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Morality and Voting for Obama

(also posted at VOTS)

Back in September, Conor Friedersdorf put out a piece in The Atlantic titled “Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama.” The basic argument is this: even though Romney is bad, the author still felt Obama’s transgressions made him beyond the pale as far as his actual vote was concerned. Here is what Friedersdorf actually says to rebut the standard “Romney would be worse” objection:

What about the assertion that Romney will be even worse than Obama has been on these issues? It is quite possible, though not nearly as inevitable as Democrats seem to think. It isn’t as though they accurately predicted the abysmal behavior of Obama during his first term, after all. And how do you get worse than having set a precedent for the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens? By actually carrying out such a killing? Obama did that too. Would Romney? I honestly don’t know. I can imagine he’d kill more Americans without trial and in secret, or that he wouldn’t kill any. I can imagine that he’d kill more innocent Pakistani kids or fewer. His rhetoric suggests he would be worse. I agree with that. Then again, Romney revels in bellicosity; Obama soothes with rhetoric and kills people in secret.

The arguments either way aren’t persuasive. Romney could be worse, but nobody really knows, because there is no way to know if a politician’s rhetoric matches his or her actions. Obama offers mostly empty liberal pieties and behaves as a conservative; Romney talks like a Tea Party lunatic at times, but you don’t really know if this is to appease his constituency or if he means it.

Friedersdorf’s piece would be irrelevant, however, except that it was brought up again by a fellow “sebastianbennett” in Wednesday’s piece in Firedoglake: “Is Voting for Obama Immoral?” Here is sebastianbennet’s response to Friedersdorf’s argument:

Yet should Obama’s record disqualify him from consideration at the ballot box, as Friedersdorf claims?

To believe so is to assume that a Romney administration would take a different tact on national security matters, which is unlikely, a point Friedersdorf concedes. To believe so also assumes that Romney would nominate judges more inclined to check the abuse of authority. This is also unlikely. Finally, to believe that Obama’s “imperial presidency” disqualifies him for reelection is to accept by default his opponent’s platform, including, for example, his (Romney’s) dogged determination to turn the country into a feudal-like state by relentlessly preferencing the rich and powerful.

This argument is also not persuasive. The likely outcome is that either Obama or Romney will give us everything Paul Ryan has promised. Romney will do it outright, whereas Obama will achieve it through “compromise” and “bipartisanship.” If there is any difference between the two political outcomes, Obama as President versus Romney as President in 2013, it will be nullified by the additional resistance Romney will receive for being less charismatic than Obama is.

sebastianbennett talks about “sustaining our democracy” at the end, as a reason to vote for Obama. “Our democracy,” today, is a nasty bit of theater designed to fool the public while special interests make almost all of the real decisions. Let me suggest a higher standard, a standard actually worth resuscitating — sustaining people power. People power, as defined here, is not the power politicians have over the people, but rather the power people have to bring about political outcomes that are in their own interests. Voting may not have a moral outcome, but sustaining people power has at least a decent shot at it.

Voting is a very poor expression of people power. This, more than anything, is the reason why Occupy used consensus process — consensus process is a much more effective expression of people power than is voting. The idea of voting is that there is some “50% minus one” constituency out there that needs to be nullified, on grounds chosen by those who design the voting contests, for the sake of the majority will. The majority will, too, is constructed — the mass media and the politicians and other “leaders” somehow get a bunch of disparate people to conform in their opinions because everyone is somehow convinced to sell out for the sheer glory of winning a vote. By nature, the people do not conform to each other, neither in opinion nor in shoe size, but voting forces public conformity of opinion for the sake of winning. Consensus process, on the other hand, obliges its participants to design outcomes tailored to the non-conformist peculiarities of all those involved.

However you vote, don’t think a whole lot about your vote. You can give yourself moral brownie points for voting for a third party candidate, but in reality you will make as little a difference as you would if you were to vote for Obama or Romney. History will only be made if you can rally the public behind some better expression of people power than voting, especially (in that regard) than voting for corporate party shills in an era of late capitalism in crisis.

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Ph.D., Communication, The Ohio State University, 1998
M.A., English, Sonoma State University, 1992
B.A., Literature, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1984