On Reaction: the Lesser-Evilist Hides His Political Cowardice Behind a Veil of Political Calculus

Over the last few days, I've had occasion to refute a number of claims by conservative and libertarian leaning infiltrationists who support practical accommodation with the Republican Party rather than principled opposition to the Democratic-Republican two-party state and the duopoly system of government. At FireDogLake, Jason Rosenbaum provides an opportunity to debunk the supposedly progressive case for accommodating the Democratic wing of the global warfare and corporate welfare state. Rosenbaum writes: "To the pissed off progressives: Don't be Naderites." Unfortunately, Rosenbaum proves incapable of mounting an original argument against third party activism and in favor of supporting the ruling two-party political establishment. Like so many of the lesser-evilists among us, he hides his political cowardice behind a veil of political calculus:
in a plurality voting system, if you don’t vote or if you vote for a third party, you are actually helping the candidate you least want to see in office, because in a plurality voting system it’s a zero sum game.
This highly disingenuous argument is beloved by the supporters of the Democratic-Republican two-party state. Their affective attachment to it, however, does not make it true. In reality: in a plurality voting system, if you vote for either of the major party candidates, you are voting to reproduce the ruling order and the two-party political status-quo; you are throwing your vote away, deluded by the illusion of a free choice. Rosenberg is thus only capable of offering a false choice in solution:

First, you can agitate to change the voting system. It’s a long road towards a voting system that better represents the will of the American people instead of shoehorning them into voting for the lesser of two evils, but it’s a worthy fight and you’d find a lot of support.

Second, you can work to change the party from the inside. That means primary challenges, organizing powerful groups within the parties, taking over party infrastructure – you know, all that Crashing the Gate stuff.

Rosenberg then contrasts third party political strategy with the primary challenge strategy, writing:

The people who voted for Nader in 2000 sent the country backwards and didn’t help reform the Democratic party. By contrast, Howard Dean and his followers mounted a powerful primary challenge and then proceeded to take over large parts of party infrastructure and create real change. It’s a lesson on how to do things, and how not to do them.

Of course, in the 2000 presidential election, as in every election, it was those who voted for the establishmentarian candidates, the anointed representatives of the global warfare and corporate welfare state, George W. Bush and Al Gore, who "sent the country backwards" with a conscious strategy of reactionary lesser-evilism. Beyond that, Howard Dean is an odd choice as an example supposedly demonstrating the superiority of the primary challenge strategy over independent opposition to the ruling two-party political order. Dean, of course, lost the Democratic primary to John Kerry who lost the general election to George W. Bush. However, Dean was certainly instrumental in helping to build the reigning Democratic congressional majority. Yet, as that Democratic majority has done nothing to scale back the global warfare and corporate welfare state, but rather strengthened it, and Dean himself has come out against the health insurance industry bailout being pushed by that majority, one wonders what "real change" Rosenbaum is talking about.

In effect, Rosenbaum's arguments against third party and independent activism, against opposition to the ruling political balance of power, are indistinguishable from those put forward by any given propagandist of the two-party state and the duopoly system of government on a daily basis. Ironically, with the appropriate substitutions, one can find the exact same claims put forward by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and his assorted Republican ditto-heads. But this is not surprising. The argument in favor of the lesser evil and the primary challenge is neither progressive nor conservative. It is purely reactionary. The lesser evilist hides his political cowardice behind a veil of political calculus.


Samuel Wilson said...

The ideal voter does not have a "candidate you least want to see in office." He or she will presumably have a candidate they most want to see in office, and simply playing by the rules of democracy and representative government means that, as long as you get to express your preference freely, you have to accept any other candidate who wins the election. Lesser-evilism flourishes on the premise of the unacceptable outcome, and that's really just one step away from secessionism.

d.eris said...

It really is a completely backwards way of treating and considering political engagement, masquerading as cleverness. The so-called strategic voter should rather be called the "dishonest voter."

Randy Miller said...

I woke up early this morning to jot down some notes on the paradox of the two-party system. When one side or the other claims government does things so poorly, what they are saying is that 'we the people' are incapable, at least if we roll with the idea that our government is "by the people for the people". Here's the paradox, they are justifying their existence by pointing out what a crappy job they are doing vis a vis "by the parties for the parties". It's deep, but are you with me?

d.eris said...

lol. The paradox then is: you need us (Dem or Repub) because we are incompetent?

Randy Miller said...

yes, yes. It's very strange psychology, but I think that is exactly how they reinforce their existence by saying over and over how bad they are.