11 February 2008

Why I'm Supporting Barack Obama

Somehow I missed this post by Katha Pollitt last week. Her reasoning, it seems to me, is right on the money. It was neither great enthusiasm nor differences on domestic policy, but matters of foreign affairs and a recognition that Hilary's "negatives" (vicious and unfair though many of them truly are [1] [2]) make her an all-too-easy target for knuckle-dragging Republicans in the general election that led Pollitt to suport Obama. Me too.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous jason said...

I think I understand the impulse that motivates otherwise rational people to choose between the lesser of two evils instead of withdrawing their support for the unjust process entirely, but I hope you'll also understand when I hold you partially responsible when Obama sends my cousin and an invading U.S. military into Pakistan.

Of course, as an American taxpayer, I'll hold myself responsible as well. But even after eight years of Bush, and even with the frightening prospect of a McCain or Clinton presidency, I find it hard to convince myself that, in spite of Obama's ridiculous mantra of "change," a vote for any presidential candidate is anything other than a vote for more of the same.

That is, a vote for President, regardless of candidate, is more than a choice between the lesser of two evils, it's an endorsement -- an intentional appropriation of one's political power. It's a vote for ruthless empire (the leader of the Free World, indeed!), a vote for inequality, a vote for capitalism, and a vote for suffering. Essentially, it's an active acknowledgment that we accept these assholes as our "representative" leaders -- to make decisions for us, to spend our money for us, to defend and even expand "our interests" for us. Now, why would anyone want to do such a thing?

But I suspect you've considered all this before! Cheers.

12 February, 2008 16:26  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Jason,

I actually have considered much of what you say. In fact, it is true that I've never voted for a plausible candidate before - a long list of losers back through Barry Commoner (who?).

I also will say that I have an 18 year old son. I think of him being dragged off to war constantly.

Obama is less likely than Clinton to prolong the war in Iraq. It is very, very unlikely that he will invade Pakistan (virtualy a nonexistent chance, I'd say). And both Dems are less likely to attack Iran than is McCain. (Who, by the way, plans to keep troops in Iraq indefinitely.)

On that dimension and that dimension alone, then, Obama is not the lesser of evils, he is an actively good candidate. We are playing probablities here. But that is life, which does not offer up clearly attractive options. If I sound patronizing and overly pragmatic, I think it is crucial to recognize the dangers of and avoid moralism too.

As for enddorsement vs choice; I spend a lot of time thinking about democracy. And voting is an act of choice. There are lots of other ways to express your endorsement of this or that person or policy. SPeaking out in public, protesting and so forth. But you are offered options - pick A, pick B, or walk away. Unfortunately, walking away still leaves you with whomever wins between A and B.

Jim

12 February, 2008 17:47  
Anonymous jason said...

I spend a lot of time thinking about democracy. And voting is an act of choice.

I spend a lot of time thinking about democracy too. While you may feel that endorsement is too strong a word to describe one's vote (although it's worth considering why any candidate would gladly take your vote over a publicly spoken endorsement any day -- assuming you're not Ted Kennedy, that is), do you not agree that voting is an appropriation of one's political power?

Don't votes bestow a certain amount of "political capital" on a candidate? And by bestowing such power, aren't we tacitly approving of the social contract for representative government, and granting legitimacy to its formation, even if our candidate loses? In other words, someone like Bush was only able to do what he has done because people like us voted, granting him power to form his government, even though we may have voted for someone else. It may sound like a convoluted path of political appropriation, but American democracy -- in that it is perceived as such -- is granted its democratic power from the masses primarily through elections.

Of course, I understand that even some self-described anarchists openly participate in electoral politics for what they see as strategic reasons (strategically poor, imho), all the while decrying (and in many cases, actively opposing) the system that presents them with such limited choices.

On that dimension and that dimension alone . . . he is an actively good candidate.

Which is one of the reasons why people so often vote against their own interests (because they're forced to base their decision on a set of core policy issues, which are often in contradiction to other issues) -- in fact, it's practically impossible not to do so in some capacity, considering how many thousands of policy decisions are crammed into a single crank of the lever. Hell, I've even noticed that some art bloggers are planning on voting primarily based on who will most benefit the art market.

But you are offered options - pick A, pick B, or walk away. Unfortunately, walking away still leaves you with whomever wins between A and B.

Or, you could just pick (D) direct action, my personal favorite.

I think it is crucial to recognize the dangers of and avoid moralism too.

Well, I hope I've stayed far enough away from moralism here to make you comfortable, but I'm not opposed to discussing the culpability of American voters and taxpayers in, say, the Bush administration's war crimes -- especially considering the way in which their political and economic capital funds "representative" invasion, "representative" occupation, "representative" bombing, and "representative" torture.

12 February, 2008 21:49  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Jason, Thanks for your response.

I respect you for your political activism. (I visited your blog again after reading your initial comment.) I think it is crucially important to engage in such activity. So, I do not see 'walking away' as necessarily equivalent to acquiescence (one can obviously opt for D). But neither do I see choosing A or B in hopes that they might be marginally better while in office, as implying acquiescence following an election. Democracy entails the opportunity for all sorts of dissent. (And, yes, I know that in many instances dissent risks arrest and worse.) So whether your candidate wins or loses you are free to wail and protest when those in office behave badly.

On this last point please don’t misunderstand me - I fully agree that BushCo are war criminals. I think they should be prosecuted but think that is highly unlikely. either Obama not Clinton will pursue that course. After all, it took the Spanish to go after Pinochet. Maybe we get lucky and something like that occurs with Bush, et. al..

You are right that politicians will claim a mandate based on electoral results. I think it is important to make it clear to them - by speaking our and acting up - that that whatever support they obtain electorally is revokable. That seems to me to be consistent to both vote for someone without great confidence or enthusiasm and to hold her or his feet to the fire afterwards. Politics is not a once-every-four-year affair. Of course, you understand that. I think the task is to remind others of that. It seems to me that such reminders are much more powerful than condemnation.

This leads us to moralism, I think this is danger into which the anti-war movement descended during Vietnam. the results have been disastrous for progressive regardless of stripe. It is important, I think, to recognize that we all face the same predicament. You nicely sketch that predicament - it is nearly impossible not to vote against your own interests or the interests of those with whom you might want to make common cause. But different folks will respond differently to that predicament. And since we all need allies and coalition partners (and, no, I don't mean insipid calls for bi-partisanship), it is important not to condemn them for choosing differently in an equally impossible circumstance.

It is far more productive to direct our ire at the bad guys and let people figure out how they can best oppose them. I am not a fan of the Democrats, but I am even less a fan of the Republicans. I want to beat the latter and then push the former hard to be less of a group of fuck-ups.

PS: If I understand the pics of the test kit on your blog I hope it is not out of place to offer congratulations.

13 February, 2008 00:09  
Anonymous jason said...

I am not a fan of the Democrats, but I am even less a fan of the Republicans.

I used to feel that way too, until I learned to distrust all politicians equally. For me it's like being forced to choose between the Vietnam War (D) and the Iraq War (R).

PS: If I understand the pics of the test kit on your blog I hope it is not out of place to offer congratulations.

You do, it's not, and thanks!!

14 February, 2008 00:52  

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