U.S. citizens who are fed up with inequality, war, and environmental destruction should not hold their noses and vote Democrat in 2016, not even in the handful of “swing states” where some leftists advocate doing that. Voters in swing states should be encouraged to support the candidate whose platform they agree with the most. Isn’t that what people are supposed to do in a democracy? Left candidates should offer voters that option anywhere they can get on the ballot.
Some will respond by saying something like this: “People must take into account the real world consequences of voting or campaigning for an alternative party in swing states. Small differences between the major candidates matter greatly to the outcomes for the most vulnerable people at home and abroad. Indifference towards that is callous.“
With a general election in the UK coming up very shortly as I write this, prominent leftists are making this argument to UK voters. It will never be a crazy argument to make in countries like the UK and Canada (where I live) which have a “first past the post” electoral system or “winner take all” in the US variant. A majority of the popular vote is not required for a party to win, so vote-spitting is a serious concern.
But whose victory actually gives worse outcomes: the party with the worst intentions but which provokes the most intense opposition from progressives; or the party with slightly less malevolent intentions but which has proven adept at demobilizing opposition from the Left?
Just before the Presidential election in 2012, I looked at outcomes in life expectancy for black men and women in the USA, the percentage of US workers who were unionized, and the percentage of income held by the richest 1%. I looked at the data since 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected.
It turned out that only under Reagan – who was faced with a Democrat controlled Congress his whole time in office - did unions take a worse beating than they did while Bill Clinton was in office. Black women made the most rapid gains in life expectancy relative to white women while “W” Bush was in office. During the presidencies of Bush junior and senior, the pockets of the richest 1% were stuffed less quickly than under Bill Clinton and Obama. There is no question that defeating Reagan in 1980 would have been great for the most vulnerable people in the USA. Since then, it is not clear that that electing a Democrat yields better outcomes.
What about vulnerable people abroad? Wouldn’t an electoral victory for Al Gore in 2000 have prevented the Iraq War that “W” Bush launched in 2003? It’s not obvious. Just read the speech Al Gore gave on September 23, 2002. He objected to a unilateral invasion of Iraq, but he totally supported the goal of ousting Saddam Hussein and promoted the outlandish lie that Iraq posed a military threat to the region. Gore voted as senator for the 1991 invasion of Iraq that initiated decades of slaughter. As Vice President under Bill Clinton, Gore was part of a government that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis through a combination of sanctions and air strikes. After the 9/11 atrocities, even if Gore would not have invaded Iraq he would certainly have invaded Afghanistan and probably made Bill Clinton’s already murderous polices towards Iraq worse – polices that had already led very high level UN officials to resign calling them “genocidal”. A Gore presidency might well have redistributed rather than reduced the death toll in the Middle East from the “war on terror.”
The most powerful scene, in my opinion, in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 is one in which Gore and his buddies in Congress chuckle as they crush a final challenge to Bush’s “election” in 2000 – quite a surreal spectacle given that Gore was the supposed victim of that stolen election.
It would be dangerous to send any party the message that “In the key states, you have our vote no matter what.” How can it not invite terrible outcomes to repeatedly send that message to a blood-soaked party like the Democrats – a party so tightly bound to elite interests that it prefers electoral defeat to the most basic reforms? One could reply “There are only a handful of swing states. Why not build up alternative party support in the rest of the country?” But the deck is already stacked against alternative candidates. Bowing out of the states where they could have the most impact makes them even easier to ignore everywhere. It’s a recipe for perpetual irrelevance. Of course an alternative party needs to build credibility in many ways as Eugene Nulman sensibly pointed out, including involvement in non-electoral campaigns. A party can do many important things well or poorly regardless of whether or not it goes after swing state voters, but the USA desperately needs a political party that appeals to non-voters.
The small differences between the major parties are of zero interest to a large disadvantaged segment of the public. In 2012, half of non-voters had household incomes of less than $60,000 per year and 60% had no more than a high school diploma. As Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant recently put it “…that lesser-evilism argument is missing is the big, big chunk of America that is completely disengaged from politics; if you look at the approval ratings of U.S. Congress, if you look at the percentages of people who go to the polls, and if you look at the polls that show that 60 percent of Americans are fed up and frustrated with the two-party system and want something different…”
Sawant also pointed out that while some on the Left agonize over swing states, the Democrats will be going all out to defeat her in Seattle where the Republicans are not even a factor.
In 2012, Matt Stoller wrote a brilliant piece against voting for Obama in swing states. He wrote “...could those who believe in social justice and climate change actually govern? Do we have the people to do it? Do we have the ideas, the legislative proposals, the understanding of how to reorganize our society into a sustainable and socially just one? I suspect, no…..the reason to advocate for a third-party candidate is to build the civic muscles willing to say no to the establishment in a crisis moment we all know is coming”.
Some will say “”vote for the Democrats in swing states but then fight like hell against them”, but it took years after Clinton's victory, and after Obama's, for anything resembling a “fight the like hell” sentiment to materialize – for it to sink in that the “lesser evil” really is evil, not simply “flawed”, “imperfect” or “compromised”. Unfortunately memories fade quickly after Republican victories and emerging “civic muscles” are weakened again.