I am not voting for either of the two major party candidates for president this year.
It goes without saying, actually, that I won’t be voting for Romney; the man has demonstrated that he’s dishonest and evil. To say nothing of the fact that he’s in a transparently false religion, which he seems to want to force on people. (And his running mate actually manages to be a worse person than he is.)
But I won’t be voting for Obama, either, despite being a registered Democrat who has in past elections only voted for Democratic presidential candidates, and I’d like to go on record with the reasons why, before the election is over, so that one way or another I can refer back to this article afterwards.
Since my blog is relatively unfrequented, I’m not expecting a lot of comments, although I’ve noticed that Democrats, when confronted by people who don’t want to vote for Obama but might be considered likely to do so, go into a frenzied hysteria. Look, for example, at Salon.com — most articles generate a maximum of about 30 comments total, but the four (or so) articles critical of Obama published in the week before the election each got several hundred within a few hours. This is suspicious; lots of groups, these days, use paid commenters. (Google and Samsung, for example, have both admitted that they were secretly paying people to disparage their competition and praise their products. You might want to think about that the next time someone is knocking Apple’s products.) So I won’t be entirely surprised if there’s a sudden influx of commenters, many of whom seem not to have actually read the post.
What is the purpose of an elected government?
The reasons for having a government can be stated in various ways, and probably would differ to a certain degree from person to person, but to me, the purpose of a government is to undertake tasks which could not be handled effectively or universally (or both) by individuals. (So, for example, you can produce your own currency if you want — but you can’t insist that people honor it or give it roughly equivalent value over a wide area.) In general, these tasks fall into a handful of categories:
- Universal Social Programs
- Punishing and Preventing Wrongdoing
Four years ago, the Democrats put up Barack Obama for election, with very little idea of how he would actually perform. We’ve had four years to observe him in action. Let’s see how he does, shall we?
Universal Social Programs
Barack Obama is an enemy to universal social programs. He wants to cut Social Security and Medicare — he offered to do this in his “grand bargain” to the Republicans in Congress, which was barely scrutinized in the press at the time. Fortunately, the Republicans were so averse to cooperating with Obama that they failed to realized that this was an opportunity to get everything they wanted while letting the Democrats take the blame for the consequences. Unfortunately, it’s pretty certain that Obama will try again if reëlected, maybe even offer to cut more programs. In his books, he mentions that he doesn’t like social insurance programs.
For that matter, in his one legislative “victory”, the one policy passed under Obama which the Democrats love to trot out, Obama was central to the process of hobbling the provisions of the bill. “Obamacare” consists of a large number of provisions which could easily have been passed individually, combined with a massive, indelible free gift to the insurance industry, which is one of the most out-of-control and unethical in the country (and has been since at least the 1980s). Obama himself was the person who refused to talk about single-payer healthcare — which is the solution every other first-world nation uses, and which is why they all spend much less money than the U.S. does while enjoying more effective care — and was also the person who shut down all discussion of a “public option”. These changes were ostensibly made to get Republicans to approve of the legislation, but in the event there basically wasn’t any. We might as well have had single-payer or the public option, because the Republicans did their best to obstruct anyway.
To summarize: even in the single issue which is supposed to a selling point for Obama, he was actually working against the American people. On other occasions, he is even more treacherous.
I must confess that Obama actually directed some money towards infrastructure repairs, in the shape of the “stimulus”. But, once again ostensibly in an attempt to attract Republican support which never materialized, he allowed much of the “stimulus” to be tax reductions, rather than actual spending. Not only did this severely limit the funding, but it failed to do very much stimulation — and several prizewinning economists were pointing out that those would be the results of such a tactic long before Obama adopted it.
Obama bragged about having plenty of “shovel-ready” projects before the stimulus bill, and then turned out not to have very many; most of the actual spending for the stimulus turned out to come with all sorts of delay and difficulty. Which is not necessarily a problem, but means that Obama was lying, yet again.
In non-stimulus infrastructure, Obama has been a terrible disappointment. The U.S. Postal Service is still in dire straits — needlessly. The U.S.P.S. has been hobbled by conservatives, who want to see it destroyed as a unionized major government program, regardless of the damage that its destruction will do to the country. Its financial difficulties are essentially illusory — Republicans under Bush pushed through a bill requiring the U.S.P.S. alone, out of all entities in the country, to pre-fund its pension fund. No other entity — not the military, no business, certainly not Congress itself — is subject to this rule, and pre-funded pensions are extremely rare. Thus the postal budget suddenly went from approximately breaking even to being massively in the red, giving the Republicans an opportunity to cut their budget and services. Obama did nothing to alter this, or any other of the similar situations created by the Republicans under Bush.
Punishing and Preventing Wrongdoing
Obama has been against punishing the worst wrongdoers. The two most criminal acts of the last decade were the Bush administration’s push for war in Iraq and the financial industry’s outright fraud which crashed the global economy. Obama acted to shield both from prosecution. Nobody from the Bush administration has been prosecuted for the lies they told to drag the country into war, and nobody has been prosecuted for the evil ways in which that war was waged. Similarly, the financial industry has not been punished for its wrongdoing with fines or jail terms, and Obama’s administration has not pushed for any significant regulation to prevent the financial sector from committing further frauds. (On the contrary; Obama has been listening to Geithner, a man whose sole concern in addressing the mortgage crisis was to ensure that banks would not fail by foreclosing on too many houses too fast, and turned mortgage relief into an effort to space out the foreclosures — eliminating as few as possible — to protect the banks, not the homeowners.)
Furthermore, under Obama, the executive branch of the government of America has become an international leader in killing. Leaving aside the assassination of Osama bin Laden — which was, itself, a stupid act, since capturing him alive would have been (a) easy, (b) the right thing to do, and (c) better P.R. for the U.S. worldwide (and it has been confirmed that no provisions were made for capture; the mission was explicitly an assassination) — the presidency has taken charge of assassinations and bombings to a degree which was never the case before. Obama now asserts the right to have anyone — citizen or not — killed, without any sort of due process or even external review. This is dictatorial stuff — the kind of thing the civilized world used to condemn. (And most Democrats have remained — apparently — willfully ignorant of the whole problem.)
Indiscriminate murder of foreigners and contempt for due process is supposed to be a Republican thing. But here we have Obama displaying both.
Obama was presented as a “great communicator” like Reagan. (Yes, good old Ronald “ketchup is a vegetable” “trees cause pollution” “the Sandinistas are the moral equivalent of our founding fathers” Reagan. I’m not so sure that good communication skills are a good thing if what you are communicating is wrong, but most Americans seem to disagree with me.) We were told that his speaking skills and ability to appeal to the public would assist him to get Congress to pass legislation.
Obama’s speeches in support of actual good policy turned out to be rare. There were practically no speeches in favor of good policy during “healthcare reform”, only a constant whinging to justify leaving out all the important, good parts. Obama gave no speeches to rally support for closing Gitmo, or withdrawing from Iraq or Afghanistan, or shutting down the foolish and expensive war on marijuana. The only memorable speech he has given, in fact, was when he decided to stop resisting gay rights — an action he cynically took late in his presidency, while enforcing all the discriminatory policies enthusiastically up to the very day of the announcement. During the Democratic convention, the speech which everyone remembers was not from Obama, but from Bill Clinton.
Negotiations and Bipartisanship
Obama’s presidency has been characterized by an unwillingness on his part to take a strong stand against the right wing. At every single opportunity to negotiate, Obama has refused to start from the position “his” side actually wants (as, for example, single-payer healthcare during the healthcare “reform” debate) and starts from a pre-compromised position. He has then — every single time — proceeded to make concessions without demanding anything in return. Over and over again. Until what gets passed, if anything gets passed at all, is what his opponents wanted to begin with. Thus, for example, “Obamacare” is really Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan, with no cost controls, no public option, and a guaranteed 25% profit for the insurance companies. If Obama’s name weren’t on it, the Republicans would be ecstatic about the passage of the plan, because it’s what they wanted all along when healthcare reform was last discussed.
This is trumpeted as “bipartisanship” but it is really a betrayal of the public interest. It’s also bad negotiation; everyone knows you start from your most extreme position and compromise by negotiating until you reach the middle. If you start in the perceived middle, then you are betraying your own side.
Although some Democrats claim that Obama will someday, somehow get around to doing the right thing, Obama’s administration has never shied away from siding with the right wing against the left. Four separate representatives of Obama made public statements to the effect that leftists are crazy, should just shut up, and have no choice but to vote for Obama. That last one is wrong; I, for one, am voting for Jill Stein and Greens — and this attitude has convinced me that any vote for a Democrat is a wasted vote. They don’t care about the things I care about, and they think I’m stupid. I have no reason to support them at all.
Blowing Major Chances
Obama came into office with huge amounts of political capital, and a populace eager to embrace populist reform. He blew it in every way conceivable. He failed to smack down the banks — which have recovered and are reportedly engaged in fraud once again. He failed to rescue mortgage fraud victims. He failed to address climate change. He failed to take action on jobs. He failed in a number of ways I am too tired even to list.
This in itself would be bad enough, but unless you believe that Obama is so utterly incompetent that he should not be trusted to dress himself, let alone lead a country, these moves were all deliberate. He surrounded himself with establishment hacks and took their advice at every turn. The banks did not escape punishment because Obama couldn’t convince Congress or the Justice Department to take action, they escaped punishment because Obama did not even try to have them punished. More or less the same is true down the line; Obama could have done all sorts of things, and did not even try.
His excuses varied. First he was afraid of being portrayed as a radical by the right wing — which was silly; they portrayed him with complete success as a radical to anyone stupid enough to listen to them anyway. The right wing is not afraid to report fantasy as reality. Then he was too busy working on healthcare “reform” — which in practice meant shutting down left-wing opposition to Romney’s plan. That brought us up to the 2010 elections, and from that time onward, everything was the fault of Republicans in Congress. Nonsense! Utter nonsense! Obama never even tried to push for anything. He just preemptively declared defeat and hoped everyone would shut up.
This is not someone worth keeping around. If he were an employee or a manager at a business or a government office, he would be fired.
Because he has done a terrible job, and has effectively been doing the Republicans’ job for them, I refuse to vote for Obama, or for any other national-level Democrat, until they have demonstrated that they are no longer willing (sometimes even enthusiastic) pawns of the right wing.
But… but… but…
Let’s look at some of the responses Democrats have put up when other potential Democratic voters on the left — such as Matt Stoller — have announced their intentions not to vote for Obama.
“You’re helping Romney win!”
The election counts how many people support each candidate. (Obfuscated by the electoral college, of course.) If Obama no longer has the support of people who watch his policies closely, then that is his own fault, not that of the people watching.
More importantly, there is a huge group of potential voters to whom Obama (and other Democrats) could appeal — the ones who currently do not vote. This group is huge, vastly larger than any other group. (This last decade, if you count people who are citizens of voting age who are not registered to vote in addition to registered voters who do not vote, there are more non-voters than voters of either major party in presidential elections.) Statistically speaking, Democrats are much more likely to be able to change the minds of these people — provided they can come up with a convincing argument.
The reason Democrats turn their rage on third party voters instead is that they recognize implicitly that the Democratic Party no longer has anything positive to offer anyone. Its sole selling point is “we are slightly less awful than the Republicans”, which is not going to get anyone out of bed, let alone to a polling place. Democrats have basically abandoned the poor, minorities, the handicapped, women, gays… the only times Democrats ever do anything positive for any of these groups, it takes the form of a cynical empty gesture in an election year, like Obama’s announcement that, after three years of aggressively enforcing D.A.D.T. he was changing his mind — but not actively pursuing any meaningful policy. Just, you know, making the announcement and stop spending money on active discrimination. If that’s the best he can do in his most-publicized political move, there’s not a whole lot of reason for non-voters to change their habits and support him — or any other Democrat.
“The Supreme Court! If elected, Romney will appoint right-wingers!”
This is one of the most idiotic reasons to vote for Democrats. It’s like Republicans voting for candidates on the basis of abortion alone; for decades, no Republican in Congress took any serious positive action on abortion — the kind which had any chance of actually passing — despite all the rhetoric they spew. Even for the four years under George W. Bush, when the Republicans held both houses of Congress and the Presidency, there was no serious action. (Which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong.)
This is because, to the Republicans, abortion is a wedge issue. If they ever manage to outlaw abortion, lots of people who support them strictly on that basis — such as most Catholic Republicans — will take a look at the rest of their policy and immediately abandon them, because the rest of Republicanism is a disgusting, evil mess.
The Democrats are using the Supreme Court the same way. By allowing the Democrats to take the Supreme Court composition hostage, voters give the Democratic Party a perverse incentive to make sure that the Supreme Court is always as divided as possible. Scalia, Alito, and Thomas certainly won’t retire while a Democrat is in office, and a few of the others can be counted on to take a far-right-wing position now and again in harmony with those three, so the Democrats can do exactly what they have done: appoint center and center-right candidates (such as Sotomayor) to fill vacancies, use the excuse that the Republicans won’t “let” them appoint anyone else, and then claim that the balance of the court is at stake during elections. This is a dangerous and dishonest strategy, and rewarding the Democrats for using it is unwise at best.
In fact, it’s not unlike the classic Mafia shakedown: “nice government institutions youse gots here… be a shame if anyt’ing bad happened to dem. Give us yer votes and we’ll make sure nothing bad happens.”
“There is no coherent way for protest votes to change things.”
The Democratic Party has made it official policy — and yes, this is official policy; it’s called “triangulation” and Obama and both Clintons are big proponents of it — to move as far to the right as possible in order to capture as much corporate money as possible. The only rightward limit recognized by the party is that represented by the Republican Party; to move explicitly further right than the Republicans would cost them any pretense at electability.
It is, at least in theory, possible to make the Democrats cease moving rightward, and maybe even inch back from the abyss, by punishing them for the rightward move. In order to do this, (a) there has to be a party to the left of the Democrats, (b) the number of voters voting for this party has to be large enough to threaten the Democrats, and (c) the Democrats have to be smart enough to recognize what is happening. The Green Party fits the bill for part (a), we’re working on part (b), but evidence suggests strongly that the trickiest aspect will be part (c); a party whose partisans don’t even notice when Obama’s policies are largely identical to the ones they found so repugnant under Bush is not one with a lot of mental muscle to spare on subtlety.
“But Romney is so much worse — what if he wins?”
Romney is only genuinely worse than Obama in a handful of minor ways. Some of them may not even be relevant — for example, Romney is against gay marriage while Obama has claimed to be for it, in a limited, ineffectual way. But support for gay marriage is rising, and I’m not sure it really even matters whether the President is for or against it. As far as support for women, or minorities, or atheists, or any other group who has been more “at home” with the Democratic Party during my lifetime, Obama is just as bad as Romney in terms of projected policy, but he moves more deliberately. The Democratic Party made a huge song and dance at the 2008 convention about how “nobody likes abortion” and how it should be minimized. Blacks, it turns out, are currently undergoing a civil rights nadir under Obama. Obama has expanded “faith-based initiatives” beyond what Bush created. Ignoring his rhetoric, Obama is further to the right of Bush, and probably of Romney as well (because Romney doesn’t seem to actually have any convictions at all, and is therefore sort of generically center-right).
Romney has said he thinks we should invade Iran — a country he apparently knows nothing about, having said that Syria is Iran’s “route to the sea” (Can’t he even spend a few seconds looking at a map? I know he can certainly afford one. Maybe he has people to do that for him.) — but Obama has said that if Israel gets into a war with Iran, the U.S. will support them (Israel). Well, Israel wants that war very badly. Badly enough that I suspect they’ll come up with an excuse to start it soon, the way they did with Lebanon. Most likely, we’re going to see $10/gallon gasoline either way, because that’s what one of the results is going to be.
To use the same metaphor that the Obama campaign likes to use, yes, Romney would drive the car off a cliff. But Obama just wants to look for a higher, more picturesque cliff off of which to drive, not to actually reach a destination safely. Just because Obama is from a different party does not mean he truly represents an alternative.
“You’re just refusing to vote for Obama because you’re a racist!”
I, like everyone else, cannot honestly assess my own prejudices. If I could, then I assuredly wouldn’t have them. Undoubtedly, I am passively racist — without intention — in ways which would cause me shame were they pointed out to me. But voting is not a passive act. If anything Obama’s skin color makes me want to vote for him; when forced to choose between candidates of whom I know essentially nothing during the primaries, I usually vote for whichever one is less likely to be a straight white old man, the further from that categorization the better. In the 2008 election, I voted for Obama. My unwillingness to vote for Obama again stems from his policies and his staff, not from anything so superficial as his race. (The same goes for most of the other big-name Democrats I dislike. I hated Rahm Emmanuel long before I knew anything about him other than his name and policies, and honestly didn’t know he was Jewish until after I was complaining that he essentially bought the Democratic nomination in the Chicago mayoral race.)
“Obama will do better this time, now that he doesn’t have to worry about reelection!”
Does anyone really believe this? If reelected, Obama will no longer have to please anyone. He clearly wants to move the discourse rightward; I suspect that, if anything, a second Obama term will include a dramatic turn to the right.
There is certainly a great deal more I could say, and probably a lot of proofreading that I should do. But it’s getting late, and I want to go to bed. Tomorrow by this time, it will all be over. According to the polls, it seems reasonably certain that my gesture will be a futile one, and that we will be seeing four more years of right-wing authoritarianism under the guise of a black Democrat. I look forward to hearing the exact same arguments, including the Supreme Court one, for voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016. (She is also not worth voting for, being essentially Obama in a caucasian woman costume in terms of policy and outlook. Her husband is no better — he was complicit in creating much of the mess we now face. I would enthusiastically support a bipartisan agreement to keep the Clinton and Bush families away from any political office higher than county-level for the rest of this century.)
(Democrats: want my vote back? Try a ticket which actually combines people from your party who have spines. I’d be thrilled to vote for a Barbara Lee/Barbara Boxer ticket, or vice versa.)