Friday, September 4, 2009

The "Change" That Never Came, Part 3: "The Immorality of Lesser Evilism" by Rabbi Michael Lerner

"The Immorality of Lesser Evilism
By Rabbi Michael Lerner
November 03, 2000

Even in the final days of the presidential election, a substantial part of the population expresses dismay at the major candidates, feels closer to Nader in terms of the issues he raises, but fears that a vote for him might increase the chances for a Bush presidency. And the same issue arises for those who respond to the message of a Buchanan or John Haegelin. I've seen friends and families rent apart by the anger of some Gore supporters who believe that Nader supporters have lost their moral compass in their inability to see how disastrous a world with Bush-appointed Supreme Court justices might be.

Yet lesser evilism may do more to destroy the moral fabric and political viability of a democracy than any real or imagined evil that might be achieved through the electoral victory of whoever we imagine to be the "bad guy" beneficiary of voting our conscience. Here are some reasons why:

First, Lesser evilism leads to a moral and spiritual corruption of our souls. The habit of voting lesser evil in politics is a slippery slope. We start by giving our vote to a candidate who supports and is a product of a social reality that we actually deplore, and we end up learning to accommodate ourselves to moral corruption in other aspects of our lives. Just as lesser evilism teaches us to accommodate to "reality" in politics, so we accommodate to the reality of our economic marketplace, with its ethos of materialism and selfishness. Since everyone else is "looking out for number one," we learn that the way to "make it" is to go along with a set of practices that involve cheating or hurting others in our pursuit of success, making environmentally destructive or morally insensitive choices, and using the excuse that we must focus on "the bottom line" and not on the fine points of moral behavior.

To the extent that we come to believe that we have no alternative but to accept the lesser evil, we lose the inner quality of soul that makes it possible to fight for anything against the odds. We forget how to stand up for our own ideals, and soon we don't see the point in even thinking about what kind of a world we really believe in ("it's so unrealistic"). Internally we may feel cynical about the world we live in, but as long as we've adopted the attitude that we can't really fight it and must accept its terms, we have cast our vote in favor of keeping what is. Moral courage and hope begin to feel like anachronistic concepts.

Not surprisingly, as people become used to making this choice in daily life, they become most angry not at the forces of evil to which they accommodate, but at those who retain their commitment to fight for their highest ideal. Thus, the rage in liberal circles at Nader supporters or in conservative circles at Buchanan supporters-both of whom insist on standing for their ideals even when they are unlikely to win.

Second, lesser evilism disempowers liberal and progressive forces because it gives the Democratic Party no incentive to respond to progressive ideals. Secure in the certainty that liberals will always respond to the demand of lesser evilism, the Democrats can put their full attention at repositioning their party to accommodate those who might otherwise vote Republican, thus dramatically decreasing the differences between the two parties. And your vote for a lesser evil gives the corporate media the excuse they seek to ignore progressive views throughout the next four years-because the media will say that your progressive views were shown to have no real constituency since you and others didn't vote for the candidates who articulated those views, but chose to empower people who champion the status quo.

Third, lesser evilism is based on an arrogant certainty about the consequences of your lesser evil winning. In fact, those of us who voted for Clinton as the lesser evil in 1992 found that eight years later the gap between the rich and the poor had increased and the social supports for the poor had decreased. Conversely, much as Richard Nixon hurt me personally (by indicting me and sending me to prison for anti-war organizing), the dynamics of his "greater evil" presidency were significantly constrained by an idealistic social movement-and in that context, Nixon responded by recognizing China and by supporting powerful environmental and worker-safety legislation that were whittled down under the Clinton administration. It is the absence or presence of the very kind of social movement that is decisive-and lesser-evilism destroys. Instead of being so sure that "the other guy" is going to destroy the world, better to have a little humility and vote your conscience rather than your crystal ball, because in so doing you make possible a whole different configuration of political possibilities.

Fourth, lesser evilism weakens faith in democracy. If people consistently feel obliged to vote for candidates in whom they do not believe, they end up feeling they are without representation, and hence feel that our government itself is less legitimate. Many stop voting altogether. Others feel dirtied by a process in which they have authorized through their vote the actions of an elected official who, acting in their name, supports policies like the death penalty and acceleration of the worst aspects of globalization, which they actually find morally and environmentally reprehensible.

Finally, voting for a lesser evil entails abandoning and helping to dispirit those who share your principles. Many Nader people are standing up for the principles that you believe in, and instead of supporting them for doing so you are attacking them. Don't be surprised if many these people eventually give up on trying to change the world. So the next time you look around for allies for some visionary idea or moral cause that inspires you, you will find fewer people ready to take risks, and ironically you may then use that to convince yourself that nothing was ever possible and that's why you "had" to vote for the lesser of two evils.

None of this is an argument against those who really are excited by Gore or Bush-they should vote their beliefs. But those who succumb to the fear tactics that intimidate us into voting for someone whose policies are often far from our own beliefs are actually doing a great disservice to their country, their fellow citizens, and their own inner moral integrity."

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of TIKKUN Magazine, author of Spirit Matters: Global Healing and the Wisdom of the Soul, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco.
__________________________________________

Khadija speaking: Pres. Obama just might be the LAST "lesser evil" vote that I ever cast.

16 comments:

Karen said...

Khadija,

Very good article which raised valid points.

But here is the crux of the matter in U.S. politics: There is a no wish for a multi-party system by the powers that be.

Every time in U.S. history an attempt has been made, it has been crushed by the democratic/republican machine.

If there was a truly multi-party system, then choosing the "lesser of two evils" would not be so common.

Khadija said...

Karen,

I don't know the answers to your questions. I'm pondering all these points. This might be a generational project, like the ones the American far-right started in the 1960s. I also suspect that some things that have already been discussed on other blogs---such as our need to create new media outlets---is part of the answer.

It was the saturation-level presence of FAR right-wing media outlets and thinktanks that caused the political center of gravity to invisibly shift so far right over the past couple of decades.

Most Americans have no idea that the conservative parties in Western European countries are often to the political left of the US Democratic Party. This is similar to how most Americans have no idea how narrow and skewed the American "news" media is. The mainstream Western European media has a MUCH wider range of political views.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

ActsofFaithBlog said...

Wow. Wow. You know had I voted for the Green Party this go-around I wouldn't be so angry and disappointed right now.

CW said...

I personally do not like the direction this country is taking...Pres Obama seems to have many divided loyalties...And a house divided against itself cannot stand...

Khadija said...

Faith,

You said, "Wow. Wow. You know had I voted for the Green Party this go-around I wouldn't be so angry and disappointed right now."

I feel sullied for having given my vote "to a candidate [Obama] who supports and is a product of a social reality that [I] actually deplore..."

I CAN'T STAND Crossover Negro Politicians---I'll never forget what Crossover Negro Politicians like Wilson Goode did to AAs! When I voted for Pres. Obama, I called myself doing so to avoid the absolute, final collapse of this country that would surely be the result of McCain and the lunatic from Alaska being elected.

Well, what if the SAME collapse happens as a result of Pres. Obama's weakness? What if it turns out that I betrayed my CORE values for nothing? I don't like how this feels...
__________________

CW,

I don't like how Pres. Obama is following in Bush's footsteps. In foreign AND domestic policy.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Southland Diva said...

Third parties don't happen overnight, but we need to do the hard work of making a third party a viable option. We must vote in ever increasing numbers for third party candidates. I'd love to know what other options exist to provide an alternative to the one-party system we have.

For some voters, the current President was the lesser of two evils. I don't know if I could vote for someone I disagree with on 95% of the issues. I mean wouldn't that be voting for the greater of two evils?

Peace

Khadija said...

SouthlandDiva,

You said, "Third parties don't happen overnight, but we need to do the hard work of making a third party a viable option. We must vote in ever increasing numbers for third party candidates."

Yep.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

tasha212 said...

Khadija,

Like you, I betrayed my own values when I voted for Obama. I never drank the 0-aide, but I considered him the lesser of 2 evils. I knew that a third party candidate like Cynthia McKinney (who I would've musch rather given my vote to) was not going to win. I have always had a profound respect for people who stand their ground, even when they have to make sacrifices for doing so. But Obama seems and has always seemed to be fully invested in appearing non-threatening to the white establishment. Furthermore, he also seems to have a very weak personality, as if he wants everyone to like him. As POTUS, who cares if everyone likes you? G.W. Bush had to have known that most of America, as well as many politicians (even some in his own party)DESPISED him and he still did what he wanted. Obama needs to toughen up and grow some balls.

Great post, as usual.

Peace and solidarity,

Tasha

Khadija said...

Tasha212,

Thank you for your kind words about the post; I truly appreciate it.

You said, "Obama needs to toughen up and grow some balls."

Well, since he's made it to middle-age without growing any, I doubt that he'll develop any now. And I can already hear the excuses from the Obama-ssiah worshippers: this weakness is some type of super-secret strategy; he "has to" be weak to be elected for a 2nd term---and then he'll magically "show 'em" (which ignores the fact that if he gets a 2nd term, then he'll be concerned about appeasing Whites in order to preserve his "legacy"); yadda, yadda, yadda...

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Karen said...

Was it Truman that said "If you want friends in Washington, D.C, get a dog"...

As POTUS it is not about being liked...

Khadija said...

Karen,

You said, "Was it Truman that said "If you want friends in Washington, D.C, get a dog"..."

{deeply amused chuckles}

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Anonymiss said...

Hey Khadijah:

Reading this is another reminder of why I am happy to have voted for Cynthia McKinney.

I was very impressed with Obama's background but the nagging critiques of Chicago natives couldn't be ignored. If your homebase isn't in love with you, something's terribly wrong.

It's gonna be a rude awakening when Black ppl realize how they've fallen for the okey-doke for the umpteenth time.

I know for many Black ppl, having a Black POTUS is an ego-booster. Not me. If the political and economic climates in Nigeria were desirable, my parents and many other Nigerians wouldn't have come to the States.

Other reasons behind my indifference to Black politicians are Marty Barnes (corrupt former mayor of my hometown, Paterson, NJ), Sharpe James (vile and disgusting human being), and Marion Barry (the videotape speaks for itself).

Khadija said...

Anonymiss,

What I find (somewhat---I'm rapidly losing interest in the failed "Black world") interesting is how the situations throughout the so-called "Black world" are parallel to each other.

A continent filled with failed countries (when large numbers of folks HAVE TO leave their homelands for any reason---that's failure---there's NO mad rush of Swiss folks trying to get OUT of their own country) and failed AA communities across the US.

{shaking my head} Oh well. The so-called "Black World" was an amusing daydream while it lasted.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Ivy Jain said...

Karen:
As POTUS it is not about being liked...

Ain't that the truth! When I visit DailyKos, it's stunning to see how the President's approval rates keep falling every few days. I knew the post-Inauguration boost wouldn't hold, but at this point his slide is quite epic.

You could say, this healthcare thing is killing his numbers. But I suspect it's the way he's governing that's turning people off. He allows smears to fester. He throws his own supporters under the bus. He flip flops on important legislature (yes/ no/ maybe so on the Public Option). He sucks up the political adversaries. He shares beers with racists cops (ok, had to throw that one in. It got under my skin). All of this culminating the the failure to lead.

When you promise to be the man who can deliver change, then once elected fail to lead it's no wonder people don't approve!

I agree that we need a viable national 3rd party. I also agree it's probably going to take a generation to get off the ground. The Republicrats aren't going to allow a new challenger enter the arena without a fight.

Progressives need to leave the democratic party ASAP. At this point it's clear that none of our goals will be achieved by sticking to a party that caters to Reagan Democrats and swing voters. I think the Green party is a much better fit.

-Ivy
(formerly Bandbabe)

Ensayn1 said...

Khadija you said "Khadija speaking: Pres. Obama just might be the LAST "lesser evil" vote that I ever cast." I say CONGRATULATIONS! No matter how we slice it voting for the lesser of two evils still leaves us voting for EVIL.

@ActOfFaith, For the first time I voted for something other than the dualing evils and put my vote on Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente...I feel great about my vote for the first time in years.

Khadija, I will read fully the context of your post as all of them hold a lot of weight (as usual). I love the line if part III of the vetting post that basically says flee from men that say '...a woman won't let me be a man...' that always kills me, I suppose then these are, humm let me think of a nice word...I can't I'll be quiet on them...LOL Also flee from the men that say "I'm a grown arse man..."

Khadija said...

Ensayn1/Victor,

Thank you for your kind words about the post; I truly appreciate it.

You said, " I say CONGRATULATIONS! No matter how we slice it voting for the lesser of two evils still leaves us voting for EVIL."

Yes, you're absolutely correct. I think I've finally seen the light with this topic. Choosing one of the "dueling evils" is still choosing an EVIL.

You said, "I love the line if part III of the vetting post that basically says flee from men that say '...a woman won't let me be a man...' that always kills me, I suppose then these are, humm let me think of a nice word...I can't I'll be quiet on them...LOL Also flee from the men that say "I'm a grown arse man..."

{chuckling} Yes, I've overheard the PUBLIC, negative responses that REAL men such as yourself have to hearing whining males make '...a woman won't let me be a man...' statements. And I've only overheard the responses that real men are willing to say while in the presence of ladies.

I can only imagine the...MUCH more colorful...responses y'all MEN probably give to these whining males when ladies aren't around. {more chuckling}

You said, "Also flee from the men that say "I'm a grown arse man..."

{loud laughter} Oh yeah, that's another tell-tale phrase. In fact, maybe I'll do a future post with a list of phrases to run from whoever's saying them. LOL! People don't realize how much they tell on themselves by saying certain crazy things. {chuckling}

Peace, blessings and solidarity.