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.
WATCH: The Origins Of #OccupyWallStreet: An Interview With Adbusters’ Micah White
For those wondering how the revolutionary #OccupyWallStreet movement — which now spans the entire globe — came into being, look no further than Vancouver’s activist magazine & website, Adbusters, and its Senior Editor, Micah White.
In this interview, White discusses the movement’s origins, its leaderless (general assembly) decision-making model — vital to ensuring it doesn’t get co-opted, and its underlying goal: economic justice.
The original concept behind the #OccupyWallStreet movement, was outlined in a July 13, 2011 Adbusters post entitled: #OCCUPYWALLSTREET: A shift in revolutionary tactics.
This post was followed by a succession of Tweets (the first few shown here) which would go on to “launch a thousand ships:”
The Strategic Rationale Behind The Left’s Criticism Of President Obama: FEAR
There are essentially two major camps left-of-center in American politics, and the divisions between the two are often as deep and wide as the rifts between the two major parties.
One camp is composed of Democratic partisans — a group that goes to great ends to stifle any and all criticism of President Obama and other Democratic politicians.
Commonly referred to as ‘Democratic loyalists’, ‘Obamabots’, ‘Obama Loyalists’ ‘Obama apologists’, ‘sheeple’ … they are fueled by a deep conviction that the Democratic Party — no matter what they do and how far to the right they swing — must have our full unflinching support to ensure their eventual reelection.
Anytime the Left criticizes Obama’s initiatives or policies, or calls for primaries or third party options, Partisans immediately condemn them as “helping to elect Republicans”.
Partisans have succumbed, fully and completely, to the ‘lesser of two evils’ rationale.
To fully appreciate how insignificant policies are to the partisan mind, consider that most of them absolutely loathed Ronald Reagan in the 80s, yet now ironically adore President Obama. Never mind that his actual policy record sits to the right of Reagan’s along the left-right political spectrum.
The second camp is composed of progressives — a group whose loyalties lie ONLY with progressive policies. These individuals relentlessly pursue the truth irregardless of which party suffers from their findings. Unlike partisans, they refuse to cherry-pick, or engage in historic revisionism, or even to pull punches as a way of sparing Democratic politicians embarrassment.
Commonly referred to as ‘the Left’, ‘the populist Left’, ‘truth-tellers’, ‘the professional Left’, ‘non-partisan Left’, ‘ideological purists’, … they tend to vote Democratic, but will at times — depending on the options available to them — consider voting for Greens and independents.
The Left has been especially critical of President Obama over the last three years. He won a decisive victory in 2008 having campaigned on the following progressive platform: a public option as the vital component to any health care reform legislation; allowing the re-importation of prescription drugs; ending Bush tax cuts; scrapping the Patriot Act, which he deemed ‘shoddy and dangerous’; ending the warring policies of the neocons; closing GITMO; ending ‘Too Big to Fail’ on Wall Street (so as to avoid future TARPS); rewriting job-killing NAFTA-like trade policies, etc. etc. Once elected, he instantly turned his back on all these campaign promises, instead cutting back-room deals with the wealthy entrenched interest groups who profit from the very deep structural problems he vowed to reform.
All this begs the following question: Whose Strategy (Partisan or Progressive) Is Most Likely To Yield Meaningful Progressive Change?
Again, Partisans preach that within the confines of a two-party system, you MUST ALWAYS support and defend the ‘lesser of two evil’ parties. And so as an extension of this belief, they view the Left — always shining a light on Obama’s betrayals and pro-corporate, non-progressive policies — as merely sabotaging his 2012 reelection prospects, thereby ensuring we get stuck with a Tea Partier President.
But this partisan assessment is both simplistic and naive.
To fully appreciate the strategy of Progressives, one must focus entirely on what motivates politicians to legislate the policies they do: FEAR. If politicians don’t fear you, they are free to ignore you.
Like all Americans, politicians fear losing their jobs. The two major competing groups that directly impact their reelection prospects are the powerful entrenched entities who fill either their or their opponents’ political coffers with millions of dollars, and the constituents who will actually cast the votes.
Why Politicians Fear Entrenched Corporate Entities Far More Than Voters
Deep pocketed special interest groups have only one objective: to ensure that all legislation passed and signed into law continues to enrich them and advance their own narrow self-interests (often to the detriment of the American public).
Of great significance, is their mercenary approach to influencing the legislative process. Their loyalty lies with whatever party legislates their agenda. One wrong vote and they will reroute tens of thousands of dollars slotted for one politician directly into his opponent’s war chest. Similar to Progressives, their loyalties lie with the policies being legislated.
Voting constituents, conversely, are largely too timid to provoke this same level of fear in their politicians, and this is a direct result of our deeply-flawed two-party political system. By punishing or even criticizing Democrats, partisans fear they risk empowering Republicans.
So naturally Democratic politicians factor their supporters’ reluctance to punish them into their decision-making process anytime their campaign promises meet resistance from the powerful entrenched-interest groups. It is precisely this ‘lesser of two-evils’ mindset that all but ensures Democratic politicians put entrenched corporate interests above their own supporters’ interests.
The Media’s Role in Ensuring America Remains Partisan
The main-stream-media (owned by these same entrenched corporate interests) helps to do its part to solidify a public partisan mindset by largely replacing serious news coverage and thoughtful policy discussions with a focus on partisan gamesmanship and the most extreme elements of the ‘other’ party. This blatant distraction — a refocusing of the public attention away from the issues that matter — lulls each side’s voters into complacency. It grants a non-principled President even more leeway to betray the interests of his own supporters. He can quietly serve the entrenched interests, in exchange for millions in campaign contributions, and yet still remain confident his constituents — shocked by the nightly broadcasting of extreme Tea Party and Rush Limbaugh rhetoric — will continue to support him.
Is it a mere coincidence that Fox News Chairman Roger Aisles — who serves as the Republican Party’s propagandist-in-chief — decided to cancel Glenn Beck just before the 2012 Election cycle? Aisles understood better than anyone that Beck provokes fear and disgust in Centrists and Leftists alike. And that fear has a way of overshadowing the deep-seated feelings of betrayal shared by MANY who campaigned for Obama in 2008. Aisles knew that MSNBC and CNN would continue to devote an exorbitant amount of time each night focused on Beck’s crazy conspiratorial rants, and that this could only frighten and energize a largely disenchanted electorate to vote Democratic.
Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et al actually steal the spotlight away from Obama’s right-of-center policies. Obama’s Milton Friedmanesque initiatives have failed to spark outrage amongst many Democrats, because they are completely captivated by the circus clowns on the far-Right. When liberal pundits roll clip after clip after clip of antics from the fringe-right, they divert their viewers’ attention from things such as the NAFTA-like ‘free trade’ deals Obama is quietly pushing through — gifts to multi-national corporations which will result in the exportation of hundreds of thousands more American jobs, and during one of the biggest unemployment crises since the Great Depression. They neglect to remind their viewer that Obama routinely slammed these very NAFTA-like trade deals during his campaign, promising his supporters he’d rewrite NAFTA if they elected him.
Why The Progressive Strategy Is Our Only Hope For Change
Progressives are of the mindset that the only way to transform this country into a more progressive one, is to heighten politicians’ FEAR of their own constituents in a way that rivals the fear instilled by deep-pocketed interest groups. Progressives know that politicians strategically move towards their ideological base, whenever confronted with political insecurity.
When the Left calls Obama out in a way that penetrates the inner-beltway bubble — and becomes quantifiable by corresponding poll numbers — the President’s political advisers interpret this as voter repudiation. They realize his policy pendulum has swung too far Right in favor of entrenched interests and to the detriment of his own political stability. And it’s at this moment he begins to fear his supporters — the ones who elected him, and who will actually cast the votes in 2012. This leaves him with little choice, but to pivot towards his base and attempt to diffuse rising populist dissent.
Therein lies the key crucial difference between the two camps:
Progressives understand that when a President’s poll numbers drop he is more likely to push progressive priorities to appease his supporters. As such, the Left doesn’t believe its criticism of Obama in any way threatens the ends it hopes to achieve: progressive policies. If Obama stubbornly refuses to pivot to the Left then he has only himself to blame for a disenchanted, unenergized base come election time.
Partisans are always in campaign mode — viewing actual governing as little more than the muddy tracks of a perpetual horse race — and thus equate lowering poll numbers as a precursor to defeat. Therefore, as a group, they are incapable of ever pressuring their politicians to champion progressive causes or to promote meaningful change.
The message partisans continue to send to their Democratic representatives is this: “Just ignore me and everything I want, because I intend to campaign for you and vote for you regardless of what you do. I’ll even lie for you and cover up how you’ve screwed me every which way til Sunday — anything to ensure those scary Republicans don’t win.”
The Left hopes to send them the exact opposite message.
The US founding fathers, like today’s Progressives, understood that the one vital ingredient for maintaining a robust democracy is nothing less than FEAR itself:
“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
Well, today, we find ourselves living in a state of corporate tyranny, where change has become nothing more than a campaign slogan. Partisans have no one but themselves to blame for this sorry state of affairs.
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