Ellsberg: Let's Not Have Illusions About Which of the Two Major Candidates Would Be Better
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Advice to progressives in swing states, vote for reelection. October 20, 2012
An activist colleague recently said to me: “I hear you’re supporting Obama.”
I was startled, and took offense. “Supporting Obama? Me?! I lose no opportunity publicly,” I told him angrily, to identify Obama as a tool of Wall Street, a man who’s decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who’s launched an unconstitutional war, supports kidnapping and indefinite detention without trial, and has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together. “Would you call that support?”
It is urgently important to prevent a Republican administration under Romney/Ryan from taking office in January 2013.
The election is now just weeks away, and I want to urge those whose values are generally in line with mine -- progressives, especially activists -- to make this goal one of your priorities during this period.
My friend said, “But on Democracy Now you urged people in swing states to vote for him! How could you say that? I don’t live in a swing state, but I will not and could not vote for Obama under any circumstances.”
My answer was: a Romney/Ryan administration would be no better -- no different -- on any of the serious offenses I just mentioned or anything else, and it would be much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of other important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.
I told him: “I don’t ‘support Obama.’ I oppose the current Republican Party. This is not a contest between Barack Obama and a progressive candidate. The voters in a handful or a dozen close-fought swing states are going to determine whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to wield great political power for four, maybe eight years, or not .”
As Noam Chomsky said recently, “The Republican organization today is extremely dangerous, not just to this country, but to the world. It’s worth expending some effort to prevent their rise to power, without sowing illusions about the Democratic alternatives.”
Following that logic, he’s said to an interviewer what my friend heard me say to Amy Goodman: “If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney/Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice.”
The election is at this moment a toss-up. That means this is one of the uncommon occasions when we progressives -- a small minority of the electorate -- could actually have a significant influence on the outcome of a national election, swinging it one way or the other.
The only way for progressives and Democrats to block Romney from office, at this date, is to persuade enough people in swing states to vote for Obama : not stay home, or vote for someone else. And that has to include, in those states, progressives and disillusioned liberals who are at this moment inclined not to vote at all or to vote for a third-party candidate (because like me they’ve been not just disappointed but disgusted and enraged by much of what Obama has done in the last four years and will probably keep doing).
They have to be persuaded to vote, and to vote in a battleground state for Obama not anyone else, despite the terrible flaws of the less-bad candidate, the incumbent. That’s not easy. As I see it, that’s precisely the “effort” Noam is referring to as worth expending right now to prevent the Republicans’ rise to power. And it will take progressives -- some of you reading this, I hope -- to make that effort of persuasion effectively
t will take someone these disheartened progressives and liberals will listen to. Someone manifestly without illusions about the Democrats, someone who sees what they see when they look at the president these days: but who can also see through candidates Romney or Ryan on the split-screen, and keep their real, disastrous policies in focus.
It’s true that the differences between the major parties are not nearly as large as they and their candidates claim, let alone what we would want. It’s even fair to use Gore Vidal’s metaphor that they form two wings (“two right wings” as some have put it) of a single party, the Property or Plutocracy Party, or as Justin Raimondo says, the War Party.
Still, the political reality is that there are two distinguishable wings, and one is reliably even worse than the other, currently much worse overall . To be in denial or to act in neglect of that reality serves only the possibly imminent, yet presently avoidable, victory of the worse.
The traditional third-party mantra, “There’s no significant difference between the major parties” amounts to saying: “The Republicans are no worse, overall.” And that’s absurd. It constitutes shameless apologetics for the Republicans, however unintended. It’s crazily divorced from present reality.
And it’s not at all harmless to be propagating that absurd falsehood. It has the effect of encouraging progressives even in battleground states to refrain from voting or to vote in a close election for someone other than Obama, and more importantly, to influence others to act likewise. That’s an effect that serves no one but the Republicans, and ultimately the 1%.
It’s not merely understandable, it’s entirely appropriate to be enraged at Barack Obama. As I am. He has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or “disappointingly.” If impeachment were politically imaginable on constitutional grounds, he’s earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors!) It is entirely human to want to punish him, not to “reward” him with another term or a vote that might be taken to express trust, hope or approval.
But rage is not generally conducive to clear thinking. And it often gets worked out against innocent victims, as would be the case here domestically, if refusals to vote for him resulted in Romney’s taking key battleground states that decide the outcome of this election.
To punish Obama in this particular way, on Election Day -- by depriving him of votes in swing states and hence of office in favor of Romney and Ryan -- would punish most of all the poor and marginal in society, and workers and middle class as well: not only in the U.S. but worldwide in terms of the economy (I believe the Republicans could still convert this recession to a Great Depression), the environment and climate change. It could well lead to war with Iran (which Obama has been creditably resisting, against pressure from within his own party). And it would spell, via Supreme Court appointments, the end of Roe v. Wade and of the occasional five to four decisions in favor of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The reelection of Barack Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law. That’s for us and the rest of the people to bring about after this election and in the rest of our lives -- through organizing, building movements and agitating.
In the eight to twelve close-fought states -- especially Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, but also Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin -- for any progressive to encourage fellow progressives and others in those states to vote for a third-party candidate is, I would say, to be complicit in facilitating the election of Romney and Ryan, with all its consequences.
To think of that as urging people in swing states to “vote their conscience” is, I believe, dangerously misleading advice. I would say to a progressive that if your conscience tells you on Election Day to vote for someone other than Obama in a battleground state, you need a second opinion. Your conscience is giving you bad counsel.
I often quote a line by Thoreau that had great impact for me: “Cast your whole vote: not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” He was referring, in that essay, to civil disobedience, or as he titled it himself, “Resistance to Civil Authority.”
It still means that to me. But this is a year when for people who think like me -- and who, unlike me, live in battleground states -- casting a strip of paper is also important. Using your whole influence this month to get others to do that, to best effect, is even more important.
Member Comments About This Blog Post
Bill Ayers.....seriously? Bill Ayers is a retired UIC professor with a controversial past which he has left in the past......over 40 years past. The acts of government property destruction committed by him and the others in Weather Underground organization in protest of the Vietnam war, have been denounced and investigated, charges dropped due to illegal tactics by the FBI. I don't agree with what he did but, I don't think his actions over the last 30 years or so deem him a threat or a terrorist.
I was born in Chicago and have lived here all my life. I disagree that President Obama was/is unduly influenced by Bill Ayers or that he mocks and hates our country. I don't even think that Bill Ayers hates or mocks our country. Barack Obama wasn't even in his teens in the early 70's when Ayers was involved with the Weather Underground. They served together on a foundation board, were friendly neighbors and Ayers once held a fundraiser for Barack Obama.
"Ayers worked with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in shaping the city's school reform program, and was one of three co-authors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge grant proposal that in 1995 won $49.2 million over five years for public school reform. In 1997 Chicago awarded him its Citizen of the Year award for his work on the project. Since 1999 he has served on the board of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago, an anti-poverty, philanthropic foundation established as the Woods Charitable Fund in 1941.[49"
Ayers' former students wrote an op-ed piece defending him(also Wikipedia)..........
******"In an October 2010 Chicago Sun Times editorial Attacks on Ayers distort our history, former students of Ayers and UIC Alumni, Daniel Schneider and Adam Kuranishi, responded in opposition to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees' decision to deny Ayers Emeritus status. They write, "We juxtaposed the image of him painted by the media with the teacher we saw in class; and the two could not be more distinct. The Ayers in the media was frozen in time; he never left the 1960s, never aged out of his 20s, and never grew in perspective. As his students, we see through this representation... Ayers is still committed to movements for peace and justice. His worldview and tactics are evolved and elaborate, thoughtful and wise, making him unrecognizable to the media's caricature. Should we not expect someone to evolve after 40 years? One may disagree with his activism, but it is impossible to ignore his hard work and contributions to urban education, juvenile justice reform, the University of Illinois and Chicago."********************R>
1824 days ago
To all Progressives, don't listen to Ellsberg. Vote your conscience!
1824 days ago
Well, I do live in a battlground state, and I've been out every weekend banging the drum. Get out and vote. Get out and vote. Get out and vote.
While we are targeting households where we've identified likely Obama voters, we haven't been campaigning hard for Obama. Our mission has been solely educaiton. We have lists of registered voters, whether they're setup for mail-in ballots or not, and where their polling place is, as well as hours of early voting, etc. We knock on the door, identify ourselfs as being with the Obama campaign office and educate them about their voting options. We ask if they'll need help getting to the polls, and if so, mark them down to be contacted for that later. We only get into actualy campaigning if people ask us questions. And yet, I got flipped off, doors slammed in my face, and people driving by flipping me off.
1824 days ago
I ran into a friend and her Conservative son, who remembered me as a rabid Progressive and he started teasing me about my politics. His mother quickly informed him that this year I am voting for Romney. He was shocked and asked what straightened out my brain. I told him that under no circumstances could I vote for a total charlatan whose whole life story is a work of fiction written by Communist Bill Ayres. Besides, I love America, I am proud of America, and am proud to be an American, how can I vote for someone who hates and mocks all we are and all we stand for?
1824 days ago
It isn't exactly clear but, I am assuming the piece above was written by Daniel Ellsberg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel
It's very political...but, that's not the point. Political or not...how many times does a person have to "educate" others about "freedom" to blog as you will.
Getting back to Ellsberg's diatribe....I will vote to re-elect Preside Obama but, not for any of the reasons stated above. The fact that we, as citizens, do not know all of the inner workings and classified information that pieced together, form policy for our government, could be bad or good depending upon whose hands are steering the ship. So we must be diligent without spiraling into paranoia. A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says this rather concisely...."Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
As a moderate voter, I support President Obama because his beliefs parallel my own....because, I see the bipartisan efforts he has made despite heated, opposition. I admire his steady commitment to equal opportunities for all of us but, especially the least of us. He values family, faith and freedom. President Obama has retained those same qualities while dealing with the realities of failed compromise, economic challenges and a complicated world stage.
I may not agree with all aspects of policies the President has kept from previous administrations but, I trust that he has placed safeguards into play where our best interests will be better served by their continuation. I look at the whole of his efforts, not the parts and pieces. Mr. Ellsberg views are impacted by his years in government and the persecution he was subjected to for outing truth. He is right that we must not trust blindly in the benevolence of government leadership but, wrong to portray President Obama as the lessor of two evils.
1825 days ago
I agree with you with. I say better the devil you know.....
1825 days ago
To KKARENKM: that's all well and good, but voting for a third party candidate is essentially voting for Romney in the close situation we are in. Thus the poor will be devastated and the middle class will be downsized into the poor class. Notice the big difference between the rich and not rich in our country. This has been systematically orchestrated for 30 years and WE NEED TO TURN THAT AROUND or we are toast! Only if we have a democratic president and congress will we get that oppportunity.
1825 days ago
you sound pretty narrow minded- you'll notice the race is close and not everyone feels the same, which is great since we live in a free nation. personally, i may choose a third party candidate.
1825 days ago
To KKARENKM: I don't think caring about : punishing most of all the poor and marginal in society, and workers and middle class as well: not only in the U.S. but worldwide in terms of the economy (I believe the Republicans could still convert this recession to a Great Depression), the environment and climate change. It could well lead to war with Iran (which Obama has been creditably resisting, against pressure from within his own party). And it would spell, via Supreme Court appointments, the end of Roe v. Wade and of the occasional five to four decisions in favor of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. is political. I think it is moral!
1825 days ago
I agree - with Kkarenkm, that is...
1825 days ago
I know you feel passionately about this topic. I am equally passoinate and want to see Obama re-elected. I live in a very red state and I'm definitely outnumbered by Romney's supporters. I have let my opinons be known, but I also realize I'm not changing anybody's minds, so I'm just going to do my voting and let it be. When you live in a red state, you know that the electoral college can nullify your efforts--I'm praying for a miracle that our state will go blue, but it's looking pretty grim. I just wish everyone voted--who knows what the results would be if everyone voted.
1825 days ago
1825 days ago
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