In 2006, when Americans were asked their opinion of George W. Bush’s massively illegal NSA spying program, 75% of Republicans said they supported it while only 37% of Democrats agreed. Today, after it was revealed that President Obama is overseeing a nominally legal but largely similar surveillance program, only 52% of Republicans express support for it, while a stunning 64% of Democrats agree.
In other words, Americans, in large numbers, care more about the (D) or (R) next to the President’s name than they do about what the President does. And that is deeply disturbing.
There is plenty of blame for this to go around. The right-wing echo chamber that defended President Bush with a vigor matched only by its hatred for President Obama. The wing of the Democratic Party that is convinced that Barack Obama is special and different and that his words have meaning even as he breaks promise after promise. The media that focuses incessantly on the partisan sniping in Washington and ignores the larger truth – that the two parties largely both support a system of corporate and military power at the expense of the vast majority of the world’s people – and thus propagates this system in which Americans yell and scream at each other over which corporate-owned party should be in power.
The great tragedy of the Obama administration (for those of us lucky enough to use that word in the sense that I mean it, and not in the context of our children being shot by drones) is that it has not only furthered and deepened some of the most disturbing policies of the Bush administration, but that it has also deadened opposition to those policies by connecting them to the smiling face of a supposedly progressive leader. And now we not only are stuck with these dangerous policies, with a President who believes he has the right to kill an American citizen without trial, but we are left with meaningful opposition only from the libertarian Right and apparently the 36% of Democrats who don’t think Barack Obama is a deity.
This is the danger of the Church of The-Lesser-Of-Two-Evils. This is what happens when we stop trying to create the world we want our children to live in and settle for hoping that the leader who seems less willing to destroy that future will beat the other guy. For years, we have been told we have to vote Democrat, give our money to Democrats, knock on doors for Democrats, argue with our relatives about how great the Democrats are, all because the alternative is so much worse. The realization that what we are experiencing now is a slow death – through climate change, Wall-Street bailouts, and the erosion of the rule of law – rather than the dreaded quick death of Republican rule is what has prompted me to leave the Democratic Party.
It’s a relief, honestly. I feel a little bit freer for the lack of attachment to an institution that is not worthy of the hopes and dreams I have for our country.
Inevitably the question then becomes: but what if your vote is the difference? Yes, I will vote for the lesser of two evils if I have to.
But this is about so much more than voting. Voting is a civic duty, but it should be merely a small piece of the work we do to improve our community, our country, and the world. Our contribution to the struggle for human rights and social justice is not defined by who we vote for. Throughout history, change has almost always come through the hard work of building credible movements and institutions, of pushing from the outside until those on the inside are forced to make changes, of envisioning change and then demanding that it come about, rather than hoping it is given to you by the lesser of two evils.
Inevitably the question then becomes: what do we attach ourselves to instead?
Given everything that is going on in the world, it’s easy to just stand outside and yell in anger. There is a lot to be angry about.
I think, however, that for that anger to make any sense, it has to be traced back to the love that exists at its roots. We are angry at the perpetrators of the financial meltdown because we love the families who were illegally foreclosed upon. We are angry about the drone program because we love the innocent people victimized by it and we love the concept of a foreign policy that is predicated on peace and not militarism. We are angry about wiretapping because we love the concept of a country in which civil liberties are protected and government is open and accountable. Without this love, the anger leaves us as participants in a pointless competition, in which each “side” tries to “win” and is angered at the other side’s actions. The pointlessness of that game as it plays out in the United States is made clear by the realization that, much like Oceania and its opponents in Orwell’s 1984, the two “sides” are really two halves of the same system. And it is that system that needs to change.
Which brings us to what I call “A Politics of Love.” If we are going to change that system, we have to remove ourselves entirely from the Democrat/Republican debate and start with a positive vision for the country and for the world. We have to invite everybody to contribute to that vision, even if we don’t agree with them on every issue, and we need to push our politicians to make laws that help make that vision a reality. This concept is not about singing Kumbaya and pretending that the corporations and politicians who profit from the corruption of the current system can be engaged in meaningful dialogue. On the contrary, the change we need in this country will come only through the force of our will, through determination, through a clear-eyed understanding of what we are up against. It will come through a lot of hard work. But it will only come through love. And if we are to transform the world through love, we first have to stop identifying ourselves by party and start identifying ourselves as members of a universal human family, particularly when the party with which we have been identifying is so demonstrably unworthy of our allegiance.
When Howard Dean said that “rednecks driving pickup trucks with confederate flags on the back should vote for me because their kids need health insurance, too,” he simultaneously intentionally and unintentionally illustrated how important this concept of politics is. Yes, we need to start a movement that recognizes shared values and human rights, that reaches across racial, ideological, and geographic divides and challenges the status quo. And no, obviously, calling people “rednecks” is not the best way to do that. But what Dean was getting at is that the forces that create inequity in our health care system are not the same as the people voting for politicians who uphold and deepen that inequity. That’s an important concept, and, perhaps just as importantly, given the policy record of Democrats, those so-called rednecks aren’t the only ones voting for politicians who wreak havoc on the poor and vulnerable.
In the coming days, I will be writing more about what a Politics of Love looks like. In the meantime, I am doing my part by removing myself from the false partisan dichotomy that leads a country to change its mind about the violation of its civil liberties simply because the President authorizing the violation has a different letter next to his name.
That (D) is no longer magical to me. It is, after all, of little comfort to the victims of American militarism, or to the Palestinians, or to the Congolese. It is of little consequence to ice caps determined to melt. It is not a holy symbol, not a badge of anything of particular value.
It is just another tool of division at a time when the 99.99999% of the world’s people opposed to the status quo need unity more than ever.