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Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Daniel Laurison, a Berkeley Sociology doctoral student doing a very interesting doctoral dissertation [judging from the write up on his department page]  calls on me to urge people to volunteer in these last few days, helping to get out the vote for the Democrats.  I could not agree more!  I have written on these pages about the fact that I would rather raise money and do other behind the scenes things than go door to door or call people cold on the phone, but in these last five days, actually persuading some people to pick themselves up and vote is the most useful thing any of us can do.  Obviously the need is greater in some states than others, but right now, the whole East Coast from Virginia north is struggling with the aftermath of the storm, and there will be literally millions of people with very good reasons not to bother to vote.  Anything any of us can do to encourage them to make the effort will pay off tenfold [leaving to one side the reward in heaven, which as an atheist I am barred from mentioning.]

We have Romney on the run.  Let's send him back to his car elevator.


Chris said...

You do realize Obama is the president that invented the kill list, tortured an american citizen (bradley manning), had 3 american assassinated without oversight, passed indefinite detention, rapid expansion of the war powers act in the interest of the executive, to name but a FEW issues of the Obama presidency. Now there is the "kill matrix," which sounds so absurd it's nearly impossible to believe:

These are things that were once considered impossible, and anathema. Now liberals and progressives fail to mention them and suggest we vote for the president who achieved the once impossible.

Is this really a good idea? Is this really a prudent way to spend our time? I mean at the bare minimum do what Daniel Ellsberg is doing and say: "I don't like Obama, I don't support Obama, but I'll vote for him," instead of acting like he's anything other than evil.

If you think he isn't evil, please read the article first.

Daniel Laurison said...

1. Thank you for posting. I also hate canvassing & phone banking, being a socially awkward academic (not quite redundant, but almost). At least before I start, I hate it. While I'm actually doing it it's always fine: a mix of boring, exciting (I actually reached a voter! and got them to agree to vote!) and annoying (hangups, etc). But mostly I'm just glad to be doing something real that, as part of a larger operation, can actually make a difference.

2. re: Chris and etc. There's A) "are (some of) Obama's actions evil?" (answer = clearly) and B) "is having Obama in office the best among available options?" (also absolutely yes). Regardless of A, I believe B is important enough - and that Romney would be as bad on civil liberties and worse on large-scale foreign wars - that it's morally imperative to work for Obama.

As Cornell West recently said (paraphrasing here) - you can oppose Obama's policies, vote for (or even work for) him in November, and continue speaking out & organizing against the policies that are terrible on November 7th. But if on November 7th we're facing a Romney presidency, we're guaranteed a continuation and escalation of all Obama's bads, and the addition of a lot of new ones, too.

Chris said...

I simply don't buy this argument, and any careful reflection shouldn't allow anyone else to buy it either.

First, you simply can't KNOW a priori that McCain would have done all the things I just mentioned. Moreover, much of these things were done when Obama had a democratic majority in congress. Now, since it was a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress, there was a lot less assault on the president by his own party; this is obvious partisan loyalty. BUT, had McCain been in office, and tried to pull off some of these stunts, against a Democratic Congress, I think it's safe to presume they would have raised hell (as they did against Bush on many issues which they're letting Obama slide on). Point being, when the Democratic is in office, progressives, and left of center liberals, even centrist, tend to hush up, with the old platitudes that it's out guy, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt, at least it isn't the Republican in office.

Moreover, the tools and egregious policies Obama has now put into place for the executive branch, can be utilized by any right wing president. Even if you think Obama is an okay, good, decent, guy, you have to realize he has opened Pandora's Box for the next president. And if you read the article I posted (I doubt it), he's putting into place a massive warrentless kill list for the next decade, at least. I mean that's completely unprecedented, beyond anything any former president has ever done. Ever.

Now I'm not suggesting that one ought to vote for Romney either, but I am suggesting actually advocating, supporting, and pretending Obama is anything less than evil is disingenuous, or ignorant. The latter can be excused.

Finally, the point of an election is to vote for who actually represents you. If torturing and assassinating Americans are positions that represent you, well, you're vile. If they aren't vote for who does represent you. Otherwise you're less than authentic.

Daniel Laurison said...

Ah, I see 1) this is the kind of argument where it's unlikely anyone is going to finally agree with anyone else and 2) the basic disagreement really comes down to your last paragraph. In an ideal world, maybe, the point of elections would be to "vote for who represents you." But the people who perfectly represent me don't run for office, let alone get elected. So I choose to vote (and work) for whoever BEST represents me. It's true I can't know for certain that McCain would have been worse than Obama in terms of foreign policy, but between "bomb, bomb, Iran" and everything I know about the Republican party, and generally about the interests and groups that make up and support each party, I feel close enough to sure. And while it *may* be true that the left agitates more against Republican presidents, I don't see how that did anything to slow or stop any of the wars in the last 20 years. I'm not asking anyone to send Obama love letters or admire him as a person, I just want to ensure that Romney isn't in charge of the United States' foreign policy, disaster management, or the legislative agenda.

Chris said...

So no third party candidate closer represents you than Obama? You’re on board with his kill list for instance?

Voting, and working for, a candidate is not mutually inclusive. But I suppose selling your soul to the devil, since he apparently already best represents you, is the next step in being complicit in war crimes, assassination, civil liberties encroachment, and indefinite detention.

The interest groups that make up each party are practically identical. Most of Obama’s biggest donors were the finance industry, hence why his entire cabinet was pro wall street, hence why wall street was thriving in bonuses, and 0% loans, and hundreds of billions of unfettered money. Hence why the consumer protection agency was placed inside the fed and watered down to the point of useless. Obama represents a progressive façade, against which the same industries that donate to both parties get what they want.

Precisely because the left doesn’t stop any of the wars, is exactly why this whole game of lesser of two evils is crap. Moot. A façade. Stop running SUPPORTING murderers, and people who would need bleach and hydrogen peroxide to wash the blood of their hands.

At the end of the day there is no real reason to prefer Obama to Romney. On Foreign Policy, as Greenwald and Scahill have noted, Obama has “out cheneyed the cheneys of this world.” You might say on domestic policy he’s better; that I also think is not easily defensible. But, when his body count overseas, and his unprecedented encroachments on civil liberties are added up, from a utilitarian calculus, even better domestic policy doesn’t justify just far he’s expanded the empire, and the nefarious means he’s done to expand it.

(did you read that article I posted?)

Daniel Laurison said...

That link goes to all of Greenwald's posts at the Guardian, not a single article. But I know about the kill lists, etc. We're not disagreeing about whether these actions are evil. You don't need to convince me about that.

We're disagreeing about what the logical consequences of that are for how one acts in an election with two viable candidates. And possibly also about whether having a Republican in office would actually be worse or not. I think it would be worse on this and every other front for Americans and people in other countries if Romney were president. Substantially worse. And I believe in acting in ways that reduce the chances of that happening, rather than symbolically voting my conscience.

If I understand you correctly, you believe that the terrible things Obama has done make it impossible for a moral human being to make an effort to ensure he is re-elected, regardless of the possible consequences of a Romney win. I disagree, obviously, but I can understand that position.

For my morals, having a less evil (and on many issues I care about, actually quite good) person at the head of the most powerful country in the world for the next four years is what matters, however much I wish Obama were better than he is.

You can go ahead and have the last word; I've had and witnessed this argument plenty of times and said pretty much everything I have to say about my position.

Seth said...

One problem with the way our democracy works in practice is that it overloads ethically conscientious people. The notion that each voter bears ethical responsibility for the consequences of their votes *sounds* reasonable at the surface. But our individual influence is so attenuated, that this 'final responsibility' is just absurd.

At some point, I stopped being angry at George W. Bush, stopped being angry at average Republican-leaning voters, stopped being angry at passive Democrats and started focusing my ethical concern on the actions of the 'funding-class'. By that I mean the people who 'vote' in the 'money primary' long before any primary elections are held.

All we can be ethically accountable for in the voting booth is our choice of 'lesser evil'. The *real* choices that frame the questions voters will face in the voting booth happen MUCH earlier and are taken by a dramatically smaller group of people.

It's probably inevitable that human societies on a large scale will be dominated by a rather small group of highly effective and disproportionately influential 'ruling class' people. Democratic accountability is a useful check on their power, and an important bulwark of individual liberty. Nevertheless, the ethos of the ruling class is *decisive* in a way that nothing that the average voter does can possibly be.

Don't take the guilt of the world on yourself. Leave that to Jesus if you're a Christian, or to the Ruling Class if you're a communist, or whatever. I'm not going to blame myself for the imperial ideology that informs the Pentagon, the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex (Eisenhower's original name for it) and constrains even Presidential power.

My role in such questions as "kill lists" is to speak frankly of the role it plays in choosing a 'lesser evil'. Not to negate my ability to make even that smaller choice (of Obama over Romney) simply because others have already taken the larger ethical issues out of my hands.

Chris said...

Here's the link:

Again, I'm not sure it can be argued that for certain Republicans could get away with this, or that if they indeed, it could possibly be worse.