Don’t be less evil

Michael Tomasky comes ’round with that Olde Tyme lesser evil rag. He proposes some dubious arguments and fails to grapple with the most important ones.We can stipulate from the outset that these days, most any Democrat for president will be less evil than most any Republican. That includes Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side and “Jeb” Bush (really John Ellis Bush; don’t call him Jeb!) on the Republican. It follows that whatever legion of minions the Democrat would bring with her into the executive branch will be comparatively superior as well. This is not really controversial, nor is it really on point.A different issue is the political dynamic of the right-drifting center. As the center drifts right, so do the Democrats. They may be less evil, but they are more evil than in previous periods. Mondale and Dukakis took up bankrupt deficit reduction mania. Bill Clinton destroyed Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Both Clinton and Obama came close to cutting Social Security. With sanctions, Clinton greased the skids for a second war with Iraq.

If you go less evil, you’re less evil in the here and now, but over time things can trend in the wrong direction. It’s kind of like Zeno’s Paradox. We could also say as the Democrats get more evil all the time, they will still earn Michael Tomasky’s vote.

The best rejectionist argument is not that there is no difference between the two major parties. It’s that the pragmatic focus on lesser victories obviates the political sea change we need. Things are less bad than they might be, but are they so good that they can sustain any sort of healthy society? The choice of socialism or barbarism comes to the fore. What sort of barbarism is worthy of the name?

One is the melting of the polar caps, which threatens the survival of humanity. Maximizing fossil fuel extraction, a ballyhooed achievement of this Democratic White House, is barbarous.

Another is the increasingly barbarous, racist carceral state. We could imagine a whole panoply of moves fully within the power of the Administration, beyond the tentative steps towards modernizing police practices and bleating about military hardware. I note that no such modernization is in evidence in cities commanded by liberal mayors, especially during conventions of the Democratic Party. Try to demonstrate during these affairs and you will be treated to a vivid demonstration of your actual rights.

A third is the dwindling access to family planning services in many states, in light of the virtual reign of terror administered against any who would provide such services.

I could go on. You could too.

It should not be doubted that a successful left third party would need overwhelming popular support to breach the legal and financial barricades. How to do that without ceding all sorts of damage to a Republican-dominated state, I don’t pretend to know. But remember, without the kind of break that addresses climate change, the kids are all screwed. There’s got to be another way.

Tomasky suggests that protest votes are easy for bourgeois elitists who will not suffer from the machinations of retrograde Republican governance. This is a little rich. Of course, votes for the Democrats are not costly for elites either. It’s good to be the king, as long as your feet stay dry.

Another dubious analytic point from MT is that elected officials who are abandoned by protest voters will have no incentive to attend to the interests of those voters. He forgets that politicians are whores for votes. The only thing for which they are bigger whores is money. A potential vote or donor is a friend too. Moreover, if staying outside the tent loses you influence, what does staying in the tent get you, absent any threat to leave? Being taken for granted is at least a good possibility. So score this claim as maybe so, maybe not.

The presidency and Supreme Court appointments are always brought to the fore in these discussions, and for good reason. They have epochal implications. But as we slide down the political food chain, MT’s exhortations lose more and more force. What’s the world-historical harm from sabotaging the execrable Andrew Cuomo, for instance? New York has survived Republican governors.

If Democratic leaders were serious about some sort of liberal vision, we would seem them encouraging motion to their left, generating the possibility of reversing rightward movement of the center. Instead we see them trying to destroy any such motion, even in the case of New York, where the dissenting Working Families Party had committed itself to cooperation in both the primary and the general election. In Seattle, we see liberal forces conniving to eject socialist Kshama Sawant from office. Control supercedes progress in the realm of policy. This is political sclerosis at its finest.

Sometimes the case for alternatives is stigmatized as a vain quest for purity. The implication is that there are no differences of principle, but that implication is not defended. It is merely asserted.

The best argument for MT’s status quo participation is the lack of manifest alternatives. You can’t beat something with nothing, and nothing is on offer at the moment. A national election tends to consume all available political oxygen, but that should not stop grassroots action and may not preclude some real upsurges. We have witnessed local action around homicidal police practices, low pay, and climate change. The finger-wagging about the presidential election tends to collapse politics to a narrow, us-or-them question.

There are all sorts of social time bombs that are ticking away. I’d say the political focus belongs on them. Electoral action may follow. In the meantime, I’m no political genius. I’ll have to vote for Hillary, like everyone else. I just choose not to revel in the ugly, doomed necessity of it.

By some commentators, not necessarily MT, criticism of the Democrats signifies wholesale alienation from politics in the large. It isn’t so. (H/T Digby)


Don’t be less evil — 10 Comments

  1. well Phil, those who see politics as a single linear thread can certainly point to much more social liberalism. they generally fail in pointing out anything but rightward drift in economics, usually by pulling out strawmen and misreading material, or not knowing or understanding anything before about Clinton’s term in office

  2. Max, I don’t know if you saw it but Scott Lemieux has a reply to your post up at LGM.

  3. I should say that he liked Tomasky’s piece, but then it validates his lesser-evilism

  4. Primaries are where we push our chosen political party in the directions we want – general elections are for supporting whoever won the primary.

    Sitting out elections, or defecting to third parties, weakens one’s influence.

  5. Pingback: Hillary Won’t Save Us, Neither Will Bernie or Liz | Green Papers

  6. Pingback: Scott McLarty: Hillary Won’t Save Us, Neither Will Bernie or Liz | Independent Political Report

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