I am very fond of my progressive friends. They are smart and fun and attractive, and they smell very good, some of them like bacon. They tend to live in the real world, which makes us neighbors, unlike many in Faux News-land, a magical place where apparently our center-right President is a socialist, women who have been raped don't get pregnant and global warming A) has never happened and is not now happening and 2) is caused by cow farts and oh let's say butterflies. (This week. Next week it'll be pandas. Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent will fire machine guns at cut-out pictures of them or perhaps at actual pandas or maybe immigrants dressed as pandas.) They're not just neighbors, these progressive friends, they're good neighbors, who care about poor people and black people and gay people and women, about people who've been oppressed. They care about the Constitution, and about our freedoms. They're good people. And many of them have profound reservations about Barack Obama and are talking about either not voting for him or voting for a third-party candidate.
So to those progressive friends I say, with all the love, goodwill and esteem I am capable of (and I only wish I could do better than that): shut up about not voting for Obama. Shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up before I hit you with a shovel. I do not own a shovel but I will go out and buy a particularly heavy one to hit you with if you do not shut up. To those of you who live some distance away from me, I will ship you such a shovel and expect you to do the right thing with it.
Oh, I understand your motivations for not wanting to vote for Obama. I share them. Conor Friedersdorf in his Atlantic piece explaining why he's voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson does a great job explaining those motivations. Drones blowing up Afghan children, our government killing American citizens without benefit of trial (hell, I'm not a fan of our government killing American citizens even with benefit of trial), the hideous NDAA that authorizes kidnapping and indefinite detention of "terror suspects": these horrors make my teeth itch. They make me sad to live in a country that could promulgate them. How could I vote for someone who created them?
First off, let's, as Plato or perhaps those kids on The Real World used to say, get real: either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be president come January 20, 2013. If you would have voted for Obama and don't vote or vote for let's say Johnson or write in Bieber's name, hey, congratulations, Bunkie! You just voted for Romney by default. You voted for endless war -- the war in Afghanistan and the brand-spanking-new war in Iran (coming soon to a theater of battle near you) -- and yes, for drone strikes, killing American citizens and kidnapping and indefinite detention.
And of course, you just voted to kill Big Bird. I am so telling your kids that.
"Oh, no," you'll cry. "I voted my conscience. I did the right thing." That's lovely, and as an affluent straight white male, you can afford that. (It's mostly affluent straight white males who have put forth this line of bullshit.) You know who will be paying for and can't afford your conscience? Poor people. Women. People of color. The elderly. Because you know what else you voted for? A personhood amendment that would put an end not just to abortion but to many forms of contraception -- basically to a woman's right to determine what happens to her own body. You voted for an end to Medicare and Medicaid, and to the few debilitated remnants of the social safety net that have survived 30 years of both Democratic and Republican assaults, in favor of a $5 trillion dollar redistribution from the poor and middle class to millionaires and billionaires and ultimately to the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. You voted to give millionaires and billionaires the right to harvest our transplantable organs; the government will issue them pen-knives for just such a purpose. If you're lucky, their hired thugs will beat you senseless first, so you won't feel the pain of the organ-harvesting so much.
I might have made that last one up, but you shouldn't bet you won't see it on Fox News say around year two of the Romney Administration. May the odds be ever in your favor.
I'm sure I'll be accused, as I have in the past, of practicing realpolitik, a word I do not understand because I'm an American and don't speak any language other than English, and that not all that well. But what's the alternative to realpolitik? Bullshitpolitik? And while we're being real, or perhaps real (German is hard), let's be clear: while Obama feels only slightly bound to keep the promises he made to progressives, Romney will keep his promises to the hard-right Tea Party types who will have elected him, not out of any personal conviction (he seems to have none of those, other than that he'd make a darling president) but because he will have to. The Tea Partiers in Congress will force him to, Fox News and the Washington Times will force him to, the makeup of the Republican Party will force him to. I mean, I hear that there are still some moderate Republicans, but they live far away in a beautiful forest filled with unicorns and a herd of Big Foot. (Big Feet?) To these guys, Sean Hannity is a moderate. And Mitt Romney? Is an empty Armani suit that anyone who offers him power can fill.
And let us not forget that, in the face of withering non-cooperation on everything from the Republicans in Congress (if Obama ever came out in favor of testicles, Congressional Republicans would castrate themselves), Obama did pass a healthcare bill (however anemic and short of the single-payer system I favor it might be), did pass the Lilly Ledbetter Act, did come out (belatedly) against the Defense Of Marriage Act, did save GM, did end our involvement in Iraq (remember that?) (sometimes it seems as if we had troops there just last year...) and did oversee the turnaround in our economy (again, however anemic it might be) and the creation of 5.2 million jobs. Just to refresh your memory, the US was losing 800,000 jobs a month when Obama came into office. For those of you who enjoy math, 5.2 million > 800,000. Also, and I don't want to blow your mind, but 7.8 percent unemployment < 10 percent unemployment.
Get it? Obama and Romney are not equivalent. From way out on the fringes of the left or the right, they might look that way, but to the most vulnerable people in this country, they do not. The election of one man or the other will have real consequences -- perhaps not so much for affluent straight white males, but for much of the rest of the country. Do you know and like any women? Then you might not want Romney nominating our next Supreme Court justice, someone who might be hearing challenges to Roe V. Wade. Are you concerned about Obama blowing up kids with drones in Afghanistan? How about hundreds or thousands of kids dying of preventable diseases like whooping cough right here in the good old U.S. of A when Romney repeals Obamacare, as he has promised to on the first day of his let's-hope-it-never-happens administration?
Now, I'll admit, most of you, my progressive friends, and Friedersdorf as well, live in states so red or blue that your votes, like mine, simply don't count. (Thanks, Electoral College! You're an awful idea, and you weren't even one of my safety schools. Plus your basketball team sucks.) But by announcing that you won't vote for Obama -- especially if you are a writer or musician or journalist whose influence extends beyond your personal private vote -- you perpetuate a destructive and ever-more-pervasive meme. Rebecca Solnit, in TomDispatch (reprinted in Salon.com), reports that an activist friend of hers in Nevada emailed her, "Oh my God, go be sanctimonious in California and don't vote or whatever, but those bitching radicals are basically suppressing the vote in states where it matters." In 2000, the idea -- the myth -- that the two sides resemble each other more than not and the self-righteous insistence that voting for Ralph Nader was the courageous and admirable thing to do led to two wars, the housing bubble and yes, those very abuses that my progressive friends find themselves so exercised about today. (If you don't follow that logic, well, allow me to explain: Bush. And to further elucidate: George Freakin' W. Bush. And if I might be permitted to add: Cheney.) By all means, after the election, do what you can to launch a third, more-leftish party that has a reasonable chance of doing something less destructive than stealing votes from the far-better of the two choices actually on the menu; there's a good chance I'll be right there with you. But right now, we all need you -- your country needs you -- to shut up.
If that's not enough for you, let me just say: Ace Hardware? Right around the corner from me.