Pragmatism or principle: Dilemma on the ballot
Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson shocked political observers when he endorsed former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for the Republican presidential nomination. The religious right has struggled to find an acceptable candidate during the brutally long 2008 presidential race, and a group of evangelical leaders has pledged to support a third-party candidate if Giuliani earns the Republican nod next year (“Giuliani Inspires Threat of a Third Party Run,” New York Times, Oct. 1). The motivation for Robertson and other Christian conservatives who have warmed up to Giuliani are obvious: They think he can defeat Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the general election.
It comes as no surprise that the prospect of winning has led these evangelical leaders to jettison their trumpeted values. Nevermind that they have a much more palatable candidate in former governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas; he has less money and less media exposure than the twice-divorced, pro-choice, gay-rights advocate from Brooklyn. This lesser-of-two-evils logic is tempting. I want to end the corrupt and lawless policies of the Bush Administration, which the GOP front-runners promise to continue if elected. Shouldn’t I knuckle down and support Clinton? She has the best chance of keeping them out of the White House. This logic fails to persuade me, for several reasons. Like the far-right Christians who balk at endorsing Giuliani, I am more committed to my ideals than to putting the right letter next to the president’s name.
My main objection to Clinton in particular is that, despite her rhetoric about change, she represents a continuation of the status quo. This is a woman who voted for the Iraq War and continues to defend it before audiences. She has garnered a tremendous amount of campaign cash from traditional corporate sources, including some notorious criminals. Like her husband, she is much closer to the neo-liberal consensus on free trade than her Democratic base, asserting that the toothless environmental and labor protections in free-trade agreements are sufficient. Clinton deftly adopted her husband’s strategy of triangulation by appealing to centrist and conservative voters, while taking liberals for granted. She’s backing on the fact that people like me will not jump ship for a third party. I want to call her bluff.
Third-party nominees and fringe candidates in the major parties are fond of exhorting constituents to vote their hopes rather than their fears. Clinton’s strategy depends upon the vast majority of liberals acquiescing to a decent candidate in order to defeat a horrendous candidate. We want to live in a democracy, not a duopoly of pro-corporate candidates with a few exaggerated differences to distinguish them.
Liberals face a question the religious right does not, though. The right has been ascendant for the last 25 years, winning five of the last seven presidential elections, ensconcing its judicial thinking on the Supreme Court, and dominating Congress for over a decade before last year’s Democratic win. Liberals desperately want to end this dominance, so many are willing to compromise with a candidate who is less than what they would otherwise hope for. I understand the importance of restoring the rule of law and ending the rampant cronyism of the Bush years, so I am tempted to hold my nose and vote for the Democratic nominee, whoever it may be.
My conundrum, the one I share with the far right, is how far I am willing to lower my standards. Will any of the other Democrats really shift control away from a narrow band of corporate donors and enfranchise the American public? Will they reform our self-defeating foreign policy of preemptive intervention and Machiavellian alliances with authoritarian governments? A year out from the election, I still see the Democrats as an arm of the ruling political structure rather than an alternative. Unless that changes in the months to come, I will remain politically homeless. I won’t hold my breath for a surprise to shake up the race, either.
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