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October 01, 2012


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My only quibble here is that some of the things you listed, such as closing Gitmo, the public option, even cap and trade, are, by and large, actually popular. It's just that the opponents of those things had more resources. We're at a point where public opinion alone has little effect on what the legislation does. That's a shame. But it's also a different fight.

I'm voting for the candidate whose agenda, message and values I can get behind most fully. There are things a president can do, things he/she can't do, but they do set the agenda and tenor for the government. Failing to do everything they set out to do isn't a sin in my book. Setting out to do the wrong things is.

The one thing about this conversation that I find both frustrating and distasteful, as I indicated, is the implicit and sometimes explicit suggestion that anyone who votes for Obama is somehow a moral failure. Constantly referring to the Afghan people as "innocent" (which I'm not disputing) as though they're the only innocent people in the world affected by Obama's policies is wrong. And it clearly comes from such a place of privilege and comfort. There are millions of "innocent" men, women and children in the U.S. whose lives would be affected by the policies of Gary Johnson. Just because they're American and invisible to you, that makes them no less innocent and protecting them no less moral.

I completely agree with Isaac: a vote is not a moral choice, even if morality comes into play. It's a practical matter of governance.


I don't know, I think a vote is a moral choice, not just a practical one. Third party members aren't just being demonstrative to their fellow voters, they are embodying the practical value of voting. Fighting against the instruments of "practical governance" like gerrymandering and the electoral college, which everyone agrees are absurd and stiffling to democracy ... and the reason we have a aggravating binary choice every time 'round.

Isaac makes a good point about primaries and what to do now, in the final heat of the race. Because then there are voters like Friedersdorf who are just saying "to hell with both of them" and offering, at a late stage in the race, passionate advocacy for someone they should have boosted sooner. If we're just making a protest vote, I want to make my protest against Romney and I believe Obama is a better rebuke to Romney than anyone else in the field. Same reasoning, similar trade-offs -- but what a narrow way to vote.

I respect Friedersdorf's deal-breaker and I expect as much from a libertarian. In 2004, foreign affairs drowned out domestic issues. Would that have been the time to vote against Kerry for his timidity on gay marriage? Obama's domestic surveillance plans and Pakistan strategy were prominent parts of his 2008 campaign and Friedersdorf was able to integrate that into his approval just fine.

What frustrates me is the part where he says the caricature of Obama as noble vs. Romney as cretinous "depends on constructing" an alternate reality where non-American lives "just don't count." If he wants to lay down executive power as a deal-breaker, fine, but saying Obama's battle with Romney "depends" on non-Muslim lives not counting doesn't make any sense. However, the inverse caricature -- where Romney is righteous and Obama is dreadful -- DOES "depend" on treating immigrants, women and homosexuals as people who "just don't count."

People always vote for many reasons, but we're kind of abstracting the fuck out of the original point: how do we, as Obama supporters, reconcile his military campagins, robot army, kill lists and suspension of due process? Isaac says there's no constituency for them and I agree with 99 that there is. I refuse to accept "political capital" as an explanation for anything. When I search my conscience on the issue, I can only appeal to a spirit of trust. That speaks volumes of my naivitae perhaps, but it's the best answer I have. I trust Obama with that power in a way I didn't trust George "Permanent Republican Majority" Bush. I trust his judgment, intellect, temperament and priorities. I trust the constitutional scholar over the CEO. Perhaps that's too much trust. Perhaps that trust is an extortion in light of all the other issues at stake. Certainly it's a short-sighted trust for it focusses on the disposition of the President and not the power of the precedent. In any case, I'd love to hear more answers to that question.



I think you changed the question and then subbed in an earlier answer of mine for this new question. I dont' think if you asked me "How would you reconcile voting for Obama with his foreign policy and human rights record?" I would respond with "There is no constituency." What I would say is "Because the alternative (i.e. Romney) is much, much worse." Which would get us back to the question of why I'm not voting for a third party in the general election, which I've already answered above.

I think it is also worth saying that I do not think that, absent George W. Bush, Obama would be pursuing many of the policies we dislike. I understand that's a counterfactual, but once certain ways of doing business become entrenched in a bureaucracy and have constituencies and monied interests behind them, it becomes much, much harder to undo them. I'll try to find the article but there was one a ways back that was looking at this issue w/r/t Obama specifically and what they found is that Obama essentially lost/gave up the fight to change this stuff early on in his Presidency because it was entrenched and because not one of his advisors supported the left wing position on this issue.

This is not to say Obama doesn't deserve a lot of blame for it, I'm not trying to excuse him, I'm simply trying to think about this stuff in terms of what i know of how it actually works. Romney has stated publicly that he would reinstate a torture regime. That's a major difference. Based on things he's said I also believe that we can count on him to outsource our foreign policy on Iran to Benjamin Netanyahu, which would be a disaster. On every issue that readers of this blog care about, Obama is a better choice than Romney, and that is what ultimately matters to me.

ALso: if anyone thinks that the Executive is going to voluntarily give up power without Congress and the Court working to restrain it, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell them.

Karl Miller

No, I hear you, Isaac. All that said, we still have to account for the evil in our lesser evil. We all make trade offs and vote some measure AGAINST someone as we do FOR someone else. But at bottom, that's a matter of formula, abstraction, capitulation to our ridiculous electoral system, and, yes, an embrace of "lesser-evilism." I just want to get an honest answer on the lesser evil itself.

I think on certain matters, especially ones of civil right and human dignity, one should judge the leader not by what was practical to do but what they dared to do even if they weren't going to be successful. On that score, I give Obama a solid B on torture and a C on Gitmo. Libya is a draw. Domestic surveillance and Pakistan were part of 2008, so I don't put stock in fresh objections to them now. But the kill list, drone warfare and suspension of due process ... there is no doubt these would be outright disqualifiers in a Republican candidate. Just as Republicans have a habit of about-facing on the deficit when it suits them, we have an equally-disgraceful, perhaps more disgraceful, about-face on civil liberties. That is the brunt of Friedersdorf's essay, however weak his particulars may be and however false his larger analysis is.

I really want to know. I think the precedent of Bush is a poor reason to excuse Obama's new extensions of executive power. I think political capital and bureaucratic resistence are real phenomena but that we expect leaders to defy them, even and especially if they don't prevail, when it comes to the gravest issues: how do we make war, who lives and dies, how much power does one man have to do this? On some matters, Obama has done well. On others, he has met resistence, and on others, he's gone in a troubling direction.

Lesser-evilism can't completely account for this. I can only offer my trust w/r/t the above and advocacy for the boatload of other issues wherein Obama shines: gay rights, women's rights, immigrant rights, income inequality, and a foreign policy that is at once more broad-minded and more narrowly and effectively executed.

You talk of "entrenchment" well ... some awful executive powers are now entrenched for future users, one of whom may be Mitt Romney. That's the risk that comes with trusting Obama, as I do, and rationalizing lesser-evil votes on certain issues. At the end of the day, we're both voting for the guy. But we need to answer the executive power charge on its own terms BEFORE appealing to election dynamics, etc. It's not a deal-breaker for me, but it is too important to relegate to Voting Against Something Worse.


Wait, you give Obama a C for Gitmo even though he tried to close it and was betrayed by his own party? This is the kind of stuff that doesn't make sense to me.

Karl Miller

Gitmo was the very site and symbol of all that was wrong with the War on Terror. He shouldn't have promised to close it if he couldn't lead his own party on the matter. After he promised to close it, he should have maintained the public fight against it. It's a losing fight, procedurally, but it is the nobler fight. Then again, my grading curve has always been a little harsh ... B-?


I vote because there are women who fought for my right to do so. And because while I feel my vote for president means little to nothing (I vote democratic nearly always, and when is the last time NY voted otherwise for president?), it is still how my voice gets heard, even if it's a drop in the bucket.

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