Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Clouds in My Coffee

You're so vain, you probably thought the electoral process was about you. You walk into that voting booth like you were mounting a pulpit, all self-involved and righteous and following your conscience. Your vote is your voice. That's what we were taught in school, anyway.

We've heard the conventional wisdom that the poor slobs who vote Republican are foolishly voting against their own best interests. And lately, more and more disaffected progressives have decided that voting Democrat is also pretty much giving your seal of approval to just one more corrupt faction of the plutocracy.

So why vote for Democrats? According to Robert Parry, an Obama apologist from way back when, if you don't re-elect the president, the weight of the entire miserable world will be upon your shoulders. A vote for a third party, or just sitting out the election from pure disgust, is selfish and vain. Parry brings the "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" meme to a whole new desperate level. When you advocate for a politician solely because he is the lesser of two evils, desperation is pretty much all you've got as a campaign platform. Desperation, fear, and enough guilt offensive to make even the Vatican or a Jewish mother green with envy. Parry writes:

Americans, especially on the Left, need to get realistic about elections and stop using them as opportunities to express disappointment, anger or even personal morality. Through elections, Americans are the only ones who can select our national leaders, albeit in a limited fashion.
The rest of the world’s people have no say in who’s going to run the most powerful nation on earth. Only we can, at least to the extent permitted in the age of Citizens United . The main thing we can still do is stop the more dangerous major-party candidate from gaining control of the executive powers of the United States, including the commander-in-chief authority and the nuclear codes, not small things.
So, when we treat elections as if they are our moment to express ourselves, rather than to mitigate the damage that a U.S. president might inflict on the world, we are behaving selfishly, in my view. That’s why I used the word “vanity.” U.S. elections should not be primarily about us.
U.S. elections should really be about others – those people who are likely to feel the brunt of American power – Iraqis and Iranians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans, Vietnamese and Cambodians, Palestinians and Syrians, etc., etc. Elections also should be about future generations and the environment.
So it's not the economy, stupid. It's the guilt!

Parry conveniently fails to mention that as assassinator in chief, Obama has already fomented plenty of fear and discomfort in the rest of the world. Although other countries were initially as infatuated with The One as we Americans were, that positive vibe started plummeting once the predator drones started buzzing in third world skies. Parry's claim that a vote for Obama will protect the great unwashed global masses does not hold water. From the Pew Global Attitudes Project:

There remains a widespread perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally and does not consider the interests of other countries. In predominantly Muslim nations, American anti-terrorism efforts are still widely unpopular. And in nearly all countries, there is considerable opposition to a major component of the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism policy: drone strikes. In 17 of 20 countries, more than half disapprove of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is appealing the ruling from a federal judge that bars the government from indefinitely detaining Americans that it deems to be associated with "militants". The government argues that since it has not heretofore subjected any citizens to its draconian policy, the plaintiffs in the case have no standing to complain -- they can't prove they have any reason to be afraid, because the president has not yet acted on his threats. Oral arguments on the case are scheduled for today.

But remember: if you vote against the politician who has unilaterally declared himself to be judge, jury and executioner of anyone, anywhere -- you're just being so damned vain. According to Parry, you just want to take the stupid high road when taking the low road is all we've got:
The hard decision is to support the imperfect candidate who has a real chance to win and who surely will do some rotten things but likely fewer rotten things than the other guy – and might even make some improvements.
I know that doesn’t “feel” as satisfying. One has to enter a morally ambiguous world. But that it is the world where many innocent people can be saved from horrible deaths (though not all) and where possibly actions can be taken to ensure that future generations are left a planet that is still habitable or at least with the worst effects of global warming avoided.
Better to put your stamp of approval on killing thousands of innocents rather than tens of thousands of innocents. Sell out your principles, because you're screwed anyway. Romney the Worser. Keep fear alive. What a country.

This attitude is all the more unfortunate, because Parry is a well-respected, Polk Award-winning journalist who broke the Iran-Contra story for the Associated Press and also helped expose the atrocities of the Bush years. And he has been a harsh critic of the corporate media. In another article last year, he wrote:
One truism that I’ve learned about political and media survival in Washington is that it’s always smart to shift toward where the power lies. In effect, that is what “practical” politicians and journalists do. They venture only as far as they feel they can without creating undue political or career risks for themselves.
The hard truth is that until the Left gets onto the field in a much more serious way and starts engaging the Right in its “war of ideas” – including making major investments in media, think tanks and other means of getting information to the public – politicians will continue to disappoint and embitter the Left. So will mainstream journalists.
How true. One more mainstream journalist shape-shifts and bites the dust as he abjures us to swallow his bitter pragmatic pill. Parry foretold his own sellout. Whatever happened to honest dissent? Whatever happened to adversarial journalism? Hangdog screeds like his only serve to instill chronic depression in the disaffected, when what we need is a giant jolt of caffeine.


Pearl said...

So, what do we do? Guilt will assail us no matter how we vote or don't vote since the future will be full of roadblocks no matter who becomes president. One clear choice is whom we vote in for Congress as those choices are less guilt conducing and voting for the true liberals on the democratic ticket makes sense. Especially those like U.S. Senator Bill Nelson on my Florida absentee ballot who is fighting for his political life which has been a decent one.

But - to help put or remove whom is to become president is a convoluted decision. On every level Obama in my view has learned nothing in four years from the results of his non involvement in the problems of the day, in fact more and more revelations from left leaning writers have revealed notorious gaps when there were opportunities to move in sensible directions, especially regarding further right wing choices of officials to influence his thinking and non forward decision making. I will mention job solutions, environmental decision choices, financial support for the status quo which is leading to total wreckage, further enlargement of the drone programs you mentioned in your column, cutbacks for major basic necessities to keep a civilization functioning, ignoring the tragic results of policies, ad nauseum.

We are left with the " lesser of two evils" when we don't know how far the evil might extend with either man in office, especially with a Congress run amok without proper disciplinary action from anyone.

I know what I will do and without guilt, but what about all our other fellow liberal/progressives who have tried to open a dialogue with the public and face annihilation no matter who "wins"! What a conundrum we have been handed.

We may have to wait for time and life threatening events to unfold before the inhabitants of the planet wake up and force change, but that too is a dangerous road to go down which may be too late for remedy.

Jim said...

Voting for a non-mainstream politician can throw an election against a similar mainstreamer. If the 'non' has enough support, the 'mainer' either shifts or risks defeat. Look how far right the Democrats have been dragged, trying to woo center-right independents and moderate Republicans (are there any remaining?). While we may not be on the winning side, we can be on the morally correct side.

Jay - Ottawa said...

The Perfect is the enemy of The Good. Got it, Parry. So, in a fallen world (you know, Adam & Eve, the apple and all that) peopled by humans (i.e., sinners all) we may only – after much muddling com.pro.mise – hope to achieve a certain level of The Good, but never Perfection. Point taken.

Hear ye, hear ye. The realists among us are now open to compromise.

By the way, can we still hang on to something called Truth as we pursue The Good in the real world? For eons the philosophers have told us we cannot compromise with Truth itself. Otherwise, we slide right back into rude ignorance or glamorous lies, lately called Spin. So, do let’s compromise, by all means; but without giving up on Truth, which insists on an unblinking look at the facts, the record.

Oh-oh. Obama and Romney are most definitely not even close to The Good, not even a so-so half-assed, lower case ‘good,’ based on the record, or the Founders’ noble ideals as expressed in key American documents, or, if you’re a believer, the Decalogue, or, if you’re a tolerant cosmopolitan, lofty international proclamations about peace and freedom.

If you won’t draw the line here, Mr. Parry, at what point – if ever – will you say, “Beyond this point, no more”? You lose me, utterly, if you declare important no-go lines have not yet been crossed at home and abroad by the Obama Administration. Or is forever looking away from the facts, or endless lying about the whole truth, covered and excused under your Compromise Dispensation?

On the other hand, if we’re willing to put up with imperfection, but only up to the point of NOT risking self-loathing on the morning after a November 6 vote for TLOTE (the lesser of two evils), we have no option, indeed we are forced by Truth, allied perhaps with a personal desire for non collaboration, to consider third party candidates like Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson. Or abstention. Unless, of course, voting with the herd is an excuse for collaboration.

Yes, Stein and Anderson are imperfect. But according to Parry, Imperfection is OK. Though imperfect, Stein and Anderson look pretty damn good, honestly, compared to BO and Mitt.

‘I would be true,’ as the old hymn goes. Means nothing, really. Just some desert prophet’s purist maunderings set to a tune.

And yet, the only way you can vote for one of the two main parties’ presidential candidates this time around is if you throw Truth out the window or pretend or affect total amnesia. Not to worry, you will be counted among the respected crowd called Realists and Pragmatists.

Hold your head up, or let it droop. It's all about compromise. Choose your guilt and live with it.

Denis Neville said...

Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy [i.e., the veal pen] finds himself/herself silenced with surprising effectiveness today.

"We have now sunk to a depth at which re-statement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." – George Orwell

Orwell's essay "In Front of Your Nose" seems especially relevant today:

"Unmistakable facts are being shirked by people who in another part of their mind are aware to those facts…We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality..."

Many Americans have rightfully lost faith in our government. Neil Barofsky writes that this loss of faith may still yield a major benefit:

“The widespread anger may contain the only hope for meaningful reform. They should deplore the captured politicians and regulators who distributed tax dollars to the banks without insisting that they be accountable. The American people should be revolted by a financial system that rewards failure and protects those who drove it to the point of collapse and will undoubtedly do so again. Only with this appropriate and justified rage can we hope for the type of reform that will one day break our system free from the corrupting grasp of the megabanks.” - Neil Barofsky, Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street

But, do enough people understand that the decisions made by Obama and his administration are directly related to people illegally losing their homes, jobs, pensions, and social safety net? Or do they still cling to false beliefs? Will we need yet another financial meltdown to finally reach solid reality?

“To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.”

“Politics is a sort of sub-atomic or non-Euclidean word where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously. Hence, the contradictions and absurdities, all finally traceable to a secret belief that one's political opinions, unlike the weekly budget, will not have to be tested against solid reality.” – George Orwell, “In Front of Your Nose”

American citizens have the political power to put a stop to this, if only they would look in front of their noses and understand how they are being manipulated. Do they still possess the principles and have the anger to do the right thing? Hope? Or hopeless?

James F Traynor said...

Habeus corpus is just about dead. The police have been para-militarized.The only glimmer of hope I can see is in seizing control of and purging the Democratic Party. The Obama-Clinton clique will fight this attempt at reform ruthlessly and will be joined by the Republicans.

Valerie said...

If Obama wanted my vote he should have not treated the issues I find important with such contempt. He should have shown some REAL leadership and hit the ground running while he had a Democratic majority in the House and Senate. He should have used his bully pulpit to stir up anger against the big bankers and to lead us to some meaningful banking reform – starting with bringing back Glass-Steagal. He should have supported Elizabeth Warren instead of leaving her out on a limb - THAT one told me a lot about his character. Barry should have fought for a Public Option instead of tossing it off the table before he sat down to give the health insurance corporations a sweetheart of a deal at taxpayer expense. And he - a constitutional legal scholar - shouldn't have signed, let alone cheer-leaded for the NDAA. Obama wasn’t standing up for the best interest of the middle and working classes when he instigated three new Free Trade Agreements, he was working for the giant corporations. Let’s face it, Obama has proven that he is nothing more than a corporate hack, surrounding himself with some of the vilest CEO’s in the country. And the drones – making the U.S. even more of a bully nation.

The Obama Camp underestimated the integrity and the sincerity of the Progressive Left. Not only won't we work for his campaign, we won't give our vote to a person who represents everything we oppose. Obama lied to get into office in 2008 and we trusted his campaign promises. What is the saying? “Do it to me once, shame on you – Do it to me twice shame on me”. Sorry, Obama had his chance and the best he could do was call his most dedicated supporters sanctimonious purists. The truth is all we have is our vote – small as it is – but I will give mine carefully and sincerely to a person worthy of my vote – and that ain’t someone whose only recommendation is that he is the Lesser of Two Evils.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

The U.S. populace has long shown near-universal apathy with regard to serious protest of the actions, and inactions, of the politicians from the two major political parties and the corporate/plutocratic/militarist forces that they serve; few will protest, and few observers will at all care. While the mass media deserves significant blame, its deficiencies cannot fully explain what has befallen us, for accurate information and intelligent discussion can be found online without much effort. As part of the cognitive anesthesia, the majority of citizens still turn out to cast their votes for these lackey politicians and thereby seemingly validate our dysfunctional system.

But apparently, even that level of "validation" isn't enough, for the apologists will now actively attempt to make us feel guilty should some of us contemplate withholding our votes, or awarding them to alternate candidates.

Obama came into office with the wind at his back --- an obvious failure of unregulated free-market capitalism, and serious doubts among the public with regard to our past aggressively-militaristic foreign policy. In addition, Obama possessed a level of oratorical skill that put most Republicans to shame. It should have been smooth sailing for an activist progressive agenda, Obama making a convincing case and the populace willing to follow. What we got was both pathetic and insulting, something that at best rates as incompetence, but more likely was a deliberate effort to serve the powers that be rather than the majority of the people. I can excuse a politician's failure to accomplish his stated aims --- if he/she has seriously tried. But the yawning gap between Obama's 2008 rhetoric and his subsequent actions can only make me feel as though I've been deliberately deceived.

Should I vote "third party" for the presidency, I will not feel the slightest bit guilty. (And doubly so in Arizona, where the combination of Republican dominance and the per-state winner-take-all of the Electoral College system makes a vote for Obama a waste).

Tom Degan said...

You make some good points. Why vote for the Democrats indeed? But since Ralph Nader won't be on the ballot this year, I am left with very few other options.

The Dems may only be the lesser of two evils - but they are a lot less evil in my opinion.

Great piece though.

Tom Degan

Denis Neville said...

Give up your ideals!!

“You have no choice but to vote for less evil.”


Pearl said...

I find the comments to Karen's outstanding blog "Clouds in my Coffee" most interesting and well thought out.

Valerie, you listed the reasons for your refusal to vote for the "lesser of two evils" loud and clear. One could add his sleazy tactics at
environmental global meetings where urgent need to combat global warming was sidestepped, his addition of troops to the Afghanistan conflict, his refusal to push for investigations and punishment for financial institutions and
representatives who broke the law, his support of continuing the Patriot
Act, his broken promises for taxing the wealthy l % fairly and equitably, ad infinitum.

Let that extra jolt of coffee we need be the wake up call when Obama is
dumped by his own party members! It just might be the way to wake everyone up to reality and become organized for battle sooner rather than later and as James wrote: "The only glimmer of hope I can see is in seizing control of and purging the Democratic Party".

Valerie said...

@ Fred - Your third paragraph was nothing short of brilliant! Talk about nailing it!

@Pearl - You are right! I totally neglected to mention Obama's betrayal of the environment at every turn in favour of the big corporate polluters.

@Tom Degan - And yet, I don't see Ralph Nader voting for anyone other than a Third Party Candidate. Ralph more than anyone would tell us to remain true to our morals and our beliefs in what it fair and right.

I won't feel guilty about doing the right thing.