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Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Wasting Your Vote

On Wasting Your Vote

By M. G. Piety
Counter Punch
October 14, 2012

A disturbing number of Americans are going to end up wasting
their votes in this next election.

They’re unhappy with the status quo, but instead of changing it,
they’re only going to reinforce it.

I’m not talking about democrats who are so unhappy with Obama
that they’re planning to vote third-party.

I’m talking about democrats who are unhappy with Obama, but
who are so afraid of Romney that they’re going to vote for Obama
anyway and justify that vote by invoking “the lesser of the two
evils” argument.

It’s about time someone pointed out that it’s the invocation of that
argument to defend otherwise indefensible political choices that
has driven us relentlessly into our current position between a rock
and a hard place.

Albert Einstein is reputed to have said that the greatest invention
in human history was compound interest. I beg to differ.

I think it’s the “lesser of two evils” argument. It’s brilliant.

Give people two options, neither of which they find appealing,
convince them that a third option, a genuinely attractive one,
is just not practicable and that they must thus choose between
the bad and the worse, and you’ll be able to get them to choose
something they would never otherwise choose.

You can get people to do anything that way.

You start by offering them a choice between something that is
just marginally unpleasant and something that is really repellent.

Once you’ve gotten them to choose the marginally unpleasant,
you raise the bar (just a little mind you, you don’t want them
to catch on to what you’re doing).

Now you offer them a choice between something to which
they have really strong objections and something that is
deeply offensive.

Most people, of course, will choose the former, if they think
it’s either that or the latter.

Now you offer people who’ve become inured to living
under objectionable conditions a choice between even
worse conditions and something that is truly unthinkable.

It’s not a mystery what they will choose.

There’s been a lot of angry posturing from Americans who think
of themselves as progressive about how the purported political
center in this country has been moving inexorably to the right,
yet it’s these very people who are directly responsible for the

If you vote for a candidate whose farther right than you would
prefer, well, then you’re shifting the political “center” to the

Republicans aren’t responsible for the increasingly conservative
face of the democratic party. Democrats are responsible for it.

Democrats keep racing to the polls like lemmings being chased
by the boogeyman.

“This is not the election to vote for real change” runs the
democratic refrain.

We’re in a crisis! We must do whatever it takes to ensure that
the republicans don’t get in office even if that means voting for
a democrat whose policies we don’t really like and which are only
marginally distinguishable from those of the republican candidate.

That “margin” is important, we’re reminded again and again.

That little difference is going to make all the difference.

Even if that were true, which it ought to be clear by now it is not it
would still offer a very poor justification for voting for a candidate
one doesn’t really like.

Why? Because it is an expression of short-term thinking.

Thomas Hobbes argued that privileging short-term over long-term
goals was irrational, and yet that’s what we’ve been doing in this
country for as long as I can remember.

Americans are notoriously short-term oriented.

As Luc Sante noted in a piece in the New York Review of Books,
America is “the country of the perpetual present tense.”

Perhaps that’s part of the anti-intellectualism that Richard
Hofstadter wrote about.

“Just keep the republicans out of office for this election!” We’re
always commanded. “We can worry about real change later!”

Of course anyone who stopped to think about it ought to
realize that that mythical “later” is never going to come.

Our choices are getting worse not better, and if we keep invoking
the “lesser of the two evils” to justify them, we are in effect,
digging our own graves.

God is not going to deliver to us from the clouds the candidate of
our dreams, the candidate who despite his (or perhaps her) wildly
populist views somehow manages to win over the corporate powers
we have allowed, through our own incorrigible stupidity, to control
the political process in this country.

If we are ever going to see real political change of the sort
progressives purport to want, then we are going to have to
be brave enough to risk losing an election.

Which shouldn’t require all that much bravery when one
thinks about it, because real progressives have been losing
elections for as long as anyone can remember in that the
democrats haven’t been genuinely progressive for as long
as anyone can remember.

If you vote for a democrat because you think of yourself as
progressive you are wasting your vote because what you are
actually saying is that you are willing to support a candidate
who is not really progressive, that the democrats can continue
their relentless march to the right and that you will back them
all the way.

That is, if you vote for a democrat because you say you are
progressive, you are saying one thing and doing another.

But actions, as everyone knows, speak louder than words.

You can go on posturing about how progressive you are, but
if you vote for a democrat that posturing is empty.

If we are ever going to see real progressive political change in
this country we have to brave enough to openly risk defeat,
and we have to have faith that our fellow progressives will be
similarly brave.

William James makes this point very eloquently in his essay
“The Will to Believe.”

“A social organism,” he wrote, of any sort whatever, large or
small, is what it is because each member proceeds to his own
duty with a trust that the other members will simultaneously
do theirs.

Wherever a desired result is achieved by the co-operation of
many independent persons, its existence as a fact is a pure
consequence of the precursive faith in one another of those
immediately concerned.

A government, an army, a commercial system, a ship, a college,
an athletic team, all exist on this condition, without which not
only is nothing achieved, but nothing is even attempted.

A whole train of passengers (individually brave enough) will
be looted by a few highwaymen, simply because the latter
can count on one another, while each passenger fears that
if he makes a movement of resistance, he will be shot before
any one else backs him up.

If we believed that the whole car-full would rise at once with us,
we should each severally rise, and train-robbing would never even
be attempted.

There are, then, cases where a fact cannot come at all unless
a preliminary faith exists in its coming.

Progressive political change will never be a fact unless we have
faith in its coming, unless we have faith that others will back us
up when we refuse to be forced to vote yet again for a candidate
we do not like.

I, for one, abhor cowardice.

I’m not going to be intimidated into voting for a candidate I don’t
like by threats of the “greater evil.”

I do not expect that my candidate will win the election.

I expect, however, that my vote will count for something and
not merely in the sense that it will allow me to preserve my
self respect.

I’m not afraid of being condemned as naively optimistic. Without
such optimism we’d never have had democracy in the first place.

Democracy, one of the crowning achievements of human history,
is precisely the product of the courage to act on one’s conscience
and that faith that others will do so as well.

If we’ve lost those things, then we will get the president we

M.G. Piety teaches philosophy at Drexel University. She is the editor
and translator of Soren Kierkegaard’s Repetition and Philosophical
Crumbs. Her latest book is: Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s
Pluralist Epistemology.

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