Sunday, September 30, 2012

You May Come This Far, No Farther; Here Your Proud Waves Stop

Ah, Conor's and Freddie's posts really take me back. These days, I'm more interested in the psychological dimensions of the arguments, especially between people who largely agree on the basic facts of the case yet disagree so violently as to their interpretation.


  1. There is a vast difference in the suffering caused by the brutal and incompetent G. W. Bush administration, and that of President Obama. The people who voted for Nader are indirectly responsible for untold suffering: Gore, for all his faults, would not have pushed for a war in Iraq. We who are benefitting from the American hegemony have a responsibility to steer it in a better direction. Protest votes are worse than useless - like writing anti-war essays while sitting behind the lines watching others die to protect you. If Obama is a bad guy, then we are all bad guys.

  2. Independent of my personal opinions on the individual significance of voting, I will just point out a couple things:

    •97,000 people of differing political persuasions voted for Nader in Florida. 200,000 registered Democrats there voted for Bush. Between 50-60% of the eligible population didn't vote at all. Even if you downplay the additional significance of the legal and political maneuverings, it's not fair to single out Nader voters for special contempt. When Democrats can't even command the loyalty of their own rank and file, they have no right to demand it of a motley collection of Greens, libertarians and independents. The time they spend raging about heretics would be much better spent trying to encourage that many more habitual non-voters to participate.

    •Counterfactual history is always fun, but it's also not evidence. We can't say for certain what Gore would or would not have done, but even if we assume that he would have "only" continued the sanctions against Iraq, that would have accounted for a very significant amount of suffering itself, in addition to that which had already transpired under Clinton.

    Just to be perfectly clear, I'm not using this post or this comment to argue in favor of lesser-evilism, conscience-voting, or abstinence. I can understand and accept the reasoning behind all of them without feeling the need to declare one of them the one true choice.

  3. Yeah, I've always loved the greasy assumption that Gore would never have found a casus belli to deal with Saddam, even though Clinton had ramped up border strikes in the last two years of his administration, and conventional wisdom held that Gore was temperamentally more hawkish than Clinton. He might've, he might not've.

    The official hagiographers will hold that had Gore chosen to take on Iraq, not only would he have done it for the right reason, but that he would have done it right.

    All that said, insofar as DFH-punching persists, I submit that Conor Friedersdorf has always come across as a center-right-leaning libertarian, one who is not automatically inclined to vote for such as Obama even in the best of circumstances.

    I do in fact appreciate the endless willingness of the N8r b8rz, more than a decade later, to use the sliver of people who actually cast their lot for him in 2000 as some sort of emotional tampon to absorb all the tragedy and failure. To the extent that David Blaine is, as Chris Rock poetically put it, a "trickless magician", so is this a wondrous non-trick -- the use of a hapless, at this point largely fictitiotus and/or dispersed voting bloc, to absolve one's own failed party, platform, and candidate from a multitude of venial sins.

    As always, some folks never learn, but that is because they don't intend to.

  4. Right... Sanctions are the same as bombs, and Gore is just as much of an incompetent fool as Bush.
    Everyone who voted for Bush, or did not vote for Gore, is equally responsible for the disaster that was his presidency. It should not have been allowed to happen.

  5. Brian M1:07 PM

    noel: Might I point out that Hopey changey has RAMPED UP the drone strikes (and claims for Himself the right to kill any one, at any time, for any reason (because "any reason" is a good description of vague "he looks and smells like a terrorist" pronouncements by incompetent intelligence agencies that missed entirely and lied about the impending collapse of the Soviet Union, among other failings) Hopey changey helped support the Libyan debacle. Hopey Changey is funelling weapons to the collection of Sunni radicals and Al Qaeda operatives in Syria right now (because destroying one stable, albeit tyrranical Arab state is NOT ENOUGH for the wonderous Masters of the Universe in Washington and various European capitals)

    Many of the worst policy excesses of the past forty years were instituted by democrats. Saint Jimmy of Plains, for example, helped create the joy which is Afghanistan today, as well as arming the Indonesian military, starting the terror in central America, and botching Iran. I'm sure the children who died during the sanctions regime instituted by that wonderous Great Empath Bill Clinton (who also devastated the welfare system, sort of a Nixon in China moment, no?) notice the big difference. Espcially given the almost universal support by congressional democrats for W's Fun Little War.

    So no...Scribbler is right, blaming the Naderites seems a lot, to me, like heretic burning.

  6. Noel --

    But what does "responsibility" entail, exactly? Ferzample, I didn't vote in 2000. If I had, I would have voted for Nader. But Virginia was a solidly red state 12 years ago, and my individual vote was meaningless. Pursued any further, this line of thought seems to me to be nothing but irrelevant wankery and sloganeering.

    I'm sure you recall the infamous exchange between Albright and Stahl regarding sanctions. What meaningful moral calculus is there to determine whether hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying of sanction-induced disease and malnutrition is "as bad" as a similar amount dying of bombs and bullets? Or whether a few hundred/thousand victims of drone attacks can be excused as acceptable collateral damage?

    To me, someone like Freddie is simply arguing that Democrats are willing to accept too many avoidable deaths as long as the party benefits.

    But again, what interests me is why his sort of idealism is seen as an intolerable affront to mainstream Democrats, whereas the much greater problems of voter apathy, or crooked, scheming Republicans, or any other number of influential factors in an election are greeted with a resigned shrug. Those things are generally accepted as unfortunate obstacles that need to be recognized and coped with. In all the years I wasted reading political blogs, I don't recall ever seeing a foaming, spittle-flecked diatribe about the moral failings of non-voters, but I lost count of how many times I saw them regarding Nader heretics. Democrats get angry at Republicans, sure, but my perception is that they reserve their apoplectic fury for a relatively insignificant percentage of conscience-voters.

  7. Brian M6:26 PM

    Apostates from the True Faith are always attacked more vigorously than mere pagans, Scribbler.

  8. I never mentioned Democrats.That you guys would not do everything you could do to prevent W and Cheney from ruling our country appalls me. I said everyone who did not vote that way is responsible. I did not say Nader voters were more responsible than nonvoters, because that is not what I think. You guys are berating a straw man with red herrings. The physical violence that is war, is indeed worse than the poverty that results from sanctions. I don't know why guys as smart as you are would argue differently. I guess it suits your purposes, but you are tragically wrong. War is the worst thing in the world. Don't give cover to those who promote it as anything other than the most desperate option.
    Please look back and see the lack of apoplectic fury and spittle. I respect your opinions and I try to see it your way; I just don't. You guys are right about the failings of Democrats; it's just that it's clear to me that Republicans are not only worse, they are much, much worse.

  9. Okay, let's try again. Above, you said that Nader voters were indirectly responsible for the suffering of the Iraq war. But by that logic, aren't Obama voters directly responsible for the innocent victims of his drone strikes and covert ops? If so, how do they (you?) justify it? I'm not asking accusingly, I'm asking honestly. Do you accept a certain number of dead foreigners as a tolerable trade-off for progressive domestic policies? If so, under what conditions?

    Sanctions, then. I don't know if you remember, but in the mid-to-late '90s, various leftist groups did their best to publicize the extreme draconian nature of the sanctions, detailing the sorts of items that weren't allowed in, ostensibly because they might be used toward weaponry. As you might imagine, they were absurdly strict. As a result, hundreds of thousands of civilians died of malnutrition and easily preventable diseases, and not all of that can be blamed on Saddam. I don't see how one can quantify such deaths as better or worse than more violent ones. Quietly starving someone to death is murder just as much as dropping a bomb on their house.

    I worked at my job last year with an Iraqi refugee, and we still talk occasionally. We talked a few times about the war while on breaks. He and his family had their door kicked in one day, followed by U.S. Marines aiming guns at them and shouting. I mention this to assure you that I don't take war lightly, especially that war. But I still don't see any meaningful moral difference between a Democratic administration strangling a nation through sanctions or a Republican one destroying it with the military. Innocent victims are innocent victims, full stop.

    I'm not accusing you personally of being an unhinged partisan; I was referring, in agreement with Freddie's post, to my own experience in the progressive blogosphere over the past decade. It's interesting to me that, psychologically, people seem to react much more aggressively to perceived betrayal by a possible ally than they do to direct opposition from an enemy, even when it's counterproductive to their goals.

    Again, let me make clear -- I don't condemn anyone for what they do with their vote. I think voting is largely insignificant on an individual level. I wouldn't accuse you of personally having blood on your hands for supporting a president who kills innocent tribesmen with drones. I wouldn't condemn Brian for refusing to vote against Mitt Romney, thus enabling his invasion of Canada in 2013. I think all such rhetoric is useless posturing.

    That you guys would not do everything you could do to prevent W and Cheney from ruling our country appalls me.

    Aside from voting against them, which, as I've already explained, would have been futile in a solidly Republican state, what else do you think I should have done? Again, just curious. What did most of us do to "oppose" the war, for that matter? How many of us seriously disrupted our lives for the cause?

  10. The choice was between an aging member of the party of war mongers, xenophobes, and ignorance, and the party of civil rights, and diplomacy. You're right about Obama's drone strike war - it is abominable. The question is, would a Palin presidency be better?
    The Golde Rule applies to our public selves: we should act like we would like others to act. That means voting when there is clearly a better choice. I think you guys are the ones being harder on your own kind than you are on the conservatives.

  11. Brian M4:05 PM

    aging member of the party of war mongers, xenophobes, and ignorance.

    which Party would that be?

    WWI? Oops..DEMOCRAT Woodrow Wilson (a monstrous man in many respects) finagled us into that one.

    WWII? Indirectly the result of America's entry into WWI, so even if one accepts the Good War definition...the DP is not blameless

    Vietnam? Roosevelt and Truman and Kennedy and Johnson....not a Hoary Old Xenophobe Party member amongst them. Nixon ramped things up, but he got us out as well.

    Afghanistan? Oops..Charlie Wilson was a DEMOCRAT.

    Central America...Carter started the heavy support (based on a century old bipartisan tradition) for the vicious aristocracy in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Obama, I might note, fully supported the coup in Hondurus, which is devolving into a maelstrom of crime and violence.

    I despise Mitt Romney. His rentier finacial gambler capitalism is the epitome of corruption and the diseased nature of socioeconomics today.

    My complaint is your implication that there is a worthwhile difference between the two parties. This is pure tribalism. Should I, for example, list all of the many social and domestic policy innovations that the GOP have made...which except for Civil Rights probably exceeds the Dimocrats?

  12. Of course Democrats are "better", by the way people like us reckon such things. But as Freddie said in his comments:

    "I agree 100% with Tim Donaghy. I have never-- never in my life-- used the "they're all the same" line. They aren't all the same and the distinctions matter. The fact that they are different and that they matter does not mean that you must excuse the better side. Not complicated."

    This is why I have no use for all the moral posturing in discussions like this. Look: we know for a fact that dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent people have died as a result of Obama's drone strikes and covert ops. We also know that, for example, when we see a news blurb that says "21 militants killed in drone strike on Pakistan border", that the administration has defined "militant" as simply any male between the ages of 15-85. Therefore, we know that not only are they knowingly killing innocent people, they are consciously lying about it for political gain.

    So, when you go into the voting booth and vote for the administration that has done this, knowing full well that they will continue to do the same, then in some minuscule way, you are giving your assent to those actions. NOW, THEN. How you rationalize that assent is not really all that interesting to me, personally. You may, like Angry Black Lady, openly say something like, "I prioritize my vagina over drones."

    Well, okay, then! Now we're getting somewhere! She is openly admitting that she is fine with being responsible, in some small way, for the murder of innocents as long as she retains access to legal birth control and incremental health care reforms. If only most Democrat voters were that honest!

    But in their own ways, both sides of the argument are willing to accept some form of "the ends justify the means". Obama supporters are willing to excuse a certain number of such moral abominations because they believe that they are cancelled out by a higher good overall. People who urge voting for a third party, or not voting at all, accept that things might get worse before they get better. Domestically and abroad, many more people might suffer as a result of a Republican administration, but they're willing to countenance that because they think it's the only way to avoid the endless whittling away through compromise of all the political values they hold. Both sides are willing to sacrifice things they profess to hold dear in exchange for what they think will be a better future. We're all immoral in that regard. Let's quit beating our breasts over it and just deal with the fact already.

    I actually disagree with both you and Freddie as to the significance of voting on an individual level. Again, I already linked to the earlier post where I elaborated on that, so I'm not going to rehash it now. But assuming that you do consider voting a significantly moral civic duty, then people like Freddie have a valid point: why do you give your vote away so cheaply?

  13. (continued)

    As a political party, the Democrats are not your "friends", any more than a used-car salesman is. All they care about is getting your vote. If, like most of the progressive blogosphere, your message to them is always "Oh my god, Democratic party, I am so scared of those evil Rethuglicans, I will sign a blood oath promising you my vote in every election for the rest of my life!", then tell me: what incentive do they have to take your concerns seriously? I mean, you've already come right out and assured them that no matter how many times they disregard your wishes and values, no matter how many times they force you to give your assent to acts you consider immoral, you will never dare withhold your support from them as long as the alternative is even a fraction worse. As far as they're concerned, you're in the bag. They can take you completely for granted and spend their time trying to pander to independents, and that is exactly what they do. This is just basic psychology: as a negotiation tactic, it is frankly idiotic to unconditionally and repeatedly give away your one little bargaining chip, your vote, without demanding concessions or threatening retaliation if crossed.

    The idealists are correct to that extent, at least: the Democrats have absolutely no incentive to reform, because they keep getting rewarded every time they inch further to the right. So when shit-for-brains jerkoffs like TBogg clench their widdle fists and stamp their widdle feet and hold their breath and pout every so often, I just laugh and laugh at them: you pathetic motherfucker, why are you wasting the energy? You're going to be all meek and remorseful after your tantrum runs its course and rededicate yourself to punching hippies that much harder; I know it, you know it, and the Democratic party sure as shit knows it. Shut the fuck up and eat your shit sandwich already so you can get back to the vital job of snarking at Michelle Malkin.

    On that note, let me reiterate in response to your final line: I don't consider the progressive blogosphere or Democratic politicians to be my "kind". I do not identify as a political animal, period. Politics is a barely-necessary evil, and as far as I'm concerned, all national politicians are sociopaths by definition unless proven otherwise. I see intelligence and stupidity among conservatives and progressives both, and I think people who spend all their time obsessing over politics are warped. They irritate and bore me. I voted for Kerry in '04, Obama in '08, and will vote for him again this year, yet the act of voting for a president is unimportant in the big scheme of things, meaningless to me in terms of my self-conception, and it does not mean that I feel any meaningful kinship with everyone else who voted likewise.

  14. Brian M8:10 PM


  15. Brian M8:17 PM


  16. I think you mostly want the world that TBogg wants, as opposed to, say, that of Breitbart. You don't want the country taken to the right, you don't want ignorance and xenophobia to rule, you want a rational discourse, and ethical foreign policy. That's what Democrats vote for, even if the party does not deliver. We can't get away from the "lessor of two evils" argument because that's what we have to work with. You addressed that issue with the "things might have to get worse before they get better" argument, but things did get worse, and then stayed worse. That could keep happening if we keep electing the more evil candidate.

  17. After this election, we'll be told that we don't have time to press the administration on, say, drone strikes, because it would distract from the important work that needs to get done preparing for the midterms, and then for 2016. The can will always get kicked down the road, the frame of reference will always be restricted to the next two-to-four years, and the political values that everyone professes to care about the most will continue to suffer death by a thousand cuts at the hands of the party.

    Again, I understand the reasoning of both sides in the argument. I just wish everyone would stop all the senseless moral posturing. We're all implicated in immoral actions, insofar as we exist as citizens of the American empire.

  18. Brian M7:36 PM

    One more it of moral posturing and I will leave this alone. I PROMISE!!!!

    "you want a rational discourse, and ethical foreign policy. That's what Democrats vote for, even if the party does not deliver."

    There is an assumption here that I am not sure is true at all. I think it is merely a matter of marketing, of surface plumage if you will. The Democratic Party elite wants FUNDAMENTALLY most of the same things as the Republican Party elite....Power, influence, wealth.

    To obtain that, they implement the same Great Power gamesmanship, abject kowtowing to current power centers in the economy (currently Wall Street rentier capiltalist gambling and debt-based extraction), projection of imperial power as "needed"'s what EMPIRES do pace Chalmers Johnston (R.I.P.).

    How different in fundamental policy goals is the Democratic foreign policy program than Republican (even given the sheer amateur hour stupidity of the W/Cheney regime)?

    Sure...there are differences around the edges. Just like the Republicans kow tow more explicitly to religious mania, the Dems have their special interest groups which they have to least verbally.

    But to claim that the Democratic Party is based on reason and logic while the Republicans are nothing but the definition of evil....that is silly. Especially as "lesser evilism" does nothing but allow politics to be cranked further and further to the right, augmented and encouraged by a right wing propaganda machinery that is breathtaking in its sophistocation and pervasiveness.

  19. What allows politics "to be cranked further and further to the right" is when the more conservative candidates win. I just don't see any evidence that sitting out elections or protest voting does anything but help the worst actors get elected. Higher voter turn-out among liberals, and candidates finding that they can win with more liberal messages and actions would. I'm not any more responsible for Obama's bad decisions than you are, because the alternative was much worse. I think it is disengenuous for you guys to claim otherwise, but if that's the way you want to go, so be it. I don't respect that opinion and I find it hard to believe you actually hold it.
    Think of your vote as an expression of your opinion about which is the better choice - person or message (I have tried to explain to people that Obama is not actually a liberal - deaf ears), rather than a chit to be remanded only to the deserving. Keep it to yourself and you become irrelevent - and the "sociopaths" in power don't even have to pretend to please you.

  20. I'm not any more responsible for Obama's bad decisions than you are, because the alternative was much worse. I think it is disengenuous for you guys to claim otherwise, but if that's the way you want to go, so be it. I don't respect that opinion and I find it hard to believe you actually hold it.

    Don't respect which opinion?

    Look: you started off this thread by saying that Nader voters were "indirectly responsible" for everything that transpired under Bush. The very first thing I asked you was what that responsibility entailed. Responsible in a moral sense or in an instrumental sense? Because neither were true in your example.

    (It's also worth pointing out that the people who voted for Nader weren't necessarily doing it as a gesture of idealism or protest. The idea was, if the Greens got 5% of the popular vote, they would qualify for federally distributed public funding in the next election -- the very sort of pragmatic strategy mainstream Democrats are always demanding that dissenters utilize if they seriously want to reform the system.)

    Your individual vote for Obama next month will be meaningless. That's not my opinion, that's the basic fact of population demographics and the structure of the electoral college. Unless Texas has undergone some massive population shift that no one has noticed, it remains a reliably red state. Your vote may matter on the local level, but not on the national level. Likewise, my non-vote in 2000 was meaningless, as was my vote for Kerry in 2004. Virginia had been a staunch red state since before I was born. The fact that it has become purple in the last several years in the only reason why I bother voting now.

    If your point is just that, "Well, you should feel bad about not having cast at least a futile vote against Bush as a gesture of defiance!", well, I don't. Just like I don't feel "good" about voting for Kerry and Obama. Taking pride or feeling shame over such empty symbolic trifles, while doing absolutely nothing else with one's time that would count as genuine political activism, is exactly the kind of posturing I see as masturbatory self-indulgence. If I'm supposed to feel "responsible" for not helping to prevent a war by performing a meaningless act that wouldn't have actually done anything to help prevent a war, why are you, as an Obama supporter, not supposed to feel "responsible" for what he does with your actual vote? Once again, what does "responsibility" mean to you in this context?

    If you say, "I don't feel bad about voting for the guy, knowing he'll continue blowing up innocent civilians, because I'm simply working within the boundaries of available choices offered to me," well, so was I. I could choose to vote for Gore and watch Virginia go to Bush anyway, I could vote for Nader and watch Virginia go to Bush anyway, or I could stay home and do something useful.

    And as people like Glenn Greenwald have asked repeatedly: at what point would the two choices offered to you become so bad that you would simply refuse to take part in the charade anymore? What line would Democrats have to cross to make you refuse to support them on principle? Is there one?

  21. If Democrats were just as bad as Republicans, I would not support them. But Democrats believe in evolution and support health insurance for all. I rest my case.