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No One is Sweeping Dead Muslims Under the Rug

[ 198 ] September 27, 2012 |

A couple of commenters and links have basically said that in not taking drone killings of Pakistanis seriously enough (for them) in my post yesterday, that I am basically choosing which brown people matter and which don’t. Jim Henley especially does this, and in a particularly egregious way:

But you know, they are not so rich in Somalia and Pakistan, and not especially white, and a lot of them are women and girls. And Barack Obama operates a machinery that kills these people at a ferocious clip. This was wrong during the Bush years and it is wrong now. Loomis gives every indication of wanting to rule these men and women of color, modest means, and oh-so-convenient distance out of the moral calculus.

This is completely absurd. Yes, voting is about, in part, a moral calculus. But to quote djw,

The moral purpose of democracy is not to keep my hands clean and feel good about myself, no matter how much politicians and other demagogues claim otherwise. The moral purpose of democracy is the reduction of abusive power in the world. Unfortunately there’s a lot of it, and democracy’s pretty clearly an insufficient tool to address it, but that’s no reason not to use the tool, when and where you can.

Indeed. I’m not saying bombing Pakistanis doesn’t matter. I’m saying that basing a vote ONLY on that and its related issues of civil liberties a) completely ignores the very real difference between Obama and Romney on a huge host of issues that affect the poor in this country and b) shows a very real sense of privilege by those making that argument because they are personally far removed from the reality of being a person of color or poor in this country. That’s great that people are highlighting this issue. But many of those who do so also almost always ignore or trivialize internal issues that the poor and people of color face.

It’s not that we should ignore the killing of Yemenis by drones. The problem is that AMERICANS LIKE KILLING BROWN PEOPLE OVERSEAS IF THERE’S NO COST TO THEM. Sorry for the caps but it’s important to get that point across. The problem of drones and civil liberties and human rights is that Americans don’t care about these issues. It’s not about Obama or Romney, not about the Democratic or Republican parties. It’s that there is a bipartisan consensus in this country, supported by a majority of voters in both parties, that using drones to bomb Afghani wedding parties is completely OK.

That’s completely messed up. But there’s nothing I can do about that with my vote. There are other issues where I wish greater differences separated the parties. Agricultural policy, defense spending, etc. But on these issues, I have to accept that I sit in a deep minority here. I could file a protest vote but that’s pure narcissism unless one is truly committed to building party structures that would transform American politics.

However, there are very real differences between the two parties and their candidates on a whole host of issues where my vote might matter. Abortion rights. Gay rights. Environmental protection. Labor rights. Access to voting. Etc. It is on these issues that we have to make our choices. The election is still close and every vote matters, both up and down ticket. Presumably, if you think that you need to vote for Gary Johnson in order to protest drone killing, you want others to do so as well. And doing so over an Obama vote both gives a half vote to Romney and suggests that you are fine with voting for a candidate who would eviscerate the social system of this country if, god forbid, he was actually elected. That is pretty reprehensible.

If either major party offered a platform opposed to killing Pakistanis through the air, that would be great. Instead, we face a choice between someone who has continued the terrible policies of his predecessor and someone who is openly campaigning to kill even more brown people. So even on this issue, there is a slight difference.

Given the reality of American life, I can either make myself feel morally clean, vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson and effectively give 0.5 votes to Mitt Romney, a man who would destroy the rights of poor people in this country while make the life of poor people around the world even worse. Or I can swallow my pride, vote for Obama, and work to change the Democratic Party and political life in this country so we can get to a point where we don’t have a bipartisan consensus that killing random Muslims is actually a good thing.

Comments (198)

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  1. DrDick says:

    I also think that it is important to note that based on the available evidence Romney would be far worse (he actively advocates attacking Iran for instance) on these same issues where Obama fails. It is not like not voting for Obama is a neutral act in this regard. The political reality is that this is still a close election and not voting for Obama increases the probability that Romney will win. Doing do would potentially make the situation worse and do nothing to move the Overton window on these issues.

    • Steph says:

      That was my immediate thought. And starting a war with Iran — as Romney is more likely to do, especially if we actually take his rhetoric and advisers seriously, as we should — helps how?

      Also, even apart from the numerous other foreign policy issues where Romney seems likely to make things worse, it’s not “ruling out of the moral calculus” to consider that the objections to killings abroad hardly seem a good reason to help Romney be elected.

    • Sherm says:

      Exactly. Even if a person is willing to ignore the numerous obvious distinctions between the two candidates due to the importance he or she places on the drone killings, there is absolutely no reason to suspect that a Romney administration will be better on this issue. If Romney had vowed to stop the drone attacks, I could respect the decision to take a moral stand and to abstain voting for Obama on this issue, notwithstanding the other real differences between the two men. The only reason why a person would risk a Romney administration over this one issue where there is absolutely no reason to believe that Romney will be better on this issue is to prove his or her alleged moral superiority to his or herself.

    • djw says:

      I also think that it is important to note that based on the available evidence Romney would be far worse

      Yes, and that’s what makes the Henley line of reasoning so appalling. If you use the drone wars or something similar to make a big pious display of why you “can’t” bring yourself to vote for Obama, you are using the victims of this violence as a prop for your own ritual display of moral purity, while contributing to the creation of a political order that’s actually likely to be worse for those people. That’s the precise opposite of behaving morally, and we shouldn’t cede of inch of moral high ground to that kind of nonsense.

      • david mizner says:

        Oh spare me:

        you are using the victims of this violence as a prop for your own ritual display of moral purity

      • BrianM says:

        While slagging Henley is apparently great fun, it might be worth pointing out that he says, in the very piece quoted, that he’s voting for the lesser of two evils. For the same (“drones are bad, but…”) reasons you’re giving. Perhaps you could find the Great Satan somewhere else?

    • david mizner says:

      Obama’s been atrocious in foreign policy but ironically that’s perhaps is the best reason to vote for him.

      Obama would be more likely to succeed in pushing through a Grand Bargain that would cut SS and Medicare and go a long way toward unraveling the New Deal. That, alone, is not enough to lose my vote, but there it is. The man is a threat to liberalism. Eyes wide open.

  2. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    I was going to write this in the other thread, but I’ll write it here: THE FACT THAT AMERICANS LIKE KILLING BROWN PEOPLE ABROAD IF THERE’S NO COST TO THEM IS NOT OK.

    I’m completely on board the notion that this is not a reason to let Romney win the presidency, that he’d be worse, that heightening the contradictions is nonsense, that not participating in the election will not lead the system to collapse, etc.

    But moral outrages are no less outrageous because they are durable and hard to change.

    If we cannot change Americans countenancing war crimes via electoral politics (alone) we must come up with other, presumably non-electoral strategies to move public opinion.

    And, incidentally, the right has been very good at electing Congressman and Senators who hold views far to the right of the public on many issues by running on other issues. There’s no reason in the world we cannot do the same thing on the left with peace candidates for Congress and, in some cases, even the Senate.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Of course it’s not OK. But is that the only issue? What about labor? What about abortion access? What about environmental issues? What about a huge host of other issues? You have to deal with this argument–are you going to prioritize the bipartisan killing of Pakistanis, as awful as that is, over all these other issues combined? If so, the moral clarity of voting for not-Obama becomes awfully opaque.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        Not saying you specifically, but those making your arguments and then deciding they can’t vote for Obama.

        • jbob says:

          And why, exactly, is caring about the killing BY OUR GOVERNMENT of thousands of poor people in other countries a “pet” issue but caring about our government’s treatment of poor people here such a more important issue? You clearly don’t care about the US killing of poor foreigners, and you regard it as some elitist issue that doesn’t have any real world implications. I find that appalling.

          By the way, I happen to agree that withholding one’s vote from Obama on this ground is not worth it. I think that the benefits, including the long term potential to put this issue in play in political terms, are not likely to be significant and the short term harm on other issues is too great to justify such abstention. But I am deeply demoralized by the scorn you and the other LGMers have shown for those who express reluctance on this ground. You say killing and wounding thousands of truly disempowered people is “not OK” but apparently it pales in comparison with the economic woes of the American poor. Now I’m not only depressed that we are killing and maiming countless people abroad, but also that even supposedly progressive people who supposedly care about the powerless think little of the commission of large scale atrocities beyond that it is “not OK.”

          Also, I applaud your effort to change the Democratic party from within on its foreign policy (I haven’t seen you post on the issue here, but I trust you have been carrying the struggle forward in more private ways), but as others have pointed out, that strategy is not working. Since Obama has taken office, the pressure to end human rights abuses has eased alarmingly. Electing democrats and then mildly disagreeing with them on war and civil liberties issues does not work.

          Like I said, I for one am not prepared to stop voting for Democrats, but the reason has nothing to do with the irrelevance of this “pet” issue in comparison to other issues or my confidence that we can “work to change” the party even as we impose no cost on it whatsoever for doing unspeakably awful things.

          • All that time typing, when all you needed was the first paragraph to demonstrate that you’ve missed the point.

          • Erik Loomis says:

            It’s not a non-issue. It’s that both parties are going to do it because Americans like killing brown people. But both parties don’t have the same positions on the poor in this nation. So I do what I can.

            • jbob says:

              And the point being made is that so long as both parties do it, neither party will get [X's] vote. This is a bad approach only if either (1) the issue is not sufficiently important, or (2) abstention is not likely to move the needle on the issue sufficiently in the long term to warrant bad policies on other issues (such as domestic poverty) in the short and medium term.

              You focus on (1) (although you do assert that the short term consequences of abstention are bad, which nobody disputes), and that is sad.

              • Erik Loomis says:

                Fine, neither party gets your vote, no one in either party gives a shit. You feel morally pure but do nothing to accomplish change.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  You guys argue over and over again that leftists sitting out elections or voting against Democratic candidates can never effect change, but I see no evidence that this is true. There are plenty of elections where candidates of both parties have been forced to move towards their base. And Obama’s ascendency itself is something that wouldn’t have happened were it not for Gore’s loss in 2000. We’d still be living under the theory that the only Democrats that could be elected nationally were conservative white southerners.

                  It’s entirely because the Democratic Party knows it can take much of the left for granted that it continually gives it the finger.

              • You’re leaving out: (3) one of the parties is substantially and proudly worse than the other on the issue. Which, bad as the Democrats may be, is exactly what Republicans are in the real world.

                • Cheap Wino says:

                  Not to mention substantially worse on a whole host of other issues that have a discernible moral effect. Why eliminate that fact from the moral calculus going on with the drone issue?

                • Why?

                  Because the goal of people who argue this is not to reduce the sum total of evil in the world.

                  It is to express themselves and feel something.

                • Cheap Wino says:

                  It is to express themselves and feel something.

                  And yet they bristle when confronted with this.

                • I’ve seen some of the more honest ones throw up the Rosa Luxembourg quote: “I don’t want to be part of your revolution if I can’t dance.”

                  I’m a grey, dour sort of person, so I don’t approve of dancing, but I can sort of respect that viewpoint.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  “I don’t want to be part of your revolution if I can’t dance.”

                  That was Emma Goldman, not Rosa Luxembourg. Please report to a May 4 Farm immediately.

            • I think this cedes too much. It’s not that it doesn’t matter or that it isn’t wrong, it’s that:

              A.) The purity trolls don’t have any ideas for an effective strategy to change things.

              B.) The strategy they do have, electing the greater of two evils, is only going to make the problem worse!

              That last one is the big one in determining why Obamneyism has no value whatsoever. At least the people who believed in Gush-Borism could maybe plausibly aruge that they were duped by Bush’s strategy of disingenuously claiming to support a lot of the same policies that Gore supported back in 2000. This time, however, Romney is running around the country explicitly promising to start more wars and kill more poor foreign brown people than Obama will!

              • jbob says:

                Just because one party is better than the other does not mean that it is good enough to get a pass. As I’ve said, I don’t consider abstain from the vote to be a good way to pressure the Democratic party on this set of issues, at least not at this time (and I voted for Gore, so I didn’t think that about any of the issues liberals were upset about in 2000, either). But the objection should not be that they are “pet” issues that only self-congratulatory well-heeled elitists would care about. These issues are as important as other issues affecting the most powerless. Many of us bristle at the dismissive attitude on display here.

                • It’s not about their relative importance as issues, it’s about the undeniable fact that people like CF and GG a) aren’t actually doing anything to make the situation better, b) that they would, in fact, be making the situation far worse through their preferred course of action, and c) that at least in the case of CF he’s doing so for the cause of prioritizing his own sense of moral purity over any sort of rational calculation for the broader human effects of the outcome.

                • The level of human suffering that accrues from the sum total of all of the drone strikes that have been carried out in the past four years is a fraction of that experienced in a day from poverty in the United States.

                  How many hours do you think it takes for the same number of Americans to die from poverty-related causes as the sum total of all of the deaths from drone strikes ever? 24? 48? 36? And that’s setting aside the other half of the ledger, the net humanitarian gain that accrues from no more Bali bombings.

                  So yes, this is a boutique issue. Even if you want to pretend that decimating al Qaeda has had no benefit whatsoever, we’re still talking about small numbers next to much, much bigger numbers.

                • empty says:

                  the undeniable fact that people like CF and GG a) aren’t actually doing anything to make the situation better

                  Undeniable fact. Wow.
                  I would think prominent columnists repeatedly pointing out the evil being done in our name helps to make people more aware of the evil and those carrying it out, and helps develop the consensus necessary to make the situation better.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        I’m with you on the moral clarity notion of voting, Erik (as I think you know).

        I also disagree with you (as you also know) on how voters in non-battleground states should vote…but I don’t think, even there, voters ought to vote in order to “keep their hands clean.” Moral purity is, and always will be, a stupid reason to vote, in part because it’s basically impossible to find moral purity in this world. It’s especially stupid if it leads progressives to vote for someone like Gary Johnson who has appalling views on other things, like welfare policy. Where’s the purity there? In my view, in non-battleground states, voters should vote for whichever candidate they feel is best across the board, whether or not that candidate has a chance of winning the election. Obama’s appalling record on civil liberties and war and peace issues should absolutely be part of this consideration.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          Let me add: Given the appalling lack of attention that Obama’s war policies have been given, it’s highly unlikely that a protest vote for Gary Johnson (or Mitt Romney or whomever) will be read as a protest about these issues. I’m all in favor of bringing more attention to these issues. But not voting for Obama is not a very effective way of doing so. This is one of the problems with moral clarity as a goal of voting: votes are not easy to read in such ways. A vote for Gary Johnson, say, seems more clearly to the casual observer to be an endorsement of libertarian economics.

          Again, at least in my view, this is not an argument against voting for someone other than Obama in a non-battleground state. It’s simply saying that if your goal is to draw attention to this specific set of issues, there are many, better, non-electoral ways of doing so.

          • DrDick says:

            It is quite likely that any protest vote for any third party candidate will simply be completely ignored by the political establishment, exactly as they have been for the past 40 years that I have been voting.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              Absolutely. But it’s equally likely that my Oklahoma Obama vote will be completely ignored by the political establishment. What matters to the political establishment is votes in battleground states. Obama may actually do better in Oklahoma in 2012 than he did in 2008 (a military hero from the southwest like John McCain was a perfect candidate for this state; a Mormon former pseudo-moderate from New England less so). But will anyone care? Of course not.

              I think most voters in this election find themselves with votes that won’t matter much, either in terms of outcome or attention. So we might as well cast them for the best candidate on the ballot. Period.

              • There is no such thing as a non-battleground state.

                Not voting for Obama in Oklahoma, Kansas, Alabama, etc., means that these areas will continue to be viewed as non-battleground states where the minority of voters can be safely ignored, where the Democratic party will not “waste” money or other resources to aid local candidates or shift discussions, where Republicans will feel empowered to continue building their New Confederacy.

                There is a political battle going on EVERYWHERE, and while voting in the minority isn’t necessarily fun, it still should count for something. And people in “safe” states who would throw away votes need to remember that polling is a social science.

                • Joe says:

                  If 10% of the minority of Dems in let’s say Utah vote Green, I’m not sure what that net problem is. They still are voting left & can be coalition efforts help Dems in various ways.

                  “Battleground” state means a state that currently is w/i some reasonable margin of error. It doesn’t mean that Dems should do nothing in that state. Your reminder is fine but there is some wordplay there too.

                • John says:

                  The two major political parties are already coalitions. Voting for a third party in the United States is basically about rejecting the logic of coalition politics.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  Tell that to both major parties and their candidates. Neither is running a fifty-state election campaign. And if either did, it would probably lose.

                  There’s plenty of magical thinking on the part of third-party advocates and such thinking shouldn’t be excused.

                  But the notion that every state is a battleground state is a piece of magical thinking on the part of partisan purists of the two major parties. Those whose job it is to actually elect presidential candidates for these parties understand its emptiness.

                • It’s true that the major candidates aren’t running “50-state campaigns.” They have limited resources and have to be thinking strategically. But those days are numbered: Electoral College reform is coming, whether through the current Majority Vote proposal or some alternative, it’s just not sustainable. Districting Reform is coming: gerrymandering and partisan self-protection are not sustainable or fair. The conventional map is an anti-democratic (and anti-Democratic) atrocity, a tradition whose days are justifiably numbered.

                  Am I a partisan stalwart? Hardly. Am I well-represented by the Democratic Party as it’s currently constituted? Well, no, but at least I don’t feel imminently threatened by Democratic politicians and policies. Is there a chance to move the Democratic party to the left? Yes, and I’m in for that, but not if it keeps losing ground and moving right.

                • empty says:

                  So, voting D in Nebraska is important because it may shift the needle somewhere down the road, but it is stupid to vote for a third party candidate because it won’t immediately effect the electoral calculus. Clear. So clear.

              • DrDick says:

                I am a bit ambivalent about this argument regarding largely uncontested states. Certainly, your voting choices have less impact than those of someone in a battle ground state. On the other hand, Ahistorically also makes some good points. To my mind, the best candidate is the least bad candidate with a realistic chance of winning. Otherwise, you might as well just stay home on election day.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  But presidential voters are, quite literally, voting for their state’s electors.

                  In Oklahoma, the least bad candidate with a realistic chance of winning is Mitt Romney. I nonetheless plan to vote symbolically for Barack Obama.

                  No amount of handwaving changes this fact.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  And if you insist on irrationally acting as if the presidential election were a national, popular vote, does the vote-for-the-least-bad-candidate-with-a-realistic-chance-of-winning rule apply to obvious landslides? Should conservative Republicans have voted for LBJ in ’64 and liberal Democrats for Nixon in ’72 because each was the least bad candidate with a realistic chance of winning?

        • Ed says:

          In my view, in non-battleground states, voters should vote for whichever candidate they feel is best across the board, whether or not that candidate has a chance of winning the election. Obama’s appalling record on civil liberties and war and peace issues should absolutely be part of this consideration.

          This.

    • Ed says:

      One of Obama’s earliest moves in power was to ramp up the drone program – I remember reading he conducted more attacks in about a year than Bush had in his entire term. It’s possible, even likely, that Bush would also have relied increasingly on drones (and it’s likely that Romney would continue along the path set by Obama). But right now the amped-up drone program is a Democratic baby and specifically Obama’s.

  3. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Given the reality of American life, I can either make myself feel morally clean, vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson and effectively give 0.5 votes to Mitt Romney, a man who would destroy the rights of poor people in this country while make the life of poor people around the world even worse.

    We do not elect the President by national popular vote. You know this. Stop writing as if we do. You seem to care much, much more about my Obama vote in Oklahoma (which, as I’ve said before, he will receive, in part because only he and Romney are on the ballot) than Obama does. The Obama campaign doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Oklahoma…nor should they.

    • Malaclypse says:

      We do not elect the President by national popular vote. You know this.

      This. Dude, you live in Rhode Island. Nate Silver has Obama up by 27.5% there, with Romney having a 0.00% chance of winning.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        I’m not leaving anything to chance.

      • Jeffrey Beaumont says:

        So you people are for differential moral calculus on voting? In a battleground state, hold your nose and vote for Obama, but in a run away state, embrace narcissism? Great argument. I think this is about letting holier-than-though contrarian liberals feel superior to their regular liberal neighbors. The very definition of a narcissistic vote.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          So what’s your argument, Jeffrey? That voters in very red (or very blue) states ought, out of solidarity with voters in battleground states, to pretend that their votes matter in ways that they don’t?

  4. I think you actually can do something about drone strikes with your vote: help elect the candidate more likely to do so with more care, while holding his or her nose, and more likely to end it when it’s no longer effective militarily.

    As regrettable as Obama’s current policy might be, it probably includes more thought on moral considerations with respect to killing innocents than any GOP leader would.

    Romney would almost certainly follow a more scorched earth, neoconservative “Pam Geller” supported policy, whatever his views on the “value of human life.” Since voting in protest for a candidate that can’t win and you don’t agree with on other matters might help elect Romney and put such a policy in place, it makes sense to vote for Obama, even if this is the “warstopper” issue you care about.

    • Janastas359 says:

      This.

      All too often Obama critics act as though he uses military force because he maliciously enjoys killing brown people. There is every indication that he uses the tools provided to him because of the circumstances he found himself in, inheriting two middle east wars. He’s also the candidate advocating withdrawing from those wars, and presumably will curb the use of force when the conflicts are over.

      So, vote for that guy, or vote for the guy who is in favor of starting even more war? The guy who wants more killing, for dubious reasons? As I said in the other thread, if my vote is meant to help minimize human suffering in the world, I think the answer is pretty clear.

  5. DivGuy says:

    I’m totally with the LGM-blogger consensus on the ethics of voting.

    However, I think this post raises some important concerns. In the 525944 minutes per year during which we are not in the voting booth, our responsibility is not to vote for the lesser of two evils. It’s to work to make the world less evil, to fight against powers of domination in djw’s langauge.

    Given that, are five successive posts on the LGM front page attacking Naderites the best use of a blog? Shouldn’t there be at least a few posts about the drone war and the awful, evil, wrongful killing of innocent Pakistanis and Afghanis and Yemenis? About the extent of suffering caused by Barack Obama and his military policies?

    I dunno. This set of posts is starting to rub me the wrong way, even though I agree with pretty much everything in it.

    • Julian says:

      I see your point, but arguing about the very choice of topic seems to me like an infinitely recursive problem. Shouldn’t you be out working for Medecins Sans Frontiers right now instead of posting feeble rebukes to this same blog? Shouldn’t I?

    • Bexley says:

      “Now I respect my opponent. I think he’s a good man but, quite frankly, I agree with everything he just said”

    • rea says:

      Given that, are five successive posts on the LGM front page attacking Naderites the best use of a blog?
      There are 8 LGM bloggers. When several of them post on the same topic, this will result in multiple posts on the same topic.

    • DrDick says:

      The best use of the blog is to say what the proprietors want to say. There are several different bloggers who have weighed in on this issue and even if it were only one making multiple posts, that would be alright. If you are not interested in the topic, do not read the post (which is what I do with most of the sports posts).

    • djw says:

      are five successive posts on the LGM front page attacking Naderites the best use of a blog?

      Normally I’d reply to the “please write about what I want you to write about” style of comment with some serious snark, but Divguy is a valued reader and commenter in good standing, so I’ll instead note that anyone reading this blog for a while has probably noticed that we bloggers use it to have an ongoing conversation with each other, as well as readers/the general public. About 80% of the posts I write these days are triggered by an idea or comment I read here from another post. So a bunch of posts in a row about similar topics shouldn’t be taken to indicate the supreme importance of the topic, necessarily, that’s a consequence of the group blog as conversation model.

    • Murc says:

      I’ve always gotten the impression that most our hosts are united in their belief that progressives and the left in general ought to have an accurate, dare I even say reality-based, view of the political landscape BEFORE they adopt strategies for changing it.

      You can’t effectively oppose our various shadow wars if a bunch of your fellow travelers think the best way to do so is voting for Gary Johnson and have constructed an elaborate, and very wrong, intellectual framework to support that decision.

      I say this as someone who often comes to very different conclusions as to moral responsibility/culpability as said hosts. Focusing on Naderites makes sense if your goal is get everyone on the same page so you can move towards effective politics in unison.

  6. Davis X. Machina says:

    I wonder why the Republic split, and damn near destroyed itself over slavery, and not over internal improvements or protective tariffs.

    Must have something to do with the relative importance of slavery on the one hand, and protective tariffs, or internal improvements on the other, with the political nation of mid-19th century America.

    Just a wild-ass guess.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      That’s a very superficial historical analysis right there.

      Yes, it split over slavery–but the equivalent here is the Republicans deciding to secede from the nation because they read a few liberal blogs complaining about their policies and decided the threat was too great to remain in the nation. The abolitionists did not even control the Republican Party in 1860 or anything close to it. There was widespread opposition to the spread of slavery into the territories but a majority of Republicans absolutely did not believe in immediately emancipation.

      Moreover, those abolitionists realized that the Liberty Party and the Free Soil Party and other 3rd party challenges weren’t actually accomplishing anything and thus entered the Republican Party, however grudgingly. Which should provide a lesson here.

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        When the political nation wants the drones to stop, they will stop. But not until.

        And moving the political nation in that direction is exactly what everyone’s striving manfully to not-do.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Then go become involved in the local Democratic Party or local political groups to move the Democratic Party toward opposing the use of drones. Maybe you do this, I don’t know. But voting for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson is a totally meaningless approach to the problem.

          • Davis X. Machina says:

            I’m a card-carrying DSA-er and a member of the town and county Democratic committee, and state convention delegate.

            I’ve never seen a lesser evil I wasn’t prepared to vote for.

  7. Josh G. says:

    The problem is that AMERICANS LIKE KILLING BROWN PEOPLE OVERSEAS IF THERE’S NO COST TO THEM.

    Will Americans like it as much when China and Russia build drones, and start using them to murder dissidents overseas?
    What about when the technology trickles down to the Arab world, and anyone who mouths off about Muhammad gets blown up by a Wahhabi drone?
    It’s foolish to think we are going to have a monopoly on this technology forever. It isn’t even that difficult to understand from an engineering perspective. It will be available to competing great powers, then lesser powers, then terrorist groups and even private citizens. And every legal and moral precedent we have set in our foolish hubris will come back to bite us on the ass.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Of course they won’t like it. But our blind faith in technology consistently leads us to think we have advantages that are long-term. See the belief it would take the Soviets 10-20 years to build a nuclear bomb. And then a hydrogen bomb.

    • Dave S. says:

      The idea that the above-named future drone users would be constrained by the lack of legal and moral precedents is laughable.

    • ajay says:

      Will Americans like it as much when China and Russia build drones, and start using them to murder dissidents overseas?
      What about when the technology trickles down to the Arab world, and anyone who mouths off about Muhammad gets blown up by a Wahhabi drone?

      Russians, etc seem quite capable of murdering dissidents by other means without the use of drones. Polonium, dioxin, pushing them down stairwells, suicide bombs, bullets etc.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        Russians are very old-school on these things.

        • spud says:

          Besides, drones are not exactly high technology. They are used because they are infinitely cheaper and more expendable than piloted aircraft.

          Worrying about a “drone” gap is just plain silly. Pretty much any nation can build them. If you give an RC enthusiast access to hellfire missiles and a satellite communications system you can have Predators being built in someone’s backyard.

          Its just a matter of who has the means to control them with something more reliable than hand held radio signals.

          • ajay says:

            It’s also a case of who can defend against them. Drones, as they currently exist, are really easy targets for anyone with a functioning air defence setup. They’re slow, they fly low and they don’t evade. Salman Rushdie doesn’t have to worry about Iranian drones blowing up the Groucho Club; the RAF would be able to stop them.

            Now, this could be a problem for the US, because, as we all found out, the US doesn’t have a functioning air defence setup – or didn’t on 9/11 anyway. But it might have one by now, I don’t know.

        • J. Otto Pohl says:

          The Russians used laser guided missiles to murder Dzhokhar Dudaev after military aircraft locked onto his location from the signal of his satellite phone. That is pretty sophisticated and that was in 1996. So the Russians like high tech assassinations too.

      • John says:

        Which brings up the basic point that I don’t understand why people get so worked up about drones per se. There are lots of ways to kill people, and either the killing is justified or it isn’t. The method used to do the killing seems totally irrelevant to me.

        • Lyanna says:

          This.

          I oppose the drone strikes. But if anything, drone strikes seem less evil to me than other methods of warfare: fewer people dead, and a greater likelihood of those dead people being legitimate targets.

          I believe the drone strikes cause special outrage for two reasons, one legitimate and one less so: (1) they’re connected to the special executive powers to assassinate without oversight that have been claimed by Obama (which, yeah, is unconscionable, but no more so than any other American president), and (2) the notion that drone strikes represent warfare without cost to us. We are more likely to avoid war if some of us must die, so the argument goes.

          IMO, that’s nonsense. I don’t think dead American volunteer soldiers actually result in fewer wars.

        • david mizner says:

          4 points:

          1) Drones do present their own set of ethical, moral, and strategic problems. Briefly: because they are arguably more precise, because “we’ have no skin in the game, we are more likely to use them. Drones may be “better” than conventional weapons, but we would not be waging conventional bombing campaigns in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan…

          2) Drone warfare is war, and war is hell. Kills and maims civilians, terrorizes entire populations. Collective punishment. Is it less brutal than some things in life (and death)? Maybe, but so what?

          3)It’s not just the drones but the targeted killing program and the way it’s been run: in total secrecy and without sufficient concern for civilians and in other ways that likely violate international law.

          4) Both opponents and defenders have seized on drones. Opponents because they’re a potent, creepy aspect of American wars and defenders because it’s a way of minimizing American wars, making essentially the same point you did — so what if it’s a robot, and it’s actually more humane — do you people realize what Truman did, etc? But drones are just one aspect of our new way of war — the new way being secret dirty wars that rely on covert ops and targeted killing. That’s the real issue here, the real story of the Obama years: undeclared unaccountable warfare, for which we now have Special Ops in like 70 countries.

          Charles Pierce had a good column a while back about covert wars, drawing on U.S. history in Central America,
          in which he said, I paraphrase, that you can argue if you must that covert wars are necessary but sooner or later you end up with dead nuns.

          • Malaclypse says:

            the new way being secret dirty wars that rely on covert ops and targeted killing.

            This is something new? Someone should perhaps tell Mohammad Mosaddegh, Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, Ngô Đình Diệm, and Salvador Allende, to name just a few.

        • empty says:

          People who oppose drone strikes are not just opposing the technology. I would bet most all of them would be just as opposed to other ways of slaughtering innocents collateral damage. But, this is a useful diversionary tactic. Carry on.

          • Perhaps they should avoid phrasing their complaints as “the drone war” or similar misleading phrases, then, and actually put together some kind of meaningful, accurate, and factually-based position, instead of just grabbing the nearest term they’ve decided packs emotional punch.

            Wait, I think I see the problem…

          • Cody says:

            Well, yes. This is true, but the problem is people are upset about the “drone war”. They weren’t saying “I wish Obama caused less collateral damage in asymmetric warfare!”

            If they did, we’d all point out how much collateral damage there was during Bush’s term. Instead, they limit it to the Drone War(I feel like I’m talking about Star Wars here) in order to paint Obama in a hawkish light.

            I’d take targeted drone strikes over military operations involving ground troops every day.

    • Murc says:

      This is a policy argument, tho.

      The disease of nationalism doesn’t lead people down the path you outline. It leads them down the path of “Fuck yeah, America. Of course its not okay for Russia and China and the rag-heads to do what we do, ‘coz they’re not America. We’re SPECIAL.”

      (Other countries, of course, substitute the appropriate names and epithets where appropriate.)

      As a POLITICAL argument, “we won’t like it when the worm turns” has never been a big winner.

  8. david mizner says:

    Virtually all of us agree there’s a line — that a Democratic president could become so monstrous we wouldn’t vote for him. We just differ on what the line is (or what lines Obama has, in fact, crossed.) So this is less an argument about the ethics-purpose of voting than one about President Obama, who, I believe the evidence shows, isn’t uniquely horrific. Given all this, it’s be nice if we dispensed with the “morally clean” nonsense.

    • tt says:

      There’s no “line.” If the choice is Hitler or aliens who want to exterminate life on Earth, you vote Hitler, or you are in part responsible for every death that could have been avoided. Favoring purity over the lives of actual human beings is never morally respectable.

      • Yeah, this. You fight with the lesser evil until the greater evil has been beaten, then you fight against the lesser evil.

      • Liam says:

        This. The thing thst never made sense to me about the argument “the lesser of two evils is still evil” is: why not vote”less evil”, given the choice? Who is pro-”more evil”? You the viewer are, if you won’t support the less evil choice.

      • david mizner says:

        Whom would you vote for George Bush II, Mitt Romney, or Jill Stein?

        • This is the most Mizner post in the history of LGM.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          You seem to be implying that Romney and Bush II are meaningfully different. Since I don’t share that delusion, I’d vote Stein, thanks.

          • Exactly, there are two obvious flaws with the point Mizner thinks he’s making:

            1. Romney and Dubya actually are virtually indistinguishable, which is not the case with Obama and Romney even on the issues on which Obama isn’t good from a progressive standpoint.

            2. Given a choice between just these three candidates, Stein would almost certainly be a viable candidate as the only representative of the left.

            • david mizner says:

              Exactly my point. What you (and I) are actually objecting to is the notion that Obama is so horrible one shouldn’t vote him, not to the general notion that a Democratic pol could be so horrible one shouldn’t vote for him.

              • Well that general point is just useless. The point at which they become unsupportable is the point at which, like Romney and Bush, there’s no meaningful difference between them at all> Not the point at which you ignore the vast differences between them simply because the center-left candidate nominally disagrees with you on one or two issues you place disproportionate weight on (and on which the GOP candidate is markedly worse!)

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Well of course. If it were actually the case that major parties were indistinguishable, then you could vote for the third party. Nobody has ever claimed otherwise.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Whether the two parties are indistinguishable depends on your priorities. And this is the point you never admit.

                  You have a value set that cares a lot about taxation and spending, social welfare programs, abortion rights, etc. All of which are legitimate concerns.

                  Other people have different value sets. And people who have different value sets than you do are not necessarily going to be impressed with all the differences between the parties on things they don’t care as much about as you do.

                  This whole issue comes up because several LGM bloggers are apparently too politically naive to understand the actual beliefs of their political enemies on the left. And the fact they have this fatal ignorance while simultaneously believing that THEY are the knowledgeable and brilliant and erudite ones is particularly egregious.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Perhaps more interestingly, who would I vote for Romney or Bush II?

          Scott and others say they are indistinguishable and I think compared to e.g., Obama, there’s little to choose from. I might pick Romney over Bush because I think Romney’s a bit brighter and has more awareness and thus might be less likely to let truly insane advisors run amuck. But who knows.

        • John says:

          But in Harry Turtledove the aliens aren’t actually threatening to exterminate all life on earth, iirc. They just want to conquer the earth and rule it, no?

      • Lyanna says:

        Of course there’s a line. It appears when we have no good reason to think voting for Hitler would be effective at staving off the aliens.

        None of this applies to Obama vs. Romney, though–as Mizner admits below.

  9. Icarus Wright says:

    djw’s wonderfully insightful sentiment aside, I’m curious as to whether you even acknowledge the possibility of a “dealbreaker.”

    Pragmatism versus ideology…

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Theoretically, at the point I’m ready to take up armed revolution against the state.

      • Jeffrey Beaumont says:

        Yes, a million times this. This is the key point. Ballots or bullets. Lesser of two evils until there is no lesser evil. And if that is the case, and you arent planning to blow something up, then you are a coward.

      • Dilan Esper says:

        This is a completely arbitrary standard that makes no sense.

        Indeed, why wouldn’t the decision to engage in armed revolution ITSELF be governed by a lesser of two evils approach? I.e., if the armed revolution is unlikely to be successful, and will kill millions and strengthened the forces you oppose, you shouldn’t do it. But then you must go ahead and vote in a way that also props up the evil state? This makes no sense at all. It’s nothing more than a contrived standard designed to force everyone who doesn’t agree with you (and remember, this whole issue is about leftists WHO DON’T AGREE WITH YOU ON IMPORTANT ISSUES) to vote for your preferred candidates anyway.

        • Cody says:

          How does voting “prop the evil state”.

          You’re telling me super-awful people are ruling the country, and they’re going to be upset about low voter turnout? Would it even be reported in this hypothetical? I imagine it’s pretty easy to make CNN just distribute fake turnout numbers.

          Also, engaging in “Armed revolution” doesn’t require a civil war. One can be armed and revolting in much more subtle ways.

          No one in this thread cares about what issues you choose to vote on. But if you choose to help Romney get elected because you don’t approve of Obama’s less-dangerous civil liberties history, then you’re being stupid.

          You might as well go out on the internet and say you won’t vote for Obama because you dislike how his hair is graying in patches, but since Romney’s isn’t it’s cool. Then proceed to argue about how it’s silly for us to be upset about your vote for Romney based on a stupid singular reason. We’ll tell you electing Romney will probably kill thousands, you’ll say our issues aren’t more important than your issue.

  10. J.W. Hamner says:

    Libertarians are caricatured as selfish children for the exact reasons we see on display here. Henley and Friesdorf are callously disregarding the welfare of millions of Americans not because they think a vote for Gary Johnson will protect Somalis from drone attacks, but because it will make them feel better about their ideological purity. Maybe Romney gets elected and the ACA gets repealed, reproductive freedom is curtailed, the Supreme Court is turned into a Rush Limbaugh affiliate, drone attacks don’t slacken one bit, and we start a new war against Iran… but at least they’ll be able to give each other high fives how unwilling they were to compromise on key principles!

    Maybe I’m wrong and they have some sort of a plan on how a Romney presidency leads to curtailing of drone attacks and a resurgence of civil liberty protections… but I just don’t get how taking your voting ball and going home is supposed to effect change for the better.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Let’s not forget Glenn Greenwald, who is in extreme outrage mode today that anyone is attacking Friedersdorf.

    • Jim Henley says:

      I think the most amusing thing about this specific comment – and the post itself – is that I came right out and said I’m making the same voting choice as Erik Loomis – and even making it for many of the same reasons” – the needs of the domestic poor, the rights of women, LGBTQ equality, and generalizing my own self-interest in preserving PPACA to the interests of much more vulnerable people than me.

      • J.W. Hamner says:

        I apologize for implying you were ready to cast a protest vote for Gary Johnson… I took your endorsement of Friesdorf’s position as being “not wrong” as less qualified support than you truly offered. However since a Romney administration will certainly hurt the “not privileged white males” population locally, as well as continue to kill poor Muslims at a “ferocious clip” (with the possible addition of more wars!)… I’m still having trouble understanding how Friesdorf’s position works out as “not wrong” and how it’s not an example of a guy at the height of white privilege favoring his own purity of self image over the suffering of others.

        Or perhaps you can lay out to me how a protest vote against Obama saves Somali lives?

        • Jim Henley says:

          Apology accepted. No worries.

          Now, in that piece, my unit of composition was the paragraph. So what I do and don’t mean by “not wrong” depends on the prior and succeeding sentence. I mean that he is not wrong that the drone war writ large is worthy of outrage. What I think we should do with that outrage is much different than what Conor thinks we should do, since he thinks we should not vote for Obama but Gary Johnson and I think we should ACTUALLY I HAVE NO CLUE I WISH I DID. But “vote for Gary Johnson instead” is not on my list of options.

          The piece was really a critic of Erik Loomis’s original rejoinder to Conor, which needed to be much less lazy to justify its high-handedness, just as this one needs fewer thesis statements “Henley is especially egregious” and more supporting sentences. (“Here’s a thing Henley said that I didn’t misread or omit that is wrong in this way.”)

          Loomis and many of the posters in this thread are acting like very VSPs in their ready resort to hippie-punching. This means, among other things, I have a different view of just who is “preening” in this discussion. Loomis also seems ready to call out every white male discussant’s privilege but his own. I think we do much better in such lines of discussion by starting with ourselves, as I tried to do in the health-care-related post I linked this morning.

  11. Joshua says:

    This is what I keep trying to tell people who feel betrayed by Obama’s foreign policy and want to vote for some third party nobody.

    Yes they are justified in feeling that way. No I don’t like it either. But killing brown people overseas has broad bipartisan support in the US. A huge amount of Republicans and Democrats support it, and that is reflected in campaigns when any step outside of the orthodoxy is meeted with campaign ads about being “weak”, “scared”, “limp-wristed”, etc. If people didn’t support it this stuff wouldn’t work.

    A lot needs to change before Presidents stop blowing up brown people overseas. We need a better Congress but we also need a more informed electorate. This needs to happen outside of the Presidential elections.

    That’s what Republicans do. While progressives have been complaining about Obama, Republicans have been filling up boards of education, primarying every Congressperson and State Senator they don’t like, and making sure everyone from the Mayor to the town dogcatcher hears them.

    • Cody says:

      A huge amount of Republicans and Democrats support it, and that is reflected in campaigns when any step outside of the orthodoxy is meeted with campaign ads about being “weak”, “scared”, “limp-wristed”, etc. If people didn’t support it this stuff wouldn’t work

      I would counter with far less faith in Americans, and suspect they’re all too stupid to know WHY the campaign ad is calling the other candidate “weak” or “scared”.

    • empty says:

      A lot needs to change before Presidents stop blowing up brown people overseas.

      I think he should stop right now.

      I don’t see how the fear of being called “limp wristed” or even of losing the election justifies murder. Or why presidential elections should be excluded from the arenas in which you fight against what is wrong.

  12. Scott Lemieux says:

    I will add only that anybody who thinks they’re morally pure because they’re voting for Gary Johnson is out of their mind.

    • It’s possible that he’s the lesser evil among all the evils that remain when you exclude the greater evils.

      It’s not likely, but it is possible.

    • Anonymous says:

      Unless you’re actually a mind-reader, your preoccupation with the way people feel about themselves (making, in fact, this entire argument about how sanctimonious you can work yourself up over what you appear to believe is the manifestation of other people’s sanctimony) is clouding the issue. Not everyone who disagrees with you is as obsessed with their purity and virtue as you are, and you’re not going to convince third-party folk to see things your way by pretending that their objections are entirely selfish. Yours is the more selfish position; if you’re going to advocate for it, please stop with the hyperbole and hypocrisy. There’s a point at which repeating “dead brown people” over and over again, like its short-hand for some mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy argument you’d rather not fully engage with, begins to make you look as callous as the dudes who are making those “brown” people dead.

      • Cody says:

        Is there a point to your paragraph?

        I’ll take a stab and infer you’re trying to say it’s not of our business why people vote the way they do.

        I’m pretty sure being active in politics is by definition making it your business to determine and influence why people vote the way they do.

        • Dilan Esper says:

          There’s a difference between trying to persuade people to vote a certain way and preening about how superior you are to them because you are more willing to sell out.

          But beyond that, what I really dislike about this whole thing is how people don’t even consider that some people have different worldviews than they do, and that’s behind a lot of the left-liberal splits. Leftism and American liberalism are actually different ideologies, even though they share some political positions. You should no more think that you are entitled to the votes of leftists without doing anything to earn them than you should think that you are entitled to the votes of conservatives. These are people who think that your political beliefs are stupid and evil. Seriously. That’s why they are leftists and not liberals. Treat them as your enemies, or earn their votes. Your choice. But stop pretending that they are just people who agree with you but are too stupid to understand the electoral process the way you do.

  13. mb says:

    I agree completely with the thrust of this post (wow, that sounded dirty.) My personal pet name for the current Supreme Court is the “Nader Court” and I think we should consider the actions of the current Court to be as much Nader’s legacy as seatbelts or any of the other good things he’s done.

    However, I would like you to explain your position that a vote for a third party fantasy candidate like Stein awards half a vote to Romney. Seems to me voting for a 3rd party awards a full vote to whatever major party candidate is running against the major party candidate you would have normally supported.

    If I vote for Stein, Obama will not get 1/2 vote fewer than he would have gotten relative to Romney. He’ll get 1 whole vote fewer.

    • Malaclypse says:

      However, I would like you to explain your position that a vote for a third party fantasy candidate like Stein awards half a vote to Romney. Seems to me voting for a 3rd party awards a full vote to whatever major party candidate is running against the major party candidate you would have normally supported.

      Because voting 3rd-party is mathematically equivalent to not voting.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Because it takes a vote away from the major party candidate you theoretically would have voted for, making it 1 vote easier for Romney (or whatever major party candidate) to win. It’s not the same as voting for the other side, but it makes it easier for the other side to win.

      • mb says:

        That explanation really didn’t answer my question but in preparing my response, I “did the math” and quickly realized that you are mathematically correct. The math shows that if I vote for Stein, Romney gets 1 more vote than he would have relative to Obama but if I vote for Romney, he gets 2 more votes than he would have. Therefore, voting Romney only gets 1/2 the NUMERICAL benefit of my not voting for Obama. However, of course, he would get 100% of the practical benefit.

      • Dilan Esper says:

        Why do you start with the concept that the leftist is going to vote for Obama, so that you are deducting half the vote from Obama?

        You don’t assume a conservative is going to vote for Obama, do you?

        Leftists are A DIFFERENT FRICKING IDEOLOGY from liberals. That’s where this starts. They aren’t just kind of weird liberals. They are people who hate liberals. And that’s why they don’t vote for them.

    • John says:

      Given that Bush’s two Supreme Court appointments came in his second term, and that it’s basically unknowable whether the Republicans would have won in 2004 (although it’s certainly unusual for one party to win four presidential elections in a row), so I don’t see how you can blame Nader for Roberts and Alito.

  14. pathman says:

    We’re sweeping dead Muslims under the rug every day. I just wanted that point clarified. As for what to do with this situation, the idea of armed rebellion is a bit unrealistic. However, massive non-compliance with the state seems more viable. I just have no idea how to get people to do that.

  15. Joe says:

    Rarely Posts comment in one of these threads that push comes to shoves these “brown people” rather Obama over Bush, which is the bottom line theme apparently of these posts.

    So, if this is your issue, it comes off as somewhat patronizing privilege in a fashion to say “I’m doing this for your own good” to vote third party to serve their interests.

    Seriously, btw, if a bunch of “white people” had some international terrorist movement that attacked our country and so forth with the same dynamic present, would we not also use drones? The implication that we are just doing this because “brown people” are involved is unclear to me. Didn’t the Brits do some things to mistreat the Irish? Latin America had various cases of targeting their own people.

    • Murc says:

      We would absolutely be doing things differently if we were engaged against an enemy that couldn’t be categorizes as “faraway brown people.”

      Britain was far more restrained in its actions against the Irish than it ever was in its actions against the Indians, the Malays, and the Kenyans. During WWII, if you were a white non-Jew captured on the western front, your treatment, and the quality of the German prison camp you were sent to, was substantially better than if you were a Russian (read: viewed as a Slav, and thus non-white) captured on the eastern front.

      • ajay says:

        And, famously, the RAF’s Bomber Command was involved in bombing large numbers of Japanese cities to rubble, but it would have been politically impossible for it to have done the same to, say, Dresden or Hamburg.

        Britain was far more restrained in its actions against the Irish than it ever was in its actions against the Indians, the Malays, and the Kenyans.

        If you think the Malayan Emergency was fought against Malays, then… well, wikipedia, for a start.

        • Murc says:

          I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make.

          Bombing the living fuck out of cities wasn’t considered a war crime or even a particularly egregious act at the time. It was a commonplace tactic on all sides during WWII, and in point of fact we were scrupulous in not applying a double standard; no Luftwaffe officer who was otherwise guiltless was stood up at Nuremberg and convicted for his actions during the Battle of Britain while we were pinning medals on bomber crews.

          This in no way undercuts, and, indeed, is only tangentially relevant, to my point that historically, one acts differently in conflicts based on the racial and ethnic attributes of the people involved, and that we would almost certainly be doing so in the War on Terror if it involved a different group of people than brown-skinned Muslims on the other side of the world.

          I concede the point that a lot of the people the brits were fighting against in the Malayan Emergency were ethnic chinese. I, again, don’t see how it undercuts my point.

          • Malaclypse says:

            Bombing the living fuck out of cities wasn’t considered a war crime or even a particularly egregious act at the time.

            I seem to recall a section in The Fog of War where McNamara says that if the US had lost, he expected to be convicted of war crimes over his conduct in the Asian air war.

      • John says:

        The Nazis certainly considered the Slavs to be an inferior race, but they didn’t consider them to be non-White, because, well, Slavs are obviously white (and, physically, pretty close to indistinguishable from Germanic peoples).

        If anything, what the Nazis on the Eastern Front demonstrates is that people are able to devise imaginary racial distinctions if it suits their politics. Note that black POWs on the western front (indisputably racially different from Germans) were treated much better than most Volga German POWs from the Red Army (even by Nazi standards considered to be the same race as the Germans).

        • Lyanna says:

          The Nazis certainly considered the Slavs to be an inferior race, but they didn’t consider them to be non-White, because, well, Slavs are obviously white (and, physically, pretty close to indistinguishable from Germanic peoples).

          Not obviously at all. Not back then. Today, they’re white, but the definition of whiteness generally excluded Slavs back then.

          • DrDick says:

            Certainly they were not in the US, where they became fully white after the war. Even when I was in elementary school in the 50s and 60s pollack jokes and stereotypes similar to those used against blacks were common. I can remember sports commentators saying that they made good linemen, but were not quarterback material.

        • Fiske says:

          “…because, well, Slavs are obviously white”

          Isn’t this really just Scott Brown’s argument?

          (Oops, maybe I’d better be more mindful of Godwin’s Law.)

        • Murc says:

          Being “obviously white” has never stopped people. Ask the Irish.

          Hell, if I recall correctly, Benjamin Franklin didn’t believe anyone who wasn’t specifically a Saxon was white; all other Germanic races, Danes and other Scandinavians, the Irish, Celts, Franks, etc. were not white.

  16. Croyal says:

    Oh, hi. I’m a poor person in the US. I’m not a person of color but I am a woman and disabled. I haven’t paid fed income taxes since Clinton’s second term. I keep hoping things will turn around, but I just keep sliding further down. The past three years have been the worst too. I’m kind of darkly relieved that the chronic medical condition I’ve had since I was 13, and have been too poor to have managed by medical care and medications, will likely kill me before I turn 60 because the idea of growing old while this poor (or poorer, as my prospects currently look) is unutterably terrifying.

    You know, I once complained to Rep. Keith Ellison’s Twitter account that I couldn’t be too happy about the underwhelming job growth under Obama that was being tweeted about from that account because it never was about the kinds of jobs I could get. And you know what the person running that account said to me? Shut up and clap. Well, not exactly those words, but I got the message. But you see, this is how Obama supporters tend to treat us, the real poor, as opposed to the figurative poor in campaign speeches and cheerleading blogs. Our real concerns and our real problems don’t matter–our silent assent to the idea that Obama cares is all that’s wanted from us.

    Yeah, Romney detests people like me, while Obama only is indifferent while being good at pretending he cares. And I admire Obama for his political savvy in that sense. I just wish Obama’s political savvy wasn’t always coupled with his moral cowardice and dishonesty. Yes, it’s politically savvy to just kill people you deem enemies of the US rather than detain them and put the on trial. But it’s also morally abhorrent, possibly a war crime, especially when civilians–including who knows how many children–are killed, And then to pass this off as justice is dishonest in the very least, a crime against humanity in the worst. Obama’s endless, ever-expanding, not-so-secret wars are immoral and are directly resulting in the suffering and deaths of human beings right now, and no amount of pretending to care about the poor will change that. I may be poor, I may be living on the streets in a couple of years, I may die a preventible premature death, but at least I didn’t have to live in fear that an imperial government on the other side of the planet might bomb my neighborhood to hell, killing my neighbors, scarring and crippling my community for generations, destabilizing the world in which I live and calling it justice.

    Vote however you think you should. But DO NOT use poor people like me to justify voting for someone who may very well be a war criminal and who is making not just the US a lot less safer, but the whole world. We poor people aren’t here to assuage your privileged conscience.

    • Southside Red says:

      You’re not the only poor person in America, or even on this board. You speak for nobody but yourself.

    • Janastas359 says:

      I think that it’s a bit of a stretch to go from “A Democratic congressman didn’t appropriately address my through twitter,” to “Obama doesn’t care about poor people!”

    • Cody says:

      I hope you’re excited for the ACA, which depending on your income may well allow you to finally have proper health care.

      You should make sure to vote Republican though, that way you can thank them for not allowing single-payer that would be able to provide you with (most likely) free insurance [this is of course completely dependent on your income level].

  17. Decapitating al Qaeda has been a massive net gain for the world’s Muslims.

    It’s sometimes worth acknowledging the non-American sources of evil and destruction in this world, and even going so far as to do something about them.

  18. Stephen Frug says:

    This is where, for me, the question I asked a few threads ago comes in. It seems to me that if there is *any* issue — abortion or racism or what have you — which would be a dealbreaker for you, then to not to include the terror bombing of Pakistanis among them *is* to devalue it as a moral issues compared to the others. And to heap scorn upon Friedersdorf for making it such an issue, if one does accept other issues as moral dealbreakers, is *particularly* to dismiss its moral relevance, since one is then not only saying that it isn’t a dealbreaker for *me* but that it oughtn’t to be a dealbreaker for *anyone*.

    Now, it seems to me that the sum of the past few threads is to make a very persuasive argument that *no* issue should be a dealbreaker; that, at least in circumstances roughly resembling the present day US, one ought *always* to vote for the lesser of two evils, whomever one judges that to be. And, if one holds that — and to repeat, I find the argument persuasive — then Friedersdorf’s  position is wrong. But it’s not *more* wrong then holding the same position with regards to any other issue.

    It seems to me that the perception that not enough weight is being given to the terror bombings arises from the notion that terror bombings are not a morally worthy dealbreaker where other issues are. But I don’t know whether anyone is arguing this.

    It seems to me that there are two morally plausible positions: first, to accept a wide range of issues as moral deal breakers, in which case the terror bombings of Pakistanis ought to be among those that make moral sense; and second, to argue that no issue or to be a moral dealbreaker in an election, again, at least in any circumstances remotely resembling the present day US. To the extent that the posters at LGM are arguing for the second over the first, which is what I take them to be doing, then I think they are correct.

    If, however, I am wrong, and the posters at LGM are in fact arguing that some issues are plausible moral deal breakers but that the terror bombing of Pakistanis is not among them, then I think that Friedersdorf is right that this is a immoral position to hold. Again, I don’t think that is being argued, at least here. But that seems to me to be the position that Friedersdorf is in fact arguing against in his post. And I think that is a reasonable argument to make, *if* one bears in mind that in the larger frame it is a moot argument for those who simply think that no issue ought to be a moral dealbreaker.

    Perhaps if all the participants in this discussion would clarify whether they are arguing that no issue ought to be a moral dealbreaker, or whether they are in fact arguing that there are plausible moral deal breakers but that the terror bombing of Pakistanis is simply not among them, that might help clarify things.

    • This would be easier to take seriously if people didn’t insist on using flat out factually false terms like “terror bombing of Pakistanis,” “at a ferocious clip,” “there is a bipartisan consensus in this country, supported by a majority of voters in both parties, that using drones to bomb Afghani wedding parties is completely OK.”

      I know it helps to establish your totally rebellious cred, man, but it’s really no different than the hysterical overstatements one comes across about immigration-related crime in the southwest desert.

      • Stephen Frug says:

        Ok, but since Friedersdorf and the posters at LGM (and I, for that matter) seem to agree that the description “terror bombing of Pakistanis” is accurate, perhaps we could use *this* subthread to address the clarification I was attempting and not derail it with factual questions we can address elsewhere.

        • I can see what you’re saying.

          But no, we really can’t. This a language is deliberately provocative, as well as targeted towards specific people, who are accused of a very high degree of immorality.

          If a recipe reads “Then tell your whore mother to stop trying to pick up sailors and kneed the dough until the chocolate chips are evenly distributed,” guess what? You’re not going to have a conversation about cookies. It’s a predictable, even inevitable, outcome of the choices you made as a writer.

          • Stephen Frug says:

            Fine. You think that my question is moot because my premises are not only false, but insultingly and obviously so. Noted.

            Now, I’d really like to hear answers to my question: granting, for the sake of argument, Friesendorf’s premise that the US is terror bombing Pakistan, do you think that a principled refusal to vote for Obama on these grounds is wrong simply because it is *always* wrong to abstain (or vote for a third-party) on moral grounds in the current US system? Or do you think that these grounds for a moral abstention are less reasonable than other possible grounds (abortion, etc.)?

            For that matter, would you agree that *if* it were morally reasonable to abstain from voting for a candidate on principled grounds, then doing so because that candidate is terror bombing innocent civilians is a reasonable such ground (that is, would you agree that this argument is valid even if you think it is not sound, that is, you think the conclusions follow from the premises even if you think the premise is invalid (and it is not, in fact, reasonable to abstain from voting for candidate on principled grounds))?

            • In this imaginary universe where Obama is terror bombing Pakistan, does Romney want to terror bomb Pakistan, too? Does he want to terror bomb it more? Are we pretending that Romney wants to follow the Geneva Conventions, while Obama is conducting terror bombing?

              I can’t give you answer until I know that. The issue is the relative location of the candidates.

              I’d vote for Stalin over Hitler.

              • scott says:

                Wow. Stalin over Hitler? You really are a utilitarian all the way down, with no bright lines at all.

              • Dilan Esper says:

                Your disagreement with the phrase “terror bombing” ought to indicate to you, but apparently hasn’t, that the people who you are ordering to vote for Obama actually DISAGREE with you on major issues. Specifically, there are lots of people who think that modern warfare is basically a form of mass murder and that the justifications generally given for it are fatuous and unpersuasive. And these people generally tend to be leftists, not liberals.

                You should be no more suprised when these people vote against your favored candidates than when conservatives do. They have a different ideology than you do.

                Seriously, this has gone on since Vietnam at least, but I continued to be mystified the extent to which hawkish center-left types tend to be shocked that there are actually people out there who don’t even accept the basic premises of American militarism. They think it’s all just a debate about particular actions.

                No. It isn’t. It’s a debate about whether the US should even be engaged in military imperialism, whatever the particular causes might be.

                That you don’t get this may explain why you don’t understand why leftists don’t always vote for your candidates.

          • Karate Bearfighter says:

            Not trying to derail, but somebody really needs to write that cookbook.

    • Stephen Frug says:

      C’mon everybody, if no one answers my actual question, the thread derailers win!!

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Perhaps if all the participants in this discussion would clarify whether they are arguing that no issue ought to be a moral dealbreaker

      I’ll bite.

      If one is eligible to vote in a US presidential election, then it’s highly unlikely that your failing to vote for a major party candidate is the right thing to do. It definitely doesn’t cleanse your hands in a substantive manner and it runs the risk of dirtying your hands (cf, FL Nader voter in 2000).

      I think reasonable people can disagree about various aspects of the drone war. I’m not a fan, myself.

      I think in the case of Obama vs. Romney, Obama is just a whole lot better even on this issue. So it’s esp. senseless to say that one “can’t vote” for Obama even if that supports Romney.

      To put it another way, if you held the decisive vote and the drone war was your most salient issue, selecting or allowing Romney to win is a massive failure on your part.

  19. Perhaps it’s worth applying these thoughts about lesser vs. greater evil to the relative levels of civilian deaths accruing from the destruction of al Qaeda vs. allowing them to operate unimpeded.

    • Murc says:

      Well, speaking for myself, while I’m willing to accept “shit happens in a war” to a certain degree, when I talk about civilian deaths I don’t really mean “this guy who wasn’t taking up arms himself but allowing the Taliban to operate out of his home was killed during a firefight when they decided said home would be a great location to ambush some Marines as they drove past.” Such things are unfortunate, but (and maybe this makes me morally problematic, I don’t know) I’m generally prepared to accept them.

      What I mean when I talk about the reprehensibility of civilian deaths I mean things like “we see a big group of people on this hill, better take’em out. Positive ID? Whole place is a war zone, man.” If you’re habitually hitting wedding parties and funerals, your ROE suck, YOU suck for signing off on them, and not doing anything about them makes you pretty fucking evil.

      • ajay says:

        If you’re habitually hitting wedding parties and funerals, your ROE suck, YOU suck for signing off on them, and not doing anything about them makes you pretty fucking evil.

        Good job we aren’t doing that then. If you think the ROE is “any large group of people is an OK target” you aren’t paying attention.

        • Correct.

          There have been dramatic changes in the ROE since Obama took over (since shortly after Obama took over, actually, because it took some time to work up and implement some new ones). That is why the raw number of civilian deaths has dropped from the Bush years, even as the total number of strikes has increased dramatically.

          If you claim that your issue is irresponsible targeting resulting in civilian deaths, and you don’t know this, then how seriously can you actually be taking the issue?

          • Dilan Esper says:

            Actually, it was recently reported that we have been doing repeated drone strikes so that we hit the humanitarian and rescue workers and discourage rescue operations.

            The real divide here is between people who think that military action is some awesome US capability that we should just direct towards “good” ends and cabin with some basic rules (while accepting as “inevitable” some level of civilian deaths), and people who think our government shouldn’t be involved in imperialistic murder at all and that “safeguards” just legitimize it.

            Which is why, again, people on the left don’t vote for your candidates.

  20. Alan G Kaufman says:

    I haven’t been following the comments, so forgive me if this has been already provided:

    Purists might want to read this:http://www.lawfareblog.com/2012/09/charlie-savage-on-romney-team-memo-on-interrogation/

    and then think about the meaning of choices and consequences

  21. C.S. says:

    Here’s what I can’t stomach — that Henry Farrell, Friedersdorf, and all their ilk are arguing this in terms of moral purity and moral superiority. No, no, a thousand times no. Every person – every single person – who signs on to this ideological flim-flam is endorsing and validating Nader’s 2000 campaign. The world we live in now is the world they and their ideological brethren created. I don’t give a flying fuck if they actually voted for Nader, they’re doing it now. They’re saying — “hey, Bush wasn’t that bad.” They made this world with their holier-than-thou crap in 2000, and now they have the nerve, the effing balls, to wax disappointed on the consequences of their pet philosophy?

    If Obama is a murderer (as more than one commenter on Crooked Timber offered) then they are murderers. Every single last man Jack of them. If Obama is a moral monster, they are moral monsters. There’s no amount of purity voting that’s going to cleanse that. They don’t get to feel morally superior or morally pure because they aren’t morally superior and they sure as hell aren’t pure. They are morally inferior, full stop. Jesus jumped-up Christ, where in the hell have they been for the last 12 years? Haven’t they paid attention? And they still get carte blanche to parade their morality, and everybody just agrees to argue on their terms? Screw that. They are moral reprobates no matter how they vote.

    Lets say that there was a political philosophy that was intellectually enticing 150 years ago, but then someone put that political philosophy into practice and a shitload of people died because of it, and countries were destroyed. And then some time passed. And then some thoughtful people decided to endorse that very same political philosophy. What would we call those people? Would we allow them to cover themselves in the veil of not endorsing the extremes of their ideological forebears? Would we argue on their terms like that? Or would we forcefully point out to them at every opportunity that no, their philosophy is a hideous mistake, and if they had an iota of introspection they would be able to see that for themselves?

    I understand that there can be deal-breaker issues for anyone. But I also understand that those deal-breaker issues are not examples of purity or ideological superiority . . . they’re examples of the elevation of personal preferences to the level of morality. For example, I look around at America today — Roberts and Alito on the Court, costly wars, balls-out efforts to break unions — and I see a world that Bush made, but that Nader “purists” made possible. And I think to myself, “endorsing the Nader arguments is a deal-breaker for me.” And there’s Henry Farrell, whose thoughtfulness and intellect I have admired for years, endorsing the Nader arguments. What do I do? There’s a part of me that wants to never hear his name in my presence again, other than to hear a great calamity has befallen him. But there’s another part of me that thinks “hey, maybe my deal-breaker isn’t really a deal-breaker after all — sure, he’s obviously wrong, and his arguments are hilariously misguided and have led directly to the very moral compromises he complains of, but maybe I should just keep this in mind when I’m reading him in the future, as a counter-balance for when I agree with him?” And I think maybe my deal-breaker wasn’t such a deal-breaker after all, because I looked at the total circumstances, like a friggin adult.

    And if you don’t do that. If you cling to your pet moral issue — and don’t even have the decency to acknowledge your part in bringing those circumstances about — then I’m sorry . . . you’re a worse person than if you just go ahead and vote for Romney.

    • Walt says:

      I voted for Gore in 2000, and talked multiple people out of voting for Nader. I hate Ralph Nader, and have since 2000. That said, the obsession with Nader’s 2000 campaign is psychotic. The world we live in now was created by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and other actual evil men. If you bring up Nader now, 12 years later, all it shows that what’s important to you is not good policy, but winning an internecine fight on the left.

      • C.S. says:

        Well. . . no. That dog won’t hunt. I’m not the one who wants to win an internecine fight. See, I already won the internecine fight. Now, a bunch of deluded twits want to start that fight again, and they need to be reminded how it went last time they got their moral panties in a bunch. I’m “bring[ing] up Nader now” because they’re using exactly the same arguments now that Nader used in 2000.

        • djw says:

          I’m “bring[ing] up Nader now” because they’re using exactly the same arguments now that Nader used in 2000.

          This. I’ll be delighted to stop beating this particular dead horse, if it would just stay dead.

  22. Paula says:

    It’s not that we should ignore the killing of Yemenis by drones. The problem is that AMERICANS LIKE KILLING BROWN PEOPLE OVERSEAS IF THERE’S NO COST TO THEM.

    Our moral betters don’t like to talk about this because it puts the responsibility back on them to try and change people’s minds on the issue, if they actually cared about it as much as they say.

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I actually followed/read the links in GG’s posts on the “targeted killing” and the confusing thing for me was the fact that Al-Awlaki was on 2 or 3 different terrorist target kill-or-capture lists before Obama came in on it. Not to mention, the Bush Administration had already committed one such “killing” of an American associated with AQ because he was riding in a car with someone else we were targeting at the time. If so, why hadn’t there been widespread outrage about that death or about such lists in general, because in one way or another they are all “targeted” by the state w/o trial?

    • Murc says:

      … Greenwald was just as outraged at Bush (and with considerably more cause) as he is at Obama.

      You can accuse Greenwald of a lot of things, and he’s been guilty of some staggering douchebaggery, but ‘ignored the excesses of the Bush Administration in favor of beating up liberals’ isn’t one of them.

      • Yes, he was.

        He also had a lot more to be outraged about during the Bush presidency, so he wrote about this particular issue less six years ago than he does now.

        It’s also worth noting that during the Bush years he had no trouble prioritizing the Iraq War, torture, and the use of military detention for terrorism suspects above targeted killing of al Qaeda commanders.

        • Jordan says:

          You do realize that what you charitably call targeted killing of al Qaeda commanders has increased dramatically during BHO’s presidency? It is more newsworthy today than it was in the past.

          We are no longer actively involved in Iraq and the institutionalized practice of torture has ended. As for military detention, GG has written regularly about that issue during either presidency.

          You’ve demonstrated precisely nothing with regard to the point you are trying to make. The idea that he ignored the excesses of the Bush Administration is just laughably false.

      • Paula says:

        Yeah, let’s talk about that …

        GG supported going into Iraq as late as 2005, correct?

        If his whole schtick now is based on a desire to do self-aggrandizing correction then I’d be more sympathetic. But he’s no John Cole on that score. Of late he’s defended Ron Paul and Gary Johnson and he’s defended the Citizen’s United ruling. At best, he’s someone who clearly doesn’t understand the role of domestic economic politics and how that directly influences our policies abroad. At worst, he’s a naif not worth listening to.

        But my question wasn’t even about GG himself. It’s about whether there was a widespread outrage about “targeted killings of American-born terrorist consorts” before Al-Awlaki.

  23. scott says:

    He’s not sweeping dead Muslims under the rug, but he is doing a very Benthamite/Mills utilitarian moral calculus. He’s saying that his guy will kill fewer than the other one and therefore merits his support. It’s an old argument. The utilitarians tot everything up in the ledger, debit and credit, and make moral decisions based on how those sums add up. The categorical imperative folks identify some things that must be done or cannot be done based on their moral view of the world and make decisions based on those bright lines. I think both views have value, and applying them DEPENDS ENTIRELY ON CONTEXT (deliberate caps). I don’t think that ridiculing sincere acts of conscience as narcissism is either morally accurate or really helpful. All it tells me is that killing brown people isn’t one of those categorical bright lines for Loomis. OK, but why does he get to decide that it can’t be a bright line for anyone else? The utilitarian take on things is useful and a good way of keeping things in perspective, but it’s not the only way of looking at the world, and it’s a little weird to see supposedly open-minded rationalists insisting dogmatically that it is.

    • Christopher says:

      Hugs!

      I’ve tried to make this argument here before. We categorical imperative folks have been insisting that we’re not trying to call the utilitarians bad people, that we’re not doing it purely out of smugness for years, and I’ve never managed to find an argument against us that didn’t involve a huge helping of “What, you think you’re better than me? Fuck you, you’re not so great!”

    • Lyanna says:

      You know, I’m a categorical imperative kind of person, but I really can’t see any voting-related imperatives at all.

      I think the only way to relate the categorical imperative to the vote is to assume that voting has much more power and significance than it usually has. As mpowell sort of got at, above.

  24. Christopher says:

    Hey, buckethead: You know there are Pakistani and Yemeni immigrants in this country, right? You think maybe they might have some reason to care deeply about that issue that doesn’t come from privilege?

    “You wouldn’t care so much about the deaths of poor minorities if you were a poor minority!” is about the dumbest argument I’ve heard against anything.

    • Cody says:

      I think the argument is “You wouldn’t care so much about the deaths of poor minorities in OTHER COUNTRIES if you were a poor minority dying and/or being cut out of society IN THE U.S.”

    • There’s no way a Yemeni or Pakistani immigrant, writing about violence and war in his country, leaves al Qaeda out of his thinking entirely.

      • djangermous says:

        There’s no way a shitheaded white person like you is going to leave thinking he has any business speaking for Pakistanis out of the equation.

        And no I’m not a pakistani, it’s just that you know, my father happens to be one. So hey: fuck you!

      • david mizner says:

        Well, they’re apt to point out that the U.S. war on AQ is strengthening AQ.

  25. djangermous says:

    It’s not about Obama or Romney, not about the Democratic or Republican parties. It’s that there is a bipartisan consensus in this country, supported by a majority of voters in both parties, that using drones to bomb Afghani wedding parties is completely OK.

    Yes, a consensus and majority lovingly and laboriously developed and continually reinforced by both parties (and their owners) over the course of more than a decade, and a consensus of which Obama is a part.

  26. [...] wrote a thing and then Henry Farrell wrote a thing and then I wrote a thing and then Erik Loomis misread several things, and suddenly, otherwise-pleasant center-left venues like Lawyers, Guns and Money and Mother Jones [...]

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