[Signaled by his aides, the president brings the interview to a close and leaves the Oval Office. A moment later, however, he returns to the office and says that he has one more thing to add. He speaks with intensity and passion, repeatedly stabbing the air with his finger.]As I said in comments yesterday, I regard the vote-for-any-Democrat-to-keep-a-Republican-out-of-office position as a legitimate and perfectly understandable position. I've frequently voted on that basis myself, especially when the only other alternative was not voting, because there were no candidates further left of the Dems on my voting ticket.
One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we've got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.
The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.
Everybody out there has to be thinking about what's at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade. If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we'd better fight in this election. And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money's coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.
We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that's what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we've got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place.
If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up.
But I also regard as a legitimate and perfectly understandable position the reluctance to vote affirmatively for candidates and/or policies that one cannot endorse in good conscience. And the president of a democracy should recognize that, too.
It's Glenn Greenwald's principled opposition to the Obama administration's national security and civil liberties policies that gets the attention and respect, but, of course, that is not the only principled reason a progressive voter might feel unable to make the "perfectly logical calculation" to cast a vote for the Democratic party when that vote implicitly endorses an agenda inconsistent with one's own dignity and autonomy.
That feminists/womanists and queer activists are not regarded (or even discussed) as having a legitimate reason to feel alienated, demoralized, and conflicted about casting an affirmative vote for a party that has failed utterly to protect and/or extend their basic civil rights, underlines the very marginalization that creates disaffection in the first place.
Every election, that snake eats its own tail again. And 'round and 'round we go.
But this time, we've also got the president himself jumping into the fray to make noise about "what's at stake." As if we don't know.
Our "lack of enthusiasm" is "irresponsible," he admonishes us: "Everybody out there has to be thinking about what's at stake in this election."
Well, Mr. President, what if thinking about what's at stake in this election is exactly the cause of one's lack of enthusiasm? What do you recommend to the people whose very bodies and lives are still treated as bargaining chips by your administration and your party? How much do you think "the other guys are even worse" really matters when your "better" alternative is failing to defend and champion equality (and fail even to react to encroachments on our rights) instead of actively opposing it?
That's the sort of distinction that makes a difference to people whose own lives aren't affected by the Democrats' disinterest. Someone who isn't personally invested in the legalization of same-sex marriage might appreciate the philosophical difference between a party who endorses codifying discrimination into the Constitution and a party who merely declines to pursue equality because it's not politically expedient right now. But to someone who's not allowed at their dying partner's bedside because they're not "family," that's a distinction without a meaningful difference.
Either way, they're standing out in the hall like a second-class fucking citizen.
And the people who tell us to vote for the Democrats because the other guys are worse are frequently people who have never had to stand in a voting booth and cast a vote for someone who they know is likely to treat their bodies and/or lives as a point of compromise.
Even when you know the other guys are worse, that shit ain't easy to do.
And progressives/Democrats really need to stop pretending like it is.
The president frames our disillusionment as "standing on the sidelines" and "sitting on their hands complaining" and "taking their ball and go home," which he says "tells me folks weren't serious in the first place." Which is as clueless as it is insulting (and it is extremely insulting). It's also a fine bit of projection.
It isn't feminists/womanists and queer activists who are standing on the sidelines and sitting on their hands complaining: It's the Democrats—who have opportunities to stop Roe from being rendered an impotent statute, and opportunities to be allies to the LGBTQI community, but choose not to take them. (Even when 75% of the population supports equality.) And then complaining about people who aren't axiomatically inclined to support them, forgiving for the second, fifth, tenth, twentieth election in their lives the alleged necessity to have "played politics" with their identities and rights.
There is indeed someone who wasn't serious in the first place, but it ain't us.