The Greater Error: Voting for the Lesser Evil
As the presidential election nears, we can be assured of being bombarded — probably more than ever — with a hackneyed argument aimed at prodding increasingly resistant members of the working class to trudge to their local election booths and cast yet another vote for "the lesser evil." After all, if the working class collectively refuses to vote due to universal repulsion at the array of candidates, then the charade that the U.S. in fact represents a genuine democracy collapses. But as working people witness their economic position grow uncomfortably perilous, whether Democrats or Republicans are in power, their desire to participate in this sordid ritual declines proportionately.
The argument, which is usually peddled by Democrats, since they directly profit from it, proceeds like this: Yes, both Democrats and Republicans have their flaws, but surely a difference separates them. For example, one candidate might speak loudly in favor of universal health care while the other remains silent.
Of course, whether distinctions among candidates are ground shaking or are merely distinctions without a difference is a subjective call. For Democratic Party hacks who mingle with these candidates and stand close to them, the differences must truly appear astounding. But for the vast majority of us who, because of our economic status, stand miles away, the differences appear at times almost indistinguishable and will continue to diminish as inequalities in wealth grow.
But a deeper issue is at stake. The above arguments assume that a firm correlation connects candidates' campaign pledges and the policies they actually implement once elected.
For example, when Bill Clinton first ran for president in the early 1990s, his platform included universal health care, tax breaks for the working class, gays to be able to serve openly in the military, and last but not least the return of ethics to government.
As soon as he was elected, the medical industry unfurled a historically unprecedented magnitude of lobbying that successfully derailed health care reform. The working class, rather than enjoying a tax break, was slammed with a regressive tax hike at the gas pumps. Gays in the military were told they could not announce their sexual orientation. And since morality is subjective, we will let the reader rate Clinton's success on this index.
More recently, U.S. Senator, Barack Obama, responding to his Illinois constituents who were outraged that Exelon Corporation did not disclose radioactive leaks at one of its nuclear plants, promised action. While campaigning for president, he later bragged that he succeeded in passing legislation to require immediate reporting of all radioactive leaks, no matter how small.
But here is what really happened, according to The New York Times, February 3, 2008: "While he initially fought to advance his bill, even holding up a presidential nomination to try to force a hearing on it, Mr. Obama eventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon and nuclear regulations. The new bill removed language mandating prompt reporting and simply offered guidance to regulars... ."
Of course, the fact that politicians sometimes deceive the public or themselves about their true intentions is no proof that this invariably happens. In order to make this stronger argument, we must examine the nature of capitalism.
Clausewitz, the renowned military theorist, once remarked that war is politics pursued by other means. We might add that politics is economics pursued by other means. In other words, politics in capitalist society revolves around money, greed, and power, while whitewashed with deceit.
Predicated on the assumption that people are selfish and greedy, capitalism insists that we are most productive when allowed to pursue our personal gain, regardless of the impact on our fellow citizens. Consequently, when selling their products, business owners mask any flaws and highlight any virtues in order to maximize profits and keep the business afloat. Tobacco company executives, for example, swore for years that their cigarettes did not cause cancer, despite abundant scientific evidence to the contrary. Deceit and greed, in other words, are endemic.
Accordingly, as long as capitalism, its cult of the individual, and its culture of corruption reign supreme, politics is reduced to power plays for individual gain. Campaign promises prove simply a ruse for a politician's acquisition of the trappings of power, and corporate agendas are masked behind lip service to the interests of the majority. Meanwhile the heads of U.S. corporations flex their muscles, swagger into the corridors of Congress, and unleash their lobbyists to dole out money to everyone on the take — which is just about everyone since it is, after all, in their self-interest.
And, of course, in the final analysis campaign promises by the likes of Democrats, Republicans, Green Party candidates, Ralph Nader, etc., because they do not challenge the capitalist system but are content to operate within it, are simply washed away by the laws of capitalism itself. Candidates can promise health care, higher wages, and everything else to the working class when they are on the campaign trail. But because capitalists compete against each other, each employer is required to keep production costs to a minimum in order to remain in business. Employers obsessively resist offering health care, pensions, and higher wages to workers because their profit line will suffer. For this reason, we workers have witnessed an uninterrupted decline in our standard of living, regardless of which capitalist political party is in power.
But this brings us to our conclusion. Whether Democrats or Republicans hold office, the working class can wield power in defense of its own interests only by organizing its ranks, launching massive campaigns and voting for its own candidates, not by voting for the lesser evil. In the 1930s, the working class, through huge demonstrations, compelled a resistant government to institute social security, unemployment insurance, trade union rights, and welfare. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the working class, by waging ever-larger antiwar demonstrations, forced Nixon, the avowed hawk, to withdraw from Vietnam. In the final analysis, the working class can hold capitalist society in an iron grip if workers collectively choose not to work.
But under capitalism, the working class is perpetually on the defensive. Socialism, on the other hand, is based on the conviction that we need one another to thrive, and we can maximize our individual self-interest only by embracing what is in everyone's collective interest, including quality health care and education for all, a clean environment, jobs for everyone, etc. By eliminating economic classes and thereby capitalist greed and deception, socialism will create the conditions where public discourse at last will be the highest court of appeal in defining public policy. The most powerful argument, not the self-interest of the most powerful people, will be the determining factor in all decisions.
The first step in this direction is the creation of a labor party, operating entirely on democratic procedures, and dedicated to the principle that the interests of the majority of the members of society should in fact prevail. And this means saying "to hell" with the lesser evil.
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