Monday, February 1, 2016

Democrats Don't Own My Vote

Confession:  I, as a general rule, hate listening to people talk about elections.  It's not just the disgusting debates and terrible candidates, either.  It's the entire mentality people get into when they talk about voting as praxis, as if the choice to vote and the way a person votes (within reason) is the sole determining factor in how good of an activist or human being a person is.

Before I continue, let me explain a few things.  First, I am a believer in voting as a form of harm reduction rather than an instigator of systemic change.  I don't believe there is anything inherently wrong with strategically voting Democrat--even if you hate the candidates--because you are afraid of Republicans.  I have in the past done the exact same thing.  That said, do not read what I'm saying as an indictment against strategic-Democrat-voters' personal choices (at least as long as you understand what that means).  Second, I am not a Bernie Sanders fan (Sanders being the most left-wing mainstream candidate says very little about him as an overall candidate), although this essay just by the nature of how Democrats are currently behaving leans in defense of Bernie Sanders voters.  I personally will likely vote for neither of them, regardless of who is nominated, and for the record I give zero shits how you personally feel about that.  But what I do give a shit about is deceptive vote-farming tactics, which is what this is about.

So there are a lot of people out there who have stated that if Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, they will not vote Democrat in the general election.  This is due to a laundry list of terrible positions.  I'm not going to go into details here, because it doesn't really matter (Bernie Sanders has his own terrible positions, after all, as does everyone else who has a chance of winning).  What matters is the response from the people who will be voting Democrat no matter who gets the nomination.

The argument goes something like this:  By voting Democrat, you are electing Republicans by depriving Democrats of votes. Therefore, if a Republican is elected, it's largely the fault of liberal, left-wing, and progressive people who did not vote Democrat.  Usually this is punctuated with something like "I don't like Clinton either, but..." in order to give the impression they are also making some hard sacrifice.

That's a steaming pile of crap thing to believe.  And I have some things to say about it.

First, Democrats do not under any circumstances somehow "own" left-wing, progressive, and liberal peoples' votes.

One of the most obnoxious (without being intentionally insulting) things about talking about politics with my family is their constant urge to use the term "Democrat" as interchangeable with "left wing" or "progressive," using phrases like "very, very Democrat" when they mean "far left" (or at least they think they do).  This is the sort of thing I think of when Democrats pressure me to vote Democrat due to the fact that I am left-wing... it betrays the fact that people think Democrats are further left wing than they are, and that includes Democrats themselves.

But Democrats are barely left wing at all.  On a personal level, there is a comparable gulf of ideological difference between myself and an average Democrat than there is between an average Democrat and average Republican.  Turning the wide diversity of political opinions (both just and unjust) into a half-and-half divvy of Democrats and Republicans obscures the fact that others even exist; it reinforces the ubiquitous training we get from school onward that there's something hard-coded into American peoples' nature that makes us too greedy and self-centered to consider anything other than unbridled corporate capitalism in one of two flavors depending on just how much you hate gays.

In fact, if anything Democrats are the ones stealing votes from Socialist, Green, Communist, and otherwise more left-wing parties by playing over and over again the looming threat of Republican leadership and solidly blaming them whenever one of their sad candidates doesn't get elected.

But this isn't just important because it bullies those further left into signing on to a barely-left-wing party.  It's important because it takes a vote--something personal and decided based on a whole spectrum of philosophical and strategic views--and directly implies that these do not belong to the voters themselves, but to the party.  It is psychological voter suppression.

This is an aside, but for the record, I know that "I don't like ___ either, but..." thing you use to try convincing left-wing non-Democrats with is often total bull.

The last thing I need is for people to wishiwashily go on about how they totally don't actually like Clinton--trying to create some semblance of empathy with left-wingers who have long disliked her--when they've been her #1 Greatest Fan since forever.

I've been watching this game for over fifteen years during my journey further left, and I'm sure it's been going like this much longer.  The 2008 election particularly sticks out because the friends and acquaintances who are now trying to convince me to always vote Dem "even though we all know their positions are terrible" had an obscene level of cheerleading energy for them ten years ago, up to and including rationalizing why their preferred candidate was totally not homophobic despite not even meeting even the most mainstream gay standards of LGBT rights.

Basically, these are people who were "Ready for Hillary" even when she was more of an obstacle to justice than she is now.  That makes this whole issue rudely deceptive.  Not only are you using Republicans as a threatening gesture, you're doing it by misrepresenting your own feelings toward the candidates.  It's disingenuous and it's disgusting.

What's more frustrating is that you never see this go the other way around.  You never hear people tell "moderate" Democrats it's time for them to compromise by voting for somebody further left in order to preserve the party.  When will it be their turn?

It Democrats don't get elected due to left-wing non-voters abstaining or voting for other candidates, it's because Democrats don't inspire us to elect them.

Democrats skid by on the "I'm afraid of Republicans" crowd.  Like I already said, I understand being afraid of Republican leadership.  It's gotten me to vote Democrat several times in the past, at times when I genuinely was afraid my state would go red (I'll talk about that next), and especially when it comes to local candidates.

But Democrats are more likely to try courting right-wing favor than they are to try persuading any sort of further left-wing base outside of the aforementioned threats of Republican wins.  Clinton goes on about how corporations should love her.  Kerry went on high profile hunting trips.  And that's not to mention how many of them went on and on about "traditional" marriage, refusing to support mainstream same-sex marriage until long after it would have been politically expedient to do so.  They'll talk about their ideas for reforms associated with the left as "sensible" as if every issue necessitates a huge compromise with the right.  "Sensible" gun control (meaning the same old background checks but with more ableism).  "Sensible" environmental reforms (making sure there are enough resources for us to use for more consumerist whatever).  "Sensible" wage reforms (a marginal increase in minimum wage).  "Sensible" health care reform (forcing people to buy insurance).

What you don't often see is Democratic candidates going out of their way to appeal to those further left, even on a surface level.  They assume that the left will already vote for them, openly demean our most important positions, and then get openly angry and feel betrayed when a good percentage of us vote for somebody else.  They're always so shocked about it, too, although it's probably more accurate to say they feign shock, because it happens every damn election season and very little has changed about the way they behave about it.

One of the reasons people who are passionate about Bernie Sanders is for just this reason:  Despite his flaws, he is the only viable Democratic candidate right now who has broken from this mold even a little by allowing himself to be terrifying to right-wingers to gain more left-wing votes.

Finally, our entire electoral system is rigged and designed to fail individual voters, so maybe worry about that more than people who actually vote on their conscience.

I'm not contesting that in theory a Republican could win if enough people who usually vote Democrat decide not to over the candidate chosen.  But it's also well-documented that somebody can win the presidential race even when more people voted for the other mainstream candidate.

We have the electoral college, which inflates the importance of certain states to the detriment of others and ensures that none of us actually votes for the president to begin with (unless you are an elector, of course).

We have gerrymandering, where people draw absurd-as-fuck jigsaw puzzle borders for electoral districts in order to ensure their own party will win; something both Democrats and Republicans do.  This can even play into who gets selected to be on the electoral college.

We also have voter suppression in the form of things like voter ID, requiring college students to vote in their permanent residence rather than on campus, and campaigns to "prevent voter fraud" that target people of color and disenfranchise trans people and the elderly.  The United States is also one of the biggest countries for felony disenfranchisement, where people who have been convicted of certain crimes lose their right to vote ever again.  Many of these are explicitly chosen because they are likely to reduce the number of Democratic and left-wing voters.

It's not that Democrats all don't care about these things, but they're an important thing to bring up in an environment where people seem to be more concerned about how people use their choice to vote than they are about overall voter access.

In conclusion, it's arrogant on the part of Democrats to assume they are already entitled the votes of the left-wing.  They need to focus more on getting actual left-wing, inspiring candidates that will support real change rather than complain ad nauseum that the Republicans are worse.  Why should I be obligated to vote for a candidate that does not have my interests in mind?  Why should any of us?