Emilie@ix.netcom.com Thu Oct 19 12:29:08 2000
Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2000 23:30:23 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Emilie F. Nichols" <Emilie@ix.netcom.com>
Subject: Fw: Lerner - Don't Vote Lesser Evil Politics
From: Ashreynu@aol.com <Ashreynu@aol.com>
To: Emilie@ix.netcom.com <Emilie@ix.netcom.com>
Date: Saturday, September 09, 2000 10:54 PM
Subject: Lesser Evil Politics
Don't Vote Lesser Evil Politics!
By Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun Magazine,
September/October 2000 (18 October 2000)
I know that many people in our community feel divided in themselves
about whether to support Gore or one of the various protest candidates like Ralph
Nader or John Haegelin. I respect whatever position you come up with. And as
a magazine, of course, we do not ever endorse candidates.
There are legitimate arguments on all sides of this,
But with the New York Times' liberal establishment bashing any liberals who
are choosing to give Nader's candidacy serious consideration, we thought it
might be worthwhile to consider the logic of might be described as "lesser
evillism" in politics.
Many people talk about the presidential elections of 2,000
with a mixture of indifference, contempt and despair. They tell us that
they feel little excitement voting for Al Gore, given their perception of
his slavish subordination to corporate interests, his cheerleading for the
military, his flip-flops and lack of moral center, and his betrayal of
environmental causes for the sake of political self-interest. Although they
do not feel that Gore represents their own worldview or that he is likely to
fight for most of the things they believe in, they nevertheless feel that
they have no alternative because George W. Bush is even worse and would do
some bad things which they feel must be avoided.
Many people on the Right feel a similar tension supporting Bush.
When we challenge lesser evilism we are not addressing or critiquing who
feel that Gore or Bush do in fact represent them. They should
enthusiastically support their candidate. By lesser evilism we mean to refer
to people who believe that some other candidate actually on the ballot (e.g.
Ralph nader or John HaegelinI) comes far closer to representing their
perspectives than that of the two major (that is, pro-capital, establishment
blessed and media-legitimated) parties, but have nevertheless concluded that
their best candidate is unlikely to win and therefore, in order to head off
the election of someone they believe to be a "greater evil," have decided to
vote for a major party candidate whom they believe to be the less
destructive of the two major candidates.
Here's why you shouldn't throw your vote away by authorizing someone you
don't believe in to represent you:
- 1. Moral and Spiritual Corruption of our Souls.
When we become used to accepting the lesser evil, we begin to give our
stamp of approval to a social reality that we in fact deplore. This is a
slippery slope that leads us to accommodate ourselves to moral corruption in
other aspects of our lives. Many people perceive that the "reality" of our
economic marketplace is that people are out for themselves, and are willing
to cheat and hurt others, and make environementally destructive or morally
insensitive choices, to advance themselves. The more you teach people to
make their major electoral choices on the basis of accommodation to a reality
that they detest, the more likely they are to similarly accommodate themselves to
morally insensitive ways of acting in the world of work and in other aspects
of daily life.
Powerlessness corrupts. To the extent that we come to believe we have
no alternative but to accept the lesser evil, we lose the inner quality of soul
that makes it possible to fight for anything against the odds.
In short, we become idolators, bowing to reality rather than asking how
we can change reality. And that inevitably leads us to accommodate to evil
everywhere. We may take a cynical attitude toward the current world, but as
long as we've adopted the attitude that we can't really fight it,and must
accept its terms, we have cast our vote in favor of keeping what is. Not
surprisingly, as people become used to making this choice in daily life,
they become most angry not at the forces of evil to which they accommodate, but
at those who retain their commitment to fight for their highest ideals.
2. Lesser evilism disempowers liberal and progressive forces.
Because liberals and progressives consistently accept the "lesser evil"
agrument, the Democratic Party focusses all of its energy on accommodating
those who might otherwise vote Republican.
Instead of imagining democratic politics as a counterweight to the
incredible power of corporations, the logic of lesser evilism turns the Democratic
Party into a second wing of the pro-corporate Property Party, ensuring that the
major difference between Gore and Bush will be how quickly their knees hit
the floor when called upon by their corporate funders.
3. You don't know who can win.
As Jesse Ventura showed in the last election, calculations about who is
likely to win can be deeply mistaken. What makes the two leading candidates
shoo-ins is that the corporate dominated media gives them disproporitionate
time to present their case to us, tells us that anyone who doesn't share the
dominant corporate agenda is marginal, and tells us that noone else can be
considered a realistic alternative. You help keep their viewpoints marginal
by giving the media the justificaiton it seeks to ignore significant
4. You don't know the consequences of your "lesser evil" winning.
The country may have lunged further to the right under Clinton and the
right-wing Congress elected in reaction to him than it would have under Bush
and a Democratic Congress elected to constrain him. Better to vote your
conscience than your calculations, since outcomes can be very uncertain.
A good friend of mine was deeply angry at me in 1998 when I quesitoned
his lesser evil choice of voting for Gray Davis for governor of California.
Though on most issues there was little difference between Davis and his
opponent, my friend assured me that Davis would make a big difference when
it came to appointing better judges than his opponent. For the sake of those
facing the criminal justice system, I was told, we must vote for Davis.
As it turned out, Davis has become one of the most rabid "law and order"
governors the state has seen for many decades. Prisoners' rights have
deteriorated and Davis demanded that judges who do not share his view of
tough sentencing should resign their judicial positions. Our Democratic
legislature would have made a powerful counterweight to measures of this
sort had they come from a Republican, but they have been less energetic in
opposing the excesses of a governor of their own party.
My friend now admits that he was snookered on fears of lesser evilism.
And this happens over and over and over again.
In the Clinton years, the gap between the rich and the poor have
increased and the social supports for the poor have decreased. The dominant
discourse in the society has become "how do I get rich?" rather than "how do
we create a better world together?" This reality was created because in
1976 and then again in 1992 the Democrats selected as their candidate for the
presidency a candidate who represented their most pro-corporate wing,
knowing that the rest of us would go along with this choice.
But wasn't it that Clinton went in the direction he did because of the
Republican ascendency in Congress?
That Republican ascendency was a consequence of Clinton himself
abandoning the idealism he momentarily articulated during the 1992
elections, and instead articulating very similar values to those of the Republicans. I
know that the dominant media story is that Clinton was too liberal and
visionary in his first two years inoffice, but for those of us who were
there in the heart of the Administration's battles, the reality was just the
opposite: Clinton's failed health care proposal failed because it was so
heavily flawed by its attempts to satisfy the needs of the medical
profiteers and insurance industries that it could not make sense to ordinary Americans.
Had Clinton fought a valliant fight for a single-payer health care plan
without the crazy bureaucratic maze dreamt up by the Clintons in order to
reassure the insurance companies that they wouldn't lose too much profits
the story would have been very different in 1994, and it is unlikely that
Republicans would have become the majority party in Congress.
But for the sake of this argument, all you have to get is this: the
Republican victory in Congress was a response to a Democratic President. Had
Bush been reelected, the mood of the country would likely have led to a
continued dominance of Democrats, and the dismantling of the public sector
and of public-spiritedness presided over by a Democratic president might not
have proceeded. In short, the dominant dynamics in the country might have
been less toward letting the corporations have their way had Bush been
reelected and then been forced to compromise with Democrats.
Similarly, Bush might have been better for the Jews. It is has been the
contention of this magazine that it is in the best interest of the Jewish
people and of Judaism to have an Israel which has ended its oppression of
the Palestinian people. George Bush stood up to Israel's right wing in 1991 and
refused to go along with guarantees of loans that Israel sought to
facilitate the influx of Soviet Jews. He made the loan guarantee contingent on a halt
in West Bank construction. That remarkable act of political courage, in the
face of outrage by establishment Jewry (who slavishly subordinated themselves to
Israeli Prime Minister Shamir's policies), caused a political shift in
Israel and contributred to the electoral victory of Yitzhak Rabin in 1992. The
Clinton/Gore team have never been willing to pressure Israel toward peace in
any way that would risk their support from Establishment Jews. As a result,
in the ensuing years the number of West Bank settlers have increased, and
the Oslo accord was not fully implemented. Al Gore, whose closest advisor on
these issues is the rabidly-anti-Palestinian Maritn Peretz (the owner and
chief ideologue of The New Republic), is likely to be even less willing to
pressure Israel toward the kinds of steps which could lead to real
reconciliation with the Palestinian people. Please read David Biale's
review of a book on Zionism published this summer by the New Republic Press Books
to get a real feel for how very reactionary these voices around Gore are likely
to be on Israel-Palestinian issues.
The general point is this: don't be so sure that you know who is the
lesser evil. There are moments in history where the differences are so great
that I would suspend this argument (e.g. if we were facing a Hitler). But
even the circumstances of 1968, and the consequent election of Richard
Nixon, look less clear in retrospect. Nixon in office was mean and repressive (and
he personally supervised the federal indictment against me for organizing
anti-war demonstrations that led to my imprisonment for "contempt of
court"--an indictment which that caused me to be fired from my teaching job
at the University of Washington and which made it impossible for me to get
other academic employment). Yet it was Nixon who ended the policy, upheld
under the Democrats, of demonizing China which provided the intellectual
foundation for the war in Vietnam, it was Nixon who helped create the
Occupational Safety and Health Agency, and it was Nixon who helped push the
first environmental laws (which have been significantly weakened
subsequently, including under the Clinton administration). The configuration
of political forces restraining a Republican president sometimes can lead
them to take more progressive steps than certain kinds of Democrats who feel
the need to placate their Right.
5. Lesser evilism weakens faith in democracy.
If people consistently vote for candidates in whom they do not believe,
they end up feeling unrepresented, and hence our government itself feels
legitimate. Many stop voting altogether. Others feel dirtied by a process in
which they have authorized through their vote the actions of an elected
official who, acting in their name, supports policies that are morally and
6. Lesser Evilists Ignore How Policies Get Shaped
Whether it is Supreme Court appointees or legislation, the key factor
determining what happens is the relative balance at the time between
corporate power and popular mobilization for progressive ideals.
Democratic Senators could block bad appointees to the Supreme Court and the
judiciary, just as conservatives have consistently done--but they feel no
pressure to do so as long as they know that they can count on liberals and
progressives to always vote for them as "the lesser evil." For that same
reason, a Democrat might make far more conservative appointments than you'd
expect--just to placate the Right.
I do not want to underestimate the legitimacy of concern about Supreme
Court appointees, but ultimately this concern is based on a certain view
that people will remain demobilized, and for that reason they will have to count
on friendly elites to ensure the outcomes they seek. The Right wing in the
U.S., on the other hand, has built a mobilized political movement--and it is
that which makes you feel worried that they might get appointments that
would placate their desires. Couldn't we learn a different lesson: that if we want
to put pressure on politicians to respect our perspectives, the best way is
to mobilize mass movements, not throw away our vote by automatically giving
it to politicians who actually don't even share our ideals.
- 7. Voting for a lesser evil entails abandoning and helping to disspirit
those who share your principles.
When you next look around for allies for some visionary idea or moral
cause that inspires you, you will find fewer people ready to take risks,
because when they stood up for their ideals at election times you weren't
willing to support them. Don't underestimate how much your vote for the
lesser evil makes others feel depressed about ever changing anything.
In short, it's not some "other" who is keeping us from getting the world
we want, but our own internalized powerlessness and depression--and what I
describe in Spirit Matters as a pathogenic belief that many of us hold, the
belief that asserts that noone else will ever really share our values or
fight for a better world, so we had better not risk doing so ourselves.
In making these arguments, we still want to acknowledge that you could
be totally committed to the worldview of TIKKUN and even to the ideas
articulated in Spirit Matters, and yet conclude that a vote for Gore is
appropriate (e.g. because you believe that the likely outcome of a Bush
victory would be so destructive to abortion rights or other human rights in
the society that it would take decades to recover). Though recent studies of
Bush's appointees to the high court in Texas bespeak a kind of moderation in
appointees, and an unpredictability about what given jurists will do once
they receive such a position, the concern about the courts could lead one
to acknowledge the problems in lesser evilism and nevertheless feel that this
is one of those moments, like the election between Reagan and Carter, where the
immediate outcome would be so lastingly destructive as to outweigh all other
Moreover, there's another argument made by some pro-Gore people who
share the politics of meaning or spiritual politics perspective articulated in
Spirit Matters. They point out that none of the candidates, including Nader
and Haegelin, really do share our core notion that the most important task
is to "change the bottom line" from materialism and selfishness to a definition
of productivity or efficiency that would validate love and caring, awe and
wonder as central criteria. With respect to the spiritual transformation we
seek, they argue, the differences between Gore and Nader are slight, so in
that case the vote for Gore is not much different than a vote for Nader or
any of the other candidates, since none of them are even in the same
ballpark with us on these issues.
This is the kind of evaluation we don't intend to make one way or the
other. Our arguments are only about the case in which you clearly believe
one candidate is closer to your views than another, but don't vote for that
candidate based on calculations of who you've been told by the media is
likely to win.
Even if you disagree with our arguments presented here, you might
acknowledge that there is more at stake in choosing the lessser evil logic
than you had previously acknowledged. We may have at least shown you why
voting may be seen as a manifestation of a way of life. And if the way of
life we choose is to accommodate to the lesser evil, we are almost certainly
going to get even worse choices in the future.
One thing about which we feel fairly certain: we will never win a
society we believe in unless we are willing to stand up and fight for it, even if in
the short run we lose some of our battles.
There has been growing discussion of a practical path for those who feel
uncertain about whether or not to follow the lesser evil path. The position
that has been emerging among many is this: If you live in a state in which
the vote is very close, and your sense is that your state might be decisive
for determining who wins the election, you might decide to vote for the
lesser evil. But if in your state the vote is really several percentage
points difference, so that your vote isn't going to make that much of a
difference in that outcome, then in those circumstances you might consider
voting for the candidate who you most believe does represent your
(In TIKKUN, Sept/Oct issue this article appears along with a critical
response from Barney Frank, a longer analysis of the Supreme Court issue by
professor of law at Georgetown U Law School Jamin Raskin, and responses from
the Gore, Nader, and Haeglin camps -- so if you like this level of
discoruse, why not subscribe to TIKKUN now -- $29 to TIKKUN, 2107 Van Ness Ave, Suite
302, SF CA 94109).