Election Day, not Independence Day (Op-Ed)
Tuesday marks the 57th time we Americans have gone to the polls to elect a president of the United States. Of the 57 occasions, however, only rarely have elections occurred during times of revolution. So what options do we have?
Four years ago, I was one of the millions of Americans who were fooled into thinking Barack Obama was a revolutionary.I believed it so much that I quit my job cutting produce at a co-op, left Tallahassee, Florida, in September of 2008 with all my stuff packed into a U-Haul and drove north to Washington, DC, to join the “revolution.” In two days I found a basement to live in, took a job working for a Democrat in the House, and settled in just in time to catch the first presidential debate.We all needed revolution that election year. Not in the violent sense, but in the American sense – through our democratic institutions.All of us knew something had gone terribly wrong in the nation.I hadn’t worked on the Hill for more than a few days when the first TARP vote was thrown on the floor of the House of Representatives where it was swiftly voted down, prompting financial markets to nosedive and a clearly overwhelmed George W. Bush to hobble out of his White House bunker to plead with Congress to reconsider.The economy was collapsing.Combine that with the two violent and costly wars raging in the Middle East, record levels of wealth inequality, and a healthcare system that was killing off 45,000 Americans every year, the nation clearly was in need of a revolution. We needed a revolutionary president like Teddy Roosevelt, who dismantled the Robber Baron Era and put corporate power back under the subservience of our democracy. We needed a revolutionary like FDR who renegotiated the contract between working people and their government with the New Deal, which shaved the edges off capitalism and re-instilled faith in democratic solutions. We needed a revolutionary like Kennedy who had a vision for an America that was more inclusive to all and lived in peace.Yes, all these men had flaws, but they all understood the historical moment and the need to move the nation in a new direction with a new generation coming to power. They all understood what Thomas Jefferson meant about periodic revolutions being necessary for self-government.Even Reagan was a revolutionary in how he fundamentally changed the arc of American history. In fact, it was his revolution that the millions of us “revolutionaries” were trying to overturn in that fall of 2008 when we took to the polls on Election Day and voted for Barack Obama.
Two peas in a pod?Fast-forward four years later to today. I don’t work on Capitol Hill anymore, which has just recorded its lowest approval rating ever, yet the majority of its members will get re-elected this Election Day.And I, like a lot of the rest of us, accept the fact that we were fooled. Barack Obama wasn’t a revolutionary. He was a politician – a moderate one at that.But revolution – now manifested in places like Madison and Zuccotti Park – is still in the air just like it was four years ago. And this Election Day, with the wars expanded and the bankers rolling in cash and our civil liberties disappearing one-by-one, Barack Obama the moderate wants our vote.And the guy he’s running against is Mitt Romney – the living embodiment of this corporate force that has seized control of our government and economy since the Reagan revolution and administered rapid redistribution of wealth to the top 1 per cent, thus driving the need for revolution.It’s that same corporate force that’s afflicting the eurozone with austerity and technocratic coups d’etat. It’s that same corporate force that’s brought sweatshops and seed-patented globalization horrors to the third world. It’s that same corporate force that’s expanding empire and driving our military machine toward the regions where cheap oil is plentiful.
On this Election Day we Americans have a choice between one of two candidates. We have a man who has sided with corporations over working people at nearly every opportunity, has overseen mass shipments of American jobs to low-wage foreign nations, and supports drone warfare, which according to at least one U.N. official could be a war crime. And on the other hand, we have Mitt Romney.I know. I know. But, on the eve of the election, we need to accept an inconvenient truth: We’ve failed to muster up the sort of grassroots movements needed nationwide to elect a revolutionary candidate to the White House who will stop the corporatists and their wars and their fraud.There were glimmers of hope with Occupy. But ultimately, there is not nearly enough action in the streets, in the media, and in political circles to catapult a third-party revolutionary candidate like Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson to the presidency.They will not win this year. And everyone knows it. Let’s face up to it.Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be our next president. That’s the reality. And when it comes to the corporate outsourcing of our economy, the two-tiered justice system, drone war, the NDAA’s indefinite detention provision, the growing surveillance state, the Justice Department’s war on whistleblowers, the plight of Bradley Manning, habeas corpus, TSA porno scanners – those policies that the establishment Left want us to ignore and that the far Left and the far Right wave around as bloody rags – neither Obama nor Romney are the men who will undo any of these grotesque policies.
Why bother?So then what’s the point of our vote this Election Day?Frankly, to save the lives of tens of millions of Americans. This is strictly a self-defense vote against the Republican Party.Mitt Romney has no core, but he serves a political party that understands how high the stakes are in America right now. It’s a political party that knows it’s on the verge of devouring the last remnants of the New Deal Era, crushing organized labor for good, repealing a woman’s right to choose, and ultimately, finishing the job Bush started, which is to rebuild the entire Middle East with US-friendly governments.Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan wrote legislation to hand Medicare over to the whims of the for-profit health industry and Ryan previously supported measures to turn Social Security over to Wall Street. This alone could have a drastic effect on millions of our fellow citizens.
The Republican Party knows it’s tantalizingly close to appointing just one more Supreme Court Justice to overturn Roe v. Wade and immediately outlaw a woman’s right to choose. A Romney presidency would also seal the Conservative advantage on the High Court for at least another generation.The same war team compiled by George W. Bush is now working for Mitt Romney. If you don’t trust Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta with drones and Sec. 1021, just imagine what a Secretary of Defense like John Bolton would do with that power.When it comes to spending priorities and deficit reduction, there are still significant differences between the two parties. Budgeting is not just numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s life or death for millions of Americans who depend on public health insurance programs like Medicaid and Medicare, and who depend on social safety nets like unemployment insurance and food stamps. All of these programs will be on the chopping block during a Mitt Romney presidency while fat cats on Wall Street, war profiteers in Virginia, and oil barons in Texas get more tax breaks, welfare, and lucrative government contracts.While corporate money has limited the debate and taken the big issues off the table, there are still differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney that we can’t ignore. Yes, the two parties are by and large one in the same. But when it comes to those issues mentioned above, they haven’t been this far apart..This is why – for the sake of our fellow Americans – a self-defense vote is required on Election Day.
A self-defense vote against the corporate state and its prodigal son the Republican Party to hold it at bay just a little longer until our revolutionary movements can materialize. To stop it from devouring the critical lifelines to the old, the young, the poor and the working class. To stop it from launching another war that will further kill and maim thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Muslims. To stop it from fostering another decade of climate change denial in America.We cannot address the big problems by voting on Election Day. But we can prevent the suffering of tens of millions of people by just keeping the destructive forces of the corporate elite at bay for just a little bit longer.Not exactly Che…more like a corporatist sentinelBarack Obama is no revolutionary. But he will adequately stand as a guard against the assault on Medicare and Social Security. He will adequately guard a woman’s right to choose. He will adequately guard reforms on health insurance companies. He will adequately guard his investments in green energy – the largest of any president in history. He will adequately guard against institutionalized Islamophobia. And he will adequately guard against a radical right-wing Supreme Court.It’s true, Barack Obama is a corporatist. Matt Stoller at Salon has exhaustively detailed the president’s corporatist rap sheet. However, I disagree with Stoller’s conclusion that Americans should take a “practice vote” for a third party candidate to prepare ourselves for crisis moments in the future.Crisis moments are here now and we can’t afford “practice votes.” We must now, during these times of tumult, vote in self-defense while we build mass movements to win the fight outside the ballot box.We should want our friends, family, fellow citizens to see an America that’s free from these destructive forces. Believing we can somehow end the drone wars with our vote on this Election Day is like marching the nation’s poor, sick, and elderly off to be mowed down by the corporate state’s profit motive. Is a principled vote worth it knowing you are putting millions at risk?
Now is not the time for principled votes. Now is the time for self-defense in the ballot box and organization in the streets. Yes, Obama is the lesser of two evils. But in this case, the lesser of two evils is tens of millions of people. Can we really write that off?This is what Noam Chomsky was getting at when he said, “Between the two choices that are presented, there is I think some significant differences…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.”Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg echoed those sentiments.These men are revolutionaries – and they get it. Along the political fringes, where I like to spend most of my time, it’s considered dogma that a vote for one of the two parties is a wasted vote that will only perpetuate the two-party corporate duopoly.They’re right, but only if we go to the polls thinking we can win a revolution at the ballot box like we all thought in 2008. Grassroots, not polling stationsRevolutions are never won at the ballot box.They are won first in the streets and in the culture, and then in the media, then in the communities, and then – hopefully – at the ballot box. Go all the way back to each and every revolutionary movement in the 20th century – the Progressive Revolution, The New Deal Revolution, The Civil Rights Revolution – all were started with strikes, occupations, marches, muckraking, #shitkicking.They all were dependent first on movements – never on presidents.In fact, as Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges – an observer of numerous revolutions abroad – explains, those revolutionary movements rarely ever attain formal political power. But once formed, those who do attain formal political power can’t ignore them.
Elected politicians don’t lead revolutionary movements; they obey them. And out of that obedience eventually comes revolutionary legislation to change the United States fundamentally going forward. That’s how it works and that’s how it should work. It should be hard.The good news is some of our most revolutionary moments in recent history have occurred under the Obama Administration, including the re-energizing of the labor movement in Wisconsin and Ohio and the birth of Occupy. We don’t need to hit bottom to foment a revolution. We are doing it right now.Expediency no cause for jubilationOn this Election Day, we should not walk out of the voting booth donning our “I voted” stickers. We shouldn’t wave American flags. This is a somber election. Never have we been more alone inside a ballot box.We should not be proud of re-electing President Obama. I have a lot of self-loathing even trying to justify it. But it’s simply what needs to be done. And afterward, we can wash our hands and get in the streets building the real movements that will topple the corporatists. Those movements that will force Barack Obama to be the revolutionary we need him to be, renew American independence, and reorient the United States toward progress.
Sam Sacks, RT
Sam Sacks is a progressive commentator and former Democratic Staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a Senior Producer for RT's The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann and contributor to Truthout.org and Alternet.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @SamSacks.