The visit to OC of Mayor Rocky Anderson — a man whose perspective and accomplishments I respect and a man who I wish weren’t running for President — prompts me to pull out a partly completed post from our pile of drafts. It’s about why I’ll support “the lesser of two evils” in a Presidential election: to avoid a third evil.
I know that some people are absolutely committed to a principle of not being complicit in supporting anything that’s wrong — which means holding potential representatives up to an awesome and unforgiving standard. I don’t think it’s that productive to argue about basic beliefs like those that won’t be dislodged, but I’ll tell you my position as a reformist Democrat who plans — despite the use of drones, despite the assaults on civil liberties, despite the warm words for “clean coal,” despite the coziness with Wall Street, despite the lack of real effort for single-payer or a public option, despite the free-trade deal with Colombia, despite even the horrible and destructive invasion of California’s province to allow for medical marijuana — to vote for President Obama this fall, warts and all.
Ant that is this: I no longer worry about voting for the person who will represent me. The politicians who will represent what I actually think are fairly rare — and got more rare ten years ago when Paul Wellstone died. What I vote for is the politicians whom I most want to be able to influence. Period.
There is no question in my mind that, despite my disagreement with Obama over many issues, I and people like me will be able to have much more influence on him than on Romney (or Gingrich, Santorum, etc. If you want to vote for Paul, go ahead — especially in November.)
You may point to Obama’s still having us in Afghanistan (although I think he’s making good faith efforts to extricate us.) I point to the fact that the hot war in Iraq is over — and under McCain it would not be. We influenced him there. We helped make it possible. Had McCain won, it not only would not have been possible, but we’d already be at war in Iran.
This approach is not “the lesser of the two evils.” It’s “the greater of the two opportunities.”
Voting in search of a true representative is an act that puts your ego on the line. You can vote for Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson and feel that you’ve been represented, that your soul and hands are clean, but without really determining who will be the next President. If that is how you feel, then I know I can’t talk you out of it and will try not even to try.
But when I vote for Barack Obama, it’s not because I buy his agenda A to Z, and I reserve the right to oppose parts of it with all my might. It just means that I think that, in 2016, people who share my values would look back and see that we have gotten more of what we want, and gotten closer to what we what after that, under an Obama Presidency than under the Presidency of any Republican running — by far.
Having had the ability to mitigate harm — yes, the same principle that we talk about when supporting things like “needle exchange” programs — and not mitigating it is the third evil. When I support needle exchange programs, I suffer greatly sometimes for having to convince people that I am not “pro-heroin” but am “anti-HIV and Hep-C.” Similarly, when I vote for Obama, it is not because I am pro-marijuana crackdown, but because I am pro-choice — and I feel the obligation then to redouble my efforts to criticize him and to work against his policies in the areas where I disagree. But the failure to mitigate — to let Romney into office and appoint Supreme Court Justices just because I do not want to be stained with the filth of compromise — that, to me, is the greater evil then supporting Obama (to the extent that that’s an “evil” at all.)
I believe that this leaves my soul and hands as clean as possible. I would not feel clean having contributed to a repeat of the Bush-Cheney years.
Here’s a bonus parable that some of you have already heard.
Two monks were strolling by a stream on their way home to the monastery. They were startled by the sound of a young woman in a bridal gown, sitting by the stream, crying softly. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she gazed across the water. She needed to cross to get to her wedding, but she was fearful that doing so might ruin her beautiful handmade gown.
In this particular sect, monks were prohibited from touching women. But one monk was filled with compassion for the bride. Ignoring the sanction, he hoisted the woman on his shoulders and carried her across the stream–assisting her journey and saving her gown. She smiled and bowed with gratitude as he noisily splashed his way back across the stream to rejoin his companion.
The second monk was livid. “How could you do that?” he scolded. “You know we are forbidden even to touch a woman, much less pick one up and carry her around!”
The offending monk listened in silence to a stern lecture that lasted all the way back to the monastery. His mind wandered as he felt the warm sunshine and listened to the singing birds. After returning to the monastery, he fell asleep for a few hours. He was jostled and awakened in the middle of the night by his fellow monk. “How could you carry that woman?” his agitated friend cried out. “Someone else could have helped her across the stream. You were a bad monk!”
“What woman?” the tired monk inquired groggily.
“Don’t you even remember? That woman you carried across the stream,” his colleague snapped.
“Oh, her,” laughed the sleepy monk. “I only carried her across the stream. You carried her all the way back to the monastery.”
I put down my worries about supporting all of Obama’s policies long ago. I will vote for him because it will mean that other policies that I also care about will be better and that the policies I disagree with will be no worse than they will if Romney is elected.
I put down my guilt at voting for someone with whom I don’t agree 100% — or even 85% — long ago. Why are others still carrying it? It leads to the third evil — people who know better allowing wrongful policies to prosper.