Drum on the Liberal ‘Lesser of Two Evils’ Argument Against Obama

Kevin Drum wrote a beautiful and brief takedown of Conor Friedersdorf, John Cusack and others who just can’t vote for President Obama because of drones, etc, as well as others who are peddling this quadrennial and insufferable “lesser of two evils” meme.

That said, if you’re an actual lefty agonizing over whether you can possibly support the lesser of two evils this year, I have nine words for you: How did that work out for you in 2000? Even if you assume that Al Gore would have passed the Patriot Act; and invaded Afghanistan; and given the NSA free rein to engage in wholesale amounts of warrantless surveillance; and approved the torture of enemy combatants — even if you assume all that, do you think we would have invaded Iraq if Al Gore had been president? That didn’t just happen, after all. [...]

Libya and the drone strikes don’t even come close to comparing to Iraq. So go ahead and vote for Gary Johnson if you must, but do it with your eyes open. Whatever good it accomplishes, it also puts us one vote closer to having Dick Cheney’s old foreign policy gang back in the West Wing. I’m not quite sure how the math on that one ever gets above zero.

Ashby and I have written about this extensively. As I’ve embarrassingly admitted before, I was suckered into the “lesser of two evils” meme in 2000 as well. I voted for Ralph Nader like thousands of others — votes that would’ve tipped the election to Al Gore. Answering Drum’s hypothetical question: it worked out horribly.

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  • i_a_c

    Oh, but the Leftier than Thou crowd will tell you it’s not their fault they voted for Nader, it’s Al Gore’s fault for not fellating them for their vote. Whatever. They’re the same folks who think that withholding their vote for Obama will cause him to move further to the left. I got news for you, it won’t. There are more votes in the center of the electorate to be had than those from a handful of self-aggrandizing leftists.

    Kudos to Bob for having the humility to admit that voting for Nader was a bad idea.

    • Scopedog

      Yep. We’re still cleaning up the mess left behind as a result of 2000.

      If these purists fools think that putting Romney–or any Repub–in the White House in ’12 will bring us closer to a progressive paradise, they are out of their gourds.

      You don’t even have to look back to 2000. Just look at 2010. The end result of the “we’re sitting this out to send a message that Obama didn’t bend over and shit out single-payer for us” was the TP candidates getting into Congress and in state offices. Some of them became Governors. And guess where all the Voter ID shit started? Yep, right in these states.

      I can understand that there are honest concerns, but practical, pragmatic thinking and a knowledge of history has to overrule purist thinking. Sadly, it seems that some prominent folks on the Left are incapable of doing that.

      • bphoon

        …the TP candidates getting into Congress and in state offices. Some of them became Governors.

        In spades. Our erstwhile Governor Brownshirt…er, Brownback…was elected in 2010. The GOP took every statewide office, giving us Kris Kobach as our SoS. The Tea Party&reg crowd control the House and are poised to take control of the state Senate next year. So, yeah, thanks a fucking lot…

  • Draxiar

    I’m surprised that the talk of drones can actually be heard above the noise made by the sabre-rattling of war with Iran from the right-wing.

    They should keep that in mind as they withold their support for Obama to teach him a lesson.

  • wolverine2002

    The thing that drives me crazy about this is that if the republicans don’t like their candidate they go find a new one, however liberals decide to sit on the ground and pout and not play anymore.

  • japa21

    If they really want the opportunity to make a protest vote, or whatever, without screwing up the country, they should push for instant run off voting where you can vote for two people with a priority placed on one. After the first count, the person with the lowest total gets thrown out and those who voted for him/her have their second preference put in play. I am fairly confident that most of the people voting for Nader would have Gore as their second choice.

  • JMAshby

    The “lesser of two evils” isn’t planning to get their jollies out by bomb Iran for fun and profit.

    This argument wears me out and I seriously question the judgment and motives of anyone who makes it.

    It reeks of white privilege.

    • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

      Indeed, I’m in the same boat as Bob. I only have catastrophic coverage for four more months. I’ve already been turned down by BCBS for pre-existing. So I’m paying cash for meds that keep me alive. I have a 2 year old son who needs insurance. I literally begged BCBS to cover him anyway. They can’t and won’t. If the parent can’t get insurance the child is screwed too. I don’t even qualify for ACA. Earliest that will be is August of next year and even then my income might be too much. And if that’s the case, then I wait for 2014. But if the President doesn’t win, there is no hope even for 2014. I cannot tell you how afraid I am. I can handle it for myself. But for my son?

      So those saying “I’m voting third party because of drones”-it is indeed a position of privilege. Must be nice to stand on one’s principles and not have to worry about the problems of the dirty masses. Just too bad these “idealists” will also be standing on the bodies of dead Americans.

  • gescove

    Why wouldn’t you vote for the lesser of two evils? By definition it results in, you know, LESS EVIL. That seems like a pretty good outcome to me.

    • http://twitter.com/stonemirror David Schlesinger

      “Why wouldn’t you vote for the lesser of two evils?”

      Because it’s a race to the bottom, and a vote in favor of evil. If the best qualification a candidate needs to meet is being less evil than the other guy, then we’ll eventually have a government composed of uncaught or unindicted felons.

      • msclguru

        And if you’re looking for a candidate with no evil whatsoever, you’re living in a fantasy world. Guess what? Human beings have the capacity for, and immutable tendency to sometimes practice, evil. All of them. As such, the lesser evil is not only a fine outcome for an election, it is THE ONLY OUTCOME POSSIBLE, EVER, REGARDLESS OF WHO THE CANDIDATES MAY BE.

        • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

          Excellent point. Do you know anyone that gets to middle age that hasn’t done something evil in their life? Seriously. Now focusing on those who have been in politics for a while, scratching and clawing their way to the top? I actually distrust anyone in their 40’s who claim to never have made a mistake, never admitted to sin….because they’re lying. It’s simply not realistic.

      • gescove

        Or it could be a race to the top – candidates over time vying to out “less evil” their opponents. Regardless, if you accept the fact of our current binary electoral system, then a vote for less evil does indeed result in less evil. Not voting is in effect a vote in favor of more evil. A “protest” vote has the same effect, especially in swing states. @GrafZ says it better than I below.

  • GrafZeppelin127

    I’ve written about this a lot as well. I still think a lot of it is just ego; these people have fantasies of Barack sitting at home in Chicago with Michelle and saying, “Gee, I really should have done what [X] wanted; I think I’ll send him an engraved personal apology and beg his forgiveness.”

    I’ve been thinking about it in a slightly different way recently. What sucks is that we end up with only two viable choices; if we vote for one even though we don’t like something he’s done or something he’s doing, we feel like we’re enabling that behavior. But what are we enabling if we vote for the other guy, or don’t vote?

    Here’s a way to look at it:

    – I’m not happy about drones. But if Romney wins, the drones won’t stop; we’ll not only get more of them, but we’ll probably get troops on the ground as well. So, since the alternative is worse, I have to move on to the next issue.

    – I’m not happy that we’re still in Afghanistan. But if Romney wins, we won’t pull out of Afghanistan completely and immediately; we’ll probably stay there indefinitely and send a lot of the troops that have already left, back. So, since the alternative is worse, I have to move on to the next issue.

    – I’m not happy about Obamacare leaving the insurance industry in charge of our health care. But if Romney wins, we won’t get a more socialized system or a public option; what little protection we got out of Obamacare will be taken away, and the insurance companies will get more power and more money. So, since the alternative is worse, I have to move on to the next issue.

    – I’m not happy about the extension of the Bush tax cuts. But if Romney wins, they won’t be allowed to expire; not only will they be made permanent, they’ll be made even more regressive. So, since the alternative is worse, I have to move on to the next issue.

    – I’m not happy about Gitmo still being open. But if Romney wins, Gitmo won’t be closed; it will probably (as Romney once promised) “double.” So, since the alternative is worse, I have to move on to the next issue.

    – I’m not happy about some of the nastier aspects of the PATRIOT Act still being enforced. But if Romney wins, the PATRIOT Act won’t be repealed; indeed, those practices will continue, some of the ones that have stopped will start again, and more will be added. So, since the alternative is worse, I have to move on to the next issue.

    – I’m not happy about the continued and expanding income inequality under Obama. But if Romney wins, income inequality will not be narrowed; it will only get wider. So, since the alternative is worse, I have to move on to the next issue.

    – I’m not happy about Obama’s delayed, tepid support for gay marriage and repealing DADT. But if Romney wins, we won’t have support for gay marriage or gay rights in the White House; we might end up with a federal ban on gay marriage and gays in the military. So, since the alternative is worse, I have to move on to the next issue.

    – I’m not happy that Obama didn’t go and stand with the public-sector unions in Wisconsin. But if Romney wins, he won’t go and stand with public employees or their unions the next time a state tries to take their rights away; he will stand with the governors and legislators who are doing it. So, since the alternative is worse, I have to move on to the next issue.

    See where I’m going with this?

    • http://phydeauxpseaks.blogspot.com Bob Rutledge

      Very well reasoned, but cannot overcome the force that is:

      I’m not voting for Obummer because WAAAAAH!!! is why.

    • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

      Excellent, rational reasoning. Unfortunately the “drone voters” aren’t being rational.

  • kushiro -

    I am sincerely baffled by the argument that Obama will be a better president if he isn’t elected.

  • trgahan

    People who can hold such “high ideals” and talk of protest votes are people who will at the very least, not be adversely affected (hell, most will become wealthier) should the current GOP platform become law.

    They (or their children) will not be patrolling Tehran, their job won’t disappear to the third world, they won’t have their food stamps or SS checks cut, and they won’t spend 10 hours in a hospital emergency room waiting for basic care.

  • http://twitter.com/KQuark KQµårk™

    The possibility of war with a president Romney against Iran aside for a second.

    A study came out from Commonwealth Fund that with Romney’s healthcare policies over 44,000,000 Americans would be uninsured compared to implementing the AMA, expanding, not cutting Medicaid and not making Medicare into a voucher program. So I guess the Friedersdorf types would have thousands of deaths of Americans on their heads for letting Romney win as well.

  • muselet

    Here’s a suggestion to the simon-pure who refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils: vote against the greater of two evils. Congratulations. With one simple act, you reduced the potential evil inhabiting an elected office.

    These people would make me tear out my hair, except … well …

    –alopecia

  • D_C_Wilson

    If Romney wins, I plan to pull a Jay and Silent Bob and fly around the country and beat the snot out everyone who said they couldn’t vote for Obama because of drones.

    And when Romneybot sends ground troops into Iran (and he will), I plan on doing it again.

  • AyesWydeOpen

    It is time for us to wake up and realize that a choice between the lesser of two evils is a false choice given to us by the powers that be that control both our corrupt parties.

    We need to see past this false choice and call bullshit on it.

    Approval Voting allows one to vote yes or no for EACH candidate on the ballot. In 2000 this would have meant Vote Yes for Nader, Vote Yes for Gore, Vote No for Bush.

    With that awesomely simple improvement we no longer feel compelled to blame Nader for causing Gore to lose. Of course we should blame the Supreme Court not Nader, in any case. But its a lot easier to just blame Nader than to admit that the Supreme Court has done a horrible wrong.

    In 92 one could have voted Yes for Perot, Yes for Clinton and No for Bush. Given that Perot got 19% of the vote under our lesser of two evils system, I think he may actually have won under an Approval Voting system. Then we wouldn’t have NAFTA (both parties supported it – that’s why we have it) and we wouldn’t have repealed Glass Steagall (both parties supported the repeal) and we wouldn’t end up spending trillions bailing out financial criminals (both parties supported the bailout and the lack of prosecutions).

    And in the meantime, while we’re working to get Approval Voting at the federal level we coordinate with our fellow Americans to break the grip of the two party false choice.

    How you ask?

    We tell all of our progressive friends and family who live in strongly Red states to vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party. Don’t waste a good vote on Obama in a state where he can’t possibly win. Instead vote for a candidate and party that would get federal funding if it got to 5% of the vote.

    Conversely we tell all of our conservative friends and family who live in strongly Blue states to vote for Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Don’t waste a good vote on Romney in a state where he can’t possibly win. Instead vote for a candidate and party that would get federal funding if it got to 5% of the vote.

    See how that works?

    Let’s put the fear of God into to the two corrupt parties that are owned by the banksters and the war profiteers. Let’s restore democracy to our floundering nation.