I have a piece up at the Prospect pointing out that arguments urging people on the left to withdraw their support for Obama require distorting some rather obvious truths, such as the fact that the 2012 elections involve a president with the third-most impressive record of progressive accomplishments of the last century going up against what would be the most reactionary administration since at least Coolidge. It’s all of a piece, but to highlight a couple points, first on “dealbreakers”:
This is not, of course, to say that leftists don’t have real reasons to be disappointed with Obama. His civil liberties record has generally been poor. The Bush administration’s torture regime was stopped but went unpunished. He wasn’t creative enough with using appropriated funds to alleviate the mortgage and housing crisis. But there’s no president in American history who doesn’t have demerits as bad or worse on their records. To call any of these issues “dealbreakers” is to inherently trivialize gender equity, access to health insurance, gay and lesbian rights, the enforcement of civil rights and environmental laws by the executive branch and the courts, the saving of the American auto industry, and the many other issues on which there are huge differences between the national parties. There’s nothing remotely progressive about doing so.
And I have to give a hat tip to Erik on this, but the particularly weak article inexplicably highlighted by Greenwald inadvertently contained the best critique of pretending third party vanity campaigns are a vehicle for progressive change that I’ve ever seen:
Another way of avoiding the fact that Obama is far superior to Romney for progressives is to evade the question by comparing Obama to a candidate with no chance of becoming president. In a particularly revealing argument, Robert Prasch uses the trite language of consumer capitalism to urge progressives to throw the election to Romney: “[a]nyone who has ever gone shopping knows that their bargaining power depends ultimately upon his/her willingness to walk away.” Voters, based on this line of reasoning, should see voting not as part of a collective project to choose the best available majority coalition for the country, but as an act of self-absorbed individual expression, like choosing a favorite brand of designer jeans.
These arguments are self-refuting. In actual politics, walking away “empowers” the left about as much as being able to choose between Coke and Pepsi “empowers” a worker negotiating with Wal-Mart. Conservatives didn’t take over the Republican Party by running third-party vanity campaigns. The legislative victories of the Great Society happened because civil rights and labor groups stayed in the Democratic coalition after decades of frustration (it was the segregationists who were repeatedly threatening to take their ball and go home by running third-party candidates.)
The bottom line is that third-party voting at the national level is either ineffectual or actively pernicious. There have been periods in American history where the gaps between the national parties were narrow enough that the calculus might be tempting even so, but this is not close to one of those times.