A couple of friends, who I respect greatly and whose opinions I usually agree with, have pledged not to vote in this election and are arguing that others should also refrain from voting. Meanwhile I can’t vote because I don’t have the right pieces of paper lined up yet, but I resent that deeply, would vote if I could and want you to vote too. It wouldn’t exactly be a joyous vote—I’m almost as disillusioned with politics as my anti-voting friends—but it still matters.
First of all, I should say that I’m more than disappointed in Barack Obama. In 4 years I’ve gone from being excited about his election to outright angry with him. This isn’t about all the good things he’s failed to do, which I blame far more on Congress than on him. My anger is almost entirely about things he has chosen to do which have made our present and future bleaker than they would otherwise have to be. Here are a few choice examples:
- Assassinating people (as I’ve said before I don’t give a shit whose passport they carry) without any shred of due process, accountability, or concern for who else gets killed in the process. Even if I had boundless faith in this administration’s ability to get the targeting right, this would be a terrible power to have given to future presidents, and when every adult male near a strike gets automatically classified as an enemy combatant it’s impossible to have any faith in them.
- Deporting more immigrants than his predecessor.
- Giving out new licences for Arctic oil exploration.
- Continuing to put resources into “clean coal”.
- The brutal repression of last year’s Occupy protests, using many of the same tactics his administration condemned Mubarak for in Egypt.
Unfortunately for me, I don’t see that Mitt Romney, or any other plausible challenger, would be any different in these respects. That’s a strong signal that I should be hating the game far more than the player. More importantly, it’s a warning that we’re not going to get a particularly good outcome just by voting; changing the game itself is crucial. I’m not just talking about little niceties here. Global warming threatens not only ever more frequent Hurricane Sandys, but the wholesale collapse of the world food system; a horror the likes of which the world has never seen. And yet it wasn’t even mentioned in the big debates of this election season. This is nothing short of suicidal.
Given that, I can see how voting feels utterly futile. But unless you have a foolproof idea for radically fixing the system within the next few months, we are still going to have to live with the consequences of this election for a while, and in every way in which Romney and Obama do differ, Romney would make things markedly worse. This is actually unprecedented: even George W. Bush had at least one significant proposal (an immigration reform that would have made the system significantly more humane) that I could support. Here are a few of the things Romney appears to be threatening to do (and yes, I’m hedging because he’s been so slippery that I don’t even know which set of claims to believe, which is also a worry):
- Repealing Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act, for all its flaws, is also a massive step forward which will roughly halve the number of people stuck without access to health care in the US, and thereby cause the first weakening of a poverty trap I have seen in my lifetime. It is the one really significant achievement of the past 4 years that we wouldn’t have if we had either elected John McCain or a few more Republican senators, and if the Republicans get enough power this time they’re still determined to undo it.
- Gutting FEMA. Of course he’s trying to distance himself from it in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane, but Romney has repeatedly threatened to do this.
- Restricting access to abortion. In plain words: forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.
- A significantly more belligerent foreign policy.
- Hugely regressive tax cuts that would worsen income inequality even further.
Yes, this is a hugely diminshed choice. Neither candidate has anything to say about the issue that at this rate will kill literally billions of people this century, so voting won’t save us. Yes, this is an entirely negative choice in which I prefer Obama only because Romney frightens me more. Yes, this does mean we need to work on a better system. But we’re still going to have to live with the consequences of this election while we work on that, so please vote, dammit.
Just don’t for one moment conflate voting with doing enough.