Having spent the past several years trying to end wars and militarism, I have just voted for a presidential candidate who seems intent on expanding them.
Having won the Democratic primary largely on the strength of his extremely limited and inconsistent opposition to the war on Iraq, Senator Barack Obama chose as his running mate Senator Joe Biden, a man who had led efforts in the U.S. Senate to support the invasion. Obama’s staff have told reporters that he is inclined to keep Robert Gates on as Secretary of War (or “Defense”) — exactly the same plan proposed by Senator John McCain’s campaign. Obama has said he’d like Colin Powell to be a part of his administration, and repeatedly announced that his cabinet will include Republicans. Obama has approached Congressman Rahm Emanuel about becoming his chief of staff.
As much as any other move, hiring Emanuel would guarantee a war-minded White House. Not only has Emanuel funded pro-war candidates and recruited opponents for pro-peace candidates, but he orchestrated the pro-war strategy of the 110th Congress. In January 2007, as the new Congress took office with the clearest anti-war mandate in national history, Emanuel spoke to the Washington Post, which reported:
“For the rest of the year, Emanuel says, the leadership hopes to stress energy independence (with fuel-saving efficiency standards for appliances and cars) and a move toward better health care for children. And here’s what Emanuel doesn’t want to do: fall into the political trap of chasing overambitious or potentially unpopular measures. Ask about universal health care, and he shakes his head… Reform of Social Security and other entitlements? Too big, too woolly, too risky… The country is angry, and it will only get more so as the problems in Iraq deepen. Don’t look to Emanuel’s Democrats for solutions on Iraq. It’s Bush’s war, and as it splinters the structure of GOP power, the Democrats are waiting to pick up the pieces.”
For two full years, Emanuel’s Democrats pretended that ending the war on Iraq would require passing legislation, when in truth they could have simply stopped funding it. Their pretense that legislation was needed, allowed them to blame the war on Republican senators’ filibuster power. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and 1,186 American soldiers, thus far, have paid with their lives for that decision. Iraq has been used as a staging ground for attacks on Pakistan and Syria and proxy attacks on Iran. If Emanuel smells electoral advantage in spilling more blood, more blood will be spilled. Obama’s commitment to de-escalation in Iraq is questionable, and his commitment to complete withdrawal nonexistent. He has supported the sort of attacks we’ve now seen on Pakistan and Syria. He just told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC that he wants more troops in Afghanistan and wants them there for a long, long time. Three times in three debates McCain proposed cutting military spending and Obama avoided the topic. Obama has proposed significantly enlarging the largest army the world has ever seen. Obama has refused to forswear the use of aggressive war or even first-strike nuclear attacks, or to uphold the rule of law. He claims that Bush and Cheney have not committed any crimes that he is aware of.
So why did I vote for this man?
My first reason is that, as hideous as the above description is, as outrageous as it may be that our nation has drifted so far into imperialism that the candidate described above counts as the people’s opposition leader, the only other candidate who might become president next year is significantly worse, and his running mate (who might easily become president) is worse still. McCain and Governor Sarah Palin support racism, religious bigotry, xenophobia, aggressive war, torture, and absolutely no respect for the rule of law or democracy. Some of their lies about Obama depict him as something I wish he were, such as a socialist. Others baselessly accuse him of treason and terrorism, or lie about his religion and background in order to breed both general bigotry and hatred of Obama in particular. What would it say to the world, to our nation, and to future voters to allow such tactics to prevail? The McCain campaign has openly sought to suppress voting, and we have already seen strong indications of fraud from electronic voting machines. I dread the damage that would be done if such tactics were permitted, once again, to win out. While Obama is a politician willing to countenance murderous policies if he thinks they are needed to win, McPalin’s loyalty is to militarism even if it costs them votes. This means that we might be able to persuade Obama of the electoral advantage of peaceful policies, while McCain would take pride even in imperialistic policies that proved disastrous on their own terms, and I’m not sure the world can survive much more of that. Obama is also far superior to McCain on a wide range of other issues, including the right to build a labor movement, which might help us in the future.
My second reason is that I live in Virginia. Virginia is a swing state, now predicted to probably vote for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since the 1964 landslide for Lyndon Johnson. I don’t approve of the electoral college system, and I want it eliminated, but I can’t pretend I’m not voting within it this year. Every electoral vote from Virginia will go to Obama or McCain and nobody else. It’s always possible to argue that one vote doesn’t matter, just as it’s possible to argue that even in a safe state every vote matters. But my vote matters more in Virginia this year, and this is the first time in my lifetime that I’ve lived in a state where anybody had any doubt about the presidential election outcome. Of course, to make my vote matter more, I am encouraging my fellow Virginians to do the same. While it can be argued that Virginia is now solidly for Obama, that could change or be fraudulently altered, and the single best way to prevent that is for everyone to turn out and vote. It can also be argued that Virginia is no longer even needed, that Obama has this thing wrapped up without Virginia, but the impact of backing a Democrat for president would be very beneficial to politics within the state of Virginia regardless.
(A note to Virginians: In Virginia, up through the Saturday before the election, you can vote “absentee” in person. Unlike some states, in Virginia you have to have an excuse, but there is a long list of possible excuses on the form. I didn’t think I had any of the excuses, but they told me that having a 2-year-old at home counted and could be filled in under the work-or-vacation excuse. There is an option to vote early with no excuse if you vote for only the presidential race; I strongly advise against that, because the House and Senate races need your vote as much as the presidential (well, at least some of the House races, since Virginia’s senate race is a blow out). Where I voted, they asked if I wanted to vote on paper or on a machine. Of course, I voted on paper, which can be recounted by hand if need be and if requested by a candidate. Had I waited until election day, I would only have had the option of voting on a completely unverifiable machine, an option that a majority of early voters were — rather disconcertingly — choosing where I went to vote.)
My third reason for voting for Obama is that I want a landslide. I want Obama to win overwhelmingly. I want the Republican Party put out of business. If you want to build a new party, what better breakthrough could you ask for than eliminating the Republican Party? That process will be well underway if the Democrats win the House and Senate seats that optimists predict, and if the presidential election is a popular and electoral landslide. I want that landslide understood as a landslide for peace and against Republican war mongering. It can be understood as such despite Obama’s own support for war, because most Americans are unaware of that. In the simplest terms, McCain has been labeled the war candidate and Obama the peace candidate. We can better seize on that and compel Obama to actually be a peace president if he wins overwhelmingly. I understand that Bush claimed a mandate on the basis of the narrowest conceivable (and not even true) victory, but his supporters control the media. To claim a mandate, Obama needs a landslide. And if the Democrats take large majorities in both houses, including 60 or more senate seats (possibly including one or two independents caucusing with the Democrats), then Emanuel’s excuse strategy evaporates. If the majority of Americans demand something, the Democrats will have to either deliver or admit to not being democrats with a small d. If Obama does not win a landslide over McCain, I will be ashamed to show my face abroad; I want this as a message to the world.
The fourth and most important reason I voted for Obama is that I consider voting a very, very small part of my duty as a citizen in a democratic republic. What our government does during the next two or four or eight years is largely a function of what we do, not just of whom we elect. It is important that we have Obama who can conceivably be moved toward peace rather than McCain who cannot, but in taking three minutes away from fulltime lobbying and pressuring and educating and reporting in order to vote for Obama I am not glorifying his entire platform and worldview as my own. I am simply stating that I would rather see him in the White House than McCain. I would also rather see the seat of power moved from the White House back to Capitol Hill, where the Constitution put it, and I will work toward that end. I also think that the question of whether we prosecute Bush and Cheney for their crimes will determine far more than any election the behavior of future presidents. Get out there and vote, but remember how easy it is to do things that are far more important on the other 729 days every two years.