Though you would never think it from reading the reactionary opinions of this papers Editorial Board, the University of Wisconsin is an overwhelmingly progressive campus. Just look at its voting record: The Iraq Solidarity Referendum, Living Wage Initiative and opposition to the marriage amendment in 2006 garnered the support of the vast majority of student ballots. And though unscientific, whenever initiating a political discussion with a fellow student, I always feel safe in assuming that, like me, they believe undocumented immigrants are human beings and wars for corporate profit are immoral.
In this context, it seems only logical to direct this columns writing toward fellow progressives. I am perfectly aware there are plenty of right-wingers and pseudo-liberals who read these pages as well the comment section offers a helpful hodgepodge of their views, or lack thereof but their numbers are small and clout limited. It is, therefore, the bubble of liberal hegemony that needs popping specifically, their presidential candidate. If I am correct in assuming most people reading this say, eight out of 11 of you believe the only preemptive war America should be fighting is against poverty, I must inquire: Why vote for a candidate who believes the opposite?
Because I wouldnt want to be accused of writing the same column again, and because Barack Obamas thoroughly unprogressive credentials are as clear as John McCain is insane, I wont dwell on the policy platform of the Democratic nominee. Suffice it to say progressives dont call for a 90,000 military personnel increase, give Israel the nod to annex East Jerusalem, vote for FISA, do the bidding of the credit card industry and join the Gingrich crew in blaming poor, black people for their poverty. Nor do they garner the endorsements of Scott McClellan, Colin Powell and Alan Dershowitz.
Many Obama followers will excuse their candidate by asserting he had to say those things and support those policies to get elected. While it is certainly true the corporate press generally distorts substantive progressive gestures into anti-capitalist, anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic slurs, its impossible to see why Obama felt it necessary to praise the surge in Iraq or vote for the $700 billion corporate bailout (wildly unpopular with the American people). Even The New York Times, that symbol of establishment journalism, responded to Obamas broken promises on issues like faith-based initiatives, public campaign financing, gun control, warrantless wiretapping and the death penalty, writing that Obamas shifts are striking because he was the candidate who proposed to change the face of politics, the man of passionate convictions who did not play old political games.
But because American elections are about personalities instead of issues, the Obama crew will always fall back on what they believe are the good intentions and altruistic character of their candidate. He was a community organizer, they will say. Havent you read his autobiography?
If we are to take this argument seriously, I will echo black intellectual Adolph Reeds opinion in a recent issue of The Progressive: No politician in this system is likely to be a person youd want for your sister-in-law or brother-in-law. He goes on to call him a vacuous opportunist, a good performer with an ear for how to make white liberals like him.
One does not successfully aspire to the most powerful position in the world by remaining committed to humanitarianism; it requires back-stabbing, ruthless ambition and, always, artificiality. Like Bill Clinton, Obama is a masterful politcian, appearing empathetic in front of any audience. He plays the game like the professional that he is, convincing so many progressives to support him even as he betrays them on almost every important issue.
As a ninth inning defense of their candidate, the Obama followers will assert that he is, if nothing else, the lesser evil, and the next president is going to be either a Democrat or Republican. Its a good argument, one Ive often made myself. McCain, a guy who parades around as a war hero for drenching Vietnamese children in napalm back in the 60s, is palpably unstable and a devoted follower of the Bush-era extremism. Voting in such a way as to aid in his victory is absurd.
Its always been my belief that major political change comes outside the system, so you might as well breathe through your mouth in the voting booth, vote for the lesser evil and then get back to the real work. This understanding of progressivism was lost on the unfortunate campaign of Ralph Nader in 2000. Though it was in many ways a courageous attempt to force progressive issues into the mainstream, its only demonstrable effect was to ensure the victory of the more reactionary candidate.
But this time around, with an Obama victory certain, the issue of the spoiler is moot. Social movements may be the primary impetus for ending wars and checking corporate power, but small gestures toward undermining the two-party system can be helpful as well. Nader is a stalwart ally of all the right causes, while Obama has done nothing but co-opt the progressive movement. Who sounds more worthy of your vote?