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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

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.

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.

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.
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.    

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Comment Preferences

  •  On the whole, (0+ / 0-)

    I agreed...

    (That was four years ago).

    WOID: a journal of visual language

    by WOIDgang on Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 03:39:09 PM PDT

  •  War crimes don't apply to the presidency (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Progressive Candidate Obama (now - Nov 6, 2012)
    Bipartisan Obama returns (Nov 7, 2012)

    by The Dead Man on Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 04:19:25 PM PDT

    •  Actually (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      when it comes to US Presidents being war criminals, a far stronger case could be against FDR, Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II than against Obama.

      Nothing human is alien to me.

      by WB Reeves on Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 05:54:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's a great legal argument. (0+ / 0-)

        Honest, judge, I only hacked his head off, those other guys - they shot and stabbed their victims too!

        Progressive Candidate Obama (now - Nov 6, 2012)
        Bipartisan Obama returns (Nov 7, 2012)

        by The Dead Man on Thu Sep 27, 2012 at 02:50:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wrong argument (0+ / 0-)

          Presidents are required to make life and death decisions, ones that can and have resulted in the deaths of thousands, even hundreds of thousands. This is and has always been part of the job description for Commander In Chief.

          To use your analogy, the argument would be one of selective prosecution. That is, prosecuting an individual for actions that were not considered crimes when committed by others.

          Certainly nothing Pres. Obama has done approaches the magnitude of the fire bombing of Tokyo, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the devastation of Vietnam, et al.

          It's a peculiar sort of morality that would label Obama a war criminal while giving a pass to previous Presidents who committed acts that resulted in astronomically higher numbers of deaths.  

          Nothing human is alien to me.

          by WB Reeves on Thu Sep 27, 2012 at 12:24:33 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I would (5+ / 0-)

    say that President Obama has been one of the best center right Republican president in our history.

    1. Ordered the assassination of an American citizen overseas.

    2. Failed to prosecute ANY of the Bush/Cheney war crimes with the mentality of "We have to look forward."

    3. Failed to prosecute ANY of the Wallstreet criminals that nearly destroyed our world economy and has in fact had the lowest number of white collar crimes prosecuted in the last twenty years.

    4. Has unfailingly targeted whistle blowers instead of protecting them from retaliation.

    5. Actively lobbied against Filibuster reform when it was time for the Senate to re-write the rules.

    6. Has continued onward with wireless domestic spying programs that we have no way of knowing the extent of.

    I could go on but I won't. Obama is NOT a liberal. He is a 1996 republican. The problem is that what once was considered mainstream republican orthodoxy is now considered the "far left" by our serious villagers.
    The window has shifted so far over that we continue to have a debate in this country between center right, right, and hard insane right without taking into account any true liberal ideals.

    One thing that boggles my mind is that because he is a democrat the opposition against many of these policies has disappeared. He is the first D president to offer up social security, medicare, and medicaid to the chopping block of batshit crazy people and that is thought of as being "reasonable."

    I'm sorry it is not.

    I will not ever in my life vote for a R. I will vote for president Obama with the hope that he has finally learned you can not negotiate with terrorists. The alternative Romney is just beyond scary and I know the entire world will suffer if that man is ever let near the reigns of power.

    At least with Obama I can be fucked over with a smile and boy he does sure take some nice pictures.    

    •  Being fucked over should not be embraced (0+ / 0-)

      Glen Ford is right to call Obama the "more effective" (rather than "lesser") evil. Liberals willing to give him a pass for his attacks on the social safety net, his championing of the broader 1% agenda and his shameless authoritarian outrages should ask themselves if they truly can stomach the real outcomes that they are enabling.

      "I am confident that we're going to be able to leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before." Barack Obama

      by quagmiremonkey on Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 10:11:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "Vote for the War Criminal"- yep, that's how to (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WB Reeves, downsouth

    describe what I think I may have to do. Drones are wrong, spying on us all electronically is wrong. The Bush/Cheney crew need to be prosecuted...but that is all either receding in the rear-view mirror too fast, or else here-and-now stuff that we can take care of next term. Allowing Romney/Ryan to win means losing the life-and-death struggle for our future and our 'collective' soul. So I will, for once vote for the "Constitutional Scholar" already at the helm, rather than hand the keys to Romney.

    That said, I have to say thank you so much to "the former State Press Secretary for the Georgia Green Party during Nader's 2000 Presidential Campaign,"  for posting:

    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.
    Thank you Again! There was no way I was going to vote for Gore, AND that year I voted for Nader because I wanted him. It was so nice to have a candidate I believed in, who was not part of the "two-headed hydra" system.

    I am offended that so many people seem to think it would be my fault that their candidate could not win my vote. But just because I didn't vote for Bush does NOT mean I would have ever voted for Gore.

    And I wasn't too worried about it because I was pretty sure Bush wasn't going to win anyway. Thanks a lot Sandra Day O'Connor. You were already on the court for life: how could you let cronyism eclipse the Truth?

    "Had we gone the invasion route, the US could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land." -- George H. W. Bush, "A World Transformed," 1998 memoir (explaining why the US did not occupy Iraq in the 1991 "Desert Storm" war)

    by nuclear winter solstice on Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 05:51:44 PM PDT

  •  I wrote a similar diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WB Reeves, Tool

    From a more positively pro-Obama stance yesterday.

    Progressives who boil this down to "we can either support Obama or we can criticize him from the left," are suffering from a false dichotomy. If we want to win, we have to support Obama; if we want America to progress, we have to be critical, and these two things are not diametrically opposed. Constructive criticism, it is called.

    •  I'm not so sure, (0+ / 0-)

      after reading your article [which I can no longer post in] if it is acting as the constructive critic or the drone apologist. "There is no choice for president This November" is not a good preamble to later decrying drones; drones that your oppositionless candidate has ramped up more then even Shrub Jr was able to.  

      There is in fact a choice, and it is Jill Stein. She opposes drones and the military industrial complex.  That is not going to be a very popular message on DKos but it is a choice.

      Both your article and Mr. Reeves' are interesting in that they talk about the disconnect between President Obama's domestic agenda positives and foreign affairs negatives. When I voted for Nader in 2000 it was because even though Gore was (as a friend of mine said) "going to throw us a few bones" it appeared that both candidates seemed to "agree on the really scary stuff."  

      The interesting thing about looking back (I always ponder) is, would we have attacked Iraq with Gore in the oval office? Heck, I'm not a 9/11 conspiracy theorist but one wonders would there have even been a 9/11? But I digress...

      The point I am making is that these are challenging issues to grapple with as a progressive left voter. Personally I feel that the Democratic party rarely speaks for me except in rare cases like Kucinich and even then not all the time.  In the past I couldn't stomach the "lesser of two evils" and I'm not sure if I can now. As MLK Jr said, "He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

      President Obama has pushed me over the line with his massive ramping up of Afghanistan and worldwide drone attacks. Both policies are increasingly coming under fire as being at best counterproductive geopolitically and economically while at worst being blatant war crimes that clearly violate international law; thus being committed by a Noble Peace Prize winner. Because of this I personally cannot cast my vote for him anymore.

      I keep seeing the posts on Facebook from my various activist
      friends about Obama being a war criminal etc. and I feel that it is so easy to just tune it out as fringe. It is important that DKos has posts about this and we really need to talk about this more. What is likely going to happen, and I use a hot button analogy, when Obama wins in November? It will be like another friend of mine mentioning way back in 2002, when we were under a totally different regime, that "no one questions if you will actually win the war but what happens when you finally get to Bhagdad?"

      What will we do on Nov 7th? What will we do now about these drones and rampant militarism? Why are so few Kossacks concerned about Obama's record on militarism and war in general in the election fervor that is sweeping the site? Rhetorical questions perhaps...

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