THE BLOG
09/17/2012 04:47 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2012

Who's Afraid of Magical Thinking?

OK, technically, the title should be, "Should We Let Magical Thinking Scare Us?", but the other has a nicer ring.

People are afraid that if we recall the truth about both corporate-money-driven political parties and both corporate-money-driven presidential candidates (see the footnote in this post), our lack of 100-percent loyalty to the lesser evil will pave the way for victory for the greater evil.

I don't think so. What I think is that soft-pedaling the truth paves the way for always having to choose between the lesser of evils. If we do that for 100 years, we get 100 years of evil.

Fear of the Truth

Last Tuesday I spoke with my publisher about attracting support for my book on how to move beyond the teeter-totter of two-party politics into a movement where we don't have to psych ourselves up for the lesser evil every election. She gave me a warning: In this season, it is easy to antagonize Obama supporters -- even people who for three years were deeply disappointed in "change we can believe in" -- by saying anything that can be taken as hinting that the man deserves less than our wholehearted support now.

So I won't write about Guantanamo still being open, the high and increasing level of targeted assassinations of people whom bureaucrats suspect of terrorism (and the deaths of innocents who are in their vicinity when the drones hit), the free pass the big banks and their executives have received (other than some Occupy-appeasing rhetoric), a health-care initiative that never questioned insurance-industry domination of the system, tax policies that still favor the rich, too-little/too-late stimulus measures and relief for those who are suffering from a ravaged economy, the expansion of the war in Afghanistan and all the saber rattling against Iran, the inclusion in the Defense Authorization Act of power for the military to imprison civilian dissenters indefinitely, or any of the administration's other 99-percent-disfavoring policies.

What I want to write about is this fear of the truth. At this time four years ago, I described the difference between what we could expect of Obama and what people did expect. Then, too, the climate was such that most of my friends were uncomfortable with what I wrote, though they disputed none of my facts or conclusions.

Critical or Uncritical Support?

So what is the problem here? Why were some of you ready to stop reading two paragraphs back? I think it is two things, and they are both understandable. First, there is an unstated premise that if we talk about the difference between Obama rhetoric and Obama actions, and the corporate funding that makes that difference inevitable, we may undermine his reelection. But that belief is magical thinking. My stance is, "Of course, if you can identify a lesser evil, support him, not the greater evil." (Why the "if"? Check out African-American analyst Glen Ford's argument that Obama, with his credibility among liberals/progressives and African Americans, has been doing things to us that a Bush or a McCain could never have gotten away with.)

In the 1970s the New Left used to talk about "critical support" for conventional candidates. This means you can vote how you want, contribute time and money how you want, while explaining that you are doing it to avoid an alternative of even greater favoritism for the .01 percent domestically, more militarism and interventionism, erosion of civil liberties, neglect of the environment, dismantling of education and social services, and promulgation of the myths that keep all this going. Accepting or presenting a compelling argument for why we have to hold our noses and vote for someone will produce as many votes as idealizing the candidate would.

How to Find Hope

The other problem with accepting the truth is that we do desperately want someone, something we can believe in. In a perverse way, the two-party system provides it. The Republicans give Democrats such a beautiful target. So Democrats aim their rhetoric in that direction, say all kinds of things that align with the values of liberals and progressives, and give us hope once again. The same works in the opposite direction, for people who identify as conservatives. All we have to do to feel good is ignore the difference between what office holders say and what they do.

(I'm not judging anybody here. Maybe in their hearts most of these politicians even have the same values as their audiences, but, given the way they have chosen to try to promote those values, they have to compromise them away.)

We do need hope, and we don't need to engage in denial to have it. There is a way to build a movement independent of the two-party system that is powerful enough to take us beyond it. But first we must recognize the need. We can do that without taking a single vote away from the candidates whom, given the choices, we'd prefer to see win in November.

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