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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Making the choice

by digby

Unless you believe, as some do, that we must get on with our impending dystopian nightmare so that we can rebuild from the rubble (sometimes known as destroying the village in order to save it) this is probably a useful group of articles. The question posed is what would happen if the Republicans win the next election:

Perhaps none of those issues are important to you or you disagree with the conclusions. But it's fair to say that at least on the margins of a host of issues, this current wacked out version of the Republican Party is likely to make things worse. I know it's hard to believe, but it is possible. Indeed, it's probable.

So, assuming you aren't trying to bring on the rapture, many of us are probably going to end up deciding how we deal with it as this old unprincipled, Democratic hack describes:

"To say it doesn't make any difference is to show your contempt for the general population. A lot of this is correct. The two parties are effectively two factions of one party. The business party. But the factions are somewhat different. And as I mentioned, over time, the differences show up in benefits, working conditions, wages the things that really matter to people.

So yes, there's a difference. There's a narrow difference. And the spectrum within the political system is well to the right of public opinion. And incidentally, the public is well aware of it. So 80% of the country will say the country is I'm quoting, "run by a few big interests" looking out for themselves, not the population. You can argue about the details, but the picture is essentially correct. Nevertheless, there is some difference. You have to make a choice.

If you're in a swing state you have to ask, "is this difference enough for me to pick the lesser of two evils?" And there's nothing wrong with picking the lesser of two evils. The cliche makes it sound like you're doing something bad. But no, you're doing something good if you're picking the lesser of two evils.

So, is it worth doing that or is it worth it to act to create a potential alternative. For instance should I vote Green because they're party building and someday may be a real alternative, or should I express my disdain for the right wing orientation of both parties by not voting, say, or should I pick the lesser of two evils, thereby helping people. That's a decision people have to make.

Chomsky doesn't bring up the strategic argument that assumes the Democrats will only become more liberal when they lose elections. I'll just say that it's not been my experience that people always take the lessons from defeat that you want them too. When politicians lose they generally attribute it to a greater desire on the part of the voters for what the the victor was promising. It's not impossible to imagine them looking at turnout numbers and deciding that the conservative Republican candidate might have been defeated if only the Democrat had been more liberal but I wouldn't hold my breath, particularly considering the desire on the part of all these people to maintain the status quo.

There are other ways. In the current two party, winner-take-all system, primaries are useful. They're hard to mount because it's hard to find people who are willing to do it and even harder to find the money to beat the entrenched interests and the political establishment. Not impossible, but not easy.(The tea party had a little help ...)

There's the plodding long term project of building a movement and changing the fundamental terms on which these elections are being fought. When you look at the history of the various political epochs, changing course is rarely an overnight prospect. Corey Robin alludes to it with this comment:

Every president comes into office opposed to or allied with the dominant regime of his time. FDR was opposed to the Republican regime that had dominated American politics since the nineteenth century and overthrew it; Nixon was opposed to the New Deal/Great Society regime and accommodated it; George W. Bush was allied with the Reagan regime and extended it. Bush was able to do things Reagan and Nixon never did because the liberal Democratic regime they had to contend with was dead by the time Bush was inaugurated (Reagan helped kill it, Clinton buried it).

The long and the short of it is: before we make ahistorical comparisons about who is more liberal or conservative in relationship to whom, let’s situate the president in political time. Assess how strong or weak is the dominant regime, place the president in relation to that regime (allied or opposed), and take it from there.

(I think the mistake people made with Obama was thinking that because he was opposed to the conservative regime, which they assumed was far weaker than it actually was, he had the intention of fighting it when, in fact, he was an accomodationist. Not that the other side made it easy.)

So, movements can create the momentum to change course. But it doesn't happen overnight or mainly through elections. I would certainly think that electing the avatars of the regime one opposes is at least as likely to extend that regime as it is to bring enlightenment through byzantine electoral rationales.

We could also try to change our winner take all system. It's a long term project as well, but it would solve a lot of problems. One of the main reasons we always end up with a two party system instead of a more responsive, multi-party system is purely a matter of processes that can be changed. It's a very heavy lift, but other countries have done it. Until that happens voting third party tends to have the opposite impact in terms of policy as it pushes both parties in the direction of the ultimate winner which, in the case of left wing third party runs, is the conservative alternative. (This analysis of the phenomenon is interesting even if you reject the conclusion.)

I understand why anyone would make the choices Chomsky lays out. Under certain circumstances, I could see myself making any one of them too. But regardless of which avenue one chooses (short of revolution which I'll leave to others to contemplate) I think it's fair to say that, considering the complexity involved, attributing ill will, false consciousness, cowardice and stupidity to people for their choice is uncalled for.

If I could wave a magic wand I'd change our constitution and make this a more representative democracy. I've said it many times before, America's Bill of Rights has been a model for modern democracy, but there's a reason why nobody's adopted the rest of our system. It's a clunker. I'm all for changing it. Meanwhile, it's the founders world and we just live in it.

And, by the way, if you are a progressive/liberal keep in mind that whichever choice you make there are some politicians you can support without feeling as if you are accepting the lesser of two evils.

Update: the Chomsky clip is from three years ago which I'm told is hugely significant. I assumed that his point of view on this issue was well thought out and deeply held but it always possible he's changed his mind and now believes the opposite.