Material World: USA: Supporting The “Lesser Evil”

Many “anti-capitalist” personalities urge people to support one of the two main capitalist parties, the Democrats, on the grounds that they are a “lesser evil” compared with the Republicans. One example is film maker Michael Moore (see March issue, p. 10). Another is Paul Street, who has written two useful exposés of Obama – Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (2009) and The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (2010) (both from Paradigm Publishers). Although Street calls himself a libertarian socialist, he campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

What they say versus what they do
How much less evil, then, are the Democrats?

A mistake that voters often make, especially during election campaigns, is to compare what the Republicans say and do with what the Democrats say. The relevant comparison is with what the Democrats do. The trouble is that when the Democrats have been out of office for a few years most voters no longer remember what they do. But those familiar with the record of the Clinton administration in the 1990s, for instance, or with Obama’s record as a congressman, might have noticed that between what the Democrats say and what they do yawns a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon.
In stump speeches in the mid-West, candidate Obama thundered against regional companies such as Maytag and Exelon. And yet these same companies, justifiably confident that he would do nothing to harm their interests, made large financial contributions to his campaign. Speaking before audiences of workers, Obama would denounce Maytag’s decision in 2004 to close the refrigerator plant in Galesburg, Illinois, entailing the loss of 1,600 jobs to Mexico. But he never raised the issue with Maytag directors Henry and Lester Crown, even though he enjoyed a “special relationship” with them.

Differences that make no difference
Many of the “differences” between Bush and Obama (or between McCain and Obama) make no difference. Or very little.

Obama initially opposed Bush’s military intervention in Iraq – hastening to add that he was not against all wars, God forbid, but only against “dumb” ones. Before leaving office, Bush initiated a gradual and partial withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Obama is pursuing the same course, breaking an earlier promise of rapid and complete withdrawal.

Bush was heading toward war with Iran. Obama is not. Probably. Hopefully. True, he did back off from his promise to meet with Iranian leaders. Commentator Steve Clemons informs us that “while there are individuals in the Obama administration who are flirting with the possibility of military action against Iran, they are fewer in number than existed in the Bush administration” (The Huffington Post, July 23, 2010). How’s that for reassurance?

At least there seemed, before the election, to be a clear-cut difference on the issue of offshore oil. How many people must have voted for Obama in horrified response to the exultant cry of John McCain and Sarah Palin: “Drill, baby, drill!” But in March 2010 Obama broke his campaign pledge and gave the go-ahead to offshore operations. The next month an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Another rig caught fire in September.

Obama won trade union support by promising a new law to facilitate union organizing – the Employee Free Choice Act. He also said he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to include stronger labour and environmental protections. We have heard nothing more of these things. Obama, we are told, does not want to look “pro-labour.”

And so the sad litany continues.

A political cycle
I do not mean to deny that in some ways or in some situations it may be better to have a Democrat rather than a Republican in the White House. For instance, isn’t it worthwhile just to reduce, even if not eliminate, the probability of an attack on Iran?
For the sake of argument, let us suppose that the Democrats are a significantly lesser evil. In that case, helping them into office does ward off a greater evil. But only in the short term. For once in office, Democrats come under irresistible pressure from their capitalist masters to break their “populist” promises, to disappoint, disillusion and betray the working people who placed their trust and hope in them. Some sink back into apathy and despair, while others fall prey to a racist or fascist backlash. These reactions give the Republicans their chance to return.
This is a recognizable political cycle. We have been through it before. Over and over again. Not only in the United States but (with variations of detail) in many other countries. Those who support the lesser evil play an essential role in constantly reproducing the cycle. They share the responsibility for its persistence. Support for the lesser evil also entails support – indirect and delayed, but support nonetheless – for the greater evil.

The difference that matters
For us as earthlings, the difference that matters is that between socialism and capitalism. Will we continue on our present course to the irreversible destruction of our home world? Or will we make the fundamental change needed to give us a decent chance of survival?
From this perspective, the differences between “greater” and “lesser” evils do not matter. Some capitalist politicians are totally subservient to the oil, gas, and coal corporations and recklessly oblivious to the looming danger. In their hands we are doomed. Other capitalist politicians are a little less subservient, show a limited awareness of the situation, and try to do something to mitigate it. Something, but much less than is absolutely essential. In their hands we are still doomed.
Pass or fail. The “lesser evil” is simply not good enough.

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