04 November 2008

Against Obama?

Alexander Cockburn, that silver-tongued rhetorician of the far, far left (so far left, in fact, that he occasionally goes full circle and finds common cause with the far, far right) has come out foursquare against Barack Obama. He urges instead a vote for Ralph Nader, Bob Barr, or, had she not recently revealed herself once again as a paranoid lunatic, Cynthia McKinney.

That, coupled with the recurring debates that spring up with my own readers over whether or not Ralph Nader and his mostly well-intentioned but also somewhat deluded followers are partly responsible for saddling us with eight years of Bushism, led me to revisit this classic George Orwell essay in which the author argues, convincingly, I think, that British pacifists at the time of World War II were, despite their claims to be struggling for a higher, nobler cause by refusing to support the war effort, were actually and substantively supporting Hitler.

"This is elementary common sense," writes Orwell. "If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other." He goes on to rubbish "the idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle" as "a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security."

Now perhaps you see it as a stretch too far to make an analogy between all-out war against imperial fascism and a quadrennial election campaign. But while nobody is claiming that the Bush-McCain axis represents a reincarnated Nazism (well, nobody, that is, except some of the same far leftists who see Obama as merely the flip side of the same totalitarian coin) or that we are in danger of having our democracy and freedom overthrown by invading armies, I think the principle holds just as true for the struggle we are currently engaged in.

What if you honestly, sincerely believe, as Nader claims to, that there is no real difference between the views represented - and the outcome of putting those views into practice - by John McCain and Barack Obama? Well, in the first place, you'd probably be somewhat deluded, or more likely, so taken with the vehemence of your own rhetoric that you have confounded it with reality. A 12-year-old - and I mean no disrespect to the 12-year-olds of the world - could examine the two candidates' platforms and voting histories and provide you with numerous examples of where they differ.

No, what you really mean is that Obama doesn't differ enough, that because he doesn't espouse the full range of leftist political doctrine, despite the fact that views such that extreme are not and never have been shared by more than a few percent of the American public, you are willing to declare a plague on both their houses and, by either voting for a doomed third party candidacy or withholding your vote altogether, help elect John McCain.

Very well; under the rules of our democracy, you have that right. But in exercising that right, I fear, you are exhibiting what Orwell called "a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen." Your "moral stance" does not exist in a vacuum. You can not, as the events of Florida in 2000 amply demonstrated, vote for Nader without simultaneously voting against Obama and for McCain. The only way in which such an action could have neutral consequences would be if you could guarantee that someone on the right would match your action by refusing to vote for McCain.

There is no such level playing field, as Orwell pointed out, just as there was no equivalent pacifist movement in the fascist countries to balance the efforts of British pacifists to undermine the war effort. "But we are not at war," you might argue, "nor are we about to be invaded by a neighboring empire." The latter may be true, but the former is not: we most certainly are at war, and while there's no guarantee that the same wouldn't be true had not Nader and his supporters helped put Bush into office in 2000, it's most likely that the disaster Iraq was to become would have unfolded very differently had some of Florida's 97,000 Nader voters been willing to swallow their pride and/or stubbornness long enough to put Al Gore into office instead of George Bush.

That alone should be enough to illustrate that protest votes, no matter how innocuous they may seem here in our cocoon of material and political security, can have grim and awful consequences for those not fortunate enough to live in a land where battles are largely limited to the symbolic. The mindless carnage - and I say that as someone who was at least partially open to the case for the war - visited upon the people of Iraq by Bush's incompetence was aided and abetted by Nader's claim that there was "no difference" between Bush and Gore, and by those who, for whatever their reasons, chose to believe him.

Is there ever a time, you understandably ask, when one can in good conscience support a minor party candidate, when one doesn't need to be hamstrung by the often unfair and inadequate two-party system? Yes, of course there is. And for all my anger at the disaster that was visited on the world by Nader helping Bush into office, it's only fair to say that 2000 might have legitimately seemed like such a time. After all, we had no way of knowing the kind of events that were going to unfold once Bush took office, nor did we have more than a hint of how extraordinarily unequal to them Bush would prove to be.

But no such uncertainty exists this time. Economically, militarily, even philosophically, the United States - and by extension, much of the world, since America's is a far-reaching shadow - faces greater challenges and dangers than at any point in my life. I grew up in a time when the memories and traumas of the Great Depression and the Second World War were still very fresh, to the point where they colored the thinking and actions of my parents' generation in every way imaginable. My own generation and the generations that followed it have never had to confront difficulties on that scale, but something tells me that we may be approaching just such a moment.

No, Obama isn't the messiah, nor is he anywhere near flawless on many of the issues that strike me as important. And as with all politicians, there is always the risk that he will turn out to be something quite different from what he presents himself as, or that he will be unable to govern with the same vigor and clarity with which he has campaigned, or that his prescriptions for America will turn out to have been wrong after all. But while we can agonize over such possibilities - and given the magnitude of the disaster visited upon us and democracy by the Bush presidency, we'd hardly be human if we didn't - what's at stake today is too vital. We can not afford the luxury of wallowing in nihilism or quixotic protest votes. John McCain may be a perfectly nice, decent man at heart, but in the course of his campaign has repeatedly shown himself to be befuddled, incompetent, and willing to say or do almost anything to gain an office which he clearly does not deserve, and the same is even truer of the vice-president he has attempted to saddle us with.

If you disagree with the above, if you feel that Bush/Cheney/McCain-Palin have served us well and will continue to do so, then by all means vote for them. I respect your opinion even if I disagree with it. But if you claim to be opposed to them but are not voting today for Barack Obama, then you are deluding yourself and risk performing a great disservice to our country and the world. He may not share your views on everything, you may dislike the guy for one or many reasons, but there is no evading the fact that there is one way and one way only to ensure that John McCain and Sarah Palin will not rule this country for the next four years, and the specter of George Bush and the havoc he has wreaked will be put into a grave with a stake through its misbegotten heart, and that is to elect Barack Obama president. You may wish you had a greater range of choices, but you do not. You may spend the next four years protesting that President Obama is too far to the left for you or not far enough, and it is both your right and duty to do so if that turns out to be the case.

But right now there is is one overriding purpose that should transcend all doubts and quibbles: we must restore dignity, decency, honor and respectability to the highest office in the land, and while no man or woman can ever be perfectly suited to that position or perfectly conform to our individual views of how that office should be conducted, not in decades - again, perhaps not in my lifetime - has the choice between two candidates been so clear and obvious. Please join me today in helping to elect Barack Obama president.


Anonymous said...

As I've told you before, Barack Obama is the second coming of Jimmy Carter. A vote for anybody but Obama is a-ok in my book.


Larry Livermore said...

As I said, if you honestly believe McCain-Palin to be the best candidates, you should by all means vote for them. My comments were directed more at people who claim to be vehemently anti-Bush/McCain but yet somehow still rationalize their way out of supporting Obama.

Anonymous said...

oh let's go down the list of Obamas vaunted voting record that is not fringe and shared by most americans....

Voted for the war funding every time.

Voted to renew the PATRIOT ACT.

Voted For the FISA bill.

Voted for telecomm immunity.

Let's check out Joe Biden.

Helped push the Iraq war through by limiting debate and cajoling fellow democrats to vote for it.

Said serbs ought to be put in concentration camps.

voted to renew the PATRIOT ACT. In fact he drafted it in in 1995 after the OKC bombings and complained the GOP stole his ideas.

Voted for FISA.

Voted for immunity.

Drafted and pushed the Bankruptcy bill that was a boondoggle for the credit card industry as well.

Both want to have a "surge" in Afghanistan. Both have said they will not respect sovereign nations borders if they perceive a threat, which means pre emptive war and continuing the Bush Doctrine.

Both voted for the bail out and enabled wall street speculators and crooks to not only get away with criminal acts, but rewarded them, while the market and economy still tanks.

This is just the tip of the ice berg.

This is what a majority of Americans believe in, highly unlikely and how is that different than McCain??

So ending the wars, cutting wasteful bureaucracies, a single payer not for profit health care system, having a bill of workers rights, investing in passive energy sources, protecting civil liberties, earning a living wage, ending the war on terror, the war on drugs, and the bush doctrine, opening the debates, keeping the public airwaves public, ending corporate person hood, fair trade, the list goes on...These are only beliefs held by a few?

I guess in La La land NYC, you guys just blabber on about what your TV or hip magazine tells you how to think, but in the rest of America, we are sick of the wars, attacks on our civil liberties, and being bullying around by corporate billionaires who own our government. It seem you are he one out of touch, most people are voting for Obama, because they feel he is the lesser of the two evils. Remember Nader never said there was NO different between Gore and Bush, same with McCain and Obama, there is just LITTLE difference between the two.

They are beholden to corporate america and Obama is beholden to wall street.


Like you said you can go down the list of voting records and rhteoric and you see that, yes, there is little difference between the tw and you are enabling a failed system.

Basically you are to blame for 2000 2004 and this election. Maybe you ought to own up to your inability to step it up and make choices that will better the world and stop falling prey to the two party system. Give it a try declare your independence and come join the growing number of us who actually want real substantial change and not slogans and lies.


Another pullitzer prize winner voting for Nader..ooops

Anonymous said...

"we must restore dignity, decency, honor and respectability to the highest office in the land,"

By voting in a fraud who supports many of the Bush policies regarding foreign policy?

That is an excellent idea, maybe we can attack 6,7,8 countries at the same time.

It will be so awesome. With any luck we will have to have a draft.

On and on you go about Nader. You get presented facts and yet you still cannot get your head out of the swirling toilet long enough to get some oxygen to your brain.



not someone who has a 45 year history of serving the public.

Your mantra has become tiresome and frankly you need a new one. Perhaps, when Obama starts helping his wall street buddies and goes to war with Pakistan, Syria, and Iran, you can just blame Nader.

joseph said...


Larry - I voted for Obama, not because I think he will right all the wrongs that have become the Bush legacy. I voted for him because the thought of a McCain/Palin administration scares me.

I was 18 in 1980. I voted for John Anderson knowing he didn't have a chance of winning. I never threw away another vote after that election.

Anonymous said...

as imperfect as he (or anybody for that matter) would be, obama's a step forward. i recall you talking about nader's disappearing acts in an old punk planet column and that's pretty much what soured me on him being any viable alternative.

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog and great comments too. I like how you have depth in your subjects and not just black/white knee-jerk thinking. Plus, I enjoy the old punk stuff myself.

Which leads me to the writings been on the wall since 1970's punk rock. I mean, let's fight over trivial BS .. is Burger King more healthy than McDonald? Does McDonalds give more charity? Come on! they aren't too much different.

Is Pepsi better for you than Coke? Is Coke a more environmental company? Does it friggen matter?!

That's kinda what the last election was like. Obama isn't a step forward he is just moving the dance to the left. This is done for the appearance. Things superficially may look different. The logo is Blue not Red.

But please look deep. DEMS are playing "good cop" to GOPS "bad cop". It's a calculated and cruel game.. both sides have the same goal. In this case, to rob Americans and regular people of the world of their rights as sovereign nations/citizens.

Obama plays the same game, but now he is the CEO for the "other company." He is still bought and sold, or the corrupt Dems wouldn't have him. By keeping the Average American voter (and the Press that allegedly informs them) in a constant debate between two bought and sold candidates, Democracy can just be lifted from our hands. The powers that run Bilderberg, ect. hedge their bets and anyone who works their way through to the short-list of the GOP or Dems has been greased by the exact same palms. They may change things up.. but don't expect beneficial change for people. This isn't the goal of the DEMS or the GOP (both have been co-oped)

For example: The US will likely still be at war (building a foreign empire while our people at home are impoverished and stricken), the dollar's value will continue to be destroyed by inflationary debt, our skies will still be sprayed regularly with chemicals (look up Chemtrails), Marshal law will continue to be in effect, even after GW. Bush is out of office, The Patriot Act and other violations of constitutional freedoms will continue to impinge Americans and secret torture facilities/camps will exist to intimidate and oppress innocent people.

This is why people say Obama is a sham. Because if you look at what he says and does they are two rather different things. He is beholden (same as G.W. Bush) to certain Evil Global Powers,. not to the American People.

His track record (and Biden's) on key issues (Patriot Act, continued support for Iraq funding after his big "I'm better than Hillary C. because I NEVER voted for the war" then he did) is surprisingly similar to GW Bush. Surprise! Because they are "owned" by the same Powerful groups/individuals. When it's played out, things won't be too different (better) for American's than when Bush was in office. The only way Obama/Biden will vary, is a new faces/new party will get more leeway to push through bills to further exploit Americans (in the name of Change) and push us all down into debt, poverty and internment camps like what was done to Native Americans, Farmers, ect.

Think about the larger paradiam of power, not just the imaginary right/left, McDonalds/BK, Coke/Pepsi. This is a distraction. If Stock brokers are smart enough to play both sides (investing in both google and microsoft or ebay and amazon), and Cops do it to beat out the truth, why wouldn't the world's Power brokers be saavy enough to employ this tactic?

Keep your wits and
All the Best,