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Don't Get Fooled Again: Why Liberals and Progressives Should Vote Enthusiastically for President Obama

09/25/2012 03:02 pm ET | Updated Nov 25, 2012

I have been hearing complaints by progressives and liberals about President Obama. I started worrying about them when I read such complaints aired by some members of the American Association for Justice's Civil Rights Section. Some complain that the electoral system is broken and the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision opening the door to unlimited campaign spending has made it much worse, making President Obama, like Mitt Romney, just another Wall Street candidate.

The complainers declare they will vote for a third party candidate or simply not vote in 2012 presidential election. They often point to the Obama Administration's national security activities as a reason to vote against the President. Some of them even declare that Romney will be better for civil rights and civil liberties than President Obama. Really? I say to my friends who take this position, "Be very careful what you wish for."

Some of those who say they will not vote for President Obama take comfort in the belief that because they vote in solidly red or blue states, it will not matter. Nonsense! These threats and complaints are like a virus spreading through the liberal community. Like all viruses, it will not stop at the borders of solidly red and blue states, but will deny the President votes in swing states and could threaten his reelection; this could result in turning the federal government over to the Tea Party fringe.

We have seen it all before and would be fools to let it happen again. I hope that some of my unapologetic reasons for voting for President Obama, and a reminder of other presidential elections, can serve as an antiviral that keeps some liberals from turning their backs on the President.

I too am not happy with everything President Obama is doing. But I have never been happy with everything that my winning presidential candidates have done, and long ago figured out that I never will.

In 1960 I voted in my first presidential election for JFK. While a candidate Kennedy declared that he would end racial discrimination in public housing with the stroke of a pen. As President, he did no such thing. And there was much more President Kennedy did that I actively opposed. But I never regretted voting for him because on balance he advanced liberal causes just as President Obama has.

We had to wait until the end of Lyndon Johnson's administration before the 1968 Housing Act delivered on JFK's promise about changing the law to end housing discrimination. Johnson did many other wonderful things, including ramming the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through the Congress. All this good was undermined by his commitment to the Vietnam War.

So, should I have voted for Barry Goldwater, or not voted in the 1964 election and risked Goldwater's election? He would have been no better and might have been worse than Johnson in prosecuting the war, given his declaration that "I could have ended the war in a month. I could have made North Vietnam look like a mud puddle." If Goldwater had won, would he have seen the Housing and Voting Rights Acts through the Congress? I don't think so.

Beginning with the 1968 presidential election, I often have heard from liberals that they could not vote for the lesser of two evils. Some said they would not vote; some said they would vote for a third party candidate. That mantra delivered us to Richard Nixon in 1972 until Watergate did him in. And it delivered us to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in 2000 until they were termed out in 2009.

I think about those elections when I hear liberals say they will not vote or that they will vote for a third party candidate in this election. I also think about what my mother did in the 1948 election. She entered the polling booth in New York intending to vote for Henry Wallace, the candidate of the Progressive Party, but voted for Harry Truman. She often said, "I decided not to waste my vote." She did this even though she understood that it likely would not matter whether she voted for Truman, as New York probably would go (as it did) for its favorite son Governor Thomas Dewey. Like me, my mother was disappointed (to put it mildly) with the Truman Administration's complicity in the loyalty-security excesses of the late 1940's and 1950's. But she never regretted her vote for Truman who on balance advanced liberal causes, just as President Obama has.

Yes, big money plays much too large a role in the electoral process and that the electoral system is broke. But big money has always played too large a role in the process and, mechanically at least, the process has been broke since the beginning of the Republic. It had to be fixed after the 1800 election in which Jefferson's running mate Aaron Burr tied him in the Electoral College, throwing the election into the House of Representatives. It was broke in 1824 when the House of Representatives elected John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson, who had a plurality of the Electoral College votes. It was broke when the system coughed up the Hayes-Tilden election compromise of 1877 which gave the 1876 election to Hayes in exchange for withdrawal of federal troops from the South and its delivery to the diehard racists, resulting in Jim Crow and worse for nearly a century. It was broke when the 5 to 4 majority of the Supreme Court called the 2000 election for Bush and Cheney. Somehow each election still comes down to a choice between two major party candidates and sometimes the lesser of evils.

I have been fighting national security hysteria since I was in high school. Of course, I disagree with much of what the Obama Administration has done in that arena. Given the good that he has accomplished on so many fronts, that does not cause me to mark President Obama as the lesser of two evils, to abandon all hope or to vote against him. You just keep fighting until reason returns and then you prepare to fight the same or similar battles over again.

It has been suggested by some liberals that Romney will be no worse and possibly better on civil rights issues than Obama. Where does that idea come from?

President Obama and his Administration are fighting for women's health, voting rights of people of color, the rights of workers, programs to help the poor and extend health care to all people, protecting the environment and consumers, the rights of gays, and the rights of undocumented people, to name only some of the important issues. He opposes Citizens United.

For what does Romney stand? For what while at Bain Capital; while he was Governor of Massachusetts; now or over the next several weeks as a candidate; or if he were to serve as President? And what about Paul Ryan and the Republican Party platform? We know where they stand. They oppose women's right of choice; they would interfere with the voting rights of people of color and the rights of workers; they would undermine programs to help the poor, to extend health care for all people, and to protect the environment and consumers; they oppose the rights of gays and of undocumented people, to name only some. Is there any chance that the Supreme Court justices that a President Romney would appoint will dismantle Citizens United or otherwise generally be good for any civil rights agenda? No!

Withholding votes from President Obama will not advance civil rights . Withholding votes from President Obama would have consequences similar to what happened in the 2000 elections in which votes were withheld from Gore especially in Florida and possibly in Ohio. Just as we still are living with the impact of the Gore and Kerry defeats, for the rest of our lives we would be living with the impact of an Obama defeat on the composition of the Supreme Court and federal judiciary, as well as the federal bureaucracy, guaranteeing adversity for the issues about which we care.. And surely Romney appointments to the Supreme Court would guarantee perpetuation of Citizens United.

I know where President Obama stands on many issues. I stand with him on most, and apart from him on some. He is not merely the lesser of two evils. I will vote for him gladly and am doing everything in my power to get him re-elected. In his second administration, I will stand with him when I should and I will oppose him when I should.

Let's not let hubris put us at risk of electing the wrong candidate again. The stakes in this election put our values at risk, possibly more than we can imagine.