Voting our Principles
Voting our Principles
by Don Irish
In Tikkun (Summer 2000) I found an important article by Michael Lerner: "Don't Vote Lesser Evil Politics." In what follows I will summarize by quoting and paraphrasing Lerner, but without reference to specific candidates. Personally, I don't identify any candidates as evil; but the consequences of some of their policies may be evil.
Many political progressives are conflicted about the November elections. Lerner wants us "to encourage a national debate about the morality and social consequences of 'lesser evilism' in politics." By 'lesser evilism' he means choosing the candidate "who will do the least harm rather than choosing the candidate who comes closest to expressing your own views and attitudes" out of fear that a worse candidate may win.
1) Powerlessness corrupts - By "accepting the lesser evil we lose the inner quality of soul that makes it possible to fight for anything against the odds." This can lead us to accommodating evil on other occasions, "a moral and spiritual corruption."
2) Liberal and Progressive forces are disempowered - In accepting the lesser evil argument we weaken democratic politics by supporting a wing of the pro-corporate "Property Party" (our current system) when we believe in neither wing.
3) Winning is abandoned - Actually, you might win! If many operate on a "we can't win" assumption we contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy. "By not voting your conscience you are giving the media the justification it seeks to ignore significant alternate views," marginalizing yourself.
4) Consequences of the lesser evil winning are unknown - Getting "snookered out" after elections has happened repeatedly to many of us. Supreme Court appointments and international actions may not in fact reflect a lesser evil.
5) Lesser evilism weakens faith in democracy - If we repeatedly vote for candidates in whom we do not believe, we end up feeling we are without representation and "government itself feels less legitimate."
6) Lesser evilists ignore how policies get shaped - "The key factor in determining what happens in politics is the relative balance between corporate power and popular mobilization for progressive ideals." The dominant party will feel little pressure to satisfy progressives as long as they know they can count on them to vote for them as the lesser evil.
7) Voting for a lesser evil means abandoning those who share your perspectives - When "you look around for allies for some visionary idea or moral cause that inspires you, you will find fewer people ready to take risks, because when they stood up for their ideals at election time you weren't willing to support them." Voting for the lesser evil reinforces despair about changing the system. We will "never win a society we believe in unless we are willing to stand up and fight for it, even it in the short run we lose some of our battles."
In sum, Lerner contends that we shouldn't throw our votes away by "authorizing someone we don't believe in" to represent us. However you vote, consider not only your choice at today's polls but how your decision affects the choices all of us have in the future.
NORTH COUNTRY PEACE BUILDER, Vol. LI, No. #, September, 2000
--fwd David Shove