Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Voting My Conscience

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

The Democratic tradition in New York City is to hold your nose and vote for the lesser of two evils. So, up against George W. Bush, I voted first for Gore, then for Kerry, despite my discomfort with their relatively conservative social stances (literally posed in front of stained glass windows).

As my reward, the Democrats have swung more and more to the right. In Election 2008, the Democrats are almost more Republican than the Republicans I wouldn't vote for in '88 or '92, '96 or '00.

They are promising, for example, to dump way more money than Bush into faith-based programs which will not only erode the Church-State divide, but strengthen anti-choice, anti-gay forces. In a careful and deliberate campaign strategy to court conservatives, LGBT folk have already been shoved to the back of the bus in favor of highlighting homo-hating evangelicals. Positive statements about abortion have reportedly been withdrawn from the websites of many Democratic candidates.

Obama, the supposedly anti-establishment candidate flip-flopped from promising campaign finance reform to sticking his head in whatever trough presented itself leaving him beholden to a multitude of special interests. Under his leadership, Democrats are presenting bills to drill in protected land. And in another reversal, Mr. Obama, a lawyer specializing in constitutional issues, reneged on campaign promises, and voted for the FISA bill which further broadens the powers of "Homeland Security" and chews away at our civil liberties. Forget the misogyny surrounding his campaign.

Except for the considerable symbolic value of supporting the first African American nominee for president, the only reason any member of the left would vote for the Democrats is because they're up against the party of Abu Ghraib, the Iraq War, Pat Robertson, overt abortion bans, overt social control, and disastrous financial deregulation that McCain promises to introduce into health care, dismantling even the employer-based coverage most Americans rely on.

The Democrat's rightward acceleration may well be the fault of people like me, deluding ourselves into believing we weren't voting "for" one candidate, but "against" another. To politicians, a vote is a vote. A sign of approval, an implicit endorsement that's embedded in the language itself. You always vote "for" somebody. That seeming consent not only helps select a candidate, but shapes the trajectory of a party for years, win or lose.

After years of voting for increasingly right-wing knuckleheads, it's not surprising I'm stuck with a party that not only isn't in sync with my values, but in practice actually contradicts them. Winning will confirm Democratic tactics. Losing may send them even further right. Either way, I quit. As they say, "If all you ever do is all you've ever done, then all you'll ever get is all you ever got." And sometimes less.

I can't be blackmailed any more that a certain candidate will spell the actual end of the world. Admit it. The Bush administration wouldn't have been so destructive if not for the Congress members of both parties that were complicit at every step. And two years ago, when Democrats claimed the majority in both Houses, they could have brought the Bush administration to a complete standstill. The Republicans did it to Bill Clinton. But with the Democrats, it was pretty much business for Bush as usual.

We'll only get more of the same if we continue to vote for them, however reluctantly.

I spent a while this week trying to figure out my personal responsibility in this election. In purely statistical terms, my one vote is less than toilet paper. There has never been an election decided by a single vote. Even when Bush won Florida, and hence the 2000 election, political scientist James Fowler noted "the best a single voter could do would be to change the margin to 536 or to 538, neither of which would have changed the outcome."

On the other hand, Fowler pointed out that in reality people cluster together. There's a kind of "voter cascade" in which one person can literally bring several dozen like-minded people to the polls. This is a pretty good argument to persuade people to hold their nose and vote in a swing state. One person really can have an influence on an election. And that influence means you have actual leverage with the candidate and party.

The story's different in the solidly Democratic New York State. My vote could start a major cascade and still be ignored by national Democrats. If my vote doesn't count, withholding it won't have much of an impact either. The only votes that count in New York have dollar signs attached.

With nothing to lose or gain, I'm sadly free to disapprove any candidate from any party that courts evangelicals and conservatives at the expense of women and queers, the working class of all races, and especially and always our civil liberties, which are the basis of whatever freedoms we have left or hope to win.

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