I received an article by email last week by someone who unhesitatingly labels Pres. Obama a war criminal and equally unhesitatingly calls for his re-election. An expression of clear eyed realism or craven sell out? Food for thought in either case.
Tom Gallagher, a former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, has a provocative piece entitled "Vote for the War Criminal-It's Important" posted at OpEdNews.com.
His argument isn't flawless. I doubt that Gallagher's case for labeling the President as a war criminal will convince anyone who doesn't already share his opinion. War criminal and war crimes are legal terms subject to specific legal criteria. Gallagher doesn't bother with exploring the legalities involved in his charge. For him it seems self evident that the use of aerial drone strikes with the consequent civilian deaths and the bombing campaign in Libya qualify President Obama as a war criminal.
But what's striking is that despite holding this view, he still believes that Obama should be re-elected.
So what could possibly justify voting for a "war criminal"?
First off, there's the fact that his opponent Mitt Romney promises to do even worse in the foreign policy realm. He asserts that he would have the power to launch a military action against Iran without Congressional approval (just as Obama did in the case of Libya.) So far as the drone strikes go, when former Missouri Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty claimed Romney would increase them because the ones currently happening "don't go far enough," there was no denial coming from the Romney campaign. He wants to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan a little more slowly and perhaps leave them there a little longer. And he pledges to stop Obama's "reckless defense cuts" and increase our record level military budget.So a Romney Presidency wouldn't address, much less advance, the goals of Obama's anti-war critics. This is so obvious that it would hardly seem to necessary to state it. Besides, it's an essentially negative argument. It's a convincing reason to not vote for Romney but no compelling reason to vote for Obama. So Gallagher moves on to make his affirmative case.
In short, we face nothing like the dilemma that the (admittedly unlikely) nomination of a candidate like Ron Paul might have posed in presenting an opponent with an unpalatable domestic program combined with a foreign policy far better than Obama's. While it might be a fair assessment that a Romney administration's military policies would ultimately turn out to be essentially the same as Obama's, there simply doesn't seem to be any case to be made for their being any better. We would, at best, inaugurate a new war criminal.
On the other hand, on domestic policies there are clear opportunities for decline. Tax policy would almost certainly skew even further in favor of the wealthy under Romney. Privatization, at least partial, of Social Security and Medicare seem definite possibilities. Appointments to the Supreme Court, the National Labor Relations Board and a host of other agencies could only get worse. And while we might not see much positive improvement in federal labor law during a second Obama term, the Republican state administrations in Wisconsin and Ohio have shown the way for how things could get worse.Again, this seems so obvious as to need no comment but it leads into what I think is the real meat of Gallagher's argument: an analysis of the arguments on the Left for abstention or even third party voting.
Abortion rights, the environment -- this list could go on and on, but it's not as if those who object to voting for a candidate such as Obama are not aware of them. The actual arguments against seem to come down to three main points. For some, it's the belief that "the lesser of two evils is still evil" and they're just not going to validate the situation by voting for one of those evils. But while this is certainly a coherent point of view from a philosophical standpoint, it is not fundamentally a political stance, in that politics by definition has to do with making choices between real world options.
The more common and genuinely political objection is that supporting a Democratic Party candidate hinders building a real alternative, perhaps in a "third party." Without even entering the debate about whether a third party works within the particular structure of the American political system, it's impossible to miss the fact that there is no serious third party effort happening this election. It's also hard to avoid the conclusion that this is due in no small part to a widespread judgement that Ralph Nader's 2000 effort was ultimately counter-productive.
The third traditional line of argument against a "lesser of two evils" vote holds that things have to get worse before they get better, so we might as well let the greater of the two evils win because only then will people begin to seek out real alternatives. The Bush/Cheney years appear to have put this one to rest for awhile, though. After all, what did people turn to after experiencing that? Barack Obama.
I think this is a fairly accurate presentation. I have a caveat though. As the former State Press Secretary for the Georgia Green Party during Nader's 2000 Presidential Campaign I have never accepted the argument that Nader cost Gore the election. To begin with, Gore didn't lose. The election was awarded to George W. Bush by a judicial fiat of the Supreme Court that defied Constitutional and historical precedent. Secondly, Gore's electoral fortunes went into decline when he retreated from progressive populist appeals after a brief flirtation. If Nader's campaign cost Gore votes, it was due to Gore's miscalculation in tacking away from progressive populism. Contrast this with President Obama's embrace of these themes in 2012.
Regarding the "worse is better" strategy, which has been around for close to a century, I can only add the following: We've seen a great deal of the "worse", we've yet to see much of the "better."
What's particularly interesting about Gallagher's position is that it doesn't limit itself to arguing for the value of a second Obama Presidential term alone. He sees the campaign as central to the question of whether the Left will be politically relevant or just a noisy side show.
But the real point of saying "Vote for the war criminal -- it's important" out loud is political rather than philosophical. The road to electoral relevancy for the American left lies in having both sides -- those who think of the President as a war criminal and those who believe it's important to reelect him -- acknowledge that the other also has it right. Failing that, we will continue to function as less than the sum of our parts: on the one hand, a group of loyal campaign workers who submerge their political differences and forego any possibility of dramatically changing mainstream politics, and on the other, a protest group that entirely opts out of the presidential electoral process and thereby also foregoes any possibility of dramatically changing mainstream politics.It's hard to dispute the reality that there is a split on the Left between those whose primary focus is electoral politics and those whose emphasis is protest. It's equally difficult to argue that the influence of progressive ideas wouldn't be increased if these two wings pulled together as a team. Whatever one thinks of Gallagher's general argument, he's on solid ground with these points.
Ultimately, the outcome of the election is going to determine the political and economic terrain that we will be operating on for the next four years and possibly far longer. Gallagher clearly believes that the Left's attitude toward the Obama campaign should be governed by practical political, rather than philosophical, considerations. In this much I would agree. The challenge for the abstentionist/third party advocates is whether they have any practical political argument to make.
If you have a friend, neighbor or family member who's considering abstaining or voting third party, you might want to forward Gallagher's piece to them.