“Change” is what we thought that we were voting for in 2008. I know that’s what I was working for when I knocked on those hundreds of doors, registering voters and urging them to vote for Obama. I’m pretty sure that I persuaded some people who were thinking of voting for McCain to change their votes, too.
But on election night, when it became clear that Obama would win and the cheers went up and the joyful tears started flowing at our local campaign headquarters, I didn’t join the cheering or the grateful crying. I knew that Obama wasn’t actually a reformer when he voted in the Senate to let the telecommunications companies slide for violating our constitutional rights. Also, I’d been watching the edits to Obama’s web site, and I saw how he kept removing things and watering down his positions. The last change that I noticed before I realized that Obama would actually betray me on some issues was when he deleted campaign finance reform and public campaign financing. I was certain then that Obama would actually oppose me on policies that I knew were essential for our country. But I voted for him anyway.
I knew that I was voting for the lesser of two evils in 2008, but I did think that Obama was significantly less evil than McCain. I simply hoped that he would make a few significant repairs to the damage done to our economy and to our government and to our Constitution during the Bush administration.
Reaping the Reward
Republicans were nearly finished as a political party after that election. They’d been driven from government in droves. Yet, just as soon as Obama introduced his health care finance proposals, he started negotiating with Republicans as if they mattered. He held backroom meetings with the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry in which he pledged that there would be no public option despite a polls showing that a huge majority of Americans wanted public health care financing. He told progressives to shut up and sit down.
We started to hear that ridiculous mantra — the excuse for not fighting Republicans — that he had to “compromise” with them because a super-majority of Democrats just wasn’t enough. Not once did Obama stand up and fight for what he had said during the campaign was a requirement, a public option. The result is that the insurance companies now have a strengthened stranglehold on our increasingly expensive health care finance system.
Still, there was the chance that we might be able to restore the rule of law. Surely, some of the criminal bankers who had stolen so much from our country would be prosecuted. Maybe some of the people who had ordered the torturing of our prisoners would be imprisoned. Years later, however, not one of those terrible criminals have been imprisoned.
Finance reform was a joke, too. They put the office that is supposed to protect consumers under the control of the Federal Reserve, a private, quasi-governmental organization controlled by the banks. They watered down or eliminated regulation of derivatives, and they haven’t even made use of the law that was supposed to help those who were duped by the banks to renegotiate their mortgages. Instead, money that was supposed to help the public was fed, instead, to the banks.
Then Obama back-tracked on extending the Bush tax cuts. I remember that December grimly. John Boehner, soon to be the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, had already said that he would vote for a bill that included only an extention of the tax cuts for the middle class, even if it raised taxes on the rich. Within just a few days, however, Obama said that he would negotiate with the Republicans to extend all of the tax cuts. In addition, he would add another one, a cut to the payroll tax, which happens to be the only means that many people can use to save for their retirement. Sure, that cut was to be paid for out of the general fund, but that meant that the money would never actually make it into the Social Security Trust Fund. It would simply be immediately borrowed back again and never repaid. The death knell for Social Security had been rung.
But that turned out not to be the worst of it. Within the last few months, Obama has made direct attacks against our Constitutional rights. He has claimed that he can kill any American anywhere at any time just on his say so. He got his Attorney General to stand up and say with all seriousness that due process is not necessarily a judicial process even though what the Constitution actually calls for is due process of law, something that only the courts can decide. Even more, he signed HR347, a law that makes certain that our elected officials never have to hear our protests. Our rights to speak and to peaceably assemble and to seek redress of our grievances have been eviscerated.
Weighing the Result
So I’m wondering, did I vote for the lesser or the greater of two evils? Would John McCain, limited by a Democratic Congress, have been allowed to do any of those things?
I voted for Obama anyway, knowing that he was much less than what I’d hoped for, and that he would certainly not do the most important thing that needed to be done: reform our corrupted voting system. I was told that I had to because, if I didn’t, McCain would win and things would be worse. People repeated their horror stories of 2000, and they blamed people who voted honestly for what happened. We have to sacrifice our principles, I was told, in order to avoid the boogeyman.
I wanted change, but I didn’t get it. What I got, instead, was an amplification of the harm that Bush had done to our country. How could that have happened?
I think now that I know why. It’s because I didn’t change.
I voted for Obama with my eyes open. There were other candidates much closer to my position on all of the important issues but, I thought, they don’t really have a chance of winning, so I might as well vote for as much as I can get, even if a lot of what I would get could be harmful to me. I knowingly voted against my interests. It doesn’t matter that I had no idea how destructive to my most essential liberties Obama would actually turn out to be. I voted against my interests on significant issues, thinking that Obama was the best that I could get.
In the end, I got what I voted for. I got a government that opposes my interests, and I have no one to blame but me.
It doesn’t matter that Obama may have been the best that I could get. He wasn’t the best for whom I could vote. Looking back on my life, it’s clear that whenever I’ve voted for the lesser of two evils, the best that I could get was always worse than the last time. When I voted for the lesser of two evils, I voted for evil.
It started to get really bad in 1980. At that time, lots of people disagreed with Reagan on the issues, but they were going to vote for him anyway because he was such a nice guy. He sang a pretty song about “morning in America”, and won their hearts. So they voted against their interests. I was still smart enough then to not vote for Reagan, but the Reagan Democrats got what they voted for: a government that works against their interests.
It’s been like that every election since. I voted for Clinton even though I knew that he would end up creating some of the disastrous policies that have so crippled our country today. I got what I voted for then, too.
The chant that we have to vote for the lesser of two evils rather than for our interests is now accepted as absolute truth. We’re not supposed to vote for the people whom we really want to represent us because, we’re told, they can’t win. We can’t vote for them because the boogeyman might get us. We’re supposed to stay in what the media has told us is the mainstream, and we’d better not stray.
Well, it’s certainly true that the people we actually want can’t win if we don’t vote for them. But so many people are convinced that we have to settle for having our rights taken away from us that it is now impossible to elect people who can actually preserve and strengthen our rights.
And all of that is because I didn’t change me. I bought that lie. I voted for less than what I wanted, less than what I needed, knowing that Obama would work against me on the issues that I considered most important. Sure, I was afraid not to because I was afraid of the Republican boogeyman. I was scared that if McCain won, the very things that have happened would happen. But it’s clear now – too late – that my children and my grandchildren will suffer for my irresponsibility, my refusal to stand up for myself, my refusal to fight.
How I’m Going to Change My Government
I’m not going to do that anymore. I will not vote for the lesser of two evils anymore. I will vote for the person who most represents my will whether or not that person can actually win. I’m going to work hard to persuade others to start doing the same, and I know that I’ll get some converts, too, because I already have. And they will talk to people and persuade some to change how they vote.
Yes, we’re going to lose in the short term. There’s no way that we can not lose even more of our rights and more of our control of our government over the next few years because Obama will be the next President. But I can start working for actual change today and, sooner or later, there will be enough of us voting our consciences that we will start winning elections. With time, we will win more and more. Eventually, we’ll have our country back, and my children — or, at least, my grandchildren — will have their rights back and control of their country in their hands, the way our Founding Fathers intended.
The change that I want will begin with me, and I will never, ever again, give in.
— David Dickinson