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Why Obama is the Obvious Choice

[ 140 ] November 5, 2012 |

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.

Comments (140)

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  1. howard says:

    i don’t want to relive the humphrey wars here other than to say that at least in 1968, the crime of the democrat in question was the unstinting support of the war in vietnam.

    as for obama, to call him a disappointment on civil liberties, etc. is to assume that there was a reason to think he was a progressive in the first place, since it was obvious to anyone looking at his record and his proposed policies that he was a centrist.

    i would, instead, simply say he’s been as poor on those matters as i expected, but that’s still not an excuse to let romney become president simply because your beautiful vote should not be sullied by his shortcomings (which is another way of saying that anyone making that argument joins the ranks of people of whom i say life is too short to spend time with morons).

    • Malaclypse says:

      i don’t want to relive the humphrey wars here other than to say that at least in 1968, the crime of the democrat in question was the unstinting support of the war in vietnam.

      Praise Cthulhu Nixon and Kissinger got that all worked out.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Yeah, I’d still have to say that 1968 is a pretty good illustration that “dealbreakers” is a bad way of thinking about electoral politics, unless you really like what William Rehnquist did on the Supreme Court.

        • howard says:

          we can debate until the cows come home whether there should ever be a threshold issue that would justify not voting for the lesser of two evils (to put it in its most extreme form) or not, but at a minimum, anyone supporting the concept of “threshold issue” ought to be doing so on an issue of greater magnitude than “just like every other president, it turns out that obama likes executive power, doesn’t want to rock the establishment boat, and could care less about civil liberties.”

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            anyone supporting the concept of “threshold issue” ought to be doing so on an issue of greater magnitude than “just like every other president, it turns out that obama likes executive power, doesn’t want to rock the establishment boat, and could care less about civil liberties.”

            Well, yes. This is a major point of my piece; it’s incredibly odd to make Obama the hill you want to die on given how superpar he is for an American president.

    • David W. says:

      As I recall, Humphrey wasn’t unstinting in his support of the war, but he was on the hook with having to be loyal to LBJ. Humphrey wanted Johnson to start some kind of peace process before the election, but Johnson didn’t pursue it which left Humphrey swinging in the wind on the war.

      • John says:

        Johnson certainly pursued a peace process. There was actually something close to a breakthrough shortly before the election, which was prevented by the Nixon campaign secretly convincing the South Vietnamese government to reject the deal.

        • Keaaukane says:

          This is news to me. Can you cite some sources for this? NOTE: This is not snark, but a genuine request for information. Fuck Poe and his law too.

          • parrot says:

            i first heard about this in the documentary the trials of henry kissinger … didn’t read the book …

          • HairyApe says:

            Steven Ambrose, generally sympathetic towards Nixon, has an excellent account of Nixon’s machinations through the old China Lobby to torpedo Johnson’s peace initiative in his Nixon biography.

          • John says:

            I think just about any account of the 68 campaign will mention it.

        • David W. says:

          Johnson did finally initiate a move towards peace talks late in the campaign, but it was too late to do Humphrey much good.

      • howard says:

        you recall incorrectly: whatever humphrey may have thought and felt privately, he was utterly unstinting in his support of the war in public (and considering humphrey ’72, i find it very hard to believe that humphrey ever accepted the immense error that was johnson’s escalation of the war).

        to those who say he had no choice, he was the vice president, i say that if he didn’t unstintingly support the war, he could have resigned and galvanized the opposition.

        • David W. says:

          Humphrey wasn’t “unstinting” in his support of the war in Viet Nam, which was why Gene McCarthy endorsed him a few days before the election.

          • howard says:

            let’s not confuse humphrey’s attempt at the very end of the campaign to open up a tiny bit of daylight between his position and johnson’s position (and let’s not forget that liberals were going through the exact comparable question of whether to withold their vote from humphrey) with where humphrey was throughout the period 1965-1968.

            i’m sorry: humphrey’s tremendous contributions to liberalism in the ’40s and ’50s notwithstanding, he gets no pass on vietnam because he didn’t earn one.

            • Malaclypse says:

              and let’s not forget that liberals were going through the exact comparable question of whether to withold their vote from humphrey

              Yes, let’s not forget that people withholding a vote for Humphrey failed to help prevent the Nixon presidency.

              • howard says:

                is somebody forgetting that? that’s the precise subtext that this entire discussion is about: people who withheld their vote from humphrey on the grounds of vietnam may indeed have been why nixon won.

                so on the one hand you can say “at least they were withholding their votes on the single most critical issue of the period” and on the other you can say “so what, we got nixon and all that followed from that republican ascension.”

            • David W. says:

              I’m not giving Humphrey a pass on Viet Nam, but neither am I going to simply label him a hawk. If Johnson had swallowed his pride and halted the bombing in Viet Nam even a few weeks earlier than he did, Humphrey might have pulled it out, given he’d been eroding Nixon’s lead right up to election day.

              • howard says:

                look, the politics of 1968 on vietnam weren’t that complicated:

                a. you had those who said “declare victory and leave;”

                b. you had those who said “we need a negotiated outcome;”

                c. and you had those who said “bomb them back to the stone age.”

                at the end of the campaign, humphrey attempted to open up some fine daylight in “b” between himself and johnson, and that’s all he did.

                neither he nor johnson were the hawkiest of hawks, but that’s not the issue.

                • David W. says:

                  Well, if Humphrey was for a negotiated peace, he wasn’t an unstinting supporter of the war. I don’t think a candidate who was a dove would have won in 1968, nor would a hawk have won, and both Humphrey and Nixon knew that.

                • howard says:

                  david w., apparently we are talking past each other.

                  you want to score credit for humphrey embracing the johnson administration position: that’s the war we actually had, and that’s the war humphrey embraced unstintingly until the very end of the campaign.

                  this isn’t really in historic dispute, is it? you aren’t actually saying that a key spokesperson for the johnson administration and its expansion of the war in vietnam wasn’t really in favor of the war after all, are you?

                • David W. says:

                  I don’t think we’re talking past each other as much as we have different takes on what “unstinting supporter” means with respect to the Viet Nam war. IMO, even LBJ was no longer in it to win it, but neither was he for a unilateral pulling out of U.S. forces, which was Nixon’s and Humphrey’s position as well. The illusion that the U.S. could still have an independent South Vietnam if only a deal could be struck with the North Vietnamese was still something U.S. voters wanted to believe in, even after three years of war and counting.

    • david mizner says:

      Well I was never a believer in Obama but I’m still (a little) surprised by just how bad he’s been on civil liberties. I didn’t predict his war on whistleblowers or that he would sign a law codifying indefinite detention for the first time in U.S. history.

      All in all, Scott’s concession to leftist disenchantment is laughably kind to 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.

      Yeah, that was the problem with this relentlessly pro-Wall Street president: he “wasn’t creative enough”!! His Treasure Secretary, for fuck’s sake, said HAMP was designed to “foam the runway” for the banks.

      No mention of the disastrous, deadly “surge” in Afghanistan, or his waging of several covert dirty wars, and elsewhere, or his handing the keys of the economy to the very people who helped destroy it, or his rhetorical and substantive embrace of austerity, including his pursuit of a Grand Bargain (when he tried to “kill liberalism,” in Chait’s words)…

      I ultimately come down on the side of Lemieux at al on whom to vote for (in swing states) but the analyses of Obama from Stoller and the like are much more accurate.

      • tonycpsu says:

        I agree on the narrow point that Scott’s language on Obama’s failures was far too charitable. One need not paper over Obama’s failures re: Wall Street and Afghanistan to demonstrate that he’s worth re-electing, because his successes in other areas are numerous and significant.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        What would you see as most accurate about Stoller’s analysis — his claim that Republicans support the ACA? His claim that Romney might apppoint Warrens and Brennans? The fact that he completely ignores the many substantial achievements of the Obama administration, with particularly systematic inattention to any issues of civil rights?

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Yeah, if we’re playing the “far too charitable” game, then minzer’s far far far too charitable to Stoller.

          • tonycpsu says:

            Both can be true. Why anyone pays attention to anything Stoller writes these days is beyond me, but responding to Stoller’s overstatement of Obama’s failures with Scott’s understatement of them doesn’t move the ball forward.

        • david mizner says:

          I said “more” accurate. Not entirely accurate. Stoller brain-farts sometimes, as might be expected from someone who supported the Iraq War and once admired Tom Friedman. He’s a work in progress.

          More accurate in his depiction of Obama’s Wall Street friendly policies — which you chalk up to a “lack of creativity.” With all due respect to the Muslim children Obama has killed, Obama’s protecting Wall Street during a potentially populist moment was his great failing, politically unwise and substantively immoral, increasing inequality, hurting the recovery, and strengthening the banks power over our lives.

          He’s wrong in some of the particulars — saying Obama had a “massive” mandate, for instance — but fundamentally correct.

          • Lol @ david.

            On another thread, he lauds the awesome left-wing populist Elizabeth Warren, who became anything other than a college professor because Barack Obama named her to the TARP oversight board, drew on her ideas for the Credit Card Bill of rights, then pushed through Dodd-Frank while insisting on a strong CFPB, then named her to help set up the board.

            But Barack Obama is Wall Street friendly. Sure he is – you can tell by how much money they gave to his opponent.

            • david mizner says:

              Warren on Obama:

              “You can’t run a policy based on a mis­direction, on a fiction,” says Elizabeth Warren, who, as a special adviser to the Treasury secretary, set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “I don’t know what the president is thinking. . . . He meets with bankers. He doesn’t meet with me. But if he’s involved in this at all, he’s got to know that his angry words at Wall Street, at their recklessness and dangerous incentives in compensation, about how they do their business in ways utterly divorced from what’s actually good for the economy — that he can’t just say that sort of thing, and then dump money in their laps and be credible.”

              http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/books/review/confidence-men-by-ron-suskind-book-review.html?pagewanted=all

          • Anonymous says:

            Certainly his treatment of Wall Street was too kind. However, I find it hard to believe letting the banks collapse would have resulted in anything good.

            I also find it hard to believe attaching strings to the bail-out money would have been feasible. Good luck getting 51 Senators who have campaigns paid for by these banks to vote to “socialize” the banks!

            So your options are 1) Let the banks collapse and damage the economy even more or 2) Bail the banks out in a sadly profitable way for them.

            • Malaclypse says:

              I also find it hard to believe attaching strings to the bail-out money would have been feasible.

              Especially true given that the bank bailout happened October 3, 2008.

              • david mizner says:

                That was the first part — Candidate Obama whipped for it.

                As president, he administered the second part and had the ability to put strings on it.

            • david mizner says:

              Leaving those arguments aside, he had a lot of control over housing policy but he chose to “foam the runway” for the banks.

              • One of the things that makes (the rest of) us better than the Republicans is that we don’t only look at what the government does as an arena for ideological combat and spoils distribution. (The rest of) us think that painting the yellow lines down the middle of the road, or preventing bank runs and depressions, are important tasks above and beyond their utility for waging ideological warfare.

                Bemoaning the fact that the banking sector didn’t do what it did in 1920-1930 is perverse. Thank God the runways was foamed. Thank God the entire banking sector didn’t go dark. Thank God this country didn’t have bank runs.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            but fundamentally correct.

            An assessment that blames Obama for some stuff he was responsible for, blames him for more stuff he had nothing to do with, and completely ignores (or makes ridiculous arguments to evade) his substantial record of accomplishments? Oh, bullshit.

            The “creativity” issue is cited because the failure to do anything about the mortgage crisis is the most concrete policy consequence of his bad cabinet choices. Even if Krugman was heading the treasury there wasn’t going to be a significantly better stimulus bill or the nationalization of American banks. And I’m afraid I remained puzzled that you think that a crucial litmus test for being a real leftist is to perceive the unimaginable horrors of the Canadian banking system.

            • david mizner says:

              And if you think a “lack of creativity” was the problem, you’re either an idiot or whitewashing. And I know you’re not an idiot.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                I don’t think motive is important, but fine, let’s say it’s because they didn’t care at all about people with underwater mortgages. The policy is equally bad either way.

            • david mizner says:

              I don’t believe in litmus tests; I don’t believe there are sometimes clear lines separating good, pro-people policy from bad, pro-rich person policy.

              I’m afraid I remained puzzled that you keep spouting the idea that protecting the existence and power of the mega-banks is the proper liberal position — if you understood this issue the way you understand civil liberties law, you’d be ridiculing this idea.

              Taibbi had a recent helpful post:

              [T]he first and most critical goal of any reform-minded administration should have been to alleviate these dangers by making things less concentrated, i.e. by making Too-Big-To-Fail companies small enough to fail. And Obama really didn’t do that, on any front.

              Reinstating Glass-Steagall or imposing a strong Volcker Rule would have been part of that, because it would have removed the threat that the federal government or the FDIC would ever again have to worry about what sorts of loony gambling schemes these new supermarket firms are getting themselves into. Obama also could also have helped reverse the damage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act by forcing derivatives to be traded on simple, regulated exchanges. FDR did exactly the same thing with stocks and commodities after the Depression, but Obama passed on doing it with derivatives, again allowing his own party’s derivatives reform proposals in Dodd-Frank to be severely gutted from within.

              Finally, Obama had a chance to physically reduce the size of Too-Big-To-Fail companies by supporting the Brown-Kaufman amendment to Dodd-Frank, which would have forced big banks to cap deposits and liabilities to under 10% of GDP. He didn’t support that amendment and it died.

              The sum total of all of this is that Obama didn’t really do anything to alleviate the dangers of Too-Big-To-Fail. If anything, we now live in a world that is more concentrated and dangerous than it was before 2008. TBTF companies like Chase and Wells Fargo and Bank of America are even bigger and less-able-to-fail-ier than they were when he took office. This is why Obama’s answer to our interview question is so disappointing. If I’m understanding the president correctly, he basically says he doesn’t think Glass-Steagall should be re-instated, and beyond that, he just thinks Wall Street needs to self-regulate better.

              http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/obama-defends-his-finance-reform-record-to-rolling-stone-a-brief-response-20121026

    • parrot says:

      obama has been a rashomon figure for many … that sets the table for disappointment when reality begins to confound your ideology … a major job requirement: imperial management … joining the useful idiocy of nowhere third parties is about as constructive as setting up your own compound && getting all the liberation front of palestine and all its permutations from the life of brian

  2. dilan esper says:

    Barack Obama would have never been President if left wingers hadn’t voted against Gore in 2000.

    You give lip service to long term change, but your entire argument is the long term cannot be considered because too many bad things can happen.

    At bottom, had Gore been elected you would have vociferously argued that Lieberman was essential in 2008. And that’s why you are totally wrong.

    • daveNYC says:

      WTF, are you saying that Iraq and Katrina were acceptable prices to pay in order to get Obama into office, and that whatever hellish policies that Romney would implement (Iran, a few SCOTUS picks, etc) would be worth it in order for some invisible flying pony candidate to be elected in 2020?

      • STH says:

        So the idea then is to vote in the WORST POSSIBLE CANDIDATE, let them wreak havoc on the whole fucking world, then the half-starved stragglers that are left will vote in some magical unicorn and rainbow candidate? And the collateral damage apparently doesn’t matter?

        Shorter dilan esper: vote for attacking Iran for no reason so that we can get a President that wouldn’t attack Iran for no reason (you know, instead of voting for the candidate running right now who’s not going to attack Iran for no reason).

        • Richard says:

          Thats been a fairly consistent far left position during my lifetime. Vote for the bad Republican because he will do things that will so alienate the populace that they will revolt and vote a leftist in the next time. Who will solve all the nations problems.

          • FlipYrWhig says:

            And also solve those problems so well and so lastingly that it’ll totally be worth absorbing all the damage the bad Republican does in the meantime.

        • Marc McKenzie says:

          Yup, I think you nailed it. The rest of us must be thrown over the fence and given the business in the (blind) hope that a progressive utopia comes about.

    • mpowell says:

      I can see making a distinction between voting for the lesser evil and voting for a Democrat on the basis of whether they are worse than average for a Democrat. The latter metric might have caused one to skip voting for Gore and certainly Lieberman. I don’t agree with this metric, but it is worth pointing out that even be this metric, you’d be a fool to not vote for Obama. And going more extreme than this, to refuse to vote for even more progessive than average Democrats, is really just refusing to use your vote to improve outcomes.

    • Marc says:

      Lieberman flamed out pretty severely in an actual attempt at running for President. I suppose that it’s possible that we’d have gotten a republican elected in 04 or 08 (16 years of one-party rule hasn’t been common; 20 years is unprecedented in the last century.) But a country without the catastrophe of a Bush presidency would have been a better place regardless, no?

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Yes. Lieberman would not have been the nominee in 2008, and while I suppose Obama is more progressive than Gore the differences are very marginal. (And most people making the heighten-the-contradictions argument claim that the Democrats have continued to move to the right, so they don’t even have this.)

        • howard says:

          i’m going to regret engaging in counter-factuals, i know, but suppose: a.) gore in fact takes office in 2001; b.) gore breaks up the 9/11 attack in advance, and while he gets little credit as such for it, american politics is spared the opportunistic rightward spasm that results; c.) gore responds more effectively to the 2001 recession than bush did and in a growing economy, easily wins re-election in 2004; d.) his second term is not much different than clinton’s second term, with scandal-mongering republicans looking for a chance to impeach while the economy grows decently gore’s popularity stays high; e.) lieberman runs as his natural successor in 2008.

          and you’re telling me he loses to obama or hilary clinton?

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Unless it’s a very different Joe Lieberman, yes. Cf. Gore 1988, Lieberman 2004 — liberals can’t determine the Democratic primary, but they have something like veto power.

            Biden’s not going to be the nominee in 2016 even if Obama wins another term, and liberals have no particular antipathy towards him.

            • howard says:

              ok, last call at the counterfactual saloon for me for the day, but after all, as of 2000, the general liberal impression of joe lieberman was that he was a whiny narcissist, a public scold, and effectively a likudnik, but whether that alone would have exercised angry liberals sufficient to rise up on gore’s annointed successor (and yes, for this counter-factual, i’m assuming that gore endorses him)?

              most of what rank-and-file liberals hate about lieberman occurred in the context of post-9/11 politics; in my version of the gore administration, 9/11 doesn’t happen and so lieberman is never exposed for the fully contemptible shithead he is and therefore doesn’t arouse that kind of opposition.

              as for biden, i don’t think the antipathy is there: if he really wants it, and isn’t too old (which is the first big if) and obama endorses him (the second), i don’t see any particular reason he can’t win the nomination.

              • I don’t really think the comparison holds, but I agree with Scott w/r/t Lieberman. If Obama wins and remains popular, Biden can get the nomination because he’s a pretty decent politician and a mainstream Democrat. The same could not be said of Lieberman, and given a primary where he was just a non-starter with a big chunk of the primary electorate and especially the activist class, you probably would have seen at least one or two serious challengers emerge to him. Hillary certainly could have beaten him.

      • Every Russian ever says:

        20 years is unprecedented in the last century.

        FDR/Truman?

    • laslo says:

      Barack Obama would have never been President if left wingers hadn’t voted against Gore in 2000.

      Nor if JFK hadn’t been assassinated. But he was, and Gore was screwed by the SCOTUS. Reality isucks.

    • JKTHs says:

      So the argument is that leftists threw the election to Bush so that a guy could get elected that they also didn’t want to vote for? Change!

    • Murc says:

      At bottom, had Gore been elected you would have vociferously argued that Lieberman was essential in 2008.

      If you think anyone here would have voted for Lieberman in a primary, even as an incumbent vice-president, you’re delusional.

      And even having said that… in a hypothetical Lieberman/Romney matchup I’d seriously consider voting for Lieberman. Don’t know that I’d do it. But I’d think about it.

      • John says:

        As distasteful as it would be, I think I’d have to. The issues where Lieberman is particularly awful – foreign policy, primarily – are ones where Romney is just as awful, and in most everything else Lieberman, as awful as he’s been, is still clearly better than Romney.

        And a Vice President Lieberman would likely be considerably more liberal than actual Lieberman.

        • Malaclypse says:

          Also, remember that VP Lieberman doesn’t have a visceral hatred of the Democratic party the way non-imaginary Lieberman does.

    • At bottom, had Gore been elected you would have vociferously argued that Lieberman was essential in 2008. And that’s why you are totally wrong.

      When the entirety of your evidence that your opponent is “entirely wrong” exists only in your imagination, you have a shitty argument.

      • dilan esper says:

        If you claim that there can be no dealmakers, you would have to support Lieberman. The whole point is the long term DOES matter and saying there are no dealbreakees moves the party to the right over time.

        • Why are you assuming that Lieberman wins the nomination? There’s no way the Democratic Party nominates him.

          So now, as evidence of your argument, you have two levels of imagination, but not a single concrete example. That is not good.

          saying there are no dealbreakees moves the party to the right over time.

          cite omitted. Clearly, you can’t possibly be talking about the Democratic Party during the period in which it moved from Robert Byrd to Nancy Pelosi.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m also excited we dropped nuclear bombs on Japan, or else they wouldn’t be so strong in producing/designing electronics!!

    • If Al Gore won in 2000, Barack Obama almost certainly gets the nomination in 2008, 2012, or 2016.

  3. Julian says:

    howard, i like how you put that. There should be a name for people who don’t want to soil their pristine little voting fingers with Obama – the purity brigade?

  4. steve says:

    I put together a top ten list, Its shocking Romney is close, and if he was better liar, and his GOP wingnuts did not go off message he might win.
    http://thinkingaboot.blogspot.ca/2012/11/obama-biden-2012.html

  5. Quercus says:

    I can grant that removing oneself entirely from an endeavor for moral reasons is at times a right and proper action.

    But I don’t see how not voting for POTUS, while still paying federal taxes is in anyway removing oneself entirely from US wars. Rather the opposite, in fact.

  6. c u n d gulag says:

    For anyone thinking that voting for anyone other than Obama this year, maybe I need to remind you that fish don’t usually make the lures that hook them.

  7. Greg Sanders says:

    Scott: Are you sure you mean “national level” and not Presidential level? Bernie Sanders may well caucus with the Dems, but he an independent. He’s a sui generis example to be sure, but I think most of us would love to have more of him.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Well, it’s not like he has a different voting record than a liberal Democrat from Vermont would. For the most part, the problem in American politics is with conservative red-state Democrats necessitated by congressional malapportionment, not with blue-state urban/New England Democrats, who are generally fine.

      • bowen says:

        Diane Feinstein is about to be reelected after running virtually unopposed in the Democratic primaries in 2006 and 2012.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          That’s a major exception. But if you can’t get someone to challenge her in a primary, you think you’re beating her with a 3rd party run?

        • mds says:

          (1) “Generally” does not mean “universally.”

          (2) So, she has a different voting record than a liberal Democrat from California would. That means a liberal Democrat needs to build sufficient grassroots support to successfully primary her, not that a third-party candidate should try to throw the general election to a Republican, who would also manage to have a different voting record than Diane Feinsten would.

  8. Davis X. Machina says:

    The national security state is now almost as old as the slaveholding republic was on the day Lincoln signed the Emancipation. And as entrenched. And as ring-fenced with settled law. And as toxic.

    Getting rid of slavery required the demise of one party, (or two, depending on how you want to count the Democracy), and the rise of another, and the rise-and-fall of several minor parties (Free Soil, Liberty). And near eighty years. And a civil war.

    On this issue, though, third-party top-of-the-ballot votes should do the trick, and in just a couple of cycles.

  9. Chatham says:

    Here’s my problem with your focus on this. Your argument is that the fault that progressives make in voting for, say, Stein, is one of inaction. The problem is they are not voting for Obama (hurting him just as much as not voting would). Fair enough. But and individual vote is probably going to have less of an effect on the election than an individual getting involved on the ground – canvassing, phone-banking, etc.

    The people that say “I’m going to vote for Obama this year but I’m not going to work for him” are probably harming him more than the ones that say “I’m going to vote for Stein instead.” (in terms of their relative shifts) But that doesn’t get nearly as much attention. I suppose you could throw in the focus of many liberal blogs on horse race politics rather than mobilization efforts.

    • Cian says:

      Actually my problem is that it’s basically apologetics.

      Far better would be to provide a more positive alternative. Such as ways in which people could take the Democrat party back from the DLC types.

      • Chatham says:

        True. Especially after the election, anyone who has the attitude of “our job’s done for the next 2/4 years” is acting much more perniciously than any third party voter.

        Progressives reasserting themselves probably requires some mix of organizing with other progressives on a local level to take control of local parties and having different groups network nationally. The problems I’ve run into is that locally it’s difficult to get enough people to much, and there doesn’t seem to be any good sites where people trying to get such a task done congregate (most focus on the horse race).

        I don’t want to discourage people – I’ve had success in finding like-minded people, and making fairly modest progress – but it’s going to be a big hill to climb. Especially if people start focusing on non-issues like the Greens.

      • Prodigal says:

        Just for future reference, suggestions of what Democrats should or should not do are more likely to be taken seriously if you write the entire name of the Democratic party while making them.

        Because I, at least, have never seen or heard anybody other than a Republican write or say “Democrat party”.

    • Jameson Quinn says:

      As someone who actually did vote for Stein (in CA) but am calling for dem GOTV (in AZ; though my pitch is “be a voter”, not “support Obama”, it amounts to the same thing), I can’t find myself in your typology.

      • Chatham says:

        I’d argue that you’re doing much more to help Obama than people who just vote and go home. I’d also argue that a Green that, say, worked toward getting single-payer passed in Vermont or marijuana decriminalized in Colorado is doing more good than an individual Obama voter. Your actions will make a much larger difference than your vote.

    • Jon H says:

      The problem is that it’s impotent grandstanding. If you want change, throwing away your vote every fourth year isn’t going to do it. Even if your third-party longshot of choice were elected, it’s not like the Republicans would be any less obstructionist.

      If you want change you’ll have to do the work to get third-party candidates elected to state and local office, and eventually work up to the House and Senate.

      • Janastas359 says:

        Yeah, I’m not sure you’ve made your case here. How is “Voted but did not volunteer for Obama,” more pernicious than “Did not vote and did not volunteer for Obama?”

        • Chatham says:

          I’m talking about shifts. If a Romney voter decided to vote for Stein, would that be pernicious? I think most people would argue it’d be good for Obama.

          Someone who makes the shift from volunteering to not volunteering is hurting Obama more than someone who makes the shift from voting for him to voting for Stein. And as the above poster pointed out, someone voting for Stein in a safe state but volunteering for Obama is helping him much more than someone who just votes for Obama.

    • Murc says:

      Your argument is that the fault that progressives make in voting for, say, Stein, is one of inaction.

      … I don’t think this is Scott’s argument at all.

      Near as I can tell, his argument boils down to “Voting for not-Obama is basically a vote for Romney.” It’s not inaction he cares about, it’s actions that are ill-advised.

      • Chatham says:

        Voting for Stein can only hurt Obama in two ways – one is that it could give Stein more votes, putting her over Obama and giving her the presidency (not going to happen) – and the other is that it causes some people to not vote for Obama. The latter argument is one of inaction – the damage to Obama will be the same if someone who would have voted for him voted for Stein or if they stayed home.

  10. Cian says:

    He wasn’t creative enough with using appropriated funds to alleviate the mortgage and housing crisis.

    This is bullshit, and does your argument no favors. He sacrificed home owners to save banks, he found ‘creative’ ways to keep fraudsters and felons out of jail and let the fraudsters who put us in this mess hang onto their jobs (and outrageous salaries). In the single worst financial crime of the century, he sided with the criminals.

    His record on school ‘reform’ has also been awful, and there are signs that in the next administration he may well try to cut back on social security.

    Now granted Romney will be worse, but you seriously weaken your argument by refusing to engage seriously with criticisms of the Obama administration.

    • L2P says:

      The single worst financial crime of the century?

      Let’s get realistic here. It is outrageous that our bankers ignored their fiduciary duties to ensure that mortgages were properly documented such that banks weren’t facing inordinate loses from non-payment.

      But c’mon. We have billion-dollar ponzi schemes. We have FAMCO – where elderly are talked into balloon-payment mortgages they can’t possibly pay. We have reverse mortgages no one can pay. We have the Savings and Loan scandals. Those are all FAR, FAR worse than just willfully taking undocumented loans. And this is just the financial crimes in the real estate sector. In the last 25 years.

      Some perspective is important.

      • Anonymous says:

        This.

        This “financial crime” wrecked our economy and caused a lot of hardship. The only way it’s “worst” is that it effected middle to upper class people.

        I also find it dubious there was any political will to prosecute people. Sure, a few Progressives came out to go after bankers. Good luck shedding the “socialist” label as soon as you start interfering in some corporation.

        Hell, people were upset the government was using the stimulus to buy “stocks” meaning they would have partial ownership and also be able to receive payment back.

      • Cian says:

        The single worst financial crime of the century?

        Let’s get realistic here. It is outrageous that our bankers ignored their fiduciary duties to ensure that mortgages were properly documented such that banks weren’t facing inordinate loses from non-payment.

        I’m not sure why you think that’s what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the whole thing. Pushing inappropriate mortgages on minorities, on bribing city governments to take on inappropriate financial instruments, on constructing fraudulent bond instruments, MF Global stealing its customers money (who did the Obama administration side with there). The ‘bail out’ of the bankers through AIG. The fraudulent foreclosures. Everytime, the Obama administration has sided with the bankers. The few exceptions have been small fry, such as Bernie Madoff and he practically had to beg them to arrest him.

        And this is ignoringtrivial things such as giving the banks free money, letting the Bank of America operate despite being bankrupt, the SEC refusing to investigate crimes. Or for that matter the (deliberately) pathetic attempts made by the Obama administration to deal with the foreclosure crisis.

        We have the Savings and Loan scandals.

        Which is a piker compared to the current crisis. And people went to jail for fraud. Not enough perhaps, but plenty.

        Some perspective is important.

        Indeed.

        • L2P says:

          Oh C’mon.

          Pushing improper loans? Not crimes.

          Bribing city governments? You’re proof of that is what exactly? Speculation and innuendo are TYPES of evidence, but not the types that let you file indictments.

          Fraudulent municipal bond instruments? No. Cities and counties entered terrible contracts. Fraud requires intentional deception, which is almost definitionally impossible in a municipal bond agreement. Taking advantage of others’ stupidity is NOT A CRIME.

          Bailouts? Not crimes. Free money to banks? Not crimes. Letting the BofA operate? Not a crime.

          The only thing you have is MF Global. Maybe – financial crimes require intent. You got proof of anything besides utter stupidity?

          So again. Obama didn’t do what exactly? Was he supposed to prosecute lenders for not refusing to lend money to people that wanted it?

    • spencer says:

      you seriously weaken your argument by refusing to engage seriously with criticisms of the Obama administration.

      I don’t think that’s an accurate description of Scott’s piece. Or rather, I don’t think that it’s as germane to the point of his piece as you seem to.

  11. burnt says:

    I’ve been mad at Obama since the FISA betrayal, so I guess I was a Firebagger before the term was invented. However, while I’m sympathetic to several of the arguments put forth by the protest vote crowd, I fail to see how voting third-party helps in any way. In my opinion it’s madness.

    I’m looking forward to voting for Obama early tomorrow morning. I’m going to ignore the civil liberties stuff, the failure to aggressively go after the banksters, and everything else I have on my laundry list of complaints–and it’s a substantial list. I’m going to think happy thoughts about pre-existing conditions not being denied coverage, children on their parents’ polilcies until 26, Lilly Ledbetter, etc.

    I’m in Minnysoohtaah so I suppose I could safely cast my vote for someone else but I’m not. I’m voting for Obama and then it’s time to work on my senators to not participate in any grand bargains–and Klobuchar seems grand bargain curious.

    • Well, my senators are a Teabagger and (hopefully) Tammy Baldwin. RonJon will likely oppose a Grand Bargain as a Teapublican, and Tammy will oppose it because she’s opposed to it.

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        I’m not sure that every so-called “Grand Bargain” needs to touch social-welfare benefits — I think “Grand Bargain” only really means agreeing on a package of spending cuts and revenue increases that happen simultaneously.

        • JKTHs says:

          Yeah but where are the spending cuts gonna come from? I don’t think Boehner will gleefully sign onto a $1 trillion defense cut.

          • FlipYrWhig says:

            The spirit of health care reform was to “bend the cost curve” in a variety of ways, swapping out larger expenses later for smaller ones sooner. Hopefully that principle can be applied to other areas than medicine.

        • No, I agree. When I’ve seen Obama mention a Grand Bargain, it is never very specific, and he’s actually said more than once that SS and Medicare are not in crisis, but need some adjustment, which is true.

          I always see the Grand Bargain terminology used as shorthand for ‘eliminating SS/Medicare”, but as you say, it doesn’t necessarily mean that.

          • david mizner says:

            Here it comes.

            The liberal apology for Obama cutting SS and Medicare. Something to look forward to!

            • FlipYrWhig says:

              Well, frankly, I don’t want to let would-be lefties use arguments that recall “Obama cut $716B from Medicare” because they treat any reduction in spending on the program as tantamount to damaging the health and well-being of its beneficiaries.

              If you find a store that sells milk for $4 a gallon instead of $5 a gallon, you’ll spend less on milk, but you won’t get less milk, so you could reduce your budget _for_ milk without depriving anyone of milk. Would that be a cut?

            • Wow. That is stunningly not even close to what was being said.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              One thing leftier-than-thous have in common with cenrist hacks is their discussion of that single program, SocialSecurityandMedicare.

              Anyway, we should be spending much less on health care, so it’s dumb to oppose “Medicare cuts” in the abstract (as opposed to “reductions in services.”) Social Security cuts are stupid, but the evidence that Obama wants them is pretty thin.

              • david mizner says:

                The reason we mention them in the same breath is that Obama tried to cut both of them. I’m not sure how you’re missed this: there’ve been literally hundreds of thousands of words written documenting the deal he tried to pass. But you don’t really have to read any of them, listen to the president himself.

                “I thought it would be useful for me to just give you some insight into where we were, and why I think that we should have moved forward with a big deal. Essentially, what we had offered Speaker Boehner was over a trillion dollars in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense. We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.”

                http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0711/59711_Page2.html

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  But did these Medicare cuts mean a cut in services? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend less money on Medicare per se.

              • Jesse Levine says:

                It isn’t thin, he has said it. And, Social Security should not even be on the table for discussion if the alleged topic is the debt and the deficit.

                • david mizner says:

                  Few developments in the last 4 years have been more well-documented that the deal Obama tried to get Boner to sign off on. Seriously strange that people sill claim otherwise.

  12. parrot says:

    Gteenwald

    i rather enjoy this spelling, with the silent ‘G’ … not sure if it is intentional or another triumph of qwerty … regardless, let it endeavour to stand without extension or revision …

  13. Jameson Quinn says:

    My message to the mythical swarms of neo-Naderites masochistically lurking the LGM comments section:

    Your vote is yours, and there’s a secret ballot. You have a perfect right to “vote your conscience”, or your pancreas, or your four humours. And you keep your mouth shut about it, I can’t do anything about it. But if you broadcast that fact, if you implicitly try to persuade others to do the same by offering or seeking comfort in numbers, then it is my right and duty to mock you for it.

  14. FlipYrWhig says:

    I realize that I’m tilting at windmills on this, but IMHO the issue of providing some kind of due process for suspected terrorists has been massively elevated rhetorically until it has become, or appeared to become, the much larger matter of “Civil Liberties.” “Obama is bad on civil liberties” is a grandiose way to refer to the rather small set of things critics think he’s been bad on. Is there anything more to it than Awlaki and the reasoning around Awlaki? It seems like taking the Elian Gonzalez story and turning it into “Bill Clinton is appalling on immigration.”

  15. Rick Santorum's Leaky Faucet says:

    As someone far to the left of Obama, I agree with many of the criticisms by people like Matt Stoller. But you’re right scott-pieces like his recent salon one overemphasize single issues (not saying drone strikes don’t disturb me), or pet issues, and ignore things like access to health care and gender equality.

    And I find arguments that Romney is a superior choice because it would make liberals more vigilant completely disgusting. If I recall correctly, these extravigilant liberals didn’t stop the Patriot Act (which granted was sitting on the table for a while waiting for an opportunity like 9/11 to pass) or the war in Iraq, or extraordinary renditions. But hey, because Shrub was president, liberals noticed! A lot of good that did…

  16. Janastas359 says:

    I’ve been trying to track down the link, but I read an article over the weekend which argued that Republicans have been doing their own version of “Heightening the contradictions” over the last 10 years by focusing on electing super conservatives at the expense of losing some races, and that a win for Romney would validate this strategy. We progressives aren’t the only one thinking about this.

    • Murc says:

      I don’t think that’s heightening the contradictions, per se. That’s a party that’s committed to a pure caucus rather than a more diverse one even if the more diverse one might be larger.

      This might, in fact, be a valid strategy. As the old saw goes, politics (not necessarily policy, but politics) is a pendulum, not a ratchet. It seems to be predicated on the theory that no matter what, Americans will throw the bums out after a certain period of time, and won’t really care about who they throw in to replace them. So if you keep running insane people against sane people, eventually the insane people WILL win.

      Not saying this will work. But it’s not a strategy that’s dumb on its face.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        But this is easier for conservatives, because malapportionment means that they can get a Senate majority or near-majority while being pure. Democrats can’t.

        • Murc says:

          Hell, I’m not even sure it’ll work for the Republicans even WITH malapportionment.

          My larger point is that there’s a difference between running your party as an exceedingly pure organization, and heightening the contradictions. “Heighten the contradictions” isn’t just a catch-all term for “putting crazy people on the ticket.”

  17. 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.

    Tell the truth: in 2008, did you think every single terrorism suspect detained for attacks or attempted attacks in the United States in the next four years would be arrested by the FBI, given the full menu of Bill of Rights protections, and tried under civilian laws in federal court?

    It’s funny to me to watch people pretend to care so very deeply about a never-used power buried in a massive must-pass spending/authorization bill, while skipping over entirely the matter of the actual application of that power.

    • Murc says:

      in 2008, did you think every single terrorism suspect detained for attacks or attempted attacks in the United States in the next four years would be arrested by the FBI, given the full menu of Bill of Rights protections, and tried under civilian laws in federal court?

      I did not think this, and the fact that I basically knew my country was going to faceplant on this appalled me at the time and still continues to.

      And please don’t tell me what I actually do care about and what I “pretend” to care about. I’ve been a hypocrite more than once; I’d like to think I’m not a liar.

      • Murc, this comment is a disaster.

        I did not think this, and the fact that I basically knew my country was going to faceplant on this appalled me at the time and still continues to.

        Look what you just did here: you acknowledged that you didn’t think Obama would be as good as he has been, then you say you “knew” something that you just admitted was false, and then you say Obama “continued” to do the thing you initially acknowledged he stopped.

        These are the back flips I’m talking about.

        • Murc says:

          … huh?

          you acknowledged that you didn’t think Obama would be as good as he has been

          I don’t think I did this. It’s not true, for starters; I expected Obama to be somewhat better than he has been, but I didn’t expect him to be as good as he should be.

          Put another way; I didn’t think he’d be throwing bush Administration officials in prison and throwing open the doors of Guantanamo on day one, the way many people thought.

          then you say you “knew” something that you just admitted was false, and then you say Obama “continued” to do the thing you initially acknowledged he stopped.

          This leaves me completely baffled. I have no idea what you’re trying to say to me. I get the sense you’re accusing me of something but can’t work out what.

  18. [...] Scott Lemieux also addresses the issue of third parties, plus see his piece at TAP. Tweet Spotlight No Comments [...]

  19. Pithlord says:

    Leftist who won’t vote for Obama seem very important on the Internet. Kinda like libertarians. I seriously doubt they matter in Ohio.

  20. 4jkb4ia says:

    I am trying to finish “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” before going to bed. The authors are recommending mandatory voting, and they point out that in the Australian mandatory voting system, there is an option for none of the above, chosen by about 3% of the population. So none of the above can be a democratic choice. My husband, who has desperately wished there was a decent Republican candidate to vote for the whole election,* wishes he could vote for none of the above tomorrow. I think we are two votes for Obama, grumbling all the way. What turned me was that the Libertarian VP candidate was in town and told KWMU that they were hoping to get 5% of the vote. If my vote helped to advance that goal, it would be interpreted as not for civil liberties but as more evidence that Americans don’t believe government can actually do anything.

    * He liked some of the things Newt was saying in the debate we watched together.

  21. 4jkb4ia says:

    It’s amazing this is all going to be over tomorrow, for good or ill. Iowa is exciting because real voters are going to actually have something to say through the cloud of punditizing. At least until the results come in, tomorrow is a gasp of exhaustion.

  22. Ernie says:

    Thanks, Scott, for your well-reasoned, convincingly argued piece at the The American Prospect. As someone who’s become very conflicted about Obama since my (unrealistic?) surge of optimism in 2008, your forceful reminder that he’s done a lot of good was much appreciated.

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