La pureté, c'est une idée de fakir et de moine. Vous autres, les intellectuels, les anarchistes bourgeois, vous en tirez prétexte pour ne rien faire. Ne rien faire, rester immobile, serrer les coudes contre le corps, porter des gants. Moi j'ai les mains sales. Jusqu'aux coudes. Je les ai plongées dans la merde et dans le sang. Et puis après? Est-ce que tu t'imagines qu'on peut gouverner innocemment?--Les mains sales / Sartre
I was near the end of five years of irrational rage about the Welfare Reform act, and since I couldn't take it out on Clinton again, I took it out on Gore. That was, at the time, my "dealbreaker." In hindsight, my rage was deeply irrational not because I was wrong about the evils of the policy, necessarily, but because I was irrationally and single-mindedly focused on Clinton. The first alternative, which I barely acknowledged at the time, would have been to focus my rage against Republican legislators, who obviously passed the damn bill. But more importantly, my rage should have been directed to a significant degree against my fellow American citizens, whose political attitudes and values rendered Clinton's decision to sign that bill a canny political move. Similarly, today we have a political environment in which most Americans are indifferent to or actively in favor of drone wars in Pakistan. That doesn't make it right, or absolve those who engage in it. But it's the first fact someone horrified with it should confront. Meaningful, serious opposition by a majority of Americans to such a policy certainly wouldn't be sufficient to end it, and might not even be necessary, but it certainly couldn't hurt. When there's a broad bipartisan consensus on a particular policy, it's probably a good place to start.
I admire Conor's desire for change, and I have a lot of sympathy for his refusal to set his moral values aside when making an electoral choice. But, I have a few quibbles.
For as much as they have a huge effect on the direction of the country, presidential elections are not the place where meaningful change occurs.
Take President Obama. He was the catalyst for health care reform-in the sense that it was part of his agenda-but it didn't happen because Obama was elected. The push for universal health care was a decades-long process that involved efforts at the elite and grassroots levels. Experts had to be trained, politicians had to be elected, and liberals who supported reform had to reach key positions within the Democratic Party. Obama's decision to run with health care reform was the culmination of that effort, not the beginning.
Which gets to my second quibble with Conor's piece: This idea that President Obama-or any executive-is acting with complete autonomy when it comes to national security. In a literal sense, this is true. There are few-if any-constraints on Obama's ability to conduct war. But, if this were offensive to the public, we would have heard something. American voters don't care about the drone war. And insofar that they care, it's because the government has seemingly developed a way to kill "terrorists" without risking American lives. Put another way, if there is a bipartisan consensus around national security, it's at least partly because the voters have pushed the parties in that direction, by rewarding the belligerent and punishing the reticient. Civil libertarians have to shift public opinion in their direction before they can expect to see politicians respond to their concerns. This is hard work, but it's possible (see: the push for same-sex marriage).
One last thing. Friedersdorf refuses to vote for a "lesser evil," but the fact of the matter is that Gary Johnson is also a "lesser evil." Johnson supports immediate austerity and a move to balanced budgets for the 2013 fiscal year. He would cut 43 percent from the federal budget in all areas, and call for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. He supports "sound money"—which is code for tight monetary policy-and opposes entitlement spending, and most functions of the welfare state. He opposes Roe v. Wade-thus making him an effective opponent of abortion rights-and does not believe that health care is a right.
A world where Johnson could be elected president-which, Conor says, would be a good outcome-is a world where these things are possible. His domestic policies would throw millions into hardship, and his hugely contractionary economic policies would plunge the country-and the globe-into a recession.
Cornel West Plans to Vote for Obama in November and Protest His Policies in February
Q: After the polls swung in Romney’s favor after the first debate, did you reconsider your criticism of President Obama?
A: We have to prevent a Romney takeover of the White House. No doubt about that. It would be very dangerous in terms of actual lives and actual deaths of the elderly and the poor. Those people who are dependent on various programs would have to deal with the ugly damage of the further redistribution of wealth from the poor and working people to the well off.
Q: Right. But doesn’t criticizing Obama make all that bad stuff you just said more likely to happen?
A: I’m strategic. We have to tell that truth about a system that’s corrupt—both parties are poisoned by big money and tied to big banks and corporations. Speaking on that is a matter of intellectual integrity. American politics are not a matter of voting your moral conscience—if I voted my moral conscience it would probably be for Jill Stein. But it's strategic in terms of the actual possibilities and real options available for poor and working people.
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