by Ira Chernus
Published on Tuesday, October 7, 2008 by CommonDreams.org
If you have decided to vote for a third party candidate for president, or not to vote at all, because you can't stand voting for the "lesser of two evils," this message is for you. Though I'm supporting Obama and the Democrats, I understand and respect your choice.
You may be taking a lot of criticism for standing on your principles. I know how the criticism can hurt. I took the same kind of heat eight years ago as a Ralph Nader supporter in a razor-thin election. I've never regretted that choice. I felt totally comfortable with it in 2000, partly because the outcome was a foregone conclusion in my home state. My vote would not make any difference one way or another.
This year is very different, because in my state the Obama - McCain race is much too close to call. If that's true in your state too -- or if there is any chance Obama might not win your state -- please consider carefully the other big difference between 2000 and 2008. Back then, I failed to imagine how much damage eight years of Republican rule would do. Now, the thought of another eight or even four years of the same seems intolerable.
Imagining what the Supreme Court might look like four years from now under a President McCain makes the thought even worse than intolerable. And if a President McCain were to die in office . . . Well, golly gee, sometimes the good old English language just doesn't got the words to express the horror.
When the greater of two evils gets bad enough, the lesser is so much less that it really is the better choice. So I am out there working for Obama and the Democrats. I won't scold you or look down on you for taking the opposite course. But I'd like you to consider changing your mind.
No, Obama is not the kind of crusader for progressive causes that you and I would like to see lead this country. But he has a different view than you or I might have about how government works. In his years as a community organizer, he learned that you should never expect government officials to initiate change. That's not their job. This is a democracy, and they are elected to do the will of the people, to bend whichever way the political wind blows.
Obama really means it when he says, in effect: "Making change is your job. I want you to pressure me. If you put a lot of pressure on me, I'm willing to bend to your will. But the conservatives are always out there putting pressure on me from the other side. You have to create a political wind strong enough to blow the opposition away and blow your elected leaders to the left."
With Democrats in power in Congress and the White House, the doors of power will be open at least a little bit to progressives. We won't get all, or even most, of what we want. But there will be people in Washington willing to listen to our views. Some of them will be in pretty high places. And they'll know that our movement will get attention -- even in the Oval Office -- if it's massive, well-organized, and highly visible.
McCain and Palin aren't going to move an inch to the left no matter how powerful the political winds are. They'll claim that their victory gives them a mandate for right-wing intransigence. And if they win, the disappointment may take all the wind out of the progressives' sails. After eight years of fighting Bush, who will have the energy left for another four years of the same? A McCain victory might convince a lot of people, across the political board, that we are just fated (or doomed) to have Republican presidents forever.
I'm especially concerned about the huge numbers of young people supporting Obama, thousands of them working full time on his campaign and learning invaluable political skills. If he loses, most of them may be so dispirited that they'll give up on politics altogether for a long time, perhaps forever. If he wins and then doesn't produce the change they want, they may turn their energy and skills to the left, as so many did in the '60s.
And it's pretty predictable that a President Obama would not produce nearly as much change as most of his young supporters want. He has chosen to be a compromiser. He understands how much power conservatives have these days. A president who wants to get anything done must have a working relationship with those conservatives, or else they'll simply block everything.
So he has taken all sorts of moderate stands to let conservatives know that he doesn't plan to shut them out. The alternative is to stand on principle and paralyze the government, insuring there won't be any progressive change at all.
The few changes the Dems would bring may not seem very significant to you. But they could mean a great deal for those who have no voice and no power at all.
Here at home, there are millions of poor people who depend on government programs for their basic needs; Democrats will respond to some of those needs, while Republicans will ignore them and blame the poor for their own suffering. There are nearly 50 million without health insurance; Democrats are at least moving toward covering all the children and most of the adults among them. The number of unemployed grows daily; Obama's talk about giving them jobs, by rebuilding the infrastructure and creating alternative energy technology, won't all be translated into action, but some of it will.
On the other side of the world, people in Iraq are suffering daily under a U.S. occupation that Obama would significantly reduce and perhaps eventually end completely. Around the world there are government leaders eager to talk with the President of the United States, talks that Obama would have but McCain would reject. Then there are all the non-human species who are at risk every day from the Republicans' callous disregard for the environment. Democrats won't save all of them, but they will give many species a better chance to survive.
The voiceless depend on us to speak up for them -- not just on Election Day but every day after that. We have to keep pushing relentlessly to the left. We have to recognize that in politics no one wins all the time. But even a small victory on one issue can make a huge difference for a lot of people, most of them people we will never see. Yet all our pushing for victories will do little good unless Obama and the Democrats win.
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin. firstname.lastname@example.org