no, i’m not voting for obama

ok, i said it. i have to admit it’s taken me much longer to come out and say it this time around than in past elections. it’s not that i’ve lied, i just simply haven’t been nearly as outspoken about my refusal to vote democrat this election season as i was in 2000 or 2004. but it’s time. i mean, i have a freakin’ blog now, so i’ve got to come out with it: no, i am not voting for obama!

i’ve been wondering why i’ve felt so hesitant to speak up about it this time. i suppose because basically the entire left has obama fever. i have seen next to NOTHING critiquing obama from the left. this great article by joshua frank is one of the only things i’ve read on the topic of NOT supporting obama. admittedly, i’ve kind of had my head a bit in the sand for awhile now, and even (*sheepish*) escaping into tv land a bit watching back-to-back episodes of “lost” online until 3am some nights. so i’m sure it’s out there. i hope it is. (please share with me, if you find some!) but at any rate, i don’t think anyone will disagree that the “hope” in obama by far outshadows any dissidence.

in the 2004 election i definitely felt the wrath of kerry-supporters when i advocated for nader. some of my relationships even suffered because of our disagreements on the subject. some people i love invested a lot (time, faith, money) in trying to elect kerry, and were definitely disappointed even to the point of depression when he lost. and my outspoken analysis that “it didn’t matter” didn’t really make any of the kerry-supporters in my life feel so hot, i’m sure. this election feels even more closed off to any challenge to the democrats. i suppose the longer the white house is occupied by the republicans pulling their nasty stunts, the more antsy the left gets, and the deeper they fall down the “anybody but bush” hole. the problem is that the “anybody but a republican” argument really boils down to “nobody but a democrat”. they’re not willing to vote for a third party candidate – they don’t want “anybody but a republican”, they want ONLY a democrat.

and of course this election is “historic”: with hillary’s race to be the first woman to be a major presidential candidate, obama as the first person of color, and now mccain’s oh-so-transparent VP pick of sarah palin – it’s like i’m extra nasty for not voting for the first man of color to win the white house! but no matter who the democratic candidate is – even if they’re the first black lesbian immigrant – i will not vote for him/her!

so let’s get down to it: why won’t i vote for obama or any democrat?
i’m not exactly a revolution-or-nothing person: i do believe in some reforms, incremental changes that can help people survive along the way. but i believe that real change comes from the ground up, by the masses taking power into their own hands. i believe in people creating their own solutions and living out their expectations while at the same time
demanding change from the oppressors.  i believe that capitalism and white supremacy and patriarchy and the domination of the earth and all its inhabitants (animals, plants, and humans) are the root problems in our society, and no democrat in the oval office is going to make a change the size of my pinky nail in terms of reversing any of those problems.

and it’s precisely the epic-ness of obama’s candidacy – being the first man of color, and coming from a supposedly “progressive” platform – that makes me worry even more than the kerry campaign. there are people out there who will insist that electing the first black president is the sure sign that racism is dead in this country. imagine that! poof! racism gone after all these centuries, just because a man of color got hold of the white house. the level of faith people put in democratic candidates astonishes me. no one is demanding anything from obama. the only thing voters on the left are requiring of him is to simply not be bush or mccain. well, he’s already accomplished that: there, he has satisfied all his obligations to the voters, even before day one! he will not have a mandate to do anything we want him to do if he gets into office. and the influence voters’ hard-earned campaign contributions will have on his decisionmaking pales in comparison to the stranglehold that the corporations’ money has him in. who is he going to listen to? who do they ALWAYS listen to?

the complacency that results from people’s investment in democratic candidates makes me worry for our ability to ever create changes for ourselves. why, as a movement, do we spend so much time and resources on trying to elect democrats who don’t do a damn thing for us? i am simply exhausted from wondering why so many “otherwise-enlightened” activists doing great work abandon everything and waste all their resources on elections. part of it is because the money many of us depend on to do our work, in large majority, comes from foundations and major donors – and in election season, they only fund electoral work! everywhere you turn people are spending their time and money on a system we know will fail us.

one of my old coworkers used to always remind us every time we hit our heads on the same wall, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. has the left gone insane?

if you haven’t seen it, you should watch “an unreasonable man” about ralph nader.

also, this animated short about obama being the “democratic messiah” is pretty damn funny.


5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    mymammouth said,

    First of all, Ha! I totally spent every night for three weeks watching the entire first season of Lost online, and the only thing that saved my ass was deciding not to dive into the second one immediately afterwards. That show has so many hooks it’s like tv velcro.

    I love this post – you’ve verbalized my thoughts on Obama fever exactly. It’s been fascinating to see how many people who don’t usually vote at all, or who only vote green or independent, are swept up in it to the point of actually believing he’s vastly different from other democrats/politicians. It’s really difficult to come out as a non-supporter!

    One thing I’ve been wondering, though, is whether it’s actually true that an Obama presidency would make many people believe that racism is dead who don’t already believe that anyway. I think that generally, people who acknowledge the continued existence of racism in this country are able to identify it’s effects all around them, and won’t be fooled by a black man sitting in the white house. And those who don’t believe race is still an issue have already been using the Oprahs and Condoleeza Rices as proof – now they’ll just have one more token black “success” to throw at us.

    I’ve been pondering what will happen if Obama is elected, then proves himself to be just like all the other corporate funded double-talkers. I almost think it could be a good thing, because the insane renewal of faith in the system his campaign seems to have ignited might mean his failure to live up to people’s hopes will create more outrage than any other presidential flop in the past. Maybe it’s the only way people will realize that no matter who’s in office, this system will never work!

    Speaking of videos, I think this one pretty much sums it up –

  2. 2

    Kevin said,

    Okay, I’ll take the bait of posting some dissent.

    First, I think the number of people who are solely electing Obama because it would make him the first “black” (or racially mixed) person to hold the office is few. If that was the only motivating factor, Jesse Jackson would have been at least nominated years and years and years ago. Obama is equally a good speaker as JJ, perhaps even better, but he comes with something that Americans love: a fresh face.

    Although many doubted his potential at first, Obama was smart to run at this time in American history. He was new enough to run on a platform of change, even though he’d done little to distinguish himself. He was smart enough to make the right friends and learn from his elders so he could play the game to win when the time came. But most importantly, the sheer freshness of his image was enough to give him the “candidate of change” campaign.

    So far, I suppose this analysis seems pretty Machiavellian.

    But here’s the rub: people are human. They’re predisposed to flocking to leaders who promise to solve their problems for them so that they don’t have to think too much about what’s happening over there (yes, I had to prove I knew the difference between “they’re” “their” and “there”). But honestly, do you personally want or need to know statistics on sewage flow? Do you think everyone should study the intricacies of every bit of federal, state, county and city law?

    So if we can agree that politics is a specialized field like, say, auto mechanics or accounting, then the question becomes “Is the system working to represent the public and if not how do we change it?” Sadly, I think we may have gotten the government we deserve. But most idealistic people (and I like to include myself in that) would prefer to hope a.k.a. HOPE ™ that there’s something better out there.

    Obama is selling hope and a lot of people are buying. A poll was done that revealed that if the rest of the world were to vote, Obama would win by a landslide.

    I actually believe that this may be the most important factor determining who to vote for this year. While neocons may grumble and libertarians quake in fear at the idea of a New World Order with its offices deep in the basement of the U.N., I prefer to HOPE ™ that we’re moving towards fewer tribes rather than more. I think it matters what the world thinks of the sole super-power.

    After the damage the Bush people have done to the image and the reputation and trustworthiness of the USA, I truly believe that simply the symbolism of Obama is important enough to elect him. The contrast of an urban intellectual progressive with a cowboy moron is obvious to the whole world. Too bad America loves its cowboys.

    There’s a question of what change will Obama really bring. Well, given the architecture of our electoral system, what opportunity does anyone have to bring radical change? The question itself may be worth considering: is radical change healthy for a system as complex as our country and economy?

    I’d love to see a number of things changed radically overnight: our treatment of the environment improved, our shortsightedness corrected, our health care taken care of, our military disbanded, etc. I will always vote for the candidate that I think has the best chance of pushing my agenda. That also happens to mean that person has to actually get elected to do so.

    I know it’s frustrating to consider how broken this system is. I would bet that you’re in the majority if you say “Our system is broken and needs to be changed”.

    Just for a minute, imagine if Nader were able to squeak into the White House. Based on how our system works, how much would he actually be able to change the system? Only if he adopted GWB’s stance of president as king and führer could he make significant changes.

    So, ultimately, if third party candidates are unelectable and even if they were electable they would be impotent, how do we fix that? Obviously, one of the first questions to tackle is of the corporate influence in politics. While no one can claim Obama is 100% clean, it is clear that he has (thanks to Howard Dean’s trailblazing) made deep inroads into being financed primarily by voters. It’s a small step but it’s real.

    This small step may turn out to be a big step. Imagine the next third party candidate that catches the public’s imagination. I think it may just be a matter of time until one person stands out so distinctly from the boring pack of donkeys and elephants that they have a chance, and that chance will be funded by small donations from millions of voters.

    The argument that no one is demanding anything from Obama is a good one, but very flawed. There are tons of advocacy groups pushing him, groups with large numbers of supporters. MoveOn started as the kind of ground-up mass movement you mention and has found its members voting very pragmatically to support people like Kerry and Obama. I don’t think this has to be read as cynicism, but as an acknowledgment of our flawed system. And with millions of grassroots donations streaming in from rabidly progressive supporters, Obama is far more directly accountable to those people than any candidate has been ever in our political history. If he reneges on his promises, the dollars go away with the votes.

    During any given election, one candidate may seem perfect to about 5% of the electorate at most. Everyone else has gripes and would prefer that the president-to-be would change things the way they want them to and right away. I don’t know anyone who wants “nobody but a Democrat”… the Dem brand lost its luster after JFK and hit a low mark as the Republicans were hitting their high with Reagan’s popularity. What people want is someone who is closest to their beliefs who can win the office. It also helps if they’re tall and good-looking (because people are human).

    Sometimes we have to remember that we’re all a small part of a complex system that changes slowly and is supposed to represent even the most ignorant and fearful of our citizens. We’ve come a long way from trying to kill every stranger we see on the street simply because they’re a stranger. Part of our success that we have to live with is the languorous nature of real change; compromise and tolerance are our lifeblood and at the same time they are annoying as hell.

    That’s not to say we don’t need people always pushing real change. The wonderful thing about progressivism is that you almost always will be able to look back in 50 years and say, “See, we were right because now everyone believes [Vietnam was a bad idea] [social security should exist] [the environment is important] [women should be able to vote] [those people should be free]”.

    As a last note on Obama, I have to say that (if this wasn’t obvious already) I’m not at all convinced he will make sweeping change. But I truly hope that what mymammouth said doesn’t come to pass, because Americans rarely reach true mass outrage and I think that if Obama disappoints to an extreme, it will only disengage the vast majority of young voters from the process once again with nothing positive as a result. No matter who you are, if you care about this country you are not looking forward to an entire generation of disengaged voters.

    Here’s to watching the first presidential debate between two people who aren’t both old white guys… and to politics being a little more interesting this year.

  3. 3

    mswob82 said,

    Kyla (mymammouth) – I think you are right that no one who doesn’t already think racism is dead is going to suddenly think racism no longer exists if obama gets elected. However, I do think that swarms of people are going to get teary-eyed and think to themselves, “my, what a long way we’ve come”! and we have, to be sure. but just like you mentioned on your blog – comparisons like “better than…” are kind of the cornerstone of the American competition system, and tend to cut off room for people to say, “but that doesn’t make it good/right”.

    p.s. i caved in and watched season 2. that velcro shit is for real!

    Kevin –I appreciate your thought-out and respectful response. I think that you’re right about the hope piece being very real, and I can certainly understand that. I’ll admit to a twinge of it in myself, too! For me it is hope that maybe somehow the results of this election (whatever they may be) may serve to galvanize more people into taking action. I hear what you’re saying about not wanting a more disengaged voter base, but to me I think that other types of civic engagement are more exciting and meaningful. So if people start to get [even more] disillusioned about the electoral system, and start to engage in other ways of demanding accountability and creating change from the ground up, then hooray! I believe in nonviolent direct action – people rising up and taking power back into their own hands and creating solutions in a world that won’t take care of us.

    I will clarify that I do vote, and so far have only voted for nader in presidential elections; this is not because I necessarily want or expect nader to win – I fully agree with you that if he did win, he probably couldn’t get much past congress et al, unless he turned into another dictator. I vote for nader because he represents the biggest challenge to the two-party system. I do not believe in our electoral process, but I know that so many people (even those who do NOT vote for so many reasons, or cannot vote, and those from other countries) DO pay very close attention to our election results. Therefore I use my vote for nader as a way to publicly register my dissent. Every vote that does not go to either of the two main candidates shows the rest of the world that we do not agree with the two-party system, and the overall system it represents.

    That’s what I mean when I say it comes down to “nobody but a democrat” – I don’t mean that people just love the democratic party, I mean that they think only a registered democrat could possibly win. And in doing so, the left throws out its dissent, or its belief that things can truly change, that we can create something positive out of the wreckage of a broken system. If you believe that the system is broken and that you want change (which you agree that the majority believes), voting for a democrat throws that out the window and instead says to the world that you are complicit with the electoral process (and the system it represents). Instead I choose to declare loud and proud that I DO want change, and I BELIEVE in our power to create real change. Voting democrat says that you don’t think we can change, that you have no HOPE that things can actually be any different. Isn’t it so clear how ironic the “hope” and “change” platform is that obama is running on? That’s what the democrats do best – they co-opt the left’s desire for change and turn it into more of the same capitalist undemocratic bullshit our ‘leaders’ keep churning out day after day. It’s like clearchannel buying out your favorite independent radio station and calling it “the peoples’ station”.

    NOT voting for obama is truly a vote for HOPE.

  4. 4

    Jen Angel said,

    Megan – Even though I agree with a lot of what you say, I have always voted for the leading Democrat because I think it does matter, and will matter – but to a very few people. The example that I’ve used previously is that because I worked for Planned Parenthood for four years, I know that the President and their administration determined the amount of funding for family planning and restrictions on abortions – these are very real things that are important to me. If Obama is elected, and only small incremental things like that are effected, I’m OK with that. Because, like another commenter said, I think that the system is so f-ed that even if Nader were elected, he wouldn’t be able to do much. An Obama win is about possibilities – and one or two of the good things will happen. And of course, community organizers need to keep the pressure on once he is elected to help make more of those things happen.
    Thanks for writing about this.

  5. 5

    […] awhile i was adamantly opposed to gay marriage (and all marriage).  and it’s another one of those debates i’ve been in with progressives where they tend to find me totally callous and think i’m […]

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