Monday, October 1, 2012

Rejecting the "Practical" (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Vote My Conscience)

Jill Stein at Occupy Wall Street's One Year Anniversary in New York.
On November 6 I will vote for Jill Stein for president.

Yes, I know she will not win the election. She will come away with a mere two percent of the vote, at best. But that is not my fault. It is the fault of the dozens of so-called “progressives” I encounter on a regular basis who tell me they agree with “everything Stein stands for,” but refuse to take that ideological agreement to its next logical step and cast a vote for her. They are scared to death doing so could cost Obama the election.
I did not vote for Obama in 2008 and have no intention of doing so this time.

Don’t get me wrong: Obama is an intelligent, informed politician, and his efforts to carefully review all of the options in order to make an informed decision are a welcome change from the arrogant, “I’m the Decider!” bullishness of his predecessor. At the very least, it is refreshing to have an eloquent, oratorically sophisticated president who can correctly pronounce the word “nuclear.”
But while contemporary political discourse often confuses the two, public persona and personality characteristics are not the same as policy and legislative proposals. To that end, Obama may be, to paraphrase Neil Young, a kinder, gentler machine-gun president, but a machine-gun president, nonetheless.
Barack Obama has continued the most grievous aspects of George W. Bush’s militaristic foreign policy. He has expanded the war in Afghanistan, a conflict that, by all accounts, cannot be won.
Along with our troop presence in Libya, Yemen and Syria, we still maintain some 30,000 “noncombat” forces, including private contractors in Iraq. And Obama has further eroded the nation’s beleaguered relationship with Pakistan through the use of unmanned military drone attacks. Contrary to White House statements, these so-called precision drone strikes routinely kill innocent Pakistani bystanders, including women and children. In fact, the Obama administration’s official policy, as reported earlier this year in The New York Times, is to consider every military-age male within the general vicinity of a drone-strike to be a terrorist.
Worse and most troubling is the president’s use of a terrorist “kill list,” which includes American citizens who have joined al-Qaeda. (The U.S.-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki was one such casualty of Obama’s kill list.) As the Times reported back in May (5/29/2012), the files contain the names of individuals designated for “capture or kill,” in which the “capture part is mostly theoretical.”

Here at home, Obama signed into law the draconian National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which grants him the power to detain anyone designated a terrorist, including American citizens, indefinitely without warrant, evidence or trial. A federal judge recently deemed the law unconstitutional, but the Obama administration is now fighting to appeal the ruling. And let’s not forget the Patriot Act, and FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), holdovers from the Bush-era which Obama has refused to repeal. Finally, despite claims to the contrary, Obama has not abandoned the practice of torture and extraordinary rendition, which justifiably caused so much uproar during the Bush administration.   

Beyond the tired, “lesser evil” rationale, liberals who stand behind Obama argue they are making the “practical” choice. They say we Greens are “too idealistic,” and, as a result, unable to accept the “political reality” of our country. They are right: We do not accept it. Given that the “political reality” (read: “power structure”) primarily benefits corporate power, greedy Wall Street bankers, and outrageously wealthy oligarchs, why the hell should we?
“I can’t join the practical,” journalist Chris Hedges wrote four years ago in an article titled, “Only Nader is Right on the Issues” (, 11/03/2008).

I spent two decades of my life witnessing the suffering of those on the receiving end of American power. I have stood over the rows of bodies, including women and children, butchered by Ronald Reagan’s Contra forces in Nicaragua. I have inspected the mutilated corpses dumped in pits outside San Salvador by the death squads. I have crouched in a concrete hovel as American-made F-16 fighter jets, piloted by Israelis, dropped 500- and 1000-pound iron-fragmentation bombs on Gaza City.

He adds, “Practical men and women do not stand up against injustice. The practical remain silent.”
Or, as a friend and fellow Green puts it, “Liberals make it their mission to save the Democratic Party. But Greens’ mission is to save the world.”
The Left today is epitomized by establishment professionals like Eric Alterman, who serve as perpetual apologists for President Obama and the Democrats. In the Ralph Nader documentary film, An Unreasonable Man, no other interviewee spews more venom and pure hatred at the former Green's alleged role in skewing the 2000 election results than Alterman. (His anger, incidentally, is completely misdirected. The Supreme Court stole the election from Al Gore—not Nader.)
In one scene of the film, Alterman calls Nader supporters “stupid,” insisting they “do not know anything about politics.” As a distinguished college professor, one would think Alterman would be capable of expressing himself in a more mature, sophisticated manner. But then his juvenile name-calling is often the extent of liberals’ anti-third-party argument. Here in Maine, the Democratic Party sued Nader back in 2004 in order to keep him off the state’s presidential ballot. And here you thought only the Republicans engage in such cravenly anti-democratic behavior.
“Cast your whole vote,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Civil Disobedience, “not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority… but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.”
It is bad enough about 60 percent of eligible American voters will not even bother to go to the polls on Election Day. But in some ways I find the timidity of liberals to actually vote for the platform they want, rather than hedging their bets on the one they believe will cause the least amount of harm, even worse.  

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