Is the a third option?
January 19, 2012 5:00 PM   Subscribe

How can I reconcile a vote for Obama given his human rights mis-steps?

This morning I posted a status update on Facebook linking to Andrew Sullivan's defense of Obama on the Daily Beast. In the comments of my update I got into an argument with a guy I know about the ethical considerations of a vote for Obama. Fighting on the internet is pointless, fighting on Facebook doubly so. Or maybe not because now I'm questioning my support.

His argument:

" at this point, it kind of is disturbing that obama-apologists think they have much to stand on. by re-electing barack obama you're willing to continue to have muslim children slaughtered by covert drones & cluster bombs, & america’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, & the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, & privacy eroded further by the unchecked surveillance state, & american citizens targeted by the president for assassination with no due process, & whistleblowers (julian assange) threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” & the fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, & a substantially higher risk of war with iran (fought by the u.s. or by israel with u.s. support) & the internet 'regulated' by SOPA & PIPA...

obama is drone bombing in 6 countries! the first black president just bombed north africa like---"

Which is all more or less trufax.


"The reason Obama's human rights abuses have gone largely unremarked upon by most Americans is not because they're apologists or because they approve of them, it's because they don't know about them or because the facts have been deliberately distorted by our government and media. The left has failed thus far in moving the national discussion away from inane bullshit. Most people don't even understand the implications of Citizens United.

If there were a credible alternative, that's who I would be voting for. There isn't. Instead we have Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum; three men that have openly, giddily pushed for war with Iran. The only major presidential candidate with a rational foreign policy plan is Ron Paul. Unfortunately, Ron Paul's domestic policy ideas are fucking crazy and disastrous for gays and women.

The United States is not an autocracy. The president doesn't have unchecked power. He's still beholden to the will of the people. Barack Obama is the one that we've got the greatest shot at exerting our influence on. He's not even close to the ideal option but he's what we've got to work with. "

Basically that Obama has pulled some nefarious shit but we can browbeat him into stopping and he also won't fuck the country domestically.

The conversation at that point basically devolved into him calling me an Obama apologist and reducing my argument to my being for torture because of the gays. Or something.

It's almost like Ron Paul would be better for the world, and four more years of this Barack Obama would be better for the country (in my opinion) and a vote for Obama is basically putting the domestic interests of the US above the greater interests of the world. This makes me uncomfortable. I can't be the first person to feel this but I'm having difficulty finding articles or editorials that discuss this issue.

I'm not at all libertarian, I'm pretty socialist actually. I read the crap out of Shock Doctrine. Can anyone point me toward the people talking about this? They don't necessarily have to be liberals. Holy crap, that's long. Sorry! Thanks.
posted by Tha Race Card to Law & Government (49 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
It's almost like Ron Paul would be better for the world, and four more years of this Barack Obama would be better for the country (in my opinion) and a vote for Obama is basically putting the domestic interests of the US above the greater interests of the world. This makes me uncomfortable. I can't be the first person to feel this but I'm having difficulty finding articles or editorials that discuss this issue.

You're certainly not: i feel almost exactly like you.

I would check out Conor Freidersdorf; he writes a lot of good stuff, including a rebuttal to Sullivan's piece. Also Glenn Greenwald.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:04 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm probably going to get yelled at, and this is a bit of a chestnut at this point, BUT -

If Obama does what you want even ten, twenty, thirty percent of the time, that's more often than Mitt Romney or any of the Republicans are going to do what you want. And Ron Paul is not going to get elected. And Ron Paul has some serious racism issues that he's not going to be able to escape (and he should not).

Right now I'm reading The New Deal, and what it is providing me is *perspective.* It seems to me that there is a tendency to view the New Deal with nostalgia (that was real progress, etc) and in some ways that's not unjustified - but in many ways, like all other forms of nostalgia, it's based on some really inaccurate things. Which is a long way to say, I'm not wholly happy or unhappy with Barack Obama, but reading this book has helped me recalibrate my expectations in a way. I don't know about your family, but the New Deal was/is very important to my and my spouse's families - his mom is still employed by the TVA, and both our grandfathers worked for the CCC. Both of our families benefited from rural electrification. So there's a good bit of institutionalized love and respect for Franklin Roosevelt, and the universe knows I'd've loved for BO to be another Roosevelt. The reality, though, is that not even Roosevelt was "a Roosevelt" in the way my family - and even, frankly, my high school history text book - would have him remembered.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:17 PM on January 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

How can I reconcile a vote for Obama given his human rights mis-steps?

A vote in the presidential election is not your only avenue for change.

With all his faults, Obama will still probably be a better bet than whoever gets the GOP nod when it comes to human rights. So vote for him if you think he's the lesser of two evils.

But if you feel strongly about this stuff, you should join advocacy organizations like the ACLU and Amnesty Int'l which will fight the worst of Obama's policies. Support members of congress with strong civil and human rights records. And when the next presidential primary rolls around, donate your time and money to whoever you feel speaks for you on these issues.

Your presidential vote should not be your only say in how the country is run. And thank goodness, considering the options.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:20 PM on January 19, 2012 [17 favorites]

Here's the problem with our two-party, single non-transferrable vote system: If you're not voting for Obama, you're voting Republican. I haven't really liked any of the democratic candidates in years, but I don't get to choose between good and bad. I get to choose between bad and worse, or at best, bad and mediocre.

If, like me, you lean liberal and socialist, you're now alarmed to discover that republican candidates increasingly make George W. Bush look like a well-reasoned, at least well-intentioned officeholder, despite all of the terrible things about those eight years. Reasonable contenders stand no chance of getting past the party politics (Yes, I thought Huntsman seemed far more reasonable than all the other contenders).

What this really says is that our system increasingly benefits the establishment, and not actually representing people, but they're obviously not going to vote to end their own power, so we won't see transferrable votes/runoff systems and an end to the electoral college anytime soon.

Make the least worst choice when you vote, and agitate for better things. Start talking to your representative in person when possible, and maybe consider running for politics. If you suspect that you wouldn't enjoy it and would feel a deep sense of responsibility, and no love of power, then you might already be a better candidate than most of the office holders.

I'm just sayin'.
posted by Strudel at 5:20 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Paul doesnt have a rational foreign policy. He doesn't believe in a sort of liberalish 'lets not invade places for giggles.' The dude is a full on isolationist of the type that made the world so exciting between 1900 and 1945.

As far as foreign policy goes a bote for Paul is a vote for the remilitarization of Germany and Japan and another global spasm of violence. Hopefully not nuclear.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:22 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Paul doesn't have a particularly good record for human rights domestically, either. Anyone who clamors on about "state's rights" either knows nothing about human rights violations in this country or is just using it as a front. Seeing as how Paul is a white man who came to adulthood in the South during the civil rights movement, it's nearly impossible for me to believe that it's the former.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:30 PM on January 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

Do you watch "The Young Turks"? They talk about this all the time.

And if you like Naomi Klein you're probably Pro-Palestine (like me), so check out Norman Finkelstein, Rashid Khalidi, George Galloway, and Noam Chomsky if you haven't yet. They have lots of opinions about Obama's Palestinian issues, it's helpful to see them speak in person if you can.

PS IMO Naw, Ron Paul has some good ideas about leaving the rest of the world the hell alone, but under his leadership our nation would basically become a fiefdom. Libertarian policies treat children like adults and basically strip people of their collective bargaining rights. Single mothers, children and minorities in low-income or emergency situations would effectively be left twisting in the wind without even the modest support net they have now. And the rest of the world would certainly not benefit from the dissolution of the EPA Ron Paul favors-- we'd be poisoning ourselves and thus the rest of the world even more than we are at present. Basically, if you like the vision Ayn Rand has for an ideal world, you'd like what a Ron Paul presidency would effectively be all about. If you think that Rand's vision appeals to sociopaths, elitists and extreme social Darwinists (and consider this a VERY BAD THING) then you probably wouldn't actually like what Ron Paul's platform is about-- not in theory, but in practice.
posted by devymetal at 5:31 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is the a third option?

No, there is no third option. It's Obama or Mitt (most likely). That's it, one of them is going to be President, no if, ands or buts. Ron Paul doesn't have a hope in hell. None.

You have two options. Pick the better one.

How can I reconcile a vote for Obama given his human rights mis-steps?

The next President will probably pick several Supreme Court nominees, people who will help shape American law for decades. Your choice is either Obama or Mitt (probably). You want Obama to be in that driver's seat.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:31 PM on January 19, 2012 [44 favorites]

Obama is not perfect, but he's a hell of a lot better than any of the alternatives.

Ron Paul would like to take the country back to a time before Reconstruction. Does living in 1864 sound appealing to you? It does not appeal to me.
posted by ambrosia at 5:32 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The next President will probably pick several Supreme Court nominees, people who will help shape American law for decades. Your choice is either Obama or Mitt (probably). You want Obama to be in that driver's seat.

This. A million times this.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:32 PM on January 19, 2012 [13 favorites]

I share a lot of your opinions about Obama. But to come from another angle:

I'm guessing it's different when you have the ultimate responsibility for running the country. I'm a very fair-minded, human-rights oriented guy. And I'm single. If I had a family, and felt responsible for them, and I was aware of serious threats to their safety and welfare, I could, in my most frankly honest moments, imagine bending a bit on my fair-mindedness. I could imagine doing what I felt I needed to do.

The way to hell's paved with good intentions, it's true. I'm not missing that at all. And I'm not happy with the decisions you mention. But we're not aware of all the threats. He is. And soon after he took the job, you could almost see him visibly gulp, and somberly reverse course on a lot of clearly closely-held positions....and not for perceivable political gain (there was none, IMO). I think it really was sobering.

I loved the statement that "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," and I'm sure he meant them at his inauguration. But I also loved his attitude toward conciliation. That didn't work out so good, either. But circumstances are circumstances. Realpolitik is a real thing, and the one conclusion presidents of all stripes seem to agree on is that there's much less latitude to the job than you'd imagine.

I still think he's head/shoulders above the rest of the options in terms of conscience.
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:35 PM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Think about outcomes. Think about the people in your life. Think, in particular, about the women in your life. Think about the gay people in your life. Most of my political decisions come down to this, regardless of how I feel about other issues - because I don't have a choice about living with the consequences and because governments, first and foremost, [should] exist to serve their own people.

I agree that the world needs change, and that there is plenty of change to happen in the world that you can effect beyond voting. Also, people obsess, somewhat rightly given executive powers, over who's in the Presidency. Do you have any idea what your Senators and representatives are doing on foreign policy? Their stances? What committees they serve on? There's a lot more to the government than the Presidency. Get active on other levels.

Brandon Blatcher's 100% right - a non-Obama vote is a Republican vote. Corporate oligarchy ensues.
posted by Miko at 5:37 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Glenn Greenwald engaged with Ron Paul's opponents a while back and I find that his discussion with Katha Pollitt does a good job hashing out the underlying ideas. I'm not sure that it will help you come to a conclusion, though.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 5:38 PM on January 19, 2012

whistleblowers (julian assange) threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage

Obama has nothing to do with this - he can't change laws or enforce certain laws but not others.

Merely including this in his list means your Facebook friend is irrational and not worth listening to.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:45 PM on January 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

I've had friends express a similar sentiment. I didn't have an answer for them, but as I thought about it, I realized that focusing on the presidency was a dangerous mistake. The US only has one president at a time, and things are so stacked against a third party candidate actually winning, that really the only possible outcome is that a strong showing by a third party candidate will tip the race from democrat to republican, or vice versa. Bush won in 2000 because of liberals/progressives who believed that there was no practical difference between Bush and Gore and voted for Nader.

It's better to focus attention on smaller races, where the risk from a loss is smaller, and work out and up from there. Part of the reason the country is in the state it is in is because of a well-funded 30+ year effort by conservatives that started at the bottom. The idea of a quick, righteous revolution might sound appealing, but revolutions don't always break the way you wish they would.

As for the idea that a Ron Paul presidency would be better for the world, but worse for us domestically, that's a dubious conclusion. A sudden, dramatic contraction of the US sphere of influence wouldn't suddenly make the world a better place, I'd expect a decade or more of increased violence and instability as others try to expand into the power vacuum it would create.

Even putting that aside, a shittier situation for American women and gays isn't just bad for American woman and gays, its bad for women and gays everywhere if one of the richest countries in the world sets a lower bar for human rights than it previously held.
posted by Good Brain at 5:46 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, not to monopolize the thread, but someone in one of the seemingly endless Obama and/or GOP threads pointed out that, given the two-party rule in this country, voting for third-party candidates is more or less throwing away your vote. Instead, work on changing the system so that it's no longer for the two parties, and lobbying is no longer as big a problem. In the meantime, yes, you'll probably end up holding your nose a lot, maybe even for the rest of your life, for crappy candidates from your previous party of choice. But working to change the system will actually make a difference, whereas protest votes will almost never register in the electoral process.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:47 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about not voting for Obama for the same reasons. BUT I feel that the Supreme Court is really the last bastion of hope for these types of issues. They did rule that the Guantanamo detainees were entitled to due process, for example. Given that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 78 and has had colon and pancreatic cancer, I may vote for him just so that we continue to have a court that is likely to vote that the types of things that Obama has done are unconstitutional. I shudder at the idea of a 5-4 court that includes a Republican instead of Ginsburg.
posted by bananafish at 5:55 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Except for the bombings that started during his administration, all that stuff happened before Obama and would most likely happen with or without him. (Racial minorities disproportionately imprisoned, Muslim children in danger, privacy eroded by restrictive laws... check, check, check.)

You could argue that he should do more, and you could argue that he has made progress in fixing some of these problems. But implying that these problems are Obama's doing, and that therefore anybody else would be better, is bad logic.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:19 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I try to challenge myself to think of voting as the leastimportant political action I will take this year. It's too bad we don't have democracy in Anerica, but we don't. We will be offered a choice between two and only two candidates for president - Obama and the Perfect Husband Robot Secretly Controlled by Mr Burns. Oh, and this limited choice only exists for voters in swing states.

I thought Obama would be different, too, but like every other Democrat who wins high office, he feels that he has to act Republican half the time, and speak in their terms 80% of the time.

Where does that leave people like you and me? Same place we've always been: in the midst of a struggle. We have to pull the lever for the least psychotic option, and then organize best we can to put the pressure on and increase itas much as we can. It sucks, it's depressing, it's often boring, sometimes humiliating, but it's the only option besides doing nothing at all.
posted by Philemon at 6:39 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think the error that a lot of people make is that they believe a president is all-powerful entity in his administration. As a consequence, they attribute every political occurrence in a president's administration as a willful and deliberate action done solely by the president.

It rarely works that way. Even factoring out the stuff put forward by other legislative powers such as the Senate and House of Representatives (SOPA falls under this - in fact, the Obama Administration is against it and has announced that it will veto the bill if it passes), you have to consider all of the other subtle factors: public opinion, compromises with and appeasement of other political branches, pressure from lobbyists and other politicians, and so forth. Obama (and his administration) cannot be considered the sole driving point behind ANY political change that occurs simply because of all of the immense factors of opinion and politics that come into play whenever they need to make a decision.
posted by Conspire at 6:43 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Something you may want to consider to balance out your 'vote.'

Support third party/non-traditional candidates at the local levels. Find a candidate that you can throw your support behind for mayor, or city council, or alderman. These people will have a disproportionate effect on your life and the lives of your neighbors.

And over the long run, developing alternatives (and alternative voting systems) to the two-party rule is a good thing.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:54 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Democracy neither begins nor ends with the ballot.
posted by synecdoche at 7:04 PM on January 19, 2012

LBJ expended a huge amount of his political capital on advocating for the Voting Rights Act, knowing that by doing so he was giving up the "solid South" for his party. He also escalated the war in Vietnam in a way that sent thousands of Americans to their deaths, without even beginning to factor in the death and destruction brought down upon the people of SE Asia.

Given that Ron Paul's vision is based upon an absurd nostalgia for the first era of robber barons... you have two choices. Those two choices should not constrain your advocacy on issues where your preferred choice is not representative of your political beliefs and values.
posted by holgate at 7:05 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

It is relatively simple: until we have something like ranked voting:

An effective vote is often times a vote for the least bad viable candidate.

It sounds horrible, it sounds compromising. It sounds depressing. But, as far as I can tell it is the truth. The Democrats (or the Republicans) as an institution do not "learn" when they lose an election to a third party, or if a third party intervenes enough to fuck up an election. So protest votes are a protest in vain. Despite many people claiming to the contrary Ron Paul is not a viable candidate (nor is he anything remotely like a good candidate, nor would he be an effective president). In Minnesota we elected Jesse Ventura, and both the DFL and the Republicans fought him every step of the way and was an ineffective governor, inherted the State with a surplus, left it in debt even before the current fiasco hit.Ventura is probably a better Libertarian than Paul ever would be, in that Ventura was at least partially a Social Libertarian (I dislike financial and regulatory centered Libertarians).

Obama has many faults, some of them are due to the political reality of working with who else is in power, some of the problems are his own to own. But.. and this grates, he is the least worst viable candidate (and so was Bill Clinton in his time btw).
posted by edgeways at 7:07 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

What edgeways says has a lot of truth. I also feel there's a certain amount of maturity in recognizing this. We don't all get our "wish" in terms of candidates, and it's naive to expect ideological purity and perfection in your candidate, exact agreement with you on all issues. Even if you found that, it would likely only be perfect for you, and someone else would be holding their nose this time.

I take some comfort in this aspect of the system. Even as I bitch that Obama's not as perfect for me as I wish he was, I recognize that he's about 80% of what I need, and that's amazingly good in our pluralistic nation. I take comfort that out there in the American system, there are people who are just as frustrated as you, only they're on the other side. They're very frustrated that Mitt isn't anti-abortion or anti-healthcare enough for them. They're frustrated that we haven't outlawed birth control yet and that we haven't declared war on Palestine. They're frustrated that Planned Parenthood is still getting a trickle of federal funding. They don't have their wish, and I'm glad for that. Even if it means the candidates who do get put forward are more centrist and conciliatory than I would wish. If we can move the needle of leadership a little to one side or the other of dead center, perhaps that's enough for now, until there is a clear popular movement with a great deal of agreement about the direction of the country.

That's not our world right now, and as they say, politics is the art of the possible. What they never add on to that statement is that because it's the art of the possible, it's by definition not the art of the perfect, the ideal, the flawless, the unanimous. It's the best possible outcome we can achieve at any time given the cards we have in front of us That's what we should be aiming for.

Again, get active locally, statewide, congressionally in order to forward the careers of more unconventional candidates you believe in.
posted by Miko at 7:48 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding what others have said about Paul being a nonstarter whose foreign policy would arguably harm the world anyway. But as to your question of how to square reelecting someone with the perceived validation of their mis-steps:

There are no perfect candidates, and if you want your voting (and donating, and volunteering, etc.) to be effective in a two-party system, there can be no litmus tests.

Jefferson kept slaves. Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus. Roosevelt sent thousands of citizens to internment camps. Johnson perpetuated the Vietnam War.

Now, imagine traveling back to an alternate timeline and voting in the election of Jefferson vs. Governor Expand Slavery Nationwide. Or Lincoln vs. Senator Dissolve The Union. Or Roosevelt vs. Representative Execute The Jap Traitors. Or Johnson vs. General Nuke Saigon.

The odious positions Obama holds are, I'd say, less bad than some of the real stinkers in American history committed by figures we otherwise revere. And his only possible replacements at the moment either agree with him on those positions, or criticize him for not going far enough.

So Obama failed to close Guantanamo... prefer him, or Governor Double Guantanamo?

Obama is not a pacifist and has presided over civilian casualties... re-elect him, or go with Speaker Invade Iran?

Obama didn't fight for gay rights vociferously enough... maybe Senator Homosexuals Are Like Animals would do better?

And he didn't come down on bankers hard enough... perhaps the zero regulation and almost-zero tax rates supported by all his opponents would teach them a lesson.

This is the choice facing us -- a competent but flawed candidate who's accomplished both good and bad things in tough circumstances... or a candidate who would do their damnedest to reverse all the good accomplishments while doubling down on the bad.

By all means, help lay the groundwork for better choices in the future by paying attention to primaries, local races, and efforts to reform the electoral system and rein in money in politics. But for the near-term, immediate future, validating Obama's flaws by re-electing him is a far better outcome for everything you care about than allowing someone worse in every respect to take his place.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:49 PM on January 19, 2012 [27 favorites]

Obama is not the emperor,
he is the head of state of a complex and conflicted representative democracy.
He cannot make any move without sufficient political support to overcome the political opposition to the move.

I've been disappointed by some of what he has done,
but I think it is a mistake to be disappointed with Obama personally, the blame needs to be spread much much wider.

I think the pace of political progress in US (I don't live there anymore) is a true reflection of the effectiveness of progressive political voices both lobbying for that change, and engaging in dialogue with the rest of the country to gain wider support for that progress.
posted by compound eye at 8:06 PM on January 19, 2012

"The reason Obama's human rights abuses have gone largely unremarked upon by most Americans is not because they're apologists or because they approve of them, it's because they don't know about them or because the facts have been deliberately distorted by our government and media."
Or, possibly, they go unremarked upon because they are actually NOT "human rights abuses" under the political philosophy that guides a lot of the voting population. I hate to undersell the sophistication of my fellow Americans, but a lot of people who were paying attention to Libya saw it as "Bad Man has been villain for a long time, people rise up for freedom, we helped them." The assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki was just "dispatching an evil man and terrorist that there was no other choice for dealing with." If you ask someone on the street about the CIA being able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, they might say "secrecy is necessary for the CIA to operate." Even some of my own friends vaguely support the PATRIOT act.

Now you disagree with these people, and arguably a lot of people agree with you based upon (what you perceive as more sophisticated) mutual conception of human rights. While the Government represents you, it also represents the people who just want to hear about military action against possible terrorists. And sadly for you, the people who agree with you and for the innocent people who suffer from collateral damage of military and police action- those people who favor intervention and other "abuses" represent the mainstream in politics. Voting against Obama, or finding some candidate who is more to your liking is not going to change those mainstream currents. Even if Ron Paul was elected, he'd face TREMENDOUS pressure from both hawkish legislators and from within the executive branch, to continue the actions you find so disagreeable.

Now, speaking of the prevailing paradigm of America as superpower versus the pacifist paradigm that sees Ron Paul as a sympathetic choice - you face the same choice between intervention and isolation on a smaller scale. You can not vote for either Romney or Obama, not vote at all for any D or R candidate for any political office. You can stop following politics for any constructive reason other than to reaffirm your own cynicism and outrage. You can surround yourself with like-minded friends, and withdraw from institutions that support the organizations you find distasteful. Or, you can vote, you can listen to others, you can speak directly to whomever will listen on a local level and get involved on the grassroots level with large organizations that have an effect on the mainstream political discussion. Isolation might be really ideologically consistent with trying hard not to appear condoning the government's actions, but it is absolutely not going to change the government's actions.
posted by midmarch snowman at 8:38 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your friend simply does not understand the role of the President in our government. Even if he found a candidate who was perfectly politically-aligned with his preferences, and that candidate were viable to be elected, and that candidate won the election, he would still not see all of the policies he prefers get enacted.

And that is by design. You vote for a president whom you think will influence the process positively in the decision making a prioritization choices s/he makes while in office. You don't vote for a candidate who promises a laundry list of legislation that they'll deliver, because that's a promise no president has enough power to make.
posted by anildash at 11:22 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's almost like Ron Paul would be better for the world, and four more years of this Barack Obama would be better for the country (in my opinion) and a vote for Obama is basically putting the domestic interests of the US above the greater interests of the world. This makes me uncomfortable. I can't be the first person to feel this but I'm having difficulty finding articles or editorials that discuss this issue.

Beyond taking sides, if browbeating would have worked, then Obama, his administration, Democratic Party officials, and representatives on the Internet wouldn't keep issuing the so-called "hippy-punching" routine, which seemed to get going in the closing moments of his now-infamous Rolling Stone interview.

If Ron Paul captures the interest of some on the left, it's not because some liberals would pick him, but because he presents ideas that are in conflict with how modern liberal politicians are defining liberalism by their actions. Matt Stoller argues why Paul inspires liberals to think about their support for Obama, not because of "[Paul's] positions, but from the tensions that modern American liberals bear within their own worldview".

It's tough reconciling principles of modern liberalism with the things Obama has done in the last three years — human rights abuses, unending war, illegal surveillance, and so forth — which seem not only incongruous but antithetical with how a self-described liberal and agent of forward-looking change should operate. The only leadership from liberals these days seems to be in issuing the best and most finely-crafted apologetics that a political movement can provide, in pursuit of right-wing policies.

But that's neither here, nor there. The great thing about a democracy is that you have a choice. Neither Obama or Paul has a monopoly on the right and wrong of things, and you owe neither candidate your vote. A third path is, literally, examining third-party options which are more compatible with your morality, from your local government all the way to the presidency.

Most importantly, perhaps, consider tuning out demagogues on Facebook, Metafilter, etc. for the next ten months who will sneer about "throwing away your vote" or who will promote a culture of fear, suggesting that if you don't vote the right way, their way, whatever that is, the world will come to an end.

Remember that it's your vote, not the vote of Internet demagogues. Getting involved and choosing who you believe in to represent you, regardless of who that is, is — in fact and in deed — defending the very core ideal of democracy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:36 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I see that Blazecock Pileon has beat me to it, but given the chorus of voices you may hear on casting YOUR vote the way YOU want, I'll say this: To me, a wasted vote is one that you didn't go to the polls to cast. Anything, ANYTHING, is better than not voting at all.

At my polling place, an older Russian man volunteers frequently. He does this because he didn't have a right to vote for many, many years. He inspires me to keep voting. As long as I have a right to vote, I'm going to do so, and I will vote my conscience. Every, single, time.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:54 AM on January 20, 2012

Presidential voting in the United States is a practical matter, seriously. There are only two people who could possibly be President. You may not like the two choices, but they are all you've got. Considering the small number of votes that have the differences in some elections recently, it's worth considering whether you want your vote to count for the better candidate or against that better candidate.

You get one vote. Make it count.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:04 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Using the arguments of the "vote for the lesser of two evils" crowd, you only have two choices:

Romney: A republican liar who pretends to be conservative
Obama: A democratic liar who pretends to be liberal

A vote for anybody who you really don't support or agree with is a wasted vote. Voting for nobody if there is nobody on the ballot who you can support is not a wasted vote. And constantly voting for the lesser of two evils insures that we will always have an "evil" politician in the white house helping to lead us down the path to ruin. I don't buy their arguments and never will. It is profoundly cynical and defeatist. I refuse to believe that we can't do better.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:23 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, Obama has disappointed.
But do this:
1. Examine the record and rhetoric of all his potential opponents, then compare that with Obama's. Which do you prefer? Me, I prefer Obama.
2. Consider that if he's re-elected, he may feel free to do more, since he won't have to run again.

He seems that rarity: A pragmatist guided by conscience.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:36 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's completely true that one can not do any better, candidate wise, for the US 2012 Presidential election. It's either Obama or Mitt (most likely).

You can choose door C, you technically have that option, but it strikes me as incredibly self centered. Choice C is being done to make yourself feel better. Voting for President should be about what's best for the country, not a specific individual. Which is exactly how one can reconcile their voting for Obama, despite some very unlikable and even immoral Presidential decisions of his. He isn't my dream candidate, there's several things he's done that I've found shocking, appalling and down right disappointing. But there's no question that he's better than whatever crappy candidate the Republicans put up. No question.

You asked for links to discussion or writings about this on the web. Here's the results for the Googling "Why vote for Obama". It has a few links where people talk about why they are not voting for Obama, so check those out also.

You also mention that you're more of a socialist. That's fine, but I think it's important to recognize that the United States is not socialist. Whether that's good or bad isn't the point, but the realization that you're never going to be happy with the US government is. With that in mind, isn't it better to vote for the candidate who most closely matches your viewpoints?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:48 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Using the arguments of the "vote for the lesser of two evils" crowd, you only have two choices:

Romney: A republican liar who pretends to be conservative
Obama: A democratic liar who pretends to be liberal

Neither one of these is true. Obama ran, like Clinton, as a centrist candidate. He may have seemed liberal compared to Bush or McCain (or more accurately, their constituencies), but if you actually go back and look at his positions during the campaign, they're not particularly liberal. He's also had to deal with what is in practice a Republican Congress. Romney, on the other hand, is running for and will govern as a very conservative president. The chances that he'll have a helpful GOP Congress are only slightly worse than 100%. And as others have mentioned multiple times, a President Romney would have the chance to appoint anywhere from 1 to 3 Supreme Court justices, and many more to the federal courts, most of whom will be anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-racial minority, anti-immigrant, and much much worse on civil and human rights cases than Obama.

A vote for anybody who you really don't support or agree with is a wasted vote. Voting for nobody if there is nobody on the ballot who you can support is not a wasted vote.

It may not be a wasted vote, but no vote really is only slightly better than voting for the worst evil, if they win. Especially if you chose not to vote for anyone downticket, and exponentially so if you didn't bother voting in the primaries. And as I pointed out above, when you don't vote, you're not giving up on just one candidate, you're giving up on all the potential mitigation they could accomplish and all the supporting government that could turn things around.

And constantly voting for the lesser of two evils insures that we will always have an "evil" politician in the white house helping to lead us down the path to ruin. I don't buy their arguments and never will. It is profoundly cynical and defeatist. I refuse to believe that we can't do better.

Well, if you're going to take an all-or-none, the White House is the only race that matters stance such as this, then of course other arguments are going to seem cynical. While the White House is very important, this is no less defeatist, and arguably moreso because your method never takes into account the other parts of government such as the courts. You don't create change from the top down. Voting for the lesser evil while actively working at the local and state level to change the system and the candidates is way more productive than what you're proposing here.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:57 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

It may not be a wasted vote, but no vote really is only slightly better than voting for the worst evil, if they win.

If you do this, you may gain some personal satisfaction for having "made your point," but elections are about outcomes. I find that people who advocate doing this - at least in the Presidential race, where it is least impactful, as I've seen over a lifetime of protest-third party votes of one stripe or another - tend to value more highly the act of promoting their specific ideology - "sending a message" - than with real outcomes.

I think this a personal decision - do you value more ideology and representing a worldview in your person, or do you prioritize the outcomes for the conditions in which the citzenry will have to live. This is an easy question for me, but people very devoted to a particular political view may be more willing to sacrifice today for the tomorrow they imagine, even though they haven't yet put the framework in place for that tomorrow to happen.
posted by Miko at 7:45 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you do this, you may gain some personal satisfaction for having "made your point," but elections are about outcomes.

Not entirely, no. Voting third-party expresses dissatisfaction with the system -- in fact, it's damn near the only thing that does politically. If Obama had to worry about shoring up his base then maybe he'd be more willing to fight hard fights instead of rolling over for the Republicans so often.

The key is, if you were going to not vote anyway, vote for some third party instead. Then although he might not win, the vote will still be recorded and contribute to the totals reported in the media, an act which is distinguishable from plain apathy.

You might argue that your vote won't make a difference. I'd respond that you're one person -- the nation isn't going to realign itself based on your preferences based just on your vote anyway. (No, that doesn't happen unless you have millions of dollars to contribute. Not that I'm bitter or anything....) You might as well show them they might have gotten .000001% more mandate if they supported your principles.
posted by JHarris at 7:55 AM on January 20, 2012

Right, it "expresses," but that's the limit of it's outcomes, which is my point. And it's certainly not the only way, or the most effective way, to express dissatisfaction with the system. The reason is we can't know why you voted as you did. It's a statement of some kind, but whether it's a statement of ardent support for the third-party candidate's political philosophy, or the statement "I don't like how things are," is completely obscure. And by aligning with those who are voting third-party as an intentional protest vote against a particular candidate, you effectively lend support and visibility to those undermining that candidate.
posted by Miko at 8:02 AM on January 20, 2012

And it's certainly not the "only thing" that expresses dissatisfaction with the system. I have pledged, in 2012, to talk myself blue in the face and get active on overturning Citizens United and pushing for campaign finance reform, among other causes that I believe will improve government. If you want to express dissatisfaction with the system, these are issues in which you can be personally, powerfully effective in the realm of politics.
posted by Miko at 8:03 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Vote for a third party. If they get enough votes they'll finally get federal funding in the next election.
posted by I-baLL at 10:11 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

A third party President should be the last step in building another party n he US. Said President needs third party Senators, Representatives, Governors, State Senators, Mayors and local politicians to not only push an agenda through, but make that agenda seem normal to the American populace.

Like anything else a third party has to be birthed and grown.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:34 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

To build off Brandon Blatcher there. One of the reasons the Christian Right has had so much success is because of exactly that. they started out small, school board, city council etc, and they worked it. I hate their message, but they. worked. it. They effected a sea change in the true sense of the word.
posted by edgeways at 10:42 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Brandon Blatcher's 100% right - a non-Obama vote is a Republican vote. Corporate oligarchy ensues.

Yes, it's a Republican vote. But Obama is as much in favor of our current corporate oligarchy as any Republican, and he doesn't pretend otherwise. He had a chance to fix some of the damage inflicted by the Bush years, and instead chose to do more of the same.

I appreciate that the President doesn't have the power to do many of things we expect them to do, but he does have a much, much louder voice than pretty much anyone else in the country. And he's chosen to say nothing where something needed to be said.

I'm not sure which way I'll vote this year, but honestly, if you can't in good conscience support either candidate, don't vote.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:45 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

A vote is not an expression of approval, it's an action that potentially swings an election. Express yourself with words, donations, actions, etc. Vote using game theory.
posted by callmejay at 10:52 AM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

You don't owe them your vote. Most of the commenters above are buying into a really ignorant meme perpetuated by the two major parties: that if you don't vote for one of them, you're wasting your vote (or voting for the other guy).

Does that sound like good, unbiased advice? If you want them to stay as the only two parties forever, sure, listen to them. That's what they're hoping.

My vote has to be earned. And the Democratic Party over the last four (and more) years has done nothing to earn it. Or, to quote a friend of mine on this subject:

The American left had a tremendous opportunity in 2000. Mr. Nader won close to three percent of the vote, and absolutely cost Mr. Gore the election. The Democratic party establishment frothed with rage.

The American left could have taken this opportunity. It could have collectively said:

Fuck right we did. We fucking cost you the election. We have that power, and we used it. Now appease us, or we’ll do it again.

And mean it, because that is how you play power politics. The opportunity was right there. Appease us, or die.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the American left ran screaming back home, flagellating themselves for their sins, piteously crying, ‘We’ll be good! We swear, we’ll never leave and never ever ever be bad ever again!’ It was pathetic. And they were scolded and contritely made their apologies and occasionally get reminded of the “Nader betrayal,” to help keep them in line, and nothing they want matters.

And why all that Party rage? Simple: because the left had created a window of opportunity, and that window had to be closed. They demonstrated power, costing the Democratic wing of the political class both power and money; and that shit had to be put the fuck down.

And it was. They threw it away.

This is called losing.

(I recommend you read the whole thing. And then find a candidate that speaks to you, and vote for him or her. Better yet, get involved, volunteer, and work hard for a country you can believe in.)
posted by criacow at 11:35 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Such a strategy would have peeled off only the leftmost third or so of the Democratic coalition, leaving the moderate/centrists to be cultivated into a rightward swing.
posted by Miko at 12:56 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Works a treat in Canada right now eh? As near as I can tell the majority of the country is pretty far left of Harper but the parties have done jack all to actually defeat him. But you know... lets replicate that right here.
posted by edgeways at 2:02 PM on January 20, 2012

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the American left ran screaming back home, flagellating themselves for their sins, piteously crying, ‘We’ll be good! We swear, we’ll never leave and never ever ever be bad ever again!’

Your friend should write an alternative history in which September 2001 does not inaugurate an era of jingoistic craziness in the US. The fantasy narrative is down pat. In the meantime, I'll point to this.

Give a shit about local politics. If you're in the US, you're probably voting for county dogcatcher and district registrar of widgets, which is stupid, but that's the way things are set up, and there are plenty of municipal and county-wide positions that make a difference. State legislatures wield large amounts of power and yet seem to be populated by a large number of fools and frauds -- you could set up a blog entitled "Crazy Shit State Legislators Said Today" and never lack for content -- and yet nobody really seems to care whose names are on the ballot for those positions.
posted by holgate at 3:16 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

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