Posted by Thomas Nephew on December 4th, 2008
A look back at at my ticket-splitting, effort-splitting, and other split decision-making in the 2008 elections.
Virginia Senator Jim Webb had one of the memorable quips of the campaign in October. Speaking in Roanoke to an Obama rally, Webb said McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for veep reminded him of the line from a country song, “I know what I was doing, but what was I thinking?”
Whatever McCain’s motivations were, though, my own choices might seem equally hard to explain. I wound up working hard for a vice presidential candidate who was instrumental in passing the Bankruptcy Bill; for a presidential candidate who went back on his word and voted for a FISA Amendment Act featuring telecom company immunity, and who arguably took the oxygen out of a favored candidate’s campaign when he promised to stick to a publicly financed campaign — which he obviously did not do.
I thereby worked on behalf of a party that had effectively abandoned opposition to the Iraq War in 2007 — despite sweeping back to power on that promise — and on behalf of a party that had stonewalled pleas to hold the architects of that war, of torture, of warrantless surveillance, and more accountable by impeachment.
Meanwhile, though, I joined in a campaign for Gordon Clark, a Green Party candidate who wound up with around 2 percent of the vote. I supported that campaign with time, writing, and even some money — with the net effect, particularly of the writing, perhaps making me persona non grata to a Congressman I’d frequently praised on this site.
So what do I have to show for it? What explains the mixture of satisfaction and regret I feel?
To be clear: I regret neither my active support for Gordon Clark nor my active support for Barack Obama. Beginning with the president-elect, I think David Swanson (of AfterDowningStreet.com and Democrats.com) expressed a great deal of what I thought in an article he wrote just after voting for Obama in late October. After acknowledging Obama’s imperfections — support for a larger military, personnel choices including Biden, Emanuel, and Gates — Swanson listed three reasons for voting for Obama: the other candidate was “significantly worse,” the significance of an Obama win in Virginia, where Swanson resides, and something I whispered to myself often enough — the annihilation of the Republican party:
I want Obama to win overwhelmingly. I want the Republican Party put out of business. If you want to build a new party, what better breakthrough could you ask for than eliminating the Republican Party? … I want that landslide understood as a landslide for peace and against Republican war mongering. It can be understood as such despite Obama’s own support for war, because most Americans are unaware of that. In the simplest terms, McCain has been labeled the war candidate and Obama the peace candidate.
He continued (emphases added):
The fourth and most important reason I voted for Obama is that I consider voting a very, very small part of my duty as a citizen in a democratic republic. What our government does during the next two or four or eight years is largely a function of what we do, not just of whom we elect. It is important that we have Obama who can conceivably be moved toward peace rather than McCain who cannot, but in taking three minutes away from fulltime lobbying and pressuring and educating and reporting in order to vote for Obama I am not glorifying his entire platform and worldview as my own. I am simply stating that I would rather see him in the White House than McCain.
Indeed. Also, such considerations aside, I’m also satisfied that I did my best to help raise the issues of Iraq, civil liberties, torture, global warming, Iran, and the rule of law during the election season, whether here on my blog or on doorsteps, at festival booths, and in conversations with friends and neighbors.
Yet when I looked up in the days and weeks after Election Day, I saw that Darcy Burner, author of the “Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq,” had gone down to defeat in Washington*; a pernicious slots initiative had wormed its way into Maryland and its constitution while I’d been arguably traipsing around in Virginia; and yesterday, Jim Martin lost the Georgia Senate race to Saxby Chambliss. While I wonder to myself why so many of his general election supporters didn’t turn out to vote in the runoff, I also admit to myself I didn’t have the stick-to-it-iveness to revisit a race I’d called the most important one in the country (for whatever good that would have done). I had limited energy, time, and resources after all; in other words, I ran out of steam.
As for Obama, I had agonized over a decision to vote for him in February when John Edwards dropped out — even giving him a pass on his silly “tit for tat” comment about impeachment — ultimately deciding that Hillary Clinton’s Iraq vote in 2002 made him worth elevating over her. Now she’ll be Secretary of State, instead of advocating an arguably superior universal health care plan (supposedly her signature issue) from a position of renewed, earned political strength. Is the joke on me? Is the joke on all of us who thought the Democratic primaries were actually about differences in foreign policy vision, about Iraq, about health care?
To me, President Obama remains a better outcome than President H. Clinton — let alone than President McCain and Vice President Palin. But the closing of Democratic establishment ranks reminds me that — to borrow from the unlamented Rumsfeld –we go to the voting booth with the political system we have, not the one we’d like to have. We also go to to the voting booth with the candidates we have, not the ones we’d like to have — and John Edwards, I’m looking at you. I still think his affair was his affair and Elizabeth’s, not mine or ours. But soon after that affair became undeniable, so did its effect: everything he advocated and stood for lost its highest profile advocate, and his supporters have been all but invited to feel fortunate he lost early rather than late.
While I tried to give that system we have my own tiny push in a new direction, the 2 percent return, so to speak, on my “investment” in Mr. Clark provides fresh and unsurprising proof there’s a long way to go. Despite the lopsided loss Clark suffered, though, I’m particularly glad to have been part of his campaign. For starters, it felt right to put my efforts where my mouth was; I’d said I was going to do something like this after the FISA Amendment Act vote, and so I did. (“To do list“, 7/12/08: “- check.”)
But really, it was a personal declaration of independence from the Democratic Party that has proven so disappointing so often, and so committed to being merely a passive alternative to disaster rather than a committed, energetic fighter for what’s right. I turned 50 last weekend. I just don’t have time for that any more. While Van Hollen may not be the prime architect of Democratic strategy these past two years, as head of the DCCC he must be at the table when the decisions are made — and not objecting very strenuously to them. He should not get an automatic pass to Congress every two years — especially if he’s in a leadership role.
For all my doubts and reservations, though, I also think I was a worthwhile part of something very worthwhile, and something much bigger than I first realized; it’s why I think David Swanson might be right about that differently understood landslide he writes about. At one of the Virginia Obama headquarters that I went to — Woodbridge, as it happened — I saw something I’d never seen before and will never forget. After parking in the little strip mall parking lot near the building, I started walking to the sign-in table… and had a “holy cow” moment when I realized that I was only one of at least eighty people walking to that table just at that moment, with more cars pulling up by the minute, and others already back on their way out to canvass. Many of us had made the trip from Maryland. I think all of us wanted to call a halt to the past eight years so badly we could taste it. Obama owes us.
State Senator Jamie Raskin had similar thoughts in a post-election email to Montgomery County for Obama — although I confess I just about fell off my chair when I got to the third paragraph below, since for one thing** I think he was aware that I’d also been pursuing a Green “Second Way” this election:
The movement for Barack Obama has restored our trajectory towards government of the people and by the people—all the people. It is up to our new and astonishingly gifted President-elect to assure that it will be for the people too.
As the chair of Montgomery for Obama, I did not want this week to end without saluting all of you for your heroic investments of time, physical energy, political vision, money, and hope in this imperishable popular uprising.
For much more than a year, I have been inspired, indeed blown away, by the activism of Angela Davis, Cynthia Jones, Elly Shaw-Belblidia, Jason Waskey, Dr. Yvette Butler, Thomas Nephew, Martha Bergmark and Elliot Andalman, Peter Kovar and Paula Kowalczuk, the extraordinary David Hart, who turned the Bethesda office into the Grand Central Station of Obama organizing in the Mid-Atlantic, and literally thousands of other people who knocked on doors, waved signs with me in the snow on Colesville Road back in December and January, gave Obama blow-out primary and general-election victories here, and crossed the Potomac to help turn our beloved neighbor, Virginia, a resplendent and deep blue for as long as the eye can see.
You brought America back.
Back from the brink, at any rate, if still teetering too close to it for comfort. I also happen to agree with David Swanson on this:
I also think that the question of whether we prosecute Bush and Cheney for their crimes will determine far more than any election the behavior of future presidents.
You can be sure I thanked Jamie for his kind note, though. I’ll always treasure that.
* While I was sad about Darcy Burner’s narrow defeat, several other charter members of the “Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq” team won election to Congress, including Donna Edwards (D-MD-4), Eric Massa (D-NY-29), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1), and perhaps most gratifyingly, Tom Perriello (D-VA-5). Both Perriello and Massa were in nailbiter races that weren’t settled until well after Election Day. Yesterday I got some thank you notes from Perriello and Pingree for my modest contributions to their campaigns; thank you right back.
** EDIT, UPDATE, 12/5: Sentence rewritten slightly. For another thing, of course, I was surprised just to be mentioned.