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Elections Are Not About Your Fee-Fees

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Salon turns to Steve Salaita for the latest iteration of “I am too good for political coalitions” tripe, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a better example of the atomistic consumerism that almost always underlies allegedly “radical” critiques of the utility of voting:

I dislike voting as a model of political engagement, especially in a corrupt and constrained system that devalues grassroots organizing and tries to limit our imagination to mechanical support of stage-managed icons. Yet I accept that people find inspiration in public figures and express approval by casting votes, sometimes the only political commodity available to a disempowered public.

Nakedly absent from this, as it is from the rest of the piece, is a consideration of the actual material consequences of elections. If Donald Trump or Ted Cruz becomes president, many, many horrible things will happen that will not happen if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders becomes president. Carbon emissions will be much higher. The Supreme Court will likely be controlled for many years by neoconfederate reactionaries, with consequences that only start with women in many states having their reproductive freedom extinguished. The NLRB will be consistently anti-labor. Civil rights and employee protections will go unenforced. Millions and perhaps tens of millions of people will lose access to health care, leading to a substantial amount of avoidable death and suffering. There will be massive upper-class tax cuts funded by a combination of debt and cuts to spending for the poor. Trump might not go along with cuts to Social Security, but he may also foment an unconscionable amount of race-based violence. These are all extremely important things.

And why does Salaita should think we should ignore all these potentially horrible consequences, the brunt of which will be borne by people less privileged than himself? Why, a bunch of Holden Caulfield twaddle about how politicians are phony and inauthentic, man. Given what’s at stake, what intelligent person of voting age could possibly give a shit about politicians being “stage managed?” How can you possibly think the only reason people vote or otherwise act to support candidates is because they find them personally inspiring?

And that’s not the only fallacy packed into these two sentences and repeated throughout. There’s the odd and obviously wrong apparent assumption that voting and other forms of political engagement are some sort of zero-sum game and if you do the former everything else must be off the table. As for the implicit idea that voting is not actually a source of power, well, perhaps he should write John Lewis and tell him what an idiot he was for putting his life on the line for something as meaningless as the right to be “inspired” by Lyndon Johnson. And he can also let John Roberts and Republican state legislators know they’ve wasting their time trying to suppress the vote, since it’s all meaningless anyway.

Pundits who insist on voting as a precondition of respectability exhibit contempt for anybody who rejects the mythologies of U.S. exceptionalism.

What does “U.S. exceptionalism” have to do with this? “The consequences of candidate B winning instead of candidate A winning the election will be horrible” is a fact, not a myth, and it does not in any way imply a belief in “U.S. exceptionalism.” By the same token, disdaining the ballot because politicians are phonies everywhere coming out of the windows does not in any way challenge mythologies of U.S. exceptionalism. Indeed, as evidenced by their actions it is exactly what America’s worst elites want.

The right to vote certainly shouldn’t be taken for granted, but deification of voting can prevent us from treating ourselves as something grander than a massive focus group curated by a few dozen affluent lickspittles. The mythography of voting has conditioned us to treat mediocrity as superior.

Um, has it? To who? Basically, once you accept the idea that you can support politicians you don’t think are heroes or idols — something that for most people I hope happens no later than junior high — all of these dilemmas instantly vanish.

This brand of disciplining rose to prominence during Ralph Nader’s candidacy in 2000 and is dutifully repeated by waspish blowhards every four years. While reasonable people understand that debate will arise over voting strategies, there is little consideration of the merits of voting third party or not voting at all, which, contrary to neoliberal orthodoxy, can certainly be an affirmational act of participation. When folks with loud voices and large audiences assign blame for the terrible state of U.S. governance on people who make ethical decisions to avoid cosigning injustice, we’re no longer dealing with reason but with numbingly inane superstition.

This essay concluding with accusing other people of advancing “numbingly inane superstitions” is hilarious. Moving right along, the key point here is that while he gestures towards debates about “voting strategies,” his essay contains no such argument. What, precisely, would voting third party or not voting do to affect “the terrible state of U.S. governance”? What could it accomplish that could possibly justify the horrible downside risks, risks that Salaita nowhere disputes? This isn’t about strategy or politics but about voting or not-voting as an “(individually) affirmational act of participation.” What is in fact going on here is an attempt to preempt any discussion of strategy or the material consequences of election outcomes, for the obvious reason that if the discussion takes place at any level higher than congratulating oneself for making self-affirming consumer choices the tactic cannot be defended. And, since he brought Nader into it, it’s also a convenient way of preemptively denying oneself any responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of their actions. The voter-as-consumer model is unattractive in itself and as applied is all downside and no upside.

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  • brewmn

    Maybe my alma mater knew what they were doing after all.

    • gmack

      Please stop this shit. The fact that Salaita is offering what I think is a really dumb argument about voting is neither her nor there with regard to issues of his employment. And it is deeply unfair to throw this in Salaita’s face every time he makes a public argument.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Yes, thank you gmack. The fact that he wrote a shitty essay (in an area that isn’t his area of academic expertise) does not retroactively justify his being fired from a tenured position. Just stop it.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Its called snark. It’s what the cool kids do.

        • Yes but this sort of snark shades into real arguments people make and its enormously tiresome.

          • brewmn

            Not nearly tiresome as the argument that not voting is an option when your political opponents are intent on destroying the country. Perspective, how does it work?

            • Not nearly tiresome as the argument that not voting is an option when your political opponents are intent on destroying the country.

              Even if this were true, so? Just because he’s being tiresome or arguably more tiresome isn’t a license for you to be tiresome.

              Perspective, how does it work?

              I supported Salaita when he was wrong and I oppose his wrong arguments (as does Scott and gmack, to pick two random examples). It’s perfectly possible to do this.

              Given that Scott is facing a violation of his tenure rights, your comment is not only tiresome but rather tactless.

              And really, it’s not like your comment was even marginally clever. Why defend it to the hilt? Just writing it off as a joke gone wrong would be fine, right?

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Then they shouldn’t have hired him in the first place. Academic freedom and due process are not reserved for people you agree with. I know (or at least hope) you’re joking, but an idiotic Salon essay has precisely nothing to do with the Salaita case.

      • brewmn

        I can’t believe you all thought I was serious. Given the depressingly sorry run of press U of I has gotten over the last few years, it’s more likely that Salaita is the lucky one – he got a fat check and isn’t forced to work there. I used to fondly imagine visiting my children during their time as students in Champaign. Now, I’m thinking I’ll send them almost anywhere else.

        Oh, and lighten the fuck up. Jesus H. Christ.

        • sparks

          Anyone wondering why these election threads turn into dumpster fires need look no farther. I’ve seen a lot of poorly pitched humor in serious threads lately.

        • rhino

          I got it, but I wondered at the time how many people would not.

        • Stag Party Palin

          Hear hear. Odd how a couple of fee-fees were damaged in a post entitled “not about your fee-fees.”

        • DrDick

          I got it, but still found it rather offensive in total context.

        • Pseudonym

          Sarcasm misinterpreted? On the internet? Who ever heard of such a ridiculous notion!

          • weirdnoise

            If only <font name=”ComicSans”>sarcasm</font> worked…

        • witlesschum

          Given the depressingly sorry run of press U of I has gotten over the last few years, it’s more likely that Salaita is the lucky one – he got a fat check and isn’t forced to work there.

          That was the joke I was gonna make, the essay is so bad he should get his Illinois job back.

        • Halloween Jack

          Ah, yes, “lighten the fuck up”–the plaintive cry of would-be comedians everywhere, attempting to put their failure on the shoulders of their critics while simultaneously proving themselves unable to follow their own advice. Dude, I got what you were going for, but it was kind of dumb.

  • N__B

    Wait…I’m a white middle-class male. I thought everything was about my fee-fee.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      nuh-uh. you’re a city guy. the world actually spins on the axis of *my* feelings

      wait. wrong side of the Mason-Dixon line. damn

      • Thirtyish

        It’s okay–as long as you’re outside the limits of a major city, your opinions are still holy writ and your feelings must be deferred to at all costs.

    • wjts

      “I’m a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me — no matter how dumb my suggestions are.”

      • Brian Schmidt

        I may test the limits of that statement.

    • Pseudonym

      Well, your hair may look white, but your skin is actually black.

      • petesh

        The east side of my town faces south

        • N__B

          Feathers hit the ground before the weights can leave the air.

      • N__B

        My fine-looking suit is really made out of sack.

        • Pseudonym

          If I had a thousand the first humane principle I would teach them should be to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack.

  • kped

    …where does Salon keep finding these people? And why do they think advancing arguments against voting are worth posting again and again.

    • gmack

      Such arguments appeal to a particular strand of leftish thought, which I think is nicely expressed in the old Paris ’68 slogan: “Be realistic: Demand the impossible.” I’m personally attracted to sentiment, at least occasionally. I think there is a tendency to underestimate what is politically possible and that part of the job of the left is to refuse to normalize forms of corruption, inequality, and domination (all of which are pretty obviously rampant in the existing electoral system). But in the context of this particular debate, I think Scott’s arguments are dispositive.

      • CrunchyFrog

        I wondered why Joan Walsh, a PUMA, was running this shit but I just looked it up and found that she’s no longer at Salon. I don’t know anything about the new editor (since 2013), David Daley, except a brief bio, but he appears to like to run a wide range of thought. Digby is a prominent writer, as are some of the writers here at LGM, but he’s also run she-who-must-not-be-named and lots of other Slate-like pseudo lefties. I see he used to be a cultural editor – maybe he likes a lot of diversity.

        Anyway, given the ad bombardment at Salon I visit only when I get a recommended link. Dumping Ask the Pilot was the last straw for me. :)

        • Tyro

          Yes, we can no longer blame Walsh for Salon’s shortcomings. Their problem these days is that they seem to publish *anything*. The subject matter of the writing doesn’t seem to be well filtered

        • Walsh was a Clinton supporter in 2008 but I don’t recall her ever being a PUMA (which is a term that refers strictly to soi-disant Democrats who refused to vote for Obama in the general, all twelve of ’em).

          • kped

            “Party Unity My Ass”. Yeah, was going to mention that. She was not a dead ender. Should really make a distinction between someone’s supporters, versus the true believer “No one but my candidate”. Walsh was not that, and it’s unfair to treat her as such. Even now she supports Clinton over Sanders, but will vote for either in the election.

            • CrunchyFrog

              I think it was a reference to her initial reaction to Clinton losing in 2008. Very few of the people who talked PUMA in those first few weeks actually held on to that position for very long.

              • ColBatGuano

                I think it was a reference to her initial reaction to Clinton losing in 2008.

                You think? You made it.

              • Manny Kant

                Did Walsh have such a reaction at any point, though? Looking at old posts by her, I’ve not found any from that, but this piece from December 2008 seems rather clearly that she was sympathetic to Hillary, but not in any kind of an apocalyptic way.

                • Manny Kant
                • Thank you for this, MK. I didn’t remember Walsh being a PUMA. There is some weird thing going on where women of a certain age are thought to have been PUMA’s retroactively. The PUMA phenomenon was exemplified by a few, a very few, people who couldn’t let go of the candidate. It was never serious and I can’t think of any really political woman who was a PUMA for more than a few minutes. People are forgetting that there was a longer space of time when the delegate count was up in the air because of Michigan and etc… where Clinton’s supporters had foolishly been led to believe their candidate might take the nomination. There were very few PUMA’s after the nomination was sewn up and vanishingly few who didn’t vote for Obama or sat it out in a fury.

                • Halloween Jack

                  Right–like a lot of election year memes, particularly ones that are about or affect Democrats, this one was blown ridiculously out of proportion.

        • Jay Dub is now typing at The Nation, if anyone cares.

        • Barry_D

          “David Daley, except a brief bio, but he appears to like to run a wide range of thought.”

          Wide range of thought is good, except when it ranges into the fulash*t zone.

        • Halloween Jack

          he appears to like to run a wide range of thoughtclickbait.

          Same as it ever was…

      • Barry_D

        “Be realistic: Demand the impossible.”

        Is perfectly compatible with ‘work hard at the possible to get it’.

        And after Nader/Dubya, it’s clear that losing elections has terrible consquences.

  • ThrottleJockey

    Salon is becoming a parody of itself.

    H/T on the Coke ad. God I loved that commercial!

    • Pais de Byllz

      Heh, “becoming?” You’re too generous.

    • NewishLawyer

      Salon has a become a parody of itself a long time ago.

      • Bitter Scribe

        Salon isn’t what it used to be and it never was.

      • Manny Kant

        Was Salon ever not a parody of itself?

        • calling all toasters

          It’s parodies all the way down.

        • Halloween Jack

          They usually have at least one person who isn’t eminently and reliably risible. Digby, SEK, formerly Pareene, etc.

  • AlexRobinson

    Not voting makes one irrelevant.

    • kped

      Tell that to Salon. They find it very relevant.

      • weirdnoise

        Count the number of comments on those articles and you’ll see why Salon finds them relevant: click bait.

        • kped

          They’ve realized the gold mine for comments – anti Hillary articles! Becoming like FDL. On any day there seem to be 2 or 3 “new” articles on why Hillary is going to doom everyone and everything.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Yup. Such people frustrate the hell out of me. They say things like, “The politicans don’t listen to the people! So I’m not voting.”

      Politicians listen to voters. Don’t think the things they’re doing aren’t supported by a bunch of people who voted.

      • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

        When I was younger, a friend and I were totally blown away when we saw a bumper sticker reading:

        I DON’T VOTE
        NOBODY LEADS ME

        “So hardcore!!”

        Care to guess if this was pre- or post-2000?

    • Dilan Esper

      Not voting does nothing. It is one thing to be John Lewis and fight to enfranchise an entire group, but each individual person’s vote? Completely irrelevant except in very small elections where a 1 vote margin is plausible. Scott is totally wrong.

      • Stag Party Palin

        An uncanny parallel to the anti-vaxer POV.

        • AlexRobinson

          Nice

        • IS

          Any tragedy of the commons, really.

      • kped

        Exactly how many people following your advice does it take to make it relevant? Doesn’t that mean that not voting is relevant?

        • wjts

          Look, if you played poker, you’d understand that it doesn’t matter how many people do or don’t vote, as elections, like poker hands, are random events.

    • JL

      I think this is wrong. Not being politically engaged makes one irrelevant (politically). Voting is a form of political engagement. I think it’s an important form and everybody should do it. But it’s not the One True Form of Political Engagement That Makes You Better Than Other People. It’s a very minimal level of engagement. I know a couple of people who do huge amounts of activist work but also don’t vote (because they think a vote would be an endorsement of a candidate’s bad policies, because they think it legitimizes a system that they don’t see as legitimate, whatever). I think they are making errors of judgment in not voting, and in their reasoning about what voting means or how it should work. I don’t think they’re irrelevant, though.

      I would be seen (with reason) as a total jackass if I went around telling people that not doing the various forms of activism that I do made them irrelevant, or that if they didn’t do them they had no right to complain, or any of the other stuff that people go around saying all the time about voting.

      To be clear, none of that changes the fact that Salaita’s argument here is pretty silly and that I think liberals/progressives/leftists should vote (and would prefer that they practice harm reduction voting rather than voting for Nader and equivalents).

      • sonamib

        Voting is a form of political engagement. I think it’s an important form and everybody should do it. But it’s not the One True Form of Political Engagement That Makes You Better Than Other People. It’s a very minimal level of engagement.

        This. Voting is a thing you do once every few years or so. If you’re not a target of voter suppression, it doesn’t demand all that much effort compared to other forms of political engagement. That’s the reason why refusing to vote as a protest is so silly. It’s such a meaningless protest, it’s easily misinterpreted, and doing the right thing isn’t very hard.

  • Ya gotta be super damn privileged to think that voting doesn’t matter.

    Most Americans can’t afford that luxury.

    Salaita doesn’t care about them. Not even slightly.

    • howard

      The most offensive part to me is that he presents this as “ethical.”

      • Well, in an old sense of the word, it does depict his character.

      • Pat

        All these articles in Salon remind me of the Republicans in 2000 telling everyone that there was no point in voting.

        Excuse me: telling their Democratic friends that there was no point for their friends in voting.

    • Ronan
    • Dilan Esper

      I live in California. My presidential vote doesn’t matter at all.

      • CrunchyFrog

        Well, here’s the reality. As individuals our votes virtually never matter. Certainly in state-wide elections if it ever gets close enough for one vote to count someone will manipulate the machinery to tip the scales. On rare occasions a local election race is decided by a vote – but that’s really rare. Whenever someone sends around one of those emails with examples of where one vote mattered, they are always situations involving a much smaller number of voters, like a parliment.

        However, en masse if a lot of people don’t vote because their individual votes don’t matter then the overall movement does make a big difference. Which is why political organizations that have cash to spare will often fund these kinds of articles targeted at the opposition’s voters – and do whatever they can to discourage opposition voters from voting.

        So, no I don’t care whether you, yourself, vote. But if you are deciding to take this election off I do care because I’m concerned that there will be thousands of others of like voters making the same decision for the same reason.

        • kped

          Well said CF. It’s like there are people who saw that horrible Kevin Costner movie about his vote being the one that mattered and thought “why not me!!!”, as if that scenario is possible. It isn’t. But saying “my vote doesn’t matter” doesn’t really hold up if more than one person has the same thought.

        • Gregor Sansa

          In terms of game theory: voting is (usually) not individually rational unless (1) you are voting altruistically (small chance of swaying result times large impact on people who aren’t you equals something non-negligible) or (2) voting is part of a social compact of a collective of which you are a member. I think that most people who actually vote probably do so because of some intuitive sense of (2), and if so, they’re not being irrational.

          • kped

            Ha! I was going to mention game theory as well!

          • random

            I thought game theory required there to be a major risk to participating?

            The downside of voting and losing seems extremely negligible compared to the downside of not voting and losing. It’s not like they’re going to shoot you for voting, and the outcome does directly narrow or embiggen your personal range of options in the future.

            • Gregor Sansa

              The problem is that if the difference between Trump and Clinton is, say, $50K for my life, when you divide that by the (say) 1 in 1M chance that 1 vote will be decisive, you get a value of $.05; not worth my time. Only if I care about the billions or trillions of damage he’ll do to other people does it add up as worthwhile.

      • LosGatosCA

        I live in California. My presidential vote doesn’t matter at all.

        That’s not at all true.

        For example, in 2000, if Al Gore had retained a scintilla of the common sense he was born with he would never have conceded on election night.

        Three things would have become clearer the next day:

        1. He won the national popular vote
        2. Florida was ridiculously close and should be recounted (in fact if he had checked with his folks in Florida, that was known the night before)
        3. There was no way in hell, the nation should let the national popular vote be overruled by a corrupted state recount run by the popular vote loser’s brother.

        Gore made the California votes not matter by his extremely poor recognition of the situation and extremely poor judgment in feeling (imagined) pressure to make a decision (to concede) when delay was actually in his interest.

    • Tyro

      Most Americans can’t afford that luxury

      Yet it is not the well off people who aren’t voting or engaging in the democratic process– they are the ones most engaged. If most Americans “can’t afford” the luxury of not voting, then why do so many people at the lower end of the income scale choose not to vote? They seem pretty on with not voting.

      • Ronan

        I was going to make this point earlier. In all advanced democracies (particularly the US afaik) the privileged are more likely to vote

        • Ktotwf

          Which is a big part of why the “If you don’t vote Democrat you are a privileged tool” line of argument makes no sense.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Which is a big part of why the “If you don’t vote Democrat you are a privileged tool” line of argument makes no sense.

            This is just a massive non-sequitur. When privileged people urge the substantial risk of harms being inflicted on less privileged people to indulge their consumer gratifications this is worthy of criticism, and the fact that the less privileged vote less is beside the point. And, in addition, the fact that vote participation is strongly correlated with privilege and this has real consequences is all the more reason not to write utter bullshit about how voting is just a shuck.

      • Hogan

        Because by and large we’ve made voting a luxury too. Very small and inconvenient time window, costs of information (including filtering out bad information), and an increasingly onerous process for registering and being approved at the polls.

        • LosGatosCA

          Mission accomplished – as someone once said.

          Or, we live in a republic, not a democracy.

          Or,

          “The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.”

          The rich/privileged have extrapolated that to apply to the 1% / 99% divide.

          And Jay Gould’s declaration is a key principle in making it stick.

          The real rallying cry shouldn’t be just about voting – the 99% should constantly ask themselves:

          What would Jay Gould think I’m stupid enough to do? Or not do?

          And then act accordingly.

      • Jeff Ryan

        Yes, that’s why Dewey trounced Truman. Oh wait, he didn’t.

        For better or ill, I have known a fair number of “well off people.” None of them could find a voting booth to save their lives.

  • Joe_JP

    Laugh of the day so far …. the first sentence of that article:

    Nothing generates more insipid analysis than a U.S. presidential election.

    …. “vote if you must” … but you know, don’t feel like superior about it or anything. And, pulling levers? What decade is this again?

    • djw

      Nothing generates more insipid analysis than a U.S. presidential election.

      It’s a bit like Douthat’s book about Harvard—whatever else we might say about this article, it certainly provides some compelling evidence for its thesis.

      • OT, but I felt like Douthat’s column today was like the thing that, in 50 years, when what he’s helped the Republican Party and the country become has already happened, will be pointed to as evidence that people ON BOTH SIDES! were actually reasonable. Like this was the column he was anointed as a conservative columnist to write.

    • DrDick

      There is quite a bit of reflexivity in that statement of his.

  • JG

    At least Nader voters voted…

    • Breadbaker

      If only six hundred or so of those voting in Florida had understood the risk of “Jews for Buchanan”, i.e., that some people might misunderstand the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County and cast ballots (one cannot rationally call that “voting”) for the candidate they least favored, you wonder how things might have changed.

      • LosGatosCA

        I believe the number is closer to 2800 Palm Beach County voters for Buchanan.

        Theresa LePore, the former Palm Beach County supervisor of elections did more direct damage than Nader did.

        I get your point that only about 1000 needed to understand the ballot more clearly, though.

  • brad

    This seems deliberately targeted to the young enough not to know better, especially the use of the newly, if properly, dismissive use of “neoliberal”. Me, I’m old enough to remember when we called it the DLC.
    But when did it become neoliberal to care more about outcome than ideological purity? I missed that meeting.

    • djw

      when did it become neoliberal to care more about outcome than ideological purity

      It’s a pretty flexible concept. Want to imply that someone’s position or strategy is to your right, and therefore bad/wrong/malign, but don’t want to bother explaining precisely why? Call it “neoliberal.”

  • Nobdy

    If not voting then what?

    This is the question that people like Salaita can never answer.

    Yes grass-roots ‘organizing’ and consensus is fine for a small organization, but it doesn’t work for a country with over 300,000,000 people. Breaking the country up into small self-governing communities doesn’t work either because what do you do with New York City? And if you’re a small self-governing community on the border with a large organized country you basically only exist by their say-so. If France wanted to annex Monaco (which is too large for a consensus community already) it could do so within a day.

    Winston Churchill said it pretty well when he said “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.”

    If not voting then what? Then anarchy or despotism.

    So definitely continue with grass-roots organizing and community consensus and all kinds of other small-scale non-voting politics, but when it comes to large-scale politics you have no excuse not to vote, and unless you can propose a better system that has a prayer of functioning it is distasteful to complain about voting.

    • ThrottleJockey

      What do you do with New York City? Why you shove it into the sea of course!

      • postmodulator

        If we wait, the sea will come to New York City.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      I’ve slowly come to the suspicion – and it got confirmed by some of the OWS kids’ attitudes about electoral politics — that a certain stripe of left and liberal person is not comfortable with winning, seizing power, and running things because you won.

      The problem is, on the other end of the spectrum in this country are people are very comfortable with taking power and using it..

      • Origami Isopod

        I couldn’t agree more.

        A number of people seem to be into politics as a self-improvement exercise of sorts. You see them making arguments such as that we can’t call the Republicans mean names (not bigoted names, just mean ones, which happen to be true at that) because we’ll be “no better than they are,” and we don’t want to “lose our souls” in the political process.

        Politics is tedious, ugly, and frequently heartbreaking work. If you want to be “uplifted,” join a house of worship or take up meditation. Or, better yet, go help out at the local soup kitchen.

        • swaninabox

          Since the house of worship I attended this morning (following a service on the prodigal son and Downton Abbey)spent a gleeful five minutes on the topic of the schism in the denomination and how the schisming congregations didn’t get to take their expensive and historic real estate with them? And said congregations were on the wrong side of history on LGBT rights?

          It was more than a little political, and personally I found it very uplifting. In a “you can quit but you can’t take the toys with you” sort of way. Every so often it’s hugely empowering to get a little bit of institutional liberal gloating about in fact, being better than they are.

          • Origami Isopod

            Which is fine, don’t get me wrong. There are definitely religious people who put the work into politics, such as those involved with Moral Mondays. The sorts of people I’m talking about would frown upon that kind of gleeful sermon.

            • swaninabox

              It is amazing what happens when a congregation is composed almost entirely of the highly educated, very downwardly mobile, formerly upper middle class.

              I saw multiple pro-obamacare stickers on cars in the lot. This group may not ever seize power, but they would do all the hard work of administrating it.

              I didn’t see anyone who would count as young, radical, or in search of uplift. Which is a whole different issue, as the very conservative church across the street has a much larger, younger, and richer crowd- who probably wind up taking more effective political action.

          • Darkrose

            Episcopalian?

        • Scott P.

          That’s a rather different kind of argument. I vote for Democrats not just because I consider myself a member of their tribe, but because they behave differently than Republicans. The more they act like Republicans, the less reason to support them.

          It’s not just about seizing power for the sake of power, or if it is, might as well launch the nukes.

        • JL

          You see them making arguments such as that we can’t call the Republicans mean names (not bigoted names, just mean ones, which happen to be true at that) because we’ll be “no better than they are,” and we don’t want to “lose our souls” in the political process.

          Those people definitely exist, but they tend not to be the same people as OWS kids with dubious attitudes toward electoral politics.

          • Origami Isopod

            Oh, no, they’re not. They tend to be more affluent, and they’re very much into respectability.

      • ThrottleJockey

        I’ve slowly come to the suspicion – and it got confirmed by some of the OWS kids’ attitudes about electoral politics — that a certain stripe of left and liberal person is not comfortable with winning, seizing power, and running things because you won.

        Cool I’ve always wanted to see unicorns.

        In the main government officials regardless of party affiliation or ideology are very comfortable taking advantage of power. Obama’s Department of Education unprecedented expansion of title nine is a good example of this on the left. Restricting the use of the filibuster in the Senate is also another good example.

        • BiloSagdiyev

          Those are not the people I’m talking about. Those are people quite comfortable with taking power and using it, which is how they came to be in power.

      • Yes. Exactly. Voting has consequences, dammit.

        • Pat

          So does not voting.

    • If France wanted to annex Monaco (which is too large for a consensus community already) it could do so within a day.

      Which is why the Grand Duchy of Grand Fenwick decided it needed to be a nuclear power.

      • Just_Dropping_By

        Yes, but we can’t all fortuitously acquire a quadium bomb.

      • cpinva

        yeah, but you see where that got it, exactly the opposite of where they wanted to be. the best laid plans………….

    • JL

      Grassroots organizing is not the same thing as or inherently related to community consensus, not dependent on a society using a particular system of governance, and can be large-scale. Black Lives Matter and the Civil Rights Movement are/were predominantly grassroots organizing. Fight for $15 is grassroots organizing. The National Network of Abortion Funds is grassroots organizing. Rape crisis centers and LGBTQ anti-violence programs were formed by grassroots organizing. The successful anti-Keystone-XL campaign was grassroots organizing.

      Why is “organizing” in scare quotes in your first long paragraph, and why do you consider organizing to be only fit for a small organization? As you said yourself, there’s no conflict between grassroots organizing and voting or representative democracy.

      • Nobdy

        I put it in quotes because it’s a term Salaita uses but does not define, however seems to place in opposition to voting.

        Most effective grass roots organizing in the United States has at least a voting component, whether local or national.

        It is difficult to effect change in this country without direct influence on elected officials, and the easiest way to influence them is with votes (whether for an incumbent who will do what you want in exchange for votes, or by replacing incumbents with more sympathetic politicians.)

        • JL

          My read (which may not be correct) is that Salaita defined it in opposition to voting because he’s encountered a lot of people who are self-congratulatory about voting and promote it as Very Important Political Engagement, but shit on a lot of grassroots organizing (because protests are loud and icky, community activist groups are too full of radicals, mass movements have too many uninformed people in them, etc), and when he talks about voting as a model of political engagement he means people like that. It’s possible I’m projecting here, because I’ve met plenty of people like that (though fewer as time goes by – not sure if that means that people’s attitudes are changing or that I’m around different people).

  • ThrottleJockey

    Basically, once you accept the idea that you can support politicians you don’t think are heroes or idols — something that for most people I hope happens no later than junior high — all of these dilemmas instantly vanish.

    A lot of Americans like to deify our presidents, whether it’s George W Bush and Reagan on the Right, or Obama and LBJ on the Left. One of my friends said of the Bible this week that when Jesus was doing the Beatitudes He should have inserted a section that said, “See also: Barack Obama.”

    • brad

      And that’s a problem. If you think your leader is divinely appointed then you lose the ability to respond to their policies rationally or critically. And you defend that leader regardless of the merits. Obama worship might feel tolerable to us, but that underlying authoritarian instinct is primarily a right wing trait which Trump is once again showing leads to fundamentally un-American ideas being championed as true patriotism.

      • ThrottleJockey

        The authoritarian instinct is not a right-wing trait, it’s a human trait primarily driven by an interest in power. Here are a few Leftists who also liked power: Lenin, Mao, Nasser, Mugabe.

        • brad

          I know you consider the term an insult, regardless of the insight provided by and applicability of it, but your trollface is showing now.

          • ThrottleJockey

            When used against me personally it might be an insult… But in this case it wasn’t meant as an insult. It’s simply incorrect as a factual matter that authoritarianism is of the right wing. The only way to argue otherwise is to go no true Scotsman. People often elevate power over principal when pursuing their principles.

            If you need other data points let me throw in a couple of other authoritarian leftists for you: yStalin, Pol Pot. But I suppose they were No True Scotsman were they?

            • brad

              Please note I said primarily, while agreeing with you that it’s a trait which a much smaller portion of the left does share. John Cole freely calls himself a left wing authoritarian, somewhat tongue in cheek but also in typical blunt honesty.
              But FdB style concern trolling aside, authoritarianism isn’t much of concern on the left because both of the relative rarity and the modern tendency of anti-authoritarians to cluster there. We give you lots of shit for it, sometimes undeserved, but often because many here feel some of what you say needs to be pushed back on.
              Using Tea Party rhetoric in trollish response isn’t a serious reply.

              • ThrottleJockey

                I understood what you meant and I’m not taking it personally. I simply disagree with the “primarily” part. I think it’s more a personality trait than a political trait.

                The only reason I occasionally get offended when the term is directed at me is because I’m very much a live and let live kind of guy, but there is an expanding segment of liberals who are not live and let live kinds of people…

                When it comes to crime and punishment it might be fair to call me in authoritarian. But I think democracies have to take strong steps to punish violence. Joe from Lowell said my Crime and Punishment stance makes me an authoritarian. If so, so be it.

                Last year around Christmas I was out walking when I saw a dead woman lying on the sidewalk. She had been shot. I just read yesterday that her killer was sentenced to 15 years, which with time off for good behavior is only equivalent to 8 years. I’m of the opinion that had they sentenced her killer to 30 years it would have been far too lenient. If you intentionally kill someone you should never walk free again. So in this instance I’m okay with the authoritarian label. It’s the people who dispute punitive penalties that I think have a hole in their head.

                • Pat

                  TJ & brad: There’s a great article on Vox about authoritarianism. Some political scientists use a survey about parenting to determine authoritarianism. The four questions are phrased as follows:

                  Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?

                  Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?

                  Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?

                  Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?

                  The majority of people who choose the authoritarian answer all four times are Republican, and the majority of people who choose the anti-authoritarian answer are Democratic. Thus, TJ is correct in saying that authoritarians exist in both parties.

                • brad

                  Let me put it in these terms, then.
                  I don’t disagree that there are people out there who for whatever reasons are not safe to mix with the rest of us. Your focus in response is on retribution as a form of deterrence. I’d rather focus on making it more likely they have a knife than a gun when they attack someone or, as at least here in NYC is currently most likely, each other.
                  From my perspective you’re focusing on what feels emotionally satisfying, to you, regardless of what actually impacts outcomes.

                  As to your example, even granting the host of presumptions required to assume the killer in this case truly merited more, I think your target in response is misguided. If you want him to serve more time then unclog the system with mandatory minimum offenders and non violent drug arrests in general so there’s less of an institutional need to find room. Excessively punitive measures have been tried, and they’ve led to a militarized police force in service to DA offices which have for most cases usurped the authority of the courts.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Pat—Yes, I saw that. I think an interesting question is: “What does it take for you to become an authoritarian?

                  I first asked myself that question after a quick exchange decades ago with a liberal Peruvian-American friend. I said I couldn’t believe how Fujimori had dealt so harshly with Shining Path and MRTA and my liberal friend shot back, “You’ve never lived in Peru.”

                  Now when I look at the narco-violence in Mexico–or even the possibility of a Trump or Cruz presidency–I’m not so quick to dismiss authoritarianism. Lincoln did suspend habeas corpus didn’t he?

                  Not to put too fine a point on it but Trump and Cruz are madmen and even a unilateral extension of his power by Obama would be preferable to the nuclear holocaust those 2 would unleash.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Brad–I support the legalization of pot for a wide variety of reasons. Perhaps we could legalize Ecstasy as well. So I’m on board with you to an extent.

                  But the reason I support Mandatory Minimums and Three Strike Laws (the latter at least in part) is because of sentences of the type I just told you about. Anyone who intentionally takes the life of another person should never walk free again. Sentencing them to a mere 15 years is a travesty. I don’t subscribe to the viewpoint that liberals should shrug off crime because reasons. In my opinion that’s a bleeding heart overly sympathetic response (primarily) of people who’re infrequently victims of crime.

                • brad

                  I don’t think that bleeding heart liberals have had much impact on sentencing laws, especially not in the last few decades when the prison population has exploded. And not everyone agrees that justice is derived from the same blind passion that produces so many crimes.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Oh, no, until recently liberals haven’t had any impact on crime laws at all, but I’m worried about all the “mass incarceration” talk in the Democratic primaries. I strongly oppose people who’re actually innocent going to jail but if you actually did the crime your ass belongs in jail away from decent folk. The poor, the minority, and the elderly deserve crime free neighborhoods too.

                  Its as much a matter of safety as it is of justice. Here’s a sobering thought: Over 60% of violent felons are re-arrested within 3 years of release. About two-thirds of those are convicted. Given those odds I think the onus is on those who favor leniency in sentencing, not on those who favor stringency.

                  Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders, the report found.

                • Its as much a matter of safety as it is of justice. Here’s a sobering thought: Over 60% of violent felons are re-arrested within 3 years of release. About two-thirds of those are convicted.

                  But, of course, we need context and an understanding of what it is about current conditions that produce this behavior.

                  Society is not particularly well geared for felon rehabilitation. But there’s good reason to think that some fairly large amount of current crime is avoidable. (Particularly if you look at non-violent offenders.)

                  Your comment mixes crime prevention and retribution. That’s a mix that’s very unlikely to produce reasonable outcomes for acceptable costs.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Unless you’re Jesus Christ with the One True Answer I don’t feel like we need context and understanding. As an empirical matter It’s considerably more likely than not that violent offenders commit more crimes. That argues for longer sentences, not shorter.

                  Even assuming the cause is Lead Poisoning, until there’s an app for that–or at least a prescription–public safety requires these people be locked up.

                • Tyro

                  r I don’t feel like we need context and understanding.

                  This is why we need to keep you and the Louie Gohmerts of the world out of policy making. The recividism rate is high because of a failure of the prison system. There is a such thing as opportunity costs: money spent on mass incarceration and three strikes laws create other public costs, and that money could be redirected at other rehabilitation programs.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  The recividism rate is high because of a failure of the prison system.

                  There it goes again, blaming society.

                  The recidivism rate is high because the criminally minded continue to behave criminally. 90% of us don’t behave criminally. The 10% who do demonstrate their personal hang ups, not society’s.

                  Don’t parody liberalism by blaming society. Individual responsibility is a thing. Its not the prison system’s job to keep you from misbehaving, its your job.

                • brad

                  It feels so much better to be angry than constructive, for some.
                  You haven’t even tried to make an argument that being punitive is more effective, it just feels righteous.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  I think the recidivism rates I quoted prove that it’s more effective. Since some 70% reoffend in 5 years we should lengthen sentences by 5 years! That may not stop all crime but it stops that one criminal!….This is a simple concept: If you’re tired of being a criminal stop committing criminal acts.

                • Brett

                  Look at what the recidivists are arrested for, though. 61% of them are re-arrested for “public order” and drug offenses, and another 23% are for property crimes. Only 14% are for violent crimes, which does suggest to me here that the problem is poor re-integration of the prisoner into society over time.

                  Honestly, recently released prisoners would benefit immensely from something like a job guarantee or so forth.

                • witlesschum

                  Talk about recidivism also needs to recognize that putting someone in prison involves locking them up with a bunch of criminals who have plenty of time on their hands. Plenty of criminologists talk about it as basically sending them to criminal college to learn exciting new skills. It makes sense if you make criminals someone’s peer group who was on the fringe of that life, it can push them over. Along with the difficulties finding honest, good-paying work for anyone without a college degree and then multiple that by giving them a felony.

                  Lock them up another five years, you might manage to increase the recidivism rate or escalate the severity of crimes they commit.

                  Just generally, if the answer to our criminal justice problems was locking people up, I don’t think we’d still be the most violent rich country in the world.

    • brewmn

      Bullshit on the Obama thing. Get back to me when an Obama supporter types something along the lines of the following (about George W. Bush):

      “A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.”

      The “Obama as Messiah” trope is nothing but rightwing propaganda. It always was bullshit, and it is bullshit now. Leave that noise in the rightwing echo chamber where it belongs.

      • ThrottleJockey

        It sure as hell isn’t. Lots of dispossessed, put up on people–many of them minorities–have a “Messiah Complex” when it comes to Obama and understandably so. Now maybe you as a white guy don’t buy into it but then you’be never have a reason to.

        • brewmn

          Waiting for examples. Outside of some probably apocryphal friend, relative, etc. of yours.

          • Gregor Sansa

            What the hell? “I’m waiting for any examples you might have, except for any examples you might have”? Sure, anecdotes are weak evidence, but preemptively dismissing them is still rude.

            • brewmn

              Are you new around here? TJ’s support for every argument he makes is “well, such and such happened to me” or his brother, or an ex-girlfriend, etc.

              I thought we were of the “anecdote does not equal data” line of thinking on this blog. And anecdotes are all he ever offers in support. If you find that persuasive, fine; I don’t.

              • dr. hilarius

                Yeah, this. Anecdotes are useful in the sense that they can give you a peak into how someone’s mind works. The fact that some event that happened to them (or that they heard from a friend) is salient to them in forming an opinion on something is in itself interesting. In the aggregate, if enough people think that way it may have anthropological/sociological value.

                But anecdotes in terms of logically proving a proposition? Come on, man. Calling out rudeness is one thing. Sticking up for anecdata = data is just weak sauce. They can be interesting but when people dishonesty overvalue them it gets tiresome.

              • ThrottleJockey

                I frequently link to empirical data as well. See above! I can’t help it if my anecdotes are more colorful than yours. I’ve had an interesting life.

                • brewmn

                  Well, you obviously find it interesting. That doesn’t mean it’s probative of any larger point you seek to make.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Get out more, my friend. The stories about Obama being a three-dimensional chess Grandmaster didn’t invent themselves.

            • DW

              Eh, a lot of the multidimensional chess stories were overblown. When you have a largely denialist and incoherent opposition, simply having a policy and being willing to play the long game looks like frickin’ genius.

            • brewmn

              Being a good political strategist is not the same as believing someone was divinely ordained to lead. That’s way more characteristic of rightwing thinking.

          • ThrottleJockey

            And I bet you have no idea why Rocky won best picture do you?

      • Davis X. Machina

        The author left out Bush’s skill at 11-dimentional chess, a pastime at which no one has ever accused Obama of excelling.

      • mtraven

        Um, remember this?

        Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.

        I guess one can argue about how widespread that sort of thing was during Obama’s ascendency (presumably it is mostly gone now) but it did exist.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Existed? It was exploited if not outright encouraged!

          Didn’t we do the same of FDR and JFK? Isn’t that called, Good Politics?

          ETA: wasn’t that just last week that Loomis was complaining how about how many liberals subscribed to the Great Man / Messiah brand of politics?

          • Hogan

            Didn’t we do the same of FDR and JFK?

            that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment.

            I’m gonna go with “no.”

            • ThrottleJockey

              Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny
              By Frank Freidel:

              Beginning with his inaugural address, FDR made the presidency… “a bully pulpit” for the expounding of moral values. “The presidency…” he had remarked while preparing to take office, “is not merely an administrative office…It is predominantly a place of moral leadership.” Both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt fundamentally took a moral rather than an economic view of the great problems facing the nation…”

              And don’t even let me get started with “Prophet of a New Order: FDR in Depression and War

            • witlesschum

              People with portraits of FDR and JFK on their walls seem rather like this to me and among people of the right age and/or demographics, those were pretty common. People like icons.

        • Halloween Jack

          In all fairness, he led with a warning:

          Warning: If you are a rigid pragmatist/literalist, itchingly evangelical, a scowler, a doubter, a burned-out former ’60s radical with no hope left, or are otherwise unable or unwilling to parse alternative New Age speak, click away right now, because you ain’t gonna like this one little bit.

          • witlesschum

            Very happy to click most of those boxes.

        • I had not seen that before.

          The first I heard of the “Messiah” meme was a David Brooks column.

          I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the portion of the population that uses the word “Lightworker” is not huge. (eta, oh, but are we supposed to “parse” it? then I’m sure it’s pretty much everyone except us literalists)

  • Cheerful

    Voting is an interesting act in that for any particular person in a reasonably large democracy it is almost meaningless as an exercise of power but for all the reasons noted, it is still collectively an incredibly important exercise of power. Not voting means all the other people who bothered to do the nearly meaningless thing, many of them quite stupid, decide who’s in charge of the police, army and tax collectors.

    I just worry that, always, democracy relies on an act of will, to vote as if the individual vote is highly meaningful, and put some effort necessarily to stand in a long line to do it, or at least find a stamp for the envelope when logic or a higher regard for convenience would seem to point otherise. I wonder how long voting can last if the word becomes ever more egoistic, though as long as power is distributed through elections there will always be someone in society pushing as hard as possible, by whatever means of persuasion, to get people to vote.

    • Joe_JP

      Voting is like speech and various other things — any one act has very little effect but as a whole clearly does.

      And, the act has great importance for the person as well and a range of effects on others too. So, a person doesn’t just vote. S/he is more likely to be informed, talk to others about the issues, perhaps donate and so on.

      People wonder how they can make a difference and often it is hard to see. But, then time passes, and things change (e.g., regarding gays) and it’s in large part a matter of people individually doing things, not just the PTB acting.

  • NewishLawyer

    There are a lot of people who do use politics to prove how pure they are though.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Yep. I have various terms for this depending on the situation, such as “moral handwashing” or “purity dance.” (Purity dance is not much different from Dana Carvey’s Church Lady’s “Superior Dance.”)

      Many years ago I had a standard rant about the Utne Reader and the kind of people I imagined liked it. It has faded away some, but it had something to do with being powerless in an age of Reaganism and only bothering with things you could control in your own little world, because, well, the meanies had beaten them into the ground in the larger political world. While right wing a-holes and actual liberatrians rave NOBODY TELL ME WADDADO!, they have actually kinda listened, and only focus on whether they are having very pure lives.

      I’d rather everybody eat 5% less cheeseburgers than there be 1,000 militant vegans, when it comes to the big picture.

      • NewishLawyer

        I see purity as being a sign of privilege and a lack of self-awareness.

        I know a fair number of Bernie Sanders supporters/Clinton haters who seem to acknowledge and not acknowledge their own privileges. On the one hand, they seem to understand that they were born on triple and have been given all the advantages in the world and this is deeply unfair. These are guys that have attended exclusive private schools since kindergarten. Many have lifestyles that don’t correspond to income levels. They seem to sincerely care about the rent being too damn high even if they own apartments that would normally go to people with much more exclusive jobs. Some can afford to be adjuncts because they don’t need to worry about an adjuncts horrible pay.

        Yet their awareness seems to end when it comes to thinking “Hm. I am privileged white guy. Maybe I will survive a Trump or Cruz better than a woman or a minority?”

        And I say this as a guy who is only marginally less privileged. I don’t have student debt. I attended excellent suburban public schools instead of exclusive private schools from K-12 but my upper education was all at private universities. Yet I get that voting for HRC is much better than a Republican presidency on so many factors even if I dislike her coziness to Wall Street.

        • UserGoogol

          Eh, I know people who fall pretty low on the whole privilege thing who take a purity approach to politics. Broadly summarizing, if you think that your future under anything short of Full Communism is nothing but poverty and being murdered by cops, settling for the lesser evil can seem pointless. All or nothing.

          There are of course several problems with that mindset. For one things aren’t quite that bad, people can muddle through, and there’s shades of gradation even if your life is going to be pretty shitty under any likely future. (There’s probably a connection between the cynicism of the oppressed and the cynicism of the privileged, though, both come from a lack of perspective.) And also, even if things are that bad, you shouldn’t just focus on your own hopeless existence, but on helping others. If your life is a never ending nightmare of pain don’t feel obliged to go out of your way to help others, but at least if you are able to get to a voting booth try to see what you can do.

          • JL

            Eh, I know people who fall pretty low on the whole privilege thing who take a purity approach to politics. Broadly summarizing, if you think that your future under anything short of Full Communism is nothing but poverty and being murdered by cops, settling for the lesser evil can seem pointless. All or nothing.

            I know some of those too.

      • Tyro

        it had something to do with being powerless in an age of Reaganism and only bothering with things you could control in your own little world

        The thing is that feeling like you can control your environment is a pretty big human need, and a feeling of helplessness is bad for the public.

        Possibly what we need to do is consider voting only the very least and most basic among of political engagement– something necessary but ultimately not important if you want to politically engage. Because otherwise you will vote endlessly year after year and feel helpless because nothing will ever change.

        • JL

          Possibly what we need to do is consider voting only the very least and most basic among of political engagement– something necessary but ultimately not important if you want to politically engage. Because otherwise you will vote endlessly year after year and feel helpless because nothing will ever change.

          This is pretty close to my views and to one of my comments in another subthread.

          • witlesschum

            Mine, too. I like to think of voting and making what I, to the best of my ability, think are the best choices among the options available to be the least I can do for my fellow humans.

      • Linnaeus

        Lately I’ve begun to question the analytical value of a category like “purist”. It seems to be functioning more as a glib accusation than anything else.

        • Ktotwf

          It is a standard rhetorical trope (along with “Leftier than Thou”) of people who feel comfortable with the political positioning of the Democratic Party and are annoyed by people who are not and are vocal about it.

  • wjts

    Nakedly absent from this, as it is from the rest of the piece, is a consideration of the actual material consequences of elections.

    Sigh. That kind of critique is so theoretically unsophisticated, Scott.

    • rhino

      I loved that bit. The entire post is a pretty masterful evisceration of a pretty untenable (and pernicious) political position.

      The whole voting doesn’t matter/both sides are the same/purity test/single issue voting cloud is one of the most dangerous things threatening democracy today. Society NEEDS an informed and activist electorate more than we ever have, and guys like this are undermining it every time they open their mouths, set pen to paper, or fire up their laptops. They need to be countered vigorously, and Scott has done a good job here. People who read this post are less likely to become fatigued, less likely to buy into this crap, more likely to engage and more likely to vote. t’s finger-in-the-dyke stuff, to be sure, but it’s good work.

      • Pat

        What I don’t understand is why these articles keep popping up at Salon with such breathless regularity.

        • Matt McIrvin

          People keep linking to them, don’t they?

    • Nakedly absent from this, as it is from the rest of the piece, is a consideration of the actual material consequences of elections.

      In Santa Monica Friday evening my wife and I dined with old friends of hers, a couple of our age (mid-sixties), quite prosperous, who shocked us by announcing that they intended to vote for Trump. They’ve lived in California for decades, but were both of them born, raised and educated in New York, and Trump’s persona appeals to them. When I cited some of his more appalling rhetoric, they handwaved it away. “That’s just how he gets free airtime. See, he’s a smart man, very shrewd.” They then spouted some appalling nativist rhetoric, spoke approvingly of the wall that He, Trump will build and that They, the meskins will pay for (“He’ll renogotiate the trade deals. That’s what he does. He’s a negotiator”). I observed that once this impenetrable wall was completed, the lush residential gardens in their very tony neighborhood were going to start looking a little shaggier.

      These are college educated adults, he a successful building contractor and she an attorney. To my arguments contra Trump, which had to be temperately phrased so as to remain within the bounds of civilized host-guest protocols, they were unreceptive. When I set forth some worse-case scenarios (worst, obviously, being the petulant flinging about of fissionable hardware, but I didn’t bother going there), my host shrugged and said “How’s any of that going to affect me in California?” I agreed that we might be insulated to an extent by factors of culture, economics and geography from the direst effects of a Trump putsch, but that millions less fortunate would suffer, and did that not concern him? “That’s their lookout,” he responded. “We need to shake up the system.”

      It was depressing as hell. Damn good dinner, though.

      • Davis X. Machina

        Chances are a successful building contractor is successful in CA to the extent that he or his subs employ the very people the wall is meant to stop.

  • muntz

    Any word from Corey Robin on this? He’s been getting a bit bumptious lately.

  • MAJeff

    I dislike voting as a model of political engagement, especially in a corrupt and constrained system that devalues grassroots organizing and tries to limit our imagination to mechanical support of stage-managed icons.

    Is voting incompatible with grassroots organizing and trying to theorize new forms of social organization?

    • JL

      The way I read that, is that he’s saying that a lot of mainstream-respectable types promote voting as THE form of political engagement, while they and various institutions trash or look down on other forms of political engagement. And that part is true, I think. I just don’t think the right reaction to that is “Don’t vote,” it’s “Vote and also do the other stuff and try to model for others why the other stuff is important and useful.”

  • Is Freddie DeBoer now writing under a Nom de Plume?

    • tsam

      Nom de Guerre! Because superiority, see?

      • N__B

        Nom de nom. Because snacks.

        • Pat

          Polar bears are always hungry…

  • Ronan

    There are two arguments in his article,which I also didn’t find particularly interesting, though.
    (1)more implicitly than explicitly , that who wins the election doesn’t matter. This, I agree, is stupid, and most of Scott’s post is about this.
    (2)that an individual vote doesn’t “matter”, or at least that refusing to vote, or spoiling it, or even voting for a third party can’t be reasonably blamed for some great harm. Voting or nor voting, individually, doesn’t matter. It never makes a difference. Both acts are largely symbolic.
    Scott responds to this with:

    “perhaps he should write John Lewis and tell him what an idiot he was for putting his life on the line for something as meaningless ”

    Which is much weaker tea.

  • sleepyirv

    An argument possible only in a country where Obama saying “elections have consequences” is considered not a banality but a radical rejection of political norms.

  • Tyro

    This also contains the annoying liberal shibboleth that demands that grassroots organizing be the only form of political activity that is considered valid. It’s basically a complaint that voting doesn’t give him the good feeling that grassroots organizing gives him, so we should refrain from participating in a system unless grassroots organizing is the primary means of engagement.

  • tsam

    I love my country too much to waste time with voting. Because reasons.

  • fledermaus

    Kinda OT:

    So because it is Sunday morning and I’m bored I looked up how my state’s (Washington) delegates are selected. It is a total Rube Goldberg process. Apparently there is both a caucus and a primary. The GOP caucus in late February, but don’t use the results for delegates. The Dems caucus late March and use the results. Finally in late May all registered voters will be mailed a presidential primary ballot, the results of which the GOP will use to allocate all WA delegates and the dems will disregard entirely.

    • Linnaeus

      Yeah, it’s really silly.

    • ColBatGuano

      I can’t tell you how annoyed I am that the Dems are using a caucus this year. I don’t need to mill around for half a day to decide who I’m voting for.

      • fledermaus

        exactly. But in any event the nomination for both parties is usually wrapped up by the time the dem caucus rolls around in March, even in 2008. You can forget about the May primary meaning anything at all.

  • Gregor Sansa

    So, let’s actually have a discussion about voting strategy which includes the option of voting null or third-party.

    Point one. In an election based on plurality voting, null or third-party voting can have one of two short-term consequences: nothing at all, or failing to elect the lesser evil (aka, helping the greater evil, aka evil.)

    Point two. Other election systems (such as approval voting and proportional representation) exist, and putting them into practice would be good for citizen power, good for most progressive goals, and help reduce government inaccountability/corruption. In the US, these systems could be put into effect by either federal or state statute, with no need for constitutional amendments; the game plan is to start from the bottom up.

    Point 3. Given point 1, there are only two possible strategic reasons for a third-party vote. Reason A: you’re part of a larger group that’s being taken for granted, and you’ve collectively come to a consensus that the long-term benefits of titting for a tat outweigh the short-term harm from the greater evil winning. Reason B: you’re part of a majority of the electorate that is utterly fed up with the pathetic excuse for a democracy, and you believe that not voting, when combined with massive street demonstrations, will force a new constitutional convention which will institute a better voting system.

    We are nowhere near to clearing the bar for reason A being valid at the presidential level, and we are orders of magnitude farther away from reason B being valid. (In fact, reason B is pretty self-refuting anyway; if you have enough of a movement to have a revolution by not voting, you have enough of a movement to have a revolution and also to vote just in case that doesn’t work out).

    So: happy, Salaita? There’s your discussion. Discussed, dismissed.

    Now can we have my discussion about voting reform? Pretty please?

    • Ronan

      Even accepting that there are “only 2” *strategic* reasons for a third party vote, he wasn’t (from my reading ) talking only strategically or only about third party votes. There are other moral, symbolic and emotional (as well as political) reasons to not vote or spoil your vote.
      If your vote mattered, there might ‘be a case that you are personally responsible for some great harm emerging from your actions. Since it generally doesn’t, you’re not. And I’m not sure why personal voting habits attract such scorn.

      • Gregor Sansa

        The “let the streetcar hit the group” theory of not-voting? I’ll grant that it’s an emotional reason, but it’s not an ethical one.

        • Ronan

          It is, because (1) your ethics aren’t everyone else’s, so you don’t get to call what is or isn’t ethical, (2) let the streetcar hit the group theory isn’t either the theory or a suitable comparison , so irrelevant

          • Gregor Sansa

            This is the internet, I get to bloviate on all the ethics. I might even be correct; plenty of people have “ethics” self-contradictory enough not to be worthy of the name, no matter how sincerely felt.

            • Ronan

              Let’s take a loaded example but from a likely demographic. You’ve lost your job, youre down on your luck, youre sick and tired and struggling paying bills. Youre relatively low information voter, you instinctively think they’re all the same. Perhaps you don’t really believe it, but that’s how you feel at this moment. You don’t vote as a small act of disobedience, a fuck you to all that’s grinding you down at this moment in time. This is an ethical decision, a moral one. It might not be coherent, but the good (satisfaction) outweighs the bad (nothing)

              • ChrisTS

                :Beep, Beep: Ethicist, here. No, it is not ethical to express your self with an “F You” that could harm others – nor to be indifferent to the possibility of such harm.

                It might be excusable under certain fairly dire circumstances, but it is not ethical.

                First, the use of reason is central to good moral decision-making. “F the world, I’m unhappy” is not good reasoning; indeed, it’s barely ‘reasoning’ at all.

                Second, except for very dire straights (one is currently being tortured to death), giving up – whether with indifference to others or only to one’s own situation – is not ethical. One of the fundamental traits necessary for moral success is determination (or, ‘courage,’ if you like). Again, perhaps it is understandable or, in some cases, excusable to give up, but it is never right.

                • Ronan

                  But the point is it’s not harming others. Your individual vote has literally no effect , positive or negative (now, tbh, christs, I’m more than likely going to concede to you on this point at some stage. As I’d assume you know what you’re talking about, and I’m largely a buffer ; ) )

                • Scott Lemieux

                  But the point is it’s not harming others. Your individual vote has literally no effect , positive or negative

                  I guess I will have to do a separate post on this, but to state the obvious this defense is unavailable to people taking to national magazines to defend their decision not to vote and implicitly urge others to do the same. Arguments about who to vote for in public are arguments about collective action. The fact that one individual abstaining from voting won’t affect an election is completely irrelevant in this context.

                • N__B

                  I am pleasantly surprised to hear that determination is a “fundamental trait necessary for moral success” and not considered pigheadedness. My surprise, of course, is a direct result of my extremely poor education in philosophy.

                  Also, because of the way my brain is wired, “It might be excusable under certain fairly dire circumstances, but it is not ethical.” triggered the Devil’s Dictionary in me: Homicide. n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy…

                • ChrisTS

                  Ronan: I don’t know what a ‘buffer’ is, but the point is (as others have noted) it might harm others if enough people decide to respond that way.

                  N-B (Big Bear):

                  Homicide. n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy…

                  From an ethicist’s perspective, this is spot on, with only a change of ‘felonious’ to ‘wrongful.’

                  Also: ‘pig-headedness’ is a vice; courage/determination is not. The pig-headed person pushes on, no matter what the situation or evidence. The courageous person assesses the situation and prospects.

                • N__B

                  Chris –

                  Bierce often got at the truth pretty well, if you can get past his general dislike of human beings.

                  Your explanation of pigheadedness versus determination makes sense – and thanks – but it seems to me that it’s yet another example of where people will believe what they want to believe. The will believe they are assessing the situation while they actually find rationalizations to go on with their pre-determined plans.

                • Ronan

                  Christs, typo “bluffer”. It still doesn’t cause harm though.
                  I’ll wait for Scott’s New post on this though and see what I’m missing.

                • xq

                  Your individual vote has literally no effect , positive or negative

                  People keep posting this in these threads but it’s just not true. Under many reasonably likely circumstances the probability of being the deciding vote is relatively high–on the order of 1 in 10 million or so in Colorado in 2008 (http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/research/published/probdecisive2.pdf). That seems small, but it’s much larger than “literally no effect.” If you think the Republican president will do $1 trillion worth of damage relative to the Democrat–probably a great underestimate (the Iraq war itself was far more expensive)–that would make the expected value of a vote in a swing state around $100,000 in global utility. Far from no effect, voting for Democratic presidential candidates in swing states in 50-50 elections is one of the best things you can do for the world if you aren’t rich or powerful.

                  And writing an article in which you encourage people not to vote, and make no distinction with respect to swing states, is much worse than not voting yourself.

                • Ronan

                  I understand it can, in fact I posted an example above of it mattering in a recent election in ireland. But for the purposes of the conversation of a normal person making a decision on voting (1) they aren’t going to calculate complex probabilities of their vote mattering (2) I think it would be rightly seen as bordering on delusional to approach an election with that perspective.
                  But I agree it not literally true

                • xq

                  I think it would be rightly seen as bordering on delusional to approach an election with that perspective.

                  Why? What is the general rule here? What is the ethical responsibility of taking an action that has a very low probability of having any effect, but an extremely negative effect if so? Surely it’s not zero?

                • Ronan

                  ” What is the ethical responsibility of taking an action that has a very low probability of having any effect, but an extremely negative effect if so? Surely it’s not zero”

                  Okay, that’s a fair question, and is what I was (perhaps incompetently) trying to get at. I can accept its not zero, but I don’t know what it is. It would strike me as trivial enough though.

                • djw

                  ut for the purposes of the conversation of a normal person making a decision on voting (1) they aren’t going to calculate complex probabilities of their vote mattering

                  Why would it be necessary for a normal person to think in calculations? We don’t do that; we use folk heuristics (“You never know!” “Stranger things have happened!”) to get at the same point.

                  I don’t need to do any complicated math about the probability of accidents and injuries to put on a seatbelt of bike helmet.

                • ChrisTS

                  N-B (Big Bear), again:

                  Of course, we can fool ourselves as to how well we are using our faculties to arrive at decisions. I think it is much harder to fool most or many others.

                  Moral judgments are a;ways tricky, but I think most of us can tell when someone is being purely pig-headed (or fanatical) and when someone is trying to assess a situation. Of course, even the generally courageous person will sometimes be pig-headed, but s/he should be able, with hindsight, to recognize that.

              • djw

                You’re describing a kind of reaction/behavior that’s understandable, deeply human-all-too-human, and almost certainly worthy of sympathy and understanding. That you can’t even be bothered to try to identify a reason we might treat it as ‘ethical’ is a pretty big tell.

                As others have noted, the “it’s not harming others” argument may arguably pertain to this isolated individual, but that has nothing to do with a group of people with significant readership discussing how those of us who are certain values and priorities ought to vote. The kind of hyperindividualism at work in this assumption, applied broadly, pretty much destroys any argument about ethics and voluntary collective action, which has reactionary political implications.

                • Ronan

                  A pretty big tell what ? That I don’t understand ethics ? I didn’t bring ethics into it Gregor did, so not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes

                • Ronan

                  I would have to ‘re read salaita, but as I said above (1) I didn’t necessarily read him talking prescriptively, iirc he was making the argument that it was not reasonable to blame people who were opting out for “the harm” caused. But I didn’t read him as recommending it.
                  (2) you still have to show the harm caused though, surely? You even have to show it for what salaita is doin.
                  Anyway I’ll concede the ethical bit, for now. I’ll see what the future post says.

                • djw

                  A pretty big tell what ? That I don’t understand ethics ?

                  No, that you’re bullshitting here at least with respect to the question of ethics. If you didn’t understand ethics, you might try, badly, to make an actual argument.

                • Ronan

                  Gregor brought ethics into it. I said morals. I assumed ethics = what I thought “morals” were, ie individual values, relatively contingent and person specific. Looking it up I don’t think this is right for eithef, so what I would have said was something akin to a personal value system.
                  Bullshitting in terms of of using terms and arguments loosely, then yes. But it is an internet comment section. Bullshitting in terms of trolling, no.
                  I don’t know what the ethical responsibility is, tbh

                • Ronan

                  But as a Sign of good faith I’ll come back and attempt a coherent ethical responsibility argument later

                • djw

                  Gregor brought ethics into it. I said morals.

                  I don’t see a whole lot of work being done by the ethics/morality distinction here.

        • dr. hilarius

          Wow, this is a really simplistic response to a complex philosophical thought experiment. But ok. Let’s pretend there’s a single right answer to the trolley problem.

          God, you can be such a self-righteous prick sometimes.

      • Ktotwf

        What it actually seems to be about is not urging people to vote, per se, but pushing back against a certain form of Criticism-of-the-Dems-From-the-Left. That is the subtext.

        • Scott Lemieux

          What it actually seems to be about is not urging people to vote, per se, but pushing back against a certain form of Criticism-of-the-Dems-From-the-Left.

          Yeah, no. It’s it especially wrong in this context, as the article 1)has no useful criticism of the Democrats from the left and 2)if anything its ire is directed more at Bernie voters than Clinton voters.

    • redrob

      help reduce government inaccountability/corruption

      I keep seeing this argument for PR, but I honestly cannot think of an example where PR is actually causally linked to less corruption in government, while there are a great many cases where it appears to be functionally linked to corruption (e.g., Brazil, Israel, Ireland, Italy). As for reducing a lack of political accountability, I will merely note that in countries like Italy (from 1945-1994), Israel, Belgium, and the Netherlands, the same politicians from the same parties pop up as members of the government election after election, regardless of the minor variations in vote share that their parties experience precisely because no party can win an election outright, which hardly seems to increase accountability — after all, it becomes nearly impossible to “throw the bums out” unless you have a “wave election”. There are certainly features of PR that make it an attractive alternative to FPTP, but it is not, in itself, going to fix what you seem to think are the two major problems of the system.

      • Gregor Sansa

        I don’t specifically know about all of those cases, but those I do know of have closed party list PR. My contention was actually about open list PR. I’ll go check now which is which and if some of your examples are open list I’ll be surprised.

        • Gregor Sansa

          Brazil: upper house no PR, lower closed list (?)
          Ireland: STV which is technically open list but, unlike German-style MMP, can act like closed list if voters vote a party line (and it’s hard not to).
          Israel: closed list.
          Italy: closed list
          Belgium: currently open list, but perhaps not in the period you speak of?
          Netherlands: closed list

          So that’s one or two where I was wrong and want to weasel out, and 4 where I was right.

          • Gregor Sansa

            I realize that the whole “closed list” thing might seem like one big weasel, but I honestly considered including it in my original post and decided it was too nerdy.

          • redrob

            Brazil is open list, with state-wide multi-member districts. Efforts have been made to create a closed list system, but it’s only recently that political parties managed to get a court ruling that the seats belong to them rather than to individual members, so that party jumpers lose their seats. One result of this has been that the government has traditionally had to buy the votes of many legislators rather than rely on party discipline to deliver them — this is done both with public spending and slush funds, as in the PetroBras bribery scandal threatening to consume Dilma’s government.

            Italy was an open list system before 1994 and there’s an interesting article on how that affected public spending and weakened party leadership at https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/5626/1/MPRA_paper_5626.pdf

            I’m surprised that you seem to imply that Ireland’s STV is less likely to allow voters to hold the party leadership accountable — take a look at the big guns who went down in the last Irish election while running mates in their districts were returned. Or have I misunderstood the point of your comparison with the German system?

            As for Belgium and the Netherlands, I don’t know the history of either well enough to say anything about the electoral systems in the past, but I was under the impression that both have preference voting within party lists — isn’t that a form of open list?

            I’m still not sure how an open list PR system will substantially increase government accountability or decrease corruption compared to FPTP. An open list system frees legislators from party discipline and tends to increase their to extort resources from the government in return for loyalty, both of which work against accountability of the government and pervert the idea of public funds going for public goods — sure, voters could vote against the guy they voted into office last time, but if the connection between legislator and party is weak, they’re just as likely to vote for “the best man” without regard to party as so many voters do today. The result would be a fragmented party system with more coalition building in Congress (a good thing, imho), but not more “accountability” of government as a whole.

      • Ronan

        I think electoral systems effects on things like corruption are minimal enough. There are deeper causes

        • redrob

          Generally speaking, I agree. That’s why I don’t think that shifting to PR would change that. The countries with PR and little government corruption would have little corruption with FPTP; those with lots of corruption and PR would probably have it without PR. However, to the extent that the party system is fragmented by PR and governments then have to engage in a tremendous amount of horse trading to ensure support, I think that there _can_ be a functional link between PR and corruption in the sense of public funds being used, in effect, to bribe parties or even individual legislators to support a government by engaging in spending that does not serve good policy ends, but rewards those parties. I realize that this is a very broad use of the term corruption, but I assume that it is close to what Gregor meant by corruption. Even if he means something more like private enrichment through public funds, Brazil shows evidence of that being one price of a MMD, open list, PR system.

          • Ronan

            I agree it plausibly encourages those kind of behaviours, but hadn’t included that as corruption (I had a longer comment including that which I cut down ) what do you think about clientilism? Does the political system incentivise it or more act as a conduit for larger political, cultural, institutional causes?

            • redrob

              I defined corruption as broadly as I did because that is what advocates of good government often seem to mean by corruption in discussions of elections in addition to the cruder sorts of quid pro quo and I can see identifying “partisan reward through public spending at the cost of public goods” as a form of corruption.

              Short answer: the electoral system can incentivize clientelism even where it isn’t found in society at large or it can simply reflect other causes, but where there is a strong social bias against clientelism, the electoral system is unlikely to give rise to it.

              Long answer: that’s one of those things I should probably think deeply about and try to write up if I ever regain my professional ambition.

  • When folks with loud voices and large audiences assign blame for the terrible state of U.S. governance on people who make ethical decisions to avoid cosigning injustice, we’re no longer dealing with reason but with numbingly inane superstition.

    Yeah, that sentence is weird.

    The first quote, though, I read as: voting is dumb as a means of making political change, but some people vote as an emotional affirmation and that’s okay.

    I won’t read the original; I’ve clicked my last Salon link ever, I think.

  • Brett

    Nakedly absent from this, as it is from the rest of the piece, is a consideration of the actual material consequences of elections.

    Probably because he won’t experience it – he’s off at the American University of Beirut, from whose perch he can morally condemn Both Sides and Voting without actually having to live with any material consequences of a Republican victory.

    Of all the left-side critiques, this is the one that makes me the angriest. Go tell women in the South that there’s no case for tactical voting for Democrats over Republicans, or the teachers in Wisconsin.

    The NLRB will be consistently anti-labor. Civil rights and employee protections will go unenforced.

    Yep. If the Republicans take over Congress and the Presidency, they will completely hollow out the NLRA. They won’t kill it out right – there’s a lucrative union-busting lobby and abolishing it would open the door for all kinds of labor activism again amidst the horrors – but they’ll completely destroy the enforcement side of it, leaving the civil court remedy left over to be destroyed by expanding mandatory arbitration. They’ll likely pass a National Right to Work Law on a party-line vote as well.

    • Ronan

      You don’t think he will be subjected to “any material consequences of a Republican victory” in the middle east?!

      • Pseudonym

        It’s inconceivable that events in Syria could have any impact on Lebanon.

  • IS

    We remain confined to a political canon that produced the greatest crisis of inequality in world history.

    This is . . . not even close to true.

    It’s early in the season to be hedging the tyrannical liberal against the right-wing tyrant.

    Oh, CDS. Where would we be without you?

    Should Sanders lose the primary, deciding to vote for Clinton as an impediment to Trump is a tactical question worthy of discussion.

    . . . Is it? Is it, really? As opposed to, say, the obviously correct choice for anyone (center-left or further) in a state where the outcome is in doubt?

    The problem is that party surrogates inform those who reject the approach that they would be responsible for whatever horrors Trump might inflict as president. The moral and logical terms of this argument are brutally obtuse.

    Not the only obtuse thing here . . . Anyway, he’s at least acknowledging in principle that there might be consequences to the election. Unless he’s implicitly dismissing the point.

    It confers responsibility for national travails onto those who choose different ways of political consumption and participation.

    Phrasing this in terms of “consumption” actually sheds light on an important point, which the LGM crew often emphasizes: there are externalities to political consumption, since the outcome is something that everyone (and more so the less privileged one is) “gets” to consume, not just the individual participants.

    Disciplining the recalcitrant arises from an American tradition of blaming the depredations of the powerful on those with much less power.

    I don’t think this is a good time to take up the mantle of the victim. And because of discontinuities, even small amounts of power can matter in these cases.

    Sanders’s true measure will be revealed if he loses the primary. Without corporate money, he could run as an independent, but it’s a safer bet that he’ll proffer support for Clinton and thus redirect grassroots energy into the Democratic machine.

    Yes, there is the chance that he would do . . . exactly what he originally said he would do, and not run as an independent spoiler. Similar to how he caucused with the Democrats in Congress.

    Cigarette smokers, overwhelmingly poor and minority, bear the moral burden of pollution while earth’s greatest polluters—DuPont, Dow, ExxonMobile, General Electric, Halliburton—poison us into billion-dollar profits.

    What is he talking about? Who blames smokers for anything other than a minute, incremental effect on pollution far less than those companies in aggregate or individually? Unless . . . is he conflating the fact that smokers do/did cause more pollution, and were held to account for that, in enclosed, localized areas frequented by the general public with blame for regional or world scale pollution?

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yes, there is the chance that he would do . . . exactly what he originally said he would do, and not run as an independent spoiler. Similar to how he caucused with the Democrats in Congress.

      Yes, exactly. “If Bernie loses, this will be a test of whether he’s the narcissistic asshole I wish he was.” Fortunately, he’s not!

      • N__B

        Based on Bernie’s character (as read from his actions) and his interests (explicitly stated as moving the conversation leftwards) I have some hope the if he loses the nomination he’ll campaign against the R candidate.

    • We remain confined to a political canon that produced the greatest crisis of inequality in world history.

      It’s not even the greatest crisis of inequality in this nation’s history, re: % of human beings literally owned as property by other human beings; 1/2 of all people denied the franchise and many other rights based on their genitals, etc.

      EDIT: WTF, I didn’t see that pollution bit. Is he insane?

      • Scott Lemieux

        EDIT: WTF, I didn’t see that pollution bit. Is he insane?

        That’s what you call an argument that fails on every level, even before you get to the “Ted Cruz supervising federal environmental regulations for at least 4 years? OK with me!” angle.

  • random

    You had me at “I dislike voting as a model of political engagement”. I myself am not a fan of breathing as a means of accomplishing respiration and am considering not doing it anymore in the future.

  • cpinva

    I don’t deify anyone, and I vote for those people I believe will work in my interests. while not voting, as a sign of displeasure with the choices, is an option, it’s a stupid option. by not voting, you abrogated any right you have to bitch about the state of the state, etc. anyone who urges others not to vote should be shoved in a closet, and not released until after the elections, they’re a danger to society.

  • Ktotwf

    Good god, I hope if I were running for office none of my campaign managers would have the gall to criticize the “Voter as Consumer” model or imply that “Elections are not about “fee-fees”.

    • Vance Maverick

      I don’t get it. Why emphasize the perspective of the tiny fraction of us who are running for office? That’s if anything narrower than Salaita’s voter-consumer perspective.

    • dr. hilarius

      Not everyone’s a sensitive sally like you.

    • It’s a good thing nobody here is writing on behalf of a campaign, then.

      • elm

        This may explain Ktotwf’s commenting pattern: he’s under the misapprehension that Scott is a paid member of Hillary’s campaign team. Perhaps he thinks all of us are and that’s why he gets so upset at the mildest criticism of Bernie.

  • jpgray

    This is all correct, but only up to a point. Mistreat a horse enough and it won’t work, all arguments about the master’s insolvency meaning a ticket to the knackery notwithstanding.

    We’re obviously nowhere near that point in the establishment’s treatment of the base, but when does the disillusionment evident in depressed turnout, a parade of lost seats/statehouses/governorships and other data start to warrant criticism of party leadership rather than criticism of the public?

    Isn’t it more justifiable to hold the leadership responsible for their narrow process-heavy technocratic bland-as-oatmeal approach, rather than to hold the voting public responsible for failing to be emotionless +EV Bayesian automatons?

    The argument from the other side would cast Bernie as uselessly attentive or implausibly inspirational, the master buttering his horse’s hay, but at least he’s trying something.

    • Ktotwf

      Exactly right. No sane politician attacks the electorate. Can you imagine Hillary Clinton saying “If I don’t get elected, it is your fault for not voting!”?

      Why does the Center-Left have SO MUCH more interest in disciplining the Base than disciplining the Party?

      • UserGoogol

        Hard-headed wonks are themselves an important part of the base. Of course, neither side of this debate is really that huge a part of the base, the percentage of people who care about Internet intra-left debates like this is rather small. But I feel like the wonkier side of things is ultimately a very important part of the base. The fundamental values of the Democratic Party are centered around being the reality-based community, focusing on carefully trying to figure out how to make a better world instead of being corrupted by rhetoric and frustration like conservatives are. We’re the party of milquetoast liberalism!

    • djw

      This isn’t just really responsive at all. if A says “I’m not going to vote, or defend a decision not to vote, because X” and B follows up with “Here are all the reasons X is a terrible argument”, coming back with “But lots of people use reasons like X” is just changing the subject. Salaita isn’t offering an empirical account of the social psychology of not voting, he’s offering an affirmative justification for the decision to not vote. The social distributions of reasons for voting or not voting is an interesting and important subject in its own right, but even if your speculative account is broadly correct, it won’t make Salaita’s arguments any less risible. Nothing in this post holds “the voting public” responsible for anything; it holds Salaita responsible for terrible arguments.

      • jpgray

        Salaita’s argument is extremely poor. But what prompted it? Let’s call them fee-fees, I guess.

        Those fee-fees are the determining factor in human behavior. Operating from the expectation that the passions are the slaves of reason in any person will lead to disappointment.

        I’d argue “don’t be so selfish as to not vote when the lives of millions are in the balance” and “don’t be so selfish as to batten on Goldman Sachs before announcing your presidential candidacy” are both perfectly valid.

        However, logical takedowns from Scott and others against Salaita, or against procuring millions in speaking fees from finance before announcing your presidential candidacy, are limited in effectiveness.

        They are effective only insofar as your target feels shame in his/her fee-fees. Their reason won’t turn a bit if they view you as an insignificant schlub or if they are incapable of being ashamed at seeming illogical/selfish. Absent this, explaining the climate change debate, or heck, the entire GOP, would be impossible.

        So in my view, fee-fees not only have a place in elections, but in the end they’re the only place.

        • dr. hilarius

          You seem Very Concerned.

          You got an issue, use a tissue.

          • jpgray

            Now you’re catching on! Right in the fee-fees.

        • djw

          One can accept the basic Humean line about moral psychology and still talk straightforwardly about the quality of arguments. Hume did, after all.

          • jpgray

            Right, but the fee-fees remain decisive when it comes down to the quality of arguments meaning anything to anyone.

            It’s why the isolation and anonymity of the internet leads to rudeness and interminable useless arguments – the emotional costs to looking/acting stupid are low. If you can’t raise those costs, no feel-good stupidity is going away by force of argument.

            • ChrisTS

              This is simply an assertion. Perhaps feelings (1) determine the conduct of some people some of the time, or (2) determine the conduct of some people all of the time. But there is simply no [uncontested] evidence that (3) feelings determine the conduct of all people all of the time.

              • I agree with ChrisTS.

                The argument that everyone has feelings is certainly true. But the argument that everyone acts on their feelings is false. It is, furthermore, the argument that abusers use to explain their battering or their verbal violence towards their targets.I’m reading an interesting book on abusers right now and it makes this point over and over again–and when you look around you at people you know you will realize its obviously true. Everyone has feelings of pleasure, anger, rage, spite, generosity but people routinely handle those feelings differently in public and in private, in groups and in dyads, with strangers and with intimates. There is no one line between feelings and action and, indeed, most people stop and think before they act on their feelings pretty much all the time (after they are toddlers, that is).

                Also: a feeling like “I want my caaaaaaaandidate and only my caaaaaandidate” is not the only feeling that people can have. I want security for x portion of the population. I want to prevent greater harm. I am ethically constrained by my concern for the planet’s future.” Are all, also, feelings that might inform one’s vote.

                In conclusion a vote is not an excuse for mental masturbation nor is it the last chance in a heartless world for a person to express themselves. It is a civic duty in a complex situation in which each person who has a vote is morally obligated to pay fucking attention and choose wisely for the benefit of all. I, personally, would liken it to a situation in which you are at the family table and you have the job of determining how to slice up a single pie to feed everyone at the table. You don’t get to abstain from the decision, and you also can’t make a choice that hurts other people at the table even if they can’t advocate for themselves. Certainly you can’t destroy the pie in order to make sure that no one else benefits from it.

                • N__B

                  Certainly you can’t destroy the pie in order to make sure that no one else benefits from it.

                  Of course, you can. You’ll just be a flaming asshole who will never again be trusted with a serving utensil.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  Of course, you can. You’ll just be a flaming asshole who will never again be trusted with a serving utensil.

                  And the goddess Annoia will make sure of that!

                • I knew the pie thing was going too far.

                • jpgray

                  I appreciate the detailed response, but don’t agree. There is no person whose final gate to action is anything other than feelings and only feelings.

                  If it doesn’t harm you in the slightest to act stupidly, illogically, or selfishly – or if it doesn’t please you to resist acting that way – then by God you will act that way insofar as it is pleasant.

                  What you and others believe to be “acting rationally” only occurs in my view because of the pain it would cause you to act irrationally, or the pleasure you take in resisting the irrational act, and only in that specific circumstance.

                  It’s only in that specific circumstance, because reason will not tax itself with cataloging the infinite times its own logic gears fail to even twitch, and we simply act like children or animals in doing what is pleasant without reasoning once about it. Maybe they stir a bit by the time we get to the bottom of the Cheez-It box.

                  The main argument against this theory is that it isn’t falsifiable, but neither is the alternative. Empirically I think “in the end – all emotional” fits far better as a guide to human behavior than “oftentimes people are guided by pure reason.”

    • Scott Lemieux

      We’re obviously nowhere near that point in the establishment’s treatment of the base,

      Indeed, the party is more responsive to its left wing than it’s been in decades.

      • djw

        And, of course, there are prenty of reliable Democratic voters who aren’t prone to threatening to abandoning the party and contribute to the installation of Donald Trump as president if their preferred candidate doesn’t win the primary. Maybe it makes just a little more sense to call them “the base”?

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          whoa. that is a *novel* concept. I have to sit down and think about this for a while

        • jpgray

          Going after the Salaitas is a waste of time, sure. Going after those who respond to emotional pandering wins elections, since that’s the majority of Americans, inclusive of the Democratic base.

          It’s why Obama made the “may as well mandate everyone buy a house” or “tell you what – let’s try a two legged stool” health care argument in ’08. I’m sure HRC felt a sort of helpless frustration at the smiling yet impregnable stupidity of this, much like anyone of sense feels towards the “not voting” people. But it works!

          • Scott Lemieux

            These weren’t appeals to emotions or feelings. They were policy arguments — bad, politically expedient ones that benefited from the debate format, but policy arguments.

            • jpgray

              “Government mandates bad” is on a logical level with the pandering it attracts – a simple, unreasoning, emotional yawp.

              “Illegals bad” is similar. Can we agree that “deport all illegals” is pandering, and not a policy argument?

        • Scott Lemieux

          And, of course, there are prenty of reliable Democratic voters who aren’t prone to threatening to abandoning the party and contribute to the installation of Donald Trump as president if their preferred candidate doesn’t win the primary.

          To be Scrupulously Accurate, Salaita believes that the electorate should contribute to the installation of Donald Trump even if Bernie Sanders is the Democratic candidate. Combining these two posts, he would seem to literally be arguing that Sanders is only worth supporting if he’s trying to throw the election to the Republicans.

          • ChrisTS

            What the hell. Whose first or second coming is he holding out for?

            • He’s not a “single issue fundamentalist” but, apparently Bernie is doomed by his single issue (Israel).

              • I’m not a single-issue fundamentalist, but I wouldn’t conceptualize Israel as singular. It implicitly and explicitly informs such matters of grave concern as neoliberalism, the arms industry, nuclear proliferation, dictatorial regimes and the influence of donor money on elections. Sanders cannot be held responsible for these problems, but stronger criticism of Israel would certainly ameliorate rather than facilitate them.

                He’s not a single issue fundamentalist because Israel isn’t a single issue? Or rather he’s not a single issue fundamentalist because he doesn’t *conceptualise* Israel as singular?!?

                Sigh.

                This, alas, is of a piece with what I’d read of his from before the Illinois debacle, back when J Otto was using him to show that liberals were the real anti-Palestinians. Bad stuff.

    • Mistreat a horse enough and it won’t work, all arguments about the master’s insolvency meaning a ticket to the knackery notwithstanding.

      You have the servants and the masters mixed up here. The voters are the masters. That’s what it means to have a democracy.

      • jpgray

        To add another profound insight to yours above, horses can’t vote. I really screwed up there!

        But seriously, party leadership is often in conflict with membership views, and when it is most politicians tend to look around for party leader A or commentator B to tell them how far to go in supporting the majority view of the membership. See Medicare for All, expanding Social Security, etc.

        • Right. But the way the massess signal their policy preferences is through voting. Not voting to signal a policy preference, in a tight election, is a non starter.Not only do you lose to smaller but more agressive voting blocs in your own party but you lose the entire game when your party’s candidate loses the general. There’s such a thing as timing. The people who say they will withhold their vote from the candidate who is closest to their preferences, but not perfect, remind me of Homer Simpson holding on to his Pumpkin hoard as Halloween gets closer. They seem not to realize that there is a drop dead date after which their vote loses its value. A vote is more like a nonrefundable ticket to ride on a scheduled train. If you miss it, other people take your seat. They get where they want to go. And you don’t.

          • Lee Rudolph

            I’ve got a ticket to ride, and I don’t care! (Also, too, the people keep on coming but the train’s done gone.)

            • You are getting giddy, Lee Rudolph!

          • jpgray

            I completely agree – unmeasurable dissent is a poor strategy to say the least. Politicians will be happy to chase a shrinking electorate rather than try to divine why non voters don’t vote.

            But those voting blocs that vote are cultivated by irrational pandering, surely – it’s why every four years some very clever people swear allegiance to ethanol…

  • Donald

    I know it’s not the argument he made, but I suspect Salaita sees this from the Palestinian perspective– this is how he got fired, after all.

    And from that perspective the differences between the two parties might look pretty cosmetic. The Democrats got impatient with Netanyahu, but only because he dissed Obama. Both parties fall over themselves reassuring Israel they will always have enough bombs to drop on Gaza. The Democrats pay lip service to a 2ss, but the peace process is just a cover for Israel to steal more land. And Hillary is promising to re- establish good relations with Netanyahu, which is actually an implicit criticism of Obama ( not that this is what should matter, except that she is positioning herself to his right).

    http://forward.com/opinion/national/324013/how-i-would-rebuild-ties-to-israel-and-benjamin-neta/

    I think Salaita did a disservice to himself–he could make a much stronger argument if he made his case based on actual policies where the Democrats have been appalling, I’m still voting for Clinton in November if I have to, but there are reasons for hating this choice that have nothing to do with fee fees or whatever other self- righteous term is in vogue around here.

    • And forget making an argument per se, he could have had a really amazing discussion of the psychological toll of voting for a party that supports a regime that is destroying your people. There is a real issue!

      He might even have discussed the challenge Ged of moving the needle of the US’s Israel policy.

      There are many good articles nearby for him to have written.

  • Breadbaker

    This whole thread calls to mind the scene at the end of Primary Colors when Henry Lester’s disillusioned campaign worker tells John Travolta he’s quitting. Asked what he’s going to do, he says he’s going to work on voter registration. And Travolta responds, but those people will have to vote for candidates. And then we cut to Lester dancing at the inaugural ball.

  • Matt McIrvin

    A consequentialist justification I have seen is what I think of as the Unabomberist argument: one way or another, the System is going to collapse in a horrible catastrophe very, very soon, and prolonging the wait will only make it worse when it comes, so people of good will should avoid any effort to keep things incrementally better.

    • jpgray

      The people I know who make those arguments remind me of hardcore libertarians I know, in that their desire for chaos is matched with a complete unfitness to survive in anything resembling it. I mean, come on guys, you had a hard time surviving in high school!

      • Matt McIrvin

        The Guardian recently ran an article on the stated justifications of Trump supporters. What it really was was an article about the stated justifications of American Trump voters who were readers of the Guardian, probably a small and peculiar intersection. Anyway, by my count, about half of them explicitly had some sort of heighten-the-contradictions justification, and were intentionally voting for the worst candidate they could find to bring the revolution.

      • Malaclypse

        their desire for chaos is matched with a complete unfitness to survive in anything resembling it.

        I really don’t know what you do about the “taxes are theft” crowd, except possibly enter a gambling pool regarding just how long after their no-tax utopia comes true that their generally white, generally entitled, generally soft and pudgy asses are turned into thin strips of Objectivist Jerky by the sort of pitiless sociopath who is actually prepped and ready to live in the world that logically follows these people’s fondest desires. Sorry, guys. I know you all thought you were going to be one of those paying a nickel for your cigarettes in Galt Gulch. That’ll be a fine last thought for you as the starving remnants of the society of takers closes in with their flensing tools.

        I always think of Davey when I read that.

    • ChrisTS

      But that would be a very bad consequentialist argument. Catastrophe now or tomorrow? Any good consequentialist would say, “Tomorrow, for the gods’ sakes!”

      You only get to claim the more immediate disaster is preferable if you hypothesize that (a) effects of the immediate disaster will be not as bad as effects of the later one and/or (b) the effects of the more immediate disaster won’t last as long as the effects of the later one.

      Consequentialists certainly do engage in this kind of hypothesizing (they sort of have to), but good consequentialist arguments don’t rely merely on assertions about future outcomes.

      • Yes–this. Something good might happen in the meantime. People are so full of shit with this stuff. Mostly its about posturing and hoping that your tiny extortionate moves are met with gasps of horror and offers to placate you.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      hm. instead of trying to hold back Ragnarok bringing it on. a less heroic approach for a less heroic time

  • bernard

    This is a terrific takedown of someone who, by the language he uses and the sentiments he expresses, marks himself as a total ass.

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