Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Bestiary of Voters – Voter 6

God this is dull!


THE GREATER-OF-TWO-EVILS, DEMOCRATS-CAN-CHANGE VOTER. “The Democrats need a wake-up call. They need to lose this election. The next time round, maybe they’ll field a candidate we can believe in.”

Yikes. Sounds suspiciously like a position born of pampered privilege, but from my perfumed palanquin I don’t have a problem with that per se. I’d be interested to hear the details. Presumably the associated voting behaviour would be third party in swing states (“the Democrats need to see they’ve lost the election because their supporters have gone to third parties”), and perhaps even Romney in safe states.

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Bestiary of Voters – Voter 5

Okay, those are the really annoying ones out the way, yippee! Now here are literally millions of voting positions I can just about get on board with. I’ll start with the weaker ones though:

THE LESSER-OF-TWO-EVILS, DEMOCRATS-CAN-CHANGE VOTER. “So the Democrats are a right wing party. But they’re still to the left of the Republicans. And if the Democratic Party can hold the White House for another term, and the one after that, and the one after that, and win back Congress, perhaps it can make the slow crawl from the hinterlands of the right back towards the centre, dragging the Republicans behind them. Perhaps it can start to redefine the language and conceptual and emotional repertoire of American political life, and even start to reconnect it with reality.”

Okay, this was nearly in the other category. I find it vastly implausible, but at least it’s a roadmap. How does the lesser-of-two-evils, Democrats-can-change position translate into voting behaviour? If such a specimen believes the election hangs in the balance, it should probably vote for Obama if it lives in any state with a hint of swing. In super-safe Democrat states it should vote for a third party. However, if it’s confident of a Democrat victory (as if), it should vote for a third party wherever it lives.

UPDATE: For an example of a thorough development of such a position, cf. Christopher Glazek at the n+1 Election Preview. Here's a longish excerpt:

"Frustrating though it may be, this election is about the past four years, not the next four. It’s about ratifying the hope of November 2008, protecting the change enacted in March 2010, and rolling back the counterrevolution unleashed later that year. These goals may appear modest, but the effort has cost billions of dollars and has left almost no room for error.

On foreign policy, could Obama have ended the drone program or brought American troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan with greater haste? Not without blunting the Democrats’ newfound national security edge, an advantage that would have delivered the White House to John Kerry in 2004 if he’d had it.

During the financial crisis, could Obama have nationalized the banks, as he did the auto companies, instead of bailing them out? He couldn’t have. TARP was unpopular enough at the time, but not nearly as unpopular as the government’s purchase of GM and Chrysler. The auto rescue, though, is now bearing indispensable electoral fruit; nationalizing the banks would have risked transforming Romney’s image from greedy financier to hero of the resistance. Could Obama have done more to prevent climate change? In fact, the administration’s new fuel efficiency standards for cars do more to combat global warming than anything done by his predecessors—and the achievement depended on circumventing the legislative process through executive order. Could Obama have done more to transform Americans’ views of social justice? The President can’t flip a switch to end bigotry, but polling suggests he did roll back prejudice in the one place he really could: support for gay marriage has increased among African Americans.

On these and other issues, from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to mortgage modification to Palestine to the Supreme Court, the electoral evidence suggests that the President has pursued the correct priorities with nearly as much vigor and almost as much success as our system allows. If this realization leaves the left feeling deflated after four years, its discouragement may recede after eight, when a new—and probably worse—regime will come to power. We do not live in the best of all possible Americas, but we do live in a country whose politics, despite our disappointments, are getting better with each painful victory."

Saturday, 20 October 2012

A Bestiary of Voters – Voter 4

THE PEOPLE-CAN’T-HANDLE-PARADOXES NON-VOTER / THIRD-PARTY VOTER. “Wake up, fellow Americans. The founding fathers didn’t foresee the rise of mass membership parties. They didn’t count on the domination of elections by money and by modern media technologies. The American Constitution just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. [Or some variation thereof.] This is true, but it’s hard! It’s a big leap for most folks to believe it! How will folks ever make that leap if the person who’s telling them goes ahead and votes anyway? Me, I put a premium on the exemplary quality of my actions! People won’t believe me that the electoral system is broken, that there’s no real difference between the main candidates, if I go ahead and vote for one or the other anyway.”

Okay, so this is a little better. But I think we all have a tendency to overestimate the wider social power of the norms we apply to ourselves as individuals. If you really are placing a premium on the exemplary power of a certain principle, you ought to consider how those around you may reinterpret and adapt that principle. You ought to consider the implications of that principle moving through myriad minutely-differentiated social, cultural and institutional contexts.

That sounds a bit obscure! Maybe this is better – you ought to ask yourself, “Who, specifically, am I hoping to persuade? Who have I persuaded so far?”

And of course, you have to have interim goals. For example, in the case of a no-vote or a spoiled ballot, and urging others to follow your example, sometimes the strategy seems to be to erode the duopoly’s democratic mandate. Okay, you may admit, the ways in which elections are funded, covered in the media, and finally determined fully demonstrate that there already is no mandate – but perhaps a mass no show, if it were ever achieved, would . . . what, exactly? UPDATE: Well, this is a start I guess!

It wouldn’t stop government, that’s for tootin’. If you need an example of laughingly easeful governance without mandate, examine the UK over the past two years. The Coalition has treated government like some horrid little Oxbridge picnic-cum-swimming expedition, and democratic mandate like the swimming cozzies they forgot to pack on purpose for that extra fruity frisson. With respect to education, for instance, the British public incontrovertibly elected many more MPs promising to oppose tuition fees than promising to support them, and yet the British public now must pay tuition fees. With respect to healthcare, the Conservatives, despite not even holding a half the House of Commons, have managed to do literally the opposite of what they pledged to do during their campaign – and they haven’t even had to rely on some kind of specialist expert mandate (the medical profession has on the whole fiercely opposed the reforms), to plead changed and extenuating circumstances, or to look awkward or abashed.

I don’t mean “what exactly?” as a snarky rhetorical question; it’s a genuine plea for super-specificity. Who stops voting first? At which elections? What happens next? How do the big, well-funded parties understand what’s happening? How do they respond? Who stops voting next? Etc.!

More later!

Friday, 19 October 2012

A Bestiary of Voters – Voter 3

C’m’ere, li’l’ voter, Lara won’t say anything bad about you . . . HA! GOTCHA! THE GREATER-OF-TWO-EVILS, FIGHT-THE-SYSTEM VOTER. “Elections aren’t a mechanism for change. That’s what grassroot movements are for! America needs a wake-up call. We’ve suffered under Obama, but we’ll really suffer under Romney. The worse things get, the stronger our movement will grow.”

I have no sympathy whatsoever for this little voter. It seems to me to rely on a romanticised and uninterrogated idea of immiseration. But immiseration does not encourage solidarity, let alone the growth and co ordination of a mass movement, except under specific circumstances which do not prevail in the US today. That’s obviously a little sketchy and dogmatic but I don’t want to waste too much time on this one! PS: Ya wanna make somethin’ of it, huh buddy? Send me the link & I will endeavour to respond judiciously & with shrewd charm and perspicacity.

UPDATE: Cf. e.g. Marco Roth at the n+1 Election Preview, considering then ditching such a motive: "A little demon of an old leftist located in some attic of my mind whispers to me that a Romney win might, after all, be the very thing needed to galvanize a true socialist revolution in this country. If the non-union white working classes, or white formerly-working classes, who will continue to vote for Romney in flocks could finally be led to some kind of consciousness of how they screw themselves, time and again, through their continued immiseration, it might be better than four more years of Obama’s faux-liberalism. But the “it must get worse before it gets better” argument comes too easily to those who don’t really have to fear they’ll suffer the worst. I’m not on food stamps. I don’t live in a coastal flood zone, or on land earmarked for gas drilling. Instead of the old line, I’m trying to cultivate something I’ve started to think of as “post-democratic” subjectivity: my meaningful political actions will not occur in the voting booth."

A Bestiary of Voters – Voter 2

THE EXPRESSIVE VOTER / NON-VOTER. “I’m not going to take up some kind of instrumental stance about my vote. I’m going to vote the way I vote [/I’m not going to vote] because that’s the kind of person I am. It’s how I roll. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it any other way. [For instance: I couldn’t bring myself to vote for a murderer.] [Sometimes add: witty and irreverent justification for candidate preference.]” I suspect all these people may secretly be assholes.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Bestiary Of Voters – Voter 1

Hiya, my apes with apricot eyes!

I’ll start with three four positions I can’t really get on board with:

THE AMBIVALENT NON-VOTER / THIRD PARTY VOTER. “Obama and Romney are both as bad as each other. I don’t want either of them to be my president. So there’s no way I’m voting for either of them.”

See my last post. I think this specimen is all kinds of dumb. Neither candidate is offering to fight for what we deserve as human beings. But who wins has implications for the conditions in which we conduct that fight ourselves.

Preferring one outcome over the other need not undermine fierce opposition to both those outcomes, and to the system which insists on them as the only legitimate outcomes.

Nor should such a preference be conflated with “oh well, at least he’s not as bad as the other guy” defeatism, nor with closing down the imaginative and organisational space in which the really meaningful alternatives ought to flourish. In fact, I suspect the really meaningful alternatives become more meaningful, more minutely concrete, when we develop them in the context of the highly probable triumphs of the status quo in the medium term – when we don’t stake too much on rhetorically downplaying the probability of those triumphs. A kind of simplified, sloganish way of putting all this might be: if I have a chance at influencing who one of my arch-nemeses is going to be, I should take it. More later!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Why I Won’t Be Voting In The Presidential Election

The white dew fallen
on the lotus leaf has sealed
as flakes and hangs fast.

POTUS, shall I cast
a ballot to a light wind
which shakes loose no frost?

Helas! Helas! Helas!
Your policies seem hella similar to the GOP,
what be up with that?

The lotus looks sad.

— @FrancisCrot
(lineated, & hashtags removed)

A+ for effort, @franciscrot, A+ for effort – but here’s what I want to talk about:

Whenever election time rolls around, so does the idea that the Republican and Democrat candidates are basically the same. Is it just me, or does that idea seem much more conspicuous and credible than usual?

One reason is surely that, this time, it is a bit more true. Obama’s record (by historic Democratic standards, or by historic and current international standards) is pretty hawkish, neo-liberal and even drifting towards the totalitarian. Political Compass gives a devastating summary:

“The Democratic incumbent has surrounded himself with conservative advisors and key figures — many from previous administrations, and an unprecedented number from the Trilateral Commission. He also appointed a former Monsanto executive as Senior Advisor to the FDA. He has extended Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, presided over a spiralling rich-poor gap and sacrificed further American jobs with recent free trade deals. Trade union rights have also eroded under his watch. He has expanded Bush defence spending, droned civilians, failed to close Guantanamo, supported the NDAA which effectively legalises martial law, allowed drilling and adopted a soft-touch position towards the banks that is to the right of European Conservative leaders. Taking office during the financial meltdown, Obama appointed its principle architects to top economic positions. We list these because many of Obama's detractors absurdly portray him as either a radical liberal or a socialist, while his apologists, equally absurdly, continue to view him as a well-intentioned progressive, tragically thwarted by overwhelming pressures. 2008’s yes-we-can chanters, dazzled by pigment rather than policy detail, forgot to ask can what?” (Continues).

If only the candidates’ names could be summed into some chilling, malevolent singularity, with a faintly Megacity One type aura.



So maybe it’s a bit more true this time, but it was also kinda true with Obama vs. McCain, Bush vs. Kerry, Bush vs. Gore, Clinton vs. (okay, actually that’s as far back as I go. Dole? Cain vs. Abel?). E.g., the Twitter feed @VastLeft asks charming and noble stuff like, “How’s that voting-for-the-duopoly strategy working out for you?”

Tweeps like @VastLeft and @RuthlessCulture also do an honourable line in lampooning the vacuous trivial disjecta membra which pass for civil polity, and the shallow pseudo-arguments which supposedly contra-distinguish the candidates. E.g. @RuthlessCulture: “Major policy difference between Obama and Romney is that Romney’s like rilly rilly rich and Obama’s kind of not been great.” Or, with the ol’ ‘seal sounds’ critique, ‏@RuthlessCult: “‘I hate to interrupt you senator but awr awr awr’ *Democrats explode into riotous applause while drones strafe the Pakistani parliament*.”

In the UK, “They’re both as bad as the other” was in the air a lot in the days before the last General Election. The corollary was, "Might as well let the other lot have a bash at it." Such feelings were doubtless a factor in the outcome: Nasty New Labour – against whose divisive and dangerous domestic policy, and appalling bloodshed, I obv. had brandished many delightful placards – were usurped by the breathtakingly childish and brutal abomination of the Coalition. Things are complicated, of course, but my hunch is that that was a dark day, another striking instance of dizzy, befuddled humanity ramping up the self-harm.

And what troubles me about the election now underway across the pond is that we could spend too much time exposing false distinctions we hear in the media and from the slack jaws of our more docile, dozy and hope-for-the-best fellow citizens, and forget that it makes a real difference who wins it.

It’s not the difference between anything we want nor deserve. It’s not the difference between two candid and lucid visions of the common good. It’s not the difference between two possible packages of compromises among conflicting interests. It’s not any difference to do with government for the people versus a government for powerful elites. It’s not even to do with a government that wants to make gradual progress towards rationality, democracy, diversity, fairness and freedom, versus a government that wants to turn back the clock. No way.

But it IS the difference between two different contexts in which the real struggles for rationality, democracy, diversity, fairness and freedom etc. may continue to play themselves out. These possible contexts are oblique and complex and should themselves be a focus of analysis, debate and controversy.

Just because my personal disillusionment with official governance has maxed out doesn’t mean that the psychopathic horrorshow of neo-liberal hegemony won’t get any worse. If Romney gets in, Political Compass may well have to build an extension to the right end of their brilliant little diagram. But more to the point, “better” and “worse” are enchanting simplifications which we all need to touch on from time to time, but must be careful of leaning too hard on. Even if in some reductive and abstracted sense Obama and Romney administration would be “each as bad as the other,”  the specific mechanics and distribution of Malevolence O. or Malevolence R. makes a material difference to anyone interested in social justice – scrap that, for anyone who cares about human life.

Of course, Lara Buckerton won’t be voting because Lara is not a US citizen! Bloody unfair, that. If she were, she would definitely be voting! Who would she vote for? Probably GREEN. Yup, GREEN. Jill all the way. Definitely GREEN.

Um, except in Florida and Ohio.

And Virginia.

(Maybe more later!)