Thursday, September 27, 2012

I Guess Let's All Vote or Whatever

After reading JJ's Guide to Voting from a few days back I think we're mostly in agreement- voting is OK. Makes sense that someone might do it. I do want to look at a few things, though, because I'm still wondering if we've really covered all the ways in which American democracy is a meaningless sham.

I know I'm always tying in China to discussions somehow, and that this can be annoying, but I think it's an instructive example to use when looking at the way American politics works, and also the ways in which it doesn't work. So lets take Chinese elections as our baseline for comparison, as a measure of how absolutely useless voting can be. Did you know it's possible to vote in China? The specifics vary by area, but generally politics on the lowest level, village or locality, allow voting. This is for government positions only though, not Communist Party positions, and the Party controls who gets on the ballot. They're people who have been approved by the Party, and if that means that there's only one name on the ballot, so be it. The Wukan Incident showed that once someone is in office they can remain there for years without any further voting, and a crop of independent candidates who arose to challenge the handpicked Party candidates last year were unceremoniously swept away and harassed, intimidated, or just plain removed from the ballot. In summary: voting is occasionally possible, but the only choices given are people who will back the status quo because their job depends on it. As far as I'm concerned, this is a 100% meaningless vote.

So, my question: to what extent is American democracy more meaningful? Can you advance meaningful positive change by voting in the presidential election?  And before you answer that, think about this: if I give you a candidate who has deported more illegal immigrants than Dubya, who has targeted American citizens for assassination and overseen an extensive drone strike program that has killed piles of civilians in countries around the world, who has backed banks and corporations as hard as he could and given America a Romney-style healthcare reform? If you gave me that description without anything else I'd say 'hey, that sounds like a Republican, it's probably pretty important to vote against him.'

JJ says:
Vote Obama, Green, Romney, or if you're truly undecided, at least vote in all the down ballot elections.
Oh, I'm not undecided. I'm thoroughly decided that both Obama and Romney are ridiculous pieces of shit, and that it a just world it would be a vote for which of them is exiled to a frozen wasteland or desert island or something, not which one of them gets to cackle with glee in the Oval Office while a bunch of Pakistani families get incinerated. These are both objectively bad people, one of whom is a murderer, while the other one merely aspires to become a murderer. But still, as JJ says:
As noted centrist sellout Noam Chomsky said: "Choosing the lesser of two evils isn't a bad thing. The cliché makes it sound bad, but it's a good thing. You get less evil." Sometimes it really is that simple.
And that's true, which is why we're in agreement and why voting still kinda makes sense. But I think we need to spend a bit of time thinking about that, because in the end while we may be voting for the lesser evil, but we're still voting for evil. We're going to vote for a guy and he's going to go out there and do some truly despicable stuff, and in some small abstract way it was our votes that powered it. You see someone with a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker and you're like 'you voted for Bush?!' But hey, I'm about to vote for a guy that does a bunch of the same stuff, so... politics, huh?

There is one point on which I have to disagree with JJ:
As people who read this blog know, I have quite a long list of grievances with Obama and his administration, far too lengthy to get into here. The main question here is: What would be solved by voting for Mitt Romney, voting third party or not voting at all?
Which makes me wonder, these grievances with the Obama administration... are any of them solved by voting for Obama again? None of the issues I have with the Obama administration are going to be addressed by voting for him, the only difference is that the greater evil isn't going to be in quite as good of a position to push their even worse agenda. Let's be clear about this, by stopping Romney/Ryan we're getting better outcomes for a bunch of the blocs they would like to go after. Both parties are good at mobilizing their bases by getting people worried about the things their opponents would do, while minimizing the problems that are still facing America- the end of American industry and labor, harmful trade agreements, the collapse of the middle class, growing wealth inequality and declining social mobility, rising health care costs and the continuation of a violence-based foreign policy that has deemphasized human rights. Democrats might not have the same passion for attacking medicare, medicaid, and social security as Republicans, but they don't have any passion for defending them either. If we can't get real about these problems then America will continue to decline, and voting for Obama definitely isn't going to get us any realer than we are now.

One thing that personally really gets to me about Obama is his continued silence on Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize a year after Obama. That means it shouldn't just be Obama's duty as president of a nation that supposedly supports human rights and freedom of expression around the world to speak out on his behalf, but as someone linked by holding one of the most prestigious awards on the planet. Still, he holds his tongue because, as Hillary Clinton cynically put it, "pressing on those human rights issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis." Would public pressure from Obama get Liu out of prison? I don't know, and I guess we don't get to find out. I don't know what else this episode tells us about him other than that he's a bad politician who doesn't deserve my vote, and if it weren't for the overwhelming awfulness that is R-Squared and the Republican Party, he wouldn't be getting it.

Basically, to summarize:
-Voting in China is 100% worthless.
-Voting for the President in America is merely 99% worthless, because you can control the speed of American decline. Hurtling with Republicans, or merely Plummeting with Democrats.
-Still, that 1% makes a difference, so let's all vote! Especially in state and local elections, where there's a legitimate chance that you might find A Good Politician who actually deserves to be voted for.


  1. "We're going to vote for a guy and he's going to go out there and do some truly despicable stuff, and in some small abstract way it was our votes that powered it"
    ... Yep. That about covers it.

    ...And those are both of the actual possibilities. Fuck.

  2. Had an endless response, which was deleted when my work computer crashed. Will repost when I get the energy.

    Nice post though, thanks for responding.