Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Leftist Case for Voting Clinton

Let me first note that this post is directed at people who fundamentally agree with my politics to begin with, so if you overwhelmingly disagree with the views I've put forward on this blog, it might not be of much interest to you--but if you're curious, feel free to read on of course. The target audience here, though, is people who generally fall on the left side of the political spectrum, like myself, because the issue here is one that divides us leftists every time there's a presidential election: whether or not we should vote for the Democrat.

Photo Credit: AP; found at Business Insider
I have made my issues with Hillary Clinton abundantly clear, and I will briefly state again: I do not like Hillary Clinton, and I think she represents everything wrong with the Democratic Party. In fact, I think she's probably their worst presidential nominee in decades, and even in a campaign where her opponent, Donald Trump, is an absolutely vile being, she has still managed to alienate and disgust me over and over again. The arguments I'm about to make have nothing to do with any failure on my part to appreciate the grave misdeeds of Clinton's past (spearheading our disastrous and illegal intervention in Libya, voting for the even more disastrous and illegal Iraq War, the Constitution-shredding USA PATRIOT, and on, and on, and on). I am completely unenthusiastic about the prospects for what a Clinton presidency will look like, and quite concerned on some fronts, like the issue of Syria.

But, in spite of all of that, I have already cast my vote for Clinton (via absentee ballot). And, while I've been consistently opposed to attempts to shame leftists into voting for Clinton, I do have to say that I think it's the right choice, at least for those of us living in swing states (like myself) in an election as close as this one. I want to list here the most common arguments I hear from leftists against voting for Clinton, and lay out my response.

The argument: "She's no better than Trump."

My response: Yes, she is. I despise Hillary Clinton and everything she stands for, but she hasn't proposed banning Muslims from entering the country, deliberately killing terrorists' whole families, deporting every undocumented immigrant, undoing the small amount of progress we've made toward universal healthcare by repealing "Obamacare," cutting taxes on the richest Americans, and many, many of the other policies Trump has proposed. Yes, there are some similarities between these hideous ideas and some of her own policies--she's a big supporter of drone strikes, which have killed many innocents, she's been heartless at times in talking about immigrants, she's said single payer will never happen--but she is clearly not as toxic as Donald Trump is on these issues. She is also not affiliated with an ultrareactionary right-wing party that makes no effort to even pretend to care about the poor or working class, unlike Trump. Her candidacy has not invigorated white supremacists. The only issue where leftists often try to say that she might be worse than Trump is foreign policy, but the case for that is weak. Trump supported the Iraq War, and he supported intervening in Libya. He's argued for sending 20-30,000 troops to fight ISIS. And while he has, at times, sounded more reasonable than Clinton when it comes to Syria and Russia, his running mate is Mike Pence, who sounds even worse than Clinton, and Trump has shown a desire to let his vice president make all the decisions in that department. Trump would simply be a vastly more disastrous president than Hillary Clinton.

The argument: "Voting supports the system that currently exists."

My response: Abstaining is not a more effective way to change the system than voting. A very large portion of the electorate abstains in every presidential election, and the system is still pretty intact. Voting is the one very limited way in which the system is designed to be influenced by regular people; while this shows the need to push for changes in the system from outside of it, throwing out that one way to make your opinion matter while working within the system makes no strategic sense. The argument that by participating in the system you are somehow upholding it is simply not based in any empirical reality. Further, while I firmly believe that we need to have a system where the population does more than just vote, voting has absolutely played a major role in achieving positive changes throughout American history; it elected Abraham Lincoln, who played a decisive role in the abolition of slavery. It elected Franklin D. Roosevelt, who did a great deal to regulate business and help the poor and the elderly. It elected Lyndon B. Johnson, who pushed through the Civil Rights Act, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. I'm certainly not denying that you can find major flaws and misdeeds with these presidents, but the fact that they were elected was an important part of achieving enormously significant changes.

The argument: "Voting for the lesser of two evils just lets the Democrats keep moving rightward."

My response: We had an election in which a significant number of leftists abandoned the Democrats: the 2000 election. While there were a number of factors leading to Gore's "defeat," and yes, I think he was probably the rightful winner, it is simply true that, had a small percentage of Nader voters in Florida voted for Gore instead (or had a number of Nader voters in New Hampshire done the same), Gore would have won the presidency. The fact that Gore lost and a factor in his loss was clear disenchantment on the left did nothing to move the Democrats leftward. In fact, it just gave mainstream liberals ammunition to use against leftists and, particularly, Ralph Nader. Because of what happened in 2000, liberals have mercilessly painted leftists as impractical dipshits who represent a political dead-end, because they're too dumb to ever achieve the goals they have. The same will happen if this mistake is repeated.

The argument: "The lesser of two evils is still evil."

My response: Yes, but that doesn't change the value of the fact that they are a lesser evil. Opting for the less bad of your two options doesn't mean you've given it your personal seal of approval; if someone holds you up at gunpoint and offers you the choice to either hand over your money or get shot, the fact that you hand your money over to avoid getting shot doesn't mean you've somehow lent your approval to the robber's actions.

The argument: "We need to build a third party that's focused on serving the people, not the corporations."

While I agree that this is probably the best way to go about changing the system given how profoundly corrupt both major parties are, voting for an existing third party is obviously no guarantee that it will become a major player in future presidential or congressional elections, and it's possible to create a new party that will be a major player in the next presidential election, skipping the "spoiler" phase altogether. This has happened before: the Republican Party managed to come in second place in the first presidential election they participated in; so did Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party, in their first (and only) presidential election. The two biggest third parties in this election--the Green Party and the Libertarian Party--have both been around for decades, and never gotten more than a few percent of the vote in any presidential election. Either these parties do not represent the views of many Americans, or they are too poorly organized to get their message out effectively. We can't simply blame the two-party mentality for their failures, since Ross Perot managed to get almost twenty percent of the vote in 1992. Neither of these parties is going to fill the void that exists in our political system unless they change dramatically, and voting for either Jill Stein or Gary Johnson does nothing to even begin this process of necessary change.

Realistically, our best shot at a new viable political party would be either a collapse of one or both of the existing ones--like how the Republican Party rose after the collapse of the Whigs--or a split within one or both of the major parties, like the one that happened within the Democratic-Republican Party to give birth to the Democrats and the National Republican Party (the latter of which obviously didn't last). So far, neither of these things has happened, though it certainly looks possible that either or both could. But voting for a third-party candidate in this election does nothing to get us closer to either. While it would help either minor party to get five percent of the vote in this election and thus get access to public funding, there's no guarantee that would give them any real shot at winning the next election, and only the Libertarians look like they have a shot at meeting that threshold (based on the polls), and the Libertarian Party is not the left-wing party of the people you're looking for.

I've previously enunciated my disagreement with a lot of the standard arguments about why you have to vote, and I'm very much sympathetic with many the ideas behind not voting, but I don't think the arguments hold up. This election offers a real choice. The choice is not between good and bad, true--it's between bad and worse--but when you have two bad options, the normal and rational thing to do is pick the less bad option, which is Hillary Clinton in this case. Whatever positive consequences there are for sitting out the election or voting third party, if you're a voter in a swing state like myself, the potential negative consequence--Donald Trump getting elected--outweighs them. So, utterly cheerlessly, I urge those of you who live in swing states to vote for Hillary Clinton if you haven't already. The consequences of failing to do so could be awful.

UPDATE: I realize it sounds pretty short-sighted to blame the Green and Libertarian Parties' failures simply on poor organization or an unpopular message given their exclusion from the presidential debates and general marginalization in the media, which are undeniably factors in their lack of electoral success. However, I do think these parties are partly to blame for their own status, given that they have focused too much of their resources on promoting presidential candidates who have no chance of winning and not enough on trying to first win local offices in order to boost their credibility and effect changes on a municipal level.

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