Rebuttal To Sam Seder’s Insistence That Voting Third Party Would Setback the Progressive Cause
Sam Seder recently invited veteran activist and Naked Capitalism Contributing Editor Matt Stoller onto his radio show to discuss his recent piece on Salon, entitled “The progressive case against Obama.” The discussion turned a bit testy as they battled around the logic behind voting for a third party Presidential candidate. You can listen to their debate HERE (begins around the 12th minute).
As a follow up to that debate, Seder posed the following question to Stoller, Chris Hedges, and everyone else who believes that the best way forward for progressives is to support third party candidates:
How does voting for Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson speed up the building of a movement that is a counterweight to corporate power?
Seder contends that progressives became more conscious of the struggle between the people and corporate powers under a Democratic President (Obama) than they had under a Republican one (Bush). That these 99% vs 1% lines were essentially drawn BECAUSE we had a Democratic President, and that another term for Obama would only help to grow this populist movement. He adds that if Romney were to become President the “economic injustice” movement would just transform into an “anti-Republican” one.
I disagree with Seder’s arguments. I would contend that the party of the sitting President was irrelevant to the occupy movement. Rather, the timing of the movement was driven entirely by the economic pain, as it spread across the entire industrialized world.
It makes perfect sense that the movement formulated during Obama’s term, because the financial meltdown occurred in the final months of the Bush Administration. During those last few months, Hank Paulson terrified Congress into signing TARP, and the monthly unemployment numbers skyrocketed in a way not seen since the Great Depression. And as State tax revenues began to dry up shortly thereafter, severe austerity measures were imposed at the local level — resulting in laid off school teachers and other government workers. I.e. It took a couple years for the economic pain to spread and manifest into that progressive populist movement.
Though this movement against economic injustice would have happened regardless of which party occupied the White House, if there had been a Republican President, the crowd numbers would likely have been even twice as large. Why? Because THERE ARE many Democratic partisans whose entire socioeconomic POV fits nicely and neatly within the Democratic-Republican paradigm. These types would protest for any liberal cause — just as long as a Republican President or Governor could be linked to the blame. Many of these Democrats belittled occupy’s efforts BECAUSE they couldn’t co-opt the movement for Obama. This would have been a mute point if a Republican were in power.
For proof, one must look no further than the hundred thousand protesters who stormed the Wisconsin State Capitol under Republican Governor Scott Walker in protest of that Republican-dominated state legislature’s assault on collective bargaining.
As far as Seder’s central question: “How does voting 3rd party speed up the building of a movement that is counterweight to corporate power?” — what he refuses to acknowledge is that the populist ‘movement’ he speaks of has NO political representation in Washington. NONE. ZERO.
In fact, many in support of the movement he cites actually helped to usher Obama into the White House in 2008, and are now fully cognizant of the fact that Obama has been 100% complicit in the destructive policies that have rewarded moneyed interests off the backs of the American people.
The important question — the one that Seder does not want to ask — is how does a movement go about making a non-representative government more representative? Especially, when the party traditionally allied to that movement’s ideology — the Democrats — now operate with the understanding that there are no voter repercussions for anything they do — an understanding spawned by Seder’s very own “lessor of two evils” mindset.
Take Obama’s entire first term. He broke promise after promise — selling out to corporate interests, degrading our civil liberties, declaring war on whistleblowers, etc — BECAUSE of the calculations he made with regards to progressives having nowhere else to go. So, if voters reward Obama for having made this insidious calculation against them, how would that actually work to change his or future Democratic Presidents’ behavior?
It would achieve the very opposite by reinforcing the idea that Obama’s strategy in deceit is not only a winning one, but actually minimizes political risks. Why? Because unlike voters, the entrenched corporations — with hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal — do have somewhere else to go. Republican, Democrat, … makes no difference to them.
The message an Obama victory would send to all future Democratic Presidential Candidates is: run and win on a popular progressive platform, and then, like Obama, pull a ‘bait and switch’ — with the goal of building up your campaign war chest in corporate money, and with impunity since progressives have nowhere else to go.
So my question to Seder would be: How successful can any peaceful populist movement be if it remains completely loyal to a political party that feels free to cavalierly ignore their wishes, while reaping tens of millions of dollars in political donations for having done so?
Politicians must be conditioned to understand that there is a political price to be paid for selling out the voters’ best interests. This underlying principle is the essential cornerstone for all representative democracies. If the voters are too timid to punish the politicians for betraying their interests — as Sam Seder argues they should be — then politicians will naturally continue to betray their interests.
Seder’s strategy of voting Democratic, no matter what, trades away all long-term progressive opportunities for little more than a slight reduction in speed of this nation’s rightward acceleration. Like a CEO forever focused on meeting next quarter’s earnings estimates, while paying no attention to the overall degrading health of the organization he runs.
Voting third party is a strategy that works to re-align the interests of elected officials with the interests of the people, by making them understand that progressives do in fact have somewhere else to go. Governments which believe themselves to be unaccountable to the people they govern are not democracies. And that is the crisis we face.
Comedy VIDEO: Triumph ‘The Insult Comic Dog’ Covers Presidential Debate, GOP Spin Room
Conan O’Brien’s furry correspondent Triumph takes GOP scalps at the final 2012 Presidential Debate:
Former Obama Defense Official Rosa Brooks: President Obama Is In Need Of An Intervention
Rosa Brooks, who served under President Obama as Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and then Special Coordinator for Rule of Law and Humanitarian Policy, offered her former boss some long-overdue advice in her new Foreign Policy Magazine piece:
“[P]ush the foreign policy ‘reset’ button.”
In it, she recalls Obama’s principled vision for U.S. foreign policy during his 2008 campaign, which won over the American people and the world alike. It offered a fresh new worldview and policy platform that departed dramatically from his predecessor’s. She then contrasts that vision with where his foreign policy stands today — in shambles.
She highlights key regions that could be fairly portrayed as policy failures, including the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, China, Latin America, and Africa. On Obama’s expanding drone campaign, she describes “a counterterrorism strategy that has completely lost its bearings — we no longer seem very clear on who we need to kill or why.”
She lays these policy failures at Obama’s door, describing him as having been a “visionary candidate,” yet a President who “has presided over an exceptionally dysfunctional and un-visionary national security architecture — one that appears to drift from crisis to crisis, with little ability to look beyond the next few weeks.”
The United States, she says, “needs more than speeches and high-minded aspirations.” The President “needs to focus on strategy, structure, process, management, and personnel as much as on new policy initiatives.”
Brooks pulls no punches in her “intervention” attempt. She provides him with a 6-point plan of action to turn things around, should the American people grant him a second term.
A central theme that spans across many of these recommendations is a dysfunctional foreign policy team in which well-respected strategists and visionaries have been mostly replaced by inexperienced political hacks.
She describes an environment where:
- “The Strategic Planning Directorate has been reduced to a speech-writing shop.”
- The “National Security Staff (NSS) lacks the personnel or the depth of experience and expertise to be the primary font of policy.”
- “Nepotism trumps merit.”
- Cronyism “reigns supreme when it comes to determining who should attend White House meetings,” thereby shutting out dissenting voices, “along with the voices of specialists who could provide valuable information and insights.” This “guarantees uninformed group-think.”
- Two of Obama’s three gatekeepers, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and his Deputy Denis McDonough, are allegedly “jerks” and despise one another. “The nastiness demoralizes everyone and sends the message that rudeness and infighting are acceptable.”
She describes the President as someone who, like his predecessor, has withdrawn into a bubble. He is heavily shielded by gate-keepers, rarely attends press conferences or interacts with members of Congress, never calls anyone.
She encourages him to implore staffers to play devil’s advocate — to challenge the polices that Obama and his close circle plan to pursue, if only to highlight their weaknesses, and to make those who have his ear actually have to defend them. In short, Obama needs more dissenting opinions in the room.
Perhaps her harshest critique of the President is one which many of his earliest supporters have long complained about: Obama lacks a backbone.
President Obama has sound moral instincts, but he often backs away from them at the first sign of resistance. He came into office with a mandate and Democratic control of both houses of Congress. Had he been willing to use some political capital — and twist a few arms on the Hill — in those early months, Guantanamo would be closed, and the United States might have a more coherent approach to national security budgeting. But on these and other issues, the president backed off at the first sign of congressional resistance, apparently deciding (presumably on the advice of the campaign aides who already populated his national security staff) that these issues were political losers.
Of course, it was a self-fulfilling prophesy; the issues became losers because the White House abandoned them. Ultimately, Congress began to view him as weak: a man who wouldn’t push them very hard. As a result, Congress pushed back hard on everything, including health care, economic stimulus, and regulation of the financial industry, and Obama was forced to live with watered-down legislation across the board.
If he gets a second term, Obama needs to start thinking about his legacy, and that will require him to fight for his principles, not abandon them. Even if he fights, he won’t win every battle — but if he doesn’t fight, he won’t win any.
Bank Of America And Billionaires Funded Republican & Democratic Conventions
OpenSecrets.org, one of the best sites for tracking money in politics, just tallied up the major funders of the Republican and Democratic national conventions, and their findings are revealing. No surprises with the Republicans — the ones they are beholden to for having funded their extravaganza are mostly billionaires and huge corporations. The biggest revelations […]
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The Debate: A Masterful Liar Defeats a Man Without Conviction (video)
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For those on the Left, one of the most frustrating aspects of this Presidential election has been following the narratives of both establishment parties, each aligned with the other in their complimentary fictions, as they deceive the American voters into believing there is an actual choice to be made here. Beyond the rhetorical divide, the […]
President Obama’s Appearance on 60 Minutes: The Good And The Bad
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DNC Platform Change Vote Was Predetermined On Teleprompter, Delegate Voting Was Merely For Show
Controversy erupted at the DNC this week when Democratic party leaders forced a party platform change to reinstate language proclaiming Jerusalem as “Israel’s undivided capital,” and to reinstate references to God in the text. The motion had to be voted on by a two-thirds majority of the delegates for passage, and it became clear, after […]