Americans head to the polls on November 6th to decide whether they want four more years of austerity under a Democratic administration or a Republican one. And just like every other presidential election in recent memory, the left has been engaged in a familiar debate: should we vote for the lesser evil in order to stop the greater evil from gaining power? In this instance, it means the re-election of Barack Obama and Joe Biden in order to stop the more extreme policies of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
While it is true that Romney and Ryan have put forward policies that are direct attacks on the poor, immigrants, women, people of colour, indigenous people, LGBT people, and every other group that faces the sharpest oppression in capitalist society, it is wrong to assume that the Democrats offer anything substantially different (as the last four years under Obama have made clear).
Many socialists have been turning to the American socialist Hal Draper’s famous 1967 essay “Who Will Be the Lesser Evil in ’68?”, where he notes: “the Lesser Evils who, as executors of the system, find themselves acting at every important juncture exactly like the great Evils, sometimes worse.”
Obama has gone to great lengths during his presidency to be “bipartisan,” and we have seen during the presidential campaign a bipartisan consensus on the need to reduce corporate tax cuts, though they disagree on how much and how quickly to implement them.
They agree on the need to cut so-called “entitlements” (what remains of a social safety net), though they disagree on what kind of “entitlements” and the feasibility of cutting them in the short-term. From debt to social security to immigration, Romney and Obama might disagree on the minor details, but they share a commitment to neoliberalism, austerity, and maintaining US imperialism.
Most commentators noted after the third and final presidential debate on foreign policy that it was hard to discern where they differed toward Israel, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. During the debate, they both went to great lengths to prove their devotion to the apartheid regime in Israel, to out-do one another in their aggression toward Iran, and to reassert their support for the murderous drone strikes in Pakistan.
As the New York Times puts it: “While they varied in degree, the heart of their clash rested on who would pursue the same national goals more effectively and ensure America’s enduring economic and security role overseas.”
Romney summed up the present situation with the greatest clarity when he told Obama during their first televised debate that “the rich will do fine, whether you’re president or I am.”
Regardless of the outcome on November 6th, progressives need to stop being put in a reactive position, stop accepting the blackmail of “lesser evil” politics, and continue building movements from below that don’t accept austerity and drone strikes as a progressive alternative.