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Another Reason to Vote for Democrats

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For a long time, I could think of only one reason to vote for Democrats: Republicans. As I have argued in several posts on this site (search under my name for examples), I thought, and still think, that there is nothing in the record of the past twenty months capable even remotely of bridging the much heralded "enthusiasm gap": that Obama's foreign policy has just been a more comely continuation of Bush's; that his transgressions of civil liberties and contempt for international law rival and perhaps even surpass those of the previous administration; that he has all but neglected impending environmental catastrophes; and that the paltry domestic reforms to his credit have been by-products of measures enacted of, by and for the ruling elites who pay the bills for the entire political class. Try as Democratic spinmeisters and the cheerleaders on MSNBC might to make a more positive case, it all comes down to an undeniable fact: that the alternative is even worse.

But that isn't much of a motivation; not with Wall Street calling the shots since before day one of the Obama administration and with Joe Biden being the most sensible member of Obama's war cabinet -- a conclusion that emerges unwittingly but inexorably from Obama's Wars, Bob Woodward's latest account of America's perpetual war machine.

My own dilemma is extreme but illustrative. The Republican I can vote against (in Maryland's first congressional district) is Andy Harris. He trounced a "moderate" Republican incumbent for the nomination in 2008 before losing by a narrow margin to Democrat Frank Kratovil. Harris was a fringe candidate two years ago; now, in these Tea Party days, he seems almost plausible.

Kratovil is not just Clinton-Pelosi-Obama awful. [For a comprehensive account of how awful that is, read Tariq Ali's The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad.] He isn't even mainstream Steny Hoyer awful. Even right-wing Democrats (or "independents") of the Max Baucus and Joe Lieberman variety have better politics than he does. Think Ben Nelson and you'll be getting close. The guy is bottom of the barrel Blue Dog awful; so awful that he has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In short, the only reason to vote for him is to keep the awfulness we now live under in power. With John Boehner and Company waiting in the wings, that's not a bad reason. But, for those who do not always vote no matter how pointless the exercise seems, it is hardly enough to overcome indifference or contempt. [I am one of the few who do always vote, though I generally leave most of the choices blank.]

This is why, if we are to keep the forces of untrammeled greed, retrograde religion and vicious nativism at bay, it is important to contrive additional reasons to vote for otherwise undeserving Democrats. I've found a passable one. It's the realization that, when it comes to listing right or left, Democrats are congenitally incapable of drawing obvious conclusions. To get them on track for "change we can believe in," clear-headed thinking doesn't cut it. With apologies to Hillary (or her ghost writers), it takes a pillage. This has always been so; the difference today from, say, LBJ's time or FDR's is that there is now no sustained opposition compelling Democrats away from the course they are otherwise inclined to pursue.

The conclusion Democrats are sure to draw from the losses they are sure to sustain is that Obama overreached; that they weren't conciliatory enough; and that since they and Obama did the best they could, all the nay-sayers should just be patient. They could not be more wrong. The times that brought Obama to power called for more, not less, boldness, and for less, not more, pandering to entrenched and nefarious interests. What we got instead was reckless (and unrequited) "bipartisanship." So far from doing the best they could, Obama and Company squandered a rare historical opportunity to reshape foreign and domestic policy fundamentally. They didn't even try. Instead, they deceived a gullible public into thinking they were working for them, not for the financial industry, the military-industrial complex, and the pillars of our national security state.

This is why the more they lose, the worse they'll get; why in addition to the Republicans-are- even-worse reason, there is also the reason that, if enough voters do vote for Democrats, it will deprive them of yet another excuse for being awful; it may even help keep them from becoming worse than they already are.

Nothing good will come from November 2, but the damage can be lessened. My selfish hope is that the outcome of the Kratovil-Harris race will be clear enough before that foul day arrives that both my first and second reasons will become inoperative because there will be no chance at all that my vote will matter. Then I will vote for none of the above (leaving the Kratovil v. Harris part of the ballot blank). But if it's close, I, along with so many others, will not have that luxury.

What does it say about the gap between democratic theory and our ostensibly democratic institutions that to impede Obama awfulness from degenerating into Kratovil awfulness or worse, I may find myself voting for Frank Kratovil! How pathetic is that!

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