The ‘Collateral Damage’ of Protest Votes

By Emily Theroux

The Naderesque argument that the Democratic presidential candidate is merely “the lesser of two evils” has been making an energetic comeback on progressive blogs. Liberals have become restive about a growing list of incursions on civil liberties and human rights that President Obama once vowed to oppose or overturn.

I’m not wild about Obama’s national security policy, either. But making “protest votes” for unelectable third-party candidates is an exercise in futility. Far from merely sending a principled message to Democrats that their capitulation to GOP militarism will no longer be tolerated, this strategy may permit Republican extremists to sabotage both our economy and our social contract. If this radical contingent succeeds, middle-class Americans may worry far more about economic disaster than government surveillance, political prisoners, or terrorists overseas.

The president couldn’t possibly have lived up to the rosy expectations that voters, disgusted by the Dubya years, had of his presidency. But now, scores of disgruntled Democrats have resolved to abandon the two-party system and become registered independents. Some plan to vote for Obama only if they reside in swing states; others who live in solid blue states may write in Ron Paul (seriously!) or vote for a third-party candidate like former Utah Gov.  Rocky Anderson. Obama critics on the left claim there’s very little space between Obama and Romney, because candidates from both parties depend on corporate donors and are thus beholden to the same interests.

Rob Kall of the progressive website OpEdNews declared in a recent column that he had personally decided to leave the Democratic Party. Some 200 of the site’s 55,000 members commented, professing fervent opposition to Obama’s expansion of Bush policies, including the limited use of remote-controlled Predator drones to support battlefield operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama went on to implement drones operated by CIA officers to kill suspected terrorists (among them, American citizens) “without a shred or whit of due process,” in the view of columnist Glenn Greenwald.

The CIA’s human quarry is tracked by U.S.-based “pilots” whose unmanned aircraft attack targets within the borders of sovereign nations. Drone strikes in Pakistan (which critics term “extrajudicial executions”) have been reported by observers to have killed numerous civilians near the pilots’ “marks” – indicating that these hits may not be as “surgical” as the CIA claims. The official record of “collateral damage” from May 2010 to August 2011? Militants: 600. Noncombatants: 0.

I personally deplore the barbarity of these strikes (and fear that we will eventually have to contend with terrorists acquiring this technology and once again blowing random New Yorkers to smithereens). I am also chagrined by the moral ambiguity of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which affirmed presidential authority over the indefinite military detention of prisoners without charge or trial. Other dubious offenses include the administration’s 2011 defense before the Supreme Court of GPS devices employed in warrantless surveillance; Obama’s failure to honor his inaugural promise to close Guantanamo Bay’s detention camp; his stepped-up policy of deporting undocumented immigrants at a far higher rate than Bush did; the continued use of military tribunals after vowing to try terrorism suspects in civil courts; and the ongoing militaristic fixation of our government.

Obama’s principled opposition to the Iraq War as a candidate for both the U.S. Senate and the presidency led me to foolishly imagine him as a pacifist. He did end the Iraq War, as he promised, but I don’t believe we should commit to staying in Afghanistan until 2024; no other culture, from the Mongols to the Soviets, ever succeeded in “unifying” Afghanistan’s warring tribes. Apparently we have forgotten the past and are condemned, as George Santayana observed, to repeat it.

Obama had to capitulate to certain political realities – the almost-universal opposition of both parties to allowing Guantanamo prisoners on American soil to be tried in civilian courts, as well as Obama’s apprehension about facing a military/national security “coup” if he attempted to prosecute Bush-era war crimes. With an intransigent GOP opposition obstructing his every move – and rejecting their own proposals once Obama endorsed them – the president had to drop the popular “public option” from health care, abandon comprehensive immigration reform, and limit financial regulation.

I remain a pragmatist willing to work within the current electoral system because I believe that a radical-right landslide would eclipse any Democratic failure. Once in office, Romney would repay his wealthy donors by doing the bidding of the Koch brothers, the House’s “Ayn Rand” faction, and the Christian right. He would follow the dictates of Grover Norquist on a regressive tax policy that would exacerbate income disparity. He would install Supreme Court justices who would ensure a conservative majority for a generation.

Do left-wing purists really want to see the Ryan budget passed, along with interminable “Kill at Will” gun laws, racist voting laws, and xenophobic immigration laws? Do they want to witness Roe V. Wade overturned and women subjected to personhood amendments and forced vaginal probes? A GOP Senate majority swept in on Romney’s coattails could conspire with the Republican House to turn back the clock on the rights of workers to the Industrial Age, of African-Americans to the Jim Crow era, of the unemployed to “Hoovervilles,” of the elderly to county poorhouses, and of women to medieval times.

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3 Responses to “The ‘Collateral Damage’ of Protest Votes”

  1. Lance theroux Says:

    Points WELL made! This is a time for shouting not pouting.

  2. Gary Miller Says:

    You’ve made the case for registering “Independent” — that campaign promises and party platforms are written on the wind. I’ll go today to my Board of Elections and switch from Democrat to Independent. I should have done it long ago since my registration only embodlens the asses to take the positions they take (or more often fail to take). That said, when I get to the booth, of course I’ll vote for Obama, but only because he’s the lesser of two evils. Pointing that out is the duty of all liberal bloggers.
    P.S. You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. Obama didn’t “end the war in Iraq” — we were kicked out. He fought tooth and nail to get Iraqi permission to keep a permanent force there with immunity from Iraqi prosecution (by now we assume that our heroes and Halliburton contractors will commit atrocities) and to their credit the Iraqis said FU. So we left, our tail between ourr legs.

  3. Emily Theroux Says:

    @Lance: Thanks for your encouragement! As for shouting, the 18th-century English chemist, religious dissenter, and revolutionary political theorist Joseph Priestley (who discovered oxygen – which he called “dephlogisticated air” – in 1774) sounded positively prescient about our era when he said: “It is no use speaking in soft, gentle tones if everyone else is shouting.” When those pro-Romney Super PACs start bombarding the airwaves with ad hominem attacks and outright lies, the cumulative effect will be to suck all the oxygen out of the air and drown out more reasonable voices.

    @Gary: You are, of course, absolutely correct about how ignominiously we skulked out of Iraq after Nouri al-Maliki balked on agreeing to Obama’s plea for a troop extension. The deal hinged on a highly unlikely Iraqi parliamentary vote over granting Americans immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. The remaining forces would have included private defense contractors, who are universally hated throughout Iraq. Powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr vowed to treat any Americans staying behind as “invaders”; since al-Maliki doesn’t have a majority in Iraq’s parliament without the Sadrists, Obama couldn’t get a deal.

    While I was calling out other people for drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid, it looks like I partook of some myself, albeit a different flavor. I have a limited amount of space for my column, so I have to make a real effort not to stray very far from my original thesis. This time, I was already spouting so much “heresy” about Obama that, on the subject of the Iraq war, I simply forgot to go there. As they say on “the Internets,” EPIC FAIL. You call it making up “(my) own facts”; I call it a brain fart – whereby, as Priestley did, I “isolated oxygen in its gaseous state” and broke dephlogisticated wind.

    I will make a genuine attempt to remedy this omission in a future column – or if not here, on my blog (see “website” link below).

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