Friday, October 29, 2010

Don't vote

I suppose that I have to get this in before the election, along with all the Vote posts on other blogs.

Don't vote. I'm not going to. Anyone who says that the "enthusiasm gap" affects the apolitical unemployed, and not the activist base, is wrong by at least one person. Nor will my family be donating our usual couple of hundred dollars per election cycle (unless my wife really wanted to, of course, and as of this writing she doesn't).

The people who say that in order to be serious about liberal or progressive politics, you have to suck it up and support the party at this point, are exactly wrong. If Obama and the rest of the Democrats don't feel any fear that they're losing people on the left, they will give away even more after this election. The bogeyman of the awful scary Tea Party people -- supposedly worse than all the other right wing nut jobs who have been legislators throughout my lifetime -- coming to power doesn't work. If Obama doesn't want to veto them, if the Democrats in Congress won't filibuster them, why should it be up to us?

This state of affairs is mostly Obama's fault. I don't really know where to start. Finance? "Millions for bankers, not one cent for people." The economy? "A stimulus that's adequate might cost us political capital!" Health care? "Let's lie and tell people we're supporting a public option, they're suckers." Torture and executive power? That will have to wait for a later, more serious post, if I have the energy for one.

But perhaps a mini-tour of an issue area that I know something about, environmental politics around climate change, will be illustrative. What has Obama actually done in this area? It can be summed up in one hyphenated word: hippy-punching. His main action on the climate bill was to blame environmental groups for not getting it passed because they couldn't get a single Republican Senator to vote for it. In other words, GOP party loyalty was the environmental groups' fault; Democratic disunity was evidently not Obama's weakness. Obama's idea was to unilaterally open up a lot of the coast to offshore drilling, accompanying that with a lecture, directed at environmentalists, that they had to grow up and accept reality. It was intended to be part of a bargain to get support for energy policy around climate change; Obama neglected to get any commitments from people before doing so, and of course this support did not materialize. Shortly after that, the BP well started to leak. Obama refused to use this event to pressure industry. Instead, as a crowning insult to his supporters, he finally removed his own moratorium on new drilling because an oil state Senator said she'd remove her hold on a mid-level OMB appointee if he did. He cancelled the moratorium; she did not remove the hold, saying that the cancellation was insufficient.

Obama's entire style consists of failure to lead. In a recent interview with bloggers, he said that after the election he'd continue to try to find solutions along with the GOP, and told people that he's an executive, not a boss who can do things unilaterally. Of course, an actual leader struggles against opposition and tries to alter constraints, he or she doesn't just accept them and keep on going calmly within a narrower and narrower compass. Of course people know that Obama isn't a dictator. Is he a political leader? Political leaders show loyalty to the people who work for them, they don't adopt a grandiose pose that as leader of the whole country they now need to work with everyone and their inconvenient supporters need to get lost. Ask Shirley Sherrod what Obama's loyalty is like.

In answer to this Obama points to his accomplishments. Accomplishments? He's carefully destroyed every issue he touched, wasted every chance. It took decades to agitate about the failures of health care. Obama stepped in at the one historical moment when change was possible -- not because of him, but because of GOP failure -- and made that change the minimum that it could possibly be to keep the system going. The same with the banks: he preserved the system for the elite and screwed over everyone who'd been waiting for this chance for real change. He can claim the largest progressive accomplishments in decades because he came in when the dam that had existed since Nixon finally broke. And his first action was to build it back up again.

The next objection, if anyone were reading this which I doubt, would be that not voting does nothing because the Democratic Party will never hear about it anyways, or if they do, the number of people lost will be so small that it won't matter. Yes, I'd say that's true. I don't think there will be any practical effect if I don't vote or if 1.000 people don't or 10,000 people don't. For the same reason there will be no practical effect if we do. But I'll be telling people how Obama lost me. Other people should too. It's the serious thing to do.

In fact, that's all that we have, as activists. Our individual votes are meaningless. But we tell people things and they tell other people. Let the Democratic Party know that you're displeased. Don't volunteer, don't contribute, and tell them why.

And don't fall for the scare stories about how this is putting the extremist right in power. Obama has been very lucky in his enemies. But I can tell scare stories too. Unless the Democratic Party starts to understand that they're losing people, we're going to lose Social Security. The GOP has no power to do that, but the Democratic Party does. That's the way it is with everything. The GOP failed for decades to get more offshore drilling. But Obama did it in an instant. Don't be fooled.


  1. Perhaps dividing the ballot a bit might be an alternative? There are many local races and particularly initiatives and propositions here that do make a substantive difference in how i live. The national scope really means nothing to me, but local politics has making a big difference because so much of it is truly progressive. Thanks for the national advice though.

  2. Well, spyder, you can go out and stealth vote if you want. Just tell the national Democrats that you didn't. :)