[gpga-news] CounterPunch: 'You're Doing WHAT???' Voting Green in a Swing State

Hugh Esco hesco at greens.org
Sun Oct 28 11:39:20 PDT 2012

Editorial Note:

In Sydney Smith's article below, the author deconstructs
the partisanship which substitutes for logic in the so-called
swing-states, those states which matter in the Electoral College
math as we continue to avoid democracy in order to preserve
an institution designed to ensure control of the white house
by the slave states at our nation's founding.

Georgia voters face no such delimma, living in a state which
since Adlai Stevenson, has given its Electoral College votes to
Democrats only twice: 1976 for native son and former Governor
Jimmy Carter (but not in 1980 when Reagan took the peach state)
and in 1992 for DLC founder Bill Clinton, endorsed by his buddy
the sitting Governor Zell Miller, but not in 1996 when Miller
spoke at the Republican Convention and endorsed Bob Dole.

Otherwise, Georgia in 1960 chose Nixon over Kennedy, in 1964
went for Goldwater over Johnson, in 1968 supported American
Independent George Wallace over Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, in
1972 Nixon over George McGovern, 1984 Reagan over Mondale, 1988
supporting George Bush over Michael Dukakis, in 2000 supporting
George Bush over Al Gore, in 2004 supporting Bush over John
Kerry and in 2008 supporting John McCain over Barak Obama.
In summary, for the last 13 elections, the score in Georgia
has been Democrats - 2, Republicans - 10, Wallce - 1, or to
summarize, the Banking Elites - 13 to the People - 0.

But as the author below argues, even our friends in the
so-called 'swing-states' are derelict in voting their fears and
abandoning logic for the bi-partisan lie of the 'lesser-evil'
rather than exercising their responsibilities as citizens to
vote 'for' the future they wish to see our nation foster in
the future we would hand to the next generation.



"You're Doing WHAT???"
Voting Green in a Swing State

(Preface: This article isn't really meant for everyone, so I might be
able to save you some time. If you think climate change isn't a serious
electoral issue, this probably wasn't written for you. If you think
American presidents should conduct wars on their own authority and that
it's okay if they secretly assassinate whomever they (secretly) decide
are bad people who might hurt us then you needn't concern yourself with
what follows. If you think the Bill of Rights of the Constitution
doesn't necessarily apply when terrorism is involved, or that letting
gays have civil rights should be decided on a state-by-state basis like
slavery before the civil war, or that the health of the environment
isn't more important than economic growth, or that whistleblowers who
expose governmental and corporate crimes should go to prison but that
privileged lawbreakers shouldn't, or that whether a candidate is
electable should depend on how much she pleases wealthy donors--if any
of these approximates your own take on the issues, please read no
further. You'll be bored. Honestly.)

I live in a purple part of the country (Virginia) and move in
academic circles, so of course I know many, many people who
will be voting for Obama.  It is impossible to know, but if
I sodomized the Easter Bunny in front of their children the
look on my Obama-voter friends' faces could scarcely be much
different than the look they get when I say I am voting for
Jill Stein.  "But this is a swing state.you have to vote for
Obama.what if Romney wins?!?"

The pain in their voices tugs at my sympathies; their fear
is very real. I want to reassure them, but I was cured a few
presidential elections ago. I won't be drinking from that
cup again.

At first they assume I don't understand what's at stake. They
tell me about the Romney/Ryan agenda. They tell me about
Obamacare. They tell me about DOMA and the Fair Pay Act. But
the conversation wanes when I am not only unsurprised
by the information but able to supply amplifications and
corrections. I've read the (detailed summary of) the Affordable
Care Act. I know about Romney's probable agenda. I even know
the age and bodily afflictions of key members of the Supreme
Court. In short, I know what's at stake.

This is awkward, and for some there is no plan B, but
experienced partisans know where to take it next. There is
something wrong with me. I'm a purist, a liberal elitist who
won't be satisfied, arrogantly "engaging in a form of rhetorical
narcissism and ideological self-preoccupation."1 I indulge in a
"pernicious idealism that wants the world to be perfect and
is disgruntled that it isn't."2 I trade the common good for
private conceit.

Fortunately my friends are mature people with trained minds,
so for most it is enough to mention the ad hominem fallacy,
to remind them that my personal faults-which I stipulate are
legion-aren't relevant to the validity or otherwise of my
position in this debate. Usually we can agree to leave that
brand of "discourse" to the professional bloviators.

So at last we come down to it. What are the arguments? There
seem to be only two reasons for a progressive to vote for
Obama. Either (1) you think Obama is not so bad, really,
and has done a lot of good and could do more, or (2) Obama's
record makes you green about the gills, but the thought of
Romney winning is intolerable.

Obama enthusiasts have by heart a widely-circulated3 list of his
achievements: The Fair Pay Act, the auto bailout, legislation
for credit card reform and hate crimes and student loans,
some tax cuts, repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, raising fuel
efficiency standards, and ending the war in Iraq. Some also
add killing bin Laden, the stimulus, and a new Start treaty
with Russia. Everyone adds Obamacare.

Some of these really are achievements. The Fair Pay Act is a
no-brainer, for one. Others are marginal. Credit card reform
stopped some abuses but left millions imprisoned by usurious
interest rates on their debt, with their homes and futures
at the mercy of predatory lenders. If you are drowning it is
definitely better to have fewer stones around your neck. You
still drown though.

Some of the "achievements" are problematic at best. The
Affordable Care Act introduces crucial reforms and increases
access to healthcare for many, but it does so by placing
a new tax on labor and small business to underwrite private
insurance and pharmaceutical corporations' complete capture of
the nation's healthcare system. The phrase "lipstick on a pig"
comes to mind.  (One could say something about the spectacle
of progressives celebrating the plan corporate conservatives
were pushing until Obama swiped it. One could.)

Some of these are not achievements, or not Obama's. U.S. troops
ultimately left Iraq not because Obama wanted them out, but
because Iraq wouldn't sign a Status of Forces agreement to allow
them to stay, despite the Obama administration's efforts. Hard
to see how it is honest to give credit to Obama for doing
something he was forced to do against his will. (Iraq's
intransigence was owing in part to the revelations allegedly
leaked by Bradley Manning, so if anyone is responsible for
getting us out of Iraq it is he. For this he was locked up
under Obama's direct authority under conditions that for many
months met the international definition of torture, and now
faces life in prison.)

But enough: he's done some good things. Is that enough, or
should his merit be judged on the whole of his record? This
matters, because the weight on the other side of the scale is
not insignificant.

Some of these are marginal too. He's deported more people than
ever, but made some concessions on immigration. Others are not
entirely his doing.  (Congress helped, passing the NDAA for
instance.) Some, like making life hell for medical marijuana
growers, are difficult to understand. But unfortunately the
seriousness of some of his actions is on a different scale

The country has been bankrupted by war and its reputation
ruined, but the lies that got us there will never even be
investigated; that was ruled out by Obama practically the moment
he took the oath of office, the first of many betrayals of
expectations he engendered in his supporters. The banksters who
tanked the economy and destroyed the nation's wealth likewise
received blanket immunity. The "stimulus package" given to
financial elites was many, many times bigger than the one the
rest of us had to share, locking in the material ruin of the
working class. He expanded the pointless war in Afghanistan
and extended military assaults to many other countries in
Nixonian secrecy. He continued every Constitutional excess of
the previous administration and extended them to include new
grants of executive-branch secrecy and extra-judicial power,
to include not just war-making, kidnapping, and indefinite
detention, but assassination even of American citizens.4 Obama
has done more to render the U.S. Constitution a dead letter
than every previous right-wing administration combined.

If that is something you can put on the same scale with
credit-card reform and call it even, I respectfully suggest you
re-examine what is usually meant by the words "progressive" and
"liberal." And "American," while you're at it. The presidential
oath of office is to defend the Constitution, and this president
knowingly betrayed it. That issue isn't even partisan:  Some,
no,  every future president is going to use these precedents,
and when they are used against you you will have no judicial
recourse thanks to Barack Obama.

So if you think Obama is not so bad, really, and has done
a lot of good and could do more, then by all means vote for
him. And you can stop reading now-the rest of this essay will
be of no interest to you.

The rest of us, reviewing this administration's record and its
likely future course with dread, face just one question. Must
we reelect Obama to save the country from something worse? This
is a serious question, and calls for considered analysis.

Notice first that "Romney's worse so we have to vote for
Obama" isn't an argument, or even a syllogism. What people
really mean is something like this. (1) A Romney presidency
would be worse than a second Obama administration, and (2)
if Obama isn't elected then Romney will be, so therefore (3)
we should vote for Obama, at least in any state where our vote
might make a difference.

Certainly one can't quibble with the second premise. The
probability that neither Obama nor Romney gets elected is
exactly zero. The first premise too at first blush looks
irreproachable from a progressive perspective. Mere common
sense seems to endorse the conclusion once the premises are
stipulated, and most folks think no further.5 They don't have
to agitate their consciences over voting for the war criminal,
corporate lackey Obama, they can just vote against the likely
greater war criminal (and proudly greater corporate lackey)
Romney. And all the rest of it follows too: maybe Obamacare
is a sell-out to big-insurance and big-pharma, but at least
they won't get their greedy mits on Medicare. (Well, this
time. Probably.) And so on.

Those of us growing gray about the temples are struck most by
the argument's familiarity. We have heard it-and consented to
it-often before, in fact about once every four years. Replace
Romney/Obama with McCain/Obama, Bush/Kerry, Bush/Gore,
Dole/Clinton, Bush/Clinton, Bush/Dukakis, Reagan/Mondale,
Reagan/Carter, Ford/Carter-no wonder it rings bells. In every
election for 36 years a center-left Democrat has run against
a center-right Republican, each campaign pandering to their
more ideological supporters, and in each case the elected
administration tossed a few bones to their left/right base
while dutifully serving elite interests.

Meanwhile, as elections come and go, both ideological
conservatives and ideological progressives find the country
moving away from them; not towards their ideological
counterparts, but towards a corporatist, oligarchic
security-state. The electorate is apparently not in charge.

Those who are in charge find the partisan electoral process
useful because it keeps a potentially dangerous population
quiescent, occupied like loyal sports fans not with what
is actually being done to them, but with the business of
"winning." This is a classic method of control, used by elites
in one form or another throughout the ages. Tiny little England
built a global empire using it. It works equally well on the
unsophisticated and the ostensibly educated. Check yourself:
if you have mentally colored yourself red or blue, if you
see the country as made up of red, blue, and purple blotches,
then your political identity is no longer yours. You have been
co-opted. Occupied. Welcome to the game.

By itself this doesn't disprove the partisan argument, and
many progressives point to such achievements as increased LGBT
rights as proof that voting for the less-bad can result in
genuine positive change; that likewise the assault on women's
reproductive freedom shows the danger in allowing the other
side to win. These are excellent examples, but those using
them to urge partisan loyalty omit the essential point that
these changes have been occurring independently of which party
is in power, because the motive force behind them is serious
activism, not partisanship. Gay rights activists have fought
a long and sometimes brutal campaign characterized not by
loyally supporting the Democratic Party but by confronting it,
by being prepared to play hardball with politicians who won't
get in line. Anti-abortion forces have done likewise.

That point deserves a double-take: The core activists
driving actual political change don't hesitate to imperil
a nominally allied candidate's election if that candidate
appears insufficiently committed to their cause.6 This fact
is obviously a key to their success, and it strongly suggests
there is a problem with the partisan argument. But what, then,
is the error in that argument? As it happens, this very week's
news reports furnish an example that illuminates it completely.

In 2002 the Total Information Awareness program was created
within the Defense Department to gather and coordinate
intelligence to support the War on Terror.7 The Bush
administration had to abandon this project in the face of
determined opposition, especially from the left, to what was
rightly seen as a grave peril to civil liberties. However,
components of the planned program lived on under separate
authorities until Obama took office. Like the other elements
of Bush's "anti-terror" activities, the TIA program was then
consolidated and expanded under new guise. We now know that
domestic surveillance and data-mining has not only been greatly
accelerated within a burgeoning military-security complex,
but it is also now combined with the extra-judicial detention
and assassination program (dubbed "the disposition matrix")-at
least insofar as both have been bureaucratized within the same
agency, an agency whose activities are shrouded in impenetrable

The relevant point is not the seriousness of this
development-which I hope goes without saying-but that no
Republican president could have gotten away with it. It's the
"only Nixon can go to China" principle: in a democracy only
a nominally liberal leader can put in place the machinery of
a totalitarian state, just as only a nominally liberal leader
could gut the social safety net (Clinton), or put privatizing
Social Security and Medicare on the table (Obama).

This is a clear counterexample to the claim of the first
premise-that a Red president is bound to be So Much Worse
than a Blue president-and thereby reveals that the partisan
argument is unsound.

Let me be quite clear: it is not unsound because of the
differentials on some set of policies or issues. Partisans
will argue that in this election there are issues-the Supreme
Court, Medicare, etc.-where there is a clear choice, and
that is true. It is always true, every four years, as sure as
the tides. That is by design: the political gamesmanship the
argument draws us into is itself the trap. By constraining our
discussion to the acknowledged differences between the sides,
partisanship tricks us into supposing their similarities
aren't an issue, when in fact their similarities are the
most critical issue. This is because their differences will
remain in contention regardless of who gets elected, but their
similarities assuredly will not.

If Romney is elected, he will re-empower neocons and serve
the interests of the national security state with (perhaps)
greater zeal than Obama would, but with this difference: his
every move will be scrutinized and hampered by a determined
opposition. Also if Romney is elected, he will try to privatize
Social Security and Medicare and transfer even what little
remains of the nation's wealth to the oligarchs-but he will
face the same wall of opposition that stymied Bush on these
issues. Obama, on the other hand, can continue to negotiate away
Social Security and Medicare and progressive taxation and face
only whimpers from his own base. Romney may nominate a justice
likely to reverse Roe v. Wade, but it would be with the certain
knowledge he was engendering an electoral tsunami against
Republicans that would last a generation, if not forever. Obama
will nominate another corporatist jurist certain to further
indenture flesh-and-blood citizens to their corporate-citizen
betters, and pay no political price. From the bank bailouts to
climate change to Israel/Palestine to the Patriot Act-one could
go on for pages, and the story would in every case be the same.

This dynamic at work in American politics is now evident even to
the willfully blinkered. It is a dynamic that will not change
if Obama is re-elected with solid liberal support. Why would
it? It will also not change if Romney eeks out a victory despite
solid support for Obama, because whatever new reactionary or
militaristic policies Romney succeeds in perpetrating will be
loudly condemned by the next Democratic presidential candidate,
who, if elected, will then adopt them.

The only point of leverage is here: whether Obama wins or loses,
if progressive third party candidates get enough support to
scuttle the Democrat in a close race, change is possible. This
is not wishful thinking, but an empirical observation. Every
successful progressive movement in our history has illuminated
this path to change. Politicians are not ideologues but
pragmatists. They need your vote to get elected. If you deny
it to them, the next one will learn to whistle your tune.

The partisan argument for progressives to hold their nose with
one hand and vote for Obama with the other is thus refuted,
but the larger point introduced above bears emphasis.

As I have documented elsewhere9, the partisan duopoly
disenfranchises the entire electorate, left, right, and
center. The American people as a whole, irrespective of
ideology, have been locked out of running their own country
as the writers of the Constitution intended they would. The
mechanism at its root is dead simple and works in exactly the
same way on both "liberal" and "conservative" voters. You are
offered two choices, each of whom has been carefully vetted
by the owners and is dedicated to serving elite interests.
You are then persuaded that one of them is bad and must be
voted against.

This is not to say that there aren't real issues between the
two; on the contrary, without the presence and validity of such
issues the trick wouldn't work. People aren't stupid. But from
the point of view of those whose interests the elected candidate
will first serve, those issues are of minor importance.

Once voters are persuaded of the validity of a vote-against it
only remains to ensure that the two political "sides" remain
in approximate parity, a task ably handled by the corporate
media in collusion with the parties themselves.

The only escape from this trap is to understand that the call
of civic duty is a call to active participation (activism)
in the political process. To those who answer such a call,
voting-against doesn't even make sense, because it means
giving up on one's own commitment to self-government. It is
only when voting for the actual changes one wishes to see that
it is rational to hope those changes will someday happen.

As I have shown in my book The Good American: A Situation
Report for Citizens, the real challenges facing America and the
world are far more dire than most people realize, even those
who make an effort to be informed.  Unless Americans reclaim
their government, and soon, we stand to lose everything; our
democracy, our livelihoods, our liberty, and the ecological
foundation of civilization. It will not require a wholesale
conversion of the electorate to political activism. It only
requires enough of us refusing to play the partisan game to
break the duopoly's lockdown on political discourse. At that
point the gates of the political arena are unlocked, and the
course of the nation can once more become subject to the will
of the people.

My vote for Jill Stein in swing-state Virginia isn't a protest
vote, it isn't an angry vote, and it isn't elitist. It is a
well-informed vote for the political agenda I think is best
for my country. The United States of America is (or can be)
a Jeffersonian democracy, and I am a citizen. Casting this
vote is my civic responsibility. What's yours?


B. Sidney Smith is a recovering math professor, gardener, and
creative loafer living near Appomattox, Virginia. His autobio,
curriculum vitae, favorite recipes, and much more besides can
be found on his website, bsidneysmith.com.


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