a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Thoughts on Lawyers, Guns and Money at the End of an Election Cycle

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 6th, 2012

Dear sirs,

Thomas Nephew


As I’ve noted before, the level of disrespect and intolerance for alternative left viewpoints at the well-known “Lawyers, Guns & Money” blog and elsewhere bothers me.  So I’ve rewritten my comments here, and hope that a simple chart and reasoned discourse are better than the angry post I started off with.  Let us read  Robert Kuttner:

So what is our president doing to shore up his support by reassuring voters that things will pick up in the next four years? More public investment, more jobs, more overhaul of the financial system, more relief for the mortgage mess, right?

Well, not exactly. While he gives lip service to these goals, Obama is preparing to do a major deal for deficit reduction, which will only add to the drag on the recovery. His administration has bought into the argument that the business elite and the money markets expect deficit reduction, and that it will also play well with the voters.

In his recent off-the-record conversation with the editors and publisher of Iowa’s largest paper, the Des Moines Register, which was made public under pressure from that newspaper, Obama had this to say about deficit reduction:

I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.

And we can easily meet — “easily” is the wrong word — we can credibly meet the target that the Bowles-Simpson Commission established of $4 trillion in deficit reduction, and even more in the out-years, and we can stabilize our deficit-to-GDP ratio in a way that is really going to be a good foundation for long-term growth. Now, once we get that done, that takes a huge piece of business off the table.

Say what? Four trillion dollars of deficit-reduction, otherwise known as economic contraction. Really? If Obama strikes such a deal, it guarantees that a sluggish economy will continue.

Oh, and I almost forgot. The Register was so appreciative of Obama for releasing the transcript and so persuaded by his economic logic that they endorsed Mitt Romney.

Thanks to his exceptional luck in drawing Romney as his opponent, Obama will probably win a narrow re-election despite the dismal recovery. But on Wednesday morning, a struggle begins within the Democratic Party to save him (and us) from himself — to keep him from agreeing to a budget deal that will only slow growth, needlessly sacrifice Social Security and Medicare, and make the next four years much like the last four years.

What a waste, what a pity. Progressive Democrats should be resisting the economic lunacy and political sway of an extremist Republican Party. Instead, they will be working to keep their own president from capitulating to fiscal folly.

The ideal result, for me, would be a Stein victory.  But the next best scenario would be Obama eking out an electoral college victory with as unconvincing a popular vote total as possible — so he couldn’t imagine he’s got support for the kinds of plans he shared (and wanted to remain unpublished) with the Des Moines Register.  That’s certainly more realistic than imagining a final-term Obama will change his stripes on, say, drones, austerity, metastasizing executive powers, “all of the above” energy policies, or the “race to the top.”

I don’t know who Kuttner’s voting for; given the apparent slant of his magazine “The American Prospect,” probably Obama.  That’s not the point; the point, to me, is that voting for Obama under these circumstances — especially if you’re not in a swing state, but actually regardless — makes as much sense as buying a plane ticket for the guy who’s told you he wants to hijack your flight.  And putting him in the captain’s chair.

You can dress that up with any amount of analysis, excuses, and/or spluttering invectives you like — but it still doesn’t make the perfect sense folks like Erik Loomis, Scott Lemieux, or Robert Farley seem to think it does.  Nor does a finger-wagging “you’re stupid” tone that alternates between deriding “the Left” and making plans for our future together under their adult guidance  — call it “LGMsplaining.”  As a matter of simple arithmetic, I also don’t understand why this all matters to Loomis and Lemieux so much; I sometimes think if they had spent half the effort rounding up nonvoters that they’ve spent excoriating third party voters, they might have locked up two or three swing states for Obama by now.

Still, believe me, I get it.  Voting third party in this election is not at all where I hoped I’d be today when I voted for Obama four years ago.  And that’s the point.  Lemieux writes that  “[w]hat progressives do have a moral and ethical obligation to do with their vote is to advance progressive values.” Sure, but that begs the question — because for it to work, there also needs to be some strong transmission of intention from voter to candidate.  And that’s what’s gone missing.  I voted for a decisive break with Bush in 2008; to me, that was was the four word point of the election —  boiled down to just two more words by Obama: “hope” and “change.” People act sophisticatedly amused when that’s remembered, but if they’re honest with themselves, they knew those words had meaning, and they know the promise they summarized was broken.

I didn’t get that break with the Bush years.  So Obama lost my vote.  It’s that simple. I won’t support a candidate twice who suggested he’d do that, and then chose not to — indeed, who seeks not just to build on Bush and Cheney’s execrable security and civil liberties policies, but is even reviving Bush’s failed attempt to wreck Social Security — not in the same way, but a wrecking all the same.  And it’s not just that I won’t as a moral choice; to me, it also doesn’t make sense as a strategic one.  As citizens, our votes are a key part of the influence we have on our democracy; each vote is a contract with a candidate.  When the contract is broken, the candidate should be fired — at least by some of us — so the next one will know we were serious.

I don’t understand why that’s all so hard to understand.  But it wasn’t easy for me either, so I do understand being too worried about Romney —  or too absorbed in one’s own theory of voting — to be able to cross that bridge oneself.  I just don’t accept, at all, arguments claiming to compel me to vote for someone who’s betrayed a trust, and promises to do so again.

Maybe these disagreements won’t be important after today, maybe they will.  But however this election turns out, I hope the trends towards “lockstep liberalism” or (paraphrasing) “who will rid us of this troublesome hack gap” are over for a while.  I’d love to work with smart, dedicated people like Lemieux or Loomis on the issues we care about — whether by mere “clicktivism,” blogging and networking, or best of all (I quite agree) local, issues-based activism and organizing.

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