Wednesday, July 2, 2008

In any election, you cast two votes

This is something we usually forget that some blogger tried to remind his readers back in February, when the primaries and caucuses were still going on. Now I realize that the first reaction to the statement "you cast two votes whenever you participate in an election" will be "Now wait: I only got one ballot and cast one vote." That would be correct, as far as it goes. In other words, the first vote you have cast is the one that is immediately visible: i.e., for a particular candidate, or a particular party, or a particular ballot initiative. You have either voted "Yes" or "No" for someone or some initiative.

Now as for that second vote you will have cast, let's break it down:
The second vote is an automatic "yes" vote on the process, on the election itself. By participating in the election you're saying that yes, you find the choices offered are acceptable, that the process has been fair, that the debate leading up to Election Day has covered all the relevant issues, that you consider both parties to be legitimate.
You are communicating to those who run the system that the system and their handling of it are legitimate. The blogger who wrote the paragraph quoted, Stanley Rogouski, goes on to list a number of ways in which the primary in his state was not legitimate - and I believe can be extrapolated on to the general election:
First of all, there’s no guarantee my vote will count. Al Gore was clearly the winner in Florida in 2000 and Gore and the Democratic Party declined to fight against the appointment of George Bush to the White House by the Supreme Court and for the decision that the American voters actually made. Four years later, in spite of the suspect vote count in Ohio, John Kerry declined to spend the millions of dollars he had left over and left it to the under funded Greens and Libertarians to conduct an investigation.

Second, the Republican Party under George Bush and Dick Cheney lied to the American people to manipulate them into destroying a small, impoverished Middle Eastern country, as of now the greatest war crime of the 21st Century. George Bush used the terrorist attack on 9/11 to push unconstitutional and even treasonous legislation through the congress. He’s mounted a relentless attack on American civil liberties for seven years. He’s repealed Habeas corpus, a legal tradition in English speaking nations going back hundreds of years. He’s brought convicted felons like Elliot Abrams and John Negroponte back into the government. He’s legalized torture. George Bush and dozens of his cronies belong in leg irons and behind bars, not free to work the lecture for pay and lobbying circuits after they get out of office in 2009. And yet in spite of this, the Democratic Party has declined to do their constitutional duty and impeach these criminals for the disgustingly selfish reason that they believe pursuing justice might cost them the White House in 2008. Voting in this primary legitimizes Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid “taking impeachment off the table”. It legitimizes their decision to continue to fund the occupation of Iraq in the hopes that it will continue to go bad and hurt the Republicans. Iraqi and American lives for votes? Shred the Constitution in order to get someone with a “D” behind his or her name in the White House? No thanks.

Finally there’s the primary process itself. The all white states of Iowa and New Hampshire are given a ridiculously disproportionate weight in choosing the nominee. Both parties have worked with the corporate media to marginalize real debate about the war and civil liberties. Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel were excluded from the process altogether when they asked too many hard questions. There’s little discussion in the media about the role of super delegates and while this is a decision made by the corporate media and not the Democratic or Republican parties, both parties still allow media outlets to sponsor debates instead of moving the process back to a non-partisan organization like the League of Women Voters. While the Republican Party has been slightly more open on debating the issue of the occupation of the war in Iraq, actually demanding that Fox News include anti-war Libertarian Ron Paul when they tried to exclude him, the New Jersey primary is a winner take all primary. A vote for anti-war Republican Ron Paul winds up as a delegate for the fanatical militarist John McCain.
You see in brief the scope of the problem. Not only is there the real question as to if one's vote will be counted at all, but there is also the question of what that vote actually represents if it is counted. If one does indeed question the legitimacy of the process to the extent that the writer appears to, the honest thing to do is to refuse to participate. To do otherwise strikes me as requiring a fair amount of mauvaise foi, although there are certainly plenty of folks out there who seem to go that route, say for instance when one claims as did Josh Marshall back in March:
What I am saying is that no one can run away from the choice every American with the franchise will face in November. The next president will either be John McCain or the Democratic nominee. That's an immovable fact. Not voting or voting for some protest candidate doesn't allow anyone to wash their hands of that choice.
Or, Libby from Newshoggers just a few weeks ago:
The Democrats think they have us over a barrel. They know we're going to vote for the Democratic ticket. There is no other choice.
You can say that in a brief post I knocked out in late June, ¡Vete a la chingada!, I called out a few of the more visible "progressive" bloggers who are having "buyer's remorse" over Obama but who will in all likelihood dutifully cast their vote for him (and for the system that is of questionable legitimacy) in November - contending, in bad faith, that "there is no other choice." Going back to last March, I stated (hopefully in good faith):
Further, I'd strongly suggest reading Arthur Silber's The Tale That Might Be Told. The false choice that Josh Marshall is presenting us is one of selecting which one is "less bad." Continuing to make such "choices" only encourages the rulers to believe they are legitimate. If you try out Silber's gedanken experiment, you can imagine just how tenuous the elites' hold on legitimacy really is: after all, they're only legit to the extent that the people tolerate them, and withholding one's support is not a particularly difficult thing to do really. Psychologically, a small turnout (and by small, let's say less than ten percent of the electorate) would change things considerably. It's hard enough for a president to claim a mandate when less than a quarter of the registered voters support them (although they usually do somehow with a straight face). Once you start talking less than five percent of the registered voters supporting the eventual "victor", any remaining pretense of a "mandate" is taken away. One might also take away from Silber's essay the idea that the elites need us much, much more than we "need" them.

Said it before, and I'll say it again: ideally we'd have not only a mass boycott of the polls in November, but also a general strike to drive the point home that a very large number of Americans are plain and simply fed up with the status quo. I don't hold out much hope for something that organized to happen here as of yet, but perhaps I might one day be pleasantly surprised.

There's no running away involved: Not only am I refusing to vote for either the of the evils (be it in Donkey or Elephant form), but I have stated so publicly on many an occasion and no doubt will continue to do so for as long as I can draw a breath and find anyone who will listen. In other words, I've simply stood up and said "no" to evils, no matter how much "lesser" their supporters claim them to be.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that rather than being passive objects of circumstance, we are active participants in the situations in which we're embedded. In other words, there are other choices and to pretend that there are none is to engage in self-deception. As Mohandas Gandhi once said: "be the change that you want to see in the world." That includes challenging the legitimacy of the status quo, and if one has reason to doubt its legitimacy, of refusing to cop out.

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