Wondering if my vote for president should be the lesser evil or a pointless protest

I’m staring at my absentee ballot and trying to decide how to vote. Since 1992 when I was 18 years old, I’ve been following the Molly Ivins strategy of voting. I vote Democrat when the vote is close, but I vote third party when the race isn’t close to register my protest against a party that seems to have little interest in representing me.

In Indiana, where Trump is guaranteed to win, my vote for the president is effectively meaningless, so I might as well vote my conscience. My choices, however, are a corporate Democrat, an insane Republican, or a nutty Libertarian, which means there is no real choice for me.

I’ve done a deep dive into Biden’s record, and frankly it makes me feel dirty to vote for the man. As head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden was a cheerleader for military intervention to overthrow Saddam Hussein since 1998 and backed the murderous sanctions that killed half a million Iraqi children according to the UN. Biden then helped railroad the nation into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I keep thinking about the 4.7 million Iraqi refugees that were caused by a war that Biden was uniquely placed to have stopped, if he had called for Senate hearings to question Bush’s assertions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Instead, Biden packed the Senate hearings with sycophants to American militarism to pave the road for endless war in the MiddleEast.

Let’s not talk about how Biden was one of the chief Democrats in the Senate who helped usher through NAFTA and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, and the other free trade deals that destroyed 6 million American manufacturing jobs. Biden was one of the people that helped transform the Democratic Party to represent the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of the working class.

Biden spend his career in the Senate as a lackey for the financial industry and was a major promoter of the financial deregulation in the late 1990s that led to the crash of 2008-10. Part of the reason why Biden was chosen to be Obama’s VP was because he was the favorite lickspittle of the big banks. As we found out from Wikileaks, Obama’s entire cabinet was chosen by a Citigroup executive in 2008. Selecting Biden to be his VP was Obama giving thanks to the financial industry, which dumped more money on his 2008 election campaign than any other group. It isn’t an accident that no Wall Street executives went to jail after committing massive fraud that wrecked the global economy in 2008-10, and that Obama did nothing to stop the banks from foreclosing on 4.6 million American homes after the government bailed out the big banks.

On top of all that Biden has a history of lying about his 40 year record of trying to cut Social Security and he regularly spouts misinformation about Medicare for All, which he promises to veto if Congress ever passes it. Finally, let’s not forget Biden’s despicable role in leading the charge to pass the 1994 Crime Bill and his role in helping to put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court by undermining Anita Hill’s testimony.

All that history goes through my head as I stare at the ballot. I know that if I write Howie Hawkins’ name on the ballot, it will never be totaled, so my vote becomes effectively meaningless, because officials in the Democratic party won’t pay a bit of attention to the fact that I voted Green as a protest vote. If the voting were close, I’d hold my nose and vote for Biden, but the vote isn’t close, so I have the luxury of indulging my conscience.

The only thing that makes me hesitate is the fact that I have looked at Kamala Harris’ plan to fight climate change. She actually had some solid policy proposals for the existential threat that faces humanity. Of course, good plans are meaningless if the politician has no gumption for standing up to special interests, and Harris has demonstrated repeatedly that she has no spine throughout her career.

Nonetheless, I have spent enough time reading climate science that I have basically become a single-issue voter. I have perused most of James Hansen’s papers that he has published over the last 10 years and I’m frankly terrified about the long-term future of humanity. It took me 7 hours to plow through Hansen et al (2016) and by the time I was done, I was convinced that 5 meters of sea level rise over the course of a century is a real possibility. I read Peter Ward’s book about how hydrogen sulfide has caused a number of mass extinctions in the history of the planet and how another extinction is probably in the offing. I spent a couple weeks reading several dozen articles about past extinction events, until I couldn’t take it any more.

At this point, I would vote for the devil himself if he would give the US sane climate policy. What goes through my head is the question whether Biden will do anything meaningful about climate change. It is the one policy area, where Biden actually improved his position after negotiating with the Sanders campaign. Sanders was planning serious executive orders that had real teeth on climate change, but I doubt that Biden will do diddly. We won’t get a ban on new arctic drilling, new off-shore drilling, new extraction of fossil fuels on federal lands or EPA enforcement to stop mountaintop removal, like we would have gotten with Bernie Sanders as President. However, I hold out hope that Harris might be the point person in the administration on this issue, and we just might get some good executive policy, even if the Democrats don’t take the senate.

So I’m in a quandary about how to vote this election. I think about ocean acidification, and I reflect, “well doing something is better than nothing, and the ecosystem doesn’t care about my feelings about the Democratic Party.”

Then, I think about how Biden has made it very clear that he will continue the sadistic policy of economic warfare against Venezuela, which is part of the reason why there are now 5 million Venezuelan refugees. Yes, I know Maduro’s own economic policies caused Venezuelan farmers to stop producing food, but the US has a deliberate foreign policy of forcing millions of Venezuelans to starve. I see Venezuelans begging on the streets of La Paz, Bolivia every day where I live. I know that Biden will be just as callous as Trump toward the Venezuelan people. Every time I see a Venezuelan woman with baby in her arms begging on the side of the street, I will have to think about the fact that I voted for the heartless monster who wants that baby to be malnourished as a matter of US policy. I also know that Biden will continue waging war in 8 different countries and dropping 30,000 bombs on the Middle East every year.

Voting against the hope for better climate policy feels wrong, but putting my mark next to Biden’s name means that I am endorsing his long history of corporate centrism that is slowly destroying the US as a nation. The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party that stood up for working people. Joe Biden was one of the people that helped dismantle the party of FDR and turn it into a party of that panders to the professional class and Wall Street. One of the reasons why the US is a country where 0.1% of the population own 92% of the wealth is because the Democratic Party stopped representing working Americans. When Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council moved the party to a position of centrist triangulation to pander to the rich and powerful, it displaced the traditional role of the Republicans. The Republicans in turn were pushed to become the party of the lunatic fringe that catered to the darker currents of xenophobia, racism and religious extremism.

The worst part is that I know that millions of Americans have deluded themselves into believing that getting rid of Donald Trump will some how save America. Despite what Joe Biden’s web site may claim, he isn’t running on any policy except returning the United States to the days before Trump, which were exactly the conditions which gave rise to Trump in the first time. Because Biden promises to do nothing to address the structural problems that gave birth to Trump, the Republican Party will be primed to vomit up another right-wing populist in another 4 years, who is far smarter and more disciplined than Trump. For all the damage that Trump has done, a strategic right-wing populist like Tom Cotton or Josh Hawley will likely be far more effective at undermining democratic institutions than a lazy bumbler like Trump.

In all likelihood, Biden will end up winning, simply because he got lucky enough to be nominated in a year where Trump’s own incompetence finally caught up with him when he failed to deal with the coronavirus. Biden’s win will serve to cement the belief in the leadership of the Democratic Party that they can go on giving the middle finger to the progressives that form the base of the party. They will continue believing erroneously that they can afford to keep ignoring all the people that have been marginalized and alienated by their neoliberal policies. Screw the youth, screw the Latin@s, screw the working class, and screw the progressive left in general. All that matters is winning suburban swing voters who are alienated by Trump’s uncouth behavior. That strategy will only further convince an entire generation of youth that there is no point in wasting their time with electoral politics when both of the parties have shown them the door.

Yes, the Democrats probably will win this election with a strategy of courting suburban Republican voters, but it means that Joe Biden has no policy agenda aside from reverting Trump’s executive orders and his ludicrous tax bill that gave 83% of the tax cuts to the top 10%. He will do nothing to address the structural problems that plague America and have led to a nation of extreme inequality. In 2022, Democratic voters will see no reason to turn up in the polls, because just like in 1996 and 2010, they will see how little the Democrats have done to fight for their interests when they control the government, so why bother turning out for them? By 2024, after 4 years of meaningless centrist triangulation, many voters will be so disgusted that they will be ready to turn to the next right-wing populist who promises to throw a brick at the system, just like in 2016.

I wouldn’t feel so bitter about being forced to vote for a corporate sellout like Biden who spent his legislative career catering to the big banks and who lied repeated about his record on the debate stage, if he had legitimately won the hearts and minds of his voters. The worst indictment of the system is the fact that poll after poll showed that Democratic voters favored the agenda of Bernie Sanders over Joe Biden. The CNN exit polls on Super Tuesday which set Biden on the path to victory found that the majority of Democratic voters in every state supported Medicare for All, even in conservative southern states. In the last poll I saw, only 9% of the voters who support Joe Biden in the general election say they are voting for him for his policy positions.

The exit polls showed that Super Tuesday voters believed that Joe Biden was the candidate with the best chance of beating Trump, yet that belief was not grounded in anything measurable. The matchup polling at the time showed that Sanders would beat Trump by the same margin as Biden and it had been that way for months. Democratic voters favored the policies of Sanders over all other candidates, but their overwhelming concern in the exit polling was getting Trump out of office, so they voted for the candidate who the media touted as a winner after South Carolina. If the media had done its job and properly informed the voters that Sanders had just as good of a chance of beating Trump as Biden, then the voting would have likely been very different. After Sanders won Nevada, he received three times more negative coverage at CNN than Biden after he won South Carolina by a similar margin. Just before Super Tuesday, the media relentlessly pumped the narrative that Biden was a winner and he was the best candidate to beat Trump.

What the media didn’t cover was the repeated lies that Biden told about himself:
* he was against the war in Iraq when he voted for it,
* he hadn’t tried to cut social security 3 different times,
* he had been against the surge in Afghanistan when he was advocating for it,
* he had been against NAFTA before he voted for it,
* he had marched in the civil rights movement,
* he was arrested in South Africa trying to visit Nelson Mandela,
* he had worked as a coal miner,
* he was shot at in the Green Zone in Iraq,
* his helicopter was “forced down” into “the superhighway of terror” between Afghanistan and Pakistan,
* he knew where bin Laden was hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan,
* he pinned a metal on a solder in the “godforsaken country” of Konar province, Afghanistan,
* he was the only one in his class to go to law school on a full academic scholarship (he didn’t get any academic scholarship),
* he graduated in the top half of his law class (he was 76th in a class of 85),
* he got three degrees in undergrad (he only got two degrees),
* he claimed that the New York Times concluded that the incident with Tara Reade hadn’t happened (which isn’t what the Times concluded)
* he claimed that Medicare for All would provide worse coverage and cost more than his health care plan (Biden’s plan will cost $50-$80 billion more per year and kill 13,000 more Americans per year than Medicare for All)

It is baffling that a man would win the primaries who has numerous corruption scandals involving his son and brother, has a history of being a serial liar, has a damning legislative record, and promotes policies which don’t match the views of the majority of voters in his own party. Yet, it becomes clear how it could happen when examining how little the press covered any of these issues. Biden probably would not have won if the media had done its job and actually informed the voters who they were voting for on Super Tuesday, instead of pumping a particular candidate as a winner to beat Trump. Maybe people would not have been more hesitant to vote for Biden as the man to beat Trump if the media had explained how poorly he appealed to Latino voters and the youth in general and how little blue-collar white workers identified with “working-class Joe” from Scranton during the early primary races.

It is hard to feel anything but disgust for an election system where people vote against their professed beliefs because the media not only failed to adequately cover the candidate’s record, but consistently downplayed and undermined the electoral chances of another candidate whose policies better aligned with people’s policy preferences. The most disgusting aspect is watching the media misinform the voters about the very policies that they favor.

It makes me feel sick inside to think about my choices this election, but at least I know that whatever name gets marked on my ballot is essentially meaningless, because my vote for the president doesn’t count. I don’t vote in one of the few swing states that will decide the election, so my anguish about which name to mark on the ballot is little better than mental masturbation.

3 thoughts on “Wondering if my vote for president should be the lesser evil or a pointless protest

  1. topolinoets2

    Interesting.
    I’m from the EU, and our media often uses black-and-white images of Biden and Trump.
    Now I’m not so sure any more if Biden would be a better alternative to Trump … What a pity that Sanders didn’t make it.

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  2. Mark J. Kropf

    Molly Ivins was a wonderful commentator on events and I enjoyed her reports immensely, but I disagree with her completely.
    One needs to deal with reality of Political Systems. To make my argument: If a tree falls in a forest and it is not heard to fall, it still serves a purpose of nourishing the local environment as fungi and bacteria break its substance down allowing recycling of its materials and support of the local growth. A vote made as some degree of ‘protest’ really does little however. It is neither nourishing of the party who has been supported currently nor is it even heard as the Tree might have been. If I or you voted for Mickey Mouse, Vladimir Lenin or for Michelle Obama- at different levels of fantasy – who is to know of this other than some worker for the board of elections?
    Much the same is seen for the current Third Party presence. Most Third Party since the Bull Moose Party have gone on to no notice of any importance, even with the role of some Libertarian note for such as Robert LaFollette. The situation exists that a Third Party or a Protest Write-in vote are much the same thing: hot air!
    What is needed is a constructive Third Party with a clear backing and a significant voting percentage. Otherwise the vote is there with no result. A vote with no result is as empty as no vote at all!
    If one believes that the better of two evils is no good, I can understand that. However, believing that the current constitution of U.S elections is worth a protest vote which nobody is to notice is to consider yourself wasted.
    Were an announcer to spend some time- maybe as much as 2 minutes – noting that a 5 % of the populace voting voted for neither party, what would that even say? It is not clear as to what would have been reported if some clearer information might be presented. Perhaps this might express errors or cancelled-out variances of more Conservative and more Liberal voting, but who would know.
    A great deal of dissatisfaction with candidates already exists. People know this. To try to reinforce it at the elections does little unless some arrow points to a desired direction. Mere and unspecified dissatisfaction already being known is merely confirmed with no useful replacement and that forwards a discussion not a single iota!

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    1. amosbatto Post author

      Mark, I don’t disagree with you about the pointlessness of my current vote. I called it “mental masturbation” for a reason, because I realize that it does nothing strategically. However, what you aren’t addressing is what can a person like me do.

      At this point, our options are 1. meekly accept that the corporate Democrats control the party and pray that they do the right thing, 2. try to reform the party from the inside (a la Bernie Sanders, AOC, etc.), and 3. try to pressure the party from the outside by creating a large enough block that the Democrats are forced to co-opt the issues raised by a third party.

      Historically third parties were very effective at forcing the major parties to address issues like slavery, 8-hour work day, women’s suffrage, inflexible money supply, the right to unionize, regulation of railroads, and anti-trust regulation, so it isn’t necessarily a bad strategy to try to scare the corporate Dems and force them to co-opt the issues raised by the Greens. However, that takes years of work, and I threw all my energy into getting Bernie elected and we lost, so there isn’t anything that can I do, except to look to future elections and try to get more progressive Dems into the House of Representatives.

      What makes me so disgusted with the whole system is the fact that the Super Tuesday exit polls showed that the majority of Democratic voters agreed with the policies of Bernie, but they voted for Biden, because they were convinced that he was the most electable candidate against Trump. The matchup polling showed that Bernie would have beaten Trump by the same margin as Biden, and Bernie had many strategic advantages over Biden in an election with Trump, but the media spread the message that Biden was a winner after South Carolina and he was the person to back if people wanted to get Trump out of office. So we get a candidate who refuses to implement the policies favored by the majority of his voters.

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