Saturday, August 6, 2011

The False Choices of Party Politics

I've got a bit of a shameful and embarrassing history of voting. The first major election I ever voted in was Clinton v Dole. I voted for Dole for no real reason except that I had heard from family and church how terrible Clinton was. And although I did vote for Dole, I was in college at the time and I filled out an absentee ballot and I really can't recall if I ever even mailed it in.
I didn't vote in the 2000 election. At the time I was extremely apathetic about politics and didn't appreciate the impact that they had. I understood that government was essential, but I saw the differing candidates as kind of a Ford v Chrysler debate: both were cars and I didn't care either way so long as I had a way to get to work.
And then it turned out that Bush was a terrible president. His first term changed me quite a lot. The differences between candidates became apparent and I eagerly jumped into the Democratic Party. I even bought a bumper sticker. In the next two major elections I voted straight party line; I even took the party recommendations for judges and amendments. I was an enthusiastic supporter of Howard Dean and then John Kerry in 2004 and was bitterly disappointed with the results.
Bush's second term was worse than the first. What began as religious apathy turned into agnosticism and finally ended up as atheism. I credit Bush and bin Laden in nearly equal measures for the spark. Although I was frustrated (and still am, to be honest) that Bush was never voted out of office, I was happy just to see him leave. Midway through his second term I was imagining that the opposing candidates would be Hillary Clinton and John McCain. At the time I remember thinking that I didn't care who won because I respected them both. Either would have made a fine president. By the time the election came around, I was incredibly excited for Barack Obama. I watched his debates, I listened to his speeches, even digging old ones up on YouTube. I still find his oratory skills amazing.
So here we are now in 2011. It is clear that President Obama is quite a different man from Candidate Obama. I don't really like President Obama. He has lied and broken promises for three years. In many respects, his policies are worse than Bush's. And now I am faced with a difficult decision: do I vote for him again next year? I don't know who is going to be the Republican candidate, but I am fairly certain that they would a worse choice than Obama. Common wisdom (and perhaps even common sense) tells me that I should just vote for the lesser of two evils. And this is the problem. This is the false choice that we are presented with.
There is a fantastic Simpsons Halloween episode where the aliens Kang and Kodos assume the forms of Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, planning to take over the United States. When their plan is exposed, Kang (or possibly Kodos) reminds us that the US is a two party system. "Go ahead," he jeers. "Throw your vote away!"
I've been thinking about that scene a lot lately. It does seem wasteful to vote for a candidate who is going to lose when there is so much at stake (potentially). If Michelle Bachmann is the Republican candidate, that would be disastrous.
But that's an awful decision to have to make. And, as I said, a false choice. Because there are other candidates. We don't have to pick between Kang and Kodos. We can elect someone who will represent us fairly and do what is right for the country, not just his or her shareholders and corporate sponsors. I don't know who I will be voting for next November, but I'm pretty sure it won't be for Obama.


. josé . said...

I agree with you, Nathaniel. I've become totally disappointed in Obama. In fact, my first Facebook post in a long time was a link to this article ( in Think Progress.

I've also come to the conclusion that I can't vote for him next year. If there's a third-party contender who makes sense, I may vote for him or her, but otherwise I'll probably just sit out the election. I would not have predicted that outcome four years ago.

I don't know what happened. Perhaps he always planned to help funnel resources to the rich and to play patsy with the teabaggers. Perhaps he's just too much of a wimpy negotiator, and never really understood what was being done to him. In any event, he's failed us at a time when we really needed him. :(

jorge said...

Hi Nathaniel: Please clarify how Obama is even worse than George W Bush. Obama is a disappointment, and both parties are supportive of the basic economic structure that produces inequality and environmental degradation. But to view them both as equally bad is exactly the outcome of the current Republican party is working towards. Apathy and resignation are ideal outcomes for them, and will allow their clients to get even more wealthy without intelligent and curious bloggers seeing and revealing the truth.

nathaniel wallace said...

Fair enough, Jorge. I did use some hyperbole, and I certainly don't think that Republicans and Democrats are equally bad, but I think that the current crop of politicians are different in many significant ways.

As for Obama himself, it may be wrong to say that he is worse than Bush. Some of his policies (and wars) have certainly expanded on Bush policies, but there's no telling what would have happened if Bush or a similar-minded proxy had been in charge. Maybe Obama's administration is far better than a hypothetical third Bush term.

At the same time, in my view, it is a fact that many (not necessarily all, or even most) of America's policies have gotten worse, from a Progressive, humanitarian point of view during Obama's tenure. I'm not quite sure where to place the blame for this, but I'm sure that there's plenty to go around.