The Lesser Evil is the Enemy of the Greater Good: Toward a Refutation of the Political Theology of the Two-Party State

In an opinion piece at the Huffington Post, Andrew Levine perfectly articulates the reactionary mindset that binds liberals and progressives to the Democratic Party, no matter how profoundly they are betrayed by that party election after election: the political theology of lesser evilism. Levine writes:
Lesser evils are still lesser and are therefore to be preferred. On the other hand, they are also evils, and are therefore to be despised. The Democrats have given us much to despise . . . Our parties have all but duopolized the electoral system, making ballot access for "third" parties prohibitively difficult. . . .

The tragedy is that, thanks to American exceptionalism, there is no constructive way to express this disappointment electorally -- because to vote against a Democrat one must vote for a Republican or at least vote (or not vote) in a way that makes it easier for a Republican to win. . . .

the only real choice we will have in November is to vote for a Democrat or a Republican. [Emphasis added.] The obvious conclusion is that the system must be changed. But there is no hint of that in the offing. . . . our institutions still compel us to choose between the very bad and the even worse. This is why we really have no choice but to help the Lesser Evil prevail. Democrats deserve to lose, and Obama with them. But with so much at stake, we have no choice but to let them walk.
I was planning on writing an extended response to Levine's piece, but Sam Wilson has inadvertently saved me the trouble. At the Think 3 Institute, Sam refutes the reactionary ideology of lesser-evilism in a post discussing a letter to the editor of a local NY paper by Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins:
We may as well concede the point; there are obvious and even meaningful differences between the Democratic and the Republican approach -- but they just aren't different enough. The issue between Democrats and their constituents is always whether what Democrats offer is good enough. Democrats will insist that liberals and progressives settle for what they can offer . . . It may well be that Republican government would prove worse than Democratic rule, but it is false to assume that those are our only choices. [Emphasis added.] If this is a free country, then liberal and progressive New Yorkers have a right to demand better from the Democrats, or better than the Democrats. Democrats will sneer at anyone who allegedly makes "the perfect the enemy of the good," but their position in the American Bipolarchy allows them to make the worst the enemy of the good. That is, by arguing that the only alternative to settling for whatever they choose to do for us is the worst-case scenario of Republican control, they free themselves from any obligation to do more than just enough to win elections.
The reproduction of the ruling two-party state and duopoly system of government hinges on the American public's acceptance of the reactionary political theology that is lesser-evilism. Whether you are progressive, liberal, moderate, conservative or libertarian, the lesser evil is the enemy of the greater good.


pete healey said...

Don't let the people off the hook when assigning blame for the pitiful condition of our electoral democracy. Almost half of all Americans of voting age don't regularly participate in election campaigns and voting. And let's face it our third parties haven't really offered the people the "greater good" for the most part, either.
I was a Green from 1995- 2001 and I saw how they suffered from the typical "third party syndrome", i.e., all sorts of people from very different political traditions and ideologies converged on the "Green bandwagon" as it rolled by, thus muddying the waters and ruining the stew as it was cooking. Socialists, Trotskyites, disaffected Democrats, and "problem people" of all kinds descended on the Greens and pulled it in all sorts of confusing directions.
The usual call for people to unite under the banner of a "third party" is a mistake that third party types still make in almost every instance.
We don't need a third party, we need the conditions that allow for a fourth, a fifth, sixth, and even a seventh party (which is probably where I belong).
We need PR, and we need third party types to begin to take it seriously as our only way out.

DLW said...

We need a mix of winner-take-all and winner-doesn't-take-all elections so that local 3rd parties can successfully contest local elections and engage in civil issue advocacy, in part through voting strategically together in less-local elections.

This is the best way forward, because PR at the nat'l level isn't anywhere on the horizon...

This is why folks need to rally around American Proportional Representation, because it's the easiest way to make this vision a reality.


DLW said...

One can still employ the politics of Gandhi to move the center when one cannot get elected folks that fit one's ideals.


DLW said...

Ideological purity doesn't work in US politics (if one wants to get elected...). It never has and it never will...

Our two-party dominated system did work pretty well until the cultural wars started gumming up our politics starting in the 70s. These wedge issues can be removed if we enable third parties period to gain voice. Cuz you don't need to be successful in winning seats to gain voice, but the fact you might win some seats surely helps with gaining voice.