09/16/2010 12:04 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Elections Are a Waste of Time -- If...

A pithy idea -- now going around in some progressive circles -- is that elections are a waste of time.

The idea can be catchy. It all depends on some tacit assumptions.

For instance: elections are a waste of time if you figure the U.S. government is so far gone that it can't get much worse.

Elections are a waste of time if you've given up on grassroots organizing to sway voters before they cast ballots.

Elections are a waste of time if you think there's not much difference on the Supreme Court between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, or Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito.

Elections are a waste of time if you're so disgusted with Speaker Pelosi that you wouldn't lift a finger to prevent Speaker Boehner.

Elections are a waste of time if you don't see much value in reducing -- even slightly -- the extent of injustice and deprivation imposed on vulnerable people.

Or, if you see the organizing of protests, community groups, unions and the like as "either/or" in relation to working for the election of better candidates.

Or, if you think the goal of those who struggled and suffered for the right to vote -- seeing the ballot as an essential component of democracy -- is outdated and rendered moot by present-day frustrations and outrages.

Elections are a waste of time if you think corporate power has grown so immense that state power has become irrelevant.

Or, if you still believe it was smart when some of us progressives figured we had no stake in efforts to defeat Ronald Reagan in 1980 or George W. Bush in 2000.

Or, if you think it doesn't much matter whether Californians elect to make possible Senator Carly Fiorina and Governor Meg Whitman, or whether Wisconsin voters remove Russ Feingold from the Senate.

Or, if you'd just as soon bypass any plausible path for electing more genuine progressives like Dennis Kucinich or Barbara Lee to government positions.

Or, if you see the raising of political awareness as an alternative to -- rather than intertwined with -- the building of progressive electoral power to challenge corporate power.

Elections are a waste of time if you don't realize or care that the powerful forces behind Wall Street and the warfare state are thrilled if progressives retreat from electoral battles.

Elections are a waste of time if you conclude -- due to chronic suppression of electoral democracy -- that the ideal of electoral democracy should be discarded rather than pursued.

Elections are a waste of time if you think progressives should opt out of electoral struggles for government power, leaving it to uncontested dominance by the heartless and the spineless.