It was an easy decision. I live in Pennsylvania, which is now, according to all the polls, reliably in the Obama column, with the Democratic candidate holding an insurmountable lead in the polls of 14 percent over Republican John McCain—enough to overcome even the most devious Republican vote suppression techniques and voting machine chicanery.
I was going to vote for Nader because I find Obama to be a seriously flawed candidate. He ran early on an anti-Iraq War platform, saying not that invading Iraq was wrong legally and morally, but that it was “the wrong war.” Since then, he has backed away even from saying he wanted the war ended, opting for a 16-month withdrawal timetable that would have the killing and dying in that sad land going on longer than most wars this nation has fought. He has also called for an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, despite clear evidence that more troops just will make the situation there worse, and has called for an expansion of the US military budget, to increase the size of the Army and Marines, which will only encourage more warmongering, more killing and more waste of precious resources.
Obama also sold us all out by going along with a bill sought by President Bush granting immunity to telecom companies that aided and abetted the illegal and unconstitutional spying on Americans by the National Security Agency—spying that we now know is massive almost beyond our imagination, even including the monitoring of private family conversations of American service personnel in Iraq, of journalists, and almost certainly of Bush administration political “enemies.” By backing that obscene bill, Obama has made it almost impossible for victims of this police-state surveillance campaign to sue and find out what the Bush/Cheney administration has been up to all these years.
In so many ways, Obama has tacked to the middle or even the right, while spouting soaring but empty rhetoric about “change.”
Meanwhile, everything Ralph Nader says makes perfect sense. He has consistently called the Iraq and Afghanistan wars the crimes that they are. He has consistently called for a nationalized health care system, which every other modern nation has long since proven to be a more cost-effective and health-effective way to run a medical system than the failed free-market approach advocated by Obama and the rest of the Establishment political system. He has correctly denounced the economic bailout as welfare for the rich and for the corporate criminals who have been sucking the life out of the US economy for years.
And yet, I think I have to vote of Obama this year.
The reason is partly because I know I would vote for Obama if I lived in Ohio or Indiana, where the race between McCain and Obama is too close to call, and so, to vote for Nader when it is simply safe to do so here in Pennsylvania is really a cop-out.
But even more important, when I see the hate-filled racists and right-wing yahoos braying at McCain and Palin rallies, when I hear people calling for Obama to be killed or lynched, and when I see the rabid hate mail circulating in email inboxes falsely labeling him as a secret Muslim, a terrorist, a Marxist and a black nationalist, I want to see the man resoundingly win this election.
But it’s more than that. I also, perhaps against all logic and experience, admit that I expect something good of an Obama presidency.
Call me naïve, but based upon my own life experience, I keep thinking that a guy who has worked as a community organizer, a Harvard Law School grad (and even law journal editor!) who could have named his price at a Wall Street law firm, but who chose instead to be a political and community activist, a guy who has relatives who live in humble surroundings in Kenya, and who spent some of his childhood actually living in a Third World Asian nation, not to mention a guy who has surely felt the sting of being called a nigger, has to bring something new to the White House. Certainly no other president in the history of the country has come to the office with such a background. That is no small thing.
Sure Obama is no leftist candidate. But if he were, he wouldn’t be heading for an election victory. He wouldn’t even be the Democratic nominee. He’d be, at best, where Dennis Kucinich is—holding a seat in Congress where his every progressive effort would be stymied or mocked or blocked by the House leadership, as was done with his effort to bring serious impeachment charges against President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
The unfortunate reality is that the true left in the US is a joke (many of its purists even mock successful left candidates and political figures like Kucinich, for god’s sake!). Fractured and fractious small groupings have little or no link to the organized labor movement—traditionally the bedrock of any successful left political power. And the labor movement itself is as weak as it has ever been and keeps growing weaker. The left in the US, such as it is, has even less connection with the broad mass of the American public, thanks to years of vile but successful propaganda linking it to Stalin, Mao and Soviet Communism.
I have no illusions about the progressivity of the Democratic Party. Certainly it has its progressive elected officials who have made it into office—people like Kucinich, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Russ Feingold, Rep. Maxine Waters and the like. But clearly, the Democratic Party has shown itself to be in thrall to the moneyed interests on Wall Street and in the corporate suites.
That said, there are important things that could happen—and I stress the word could, not would—if this election were to be won by Obama and by Democrats in the Congress. One of these things is that there will be new Supreme Court justices named over the next four years. Some will inevitably replace some of the aging “liberals” on the bench (some of whom have not always been so liberal on economic issues). Some could also replace current conservative justices (Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, both obese men, don’t look terribly healthy to me, Justice Kennedy is getting on in years, and even Chief Justice Roberts, while looking hale, has a problem with epilepsy or some other ailment that has caused him to collapse in a frothing fit of unconscious on occasion).
Also important is legislation to make it less of an obstacle course for workers to win union representation and labor contracts on the job. A major reason that unions have shrunk from over 30 percent of the workforce in the 1950s to just 9 percent of the private workforce (and 13 percent of all workplaces, public and private) today, is that labor law has been whittled away and turned to management’s advantage to such an extent that it is almost impossible now to win a union election. Employers who break labor laws suffer no penalty even when found guilty, and workers who are unfairly fired for union activity can hope, at best, if they are lucky, to win reinstatement and back pay after fighting for years. Most just give up.
If a Democratic Congress passed new labor legislation and a President Obama signed them into law, as he has promised to do, and if new pro-labor officials were appointed to the national, regional and local labor relations boards that adjudicate labor issues, we could see a genuine revival of the labor movement in America with consequences for workers’ lives, and for the political system that would be far reaching and profound—and that could even pave the way for a resurgence of a left/labor political movement.
Finally, with respect to war and militarism, I tend not to take Obama’s campaign-trail warmongering seriously. Given the man’s background, I am confident that he is not a militarist by nature. It may be politically opportunistic for him to try during this campaign to out-tough McCain on Afghanistan while calling for a wind-down of the war in Iraq, but it would be a disaster for him to pursue a wider war in Afghanistan after taking office, ensuring that his presidency, like Bush’s, Lyndon Johnson’s and Richard Nixon’s before him, would be dragged down by an endless bloody conflict.
A President Obama will have his hands full trying to deal with an unprecedented financial fiasco, and will want the wars off his plate as quickly as possible. Maybe I’m being a Pollyanna, but I simply can’t see a smart guy—and Obama is a smart guy—getting dragged into another quagmire.
Besides, I have a darker vision, which is that the crisis of global warming, so long denied by the Bush administration, is going to make itself felt soon in ways that will be impossible to ignore, and which will demand a crisis response. For example, consider the vast reservoirs of methane locked under the Siberian and North American permafrost and under the Arctic Ocean that are beginning to percolate into the air. As the ice leaves land and sea, that methane, 23 times as potent a warming gas as is CO2, will begin to pour out into the atmosphere, causing a raging cycle of heating. Obama, I believe, will be the right person at the right time, to lead whatever response will be necessary for this or whatever other climate catastrophes begin to hit.
And that brings me to the final reason I am voting for Obama. As crazy as John McCain clearly is, with his default setting on war as a solution for all problems, this sickly and possibly terminally ill old man has chosen to have a certifiable right-wing, closed-minded, bigoted and stunningly ignorant religious zealot as his back-up. Sarah Palin, as vice president, would in all probability end up becoming president during a McCain first term.
This country and the world simply cannot risk having as the leader of America an end-of-times believer at this critical moment. It’s not just the polar bears and the wolves in Alaska who would suffer under a Palin presidency. It would be all life on earth.
About the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar, and the co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of a well-regarded book on impeachment, The Case for Impeachment. His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
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