Daniel Ellsberg: Defeat Romney, Without Illusions about Obama
By Daniel Ellsberg / commondreams.org

It is urgently important to prevent a Republican administration under Romney/Ryan from taking office in January 2013.

The election is now just weeks away, and I want to urge those whose values are generally in line with mine -- progressives, especially activists -- to make this goal one of your priorities during this period.

Romney and Obama exchange fingers in Tuesday night's debate. (Reuters)An activist colleague recently said to me: “I hear you’re supporting Obama.”

I was startled, and took offense. “Supporting Obama?  Me?!”

“I lose no opportunity publicly,” I told him angrily, to identify Obama as a tool of Wall Street, a man who’s decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who’s launched an unconstitutional war, supports kidnapping and indefinite detention without trial, and has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together. “Would you call that support?

My friend said, “But on Democracy Now you urged people in swing states to vote for him!  How could you say that?  I don’t live in a swing state, but I will not and could not vote for Obama under any circumstances.”

My answer was: a Romney/Ryan administration would be no better -- no different -- on any of the serious offenses I just mentioned or anything else, and it would be much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of other important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.

I told him: “I don’t ‘support Obama.’ I oppose the current Republican Party.  This is not a contest between Barack Obama and a progressive candidate. The voters in a handful or a dozen close-fought swing states are going to determine whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to wield great political power for four, maybe eight years, or not.

As Noam Chomsky said recently, “The Republican organization today is extremely dangerous, not just to this country, but to the world. It’s worth expending some effort to prevent their rise to power, without sowing illusions about the Democratic alternatives.”

Following that logic, he’s said to an interviewer what my friend heard me say to Amy Goodman: “If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney/Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice.”

The election is at this moment a toss-up.  That means this is one of the uncommon occasions when we progressives -- a small minority of the electorate -- could actually have a significant influence on the outcome of a national election, swinging it one way or the other.

The only way for progressives and Democrats to block Romney from office, at this date, is to persuade enough people in swing states to vote for Obama: not stay home, or vote for someone else.  And that has to include, in those states, progressives and disillusioned liberals who are at this moment inclined not to vote at all or to vote for a third-party candidate (because like me they’ve been not just disappointed but disgusted and enraged by much of what Obama has done in the last four years and will probably keep doing).

They have to be persuaded to vote, and to vote in a battleground state for Obama not anyone else, despite the terrible flaws of the less-bad candidate, the incumbent. That’s not easy.  As I see it, that’s precisely the “effort” Noam is referring to as worth expending right now to prevent the Republicans’ rise to power.  And it will take progressives -- some of you reading this, I hope -- to make that effort of persuasion effectively.

The traditional third-party mantra, “There’s no significant difference between the major parties” amounts to saying: The Republicans are no worse, overall.”  And that’s absurd.  It constitutes shameless apologetics for the Republicans, however unintended.  It’s crazily divorced from present reality.

It will take someone these disheartened progressives and liberals will listen to.  Someone manifestly without illusions about the Democrats, someone who sees what they see when they look at the president these days: but who can also see through candidates Romney or Ryan on the split-screen, and keep their real, disastrous policies in focus.

It’s true that the differences between the major parties are not nearly as large as they and their candidates claim, let alone what we would want.  It’s even fair to use Gore Vidal’s metaphor that they form two wings (“two right wings” as some have put it) of a single party, the Property or Plutocracy Party, or as Justin Raimondo says, the War Party.

Still, the political reality is that there are two distinguishable wings, and one is reliably even worse than the other, currently much worse overallTo be in denial or to act in neglect of that reality serves only the possibly imminent, yet presently avoidable, victory of the worse.

The traditional third-party mantra, “There’s no significant difference between the major parties” amounts to saying: The Republicans are no worse, overall.”  And that’s absurd.  It constitutes shameless apologetics for the Republicans, however unintended.  It’s crazily divorced from present reality.

And it’s not at all harmless to be propagating that absurd falsehood.  It has the effect of encouraging progressives even in battleground states to refrain from voting or to vote in a close election for someone other than Obama, and more importantly, to influence others to act likewise.  That’s an effect that serves no one but the Republicans, and ultimately the 1%.

It’s not merely understandable, it’s entirely appropriate to be enraged at Barack Obama.  As I am.  He has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or “disappointingly.”  If impeachment were politically imaginable on constitutional grounds, he’s earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors!)  It is entirely human to want to punish him, not to “reward” him with another term or a vote that might be taken to express trust, hope or approval.

But rage is not generally conducive to clear thinking.  And it often gets worked out against innocent victims, as would be the case here domestically, if refusals to vote for him resulted in Romney’s taking key battleground states that decide the outcome of this election.

To punish Obama in this particular way, on Election Day -- by depriving him of votes in swing states and hence of office in favor of Romney and Ryan -- would punish most of all the poor and marginal in society, and workers and middle class as well: not only in the U.S. but worldwide in terms of the economy (I believe the Republicans could still convert this recession to a Great Depression), the environment and climate change. It could well lead to war with Iran (which Obama has been creditably resisting, against pressure from within his own party).  And it would spell, via Supreme Court appointments, the end of Roe v. Wade and of the occasional five to four decisions in favor of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The reelection of Barack Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law.  That’s for us and the rest of the people to bring about after this election and in the rest of our lives -- through organizing, building movements and agitating.

The reelection of Barack Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law.  That’s for us and the rest of the people to bring about after this election and in the rest of our lives -- through organizing, building movements and agitating.

In the eight to twelve close-fought states -- especially Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, but also Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin -- for any progressive to encourage fellow progressives and others in those states to vote for a third-party candidate is, I would say, to be complicit in facilitating the election of Romney and Ryan, with all its consequences.

To think of that as urging people in swing states to “vote their conscience” is, I believe, dangerously misleading advice. I would say to a progressive that if your conscience tells you on Election Day to vote for someone other than Obama in a battleground state, you need a second opinion. Your conscience is giving you bad counsel.

I often quote a line by Thoreau that had great impact for me: “Cast your whole vote: not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.”  He was referring, in that essay, to civil disobedience, or as he titled it himself, “Resistance to Civil Authority.”

It still means that to me. But this is a year when for people who think like me -- and who, unlike me, live in battleground states -- casting a strip of paper is also important. Using your whole influence this month to get others to do that, to best effect, is even more important.

That means for progressives in the next couple of weeks -- in addition to the rallies, demonstrations, petitions, lobbying (largely against policies or prospective policies of President Obama, including austerity budgeting next month), movement-building and civil disobedience that are needed all year round and every year -- using one’s voice and one’s e-mails and op-eds and social media to encourage citizens in swing states to vote against a Romney victory by voting for the only real alternative, Barack Obama.

To read and distribute a proposal from RootsAction.org for strategic voting for president, click here.

Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg was put on trial in 1973 for leaking the Pentagon Papers, but the case was dismissed after four months because of government misconduct. He is the author of "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

3.0 ·
2
What's Next
Trending Today
10 Provocative Quotes from Ivan Illich's "Deschooling Society"
Daniel Lattier · 14,899 views today · Ivan Illich’s groundbreaking book Deschooling Society (1971) offers a radical critique of the institutionalization of education within modern societies. Illich believed that we...
11 Traits of People With High Emotional Intelligence
Raven Fon · 10,028 views today · Lately, new ways to describe human interactions, social behaviours, and many facets of psychology have emerged on the social network scene. One of those descriptions is “high...
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 6,998 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
Superblocks: How Barcelona Is Taking City Streets Back From Cars
5 min · 6,065 views today · Modern cities are designed for cars. But the city of Barcelona is testing out an urban design trick that can give cities back to pedestrians.
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 5,835 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 5,111 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots
Ilze Peterson · 4,512 views today · Many years ago, the late Judy Guay, a low-income woman from Bangor, founded the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods in order to advocate for the neediest in our...
Fighting Trump - Residents Opposing Donald Trump's Scottish Golf Resort
14 min · 4,058 views today · Documentary on the residents protesting against Donald Trump's golf development on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Directed and Presented by James Trosh.
How a Trump Presidency Would Unleash a Torrent of Racist Violence-And Devastate the Left
Arun Gupta · 3,477 views today · The Left should take the Trump threat very seriously.
Doctors Response to Daily Mail Bigotry is Beautiful
Neil Tiwari · 3,120 views today · A poetic open letter to the Daily Mail newspaper from Dr. Neil Tiwari, in response to a bigoted attack on his colleagues, is going viral and it's beautiful.
Throw (2016)
10 min · 2,997 views today · The first installment of Invisible Thread, an ongoing ELM passion project series, Throw tells the story of an outsider from East Baltimore, an area challenged by gang violence...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 2,982 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Forest Man
16 min · 2,696 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
Maya Angelou's 3-Word Secret to Living Your Best Life
3 min · 2,641 views today · Dr. Maya Angelou says that in order to be the best human being you can be, you must follow one simple directive: "Just do right." Watch as Dr. Angelou reveals how you can never...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 2,004 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
93 Documentaries to Expand Your Consciousness
Films For Action · 1,787 views today · There are over 800 documentaries now cataloged in our library of social change films. That's probably way too many for any mortal to ever watch in a lifetime, let alone a few...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 1,674 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 1,404 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 1,273 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 1,207 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Daniel Ellsberg: Defeat Romney, Without Illusions about Obama