Monday, August 15, 2011

Why Re-Electing Obama in 2012 Matters to Me

Right now, Chris Clark has a very insightful post on Faultline, entitled "Why I'm not voting for Obama in 2012". He starts off by talking about the candidates he voted for in prior years, starting with Jimmy Carter. Even though he has disagreed with many of the Democratic nominees, he still voted for many of them. At times, he engaged in strategic voting reasoning that it was at least the "lesser of two evils", but sometimes he reasoned differently.
I haven’t always voted for the lesser of evils. I mean, I did vote for Mondale in ‘84, Dukakis in ‘88, and Kerry in 2004. But when it’s been prudent to do so — for instance, when my adopted state of California was not in play — I voted my conscience, or or at least I did as closely as I could. I voted for Nader in 1992, ‘96 and even 2000. I might have voted differently in 2000 if I hadn’t been living in a state where Gore got a 12-point lead. I don’t know.
He also points out that Nader isn't the reason why Gore wasn't elected. I agree with him there. However, I think our views branch into different directions when he posits that even "1972 Nixon" would be a better Democratic candidate for the 2012 Presidential race than Obama.
It’s a worse choice every single time. Every single time the difference is clear, and every single time both candidates are more loathsome than their counterparts four years previous. How many people reading this wouldn’t vote for 1972 Nixon in a heartbeat as the Democratic candidate in 2012?
Well, as far as I'm concerned, Nader isn't even worthy of consideration given his unabashed racism. Personally, I wouldn't vote for "1972 Nixon" if he was the candidate today, because I feel sick to my stomach when I think about this nation's historical racial imbalance with regards to positions of power.

The reality is that no one who is electable will represent my views, so my only options are to stay home on voting day, vote for someone who hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected or vote for someone who will carry out policies that I disagree with. I don't see how voting for someone who can not be elected is anything other than a waste of time, so it seems that the only real decision I can make is to stay home or vote for someone I disagree with.

For most of my adult life, I've felt that it was better to stay home than to help put someone into an office knowing that they would engage in activities that I oppose. I'm still not certain that this isn't the most ethical stance to take. However, I started to reconsider my position when I started reading about and contemplating the consequences of neutrality. Even if I stay home, I think I bear a certain amount of responsibility for what the person in office is able to get away with.

So, I wonder if it might be worth voting for someone that I disagree with if I think that they are at least capable of making rational decisions and might be open to listening to what people like me have to say about the direction we want this country to take. History has shown that there is absolutely no reason to believe that voting for white, cis*, non-disabled men will result in revolutionary change. I think that the further we get from that model, the more likely we are to see changes in political policies that will prove to be positive for the communities that I identify with. The only way to find out is by having more people of color, more people with disabilities, more queer-identified people put in office. We've seen what white, cis*, non-disabled men have to offer and I don't see how people like me have anything to gain by continuing down that road.

Obama's term in office has certainly encouraged that view. It has changed the lives of those around me in ways that I didn't even anticipate. It has activated people I know who had never before expressed an interest in politics. I have seen it motivate young black professionals to run for office in Louisiana. I watched as Michelle Obama almost single-handedly changed the way that young black and brown girls in the USA viewed physical education class. Her presence at the side of the President has made it infinitely easier to tell our daughters that brown skin IS beautiful. These are things that electing a 1972 Nixon would not accomplish.

Barack's identity as a mixed-race/mixed-ethnicity person of color gave my child something that every white child in America has been able to take for granted their entire lives: the ability to see someone who looks like her in the White House. The exhilaration and triumph that Irish-Catholic Americans felt when they got to see photos of the Kennedy family eating together, playing together, working together, and just being there now gets to be experienced by families like mine. It changed the way the entire nation eventually felt about the idea of having more Irish-American Presidents.

I suppose if an individual already had what most people of color didn't experience until Obama became President, his re-election might not be a very thrilling prospect. Maybe there isn't much for them to personally feel excited about. I can definitely understand that. However, having witnessed unprecedented positive changes rippling through every facet of my communities, I see many reasons why it would be beneficial for Obama to be re-elected.

I think it also needs to be understood that the first person of color to occupy a role in our society is never a true radical. A truly radical person of color would never have been elected President. Even the self-identified liberals and progressives wouldn't have allowed it. Sadly, it seems that the traits that made Obama electable in the eyes of white America are now the very same ones that many progressives and liberals are unhappy with. I wish that I could explain to some of my loved ones who are white that Obama's role is not to enact the kind of revolutionary policies needed to fix this society. His role is to make it possible for that revolutionary to be accepted by white America. It isn't Paul Robeson that changed the way white American sports-lovers viewed black athletes. It took Jackie Robinson to do that. Robeson was too revolutionary for most of white America to accept, but Robinson was malleable enough to endure the kind of abuse that America requires people of color to tolerate in order to achieve new levels of (begrudging) acceptance. Being anything other than a complete milquetoast and even white liberals and progressives will label a person of color "too angry", "uppity", or a "loose cannon".

In my eyes, Obama is doing exactly what people like me need him to do. We need him to be "Jackie Robinson", so that a "Paul Robeson" can eventually change the problems created over the past few centuries by those who shared more than just superficial traits in common with Nixon.

1 comment:

Stupid Git said...

"A truly radical person of color would never have been elected President."

THis is totally true and one of the main ideas I have used in my defense of Obama. He got to where he is by being safe and he continues to try and be safe. Sadly, there is a large and vocal percentage of this country that doesn't seem to want to take the olive branch he has repeatedly offered.

On a policy level, I agree that a 1972 Nixon would be an improvement over Obama, on a social level I totally disagree. I can't imagine Nixon repealing DADT.

But, to your main point, whether to vote or not I think it was best said by John Quincy Adams: "Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost."

Voting for a candidate you believe in may not (and if they are third party will not) get them elected. But it raises their profile which leads to more awareness of their causes, more interest in their party and more money for their campaigns. It is a step toward having a relevant third party or at least letting Democrats know we will not be taken for granted.

The radical right has been doing this for decades and it is paying off for them. Their radical base has gotten what should be third party candidates to be elected and hold positions of power in the Republican Party. They hold the entire conservative movement in their hands now and they accomplished this over years of voting for the "unelectable" - Pat Robertson, David Duke, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, etc... They didn't give up because their favorite lost, they were motivated that their favorite was in the race.

We need to do the same. In '08 I voted for Cynthia McKinney and if she doesn't run in '12 I'll try to find a candidate I can vote for that does represent at least some of my most vital values. If not, I'll vote for Obama because he is the least of two evils.

Not voting is a bad choice though as it is giving a vote to the worst of two evils. At least, that's my feeling on things.