Since I’ve been old enough to vote – 50 years now – I’ve felt, except maybe once or twice, that I was voting for the lesser of evils.
That problem was acute in the run up to the 2016 election, and already I’m hearing people say about the 2018 midterm: no matter who it is, if it’s Democrat, you’ve got to vote for it. We’ve got to cancel congressional support for Trump.
That seems not an unworthy goal.
But let’s think about a democracy constantly providing choices which great numbers of people are uncomfortable with, disappointed in, insulted by, angry about.
Do I really have a vote if I can’t vote for the world I want, a world based in sanity rather than suicidal exploitation and U.S. empire? What does it mean if I can’t vote to grapple with the issues I think most urgent?
Someone might answer, well, write in the candidate then who fits your bill. Really? That’s throwing away your vote as sure as not voting.
It seems to me that when you vote for the lesser of evils knowing full well that one of the candidates is more reprehensible than the other but that neither will solve the serious problems, you have then voted against democracy. You’ve disenfranchised yourself. Haven’t you then turned the fundamental tool of democracy into a wrecking bar to tear it down rather than build it up? To protect yourself against a big blue monster, you’ve tied your fate to a smaller green monster. Or, to save yourself from cancer, you’ve chosen heart disease.
Someone will surely remind me that politics is about compromise. Voting for the lesser of evils is a compromise; that’s what we do in politics. Politicians must often compromise. Sometimes that’s a courageous virtue – the art of the possible. Sometimes it’s a betrayal. But is it the role of citizens to compromise their values and their intelligence? I think my obligation as a citizen may be not to compromise but to adhere to my values, to insist on what I consider moral and sane. If I compromise, I give my elected official permission to compromise even further. These sorts of compromises have brought us to the brink of disaster – actually beyond the brink for so many people already besieged by climate change or the member of a species made extinct by habitat loss.
We all know now (and if you don’t, you’re living in propaganda land) that we live in an oligarchy. A plutocracy. A military/industrial corporatocracy which determines that we have two corporate parties, with two amenable-to-capitalism candidates, and no viable third party. Voting for the lesser of evils inside that system is a vote for the status quo.
If we show signs of opposing this system by refusing to vote, our friends are outraged: “But what if that blue monster wins?” I say the monster has already won. The monster is the system that is despoiling the earth with dollars and weapons and entitlement.
When I vote, I want to be able to vote not for the lesser of evils but the better of goods. I want candidates who recognize the urgency of the crises bearing down on us. And my choice then is: who has the best plan? I want to simply vote for sanity in defiance of this corrupt system. The essential evil in the system is that we can’t vote to fix it. I can’t vote to get the money out of the system. I can’t vote to indict a government of war criminals. I can’t vote to end an economy based on death.
When we are encouraged to vote for the lesser of evils, we are encouraged to vote our fear not our hope, vote for the status quo not for justice. Or to vote for a person more inclined to do the will of the Pentagon rather than Big Pharma or more inclined to sell out to Citigroup rather than kowtow to Exxon-Mobil.
Someone might say, yes, all that’s true, but we can’t look at that big picture. We’ve got to deal with this election right now. We’ll fix that big stuff later. No, not true. There is no later.
The choice of human survival and the survival of other species is upon us – the survival of all the plants and animals on the planet who can’t vote. The big issues are the most present. They are the greater evil. Voting for the lesser evil is voting for the greater evil.
But, after all that, am I telling you that you should not vote for Democrats, any Democrats, to break the chokehold of the Republicans on Congress? No, I’m not saying that. My own truth telling, and I am being as honest as I know how, runs head on into the nastiness of this moment and the reality of so many social, environmental, legal and political protections being stripped away by our current government. If we vote in Democratic majorities, will we be voting to end U.S. militarism and empire? No. Will we be voting to make a radical shift in green energy production? No, nowhere near radical enough. Will we be voting to get the special interest money – which makes the system anti-democratic – out of the system? No. Will we be voting for national health care? Maybe a little closer.
What this means is that the election, no matter which way it goes, obligates us to citizen action and civil disobedience – to demand action that will save life and create hope for the future on this ailing planet. Because we can’t vote for the better of goods, inevitably we must vote for greater responsibility for ourselves. The system won’t right this listing ship. Only we can.
We can’t vote for democracy, but we sure as hell can act for it. That’s the choice that isn’t the lesser of evils. It’s the better of goods. It’s the vote we’ve always got no matter what the system gives us.