Progressives: In Swing States, Vote for Obama

Daniel Ellsberg 2006It is urgently important to prevent a Republican administration under Romney/Ryan from taking office in January 2013.

The election is now just weeks away, and I want to urge those whose values are generally in line with mine — progressives, especially activists — to make this goal one of your priorities during this period.

An activist colleague recently said to me: “I hear you’re supporting Obama.”

I was startled, and took offense.  “Supporting Obama?  Me?!”

“I lose no opportunity publicly,” I told him angrily, to identify Obama as a tool of Wall Street, a man who’s decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who’s launched an unconstitutional war, supports kidnapping and indefinite detention without trial, and has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together. “Would you call that support?

My friend said, “But on Democracy Now you urged people in swing states to vote for him!  How could you say that?  I don’t live in a swing state, but I will not and could not vote for Obama under any circumstances.”

My answer was: a Romney/Ryan administration would be no better — no different — on any of the serious offenses I just mentioned or anything else, and it would be much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of other important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.

I told him: “I don’t ‘support Obama.’ I oppose the current Republican Party.  This is not a contest between Barack Obama and a progressive candidate. The voters in a handful or a dozen close-fought swing states are going to determine whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryanare going to wield great political power for four, maybe eight years, or not.

As Noam Chomsky said recently, “The Republican organization today is extremely dangerous, not just to this country, but to the world. It’s worth expending some effort to prevent their rise to power, without sowing illusions about the Democratic alternatives.”

Following that logic, he’s said to an interviewer what my friend heard me say to Amy Goodman: “If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney/Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice.”

The election is at this moment a toss-up.  That means this is one of the uncommon occasions when we progressives — a small minority of the electorate — could actually have a significant influence on the outcome of a national election, swinging it one way or the other.

The only way for progressives and Democrats to block Romney from office, at this date, is topersuade enough people in swing states to vote for Obama: not stay home, or vote for someone else.  And that has to include, in those states, progressives and disillusioned liberals who are at this moment inclined not to vote at all or to vote for a third-party candidate (because like me they’ve been not just disappointed but disgusted and enraged by much of what Obama has done in the last four years and will probably keep doing).

They have to be persuaded to vote, and to vote in a battleground state for Obama not anyone else, despite the terrible flaws of the less-bad candidate, the incumbent. That’s not easy.  As I see it, that’s precisely the “effort” Noam is referring to as worth expending right now to prevent the Republicans’ rise to power.  And it will take progressives — some of you reading this, I hope — to make that effort of persuasion effectively.

It will take someone these disheartened progressives and liberals will listen to.  Someone manifestly without illusions about the Democrats, someone who sees what they see when they look at the president these days: but who can also see through candidates Romney or Ryan on the split-screen, and keep their real, disastrous policies in focus.

It’s true that the differences between the major parties are not nearly as large as they and their candidates claim, let alone what we would want.  It’s even fair to use Gore Vidal’s metaphor that they form two wings (“two right wings” as some have put it) of a single party, the Property or Plutocracy Party, or as Justin Raimondo says, the War Party.

Still, the political reality is that there are two distinguishable wings, and one is reliably even worse than the other, currently much worse overall.  To be in denial or to act in neglect of that reality serves only the possibly imminent, yet presently avoidable, victory of the worse.

The traditional third-party mantra, “There’s no significant difference between the major parties” amounts to saying: The Republicans are no worse, overall.”  And that’s absurd.  It constitutes shameless apologetics for the Republicans, however unintended.  It’s crazily divorced from present reality.

And it’s not at all harmless to be propagating that absurd falsehood.  It has the effect of encouraging progressives even in battleground states to refrain from voting or to vote in a close election for someone other than Obama, and more importantly, to influence others to act likewise.  That’s an effect that serves no one but the Republicans, and ultimately the 1%.

It’s not merely understandable, it’s entirely appropriate to be enraged at Barack Obama.  As I am.  He has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or “disappointingly.”  If impeachment were politically imaginable on constitutional grounds, he’s earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors!)  It is entirely human to want to punish him, not to “reward” him with another term or a vote that might be taken to express trust, hope or approval.

But rage is not generally conducive to clear thinking.  And it often gets worked out against innocent victims, as would be the case here domestically, if refusals to vote for him resulted in Romney’s taking key battleground states that decide the outcome of this election.

To punish Obama in this particular way, on Election Day — by depriving him of votes in swing states and hence of office in favor of Romney and Ryan — would punish most of all the poor and marginal in society, and workers and middle class as well: not only in the U.S. but worldwide in terms of the economy (I believe the Republicans could still convert this recession to a Great Depression), the environment and climate change. It could well lead to war with Iran (which Obama has been creditably resisting, against pressure from within his own party).  And it would spell, via Supreme Court appointments, the end of Roe v. Wade and of the occasional five to four decisions in favor of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The reelection of Barack Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law.  That’s for us and the rest of the people to bring about after this election and in the rest of our lives — through organizing, building movements and agitating.

In the eight to twelve close-fought states — especially Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, but also Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin — for any progressive to encourage fellow progressives and others in those states to vote for a third-party candidate is, I would say, to be complicit in facilitating the election of Romney and Ryan, with all its consequences.

To think of that as urging people in swing states to “vote their conscience” is, I believe, dangerously misleading advice. I would say to a progressive that if your conscience tells you on Election Day to vote for someone other than Obama in a battleground state, you need a second opinion. Your conscience is giving you bad counsel.

I often quote a line by Thoreau that had great impact for me: “Cast your whole vote: not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.”  He was referring, in that essay, to civil disobedience, or as he titled it himself, “Resistance to Civil Authority.”

It still means that to me. But this is a year when for people who think like me — and who, unlike me, live in battleground states — casting a strip of paper is also important. Using your whole influence this month to get others to do that, to best effect, is even more important.

That means for progressives in the next couple of weeks – in addition to the rallies, demonstrations, petitions, lobbying (largely against policies or prospective policies of President Obama, including austerity budgeting next month), movement-building and civil disobedience that are needed all year round and every year — using one’s voice and one’s e-mails and op-eds and social media to encourage citizens in swing states to vote against a Romney victory by voting for the only real alternative, Barack Obama.

________________________________________

Daniel Ellsberg is a former State and Defense Department official who has been arrested for acts of non-violent civil disobedience over eighty times, initially for copying and releasing the top secret Pentagon Papers, for which he faced 115 years in prison.  Living in a non-swing state, he does not intend to vote for President Obama.

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  • Liam_McGonagle

    Don’t kid yourself, Dan.  The only thing that makes these running boils even pretend to be better than one another is the ‘competition’ of an election.  You bet your ass that on the first Wednesday in November the winner will be drawing up plans to add a political prisoner wing to Gauantanamo.

    It’s about 4 decades too late to do anything about it now.  America needs to confront its demons of constitutional neglect, cynicism and brutality up front.  That will only happen under a Ryan/Romney dictatorship, made permanent by the state of emergency that their policies is intended to foment.

    You did your best, Daniel, but you’ll be long dead before America sees any improvement in the situation.  Odds on so will I.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Don’t kid yourself, Dan.  The only thing that makes these running boils even pretend to be better than one another is the ‘competition’ of an election.  You bet your ass that on the first Wednesday in November the winner will be drawing up plans to add a political prisoner wing to Gauantanamo.

    It’s about 4 decades too late to do anything about it now.  America needs to confront its demons of constitutional neglect, cynicism and brutality up front.  That will only happen under a Ryan/Romney dictatorship, made permanent by the state of emergency that their policies is intended to foment.

    You did your best, Daniel, but you’ll be long dead before America sees any improvement in the situation.  Odds on so will I.

  • Trinary

    Nothing of any significance will change if Romney is elected. Just like nothing of any significance will change if Oh-Bomb-Ya is re-elected. They are two sides of the same bent and broken coin. If you can vote for a war criminal and still sleep soundly at night, then do what you need to do, but please do not encourage others to sacrifice their morals, also.  

  • Trinary

    Nothing of any significance will change if Romney is elected. Just like nothing of any significance will change if Oh-Bomb-Ya is re-elected. They are two sides of the same bent and broken coin. If you can vote for a war criminal and still sleep soundly at night, then do what you need to do, but please do not encourage others to sacrifice their morals, also.  

    • Captain Obvious

      You’re fucking delusional. It will give even more power to the completely insane religious right. It’s like people just completely forget how utterly awful the Bush administration was. He was unquestionably the worst president in American history and makes Obama look like a saint. Romney will be no better, and will probably actually be quite a bit worse. Without Republicans in office, the military industrial complex never would have doubled in size. Obama didn’t actually have the ability to just stop that, due to popular belief. It had happened already, he can’t just overturn the policies that were put in place by Bush and Cheney. Look how much success he’s had putting the tax rate back to where it was before Bush. He’s tried. 

    • Captain Obvious

      You’re fucking delusional. It will give even more power to the completely insane religious right. It’s like people just completely forget how utterly awful the Bush administration was. He was unquestionably the worst president in American history and makes Obama look like a saint. Romney will be no better, and will probably actually be quite a bit worse. Without Republicans in office, the military industrial complex never would have doubled in size. Obama didn’t actually have the ability to just stop that, due to popular belief. It had happened already, he can’t just overturn the policies that were put in place by Bush and Cheney. Look how much success he’s had putting the tax rate back to where it was before Bush. He’s tried. 

      • 12redbluefish

        Almost everything you just said there is a lie.

        Stop projecting.

      • 12redbluefish

        Almost everything you just said there is a lie.

        Stop projecting.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rohini-Chand/100000779674035 Rohini Chand

      Not so: it is Romney and Ryan’s vicious attack on the very poor that will bring near-starvation to millions of vulnerable Americans, as well as a more pronounced aggression against Russia and middle East war, probably nuclear. See Prof. Webster Tarpley, Marian Wright-Edelman and others.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rohini-Chand/100000779674035 Rohini Chand

      Not so: it is Romney and Ryan’s vicious attack on the very poor that will bring near-starvation to millions of vulnerable Americans, as well as a more pronounced aggression against Russia and middle East war, probably nuclear. See Prof. Webster Tarpley, Marian Wright-Edelman and others.

  • Nunzio X

    Things in the US have been crumbling like feta cheese.

    But they’re not nearly as tasty.

  • Nunzio X

    Things in the US have been crumbling like feta cheese.

    But they’re not nearly as tasty.

    • Miracles

      I love feta cheese bro!

    • Miracles

      I love feta cheese bro!

  • 12redbluefish

    Obama would indefinitely detain and slow roast Ellsberg if he blew the whistle today.

    When big chief is Republican, R’s lose their moral compass and when its a Demrat, D’s lose their moral compass.

    Remember when lil shrub was (P)resident. Who didn’t mock the diehard supporters for being the absolutely most stupid of the electorate? They were the 20% who supported that lil moron in chief right or wrong. Obama is worse. Obama delivers even more of a hardcore fanbase. Even now they still don’t believe that Obama is the real deal, their very own DC madam in the oval office. He turns more tricks for the Wall Street bankers than anyone could have dared imagined. When he talks all scary for his fanbase, he reassures his banker bosses he really doesn’t mean it and they would prefer someone who understands the stress of commanding so much wealth. They would rather have a Romney because he won’t encourage even a lil guilt.

    The vote for (P)resident if cast for one of the two clowns is pro-death, pro-poverty, job exporting, bigger in-security state, less liberty across the board except on some things that don’t conflict with the desired outcomes of a fraction, really either faction, of the top 1%.

    The popular narratives of both parties are almost entirely false.

    I don’t trust Romney and I trust Obama even less. The difference is that in electing someone like Obama with rhetoric that soothes the left, a large portion of We the people will go to sleep for another four years. I have my doubts that the folks on the left will be so easily soothed by Romney.

    Ellsberg, the whole influence won’t happen if Obama is re-elected.

    I’d rather vote a left leaning R than a solid right D any day but I won’t vote for either because they will each betray us.

    Shame on you, Ellsberg, for suggesting we swallow an evil. Who would be the more effective one? You know it would be Obama or at the very least I would really like to see more discussions that analyzed whether or not D’s are more effective destroyers in times like these. There’s a long list of things Obama has gotten away with that I dare say would be overly difficult for an R.

    Obama’s rhetoric is meant to hold his base together. Don’t believe anything he says. Obama is just Bush for smart people, those who consider themselves smart anyway. It’s absolutely embarrassing to watch this country be led by the likes of these.

  • Miracles

    I can appreciate what Ellsberg is arguing for, but I think personally I’m going along the route proposed by Norman Pollack in the earlier disinfo article “Anti-Fascists for Romney” and cast my vote for Romney.   

    I cannot in good conscience cast my vote for Obama, and seeing as how I live in NY, it doesn’t really matter who I vote for as this state is projected 100% to be Obama.

    Anyway, fuck it.  
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/10/12/america-on-the-cusp-of-fascism/

    From his article: “Why Romney?  Because his transparency as a Neanderthal may, just may, bring people into the streets, while under Obama passivity and false consciousness appear almost irreversible.  I for one will stay home.  The lesser-of-two-evils argument is morally obtuse, and dangerous.”

  • Miracles

    I can appreciate what Ellsberg is arguing for, but I think personally I’m going along the route proposed by Norman Pollack in the earlier disinfo article “Anti-Fascists for Romney” and cast my vote for Romney.   

    I cannot in good conscience cast my vote for Obama, and seeing as how I live in NY, it doesn’t really matter who I vote for as this state is projected 100% to be Obama.

    Anyway, fuck it.  
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/10/12/america-on-the-cusp-of-fascism/

    From his article: “Why Romney?  Because his transparency as a Neanderthal may, just may, bring people into the streets, while under Obama passivity and false consciousness appear almost irreversible.  I for one will stay home.  The lesser-of-two-evils argument is morally obtuse, and dangerous.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rohini-Chand/100000779674035 Rohini Chand

      That’s pretty mad: you’re telling us the violence visited on Occupy wasn’t perpetrated in the streets? The only reason the fat money and warmongers switched to the Bishop is because he’ll be that much more savage. Also, he’s a Mormon cultist, a religion as primitive as what the Romans practised. He’ll probably wake up one morning and decide he’s become a god, like Caligula!

      • Miracles

        Sounds awesome. Let the world burn.

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    yeah, ‘cuase Obama was so different from Bush
    that if Bush in a Romney suit got in again
    we’d all go to hell in a hand-basket

    you gotta love this silly little show
    they milk it for all the fake drama they can muster
    the Military-Industrial-Bankster Complex must be smiling

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    yeah, ‘cuase Obama was so different from Bush
    that if Bush in a Romney suit got in again
    we’d all go to hell in a hand-basket

    you gotta love this silly little show
    they milk it for all the fake drama they can muster
    the Military-Industrial-Bankster Complex must be smiling

    • kowalityjesus

      I agree with you that the candidates did not enjoy differences of substance, but under Obama I don’t get that “the world is going to end” feeling that I got under Bush. A nominal improvement.

    • kowalityjesus

      I agree with you that the candidates did not enjoy differences of substance, but under Obama I don’t get that “the world is going to end” feeling that I got under Bush. A nominal improvement.

  • Andrew

    If you want the Right to revolt and be crushed, vote for Obama. If you want the Left to revolt and be crushed, vote for Romney.

  • Andrew

    If you want the Right to revolt and be crushed, vote for Obama. If you want the Left to revolt and be crushed, vote for Romney.

  • mannyfurious

    As disgusted as I am with Obama, I live in a swing state, so I voted for him. I thought long and hard about this decision for the past year. I really would like to vote Green or Socialist, but the republicans simply must not be allowed to regain control of this country. I know it’s true that there isn’t much of a difference between the two parties, but what is different is still worth fighting for. I mean, these new republicans aren’t quite as greasy with their politics as Bush/Cheney and those mutants were, but they’re actually promoting worse policies. Dubya at least was reasonable on immigration and he tried to find a middle ground on gay marriage/women’s rights. I honestly never thought it would be possible for a national politician to move to the right of Dubya, but it’s happened. And the more they win, the more they move rightward. The fact that this morning 52-percent of the country had a favorable view of Romney is fucking startling. He’s done nothing but lie and flip-flop and say whatever he needs to say to win. And it’s so fucking obvious what he’s doing, and yet people like him. What the fuck is going on?

  • mannyfurious

    As disgusted as I am with Obama, I live in a swing state, so I voted for him. I thought long and hard about this decision for the past year. I really would like to vote Green or Socialist, but the republicans simply must not be allowed to regain control of this country. I know it’s true that there isn’t much of a difference between the two parties, but what is different is still worth fighting for. I mean, these new republicans aren’t quite as greasy with their politics as Bush/Cheney and those mutants were, but they’re actually promoting worse policies. Dubya at least was reasonable on immigration and he tried to find a middle ground on gay marriage/women’s rights. I honestly never thought it would be possible for a national politician to move to the right of Dubya, but it’s happened. And the more they win, the more they move rightward. The fact that this morning 52-percent of the country had a favorable view of Romney is fucking startling. He’s done nothing but lie and flip-flop and say whatever he needs to say to win. And it’s so fucking obvious what he’s doing, and yet people like him. What the fuck is going on?