For an ordinary American these days, there isn’t much one can do to affect the direction of the federal government of the United States. Much of what our leaders do with that government — especially the more and more secret military and surveillance activities symbolized by the Pentagon — exists beyond the realm of real change.
One very small power a citizen retains in his or her public life is the vote. The problem, of course, is that critical issues are not discussed in the mainstream media where the national political dialogue occurs. For instance, you can’t use the term “class,” you can’t use the phrase “global warming” and you certainly can’t use the term “imperialism.” They are embargoed terms. And anything you cannot talk about and discuss in an effective manner is difficult or impossible to change.
As one soon learns in the journalism business, a national issue has to become a Democratic-Republican “pissing contest” before the mainstream will even touch it. Then it becomes a circus of who’s up and who’s down. So our imperial military-industrial complex — absurdly lumped under the euphemism “defense” — is discussed only by out-of-the-mainstream publications like This Can’t Be Happening and by third party candidates.
My more revolutionary friends, thus, see voting for President Obama as tantamount to selling out to the beast. I understand how they feel. While I’m as much a red-blooded American citizen as anyone and while I feel many Americans are good people, I’m thoroughly disgusted with the leadership in this country and the steady rightward drift over the past 30 plus years.
This feeling began for me when I came home from doing my service as part of the international war crime called the Vietnam War. I went to college and then started a career in journalism. Along came Ronald Reagan and his Shining City On a Hill. He preached the line that there was no “malaise” in America, and too many Americans ate it up like a herd of hungry cattle.
The joke going around these days is that Richard Nixon would be to the left of Barack Obama. It’s really not a joke; it’s true. The joke is on the American people and what could have been. Nixon’s Watergate era was ironically a much more liberal and constitutional climate than the fear-based, post-9/11 militarized culture we live in now. As one looks back, each Republican administration from Nixon on has gone farther to the right than the last. As the current incredibly dishonest campaign makes clear, a Romney-Ryan administration would continue that slippage and would mean a return to 19th Century Social Darwinism as a national reality.
Certainly Barack Obama has been a disappointment, especially in the area of ratcheting back the post-9/11 Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld excesses of a highly malleable and rubberized Constitution. And it’s virtually a certainty four more years of Obama will not produce the progressive change we left-leaning citizens would like to see.
But my idealism has been trumped by pragmatism. At least we know what we have in the White House with Obama, and despite the raging pessimism and marginalization on the left, taking a gamble on some improvement in a second Obama term cannot be easily scoffed off. For me, as a veteran antiwar activist for some 27 years, I would rather lobby, ass-kiss or protest a Democratic administration than butt heads with a Republican administration like the one I foresee Romney/Ryan would bring.
Some on the left suggest it’s better to have a far-right government in power than a center-right one like Obama’s. The argument goes, this would make it crystal clear how bad things really are and create fertile ground for revolution. But eight years of Ronald Reagan and eight years of George W. Bush didn’t seem to give much credence to that argument. The fulcrum of government just moved farther and farther to the right, the wars kept on coming, the debt kept on piling up and the rich kept on getting richer. I don’t see real revolution in our future. Nor am I convinced that a second Obama term cannot be an improvement on the first. I also think, after the far-right, tea-party excesses of this campaign, reelecting Obama could set the far-right back on its heels for a while, allowing the left some room for a resurgence.
We live in a culture more and more defined by the internet, the various new media and the ability for anyone to listen to and speak with only like-minded people. Nevertheless, for me, history is still the biggest player. Violence and power slug it out with compassion and truth, and the former too often trumps the latter.
A professor in constitutional law once told me he felt the Constitution “was abrogated long ago.” That is, it’s now just a script in our national theater, with directors and actors improvising more and more. While this may be true, I still have the power to argue my case as best I can and I still have my one measly little vote that takes maybe a half-hour out of the first Tuesday in November.
I use my vote strategically. When I push the lever, I’m not expressing my hopes and dreams or some deep inner ideal about the betterment of humanity. I’m given a very limited, narrow choice between two options by a system that, all its complexity and technological sophistication aside, operates like a large dumb animal ruled by a consensus based on the historical crimes of Manifest Destiny, the dominance of Capital and the addictive lure of Consumerism. Sure, there has been some degree of liberation from the bonds of oppression thrown into that historical stew for good measure. The fact is we only have a black president because he doesn’t rock the boat.
So I’m a realist. I may like a third party candidate, but I know he or she can’t win. The system is stacked. So I endorse the voting approach taken by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. If you are in a state like California, where it’s pretty certain the two-party presidential race will go to Obama with or without your vote, then vote a third party and give that option a boost.
But if you live in a swing state — like I do in Pennsylvania — a third party vote can only strategically help the really bad dogs. By voting third party, you are essentially voting FOR the really bad dogs.
So I’m holding my nose and voting for Barack Obama.