I wish the White House weren’t so powerful. This imperial presidency, as Arthur Schlesinger called it, is a huge obstacle to any progress. But the reality today is that this power exists. I see the vote in the presidential race, therefore, in purely practical terms. What candidate gives us, gives the people, a chance at achieving progressive goals, a chance to make gains in the areas of peace, human rights, and equality?
The amount of public attention devoted to this campaign has been obscenely exaggerated. It’s been going on for close to two years. The media treats it like a game show, like a huge perverse form of mass entertainment. And this one’s been stupider than ever—the nomination of that idiotic “hockey mom” being only the most obvious example. Meanwhile, the most important things happen at the grassroots. Progressives need to continue organizing at the local level. We need a sustainable movement that doesn’t just protest what the corporations are doing, but actually wrests economic and political influence from them. This slow, often frustrating work is more important than the presidential election.
Nevertheless, it needs to be said: this is not a game show. It does matter who is in the White House, not because electing someone new will overthrow the empire—of course it won’t. That’s obvious just from seeing Obama kowtow to the Israel lobby and talk tough about Afghanistan. No, it’s important because—we need a chance to influence things. That’s all. Just a chance.
There is very little chance for progress as long as the Republicans run the White House. We dare not forget the horrors of the last eight years. Obama and the Democrats tiptoe around this by talking about “failed policies.” The Bush years don’t just represent failure, they represent criminality of the most dangerous kind. These people used terror to try to destroy the last vestiges of freedom in this country. They’ve murdered hundreds of thousands of human beings and displaced many more, while mouthing lies about “democracy.” Their rich allies and military contractor buddies have shamelessly looted our wealth. They’ve made torture and kangaroo courts our official policy. They’ve illegally spied on us, and when they were caught, expanded their spying powers. They’ve rigged elections by voter suppression and fraud, while using the Justice Dept. to cover their tracks. They’ve poisoned our discourse with their sneering, attacking style and their hate radio, labeling anyone with disagrees with them a traitor or terrorist. They constantly sought to divide us with race and ethnicity and gender, demonizing African Americans and immigrants, women and gays. They have opposed women’s rights every step of the way. They let over a thousand people die in New Orleans without lifting a finger to help, and then they blamed the victims. They stacked the government with crazy religious fanatics who want us to go back to the Middle Ages. Their Supreme Court appointees supported the powerful against the weak, marching in lockstep with the right-wing agenda. They lied about everything and sought to conceal all their works from any public scrutiny.
And there’s more. They’ve committed so many outrages, lies, insults, deceptions, betrayals, cynical ploys, and disgusting actions that it would take hours to catalog them all. This is fascism. If fascism wins in this country, there’s no chance for us.
In the last debate, John McCain told Obama that he wasn’t running against President Bush, and that if he wanted to run against President Bush he should have run four years ago. The shithead pundits actually thought that was McCain’s best moment. It’s typical of the sort of superficial, amnesiac, twisted thinking that dominates our elections. We’re supposed to think that this is just about personalities. President Bush is a different personality from John McCain, so we’re told not to compare them. But it’s not about personalities. These people represent political and economic forces, powers that hold sway in our government. By himself, Bush is just an empty suit. His power comes from his backers. And the Republicans, with few exceptions, backed him all the way. To pretend now that the last years were all because of Bush, and that they weren’t crucially enabled by all the Republican leaders, including McCain, is to play us as fools. But of course that’s the only way they know how to play us.
With an Obama victory, there will still be a corporate establishment running the country. There will still be a war machine in the Pentagon. The nature of our predicament is such that we do not have truly progressive alternatives at the national level yet. But one thing we would have with an Obama victory is—a chance. A chance to push back against fascism. A chance for progressives and liberals to have some breathing room, and maybe even some influence, if we can flex our muscles. A chance to work for peace, human rights, equality, or at least, some sanity.
I voted for Nader twice, in 1996 and 2000. I was tired of the centrist Democrats taking my vote for granted. Clinton did not offer a meaningful alternative for me in the long term. Gore hadn’t found any courage yet. We forget how much he tried to sound like Bush in 2000—picking Joey the Rat as his running mate, for fuck’s sake.
But I believe the stakes are too high now. I did not foresee the push towards totalitarian rule. I did not foresee 9/11, which became the excuse for an assault on our Constitution. I voted for Kerry in ’04, even though he has the appeal of a soggy piece of driftwood, because I wanted to push back at the fascists. Obama, for all his faults, is a hell of a lot smarter and better than Kerry.
I don’t understand the notion of principled non-voting. When I hear some people say they won’t vote, I just don’t get it. Voting is just a practical thing. You aim at the closest you can get to a practically desirable result. How hard can it be just to get your ass to a voting booth, or to send in a ballot? I do understand the despair and the apathy, but I don’t understand not voting out of supposed principle. That seems phony to me. Of course I’d rather have a real progressive in charge like Nader or Cynthia McKinney. But in practical terms, I want us to have a chance.
If the Republicans win again, it will justify every sick, slimy thing they’ve done to stay in power for the last eight years. They have to be hurt. They have to be beaten down without mercy. That’s another reason I’m voting for Obama. Those fuckers need to be taught a lesson, and nothing hurts them quite as much as losing.
And during an Obama administration, we need to continue to organize and fight and speak truth to power. We need to fight the Democrats’ allegiance to big money and empire, even while we continue to fight the fascist right. Because of course they’ll still be around, whining and throwing tantrums as always.
But in order to do that we need—a chance.
Vote for Obama.