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The Election: Agonizing Choices

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It's taken time for me to crystalize a point of view on the presidential election. It's a dilemma. President Obama, for whom I raised money, hosted community meetings, and went door-to-door, has been a huge disappointment, failing miserably in his self-assigned role as a change agent. We saw him appointing top-level finance insiders to ostensibly rap the knuckles of a corrupt Wall Street. Stimulus money flowed and but there were no new stringent controls on corporations, or salary sacrifices, or criminal prosecutions.

Obama failed to mount a significant public works program to produce jobs. He abandoned single payer and endlessly negotiated critical legislation into oblivion with totally intransient Republican hacks. Internationally, he framed a foreign policy and security apparatus that is as imperialistic and oppressive as the worst Republican alternatives.

One has to wonder why in the world this experienced community organizer abruptly dumped his grassroots youthful followers -- an army of committed activists -- immediately after the 2008 campaign. Most symbolically, he declined to use his extraordinary oratorical talents and the White House pulpit to educate and lead the public toward progressive goals.

This is not to deny, as his followers point out, he did some good things -- saving the auto industry, rescuing the venal finance system (while further enriching its executives), and "getting" bin Laden -- though some of us would have preferred a trial, not vigilante justice. Affable Bill Clinton enumerated many additional accomplishments. But, on balance, Obama hasn't earned the votes for re-election of those who stand steadfast for significant change.

That said, this election is a different and frightening one that turns things upside down. I surely don't want to vote for the lesser of two evils. But I feel compelled to halt the greater of the two evils. The triumph of that evil could be unimaginably destructive. The worst elements of American society have taken command of the Republican Party and ousted its Dwight Eisenhower-Olympia Snowe cadre of moderate thinking people.

Those in tight control now are right-wing dingbats, religious fanatics, redneck know-nothings, Tea Party zealots, and Paul Ryan policy Neanderthals on a rampage -- fully dominated by the Wall Street 1% corporate machine. We've heard the lesser of evils rhetoric endlessly, and I've ignored it in the past by voting for Nader and other political rebels. But this time I pause because there has never before been, I believe, such a blatant threat to the country as represented by the 2012 Republican Party.

A chief objective of the contemporary Republican Party is nothing less than to snuff out the trappings of a welfare state safety net that was crafted by FDR's New Deal. They aim to push it back and hopefully strangle it. Their long-range strategy, since Ronald Reagan, has been use huge tax cuts and huge deficits to "starve the beast" of humane government services into natural extinction. No past Republican administration has undertaken to immediately decimate this now established feature of American society. But these people mean business and see the wipeout of our welfare structure as within their grasp.

I think progressives and thoughtful citizens generally have to do whatever it takes to prevent this historical reversal, which will be a crippling blow to the poor, elderly, children and the ill -- as well as to today's buzz-word constituency, the middle class. That's the overriding context and the challenge as I see it in the coming election. This by no means encompasses the scope of damage to American life that a Republican victory would bring, but it sounds a loud alarm.

There aren't abundant good options available. The left is weak and fragmented, more than ever, and lacks viable leaders. The labor movement is a shadow of what it was. There is no chance that a dissident party or movement can have an impact on election results. A symbolic vote to make a statement of protest or aspiration is ordinarily an honorable choice. But this year that vote forfeits joining the effort to disable the ominous Republican bulldozer.

If I lived in a state where Obama is predicted to be a sure winner in the Electoral College, I would probably cast my vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party. That will likely be the case in my California situation. But if my home were in a toss-up state like Ohio, my choice would have to be different; I would take a deep breath and pull the lever for Obama.

Down the electoral list, though, I would look for movement-supported, system-challenging candidates to give a boost, with hopes they would strengthen local activism and somehow, with my participation, push Obama in a more muscular direction. Given Obama's inept performance and questionable pattern of action choices, I am not beseeching left-leaning folks to give him their votes. That's a searing decision. In this assessment I am simply setting out my own tortuous take on how things stand in a difficult and momentous election.