by 99 Seats
Reasonable people can disagree about reasonable things reasonably. Absolutely.
But then some things make me totally unreasonable. This article is one of them. It's been bouncing around on Facebook for the last couple of days. I started reading it once, got enraged and walked away. Then I read this piece, which captured some of what I thought reading the Friedersdorf piece, but without the white-hot rage. Living in the land of sunshine and clear skies, less white-hot rage felt good. Then someone else posted it, a friend in New York that I know is very progressive, involved in women's issues, someone I know who worked very hard to get Obama elected in 2008. And so I read it again. And was again enraged.
Here are some key grafs from Conor Friedersdorf's piece (I'm quoting at some length):
Tell certain liberals and progressives that you can't bring yourself to vote for a candidate who opposes gay rights, or who doesn't believe in Darwinian evolution, and they'll nod along. Say that you'd never vote for a politician caught using the 'n'-word, even if you agreed with him on more policy issues than his opponent, and the vast majority of left-leaning Americans would understand. But these same people cannot conceive of how anyone can discern Mitt Romney's flaws, which I've chronicled in the course of the campaign, and still not vote for Obama.
I am not a purist. There is no such thing as a perfect political party, or a president who governs in accordance with one's every ethical judgment. But some actions are so ruinous to human rights, so destructive of the Constitution, and so contrary to basic morals that they are disqualifying. Most of you will go that far with me. If two candidates favored a return to slavery, or wanted to stone adulterers, you wouldn't cast your ballot for the one with the better position on health care. I am not equating President Obama with a slavery apologist or an Islamic fundamentalist. On one issue, torture, he issued an executive order against an immoral policy undertaken by his predecessor, and while torture opponents hoped for more, that is no small thing.
There is a candidate on the ballot in at least 47 states, and probably in all 50, who regularly speaks out against that post-9/11 trend, and all the individual policies that compose it. His name is Gary Johnson, and he won't win. I am supporting him because he ought to. Liberals and progressives care so little about having critiques of the aforementioned policies aired that vanishingly few will even urge that he be included in the upcoming presidential debates. If I vote, it will be for Johnson. What about the assertion that Romney will be even worse than Obama has been on these issues? It is quite possible, though not nearly as inevitable as Democrats seem to think. It isn't as though they accurately predicted the abysmal behavior of Obama during his first term, after all. And how do you get worse than having set a precedent for the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens? By actually carrying out such a killing? Obama did that too. Would Romney? I honestly don't know. I can imagine he'd kill more Americans without trial and in secret, or that he wouldn't kill any. I can imagine that he'd kill more innocent Pakistani kids or fewer. His rhetoric suggests he would be worse. I agree with that. Then again, Romney revels in bellicosity; Obama soothes with rhetoric and kills people in secret.
The whole liberal conceit that Obama is a good, enlightened man, while his opponent is a malign, hard-hearted cretin, depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans -- along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers -- just aren't valued. Alternatively, the less savory parts of Obama's tenure can just be repeatedly disappeared from the narrative of his first term, as so many left-leaning journalists, uncomfortable confronting the depths of the man's transgressions, have done over and over again.
To say I found this all unpersuasive would an understatment. I basically call bullshit on this. But not in the blinkered, blindered way he describes other leftists at the beginning.
First off, a vote is an affirmative thing. You are voting in support of something, not just in protest. Friedersdorf wants to have it both ways: he wants to tar all of Obama's supporters as callous, bellicose war-mongers who don't care about little brown babies, but he seems to only want to vote for Gary Johnson because of his policies on Afghanistan and the "war on terror." But what about all of the other things Gary Johnson believes? What about Medicaid and Medicare cuts and turning them into block grants? What about gun control and gun rights? What about unions and workers' rights? Health care for children? What about school vouchers? When you're pulling the lever for Gary Johnson, and asserting that he should win, as Friedersdorf does, don't those things matter, too? I went to Gary Johnson's website (you can, too...Friedersdorf, interestingly, doesn't link to his position on the issue) and I find the majority of his beliefs not just unpleasant, but an unacceptable vision for this country. Friedersdorf, and the other folks linking to his article, don't seem to find it so unacceptable.
Which brings me to my second point: it's just so much sophistry. An essential part of his argument is that President Obama doesn't care about the lives of children in Afghanistan. If you're willing to vote for Obama, in spite of the policies that we disagree with, then, by extension, you don't really care about kids or human rights or the Constitution. It's a bullshit argument. I do care about kids, and do care about civil liberties. Bradley Manning is absolutely unfairly imprisoned. And I find the Osama Bin Laden assassination extremely upsetting. But I also care about kids in America, kids in poverty, undocumented workers, about a lot of people. Gary Johnson isn't going to do too much for them. Could I say that Conor Friedersdorf likes to talk about liberties and protecting the innocent, but he has not follow-through. He's accusing me (and other people voting for Obama) of a sin, while committing the same sin and calling it virtue.
Like many, I'm disappointed by Obama's failure to live up to his promises and rhetoric in his first term. Friedersdorf plays on that disappointment. It's a palpable thing and a legitimate thing. But it's also rife with cynicism. It holds that a citizen's interaction with the political process comes only in the ballot box, once very four years and only in one vote. These issues should have a larger stage, I agree. But giving them a larger stage by not putting pressure on other legislators, leading protests, attracting attention. We like to think that we can't change things. But look at Occupy Wall Street. If anything has ultimately undone Mitt Romney's campaign, it's the spirit of Occupy Wall Street. Protest does matter. As do congresspeople and senators. The president is not king and shouldn't be expected to act like one.
Finally...I think so much of this smacks of privilege. It ignores the problems we face here in this country and the people who hurt here. I'm not saying that American children are more valuable than Afghan children, or a woman's right to choose is more important than Bradley Manning's right to free speech. But I do see that we have problems here at home, and major challenges facing our country. I see people out of work, children going without food. A lot of this is invisible to most here, as invisible as the terrorized Afghan children. It's also, apparently invisible to Conor Friedersdorf.
If voting for Barack Obama offends your moral compass, by all means, don't. Do what you feel is right. But please don't wear your rings all up on my nose about it, and imply that, by voting for Obama, I don't care about children or the Constitution. And don't pretend that it's just a choice of the lesser of two evils. It's a choice about the world and the country I want to live in. Does Obama have everything I want? No. I know that. But he comes closer to describing the world I want to live in. If you want me to take the bad with the good for Obama, I'm okay with that. Are you okay with taking the bad with the good for Gary Johnson? That's really the question.