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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
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Article: 107239
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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 alternative views.

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 less 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 environmentally reprehensible.

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 considerations.

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 perspective.

(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).

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