October 31, 2008
Those skeptical of voting – at least for either major party – are invariably confronted with some version of the “lesser of two evils” argument. It’s usually the last line of defense for Democrats, after they concede that their party has a long way to go on many of the issues that matter most to Americans. Indeed, whether it’s the economy, health care or the war, polls show that the policies of both parties are considerably to the right of public opinion, and have been so for a long time. This disconnect between the will of the people and their so-called representatives is evidence of a failing democracy.
Nevertheless, there is no denying that there are differences between the two major parties. Democrats would in all likelihood be slightly better on certain domestic issues than their Republican counterparts. Even Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, who generally critique the deep systemic nature of our problems, have admitted as much in recent interviews. On issues such as foreign policy, however, both parties are virtually identical. Any honest look at our history would admit that the Democrats have been just as avid – if slightly more subtle and sophisticated – in their support of war and empire as the Republicans. To take just a brief look at their record:
• A Democrat initiated US military involvement in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Balkans.
• Only a Democrat has ever dropped an atomic bomb on innocent civilians.
• During the 2000 campaign for the White House, Al Gore’s proposed increase for the military budget over the next 10 years was more than double what Bush was proposing at the time.
• Apart from the courageous Rep. Barbara Lee, Democrats unanimously voted for the
never-ending “War on Terror.”
• The subsequent invasion of Iraq could not have been pulled off without the support of key Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Biden.
• Since being swept to power in both Houses of Congress by a wave of antiwar sentiment nearly two years ago, Democrats have done nothing to end the war in Iraq.
But if Gore had been elected, Democrats often argue, we would not have attacked Iraq in the first place. This may be true, but what would his victory have meant for Iraqis at the time? Lest we forget, the Clinton administration enforced sanctions on Iraq that were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, according to the United Nations. And Gore gave no indication that he would have ended or in any way altered this murderous policy. Therefore, in hindsight, the choice we were offered in 2000 was likely only one of method: Should we continue to kill Iraqis by withholding food and medicines or should we opt for bombs and bullets?
Today, the choices we are being offered by the major parties with regards to the current wars are not nearly as stark as they are often presented either. The tens of thousands of troops that Barack Obama would leave behind to occupy Iraq, even after the withdrawal of combat troops over a 16-month period, will still be able to wreak significant havoc. And both major parties couldn’t agree more on escalating the war in Afghanistan, which inevitably means killing more innocent civilians. In fact, the only points of contention between the candidates appear to be over who will send more troops and who said so first.
But what if you’re against killing, period? What if you think that a single-payer, universal health care system is the only solution to our current crisis? What if you are among the vast majority of Americans who opposed the $850 billion bailout for Wall Street? Supporters of Obama argue that now is simply not the time to demand accountability, push for more fundamental change or vote for a third party because the situation is just too dire.
On issues like climate change, however, the world can no more afford the Democrats’ incremental change than the current Republican policy. Leading experts, such as NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, have repeatedly warned that the U.S. must significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions over the next few years if we want to avoid the most devastating effects of global warming. Recognizing the gravity of this crisis, Al Gore recently called on the government “to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.” Obama, on the other hand, denies the need for such drastic action. Even if he reaches his modest goals of eliminating oil imports from the Middle East and Venezuela over the next 10 years and ensuring that 25 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2025, it will be too little, too late.
Every four years we are told that we face the most important election of our lifetimes, and that voting for anyone but a Democrat only increases the likelihood of a Republican victory that the country just cannot bear. Anyone who buys this argument must ask themselves: when will the situation in this country and the world not be desperate? When will the Republican candidate not be so terrible that we can afford to think outside the box and build a credible alternative to the two-party system? How long must we make concessions on key issues that quite literally mean life and death to so many? If not now, when should we demand fundamental change for our vote? For the Democratic faithful that day will never come. The lesser of two evils logic will always apply. They will always sacrifice the possibility of electing a government that would enact a truly progressive agenda at the altar of so-called pragmatism.