I, for one, can’t do it.
As much as I loathe the Republican Party and its standard bearer, the incredibly smarmy shape-changing one-percenter and serial prevaricator Mitt Romney, I cannot bring myself this Nov. 6 to vote for the re-election of President Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace Laureate with the mushrooming Kill List on his desk.
First, by way of full disclosure, let me state that I did, with misgivings and angst, vote for Obama in 2008. I did it with eyes open, based upon a (you’ll excuse the expression) “hope” that the many progressive voters, including a huge cadre of idealistic young people voting for the first time, and an unprecedented wave of minority voters, as well as working-class people of all races, religions and ethnicities, would come together after the vote and press him to be a progressive president, much as the working people of America back in the early 1930s had pressed a new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the bankers’ candidate from New York, to be a progressive president.
Boy was mine a vain hope!
What we got instead was a president who backed down in advance at almost every challenge, telegraphing his fall-back position, whether it was pulling troops out of Iraq or defending Social Security and Medicare, or even his supposed signal “achievement,” the passage of the so-called “Affordable Care Act,” now known as Obamacare.
Had the president barnstormed the country promoting what his supporters (myself included) had elected him to do — a massive jobs program, breaking up of the big banks and a restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, passage of a new stronger labor law to make union organizing and bargaining more fair, establishment of a single-payer system for health care akin to what they have in Canada, ending the chain of endless wars, and restoring the Bill of Rights, this election next week wouldn’t even be close. For one thing, the economy would be in much better shape. For another, organized labor would be stronger, on the march, and solidly supportive. And moreover, people across the country would already be reaping the benefit of having all their health care covered by a government insurance program, paid for through progressive taxes. They’d be free of premiums, free to change jobs at will without fear of loss of coverage, and free to strike for better pay and working conditions without out fear of having their families cut off from health benefits.
Instead, we have a crippled economy, a bigger war in Afghanistan than when the president was elected, a hugely divisive and expensive health care program that is bound to collapse under its own weight, a worsening crisis of expanding government spying and denial of basic rights, a unitary executive presidency that is even closer to a dictatorship than it was even under President George W. Bush, with the self-allocated power to order the execution or summary detention without trial of American citizens, and a labor “movement” that is frailer than ever.
And to top it off, for another four years, we have had a government that, like the eight years of the Bush administration before it, has done nothing about, and in many ways has actively tried to obstruct, global action to prevent climate change.
It is astonishing that even now, after Hurricane Sandy has demonstrated conclusively how climate change is leading to catastrophe (disastrous flooding is now the norm for big storms that hit New York City and other coastal cities, the bizarre track of Sandy was pre-ordained by a strange stationary high pressure zone over Greenland that blocked the normal north-easterly track of the storm, its late-season size was enabled by a warmer ocean surface temperature, and a weakened Gulf Stream, thanks to reduced ice in the Arctic, caused the storm to move sharply westward and inland, instead of along the standard track eastward into or around New England), President Obama has not publicly made that link, or said anything at all about the looming disaster of global warming that it heralds.
Barack Obama had the gift of a Democratic House and Senate to work with back when he took office, and he had that party control over Congress for two years, but instead of campaigning hard to win progressive victories over obstructive Republicans, he diddled away that opportunity trying to strike lame bargains with the right. And he even failed at that, because Republicans were in no mood to compromise. The public was for change, but Obama was afraid to go to the public to build support, which was clearly the key to winning victories. He continued with that lack of leadership and that fear of building a movement when he was confronted with a Republican-run House in the second two years of his presidency. (The reason he lost the House was that he dissed all the progressives who had put him in office and many didn’t bother to vote. As well, he and the Democratic National Committee actively worked in primaries that year to crush genuine progressive candidates for Congress, replacing them with centrist pro-corporate toadies, who then went on to lose to Republican opponents.)
On the international front, he has essentially put the US on a war footing against a number of countries, launching attacks on their people at will by air with bombers and pilotless drone aircraft. The slaughter of innocents has been horrific from these attacks, which are clearly gross violations of international law, making the US an outlaw state and the president a war criminal. Even with the UN reporteur on extrajudicial killings, Christof Heynes, labeling the drone strikes “war crimes” and a “threat to 50 years of international law,” and with the UN organizing an official probe into civilian killings by US drones, prominent peace activist Medea Benjamin notes that Obama has simply upped the ante, ordering increasing numbers of these criminal drone attacks.
For any number of reasons, standing alone, I could not vote for this president, among them his war crimes and his crimes against the Constitution, as well as his abject failure to make combatting global climate change a centerpiece of his administration’s policies or even a part of his re-election campaign. When, a few years down the road, our children and grandchildren are struggling to survive in a world no longer recognizable, with millions dying of starvation, and billions going hungry, vast swaths of all the continents consumed by deserts or submerged beneath swollen oceans, and with hundreds of millions of people ravaged by floods or dying in resource wars, the 12 years of the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama will be cursed as an enormous missed opportunity, when two hack politicians who could have led the world to action instead stymied action and worked to boost the production of hydrocarbon-based energy, hastening the disaster.
I know people I respect like Noam Chomsky and Dan Ellsberg have argued that as bad as Obama has been, he is better enough than Mitt Romney and the yahoos of the Republican Party, or as Ellsberg put it in an essay, that the fascism of Obama and the Democrats is better than the totalitarianism of Romney and the Republicans, but I’m not convinced.
Year after year of this kind of rationalization has left us, every four years, with that same choice of bad or worse. Again and again, today’s “bad” Democrat has become as vile and dangerous as the last election’s “worse” Republican.
Meanwhile, this kind of self-perpetuating trap has left us with no viable alternatives, as excellent third party candidates like the Justice Party’s Rocky Anderson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein — people who if they could be elected president could actually turn things around even at this late date — continue to be stuck winning at best a few percentage points of the vote if they are lucky.
Only a wave of voters rejecting the two pro-war, pro-corporate, pro-ecocide candidates can reverse our nation’s (and the world’s) careening path towards disaster.
I’m convinced that a re-elected Barack Obama, even if he’s lucky enough to enter a second term with a narrowly Democratic House and Senate, will be no better than he was in his first term. He has already stated that he will seek a “grand compromise” on the budget — a code word for slashing the last key elements of the New Deal — Social Security and Medicare — as well as other key social programs, while raising taxes, inevitably, on ordinary people, to gain the support of Republicans in Congress. And his careful avoidance of any word about climate change in his campaign has left it so that, if elected, he will have no mandate for action on that most critical front.
Sure, a President Romney, particularly if handed a Republican-led Congress, would do some dreadful things, for example installing several more troglodyte Justices on the Supreme Court, and slashing social program spending while expanding the military. These would be terrible things, but they would be terrible things that a majority of Americans would oppose, and there’d be no confusion about taking action. The problem with having someone like Obama as president is that, like Clinton before him, he is able to confuse and neutralize progressive opposition to his regressive and reactionary policies because he is seen as “our” guy in the White House. The damage done by such treacherous Democrats has been incalculable. (Think: it was not Reagan or George H.W. Bush who “ended welfare” and fatally undermined habeas corpus. It was Clinton. And it was not George W. Bush who began killing Americans by presidential order or who began a campaign of drone warfare anywhere in the world. It was Obama. It was not Reagan or the Bushes I and II who deregulated the banks. It was Clinton. And it was not G. W. Bush who refused to prosecute the bankers who destroyed the US economy and then pillaged the middle class. It was Obama.)
Look, I know Obama has done some good things as president — things John McCain would not have done and that Mitt Romney would not do. He did sign the Lilly Ledbetter Act, as he keeps saying ad nauseum, but let’s get real — that was not a law requiring that women get equal pay for equal work. It was just a law saying that the deadline for them to file suit over unequal pay would have to be within six months of their learning about being paid less than men, not six months after the employer began discriminating on pay. And sure he said he supports gay marriage and the right of women to have contraceptives covered by their health insurance. But these are really small things in the larger scheme. What good is the Ledbetter Act if women and men cannot organize a union to fight for equal pay? And what good is equal pay if the policy of the government is to ratchet down everyone’s wages? What good is gay marriage when marriages are failing at unprecedented rates because of the financial stresses we all face? What good is contraceptive coverage if nobody can even afford health insurance? The whole approach of Obama, again like Clinton before him, has been to be a corporatist and a warmonger while tossing supporters a bone or two that the corporate bankrollers and the military industrial complex don’t care about. That’s not a progressive president and it’s not progressive politics. It’s rank deception and an insult to everyone who votes for the Democrats and their presidential candidates.
I’m voting Green for Jill Stein to strengthen the idea of a national third party on the left, and to help build a base for sustained organizing and protest, and if in the end Romney wins the presidency, I’ll accept that as part of the challenge of building a new left movement in America.