Should progressives vote for Obama?

Tomorrow is decision day in the U.S.A. The nation elects its new president, or at least, chooses among the choices on offer.

Earlier I called this a “Rorschach test election” for Democrats. It’s also a strategy election — progressives can completely agree on the facts in front of us, and still disagree about what to do and about what strategy is best given those facts.

As I read it, this is the state of the current progressive discussion — that the disagreement is mainly about strategy, and that good progressive brothers and sisters are on both sides of the disagreement. Do you vote for Obama strategically? Some, like Sam Seder, Noam Chomsky and a number of others, say Yes And Yes. As in, Yes he’s Evil (my phrase), and Yes he’s clearly the Lesser Evil. Others, like John Cusack and Matt Stoller below, say No — voting for Obama means no change in the Democratic party, no real change for the country, and/or no, he offends my conscience.

Either way, note that neither group differs in their analysis, just in what to do. (A third group, the “O-bots” — people who don’t at all get what’s wrong with Obama — are for me not part of this discussion. They have nothing to contribute that’s not contributed by progressives with working eyes.)

transcript of romney obama second presidential debateThat’s said, I want to point out two specific and offsetting items of analysis. I think both writers quoted below make true statements. The first is Matt Stoller’s recent Salon piece — “The Progressive Case Against Obama” — which has caused some stir, not for its analysis but for its recommendation. I won’t speak to the recommendation, just the analysis.

The second is an email correspondent, one of many, who hits the case against Romney on the its head.

What Obama is doing to the economy

Matt Stoller’s Salon article relates to Obama’s domestic policy, not his foreign policy, on which I’ve said much. Even with that limitation there’s still much to say. Let’s start with Stoller’s recommendation, which he places up-front:

A few days ago, I participated in a debate with the legendary antiwar dissident Daniel Ellsberg on Huffington Post live on the merits of the Obama administration, and what progressives should do on Election Day. Ellsberg had written a blog post arguing that, though Obama deserves tremendous criticism, voters in swing states ought to vote for him, lest they operate as dupes for a far more malevolent Republican Party. This attitude is relatively pervasive among Democrats, and it deserves a genuine response. As the election is fast approaching, this piece is an attempt at laying out the progressive case for why one should not vote for Barack Obama for reelection, even if you are in a swing state.

The reason is expressed in his subtitle:

Bottom line: The president is complicit in creating an increasingly unequal — and unjust — society

Looking at the reasoning behind the recommendation, I was especially struck by the following:

Many Democrats are disappointed in Obama. Some feel he’s a good president with a bad Congress. Some feel he’s a good man, trying to do the right thing, but not bold enough. Others think it’s just the system, that anyone would do what he did. I will get to each of these sentiments, and pragmatic questions around the election, but I think it’s important to be grounded in policy outcomes. Not, what did Obama try to do, in his heart of hearts? But what kind of America has he actually delivered? And the chart below answers the question. This chart reflects the progressive case against Obama.

Here’s that chart (the original image was small so I double-sized it; click to view it at 100% size) …

… about which he then says (emphasis and some reparagraphing mine):

The above is a chart of corporate profits against the main store of savings for most Americans who have savings — home equity.

Notice that after the crisis, after the Obama inflection point, corporate profits recovered dramatically and surpassed previous highs, whereas home equity levels have remained static. That $5-7 trillion of lost savings did not come back, whereas financial assets and corporate profits did.

Also notice that this is unprecedented in postwar history. Home equity levels and corporate profits have simply never diverged in this way; what was good for GM had always, until recently, been good, if not for America, for the balance sheet of homeowners. Obama’s policies severed this link, completely.

This split represents more than money. It represents a new kind of politics, one where Obama, and yes, he did this, officially enshrined rights for the elite in our constitutional order and removed rights from everyone else (see “The Housing Crash and the End of American Citizenship” in the Fordham Urban Law Journal for a more complete discussion of the problem). The bailouts and the associated Federal Reserve actions were not primarily shifts of funds to bankers; they were a guarantee that property rights for a certain class of creditors were immune from challenge or market forces. The foreclosure crisis, with its rampant criminality, predatory lending, and document forgeries, represents the flip side. Property rights for debtors simply increasingly exist solely at the pleasure of the powerful.

Pause to think about this. Obama has not just enshrined no Rule-of-Law for the Rich (Our Betters). He has created two kinds of property right — one for the Rich, who can never lose; and one for the Rest, who can never win. The graph you’re looking at above shows that the property-right-transfer has already happened.

When banks were bailed while mortgages failed, the new order was ordained. When bankers weren’t jailed, those newly split rights were enshrined in our “living Constitution” — the one we actually live by.

I wrote before that every property “right” starts with a theft. Also that property rights aren’t inherent, but granted by the social order. This is a perfect example, and the Rich are uncharacteristically making the point for us (normally it they crying foul when prop rights are violated).

Warrior Obama — he with Bin Laden’s head on the point of his spear and drone-strikes in his eyes — may not be your cup of tea. This is Domestic Obama — also problematical. For more, read the rest of Stoller’s piece.

The case against Romney

It’s entirely fair to note that the information above will not change under either of the two mainstream parties — the MoveCon–”Americans for Prosperity” (AFP) Republicans or the Clintonite–Rubinesque NeoLib Democrats. In fact, under one of them, you could argue that the situation will get far worse far faster. Not the dreamiest of choices.

My email correspondent makes this point, and more, in the strongest of terms. Note that he starts from Matt Stoller’s piece and moves on (my emphasis):

I think Matt Stoller made the point in other places and could have added it here: Obama is to the Grand Bargain as Nixon is to China. When Bush tried to privatize Social Security, Democrats had a clear path. Protecting the program was smart politically, so they stepped up, notwithstanding any pressures they may have felt from the the Pete Petersons of the world.

That said, I’m not with Stoller here. …

Romney means: the return of a Civil Rights Commission that protects white people’s civil rights… A Department of Labor that protects capital without even a pretense otherwise. An EPA and Department of the Interior turned over to oil and gas executives and mine owners. It’ll be run by people so lacking anything resembling moral fiber that they’ll lie to first-responders about the air they are breathing and look the other way while oil rig inspectors accept cocaine and prostitutes from rig managers, who, in turn, write their own inspection results.

I’m not sure what the answer is, because I don’t want my vote taken as an endorsement of oligarchy, unitary executive, and capital punishment by presidential fiat. But I have to play the percentages, and they tell me more people will suffer and die, in both short and long terms, as a result of a Romney presidency. And live in VA, where my vote counts.

Put everything together, and I think it’d be immoral for me to increase the chances of a Romney victory.

There’s much more he could have said. He could have mentioned that which some dare call treason in the winning of the 1980 election (October surprise plus Iran-Contra, two phases of the same op in my opinion). He could have mentioned what AFP–owned office-holders are doing in the Radical Republican states of Wisconsin, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and said what I’ve said, that’s these governors and legislatures are templates for the next Republican administration. He could have brought up Grover Norquist and his infamous “working digits”.

He could even bring up the post-Sandy shock-doctrine privatization scheme being worked on as you read this. (Yep, post-Sandy privatization; do click.)

Needless to say, the case against Romney is a strong one. But strong enough to pull the lever for Obama? That’s for you to decide.

It’s you and your conscience

So there it stands. You can vote for Obama, for Romney, or do something else. If you do something else (third party, stay home), you are accepting the ascension of the winner. There is no opting out of this responsibility. Until they take away your vote, you have one, whatever you choose to do with it.

I don’t in any way judge what you do or envy you this choice. I just want to lay down the markers. Good luck.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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