Of the various responses to the Halle/Chomsky Eight Point Brief for Lesser Evil Voting , I have chosen only to respond to a few criticisms from a self-identified “left” perspective as most of the major points have been dealt with adequately by others. (See, for example, here , here and here as well as the comments sections here).
What is worth discussing now are criticisms from a far more politically consequential constituency, namely those opposing SSLEV from the right, or, as they would describe themselves, the “pragmatic” center. For them, a vote for Clinton in a swing state is insufficient. Rather, ALL Sanders voters should regard themselves as either morally or practically obligated to vote for Clinton, even in safe states where the result is certain.
There is, admittedly, a rational, good faith, albeit weak argument to be made for an unconditional Clinton vote along the following lines: since most voters focus on the presidential race, rejecting Clinton will mean higher rates of abstention of those who would otherwise support down ticket Democrats with the result that they are unable to obtain a congressional majority.
The latter we should also be working to achieve but not because we should have high hopes for it: the 2008-2010 Democratic control of the House and Senate, after all, accomplished little in the way of progressive change. Rather a Democratic majority is preferable, first of all, because it would prevent the catastrophe of a Republican Congress, with Speaker Paul Ryan certain to block any minimally decent legislation which Clinton might advance (likely in response to the pressure from left protest movements). At the same time, a Democratic majority would remove a smokescreen Clinton will have available for her inevitable failure to deliver on most of her campaign promises. installed in governance, these will evaporate, and, if she lacks a Democratic majority, it will be chalked up to “Republican obstructionism.”
If she can be denied this excuse, her refusal to deliver even with a congressional majority could become one of the grounds for a serious primary or, if viable, third party challenge in 2020.
That said, congressional Democrats will not be able to take advantage of Clinton’s coattails since she is an uninspiring candidate with record high disapproval ratings. Rather they will need to provide a sound, rational basis for why their policies deserve our support. if they do so, the overwhelming majority of Sanders supporters in safe states will split their ticket, rejecting Clinton’s politics of triangulation, concession and compromise, voting in Democrats who have committed to opposing it. The Democratic caucus emerging under these conditions would constitute a meaningful progressive majority, unlike the Potemkin Village erected by Democrats in 2008, one which would, in fact, be better able to combat the Republican far right.
A second reason offered for an unconditional Clinton vote is that SSLEV is “too cute”, “too clever by half” or even “dangerous” in that voters will not be able to reconcile their awareness of the reactionary character of Clintonite policies with the decision to vote for her in the states where it counts. Being excessively forthright with respect to Clinton’s obvious shortcomings brings with it the potential that swing state voters will be unable to hold their noses to the requisite degree to head off a Trump presidency.
While this danger may exist, the subtext which the rejection of SSLEV communicates is problematic. Just as governing elites and their enablers in the media shielded the public from information on the effects of corporate trade deals, the Wall Street bailouts and the Iraq war, now they are attempting to efface Clinton’s role in the bipartisan policies which brought the domestic and world economy and society to the brink of ruin. Even within the impoverished mechanisms of the electoral system, a vote for Clinton where it is not required signals at best ignorance or at worst consent to the governance of the one percent. Voting against Clinton where one can communicates to others an awareness of a corrupted process and a protest however small against elites having routinely deployed it to serve their ends.
The optimal outcome of the 2016 election will be a strong repudiation of Trump and his toxic mixture of nativist resentment, pseudo-populist demogoguery and commitment to destroying the planet through removing all limits on fossil fuel consumption and production. At the same time, it should indicate that the opposition to three decades of neoliberal ascendency which coalesced behind Sanders is now a permanent fixture of our politics, as Thomas Ferguson recently suggested. It will be prepared to oppose either the terrifying specter of Donald Trump or the less aggressively toxic brand represented by Clinton by all necessary means. At the same time, it should clearly articulate its own positive program and prepare itself to strongly compete for positions to advance it in governance when the opportunity arises.