During the Democratic National Convention, I had a conversation with a friend who expressed utter frustration at the political landscape and exclaimed that even as a gay male, neither of the candidates were talking about the things he felt were important. This puzzled me, but I began to think of other conversations I'd had with people who, by all accounts, share the values of the Democratic Party, but are so frustrated with aspects of President Obama's administration that they are either abstaining from voting altogether, or are voting for a third-party candidate. And to all of these people, I'd like to say, as kindly as possible, "You're out of your mind."
When I've spoken with friends who feel less-than-enthused about voting for Obama again, several key things have come up repeatedly. Obama's stocking his cabinet with ex-Wall Street guys has been a sticking point for many progressives, myself included. That Obama-appointed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was a major Monsanto advocate during his time as the governor of Iowa isn't a high point either for those of us who aren't keen on GMO food. And then there's Obama's repeated concessions to Republicans over health care, taxes, and many other issues, when the GOP has outright stated that the number one goal is obstruction. I get it. These are excellent points, and Obama has made moves in all of these situations that I'm not necessarily on board with. And that's not even getting into the drone strikes or NDAA stuff.
So for the sake of argument, let's concede these points. Hey, I'm frustrated too. But there's a bigger issue going on here that the Democratic Convention helped put front and center: civil rights. For the first time ever we have a sitting president who has come out in support of marriage equality. Following his lead, the Democratic Party officially added marriage equality to its platform, and should Obama get elected to a second term, no doubt the Defense of Marriage Act will be in their sights. In addition we've seen issues that should've been put to bed decades ago brought right back out in the open regarding a woman's right to choose, access to affordable birth control, and even equal pay (Paul Ryan voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Act after all). We have a Republican candidate who believes that 47 percent of the population are freeloaders and that he doesn't need to worry about them, and meanwhile huge chunks of America are not being given the same rights as their countrymen. Is there any question as to how Romney will treat them?
We progressives need to get past the idea that there's some magical candidate out there who will whip the GOP into shape and cram everything we'd like to see done down their throats. It's simply not going to happen. Progress is incremental, and as much as I'd love to see Obama knock every issue we care about out of the park, from marriage equality to universal health care to decriminalizing marijuana to abolishing the penny (wait, is that just me?), it simply can't happen when somewhere around half the country is voting for the other guys. So what do we do? We vote for that incremental progress and live to fight another day. We simply must recognize that the very idea of America is that we are free and equal above all else, and putting other interests ahead of that idea is unacceptable.
I have a few friends who agree with these points on civil rights, yet they still vote Republican due to being so-called "fiscal conservatives." If this is a philosophy you adhere to, I encourage you to do what I asked my friend John to do: Go to the nearest mirror, look into it and say, "You are a dick." I feel like having it come from you yourself will soften the blow, but you need to accept the facts. Maybe you're OK with being a dick! That's not my business. I just want to make sure you're aware that if you think voting for what you deem the best choice for your personal finances is more important than voting for equality for all Americans, then your priorities are just all jacked up.
Maybe you're a disillusioned democrat. To you I say helping the other side win is not going to get your progressive goals achieved and will only make it harder to get them achieved the next time. Maybe you're a Ron Paul supporter, disgusted with the bloated economic system, national debt, and ever-expanding military. To you I say neither side is going to abolish the Federal Reserve. The economy is going to do what it's going to do. It will improve, either slowly or rapidly. Some taxes will go up, and some will go down. Sadly, wars will be fought and lives will be lost. Or maybe you just feel like both sides are so deeply entrenched in partisan politics and corporate interests that it doesn't matter who is in power, because they're all the same. To you I say look beyond the politics and dig into the actual governing that has been done during the last two administrations and see where the differences are. Yes, there are many similarities. Too many. But there are massive differences too.
Economic fluctuation, taxes, wars, these things will happen regardless of who wins. But only one side believes a woman has the right to choose what she does with her own body. Only one side believes who a person loves shouldn't be a reason to deny them any rights, particularly the right to marry. Only one side believes that there are many pathways to becoming an American citizen, and a giant wall stretching across the southern border doesn't clear any of them. So don't jeopardize the freedom of so many Americans because you're frustrated. We've all been frustrated. But that doesn't give us the right to be dicks.