[Read the first part (about the Republicans) and the second part (about the Democrats) of this political analysis.]
(Swans - October 8, 2012) How should you vote? That depends on what you care about. Civically, what should you care about? That depends on who you think you are.
An individual's political beliefs are an extension of their self-image. That is why you cannot talk Republicans into being Democrats or vice versa for any version of this example you can think of. The stubborn defense of political beliefs is in actuality a defense of the ego. Beliefs are taken to be extensions of personality, so they are protected vigilantly as an act of self-preservation. This is why facts don't matter very much.
For Republican white men who are unable to imagine their political hierarchy topped by a black man, and the upper tiers of their economic hierarchy packed with people unlike themselves, it is essential that Barack Obama be foreign born and a Muslim Manchurian Candidate, so he is intrinsically unqualified for the US presidency; and it is essential that people with more color and less money be disenfranchised because such likely Obama voters are intrinsically fraudulent in the imagined society whose dominance is required for the triumph of Republican egos.
For American anti-imperialists who are unable to imagine a Libyan people who could accept NATO military assistance to overthrow the Gaddafi dictatorship without becoming abject vassals of omnipotent American-Israeli imperialism, it is essential to see the Platonic paradise of philosopher-king Gaddafi as tragically lost with the utter destruction of Libya by NATO, and the descent of Libyan society into a violent chaos dominated by religious extremist terrorists.
For Americans frightened by their sense of powerlessness, their vulnerability in being insignificant in an infinitely dimensional and psychodynamic universe, and who yearn for the assurance that comes from religious conviction, the collapsing of the true complexities of social and political realities onto single root causes or controlling monisms provides an illusion of omniscience, which is a psychological palliative to being a nobody in the face of the omnipotence they have so skillfully uncovered. By heroically alerting the world to the monstrous evil they have targeted, they inflate their egos to erase the shame of insignificance, and to be on par with the malevolent grandeur they point to.
Here are the lost souls of the 9-11 conspiracy cult, the political analysts for whom the Israel Lobby controls America, the nativists who denounce the theft of US prosperity by the illegal immigrant hordes, the moralists decrying the disintegration of civic virtue because of public welfare programs, the leftists compelled by their higher morality to thwart US imperialism even at the cost of supporting anti-US dictators who massacre their own people.
Ego does not allow facts to overcome its defenses. Political debates are rarely logical discussions of a constructive nature because most people have not reached the level of self-awareness in which their privately held and publicly stated political opinions are identical and are utilitarian conclusions for maintaining or arriving at an equitable state of society that accords with clearly articulated personal principles. When a political debate is between internally organized and overtly honest individuals, a persistent difference of political opinion despite agreement on all the facts is easily reduced to an identifiable difference of personal principles. At that point the debaters would amicably agree to disagree, end the discussion, and move on.
Afterward, perhaps one or the other would reexamine their fundamental convictions to see if their life experiences now indicated that a change of mind was appropriate. If so, they would then modify the political conclusions supported by the changed principles, and act accordingly. In a person of philosophical virtue and psychological honesty, the development of character would be held as a rooting principle, and that would always motivate honest introspection on lived experiences for the extraction of new insights. In any case, each such ideal individual would cast their honest vote in an ideal democracy, and the consensus arrived at would define what Rousseau called the popular will, which would be the recognized directing force of government policy.
We do not have a culturally diverse electorate united by shared civic ideals and a personal principle to develop character. We have a culturally diverse electorate fragmented by vicious economic class competition with myriad personal agendas from the basest to the highest supporting the defense of egos, with every form of ignorance and hypocrisy imaginable being tactically deployed, as well some occasional flashes of nobility and truth. It is out of this reality that our political parties are formed, and our political leaders selected.
The lack of character that we detest in our political elite is a reflection of our collective lack of character. The craven inability of our political elite to face reality is simply a reflection of our own collective denial of the same. We want immediate action on climate change, cancer, and obesity yet refuse to reconsider the items on our plates or question how and where they were produced, nor to question our overwhelming preference for 2- to 3-ton tank-like vehicles with 200 to 300 horsepower for our personal mobility. The popular disgust with our political class is a redirection of our attention from the true source of our disaffection.
Is it really so surprising that "all" politicians are liars and crooks, given who we are? Is our sanctimonious disgust at "being forced" to select the lesser evil from among the array of allowed choices completely honest? The reason we have these types of characters as political leaders is because these are the types of careerists who can survive politically under the social conditions we tolerate. We are not the innocent victims with good hearts and wholesome minds that we pleasure in imagining.
To vote with some degree of satisfaction it is necessary to be clear about who you are, clear about the boundaries of the present reality, and clear about why these candidates are your available choices. Politics is the art of compromising principle to advance career. Do not expect a different kind of candidate to be realistically competitive -- the boundaries of today's national reality exclude that possibility. Voting is restricted to the range of possibilities that excludes the preferences of those who do not support the status quo. To change the status quo requires social action beyond voting.
Let's talk about the 2012 presidential election.
The Democratic Party controls the executive branch of the government, which is under the administration of Barack Obama. The Democrats also hold 53 seats in the US Senate, and 191 seats in the House of Representatives. Willard "Mitt" Romney is the Republican Party challenger for the presidency, and the Republicans hold 47 Senate seats and 247 House seats. There are 2 independents in the Senate and 3 vacancies in the House. There are no members of Congress from other parties.
Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party represent the interests of corporate capitalism. There are numerous small political parties dedicated to presently-excluded constituencies and perspectives: socialism, labor, environmentalism, reformism, laissez-faire isolationism, and socially repressive anti-federalism. There are few third-party members in elected office, and these are generally at the local level.
Among people for whom personal wealth equates to human value, it is easy for accumulated wealth to buy up political power and squelch political competition. A judicial version of this popular reductio ad absurdum is the endorsement by the US Supreme Court of the quantification of freedom of speech into dollars, in its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision of 2010. The accumulated wealth of corporate capitalism has bought exclusive control of the two major parties, the Democratic-Republican duopoly, and through their anti-parliamentarianism controls the electoral process so as to exclude third parties.
The electoral duel in 2012 is for the prize of gaining control of the political management of the US Empire, also known as the military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC), referred to in the mass media as simply "the economy." The fundamental national economic goals of corporate capitalism have long been known and are routinely reaffirmed with refreshed imagery specific to the business concerns of the moment by MICC conclaves. It is left to the duopoly to manage the day-to-day advancement of those goals. An incentive for political operatives to win elective office and their party's control of the duopoly is that such positions give them a measure of discretionary authority to direct the physical and investing powers of the federal government for the benefit of those whom they wish to benefit. This is called pork barrel when you don't like it (or get any).
The Democratic Party carries along with it the remnants of late 19th century and early 20th century socialist and labor movements, and the post World War II Civil Rights movement; while the Republican Party still has some remnants of century-old populist and reform movements, notably in the antiwar stance of Representative Ron Paul, and the anti-lobbying reforms of Senator John McCain. These historical artifacts are maintained only insofar as they add luster to the public images of the parties in their now continuous promotional campaigns.
The presidential election is a popularity contest between two candidates equally acceptable to corporate capitalism for the political leadership of the US Empire. It is obvious that Barack Obama is the far better candidate for that job. He is more intelligent, better trained, has demonstrated cooler and wiser judgment and far more adroit diplomacy, more skillful management of the bureaucracies under his supervision, obviously has infinitely more psychological awareness of human resource management, has issued more perceptive policy initiatives, has demonstrated admirably superior character for his political class despite the quantity of vitriol thrown at him, and he has a natural abundance of charm that soothes and attracts an enormous population who do not otherwise reap major benefits from his actual policy actions.
Obviously, the essential affairs of the Empire will progress as circumstances allow regardless of whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama is president. However, with Barack Obama as the Imperial manager, the progress of corporate capitalism will be smoother and entail less public anguish. If you are a clear-headed advocate of corporate capitalism and the American Empire (without the mind-hobbling involuted racism of the Republican base), then Barack Obama is your obviously better choice.
If you are a foggy-headed supporter of corporate capitalism and the American Empire (which you may not be fully aware of if you are foggy-headed), then you may be obsessed with the peripheral issues outside the duopolistic consensus on economic and military matters, these being the social issues that often involve personal matters: gender and reproductive issues, medical care, nutrition subsidies, public subsidies of religious institutions, religious exceptions to public laws. There are many such social issues.
The primary factor in the disposition of any social issue will be its impact on the core concerns of corporate capitalism; for example, will it increase the cost of labor? Such considerations will set the limits within which the social concern can be accommodated by government policy. Within those limits, an Obama administration is likely to be more liberal and humane, while a Romney administration is likely to be more heartless and parsimonious.
However, we should not imagine that this error band about the policy direction set by the primal deference to the imperatives of corporate capitalism will be very wide. On the contrary, it may be quite narrow. Just look at the narrow range of options allowed for serious consideration during the debates in 2009 and 2010 before passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010: either a purchase of private health insurance for yourself by government mandate, or you are free to buy or not buy private health insurance. The socialist option of "Medicare For All" was disallowed despite the fact that it would be the lowest cost and most medically effective program.
Since the system of structuring society for the purpose of extracting private profit from it is currently the full owner of the US government, it was impossible to exclude private profit from the healthcare debate. What the Obama administration gave us was the best national health care system possible given the primacy of the need to publicly generate and privately extract profits. Mitt Romney says if elected he will repeal (presumably with the help of a compliant Congress) Obama's health care program, and we will return to unadulterated free enterprise: If you want health insurance (priced for what the market will bear) you buy it from an insurance company, and then hope they pay your family's bills when you get sick and die (caveat emptor).
So much for voting by advocates of corporate capitalism and the American Empire. Now, what about voting by those who oppose corporate capitalism and empire? It should be obvious: voting is not meant for them because they do not support the status quo. They will not find acceptable candidates in the two parties with any chance of advancing their members into elective office, because such rebellious and rejectionist people are weeded out by duopolistic consensus.
So any leftist, socialist, progressive, or old-time liberal who complains about:
-- Obama's ruthless and murderous extra-judicial drone war against individuals declared by the American Executive to be enemies of the Empire,
-- the lack of any progressive Democratic candidates on a ballot,
-- the apparently unending allegiance to the party by traditional Democratic voters from the lower economic classes despite Obama administration policies inimical to their economic interests and their morality, has failed to understand the basic reality of American politics: voting is owned by corporate capitalism, and all competing interests are excluded. By design, there are no leftist, socialist, progressive, or old-time liberal people and programs to vote for.
Leftists, socialists, progressives, and old-time liberals have three options as regards voting:
1. Vote for a third party to help build up its visibility and broadcast its platform, attract new members and financial contributions, and for it to eventually achieve the 5% share of the electorate in a presidential election that qualifies it to receive matching funds from the Federal Election Commission for the following presidential election, and then hopefully grow to become a duopoly buster and national agenda setter. Apply Eugene Victor Debs's method: "I'd rather vote for what I want and not get it, than vote for what I don't want and get it."
2. Vote for the "lesser evil," always the Democrat, in this case Barack Obama. Apply the Molly Ivins method: Vote for the candidate more likely to help (less likely to increase the hurt of) the most needy, downtrodden and defenseless people in our society; vote for maximum compassion from the allowable choices.
3. Don't vote.
But, if leftists, socialists, progressives, and old-time liberals can't advance social change by voting, how can they do it?
The idea that our society can be changed by voting may be the biggest political illusion of them all. You cannot vote for fundamental change -- replacing corporate capitalism and ending the American Empire -- but you can vote to rearrange the hierarchy of beneficiaries within the existing system, that is to say within limits you can vote to redistribute the pork barrel.
To actually change the system, you have to involve yourself in activities beyond electoral politics that make your life fulfilling and advance your social ideals. You hope that whatever good you can do is picked up and amplified by others, and that a multitude of such like-minded individual efforts will eventually coalesce into a social movement that can grow sufficiently powerful to contend successfully with the political power of corporate capitalism.
This last progression is obviously a vague and wishful fantasy. However, its starting point, your involvement in activities beyond electoral politics that make your life fulfilling and have a beneficial impact on others, can be transformative, changing you so that you transcend the political barriers that trapped you when you thought of yourself as only a political being, and give you new insights that allow you to engage with your circumstances in a completely different way, with a sense of freedom and the ability to produce good work.
If you find Manuel García's article and the work of the Swans collective
valuable, please consider
Feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Manuel García, Jr. 2012. All rights reserved.
Have your say
Do you wish to share your opinion? We invite your comments. E-mail the Editor. Please include your full name, address and phone number (the city, state/country where you reside is paramount information). When/if we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country.
About the Author
Manuel García, Jr. on Swans. He is a native of the upper upper west side barrio of the 1950s near Riverside Park in Manhattan, New York City, and a graduate engineering physicist who specialized in the physics of fluids and electricity. He retired from a 29 year career as an experimental physicist with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the first fifteen years of which were spent in underground nuclear testing. An avid reader with a taste for classics, and interested in the physics of nature and how natural phenomena can impact human activity, he has long been interested in non-fiction writing with a problem-solving purpose. García loves music and studies it, and his non-technical thinking is heavily influenced by Buddhist and Jungian ideas. A father of both grown children and a school-age daughter, today García occupies himself primarily with managing his household and his young daughter's many educational activities. García's political writings are left wing and, along with his essays on science-and-society, they have appeared in a number of smaller Internet magazines since 2003, including Swans. Please visit his personal Blog at manuelgarciajr.wordpress.com. (back)