Life as an Extreme Sport

Is It Moral for Lefties to Vote for Obama What?

Over at The Atlantic yesterday, Conor Friedersdorf explained why he refuses to vote for Barack Obama this election season. His argument boils down to Obama having a dismal human rights record:

Obama has done things that, while not comparable to a historic evil like chattel slavery, go far beyond my moral comfort zone. … Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn’t “precise” or “surgical” as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels.

This, I do not disagree with. Obama has done a lot of things that make me uncomfortable to flat out unhappy. I don’t agree with many of his policy decisions – and frankly, I also don’t expect to. While it would be nice if I was Queen of the World, realistically, that’s never going to happen (and equally realistically, we should all be happy about that). Obama has been a disaster on several issues of international human rights and morality – but taking a look at their positions, it’s not clear to me that Mitt Romney would be any better. Friedersdorf, however, thinks that the moral thing to do would be to vote for Gary Johnson, even though he won’t win.

No. In fact, I’d say that Friedersdorf’s argument clearly shows why it would be immoral for someone to vote for anyone other than Obama – at least, if someone can manage to remove themselves from a biased white male privilege position long enough to stop navel-gazing outward and take a look at our home front for a minute. Friedersdorf says

I don’t see how anyone who confronts Obama’s record with clear eyes can enthusiastically support him. I do understand how they might concluded that he is the lesser of two evils, and back him reluctantly, but I’d have thought more people on the left would regard a sustained assault on civil liberties and the ongoing, needless killing of innocent kids as deal-breakers.

Really? He doesn’t see how a woman can enthusiastically support the person who has created a program of healthcare equality? Friedersdorf can’t understand how a woman may support someone who has been trying to get the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed? Or how a woman might feel more kindly inclined towards someone who is strongly pro-choice and advocates for and supports a woman’s right to control her own reproductive decisions?

There are more to civil liberties than those overseas. There are the ones right here at home, and allowing your outrage over foreign issues to cloud the domestic issues is something that you can have if you are holding that invisible privilege knapsack. But charging that I am somehow acting immorally because I am advocating for, campaigning for, and voting for Obama? That’s the kind of position you can take if your rights and your abilities to equality aren’t being threatened on the home front – and that, more than anything else, is a clear sign of the benefit of privilege of gender and race.

I am not, of course, saying that Obama should be left off the hook for his dismal foreign policy record. It is bad, and the human rights issues – held over from previous administrations or otherwise – need to be dealt with, and swiftly. Drone strikes need to end, the military needs to pull back from where it is not wanted or recognized by the local populations, and we need a serious re-evaluation of our entire interaction with the Middle East.

But that doesn’t mean someone should charge that supporting Obama is an immoral act and that moral voters should throw away their vote in protest, giving the chance for a split vote to allow Romney in to office. Not seeing the threat Romney offers – from his hawkish positions on international policy (really, you think he’s going to be better than Obama) to his attacks on women, minorities, and the middle class (the real middle class, not his idea of middle class) – is something you can do if you’re not in the group he’s targeting.

Yes, I realize that Friedersdorf laid out his argument on the immorality of voting for Obama with philosophical language, falling back on various traditions to justify his argument. I could do that; I know my Kant, my Mill. I could loop in virtue ethics.Yes, Nick, I’d even fall on my sword and argue the point with Foot. Shush. The right tool for the problem. The thing is, in this case, I think utilizing that specialized language and thinking – when talking to the general public – is a cop-out. It’s an attempt to use education to beat people over the head to get them to agree because oh, that person clearly knows what they’re talking about, and no. I know that trick, and this is too important for that.

So don’t listen to people who want to argue philosophical positions with youUnless you’re in a philosophy department or otherwise a masochist, in which case please come back, I still need to argue Rawls with someone. or are trying to appeal to their own authority to guilt you in to their position. Don’t look at the people making emotional appeals. Instead, look at what is genuinely important to you. What are your value issues? What is important to you? If you self-identify as liberal, then you’re concerned about social justice, healthcare, women’s rights, GLBTQ rights, equal pay, access to education, STEM advancement; you support science and evidence-based education; and yes, you are concerned about justice and international policy and human rights.

Take a look at both candidates and look at the entire picture. Yes, voting is often a lesser-of-two-evils prospect, but in this case, if you’re going to fall back somewhere, fall back on the needs of the many, and remember the many that live around you as much as you remember the many worldwide.

One comment

  1. You make a lot of sense here–I was already an Obama supporter, primarily for reproductive rights and LGBT rights, but supporting him for those issues doesn’t mean I think he is Practically Perfect in Every Way.

    (Mary Poppins for President! Except she’s British. Darn!)

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