the effect will be you have a duty to be counted on the side you think is right.

By ruling all this out of court, the LGM crowd isn’t just undermining arguments for third parties. They’re undermining arguments for being politically engaged at all. They’re cutting off their nose to spite their face.

I worked for the Working Families Party, which uses New York’s fusion law to cross endorse Democrats while maintaining its separate identity as a left labor party. That obviously makes it easier to make a positive case for the Democrat. But if they’re worth voting for at all, it should be possible, without dismissing the motives that get people engaged with politics in the first place.

26

Hidden Heart 09.27.12 at 3:54 pm

It’s true, there’s nothing that voting or not voting in the 2012 US presidential election can do about the US’s warmongering, enthusiasm for torture, the War on Some Drugs, and a bunch of other genuinely evil stuff.

But will matter to who’s on the Supreme Court for the next few decades, who gets health care starting right away, whether the US social safety net continues to die the death of a thousand cuts or is simply set on fire and buried at midnight with a stake through its heart, what happens to voting rights (and therefore, for a lot of Americans, whether they’ll even get to have this argument in 2014, 2016, and on down the road), the power of business owners to impose their racism, sexism, homophobia, and other vices on all of what used to be civil society, pollution, unemployment insurance…

Anyone who cares about basic liberal/left issues like good universal education and support for unions is in for a serious fight, if they want to engage with the Democratic Party. But they wouldn’t be alone at it, at levels up to nearly the top. Meanwhile, in the Republican Party there’s no fight allowed about anything like that.

27

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 3:55 pm

By ruling all this out of court, the LGM crowd isn’t just undermining arguments for third parties.

I smell a lot of burning straw around here. Scott Lemieux is somewhat less critical of Obama than I am, but still he’s been plenty critical. Nothing is being “ruled out of court” except irresponsible moral-vanity voting.

28

rf 09.27.12 at 3:59 pm

Bexley
“But Iraq came out of nowhere and basically happened because Bush and his chums lied their way into it.”

I don’t know. Best case scenario is the continuation of sanctions and targeted bombings. But for eight years, in a post 9/11 world? There certainly wasn’t going to be any rapprochement with Saddam, and Iraq wasn’t exactly unpopular with a number of high ranking Democrats, so I don’t understand the confidence that Gore wouldn’t have invaded.

29

JW Mason 09.27.12 at 4:00 pm

Nothing is being “ruled out of court” except irresponsible moral-vanity voting.

Yeah but that’s just a sneer at making political choices on the basis of principle.

From where Im sitting, the real moral vanity is from people like Lemieux, who are more interested in using their platform to show their superiority to Nader types than to bring them on board.

How many more votes do you think Scott could have won for Obama, if he’d spent all the posts he’s used to heap contempt on third party voters, instead trying to respectfully persuade them that their goals are best served by voting D this time. A lot, I bet. Might even cost the election. ;-)

30

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 4:03 pm

Yeah but that’s just a sneer at making political choices on the basis of principle.

It’s a sneer at people who confuse moral posturing with political action.

31

rf 09.27.12 at 4:07 pm

Bexley

Do you think Bush would have invaded Iraq without 9/11?

32

JW Mason 09.27.12 at 4:09 pm

It’s a sneer at people who confuse moral posturing with political action.

Wow, you’re really not capable of imagining a point of view different from yours at all, aren’t you?

I say, “Here’s a person who’s planing to vote for a third party. If I learn more about what they care about, maybe I can find a way to make feel ok about a vote for the Dem this year after all.”

You say, “Here’s a person who’s planing to vote for a third party. They suck and I hate them.”

Who is more likely to get a good outcome?

33

sherparick1 09.27.12 at 4:10 pm

I often come here to see illustration of logical errors. First, the framing by Henry and others (Bill Murray) as “not being obliged to vote Democratic.” No one (me, Erik Loomis, Paul Campos, John Cole, etc.) is saying you “must” vote for Obama and other Democrats on the ticket. So the argumen that we are is a “strawman.” And I appreciate the quick use of the ad hominem (faux liberal, Obambots, Obama hacks, etc.). Nice touch! However, the criticism is about your “wisdom” and your preciousness about your moral superiority without being willing to do the painful, unglamourmess work of party building (attending school board meetings, going to local town council issues, organizing people to show up at primaries and vote the most progressive possible candidate in, etc.)

It should be noted that all the real political pressure based on public opinion brought on Obama the last four years has not been from the left, but from the right. The Left has failed to organize any public opinion in support of human rights and stopping the drone war (what, you want to keep terrorists alive??? being the likely response at most back yard cook outs with “liberal” friends). Obama retreated on the Guantamo issue because even before teh 2010 election, he had no support in Congress for it and Republicans paid no penalty demagoguing him on the issue except if they did not demagogue enough.

The lesser of two evils argument may appear logically incoherent, but empirically it is a fact. Bush did unmitigated wrong and his supreme court appointments, Roberts and Alioto, will have decades to do more. Ditto Nixon and Reagan two other Republicans elected because Democrats Humphrey and Carter were deemed by many on the Left as not sufficiently virtuous and to “heighten the contradictions. ” Like 1932 in Germany, that never works out well, especially in a racially divided United States where the Southern White Working class is just nuts (nice people in many ways, but on the subjects of race and politics and killing brown and black people, mad as a hatters). Everything we seem about Romney shows that he will crave to secure his right wing in its unhappy alleigance to him and that he is far more indifferent to killing foreign brown people (or Americans in the 47%) then Obama will be. I still fear that Obama will find it hard to resist the Washington Establishiment’s war drums on Iran myself, but at least he would resist.

34

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 4:12 pm

How many more votes do you think Scott could have won for Obama, if he’d spent all the posts he’s used to heap contempt on third party voters, instead trying to respectfully persuade them that their goals are best served by voting D this time. A lot, I bet.

I’d be happy to take that bet. I’ve talked to enough such people to know that it’s a sucker bet. Too many of them are not interested in pursuing goals, but in displaying their superior morality. They can’t be reached by that kind of utilitarian argument.

In first past the post systems, voting as a means of personal expression is always counterproductive. (Just ask a lot of former Lib Dem voters in the UK about that.) But a lot of Nader-voter types are simply unwilling to grow up and learn the realities of how our political system functions and what kind of work is needed to change it.

35

Anarcissie 09.27.12 at 4:12 pm

In regard to the Bush vs. Gore thing with regard to subsequent events, as I recall Gore, satellite of Clinton and ‘we think it is worth it’ Albright, was supposed to be the big interventionist in 2000, and Bush the non-interventionist who didn’t believe in ‘nation-building’. So if one were deluded enough to believe one’s vote made any difference to the outcome, and if one put a high value on peace, and one believed the blather, and one believed in adhering to the lesser of two evils, one would have voted for Bush, repugnant as he may have seemed personally.

36

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 4:14 pm

So if one were deluded enough to believe one’s vote made any difference to the outcome, and if one put a high value on peace, and one believed the blather, and one believed in adhering to the lesser of two evils, one would have voted for Bush, repugnant as he may have seemed personally.

Not if you had any idea who Dick Cheney was.

37

mpowell 09.27.12 at 4:15 pm


voting Democrat might often be the right thing to do in any given case, depending on local conditions; it might even usually be the right thing to do. What I’m not going to accept, however, is that it is always or definitionally the right thing to do.

The entire problem with this argument is that while this claim is probably true, it doesn’t do nearly as much work as you think it does. The modern US is not a multi-party system. It’s not the 1950s anymore where voting for a progressive northern Democratic senator might flip control of the Senate and put a souther senior racist democrat in charge of a powerful committee (thus negating the benefit of voting for the progressive Dem). The two parties on offer in the United States have similar views on some issues and different views on others. But on almost every single issue the Democratic party is better or at least not worse than the Republicans. And on some of the issues it’s a pretty big deal. If you want to lay out a strategy for advancing a 3rd party movement in the United States, go ahead. Just keep in mind that Ralph Nader had no interest in such a thing.

It may be true that it is not defitionally the case liberals should always vote for Democrats, but for the last few election cycles in the United States it has always been true and it probably will be for the next few election cycles as well. The only way around this is to argue that voting ought to be done on a non-utilitarian basis in some circumstances. Dsquared’s old argument seemed to assume there was some basis for doing so, but didn’t really do any work to attempt to prove that case as far as I’m concerned.

38

JW Mason 09.27.12 at 4:19 pm

ve talked to enough such people to know that it’s a sucker bet. Too many of them are not interested in pursuing goals, but in displaying their superior morality. They can’t be reached by that kind of utilitarian argument.

If, in fact, Nader voters were absolutely unpersuadable to vote for Gore, then it is nonsense to say that Nader cost Gore any votes, let alone the election. Can’t have it both ways.

39

phosphorious 09.27.12 at 4:22 pm

In all seriousness, I think it can be argued that voting *against* the republican is the definitionally right thing to do. I honestly can’t imagine a situation where I would want a republican to win an election.

40

Lee A. Arnold 09.27.12 at 4:24 pm

You were also allowed to say “I’m voting Democrat” (i.e. “Democratic”) if it was rhythmic in the sentence. I heard that a lot. Rhythm counts.

I sympathize with people who still don’t like what the Democrats have done, but I don’t think it ends with your vote. I don’t think the system will work if people think that elections are their only participation. We have to keep arguing between the elections, to get them to do the correct thing.

For example, the Democrats might have gone along with Dubya’s initiative to “reform” Social Security by privatisation (or partial privatization) — if a large bunch of people who had recently been given voice by the bloggysphere had not said, “Wait a minute, this is not a good direction for the party to go in.” This is an example where the object itself has much further importance: I think the biggest issue of all is one that wasn’t mentioned in the other thread: the future is going to have a huge welfare state, predistributional and redistributional; it should be paid for out of current revenues; and the correct design of it is going to require people to recognize this fact. It is not, as of yet, widely understood.

The Dems are a little further along on this than the Republicans are, but they still have some road to travel. The Dems still pay a lot of lip service to the need for smaller government, the need for individual initiative — but the rhetoric isn’t really applicable, in this case. They might start by explaining that the tax money is not “lost”, it goes right back into the private economy of goods and services and jobs, in sectors where there is a need to expand: e.g. elderly healthcare, and helping as well the ancillary sectors such as construction and retailing. If lower capital gains taxes resulted in gambling on mortgage derivatives and a bubble in house prices, then there is no downside to re-hiking capital gains taxes a little to help cover a social demand. Meanwhile there is low overhead: “big government” is big spending, but it is not necessarily “big bureaucracy”, and it ought to be possible to structure the programs to minimize moral hazard (a good example of this again is Social Security).

I think the public conversation about domestic policy is going to proceed along lines like these, in the near future. The Democratic Party is better positioned. They have less hare-brained nonsense obstructing the discussion. But we are not quite there, yet.

41

bexley 09.27.12 at 4:28 pm

@ 31

Do you think Bush would have invaded Iraq without 9/11?

I don’t know. I guess your question can be broken down into 2 parts:

1. Would Bush have still wanted to invade?
2. Would he have still been able to muster the support to invade?

And I don’t know the answer to either.

42

Anarcissie 09.27.12 at 4:29 pm

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 4:03 pm:

“Yeah but that’s just a sneer at making political choices on the basis of principle.”
It’s a sneer at people who confuse moral posturing with political action.’

Since your vote’s effect on the outcome of the election is infinitesimally small, all you get actually is the opportunity to posture morally, so one might as well posture as morally as possible.

And on the other side, should you vote for a lesser-evil candidate who wins, you will be an accomplice in her or his subsequent murders and other crimes; an infinitesimally little accomplice, to be sure, but an accomplice nevertheless.

Might as well vote for someone you like.

43

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 4:39 pm

So if Nader voters were not rationally persuadable this would excuse them of any responsibility for the outcome? Interesting moral calculus, that.

44

chrismealy 09.27.12 at 4:41 pm

Is there a name for this problem? How a progressive should deal with politics? It goes back at least as far abolition. I can’t believe we have to keep arguing about it from scratch all the time.

I agree with Henry’s original indictment completely but I have zero problem supporting Obama. Who to vote for is really just a tiny part of being politically active. Reducing it to one vote every four years is nuts.

45

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 4:43 pm

Anarcissie must think that there is also no argument against not getting vaccinated and relying on herd immunity to protect you. Or perhaps the fallacy is a little easier to spot in that context.

46

Ragweed 09.27.12 at 4:50 pm

Afghanistan was probably going to happen whoever was in charge after September 11. But Iraq came out of nowhere and basically happened because Bush and his chums lied their way into it. They wanted it and they got it. I don’t see Iraq or another war of choice being on the table under a President Gore.

Considering that Gore’s running mate was calling for the US to “finish business in Iraq” in response to 9/11, I am not sure I buy that. Gore could easily have gotten pushed into a war if he was attacked by the Repubs as being “soft on terrorism,” and this affected his approval rating enough. However, I am not sure Gore would have been as willing to invade Iraq without UN backing, and I think that military action would have been more restrained – less of the “shock and awe” style of overwhelming military superiority, and more attempt to build coalition and put arab forces in front.

Where I think the differences are more pronounced is domestic policy. What Gore would not have done is push massive tax-cuts for the wealthy when putting together a stimulus package in 2001.

47

Hidari 09.27.12 at 4:53 pm

@28

This article seems relevant here;

http://www.salon.com/2011/08/30/gore_president_iraq/

48

Hidari 09.27.12 at 4:53 pm

@28

This article seems relevant here;

http://www.salon.com/2011/08/30/gore_president_iraq/

49

Dave 09.27.12 at 4:55 pm

LOL if you think voting is a personal moral choice or obligation, or has anything to do with “choosing” a candidate who “reflects your views.” LOL if you think the act of voting is the culmination of a long process of soul-searching.

It’s just politics, you jokers. This language and these sentiments appear almost deliberately obtuse, especially from people who otherwise know very well what the state is and who administers its functions. I don’t understand why anyone would think that his or her relation to the state is suddenly personal and moral at election time, when it isn’t otherwise.

Along those lines, I don’t see why anyone would understand the act of voting itself as personal. Does your vote matter? Not by itself, and not to yourself! The whole point of voting isn’t that you’re doing it personally, but along with a collection of sometimes enormous numbers of people, whom you vote for and with, considering their interests and preferences (and, notably, not their freaking morality), along with your own. You know: politics.

Good god, does the left always get so sappy and sentimental about voting come election time?

50

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 4:59 pm

Dave:
But this is what I don’t get: we have a large number of self-described “leftists”, progressives, and even “Marxists” who seem to believe that the State is normally a moral organization operating under “rule of law” and even that markets are rational and fair. Normally one would call this theory a conservative or right wing theory, yet it keeps showing up as “left”.

51

rf 09.27.12 at 5:04 pm

“Gore could easily have gotten pushed into a war if he was attacked by the Repubs as being “soft on terrorism….I am not sure Gore would have been as willing to invade Iraq without UN backing, and I think that military action would have been more restrained – less of the “shock and awe” style of overwhelming military superiority, and more attempt to build coalition and put arab forces in front.”

Yeah, I agree. And would the British be making the same argument about Blair if he’d lost in 2001? (Genuine question for someone who knows UK politics) I don’t see how ‘Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq’ is the clincher Obama’s supporters appear to believe it to be.

Obama supporters seem to be excusing his foreign policy by arguing the problems are systemic, and political opposition is futile. Yet that becomes irrelevant when you elect a Republican, and all failings are solely a result of the President, his foreign policy team and electoral base.

52

GiT 09.27.12 at 5:11 pm

“the decision about whether or not to vote Demcrat [sic] is a serious one”

I’ve yet to see any evidence that this decision is actually serious. It seems about as serious as one’s answer to a trolley problem, which is to say, rather frivolous, except in those cases where your answer to the question might actually be determinative.

After all, as the post concludes: “But … although the expected strategic value of withholding one’s vote from the Democrats is pretty close to zero, so is the expected value of voting for them.” Sounds pretty frivolous.

What actually seems serious are, on the one hand, whitewashing democrats, and, on the other hand whitewashing the effects of enabling Republicans and others to suppress the vote for Democrats to Repub advantage re: electoral outcomes.

It’s perfectly possible to not do either of these things, and doing neither of them seems like a pretty good idea to me.

53

Dave 09.27.12 at 5:14 pm

I hear you, rootless_e, and maybe those people are more inclined to understand their votes as personal expressions in a normalized, moral context. But it strikes me that the people who are so adamant about voting third party on personal moral grounds are the least likely to harbor illusions about the rule of law, markets, etc.

54

Brad DeLong 09.27.12 at 5:15 pm

Bill Murray: “Well it’s true that Gore probably wouldn’t have attacked Iraq, but he also wouldn’t have really done anything to forestall the coming economic apocalypse”

Or, in other words, under President Gore we would have gotten free ice cream, but that doesn’t matter because we wouldn’t have got free chocolate cake.

Fish gotta fly. Birds gotta swim. Haters gotta hate…

55

Substance McGravitas 09.27.12 at 5:17 pm

But it strikes me that the people who are so adamant about voting third party on personal moral grounds are the least likely to harbor illusions about the rule of law, markets, etc.

Personal moral grounds do not have to relate to the real world. Libertarians for instance.

56

Mao Cheng Ji 09.27.12 at 5:20 pm

48 says: “I don’t understand why anyone would think that his or her relation to the state is suddenly personal and moral at election time, when it isn’t otherwise.”

Well, perhaps it’s because this is the way our political system defines and claims its legitimacy. And denies legitimacy to other political systems. You vote, you accept it. This is how you manifest your consent to anything that follows, no matter whether your candidate wins or the other guy. That’s basic stuff.

57

JW Mason 09.27.12 at 5:22 pm

the people who are so adamant about voting third party on personal moral grounds

I don’t think there are many such people in this discussion. What there are, are people who are adamant that voting third party (or not voting) is potentially a legitimate choice, i.e. about maintaining some absolute standard and not regarding “lesser evil” as necessarily dispositive.

Is there a name for this problem? How a progressive should deal with politics? It goes back at least as far abolition. I can’t believe we have to keep arguing about it from scratch all the time.

I think we have to keep arguing about it, because there is no general solution. Sometimes you should weigh ends and means, and sometimes you should do what is right because it is right. And there is no general rule that will reliably tell you which times are which.

I do think that, like most of these debates, the argument gets most heated when there’s no concrete work going on. Certainly I know if I were more politically active right now, I would not be posting in this thread…

58

Ragweed 09.27.12 at 5:24 pm

Like 1932 in Germany, that never works out well, especially in a racially divided United States where the Southern White Working class is just nuts (nice people in many ways, but on the subjects of race and politics and killing brown and black people, mad as a hatters).

1932 Germany is a bad example of the value of strategic lesser-evil voting. In the 1932 presidential elections, many leftist advocated voting for von Hindenburg in order to avoid the much more horrible spector of Hitler getting elected. Then von Hindenburg turned around and appointed Hitler chancellor.

Of course, its more complicated than just the results of one election (von Hindenburg had failed after three elections to form a government otherwise, and Hitler already had widespread support ), and there are big differences between 1932 Germany and today. There are also big differences between a parlamentary system and a state-by-state winner-takes-all electoral model in the US. Obama is unlikely to appoint Romney or one of his lackeys to a major cabinet position (though there is Geithner), and the Repubs are so invested in their right-wing that the truly horrible outcome alluded to is not impossible. It’s just that von Hindenburg / Hitler ’32 isn’t a great example.

59

Brad DeLong 09.27.12 at 5:26 pm

I see Chris Bertram slandering Al Gore by claiming that Gore was likely to have attacked Iraq in 2003.

I mean–serious enemies in Al Qaeda to be fought, no evidence for a Saddam-Al Qaeda link, no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program, an Israel channelling through VP Lieberman to warn that overthrowing Saddam leads to an Shiite Iraq closely aligned with Iran, and realists warning that dual containment is sound policy because we want an Iraqi army to stand between the Mullahs of Qom and the oil of the Gulf…

This claim that Gore would have been likely to attack Iraq when the U.S. would have been already embroiled in Afghanistan just strikes as whacka-whacka. Is it a whacks-whacka as I think it is?

60

Brad DeLong 09.27.12 at 5:32 pm

In fact, back in the fall of 2002 I saw Al Gore and… ah, here it is:

http://www.gwu.edu/~action/2004/gore/gore092302sp.html

It was an impressive speech to listen to.

61

Ed 09.27.12 at 5:33 pm

Something like this thread seems to come up on Crooked Timber every other month or so, so I should probably just copy and paste this comment to repost 3-4 times a year. Or maybe the moderators could a sort of sticky thing for this discussion?

Anyway, a handful of points against the admittedly ridiculous proposition that Americans are “obliged” to vote for Democratic candidates.

1. If you are going to vote, you really should vote for the candidate who most agrees with your views, unless there is some reason that effectively (not legally) disqualifies him/ her from the office (assuming you don’t hold to the circular argument that appearing on the ballot as a fringe party or Republican nominee by definition effectively disqualifies a candidate for office).

2. If you take a good look at how the electoral process is actually administered in the U.S. (hint: Mexico has a more transparent and corruption-free process), there is a good argument to not vote at all on the grounds that said vote is as likely to be tossed into the garbage as to be counted.

3. As a few people have pointed out, the chances of one vote deciding the outcome of any election where the electorate is greater than about 5,000 -all the usual counter-examples trotted out of electoral ties occur with miniscule electorates- are statistically close to zero (I would also argue that if you see a really close election in the U.S., its a sign that more than the usual amount of ballot fraud is occurring, but I realize this is an eccentric point). The argument that is is “irrational” to vote is a staple in economics, for what its worth. Unless there is only one person voting, voting is not like deciding to hire someone. Its not like being a member of a legislature where you can trade a vote for a sucky piece of legislation to get through a good piece of legislation. Its more like a big, unusually accurate, opinion poll.

4. If you consider yourself on the left on economics issues and want to participate in the American two party game, you should be supporting the Republicans anyway.

OK, point 4 will cause some heads to explode but historically, though the traditional “left-right” spectrum is not a good prism for viewing US politics, the Republicans have been to the left of the Democrats. Its also historically been a less machine driven, top down party and so more amenable to be influenced by groups of people essentially peddling ideas (most of them bad, but the point is that there is a slight chance of ordinary people organizing and influencing the local Republican machinery). The Bush administration prosecuted and put into jail wealthy people -even a personal friend of Dubya- people who committed financial fraud and destroyed an accounting firm that was enabling financial fraud. It also pushed through a big expansion of Medicare. Contrast to the Clinton and Obama administrations, which returned the Democrats to their historical roots as the Bourbon-Tammany Hall party. I’m deliberately exaggerating the differences between the two parties and admittedly if you are interested in politics for reasons other than economics the situation is very different.

In interests of full disclosure, I live in Manhattan, NY, and while Republicans get elected here its basically when the state Democratic Party wants them to get elected (NY State Senate, Bloomberg). On the presidential level, Democrats have pulled about 60% of the vote in New York state in four consecutive elections. So I can afford to be somewhat cynical, my practical ability to influence U.S. election results is not much greater than an Australian academic.

62

Brad DeLong 09.27.12 at 5:37 pm

And this morning’s signal flags are that Romney’s foreign-policy advisors want him to explicitly endorse the torture of prisoners by the U.S.

You can go the full Doug Henwood, and say that Obama’s policy of death-by-killer-robot is on worse than a Romneyite return to the Bush policy of death-by-killer-robot *and* torture.

Or you can accept that Conor Friedersdorf simply picked a really bad weak to try to make the “don’t vote for the lesser evil!” argument.

63

LFC 09.27.12 at 5:40 pm

Dave @48:
LOL if you think voting is a personal moral choice or obligation

Voting is a personal moral choice. But that in itself cannot tell one how to vote, how to weigh consequences. Everyone has to do his or her own weighing. That’s banal and obvious but some people here don’t really seem to understand that this is a subjective moral choice, there’s no formula that will tell you how to vote, you can re-read “Politics as a Vocation” till you’re blue in the face and it won’t help you in the sense that it won’t tell you how to vote.

Saying to yourself “this is not a personal moral choice, but something I’m doing with lots of other people” isn’t helpful. It’s just an evasion. Voting is very much a personal moral choice, but nothing follows from that except the truism that a responsible voter is someone who, at least in the typical U.S. presidential election, agonizes with himself or herself at least a little bit before voting. (Disclosure: I’m voting for Obama. Albeit not with great enthusiasm.)

64

Substance McGravitas 09.27.12 at 5:42 pm

So Gore from the DeLong link:

We are perfectly capable of staying the course in our war against Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist network, while simultaneously taking those steps necessary to build an international coalition to join us in taking on Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion.

So if he’d managed to take care of Al Qaeda he’d do the Iraq thing better.

65

Dave 09.27.12 at 5:43 pm

people who are adamant that voting third party (or not voting) is a potentially legitimate choice, i.e. about maintaining some absolute standard and not regarding “lesser evil” as necessarily dispositive

I’ll concede that “lesser evil” is not dispositive if you’ll concede that “maintaining some absolute standard” is a political (not moral) proposition.

66

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 5:47 pm

67

LFC 09.27.12 at 5:54 pm

The argument that it is “irrational” to vote is a staple in economics, for what its worth.

I think what you probably meant to say is that it’s a staple in political science, but actually that’s not true either. See e.g. here.

68

christian_h 09.27.12 at 5:58 pm

Nothing demonstrates the utter vacuity of the unquestioning pro-Obama position better than the tone taken by its proponents. The Democrats own little Dolchstosslegende, like the original, is merely an attempt to deny responsibility for their own massive failure; they know this, which is why they (quite like the royalist right in Weimar) can only express it in a way that barely conceals (or doesn’t conceal at all) their hatred and contempt for those weaklings who lack their certainty.

To answer a question asked earlier: as a group, they will not do a thing to oppose the racist policies of their favourite party. Some because they do in fact agree with those racist policies; some because casting their vote “right” already, in their minds, does their part – and anyway, those people getting killed halfway around the globe is sad, in the same way an earthquake is – what can they do? Nothing.

69

bexley 09.27.12 at 6:02 pm

@ Substance 62
Later on:

Moreover, no international law can prevent the United States from taking actions to protect its vital interests, when it is manifestly clear that there is a choice to be made between law and survival. I believe, however, that such a choice is not presented in the case of Iraq.

and

We also need to look at the relationship between our national goal of regime change in Iraq and our goal of victory in the war against terror. In the case of Iraq, it would be more difficult for the United States to succeed alone, but still possible. By contrast, the war against terror manifestly requires broad and continuous international cooperation. Our ability to secure this kind of cooperation can be severely damaged by unilateral action against Iraq.

So he says he doesn’t think it’s necessary to take unilateral action against Iraq and unless there is multinational support they shouldn’t take action against Iraq. Given we know that there was no multinational support for the Iraq war that suggests he wouldn’t support such a war.

70

The Raven 09.27.12 at 6:06 pm

There’s a question of who has the stomach to vote for either candidate.

It takes a strong stomach to vote for a man who has ordered assassinations and torture. It also takes a strong stomach to vote for someone who will turn the USA into something unrecognizable.

kraw, kraw, who like spoiled food, kraw

71

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 6:07 pm

Nothing demonstrates the utter vacuity of the unquestioning pro-Obama position better than the tone taken by its proponents.

Nothing demonstrates the noxious odor of burning straw better than this often-repeated lie that everyone on the left who will faute de mieux vote to re-elect Obama is an unquestioning cheerleader. When you start right out with this kind of horsecrap there’s no point in any sensible person reading further. Politically speaking, you are a child.

72

Roger Gathman 09.27.12 at 6:09 pm

I think that if Gore had been elected, there would have been no attack on 9/11. Many things would be different.
However, it is a joke to pretend that Gore’s loss was anything other than Gore’s fault. This is a man who took seriously the D.C. concensus that Clinton was soiled by Monicagate, and radically underemployed his best weapon. This is the man who debated as though he were one of those pompous high school teachers who you want to play a practical joke on. If you want to see how trivial the debates were, look at the amazing transcript of the debate about foreign policy, from which you could deduce absolutely nothing about what was going to happen in the world over the next decade. If the Dems hadn’t blocked Nader, actually, those debates would have sharpened up, and Gore could actually, perhaps, looked a bit more human. And finally, instead of simply demanding the state recount in Florida, Gore decided to micro manage the recount, a disastrous decision that blew up in his face.
So, blame Gore for Gore’s ability to pull defeat out of his victory. You know, I am always amazed when Dems follow the DLC playbook, get creamed, and then begin to blame anything but… the DLC playbook. They did it again in 2010, after assuring the activists that compromising down to Romneycare was ‘politically realistic” and everybody would like it anyway, while making sure that there was no populist discourse of any kind aimed at the massive bailout of the plutocrats. Nobody wants a center-right Democratic party, except for the policy people in D.C., who want to keep the door open to lucrative careers they can jump to once the political gig falls through.

73

christian_h 09.27.12 at 6:10 pm

I love the Gore tea-leaf reading. Clearly, we are supposed to believe that what a failed presidential candidate said while not being in office accurately reflects what he would have done if in office.(Example: Obama. Hmmm)

Why would we stoop to that kind of nonsense? Gore was the lesser evil (just like Obama is this year) from what we knew in November 2000. There is no need to drag out some alternate history and try to compute how many fewer people “would have” been killed if… (or how many more, who knows what would have happened). The argument for not voting for a Democrat has never been, for most of the people who considered it or are considering it, that the lesser evil isn’t in fact lesser.

74

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 6:10 pm

Funny how 95% of African Americans support the party that white progressives denounce as racist. I guess they are not following the leadership of the vanguard properly.

75

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 6:12 pm

So, blame Gore for Gore’s ability to pull defeat out of his victory.

I do too; he should have won comfortably. But there was no good reason to help Nader help him blow it. The debate thing is a fantasy, the reality is the votes that made it close enough to steal.

76

christian_h 09.27.12 at 6:13 pm

LaBonne, proving my point. Dude, learn to read. Or have some tea. I don’t know, just get – off – your – horse.

77

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 6:13 pm

Nobody wants a center-right Democratic party

On foreign policy, specifically on the joys of killing brown people, this is simply not true. A large majority of the voters wants it. Vanity voting does nothing to change this reality.

78

christian_h 09.27.12 at 6:18 pm

Funny how racism comes in more than one form. I’m baffled – isn’t the argument here that even accepting, for example, that Obama’s policies in Pakistan are racist we should still vote for him? Or do white progressive not believe that black people can make such a sophisticated determination?

79

PeterC 09.27.12 at 6:21 pm

Obama sold large sections of the American public and many in the world beyond a bill of goods. We were vulnerable after the misdeeds of W. We were swindled. Some of us are still understandably reluctant to admit it, and to what extent.

80

rf 09.27.12 at 6:22 pm

‘Funny how 95% of African Americans support the party that white progressives denounce as racist. I guess they are not following the leadership of the vanguard properly.’

Yes because all non-whites are African American, and fit perfectly into that frame of reference

81

Substance McGravitas 09.27.12 at 6:22 pm

Given we know that there was no multinational support for the Iraq war that suggests he wouldn’t support such a war.

You don’t think Gore would be better at diplomacy than the Bush team? I sure do.

82

William Timberman 09.27.12 at 6:24 pm

Brad DeLong in full cry. It’s been a while. As to the substance of his comments, well…. He substitutes the word for the deed. He claims that the word is what’s important, that the deed is is taken out of context by folks who’re missing the complications of the real world. So do a lot of other Democrats, God shelter them from those nasty klieg lights.

Enough already. Even if Chomsky really were a fool or a villain, the folks who think so would still have a lot more explaining to do. Less invective, less when I was in the Clinton White House, more this really is what I want the U.S. to become — the Rule of Law at High Mass, the sharp end of a Hellfire missile when we think you aren’t looking. (And a bullet in the head for Julian Assange, while we’re at it.) HERE, folks, are our sacred reasons….

83

christian_h 09.27.12 at 6:25 pm

Also, sorry but this way of presenting African Americans collectively as final arbiters of all forms of racism strikes me as thoughtless – it echoes the right-wing assertion that “race” is the issue black people vote on.

84

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 6:25 pm

Yes because all non-whites are African American, and fit perfectly into that frame of reference

You might want to look into voting behavior of other non-white groups.

85

bexley 09.27.12 at 6:26 pm

The argument for not voting for a Democrat has never been, for most of the people who considered it or are considering it, that the lesser evil isn’t in fact lesser.

So what is the argument exactly? Voting Nader didn’t suddenly make some massive improvement to the world in 2000. This is despite the fact if Nader voters had all voted Gore the result would have flipped. This is the largest impact a 3rd party candidate could reasonably expect to have right now. So if anything was going to change it would have changed then.

In reality the problem is that not enough people care about foreigners being blown up by the US. Until that fact changes no candidate with a reasonable chance of becoming President is going to look good on these issues. So the key is to work to change public opinion rather than vote 3rd party in presidential elections.

86

Substance McGravitas 09.27.12 at 6:28 pm

Just to be clear, I want Obama to beat Romney. It would be the best outcome of the election, discarding miracles. I am, however, in sympathy with the position that it’s hard to vote for the guy. I recommend that those who won’t vote for Obama spend election day taking a Romney-voting relative out on a bender to compensate.

87

PeterC 09.27.12 at 6:30 pm

Obama shows that if one speaks ‘proper’, one may get away with so much more than a big W.

88

Daniel 09.27.12 at 6:30 pm

Brad – this is a post by Henry, linking a post by me. I believe that Gore, if elected, would have been very likely to have started a war in Iraq (and also that his post-2000 politics were shifted hugely by the very fact of his defeat). I think Henry does too. So if you want to have that argument, could you have it with me or Henry rather than Chris please? It avoids the appearance or likelihood that it all gets personal.

89

Daniel 09.27.12 at 6:32 pm

(On an unrelated note, if your position is that you have very serious, no very serious, trenchant! and excoriating! criticisms of the Obama administration, but that these must never be allowed to influence your voting or political behaviour, then you really do lay yourself open to a bit of a tu quoque if you accuse anyone else of “moral posturing”.)

90

rf 09.27.12 at 6:36 pm

‘You might want to look into voting behavior of other non-white groups.’

Voting behaviour in Pakistan?

91

christian_h 09.27.12 at 6:38 pm

Yes bexley I do agree – the problem is the fixation on voting as the be and end all in first place. The argument in 2000 was that getting involved in the Nader campaign was a way to build a left in the US that deserves the name. Not so much “build a third party”, but get arguments out there that outside a campaign would never even be heard (remember, there were no blogs then – and even with blogs this still strikes me as a good point). Now I have always argued that a presidential campaign is the worst terrain for the left to operate on, and as such I think the Nader campaign (the whole phenomenn, not the fact Nader was running as such, which wasn’t very relevant) was one of those times when many of us on the left got caught up in seeing a potential for a political breakthrough where there wasn’t any (for other examples, see RESPECT, the party in the UK etc.).

So far so good. What I am arguing, however, is that the same problem exists, in a worse way, among those liberals yelling on this blog and others, in the newspapers etc., about everyone’s moral duty to vote for Obama. If this was all an exercise in quasi-Stalinist consequentialism it would not be a problem (well, maybe an aesthetic one). But it isn’t, and can’t be. It always leads people to embrace policies they would never otherwise embrace, or to at least ignore those policies because they don’t want to discuss them and, god forbid, “depress turnout among the base”. The effect is magnified because it also happens – even more so – on the organizational level. Resources that otherwise might be used to push left policies now are used to make excuses for decidedly reactionary ones.

92

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 6:38 pm

Fascinating how many “leftists” are deeply concerned about the treatment of misogynist religious zealot Al-Alwaqi but don’t know anything about the Danziger Bridge
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danziger_Bridge_shootings

Amazing that New York City, the home of so many progressives has an out of control racist police force and an authoritarian anti-labor Wall Street mayor with basically zero opposition.

93

bexley 09.27.12 at 6:39 pm

(On an unrelated note, if your position is that you have very serious, no very serious, trenchant! and excoriating! criticisms of the Obama administration, but that these must never be allowed to influence your voting or political behaviour, then you really do lay yourself open to a bit of a tu quoque if you accuse anyone else of “moral posturing”.)

Can’t speak for Brad but it doesn’t appear to be the position of the LGM crowd. I’m pretty sure the argument is that you pretty much always vote for the Democrat over the Republican but you should be trying to make sure its a decent candidate standing for the Dems before it even gets to that stage. So the political effort you put in is in influencing the local Democratic party.

94

christian_h 09.27.12 at 6:40 pm

Not “the same problem”, but rather, a mirror problem.

95

PeterC 09.27.12 at 6:40 pm

Opening the Iraq front was such an obvious blunder, and in so many ways, is it credible that Gore would have made the same error?

96

rf 09.27.12 at 6:41 pm

‘Funny how 95% of African Americans support the party that white progressives denounce as racist. I guess they are not following the leadership of the vanguard properly

‘Fascinating how many “leftists” are deeply concerned about the treatment of misogynist religious zealot Al-Alwaqi’

Bingo, and there’s your racism!

97

christian_h 09.27.12 at 6:42 pm

rootless_e, you know nothing about what we are concerned about. Did you consider that many of us might in fact be involved in organizing against racist policing in our places of living? Or that the fact this hasn’t come up in this discussion is because this is not particuarly connected to a federal campaign?

98

Dave 09.27.12 at 6:47 pm

“I used to be a Democrat, but ever since liberals expressed extreme dismay over Al Gore’s loss, I favor vote suppression.”

99

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 6:48 pm

I see a lot of “left” complaints about the civil rights record of the Obama administration that appear to rest on the assumption that what Perez and DOJ Civil Rights division have done, for example, doesn’t matter.

I also note that if it is politically difficult to defeat Bloomberg’s out of control police force in NYC, you might get an idea that opposing the US world wide military expansion requires something more than voting for Gary Johnson.

100

Bruce Wilder 09.27.12 at 6:49 pm

One of the few effective checks on local police has been the possibility of resort to Federal intervention, and very often that’s the policy lever local activists fix upon. So, whether it becomes a prominent issue in a Presidential campaign, or not, in whatever form (e.g. Trayvon Martin), it is a consequential political issue, and a federal issue.

101

christian_h 09.27.12 at 6:50 pm

Well then you’re just not looking. You clearly know NOTHING about the left; you clearly have not ever done any political organizing (outside the Democratic party, if that). You’re just talking out of your behind.

102

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 6:55 pm

(On an unrelated note, if your position is that you have very serious, no very serious, trenchant! and excoriating! criticisms of the Obama administration, but that these must never be allowed to influence your voting or political behaviour, then you really do lay yourself open to a bit of a tu quoque if you accuse anyone else of “moral posturing”.)

You may not like the idea of voting for the lesser evil, but it indisputably a thing, not just a posture.

103

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 6:57 pm

In reality the problem is that not enough people care about foreigners being blown up by the US. Until that fact changes no candidate with a reasonable chance of becoming President is going to look good on these issues. So the key is to work to change public opinion rather than vote 3rd party in presidential elections.

This, exactly. And I agree that New York City is an excellent example of the fact that it’s not so easy.

104

Bruce Wilder 09.27.12 at 6:58 pm

If your local police force has a SWAT team, and an armoured vehicle, and a drone, and is being trained in “terrorist” awareness, or riot control, that, too, is largely a consequence of Federal policy. If your local police force is hiring Afganistan/Iraq Occupation veterans, with all of the damage that multiple tours in those benighted countries can do, that, too, is Federal policy at work.

105

rootless_e 09.27.12 at 7:01 pm

christian_h: I’m all eyes – send me to link of news reports on how NYC leftists have demonstrated, engaged in civil disobedience, run candidates, publicized the message and otherwise mobilized opposition to the nation’s largest city police force. Whatever they are doing, it’s obviously not working.

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christian_h 09.27.12 at 7:02 pm

Yes Bruce sorry, I wasn’t addressing you. I was addressing the baseless claim that “the left” doesn’t care about racist policing in the US. I do get a bit upset when someone who clearly does no political work whatsoever presumes to lecture those of us who spend a lot of time and effort on these issues.

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christian_h 09.27.12 at 7:04 pm

But electing Obama worked? Or what the heck is your point? Are you even capable of sustaining an argument is some fashion? You claimed people on the left don’t care. Now you claim no, it doesn’t matter if they care, they don’t succeed – which is why we should bomb people in Yemen? Or what?

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politicalfootball 09.27.12 at 7:07 pm

but that these must never be allowed to influence your voting or political behaviour

Has someone made this argument?

his post-2000 politics were shifted hugely by the very fact of his defeat

Gore opposed the Iraq War without ever retracting any of his previous positions.

I suspect your argument is more plausible to people who weren’t saturated in American politics in that period, and who were instead exposed more directly to Blair. It was actually pretty darn hard – even after 9/11 – for Bush to push the U.S. into war. He had to do a lot of work and engage in a lot of direct fraud. Even if we assume that Gore would have reversed his prior stance and become pro-war, it’s hard for me to see him engaging in fraud on a Bush scale – and its double-hard to see him actually succeeding with such fraud.

Was Gore a sufficiently gutless Third Way-style politician to have gone along with war once the decision had been made? Well, not in real life, but I think it’s plausible that the 2000 defeat changed him. Maybe if he were in Blair’s shoes, and it was a matter of going with the flow, he would have supported war.

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Anarcissie 09.27.12 at 7:11 pm

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 4:43 pm:
‘Anarcissie must think that there is also no argument against not getting vaccinated and relying on herd immunity to protect you. Or perhaps the fallacy is a little easier to spot in that context.’

It’s not a very good analogy. The material effects of getting vaccinated are non-trivial both for the individual and the collectivity and are mostly favorable for most vaccinations, and the benefit for one’s moral posturing is entirely on the side of getting vaccinated. In the case of voting for the lesser evil, however, not only is the vote, as a political act, of infinitesimal significance, but the lesser evil is still evil — in the case of the Democratic Party, we have active pursuit of plutocracy, war, imperialism, police-state surveillance, unjust imprisonment, corruption, fraud, and so on — and degrades the lesser-evil voter’s moral posturing as well.

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rootless_e 09.27.12 at 7:12 pm

Of course electing Obama worked. We have a functioning Department of Justice that has been going all over the country enforcing civil rights laws. We do not have Blackwater in the streets hustling people off to secret prisons – as they did in New Orleans during Katrina. DOJ is intervening for victims of police brutality, not for perpetrators of police brutality. We have a ban on torture. We have millions of people who are getting health care. We don’t have an army in Iraq. We have the UAW and the IAM. None of that may matter to you, but your priorities and moral choices are not self-evidently correct and the people who benefited from the Obama administration are human beings who some of us value.

111

politicalfootball 09.27.12 at 7:13 pm

It always leads people to embrace policies they would never otherwise embrace

Any time one participates in majoritarian politics in the United States, one has to accept positions that one wouldn’t otherwise embrace. The alternative – eschewing majoritarian politics – pretty much by definition means that you’re opting out of any influence on democratic governance.

112

christian_h 09.27.12 at 7:14 pm

Moving the goal posts again, we were talking about policing in NYC which YOU claimed is still racist. But anyway I’m out. You are cearly down to trolling now.

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Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 7:21 pm

In the case of voting for the lesser evil, however, not only is the vote, as a political act, of infinitesimal significance, but the lesser evil is still evil — in the case of the Democratic Party, we have active pursuit of plutocracy, war, imperialism, police-state surveillance, unjust imprisonment, corruption, fraud, and so on — and degrades the lesser-evil voter’s moral posturing as well.

Vaccinations can have non-trivial side effects. But the disease is still worse than the preventative. By the same token, the lesser evil is evil, but by definition the greater evil is more evil. You cannot avoid being complicit in evil by making it easier for the greater evil to triumph. In short, see politicalfootball@111.

Self-regarding purism is the enemy of effective political action. The left has hobbled itself this way for years, and for a change we’re seeing the right do it in this election cycle.

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dbk 09.27.12 at 7:25 pm

I highly recommend the piece by Jacob Hacker linked to in an earlier thread (the first one on “predistribution” by CB, helpfully provided by bob mcmanus); Hacker concludes with a neat statement of the problem progressives face at the national level: how does one employ a broken system to fix that same system?

And now, a question for the CT commentariat: I live abroad and haven’t missed an election in 32 years. However, recently evidence has come to light that absentee ballots are being thrown out or opened and then retained or thrown depending on what they contain (google “throwing out absentee ballots” – 6.5 million hits).

In full knowledge that (a) my absentee ballot has a good chance of never being counted (viz. “thrown”) or (b) if opened, being thrown because I never vote the way my district votes, what is the “moral” thing to do? To vote, knowing that I am engaged in an exercise that at some level makes me look utterly foolish, or not to vote, thus acknowledging that I know what is going on?

In the interest of full disclosure, my home is in a Congressional District that hasn’t gone Democratic in about a century (there have been elections in which no Democrat could be found to even stand); my current Rep is approximately twelve years old and expected to win by an overwhelming majority.

DeLong@60: What would be a “good week” to suggest people not vote for the lesser of two evils?

115

Bloix 09.27.12 at 7:57 pm

“The lesser of two evils” is a ridiculous way to think about it.

Throughout history there have always been imperial powers. We live in one. Which one was better? Assyria? Rome? Persia? Byzantium? Spain? Britain? The USSR?

So, okay, compared to the fantasy country that exists nowhere outside your head, it sucks. But compared to anything that has ever existed in all recorded history, it’s fantastic! It’s “the lesser of two evils” only if you permit an entry of “the imaginary good” as potential competition.

Of course, there are plenty of people living in it who think things would be much better if it were more like Rome and they are doing all they can to make it so. Luckily, you get to help choose its rulers, so you have the ability to prevent that from happening. But no, you have to keep the hems of your skirts clean, so you won’t do it.

Well, I got news for you. Our skirts are filthy already. Compared to the subjects of our empire, your standard of living is a dozen times higher, your life expectancy is twice as long, your children get to live and not to die before they turn five. We wake up in clean sheets and piss in a gleaming porcelain bowl and as we drink our piping hot espresso we think, oh hell, I have a dentist appointment today.

The very least we can do is to spend five minutes voting for imperial rulers who are less likely to bomb and burn the little children of people whose names we can’t pronounce.

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Anarcissie 09.27.12 at 7:59 pm

Steve LaBonne 09.27.12 at 7:21 pm:
‘… Self-regarding purism is the enemy of effective political action.’

Not necessarily. Occupy Wall Street, whose core were radicals, that is, ‘self-regarding purists’ in the sense I believe you’re using the term, effectively put a (temporary) stop to the talk of gutting Social Security and Medicare, something the Democratic Party couldn’t do — indeed, many important Democrats were enthusiastic participants in the prospective butchery. Of course, OWS did this by going into the streets and making trouble, not by voting, which would have had no effect whatsoever. I suspect it was precisely their purity that enabled them to sit in the park through bad weather and police beatings and attracted thousands of woebegone non-radicals who wondered what had happened to their party and their supposed leaders. And when the hammer comes down after the election, that purity is probably going to be the only thing standing in the way of the plutocracy.

As for the arithmetic of evil, I don’t think I can go along with it. We’re talking about murder among other things, and I don’t know if we can say n-1 murders are significantly better than n murders, where n is a fairly large number, as in present government practice. For one’s moral posturing practice, which, as I pointed out, is all you’re going to get out of voting, I would think any number of state murders greater than zero would not be acceptable.

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Substance McGravitas 09.27.12 at 8:10 pm

I would think any number of state murders greater than zero would not be acceptable.

How does an American live acceptably?

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ChrisTS 09.27.12 at 8:14 pm

I don’t want to question others’ motives in voting or not-voting this way or that. However, I am puzzled by the focus on foreign policy and the ‘war on terror.’ in these comments.

So, Obama has done things in those areas with which I profoundly disagree. But – aside from thinking Romney would be worse – I see a vast difference between the parties and the candidates on national policy matters. My list of reasons to vcote for Obama:

1. The Supreme Court.
2. Reproductive rights.
3. The elderly, the poor, and children (economics, healthcare, education).
4. The Supreme Court.

I cannot wait for a dream candidate who will be all that I desire, and I will not abdicate my repsonsibility to my children to make the effort to leave them a country that is, at the very least, not worse than the one we have now.

119

ISOK 09.27.12 at 8:15 pm

Can those of you making the moralistic case for not voting for Obama please list a few past presidents who did not engage in any of these “deal-breakers,” and as a result would have been deserving of your vote in retrospect?

Or is that too crudely practical a question for this discussion?

To be clear, though I personally find it silly, I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with people abstaining from voting or casting a vote for a third party; rather, I genuinely am curious whether, in taking this view, one is ever faced with an actual decision to make.

120

Bruce Wilder 09.27.12 at 9:01 pm

PeterC: “Obama sold large sections of the American public and many in the world beyond a bill of goods. We were vulnerable after the misdeeds of W. We were swindled. Some of us are still understandably reluctant to admit it, and to what extent.”

Well, that’s it, of course. American liberals (or those with Left sympathies generally) are powerless, and unorganized, the institutions, which once served as platforms from which to exercise some political leverage and give voice, are gone or in other hands.

And, Obama is a bad man and a bad President; that’s the point of the parable of death by drone. Not that people, with moral sense, should vote like saints focused on other-worldly concerns, but that Obama, largely unconstrained politically or institutionally, chooses evil. And, it is not the isolated mistake, of an imperfect politician in an impossible job, but a pattern. And, part of the pattern is that the dynamics of partisan politics dampen opposition to Obama, criticism of Obama, from the Left, without doing anything to improve his behavior.

All the rest of this back and forth is just trying to avoid confronting the hard truths, both about who Obama is and what he’s doing, and for whom, and about how irrelevant the electorate’s participation has become to policy outcomes, in this era of synthetic partisan polarization and propaganda. It is an instance of the dynamics of partisanship legitimating Obama’s policies, and embedding them into the institutional precedents and expectations of his office.

Obama, elected in the crisis of 2008, could have been not just a good President, but a great one. The Presidency is the mechanism in the American Constitution for responding decisively and expediently to a systemic crisis. The President, in a crisis, can assume the power of a Roman Dictator, and like a Roman Dictator, is expected to restore the Republic, both by acting expediently and by circumspect self-restraint, in retiring quickly from the exercise of absolute power. Washington was the model, and Lincoln and FDR the prime examples. Washington, Lincoln and FDR saved the country. It is conventional wisdom that Presidents never concede power, once it has been exercised, but that was not the pattern of Washington, Lincoln or FDR, who were exceedingly circumspect, concerned about precedent. The power of Congress actually increased markedly under Lincoln and FDR, because they encouraged it.

Obama could have stopped the plutocracy, stopped the runaway train, which is our corrupt vampire squid of a financial system, could have stopped the madness of our military-industrial complex run amok in the perpetual and limitless war on terror. Crisis is an open door, for a President. His predecessor had used crisis, as a shock doctrine, to put the country on a path. Obama kept the country on the path Bush chose, and shut the door.

Nothing can be done, now, short of another systemic crisis. No amelioration will save us. This is the most inconsequential election in my lifetime. If Romney looks like a punch-drunk fighter taking a dive, maybe there’s a reason. Not-voting-for-Obama and voting-for-Obama — both leave the voter powerless, participation meaningless. The voting-for-Obama as the lesser evil option, though, does come with the option of investing in self-delusion, so there’s that.

121

piglet 09.27.12 at 9:15 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.

122

PatrickinIowa 09.27.12 at 9:24 pm

123

Anarcissie 09.27.12 at 9:28 pm

Substance McGravitas 09.27.12 at 8:10 pm:
‘ “I would think any number of state murders greater than zero would not be acceptable.”
How does an American live acceptably?’

Well, I engage in and support a certain amount of activism, and I won’t vote or give money to a candidate or party that has started or supported aggressive wars. That’s what’s acceptable to me; some go further, others not as far. It’s a pretty low level of moral posturing, I admit, but I’m lazy and cowardly so it’s the best I can do at the moment.

124

Brad DeLong 09.27.12 at 9:57 pm

I think Tom Levenson wins the Internet on this one: https://inversesquare.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/reality-meet-conor-conor-meet-the-real-world/

“Friedersdorf’s argument rests on the claim that on the crucial matter Romney and Obama are the same.  Which is why this report in today’s New York Times is such a firecracker up his rhetorical butt: ‘Mr. Romney’s advisers have privately urged him to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order” and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives,” according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum…. “We’ll use enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now,” he said at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., in December…’

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Chris Bertram 09.27.12 at 10:01 pm

Let’s review shall we?

BDL #1: “a President Gore would have been very unlikely to have attacked Iraq”

CB #16: I cite a counterfactual article in Prospect from 2004, I summarise thus: “So maybe not so unlikely.” [And that's it, the sum total of what I say]

BDL #59: “I see Chris Bertram slandering Al Gore by claiming that Gore was likely to have attacked Iraq in 2003.”

Further comment would be superfluous.

126

Brad DeLong 09.27.12 at 10:09 pm

Daniel: “I believe that Gore, if elected, would have been very likely to have started a war in Iraq”

Evidence? Either from you or from Bertram or Farrell: I don’t especially care.

I do know that Al Gore gave a very impressive speech in September 2002, which convinced me that either he would not have gone into Iraq or he was dissembling at a Clintonian level of performance that he has never been able to achieve either before or since.

I think you are confusing counterfactual Al Gore as President with Tony Blair in full “special relationship” mode.

They are two very different people.

127

Daniel 09.27.12 at 10:19 pm

I have always found this analysis from the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute to be convincing. Others might not. It’s discussed in quite some detail on the comments thread below my original post linked by Henry.

Meanwhile, on your own blog, you’ve linked to a speech by Al Gore in which he specifically says that he is in favour of building a wider international coalition to support a war with Iraq, in the apparent belief that it demonstrates that he was against war with Iraq.

The election defeat changed Gore. His politics were very different afterwards. You are perhaps confusing the author of “An Inconvenient Growth” with the former vice-President who stood for election in 2000. They are also very different people.

128

Brad DeLong 09.27.12 at 10:39 pm

Perhaps–but very, very unlikely…

First, 9/02 is only 21 months after the Supreme Court snatched the presidency from him, and so I don’t think the transformation was that far advanced. Second, as I heard Gore’s speech then and read it now, Gore believed that the U.S. military should be the servant of either the NATO consensus or preferably the UN Security Council. Third, I am profoundly unconvinced by a Joshua Kurlantzik who makes claims about what Gore would likely have done without, IIRC, quoting a word Gore ever said.

And I do think there is an important difference between those who had never been in a war zone (Bush, Cheney, Blair) and those who had (Chirac, Gore). It is easier to unleash Hell when you have absolutely no first-hand idea what you are doing.

And let me reiterate: This isn’t a choice between two candidates who are equally bad along the key dimension. This is a choice between two candidates, one of whom is awful along all dimensions and the other of whom is rather lousy along all dimensions.

I am inclined to give people who are out there every weekend (or every day) organizing an alternative a pass on voting for Obama this November–Glenn Greenwald certainly gets a pass on voting for him. Others? Nah.

129

Daniel 09.27.12 at 10:44 pm

I think at this point George Scialabba’s point becomes relevant – to ask people who excoriate anyone who voted for Nader in 2000 what they have been doing for electoral reform over the last twelve years?

130

chrismealy 09.27.12 at 10:50 pm

ask people who excoriate anyone who voted for Nader in 2000 what they have been doing for electoral reform over the last twelve years?

It couldn’t be less than what Nader’s done.

131

Ed 09.28.12 at 12:33 am

dbk at # 114 commented:

“And now, a question for the CT commentariat: I live abroad and haven’t missed an election in 32 years. However, recently evidence has come to light that absentee ballots are being thrown out or opened and then retained or thrown depending on what they contain (google “throwing out absentee ballots” – 6.5 million hits).”

For me this is the most interesting comment on the thread because I am in a situation where if I am to vote this November I will probably have to vote absentee.

My understanding is that in many electoral jurisdictions in the U.S., absentee ballots are only counted if the number of absentee ballots is larger than the margin between the leading candidate and the second place candidate. I’ll admit I’m not sure if this is the case in my state, its one of my top priorities to research. But if true I think it makes trying to vote absentee pretty pointless, so I will probably wind up not voting at all this election.

None of the races in my state and district where I would vote this year, for President, federal Senator and Congressman, and state legislature, are not expected to be close, for very good reasons. In fact the last time one of the races for these offices was close where I live was in 1998.

Not incidentally, I think people tend to underestimate the prevalence of ballot fraud, I mean throwing out ballots and occasionally adding fake ballots, in American elections. The U.S. electoral system is not very well set up to prevent it. This stuff was a feature of American elections in the nineteenth and earlier twentieth century, and then we are expected to believe that the two parties suddenly cleaned up their act around the time of World War II. The likelihood that your vote won’t be counted at all in American elections makes discussions like this hilarious.

132

Michael Sullivan 09.28.12 at 1:27 am

Bill Murray @ 12: “We can play these Turtledove games forever, my question for those voting for Obama but not liking many of his policies is what are you doing to making the Democratic policies better? If all you do is vote and maybe complain on the internet the Democratic party is going to continue its 30-year drift to the right”

You can say the same to anyone no matter who they choose to vote for.

The question under consideration is whether some kind of third party vote sends a message that is more valuable than the one sent by voting for the lesser of evils. The pointlessness of the question doesn’t suggest anything in particular about which answer is correct.

That it is silly to argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin doesn’t make it more likely that the answer is 5 vs. 5000.

133

tib 09.28.12 at 4:47 am

Seems to me a person who was fooled by Nader in 2000, then fooled by Obama in 2008, should probably spend more time thinking about their choices.

As for lesser of two evils, a vote for Nader in 2000 was an obvious evil to anyone who bothered to listen to what Bush said he would do as president, there was no ‘lesser’ about it.

Obama was quite explicit in 2008 that he would expand the war in Afghanistan, and that he would pursue Al Qaeda and Bin Laden into Pakistan over any objections. I disagreed with that, but I’d have been insane to not vote or to support McCain over that disagreement given the rest of Obama’s policies.

Romney/Ryan have made their plans as plain as can be: war with Iran in the near term, more active intervention in Arab countries to remove Islamic governments, economic austerity through cutting government, tax cuts for the rich, repeal of Obamacare and the elimination of the rest of our social insurance programs as soon as possible. If you can live with that program then you have no moral obligation to vote for Obama, otherwise you should be working to re-elect Obama.

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hilzoy 09.28.12 at 5:29 am

Sweet Jesus.

I am beyond disappointed by Obama on civil liberties. But I have also been voting for the lesser of two evils for my entire adult life. This is not because I think I have to vote for the Democrat; it’s because it has always seemed to me to be the right choice. There are things that could make me not want to do so, but they involve either some plausible path to political change or two alternatives so awful that they would make me either emigrate or join the resistance.

The plausible path to political change is key here. I see the obvious problem about how a third party gets to displace one of the other two if everyone votes the way I do. But the reason there is no viable third party now isn’t primarily that; it’s that given the present electorate (including its news-gathering habits), no third party (that I’d be tempted to vote for) would *be* viable now.

The question is: how do you move the objectives you favor forward? Do you say to yourself that having Supreme Court justices who, in addition to eviscerating women’s rights, what remain of labor rights, etc., etc., would set Citizens United in stone, define money as speech for the foreseeable future, etc.? Do you say: ha ha, I don’t want to settle for the Affordable Care Act, even though Democrats have been trying to get something like this for *half a century*; I’ll just let a lot of people sicken and die while I wait for single-payer? Do you react to the recent study that says that climate change might kill a hundred million people by 2030 by saying: well, let’s just heighten the contradictions?

If I saw some plausible path to actual political change that would in some way compensate for these things, not to mention the many extra dead people that a Republican administration and its wars would probably produce, I might consider it. But I will not now. This is not because I think it’s not a choice, that I am “obligated” to vote Democratic, etc. It’s because I think it *is* a choice with immense moral ramifications, all of which lead me to vote for Obama.

135

Harold 09.28.12 at 6:00 am

Rootless — people are doing a lot against stop and frisk and it is having an effect.

136

Marc 09.28.12 at 9:21 am

@131: Absentee ballots are always counted, and counted first. There are numerous ballot initiatives and local races that can have very close margins, and by law absentee ballots must be treated the same as ones cast on election day.

137

Marc 09.28.12 at 9:23 am

I’d add that some of the confusion has to do with *provisional* ballots, which are ones cast on election day under disputed circumstances (e.g. missing ID, or wrong precinct.) These may or may not be counted, unlike absentee ballots.

138

Katherine 09.28.12 at 9:41 am

It seems to me that the morality or not of voting Democrat depends a whole lot on where you are. If you’re in a rock solid blue state/area, and there’s a half way viable third party candidate, I’d personally go for the third party candidate, in the hope of moving the Democratic candidate leftwards. In a marginal state (is that what swing state means?) then tactical issues are going to matter a lot more.

Frankly, the US left could do with a major organisation of vote swapping between Democract votes in safe seats and third party votes in marginal seats.

139

Cranky Observer 09.28.12 at 10:28 am

= = = @131: Absentee ballots are always counted, and counted first. There are numerous ballot initiatives and local races that can have very close margins, and by law absentee ballots must be treated the same as ones cast on election day. = = =

Can you provide some citations? My understanding is that in most election districts absentee ballots aren’t even opened unless the results of the in-person count are a tie within the margin of error (counting absentee ballots being a labor-intensive and expensive process that no election board really wants to perform).

Cranky

140

Barry 09.28.12 at 12:28 pm

Katherine: “Frankly, the US left could do with a major organisation of vote swapping between Democract votes in safe seats and third party votes in marginal seats.”

Agreed. And IIRC, this was proposed during 2000, and turned down by Nader, which as far as I’m concerned is sufficient evidence to declare him guilty on the charge of deliberately throwing the election to the GOP.

141

cali 09.28.12 at 12:30 pm

Cranky

In California, vote by mail ballots can be counted beginning 7 business days before the election. I believe most of the populous counties begin processing absentee ballots in this window but it is due to workflow not statute. In California, all valid absentee ballots (which we call vote by mail) are counted in every election regardless of the closeness of the race so it makes sense for counties to count as many ballots as they can before Election Day. From what I have read, only eight states allow for the counting of absentee ballots prior to Election Day. (California has a significant number of permanent vote by mail voters and vote by mail votes have been about 25% of all votes cast for the past two decades.)

You might be able to find more information at the NCSL or NASS websites.

142

Brad DeLong 09.28.12 at 2:17 pm

As I understand it, Joshua Kurtlantzik’s argument that Al Gore would have been likely to invade Iraq rests on one and only one single one-sentence quote from Gore in 1988: “We should not be so burned by the tragedy of Vietnam that we fail to recognise an interest that requires the assertion of force.”

Is there anything else in there that I have missed?

143

Chris Bertram 09.28.12 at 3:06 pm

_Is there anything else in there that I have missed?_

Well there’s also his entire third paragraph, most of which I quoted above.

More generally, though, it is easy to be amnesiac now about the atmosphere in 2002-3 when pro-war fever wasn’t exactly confined to Republicans. As I recall, it was a time when Brad’s friend Jeff Weintraub was deluging progressive bloggers with emails promoting the hawkish views of (Democrat) Ken Pollack on Iraq. And that’s just for example, of course. I don’t know that Gore would have invaded, but I’m surprised at the degree of confidence Brad expresses that he wouldn’t have, given the bellicosity of mainstream Democrats at the time.

144

David J. Littleboy 09.28.12 at 3:09 pm

“If you’re in a rock solid blue state/area,”

There’s no such thing as a solid blue state/area. Massachusetts has that disgusting sleaze Scott Brown as Senator (in Ted Kennedy’s seat, no less) because people thought MA was a solid blue state. That’s friggin’ MA, for crying out loud. And it’s not clear that we (well, I no longer vote there, but it was home for 30 years) will be able to kick him out. AAAAAAAAAAArg.

145

bianca steele 09.28.12 at 4:24 pm

Even if Mass. were a solid blue state, many precincts are not. My own may well be, but is at the edge of a large red region. I’m not in a hurry to encourage Repub organizers to spend more money here in the expectation that voters will be easy enough to pry off.

146

bianca steele 09.28.12 at 5:23 pm

Now, some number of those red voters–say, the actual libertarians–might be persuaded to put non-R control of the Senate ahead of getting their own lesser-evil candidate into a chair. I guess floating the idea of voting for a third party makes sense if it will get them thinking about it.

147

Brad DeLong 09.28.12 at 7:32 pm

Al Gore, September 2002, the beginning:

>Former Vice President Al Gore: Sept. 23, 2002: Iraq and the War on Terrorism: Commonwealth Club of California: San Francisco, California: Like all Americans I have been wrestling with the question of what our country needs to do to defend itself from the kind of intense, focused and enabled hatred that brought about September 11th, and which at this moment must be presumed to be gathering force for yet another attack. I’m speaking today in an effort to recommend a specific course of action for our country which I believe would be preferable to the course recommended by President Bush. Specifically, I am deeply concerned that the policy we are presently following with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.

>FIRST THING FIRST: WAR ON TERRORISM

>To begin with, I believe we should focus our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and have thus far gotten away with it. The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized. I do not believe that we should allow ourselves to be distracted from this urgent task simply because it is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than predicted. Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished task to another.

>We are perfectly capable of staying the course in our war against Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist network, while simultaneously taking those steps necessary to build an international coalition to join us in taking on Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion.

>I don’t think that we should allow anything to diminish our focus on avenging the 3,000 Americans who were murdered and dismantling the network of terrorists who we know to be responsible for it. The fact that we don’t know where they are should not cause us to focus instead on some other enemy whose location may be easier to identify.

>Nevertheless, President Bush is telling us that the most urgent requirement of the moment – right now – is not to redouble our efforts against Al Qaeda, not to stabilize the nation of Afghanistan after driving his host government from power, but instead to shift our focus and concentrate on immediately launching a new war against Saddam Hussein. And he is proclaiming a new, uniquely American right to pre-emptively attack whomsoever he may deem represents a potential future threat…

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Brad DeLong 09.28.12 at 7:33 pm

Al Gore, September 2002, the end:

>We have faced such a choice once before, at the end of the second World War. At that moment, America’s power in comparison to the rest of the world was if anything greater than it is now, and the temptation was clearly to use that power to assure ourselves that there would be no competitor and no threat to our security for the foreseeable future. The choice we made, however, was to become a co-founder of what we now think of as the post-war era, based on the concepts of collective security and defense, manifested first of all in the United Nations. Through all the dangerous years that followed, when we understood that the defense of freedom required the readiness to put the existence of the nation itself into the balance, we never abandoned our belief that what we were struggling to achieve was not bounded by our own physical security, but extended to the unmet hopes of humankind. The issue before us is whether we now face circumstances so dire and so novel that we must choose one objective over the other.

>So it is reasonable to conclude that we face a problem that is severe, chronic, and likely to become worse over time.

>But is a general doctrine of pre-emption necessary in order to deal with this problem? With respect to weapons of mass destruction, the answer is clearly not. The Clinton Administration launched a massive series of air strikes against Iraq for the state purpose of setting back his capacity to pursue weapons of mass destruction. There was no perceived need for new doctrine or new authorities to do so. The limiting factor was the state of our knowledge concerning the whereabouts of some assets, and a concern for limiting consequences to the civilian populace, which in some instances might well have suffered greatly.

>Does Saddam Hussein present an imminent threat, and if he did would the United States be free to act without international permission? If he presents an imminent threat we would be free to act under generally accepted understandings of article 51 of the UN Charter which reserves for member states the right to act in self-defense.

>If Saddam Hussein does not present an imminent threat, then is it justifiable for the Administration to be seeking by every means to precipitate a confrontation, to find a cause for war, and to attack? There is a case to be made that further delay only works to Saddam Hussein’s advantage, and that the clock should be seen to have been running on the issue of compliance for a decade: therefore not needing to be reset again to the starting point. But to the extent that we have any concern for international support, whether for its political or material value, hurrying the process will be costly. Even those who now agree that Saddam Hussein must go, may divide deeply over the wisdom of presenting the United States as impatient for war.

>At the same time, the concept of pre-emption is accessible to other countries. There are plenty of potential imitators: India/Pakistan; China/Taiwan; not to forget Israel/Iraq or Israel/Iran. Russia has already cited it in anticipation of a possible military push into Georgia, on grounds that this state has not done enough to block the operations of Chechen rebels. What this doctrine does is to destroy the goal of a world in which states consider themselves subject to law, particularly in the matter of standards for the use of violence against each other. That concept would be displaced by the notion that there is no law but the discretion of the President of the United States.

>I believe that we can effectively defend ourselves abroad and at home without dimming our principles. Indeed, I believe that our success in defending ourselves depends precisely on not giving up what we stand for.

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Substance McGravitas 09.28.12 at 7:41 pm

Okay, I think everyone now agrees that 2002 Al Gore would like to build an international consensus to invade Iraq based on a much more civilized and diplomatic approach than George W. Bush.

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rf 09.28.12 at 7:45 pm

This is a very peculiar obsession Brad De Long is developing

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Substance McGravitas 09.28.12 at 7:50 pm

It is. Not that it doesn’t make Gore better than Bush, but really…

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Brad DeLong 09.28.12 at 8:11 pm

Mostly, I’m just gobsmacked by the idea that people think that Al Gore would have been likely to follow the same Middle-East policies as George W. Bush did–it’s very reminiscent of someone like Ramesh Ponnuru saying that the 47% tape doesn’t make him less confident that Romney will win.

There is evidence on what Al Gore thought in the early 2000s. And maybe presenting it will make somebody wake up…

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Substance McGravitas 09.28.12 at 8:25 pm

“The same Middle-East policies” aren’t required for an invasion of Iraq. You can accomplish that with the far more civilized policies Al Gore wanted to pursue.

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rf 09.28.12 at 8:26 pm

Al Gore was history’s greatest (hypothetical) monster

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Substance McGravitas 09.28.12 at 8:37 pm

That’s a lotta presidential candidates you’re discounting there. Opportunities abound to be history’s greatest hypothetical monster!

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Chris Bertram 09.29.12 at 8:13 am

Re, Pollack, by the way, he makes the following claim at pp. 99-100 of The Threatening Storm:

“Not surprisingly, it was Vice President Gore and his staff who remained most interested in the regime change plan, or at least an aggressive containment policy, to head off the possibility of future Iraq crises if they inherited the White House in the 2000 elections.”

Not conclusive about what Gore would have done in office, of course, but certainly indicative imho.

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Brad DeLong 09.29.12 at 10:34 am

O, good, evidence! Finally!

I would tend to read that–knowing about Ken Pollack–as saying that Al Gore in 2000 was in favor of aggressive containment policies, and that Pollack wished Al Gore was in favor of régime change.

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Brad DeLong 09.29.12 at 10:37 am

Re: “‘The same Middle-East policies’ aren’t required for an invasion of Iraq. You can accomplish that with the far more civilized policies Al Gore wanted to pursue.”

Ah. But Henry needs for Al Gore to follow the same policies as George W. Bush–for there to be “not a dime’s worth of difference” so that his exercise in political theater can be without real-world consequences for real-world people.

You work to reduce Obama’s edge, and you might reduce it so far that Romney wins 5-4. It is important in that case for Henry to be able to argue that it doesn’t matter because the policies will be the same along the important dimension.

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Adrian Kelleher 09.29.12 at 12:16 pm

It’s imaginable that Obama’s policies could be preferable to Romney’s over the foreseeable future and still be no better over the longer term. The communists often made this argument during the 20th Century, IIRC sometimes surreptitiously campaigning for right-wingers, reasoning that they’d bring the house down sooner. If this election turns out to be like Johnson-Goldwater then that could be a disastrous error. On the other hand, if it’s more Baldwin-MacDonald or von Bülow-von Bethmann-Hollweg then a vote for Obama might conceivably prove worse than a vote for Romney.

This is all speculation of course, though a much easier case to argue is Bush-Kerry. It’s entirely obvious now that a Kerry victory, leaving the Democrats to carry the can for a bubble that was already well advanced, would have been catastrophic for the party.

I for one would never entertain such speculation if Obama actually argued for any of the policies it’s assumed he favours — the policies his supporters just know he wants deep down but which he never promotes or defends in any way. If a party triangulates away the same policy area in election after election then it can hardly be surprised when its proposals in that area grow more and more unpopular over time.

It’s noticeable that the conservative movement (as opposed to the Republican party generally) never ever triangulates. It fights tooth and nail for every inch without relenting. So long as they’re allowed to frame debates and reasoned with on terms of their own choosing this trend will continue.

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Robert Waldmann 09.29.12 at 1:09 pm

Shorter Bill Murray *

“‘examples of someone arguing ‘…always or definitionally…’ ‘ …

the 2000 election, …”

Even shorter Bill Murray “‘always” = 2000.”

Arguing with people too pure to vote for either of the candidates with a chance of winning is frustrating. It’s like groundhog day all over again.

Also and separately Murray assumes it is obvious that anyone who criticizes anyone else is an authoritarian who thinks the other person doesn’t have the right to make the criticized choice.

By (automatically) hosting Murray’s comment, Crooked Timer keeps up the tradition of putting exceptional reasoning on the web

* I am aware of all internet traditions that exist, have existed, or might ever exist in this and in all possible worlds, so I know I am misusing the concept of “shorter” (and in the comment thread of post which is largely a quotation of Daniel Davies too). My reducto ad absurdum was achieved almost entirely by elision. My total creative contribution = “=”.

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Glenn 09.30.12 at 4:43 am

Every time I see P4O (Progressives for Obama) I recognize the contradiction in the denial of Obama as a conservative. Obama is not even positioned to the left within the controlling political class which is in itself conservative. The left leaning conservatives within the conservative political class have been excluded from any meaningful governmental participation and largely exiled to the third parties.

P4O is a misnomer, as it should be P4C as in “Progressives for Conservatives.” “Progressives in support of Conservatives” is a contradiction that can only call into question the validity of elections in such an exclusionary system such as this which dominates this nation’s government.

The conservative political class with its two parties functions as a monopoly. The parties write the laws that regulate party activity. The political class is a law unto itself in that it excludes all competition that may interfere with its operation. It is self dealing in its maintenance of its monopoly.

The popular argument is that a vote for the lesser of two evils is a contribution to reform.

I argue that the vote for the lesser of two evils is a reinforcement of corruption.

Those who accept the validity of a vote for the lesser of two evils have on their side the acknowledgement of the evil of the two parties. I see hope for all in that recognition on their part.

If the parties are both evil and a marginal difference is all that can recommend a vote for one over the other, the argument for “lesser of evil voting” is that the marginal difference justifies full throated support for a vote for the lesser of two evils by Progressives for Conservatives.

The argument for lesser of two evils voting follows:

Only when the two parties of the conservative political class are less evil by historical standards and less in need of reform, is it then safe to attempt reform. Since the parties are both conservative and are only marginally different, the only safe time for reform is when the political class as a whole has become less corrupted and less evil. Only when BOTH parties are LESS in need of reform should a vote be cast for a third party candidate. Only at a time when the urgency for reform is NOT a strong motivation for voting for a third party is it safe to vote for a third party. Otherwise the marginally less evil vote will be split by the third party vote and lose to the marginally MORE evil in our corrupt electoral system.

The argument against lesser of two evils voting as a reinforcement of corruption follows:

The public should WAIT until the government becomes less corrupted and less evil before attempting reform. The Lesser Evil Party will be asking the pubic to wait for years while posing as impotent do-gooders, apathetic leaders of an apathetic public. The evils and corruption will be portrayed as a temporary abnormality.

Hence, reform can be INTENTIONALLY forestalled by MAXIMIZING corruption and evil with the understanding that the Lesser Evil Party will not allow the marginal difference gap to expand or contract, thereby maintaining third party votes as unacceptably dangerous in a time of increasing evil and corruption. Excluding third parties minimizes public interference with the business of the conservative political class. The Greater Evil Party can extend what is portrayed by the Lesser Evil Party as a temporary abnormality indefinitely.

I make this argument in a generic manner without reference to specific parties, specific evils, or specific nations. The abstract nature of this argument makes it applicable to the past, present and future. It is applicable to a conservative political class exercising its monopoly through two parties with only marginal differences between them. It describes the exercise of domination by a political class through the spectacle of elections divorced from policy.

The nature of this argument’s timelessness means that elections under this system are incapable of bringing change or being changed systemically by means other than that of a corrupt institution falling under its own weight.

We will be having this same discussion before every election. The Lesser Evils Party, if it wins, will neither bring legal action for crimes nor legislation to restrain the conservative political class in successive administrations. The Greater Evil Party, if it wins, will move toward greater evils, followed by the loyal Lesser Evil Party with its admonishment to the public to WAIT for reforms.

This argument can be credible only among those who judge the two parties as evil and corrupt. I argue this judgment is a minimum requirement of progressivism.

Those who see the confrontation between the two parties as a battle between good and evil are conservative voters and de facto conservatives. They are Progressives for Conservatives and in their confusion neither progressive nor conservative. They are merely weak people who easily succumb to extortion.

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purple 09.30.12 at 5:41 am

I wonder if the majority of people will vote this time around.

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Marc 09.30.12 at 7:13 am

Re absentee ballots, here are some representative quotes from California:

“California code section 15150: “For every election, the elections official shall conduct a semifinal official canvass by tabulating vote by mail and precinct ballots and compiling the results.”

Also, from CalVoter.org’s FAQ:

“All Vote by Mail ballots that are returned to county election offices by 8 pm on election day are counted. After the 2000 election, a popular radio talk show host suggested on air that absentee ballots in California are not counted unless the contest is close, and unfortunately this piece of misinformation ended up being repeated to the point where many people became concerned that their absentee votes had not been counted.

All votes legally cast in this state are counted, regardless of whether they were cast at the polling place or submitted via mail through the vote by mail voting process. It may take a little longer to incorporate all of the vote by mail votes into the final election results, but they are all counted.

Vote by mail ballots must be returned to county election offices and received by those offices by the time polls close (8 pm) on Election Day in order to be counted. Late-arriving vote by mail ballots are not counted (just as you would not be able to vote if you arrived at your polling place at 9 or 10 pm).”
——————
No one would ever cast an absentee ballot if they were not treated exactly the same as an in-person ballot in all respects. They are.

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cripes 09.30.12 at 7:47 am

Um, has anyone considered the likelihood that one of the things an Obama administration will / is proving is that electoral politics is, now more than ever in the past, a DEAD END? And that all you guys twisting your panties over “party” politics are just dancing to the plutocrat’s marionette strings? Decisions get made, all right, but not by peons in a voting booth.

Oh yeah, and when necessary, they’ll fix any errors you make in the booth, as well.

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Fu Ko 10.02.12 at 11:30 am

It’s the fault of all you idiots voting for Gore, that Nader didn’t win.

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